Sports Columnist
John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – Back when he was a student at Malvern Preparatory School, before graduating in 1982, Rich Carfagno recalls teacher and administrator Jim Stewart being firm but fair.

Carfagno said Stewart listened, but he did not accept flimsy excuses.

“If you were late, he would tell you to get up earlier,” said Carfagno. “He didn’t have much time for nonsense. If you messed around he would tell you to knock it off immediately. Basically, he taught us how to grow up.”

Almost three decades later, Carfagno inherited the SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School football program. His first formal practice was Aug. 17. There were two one-hour sessions, and afterward first-year athletic director Pat DiPilla lauded Carfagno and his staff for their collective efficiency.

The Neumann-Goretti Saints should expect more of the same as long as Carfagno is in charge.

“I learned from great people, especially two hall of fame coaches,” said Carfagno. “They were two of the best, and I was very fortunate to be able to watch what they did on a daily basis.”

Carfagno was referring to Gaspare “Gamp” Pellegrini and Ed “Bubby” DiCamillo. The former was Carfagno’s coach at Malvern and his boss when he was an assistant coach in the mid- ’80s. The legendary Pellegrini’s brilliant 42-year career as a head coach ended on Jan. 29 when he retired following an undefeated season. Carfagno assisted DiCamillo at both Neumann and West Catholic.

Greatly influenced by his mentors’ ability to teach defense, Carfagno stated with conviction – but without arrogance – that he would match his coaching wits with anyone.

“I tell the kids that there are a lot of things that I can’t do,” said Carfagno. “One of the things that I definitely can do is teach defense because I understand it and I love it, and I was guided by some great minds as both a player and a coach.”

When N-G’s first practice produced only 30 players, Carfagno was slightly concerned. However, he predicts the small number will increase into the mid-30s before the season begins and then “hopefully into the 40s” by early September.

In the meantime, Carfagno and his staff are preaching “baby steps” to help the Saints acclimate to a new style. As for team goals, Carfagno said improving on last year’s record of 4-8 overall and 0-4 in the Catholic League would be a start.

“I don’t know about the rest of our spanision,” said Carfagno, referring to the other four teams that form the Catholic League Class AAA. “Time will tell. We have some non-league games and I’m hoping we stay healthy and keep getting better. The pressure is not on the kids, though. It’s on me and the rest of the coaches to prepare them to play their best.”

Carfagno said his positive attitude comes naturally.

“If you’re going to be in it, you have to be in it 100,000 percent,” he said.

The man never said he would have made a great math teacher. But as for coaching, that’s an entirely different story.

John Knebels can be reached at