New Derry coach brings familiar faces to staff
DERRY — While Tim Sweeney admits he’s inheriting a young stable of players at Derry, the first-year head coach believes he has the best coaching staff in the WPIAL.
A 1984 graduate of Derry, Sweeney proved his loyalty to his roots and made a gutsy decision when he reassembled the staff that accompanied former head coach Ron Polinsky during his tenure from 2005 to 2009.
Sweeney, who was an assistant on that staff, rehired Polinsky, Troy Balega, Mark Thomas and Joe Mylant as assistant coaches. Sweeney also added first-year assistants Matt Palombo and Gary Tom.
“I don’t have a record, and I don’t have a resume as a head coach, so I don’t know how well I’ll do at this,” Sweeney said. “But I can say that I firmly believe that I have the best coaching staff in the WPIAL.”
Sweeney and his staff expect to face a gauntlet of challenges coming off an 0-10 season, but the fact that the Trojans made the descent from the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference to the Class AA Interstate Conference should enhance Derry’s chances.
The Trojans don’t have to deal with the daunting task of squaring off with the Greater Allegheny Conference’s best teams, such as Mars, Knoch and Franklin Regional. Instead, Derry will try and keep pace with a clan of former rural rivals, including Mount Pleasant, Southmoreland and Brownsville.
On a team of just 31 players, the Trojans have 23 returning letterwinners and 17 upperclassmen.
Still, Sweeney expressed nothing but optimism regarding the road ahead, and perhaps that’s because the former three-sport standout at Derry has proven he can win at the high school and college levels. And at the high school level, Sweeney showed in his junior year that he can help turn a program around.
After playing on four straight winless teams beginning with his seventh-grade squad, Sweeney spearheaded Derry’s first and only Keystone Conference championship team during his junior season in 1983. Derry finished 9-1 and beat Mount Pleasant to clinch the conference title. Mount Pleasant went on to win the WPIAL title later in the year.
Three years later, Sweeney won an NCAA title while playing linebacker as a walk-on for an undefeated Penn State team in 1986.
“I was coached number one by a lot of great coaches here at Derry,” Sweeney said. “Carl Albaugh, Dave McNichol, Joe Giotto … all of those guys were a part of some great staffs, and Carl was a terrific head coach. I was lucky to learn from them and a number of other great coaches at Derry, including guys like volleyball coach Rich Schall and a handful of good basketball coaches.
“I’ve always said that the two things I’m most proud of, outside of my family and friends, are that I’m a product of Derry Area and I’m a Penn State guy.”
The Polinsky staff went 2-8 in its last year in the 2009 season. The Trojans won 10 of 50 games in five seasons under Polinsky’s watch.
Derry went 3-25 in three seasons under the school’s last head coach, Al Gaiardo, who resigned in November 2013.
Last year, the Trojans became the first team in WPIAL history to allow 50 or more points in each game. Derry was outscored 563-60, including 161-13 in the last three games of the season.
The Trojans have lost 18 straight games and last earned a win in Week 1 of the 2012 season with a 33-26 victory over Albert Gallatin.
Sweeney recognizes the tremendous tests in his path but still said he and his coaching staff are extremely excited to get the season under way.
“The coaching staff is excited. We’re tempered, but we’re excited,” Sweeney said. “We obviously need some things to go our way. Every once in a while you need a little luck. But you can’t be lucky if you’re not doing all the little things right, and us as coaches, that’s what we’re going to focus on: making sure these guys get to the ball and get used to executing the basics.”