2013 PG High School Football Coach of the Year: Joe Rossi

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Joe Rossi decided to see how the other half lives. So this fall, he took on a defensive attitude.

It ended up a perfect change.

Rossi is the head coach at South Fayette High School and for the first 11 years of his career (five at Riverview), he had always worked as the offensive coordinator. But Rossi decided to become South Fayette's defensive coordinator this season in addition to his head coaching duties.

He still kept his hand a little in the offense, but he guided a defense that allowed only eight points a game. Overall, he oversaw a team that was perfect, going 16-0 and winning WPIAL and PIAA Class AA championships.

For his efforts, Rossi is the Post-Gazette Coach of the Year. The award takes into consideration all coaches in the WPIAL and City League.

"I have never been a defensive guy," Rossi said. "But I knew [assistant coaches] Andrew DiDonato and Shane Patterson would do a good job with the offense, so I went over to the other side of the ball. I studied a little bit and fine-tuned some things that I thought would help us.

"One reason I didn't like the defense is because you're not in control, and I'm a control freak. Defense is a very reactive thing and I didn't like that. But it was more of a challenge than I've ever been through in my life. I spent more hours watching film than ever."

While the defense was excellent, South Fayette's offense was unstoppable in many games. The Lions averaged 44.9 points a game. The 41-0 victory against Imhotep Charter in the PIAA title game was the most lopsided win by a WPIAL team in a championship game.

For Rossi, it was the final step to the top of the ladder in seven years at South Fayette. He came to the school after posting a 26-23 record at Riverview. But he has been anything but an average Joe at South Fayette. His seven-year record is 69-16 (.811) with two WPIAL titles. Before Rossi guided the Lions to the WPIAL title game in 2010, they hadn't been to the championship since 1967.

South Fayette started playing football in 1928. Since then, the school has had only five undefeated and untied regular seasons. Four of them have come under Rossi.

And to think, he wasn't the first choice for the job in 2007.

"Someone else turned it down and they came to me," said Rossi, 38, who is a physical education teacher at South Fayette's middle school. "This place was winning some, but they just couldn't get over the hump. We did some things here, had a good group come through and got over the hump."

And then some.

Rossi said there were two memorable moments this year that stick out in his mind. The first came in a 7 on 7 tournament this summer in Toledo.

"We played an AAU type of team out of Cleveland and they were just beating everyone. But we beat them in the semifinals," Rossi said. "I know it's only 7 on 7, but that gave the kids some confidence."

The other key was a 35-7 victory against Beaver Falls in the WPIAL semifinals.

"The Beaver Falls game was one game that we were all worried about as a staff," Rossi said. "After that game is when we looked at each other and said, 'We're pretty good.'"

Offensively and defensively.

Past PG Coach of the Year honorees ... 

2003 Chuck Wagner, Springdale

2004 Art Walker, Central Catholic

2005 Greg Botta, Franklin Regional

2006 Jim Render, Upper St. Clair

2007 Bill Cherpak, Thomas Jefferson

2008 Jeff Metheny, Bethel Park

2009 George Novak, Woodland Hills

2010 Mark Lyons, Central Valley

2011 Tom Nola, Clairton

2012 Bob Palko, West Allegheny

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