Basketball coach Bill Sacco retires after 18 seasons at Cornell

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Thursday, May 7, 2020 | 11:07 PM


Bill Sacco had already retired from teaching and coaching when he noticed Cornell was hiring a boys basketball coach and decided to apply.

On interview day, the candidates lined up.

“I sat there that whole time waiting for guys to go in and explain what they were going to do and how they were going to do it,” Sacco said. “I was the last guy and the oldest guy. I figured, ‘Ooh boy.’ I really didn’t have much of a chance.

“I can’t believe it’s been 18 years.”

Now, after almost two decades at Cornell, Sacco is officially retiring from coaching, ending a career that spanned more than 50 years, three schools and nearly 500 wins. He’ll remain athletic director at Cornell but leaves coaching with a 484-376 record and two WPIAL runner-up trophies. He also coached at Moon and West Allegheny.

“It’s time,” said Sacco, who’s 77.

His final season was one of his best. Cornell went 20-7 this winter, finished as the WPIAL Class A runner-up and reached the PIAA quarterfinals.

And the Raiders weren’t done.

They were scheduled to play District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle when the PIAA canceled the state tournament in response to the covid-19 pandemic. That, Sacco said, was a difficult way to end a season.

“We can always dream,” he said. “I tell the boys, truthfully, you just don’t know what could have happened and what would have happened. We were playing pretty well at the time.”

The 1962 Moon graduate started his coaching career at his alma mater. He coached the Tigers for 22 years including 11 as head coach in two stints (1976-81 and 1987-93). He went 168-145 at Moon where current Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari was among his star players.

“To everyone who knows Coach Sacco, they know him as a motivator who pushed all of us,” Calipari wrote on Twitter in a series of tweets. “He was tough but fair and always made it about family. He always did things together as a team away from the court to bring people together. He became like a father to all of us.

“Coach Sacco showed me personally what it means to be a coach,” Calipari added. “He showed me that it’s more than Xs and Os. He made it about us and always pushed and promoted all of us. He was the original servant leader!”

After Moon, Sacco went 65-53 in five seasons (1997-2002) with the West Allegheny girls before taking over the Cornell boys in 2002-03.

“I’d retired from teaching, and so I retired from coaching at West A,” Sacco said. “I just thought I was out of it. But then I said to my wife: ‘This Cornell job has opened up and it’s boys. I think I’d like to try that one more time.’”

At Cornell, Sacco went 251-178. Among his star players was Dane Jackson, who was drafted last month into the NFL. Cornell reached the WPIAL finals in 2012 and 2020, and both times Calipari flew into town to watch courtside.

The year before Sacco became coach, Cornell went 5-18. In his first season, the Raiders improved to 13-10 and reached the WPIAL playoffs, which fit his mindset for fixing up programs.

“I kind of always have done that,” Sacco said. “At West A, it was the same thing. I think in 10 years they hadn’t won more than 20 games. That was my thing: Try to fix it.”

Combined, Sacco was a head coach for 34 seasons. He leaves 16 wins away from 500, a milestone that might make some coaches come back for another year.

But it didn’t entice him.

“Not really,” Sacco said, “because I didn’t get into coaching for that reason. I did it because I like doing it.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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