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Greg Gattuso: From JV Football Coach to FCS Coach of the Year

By Vince Gasparini | February 5, 2024

The 2023 season saw the University at Albany football team record their most successful season in program history, going 11-4 overall and winning the Coastal Athletic Association with a 7-1 record. At the end of the year, head coach Greg Gattuso was awarded with the American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Despite his great success this past year, Greg Gattuso’s career as a football coach did not start in the most conventional way. Shortly after Gattuso had spent time as a student assistant at his alma mater, Penn State, in 1984, he crossed paths with the football coach at his former high school, Seton-La Salle, a private school in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Gattuso had not had any luck making any professional football teams, so when he was offered the position of junior varsity football coach at Seton-La Salle, he took the job.

After coaching at Seton-La Salle, Gattuso coached at nearby Center Township High School as a defensive coordinator. He then spent 1987 as an assistant coach at Duquesne before returning to Seton-La Salle to be the head coach of their varsity football team from 1989 to 1991.

While head coaching at Seton-La Salle, Gattuso also worked in law enforcement for seven years, four of those years as a police officer. “I definitely don’t have the traditional pathway,” Gattuso said. “I worked in a city lock-up for three and a half years or so, which was a big growth spurt for me.”

Gattuso (pictured middle) with UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez (pictured to the right of Gattuso).

Photo Credit: Shawn Ness / The ASP

Gattuso got his break into coaching at the college level when he returned to Duquesne as an assistant in 1992, becoming head coach the following year. 

“We got a field built and we were recruiting really well,” Gattuso said of his time at Duquesne. “Once we started winning, it took off. The first year, we were 4-6, and then after that we were rolling and we were winning championships and bowl games and we had a really good run.” 

In his time leading the Dukes, the former police officer compiled a 97-32 record across 11 seasons and twice won the Eastern College Athletic Conference Bowl, a discontinued postseason game between champions of the Northeast and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conferences. It stopped in 2003 as the two leagues dropped football.  

After leaving Duquesne after the 2004 season, Gattuso spent time on the coaching staff at Pittsburgh and Maryland before assuming his role as head coach at UAlbany in 2014.

Gattuso’s first five seasons at UAlbany saw the team go 24-32. In 2019, the Great Danes posted a 9-5 record and made a playoff run where they lost to Montana State in the second round. “We felt like in ‘19 we had really gotten where we wanted to be. We went to the playoffs, we had a great football team,” Gattuso said.

However, the following years saw the program take a steep dropoff, where between 2020-2022, UAlbany posted a 6-20 record. “The pandemic hits and we never got to recruit off of that success,” Gattuso said. “We lost recruiting, we lost fundraising, we lost momentum, we lost everything.”

In 2022, Gattuso could see the potential his team had, but they struggled to get over the hump. “We were a good football team that lost close games, and that hurt us,” Gattuso said, noting that the team lost five games by a touchdown or less, ending with a 3-8 record. “But I knew we had something. I knew we were coming back.”

Gattuso pictured with CAA Trophy after beating Monmouth 41-0 on Nov. 18.

Photo Credit: Vince Gasparini / The ASP

“I think winning the CAA title is one of the biggest accomplishments in my career,” Gattuso said. “There were people that never thought we could win this conference, and not a lot of teams in a conference win a conference title. They can say ‘co-champs’ all they want but we beat the two other teams.” The Great Danes defeated their CAA co-champs, Villanova and Richmond, by scores of 31-10 and 41-13, respectively.

Despite their historic season, the Great Danes saw their run come to an end in heartbreaking fashion in the FCS Semifinal, where they lost to the eventual champion South Dakota State 59-0.

“I was disappointed we couldn’t put our best foot forward,” Gattuso said. But after the loss, Gattuso said he didn’t take much time to dwell on it before getting right back to work. “[When] you get on the plane and you get back, that immediate negative attitude is gone and you’re onto the next thing. We were literally in the recruiting room right away.”

And the recruiting room is exactly where Gattuso will need to be, as the team is losing some of its main core of star players from this past season. Quarterback Reese Poffenbarger, who transferred to UAlbany from Old Dominion in 2022, transferred to Miami in January, and defensive lineman Anton Juncaj, who transferred from Nassau County Community college the same season, transferred to Arkansas in early January. Wide receiver Brevin Easton and linebacker Dylan Kelly, who won the 2023 Buck Buchanan Award for best defensive player in the FCS, have both exhausted their college eligibility.

However, Gattuso is not fazed by the losses, and is looking forward to spring practice. “We’re bringing new guys that we think are talented,” Gattuso said. “It’s about building the team and we’ve been pretty good at that.”

And to the people who may doubt that the Great Danes can replicate their recent successes, Gattuso is unbothered by their thoughts on him and his team. “That really doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t. Don’t care.”

Looking ahead to the future of the program, Gattuso hopes to build a culture of consistency, where the team is competing in the playoffs for a championship every year. “Over the course of my career I’ve been successful and won a lot of games, a lot of championships, and a lot of those team awards,” Gattuso said. “I believe in what I’m doing.”


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