It'll be hard to mimic the contribution Tenaglia made at East Lyme

East Lyme

High school football sidelines, where the romance of Friday night lights meets coordinated chaos, often reveal character. Just not as often as they reveal characters.

We've had our share in this corner of the world. And none more colorful than the coach we're about to lose to Massachusetts.

Paul Tenaglia hit the sidelines at East Lyme High in 2003. Nobody here knew much about him at the time, save the guy smart enough to hire him, Andy Dousis, who only changed the entire culture of the program during his tenure.

It wasn't long until East Lyme became so happily awash in Tenaglia's aura: defense, a thick Massachusetts accent, defense, humor, defense, the Piranha Speech, defense and several renditions of thick Massachusetts accent from the players.

And it is with much appreciation - and a little sadness, too - that we salute Tenaglia's 10 years and bid him goodbye. He's accepted a transfer at Boeing, his real job. He'll also join the staff at Andover High.

"You're losing another Coach T," Coach T said the other day, confirming his departure.

Coach T (former Sun coach Mike Thibault) and Coach T (Tenaglia, the defensive coordinator and later head coach), both lasted 10 years in the People's Republic of East Lyme.

In 10 years, East Lyme football won its only state title, a league title, five playoff games and made the state championship game four times. A golden age.

The memories are woven into the games, the accent and his eccentricity, like the way he wore knit hats on cold nights. They never did cover his ears and always formed a cone shape on top. It was all part of the show.

"The game I'll remember the most," Tenaglia said, "was down in New Canaan. Nobody thought we had a chance."

Tenaglia alluded to the playoff game in 2005 when the Vikings went to the Gold Coast, where even the cow pastures are turfed, to play one of the state's monoliths. Tenaglia's defense held New Canaan to 12 points and kicker Pedro Belinchon kicked two 50-yard field goals. Tenaglia still remembers the sound, "an explosion," he said, the ball made off Belinchon's foot.

"Paul said I'm the only high school coach ever to try to position the ball for a 51-yard field goal on third down," Dousis cracked later, affirming Tenaglia's knack to say the right thing at the right time.

So many other games:

They blanked Weaver in the program's first playoff game in 25 years - goal line stand late that preceded Louie Allen's 99-yard touchdown run - and then upset Masuk in the finals. They won a Thanksgiving game 7-2, stopping Waterford seven times inside the 10 in the final minute. They won a playoff game in 2009 practicing in the commons the day before because of rain.

They won what felt like two-dozen games by scores of 7-0, 7-2 and 7-6. Tenaglia's defense came through more than Mo Rivera.

The memories, though, wouldn't be as vivid were it not for Tenaglia's demeanor. You've heard imitation is the highest form of flattery? Nobody in the history of the school was ever imitated more than Coach T.

He was born in Medford, Mass. Except that if you are from Medford, it's pronounced "Meffa." Tenaglia's accent often belied the seriousness of his message. His defenses were pretty serious after all.

But the accent became part - or perhaps paht - of the scenery. Former program great Matt Walker used to practice his Coach T on the sidelines during games. In Tenaglia's first season, quarterback Jon Nucci shared Tenaglia's "Piranha Speech." Nucci broke into his best pahk-the-cah, arms flailing like an orchestra director and hollered "we gawta (gotta) swawm (swarm) to the ball like a bunch of pih-rawn-erz (piranhas)!"

After the Vikings won a playoff game in 2009, senior Josh Paquette nosed out teammates Kevin Seery and Kevin Dolan for the best Coach T. Paquette, flailing, yelled, "Thirty yee-izz (years) we haven't socked (sucked) this bad! Thirty yee-izz!"

They were good days. The East Lyme sideline was a show unto itself. Dousis once begged the referee to throw a flag on his own team because the East Lyme band was on the field too long at halftime. The late, great John Mallard came with his own set of lines. A bunch of kids who got it. And the granddaddy of them all, Coach T, who made the good days great.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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