Carmen Guarino was the coach that held things together. Guarino was the glue.
He was the man in the middle for Union Farmers football.
Nearly 30 years ago now Jeff Longueil was the defensive coordinator.
Gary Zakovic was the offensive coordinator.
Other assistant coaches included John Quinn, soon-to-be head baseball coach Chet Czaplinski, veteran mentor Jack DeBarbieri and Brian Shanahan.
And there was Carmen Guarino, the coach you could go up to and talk football and not be intimidated.
These were legendary head coach Lou Rettino’s men. This was the Union High School varsity football coaching staff – 1991.
Guarino, who went on to become a head coach himself at a program not many dared to take on the gridiron challenge there – Millburn – was a legend in his own right according to fellow coach Quinn, whowas a dear friend.
“No one had a bad word to say about Carmen,” Quinn said. “He was so well-liked. He was just a warm-hearted guy and that was picked up on by his players. He was so well-liked by his players.”
Guarino, who grew up in Kenilworth and graduated from Brearley Regional High School, died last Thursday at Overlook Hospital in Summit at the age of 64, succumbing to a lengthy battle with cancer.
A Mass for Guarino was held Monday at St. Theresa’s RC Church in Kenilworth. Guarino is survived by his mother, Helen, a daughter, Gina, a son, Carmen, Jr., and a brother, Emil.
“At the end of Mass, you know the expression, ‘not a dry eye in the house,’ well that definitely applied here today,” Quinn said.
“His kids are wonderful, a true reflection of their dad.”
Quinn fondly remembered first meeting Guarino at casual coaching events before both became part of Rettino’s staff.
“Everyone on that staff, we were all very close,” Quinn said.
DeBarbieri passed away on Jan. 21 at the age of 66. His son Dan is the assistant varsity wrestling coach at Union.
Longueil passed away in October of 2016 at age 71.
Rettino battled stomach cancer for nearly four years before passing away at age 54 on March 22, 1996.
“Lou could have probably done everything himself,” Quinn said. “But we all had our roles.
“Carmen was a good coach. The players genuinely loved him.”
At Union, Guarino coached the offensive line and also the defensive line and linebackers.
“We always had some of the best offensive linemen in the state and Carmen was a big reason for that,” Quinn said.
Union was known for its Wing-T attack that had linemen pulling in different directions to allow for the Farmer running backs to plow through huge holes.
“He was an unsung coach,” Quinn continued. “He also coached our special teams and liked to tell me that he just put together the fastest cover team in the state.”
Guarino was the head coach at Millburn – his only head coaching stint – for 12 seasons from 2000 to 2011. His 2006 team qualified for the North 2, Group 3 playoffs, with the Millers finishing 5-5 that season afterconcluding with a 7-6 win at Madison.
“Getting Millburn to the playoffs, he gained a lot of respectability,” said Quinn, whose New Brunswick team that year captured North 2, Group 3 as the third seed, beating Irvington – the team Millburnlost to in the first round – in the final at Rutgers. “Carmen did a great job resurrecting that program. He turned it around after it was dormant for so long.
“That was not a marquee job. He did a tremendous job there.”
Although his time as head football coach ended following the 2011 season, Guarino remained at Millburn as health and physical education teacher.
“Carmen also coached wrestling, track and became the bowling coach at Millburn,” Quinn said.
When the 1991 season began Union was looking to reassert itself as the kings of North 2, Group 4. The Farmers had not won the section the previous three years, which at that time seemed like a lifetime.
Union then went on to enjoy a second dominant run under Rettino and staff, going 32-1 the next three seasons (1991, 1992 and 1993), each time winning North 2, Group4 again with championship game wins over Randolph.
“We had a nice run there,” said Quinn, who in the fall will begin his fourth year as Plainfield’s Athletic Director. “That was some of the most fun I’ve had as a coach. Carmen was just a great guy to be around.
“He had a genuine way of dealing with athletes. He always had a really sensible way about himself. He could relate to every man.”
In addition to his time as a football coach, Guarino helped institute a body, mass, index (BMI) program at UHS in the early 1990s. It was designed as a guide for youngsters to measure their nutrition intake and physical activity so as to avoid symptoms leading up to the dangers of obesity.
“Carmen gave so much to so many people,” Quinn said. “When you walked away from having a conversation with him you always felt good.
“He had a creative way of dealing with athletes. His greatest strength was that the kids really loved him. That you can’t fake.
“He was such a dear friend, such a great guy.
“I miss him already, tremendously.”
TWO OF MORRIS COUNTY’S BEST, IN ADDITION TO
GUARINO, SHOULD BE HONORED FOR THEIR
MANY COACHING CONTRIBUTIONS
Former Mountain Lakes coach Doug Wilkins, among the winningest coaches in state history with 328 victories, died on June 3 at the age of 77.
Also last Thursday, former longtime West Morris coach Pete Piccirillo, who won 220 games, died in Florida at the age of 81.
Piccirillo will be honored at halftime of next Monday night’s 41st annual Phil Simms North-South High School All-Star Football Classic at Kean University when at halftime he will be posthumously inducted into the New Jersey Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
Perhaps a moment of silence before the National Anthem for all three men – Wilkins, Piccirillo and Guarino – can be made possible by the powers that be.