Patience, and above all loyalty, was rewarded yesterday when 50-year-old assistant athletic director Bill Zucco was chosen head football coach at Arundel High.
Zucco, who succeeds Buddy Hepfer as head coach, came to Arundel 26 years ago by way of Marley and MacArthur junior high schools. His first teaching assignment was at Marley for one year, and then it was two years at MacArthur in Fort Meade before he landed a social studies teaching position at Arundel High in 1966.
That first year in Gambrills, Zucco became an assistant on the staff of the late Jerry Mears. He remained in that capacity, coaching the JV, until Mears left Arundel to start the athletic program at Meade High in 1977.
Zucco served as head JV coach part of the time from 1966-1977 and again from 1989 through last season. In eight years as head JV coach, he compiled a record of 55-14-1, including a 10-0 season in 1990. Zucco led the Wildcats to a county championship in five of the eight years.
When Mears led the Wildcats to a state championship in 1975, Zucco was a member of one of the best staffs in county football history. That staff also included current Arundel athletic director and head baseball coach Bernie Walter, Hepfer and Ron Evans.
Yes, the same Ron Evans who has established himself as one of the top track coaches in Maryland at Old Mill High was also on that elite staff. Evans later became Old Mill's first head football coach before turning over the reins to his JV coach, Pete Regala, in 1983.
Walter has won more than 300 games as a baseball coach, and Hepfer, who succeeded Mears, put together a career mark of 93-61 in 15 seasons before announcing his surprise retirement this spring.
Hepfer was 70-24 in his first nine seasons, but only 23-37 over the last six, including last fall's 4-6 record. He coaxed Zucco to return to coaching JV football three years ago, but it was obvious then to Zucco that Hepfer wasn't going to stay head coach long.
"Buddy just got tired of it, and I never had any intentions of replacing him," said Zucco.
"I just hope I can get the program back to where Buddy had it a few years ago. It's going to be quite a challenge to do that, but I've learned a lot from Buddy and Jerry Mears."
Said Walter: "We feel we picked the best man available for the job in Bill because of his experience, success on the JV and varsity levels, and he has had tremendous loyalty to Arundel High athletics.
zTC Zucco's coaching experience is diversified. He has coached football, was the school's head basketball coach from 1977-1983, boasting the last winning season the varsity has had (10-8 in 1978), and served as a varsity softball assistant for four years.
"When Buddy took over for Jerry in 1977, I helped him one season, but took over as head basketball coach," Zucco recalled. "I decided to step down as JV football coach to concentrate on the basketball program and open the way for Chuck [Markiewicz] and Jeff [Herrick] to move into coaching the JV."
Markiewicz and Herrick co-coached the Arundel JV for several ++ years before going out to make their own marks.
Markiewicz succeeded Mears at Meade, then built the new squad at North County into a playoff team within two years. Herrick, the head coach at Broadneck, has turned the Bruins into a very competitive team in the rugged Class 4A league.
"That was the thing with Jerry and Buddy -- they always had excellent assistants. And your staff is very important in order to be successful," said Zucco. "I hope to retain the assistants on Buddy's staff because they're all good football men."
Two of those assistants, Bob Beauchemin and Dave Maka, also interviewed for the head coaching job; Ron Young did not.
"All the candidates were very good, but Bill was the best man for the job," said Walter. "We're looking forward to positive improvement in our overall football program, and I don't just mean winning."
Winning, though, does have a way of healing all ills, and the program has been down the last few years because of a lack of players. Hepfer complained annually that not enough players, especially those with size, came out for football.
"Just the fact that I'm a new coach, more kids might come out for the new start," said Zucco. "I intend to actively recruit kids around school and try and get them to come out."
During the recent slide, the varsity roster has dwindled to about 34 players. Zucco said that you "need at least 40 kids to compete with the big schools like Severna Park, Annapolis and Old Mill."
Zucco recalled two years ago taking the field with 30 JV players to do battle with Severna Park's army of 60.
"You've got to have the numbers and a staff that works together," said Zucco. "Just look at your top programs over the years around the county, such as ours once was, and you see coaching staffs that have been together for awhile."
That's why Zucco, though he has ideas of his own, wants to maintain continuity on his staff.