New Pine-Richland football coach predicts ‘smooth transition’ after meeting players

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Friday, June 4, 2021 | 1:03 AM


There were some sleepless nights this week for Steve Campos as Pine-Richland was about to make him the school’s new football coach. But after meeting with the players for the first time Thursday afternoon, Campos predicted he’d sleep soundly later that night.

“I told my wife when I came home, ‘You know what, it was the greatest day I thought I could ever have there,’” said Campos, officially hired a day earlier to replace coach Eric Kasperowicz, whose ouster brought weeks of turmoil to the school.

“I hadn’t slept for three days just worrying about the vote and worrying about this move and how things are going to work out. But after today, these kids are phenomenal.”

Campos met with the rising juniors and seniors in the afternoon. They talked about dependability and accountability, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after their workout and threw the ball around a little on the field, he said.

It was a chance to clear the air.

“This is what I told the team: We’ve got eight weeks until heat acclimatization,” Campos said. “This ship is sailing Monday. Either you’re on it or you’re off. If you’re on it, jump on. There are no life preservers we’re going to throw out. They got a laugh out of that.

“Everybody’s aboard.”

Campos has coached football for decades, mostly at the college level. Among his previous jobs, he was head coach at Bethany College for nine seasons (1993-01). He also had stints as a college assistant at Memphis State, IUP, Texas El Paso, Marietta, Cal (Pa.), Washington & Jefferson and Robert Morris.

His high school experience is limited. He was interim head coach at Ringgold for one season in 2006, while also the school’s athletic director. For the past nine, he was an assistant coach at Seneca Valley, where he also works as a paraprofessional educator.

He’s retiring from that teaching job Friday.

The 1976 New Brighton graduate has coached football since 1982. Coaching runs in the family. He and his wife Debbie have a son, Luca, who is an assistant soccer coach at Long Island University.

Campos won’t reveal his age, saying instead: “I’m like that car that goes down the road. It might have some age on it but not many miles.”

At Pine-Richland, Campos takes over a football team that won WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A titles last fall. He’s also taking over a program that had a popular coach ousted following a school investigation into allegations of “hazing, ‘rites of passage,’ and intimidation.”

The Rams went 85-18 under Kasperowicz, winning four WPIAL titles and two state championships.

The school board voted 8-1 on Wednesday to hire Campos, who met with his new team less than 24 hours later.

“If we continue to think about the past, the future is going to pass us by,” he said. “That was the theme of the meeting.”

Pine-Richland has been without a coach since mid-April, when district administrators decided to not renew Kasperowicz’s contract. The firing of Kasperowicz and his coaching staff led to several organized protests by students and community members.

While the school was searching for a replacement, Campos said, he received an email inquiring whether he’d be interested in the job. That led him to meet with new athletic director T.J. Salopek and other school administrators.

“In a situation like this, you’re always skeptical,” Campos said, “but I felt like they wanted me, and kind of felt a oneness about their focus. So, I ended up meeting with the superintendent, Dr. (Brian) Miller, who’s an unbelievable guy. I got along with the whole administration. They asked if I’d be interested and I said, ‘Yeah, definitely.’”

Kasperowicz and his staff had cited a toxic relationship with the school’s administration.

“I’ve been in this business a long time, especially in the college level,” Campos said. “If the administration is not focused, it’s not worth taking. But they’re very focused.”

Campos isn’t active on social media, so he doesn’t concern himself with what online critics might say about Pine-Richland’s decision to hire him. He does occasionally hear comments third hand, however.

“A buddy of mine from Beaver Falls calls me up and says, ‘Congratulations,’” Campos said with a laugh, before pointing out the friend then added: “Man, they’re crushing you on Twitter.’ I said, ‘Why did you tell me that?’”

The supposed target was his 40-47 record at Bethany.

“They don’t know the guy I took over for was 15-47,” Campos said, laughing.

His key concern about taking the Pine-Richland job wasn’t the school’s recent turmoil. Campos said he was hesitant to leave his coaching job on Ron Butschle’s staff at Seneca Valley. But added that once you’ve been a head coach at any level, you’re always wanting to try it again.

“Steve is extremely knowledgeable and has a ton of experience,” Butschle said. “He was a really big part of our program.”

Assembling a coaching staff is Campos’ next task. He has a few candidates lined up, but declined to name any until the board approves them. Pine-Richland’s current assistants are expected to move elsewhere.

Campos received a one-year, $10,092 contract but intends to stay longer, if they’ll have him.

“I’m there until I’m done,” he said. “I’m not looking again. I’m not saying I’m old, but you swing the bat and you swing the bat. This is my last swing. Hopefully, we can hit a couple of home runs here.”

When Campos met with the players Thursday, he was a coaching staff of one.

“Before you knew it, it was 5 o’clock. I said, all right, it’s time to go home. Next thing I know, there are seven of them sitting down in my office,” Campos said.

They asked what Campos had planned next for them.

“They’re ready to go. They’re so resilient. They’ve got so much leadership down there. They’re ready to move on,” he said. “It was beautiful. They were laughing, we were joking and it was the first time I’d met them.

“It’s going to be a real smooth transition with the players.”

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

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