worried about him
going into coaching
By Brian Dzenis
Gene DeFilippo knew the coaching life wasn’t for him and he didn’t want that life for his son, John.
The former Youngstown State offensive coordinator recalls his time in the Mahoning Valley during the mid-1970s fondly, but it was a very stressful job.
“I would break out in hives after games. My throat would swell up and I just didn’t handle the pressure very well,” Gene said. “I thought it affected my health and after 10 years of coaching, I got out.”
The DeFilippos are a nomadic family. John was born in Youngs-town, but lived in four different states by the time he was eight, Gene said. After five seasons and a national championship appearance with Bill Narduzzi, he spent a couple seasons as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt before going into a career as an athletic director, which involved even more moving.
John wanted to go into coaching, even with his father’s misgivings.
“I listened, but I didn’t hear it. I knew what I wanted to do and I’m a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to what I want to do,” John said. “I appreciated his concern and that he was looking out for me, but I had already made my mind up.”
After 17 years and currently in his 10th coaching job, John finds himself as a darling of the coaching world as the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterbacks coach in Super Bowl LII.
“It’s been a dream forever. The goal of any coach is to coach in the Super Bowl,” John said. “I won’t say it defines who I am as a coach, but it sure is a nice benefit of all the hard work and preparation that’s gone into my career.”
John is a survivor in the NFL. He’s been a casualty of three coaching staff purges, in both Lane Kiffin (2008) and Dennis Allen’s (2014) respective tenures with the Oakland Raiders and with Mike Pettine (2015) when he was fired by the Cleveland Browns. John brushed aside any suggestion he frets about some of the turmoil in his career.
“If you’re worried about your next job, getting fired or getting hired, that takes away your focus from the task at hand. The task at hand is what’s best for the football team and whatever team you’re coaching on,” John said. “If you worry about the outside forces and the outside noise, as I call it, that’s time taking away from making yourself and your players better.”
That nomad lifestyle of his childhood prepared him well for the NFL. Being the son of an athletic director had the bonus of being exposed to some excellent coaching talent. When Gene was the AD at Kentucky in the late 1980s and early ’90s, John saw how passionate then-men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino was about his craft as he started his rise to the top of the sport. During Gene’s time at Villanova, John noticed Wildcats offensive coordinator Dave Clausen — now the head coach at Wake Forest — had a gift for getting a point across to his players without yelling.
John was 27 when he made it to the pros as an offensive quality control coach with the New York Giants, where former head coach Tom Coughlin showed John the value of organization and attention to details. He also credits the late Raiders owner Al Davis, who taught him the value of the phrase, “If you believe it, say it. Speak your mind.”
“Just being around those types of people — and that’s just off the top of my head — have really helped me in terms of being in all the unique situations I’ve been in,” John said.
John’s work in turning Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz into an MVP candidate and reaching the Super Bowl with backup Nick Foles after Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14 has made him into a hot commodity. He’s interviewed for head coaching positions with the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals. John credits the Eagles organization for finding quality players and coaches to work with.
“They match my love of football and that’s No. 1. They’re great character people and character doesn’t guarantee success in the NFL, but if you don’t have it, there’s zero chance,” John said of his QBs. “They’re open to tough coaching. They’re willing to listen and they’re willing to buy in to the team atmosphere.
“When you have those qualities, guys will continue to get better and better and I think that’s what you see with Carson and Nick.”
Gene retired as athletic director of Boston College in 2012 and lives Wellesley, Mass. — which he said is his last move. He now helps other schools find coaches and athletic directors for Turnkey, a search firm. This past fall, he was involved in the searches for Nebraska, Ole Miss and Rice’s new football coaches.
Gene still has Ohio ties. His daughter Mary lives in Akron and in 2016, the DeFilippos made the pilgrimage to the MVR.
He recalled John’s Super Bowl plans decades before he ever set foot in Minneapolis.
“When John was young, maybe 10 or 11 years old, we watched all the games together. He said, ‘Dad, you’re going to be watching me on TV someday coaching and one day I’ll coach in the Super Bowl.’ Gene said. “This was something he always wanted to do. And when you think about all the times he’s moved and all the jobs he’s had, he’s been all over kingdom come.
“He really paid the price for this and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”