Now that the bar has been set about as high as it can go, Albert Chiola has the challenge in front of him of making sure Linden football remains as competitive as it can be.
Chiola, who will turn 41 on June 24, was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach just a few weeks after Deon Candia stepped down earlier this year in order to further his education.
“When Deon told us we were all in shock,” said Chiola, who has been coaching at Linden since the 2007 season and was on Candia’s staff the entire time, which was since 2008.
This is the first head coaching position for the 1992 Colonia graduate.
“Deon wants to move on and do other things and we support him,” Chiola said.
Chiola came over to Linden for the 2007 season, along with Joe Stinson, who was named the next head coach after Bucky McDonald’s 22-season tenure concluded following the 2006 season.
Stinson and Chiola came over from Asbury Park, where they both coached, Stinson the head coach and Chiola one of his assistants.
Stinson’s tenure at Linden lasted just one season before Candia, a 1991 Linden graduate and also an assistant coach under Bucky McDonald, was named to succeed Stinson as head coach.
Chiola, who coached wide receivers and defensive backs under Stinson and for one year head coach Matt Ardizzone at Asbury Park, drew wide receivers and was the defensive coordinator at Linden his first year in 2007.
A social studies teacher who will be moving from Linden’s McManus Middle School to the high school this fall, Chiola coached the quarterbacks and defensive backs his first year with Candia in 2008 before becoming the offensive coordinator in 2009.
Linden jumped out to a 4-0 start in 2009, averaging 28 points. However, the Tigers dropped their next five games, but defeated Union on Thanksgiving to finish 5-5.
The next season Linden ended up being the first team in North 2, Group 4 to not have enough power points to qualify for the playoffs with a 6-2 record at the cutoff. Linden finished 7-3.
Two years later the Tigers reached the North 2, Group 4 semifinals in a season they won only four games.
Two years after that Linden captured its first state championship since 1985 and only its second in the playoff era when the Tigers won North 2, Group 5 with a record of 10-2 this past December.
Linden had to beat North Hunterdon and Westfield a second time in the playoffs and then defeated Elizabeth for the first time in two tries in the final.
“I want to try to keep the success we’ve had the past couple of years going,” Chiola said. “We will continue to strive for the playoffs and reach that next level.”
Linden reached a sectional semifinal in 2012 and 2013 and sporadically had teams that were capable of going all the way since 1985 before it all came together last season.
“It was just an unbelievable feeling. I was in shock when we won,” Chiola said. “When the Elizabeth game was over I looked over at coach (Anthony) Reinoso and said, ‘it’s over and done’?
“It was real satisfying, just a great feeling. We were just so happy for the kids and for the entire city of Linden.”
Chiola said that Linden’s coaching staff will pretty much remain the same, with Reinoso – Linden’s head wrestling coach – back as defensive coordinator.
“Being a head coach has always been a dream of mine since I started coaching,” Chiola said. “I never thought it would come as soon as it did after a state championship season. I thought Deon would still be here a long time.
“I’m just really excited about the opportunity ahead of me.”
NOTES: This summer Linden will be participating in 7-on-7s at Rutgers and Kean and in a linemen challenge at Bernards.
Chiola will also be part of the Union County coaching staff for this summer’s Snapple Bowl, which will be contested at Kean on July 16.
When Chiola played at Colonia – wide receiver and defensive back – he played for the program’s second head coach, Patsy Barbarto, who guided the Middlesex County school from 1977-1995. Barbarto succeeded Joe Martino, who later became the head coach at Linden.
McDonald, who coached under Martino, succeeded Martino as head coach at Linden in 1985, leading the Tigers to their first playoff championship, which was the North 2, Group 3 crown that season.
The 1986 (finished 9-1, was in North 2, Group 3) and 1987 (finished 8-2, was in North 2, Group 4) Linden teams were undefeated before falling in the playoffs.
Albert Chiola coaching resume:
2002-2006: assistant at Asbury Park under Joe Stinson and Matt Ardizzone, coaching the wide receivers and defensive backs
2007: assistant at Linden under Joe Stinson, coaching the wide receivers and was also the defensive coordinator
2008: assistant at Linden under Deon Candia, coaching the quarterbacks and defensive backs
2009-2014: assistant at Linden under Deon Candia, serving as the offensive coordinator
LINDEN HEAD FOOTBALL COACHES SINCE 1985:
1985-2006: Bucky McDonald
2007: Joe Stinson
2008-2014: Deon Candia
2015: Albert Chiola