Back to the future: After 12-year hiatus, Piccola coaches Xaverian again

Lou Piccola never thought he’d be back in the Xaverian uniform, back coaching the Clippers baseball team. After all, it’s been 12 years since he last filled out a lineup card and went over ground rules with umpires at the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn school.

Piccola, who coaches boys basketball at Colts Neck High School in New Jersey, replaces Dennis Canale, who retired from his coaching duties and took a leave of absence from his position as building manager at Xaverian in late December citing a medical condition.

Canale’s departure came shortly after prosecutors filed papers naming former Xaverian freshman coach, Gerard Bruzzese, as a ringleader of a multimillion-dollar, mob-linked online sports-gambling operation. Bruzzese, who resigned after last season, was hired as a coach at Xaverian despite a guilty plea to securities fraud — a felony. He served a year in the federal pen from 2000 to 2001.

Piccola, the chairman of the physical education department at Xaverian, was soon named the new, old varsity baseball coach.

He is joined by former St. Francis College baseball coach Frank Del George, who has been a P.E. teacher at Xaverian for more than two decades.

“We’re moving forward,” Piccola said. “We’re here to coach a team, to run a program. We’re program people. It’s good to be back and hopefully be an asset to the school with our experience.”

Since both coaches are in the building – in fact Piccola said that all five varsity coaches in the program work at Xaverian – it made the transition fairly seamless for the returning players.

“They’re both hard-working men and they expect a lot from us,” senior centerfielder J.T. Torres said. “We didn’t really know what to expect, but they definitely showed they were dedicated and determined and they want to make us better.”

Del George, who was the coach at St. Francis College for 26 years until the program was disbanded, wasn’t keen about taking over the program at Xaverian. That is, until he proposed that both he and Piccola handle the responsibilities.

“I told Lou I don’t mind taking it, but I think both of us together can really make an impact here,” Del George said. “That’s the reason why we jumped on board. It’s bringing back memories. It’s unbelievable.”

On Thursday, the Clippers were in The Bronx for a scrimmage against Mount St. Michael and the memories also came flooding back for Piccola. It was on that same field that he coached the Clippers junior varsity team to its first CHSAA intersectional title, beating Power Memorial in 1982. His teams would appear in the final for the next five years, winning two more consecutive titles.

Piccola, who coached Major League veteran Rich Aurilia on the junior varsity level and Chris Mullin on the varsity basketball team, took over the varsity program in 1990 and won the school’s first CHSAA Class A intersectional title in 1990, beating Christ the King in the final. The following year, the Clippers lost to McClancy in the championship game.

In 1995, Piccola called it quits – he thought for good. While he still worked at Xaverian, Piccola coached boys basketball at Colts Neck High School, a short drive from his house. He also ran a successful Little League there for 20 years.

“After 12 years of being away I wasn’t sure, but with Coach Del George wanting to do it as well, we thought we’d have a little fun and try and get back to some basics in terms of baseball,” Piccola said. “We’re not here to waste our time. We want serious players who want to go to the next level.”