After controversial firing, high-profile Pa. football coach officially hired at nearby school

MIKE WHITE
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
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Eric Kasperowicz feels like he is back where he belongs — coaching high school football.

Kasperowicz was named Tuesday night as the new coach at Mars High School. The Mars school board approved Kasperowicz's hiring by a 7-1 vote (one board member was absent). The move comes almost a year to the day that Kasperowicz's world was rocked when he was informed by Pine-Richland's administration that he would no longer be the Rams' coach, despite winning four WPIAL titles and two state championships in eight seasons. That was April 14, 2021.

Kasperowicz spent the past season as a volunteer assistant coach at Pitt and is grateful for that experience. But Tuesday night he was beaming over the prospects of coaching again in the WPIAL. He called the past year "one of the worst of my life," because Pine-Richland said it fired him because of bullying and hazing in the program. Kasperowicz denied those claims.

Now, he doesn't want to look back much. He is excited and believes he could find new life on Mars.

"I'm extremely grateful to (Pitt coach) Pat Narduzzi and the University of Pittsburgh, and being part of an ACC championship was an incredible experience," Kasperowicz said. "But at this point in my career, I wanted to get back to high school coaching.

"I'm so appreciative of Mars for the opportunity of a fresh start and for the next phase of my coaching career. I really would like to thank the Pine-Richland community and all the football families there. All of my years there were awesome and I'm proud of what our staff built there. So many incredible memories and relationships built over the years. I'm looking forward to Mars and continuing the great tradition at Mars. I think this is a great opportunity at a great school district."

Kasperowicz takes over for Scott Heinauer, whose position was opened by the Mars school board in January. Heinauer, who had a 203-118 record in 30 seasons, was told he could re-apply for the job, but he did not. Heinauer remains Mars' athletic director.

Kasperowicz said the move to become Mars' coach was a "family decision." Kasperowicz and his wife, Jen, live in the Pine-Richland district with their three children. Kasperowicz said the family will move as soon as possible into the Mars Area School District. Kasperowicz will continue to be a teacher at North Hills High School. Kasperowicz and his family lived in Mars before moving to Pine-Richland's district when he became coach there.

"One-hundred percent it was a family decision," said Kasperowicz, who was 85-18 at Pine-Richland. "If my kids and wife weren't OK with it, we weren't going to do it."

Kasperowicz's son, Eric, is a freshman at Pine-Richland and was in line to possibly be Pine-Richland's quarterback next season. At Pine-Richland, Kasperowicz used to say he was looking forward to coaching his son. It figures to happen, after all. When the family moves to Mars, the elder Eric Kasperowicz said his two youngest children will transfer to Mars and young Eric will play football. Youngest daughter, Emmy, is a seventh-grader at Pine-Richland and also an athlete. Oldest daughter, Ella, is a Pine-Richland senior who plays softball.

Kasperowicz also said he will have some of his old assistants at Pine-Richland on the Mars staff.

"You'll see a lot of familiar faces from Pine- Richland football on the sidelines at Mars," Kasperowicz said. "But I want to talk to some Mars coaches, too. It would be good to have someone who is in the school."

Mark Gross, superintendent of Mars School District, told the school board during Tuesday's meeting that a hiring committee was formed and the committee included Thiel College athletic director Amy Schafer as a consultant. The committee did a first round of interviews and then invited back a few finalists for a second interview.

"What took us so long is we wanted to give this its due diligence and it just takes time," Gross said. "The reality is we had very good candidates. This isn't about good or bad, but what it comes down to is the best fit.

"Eric answered every question we could possibly have and we were satisfied with his answers. He was very up front, honest, very direct and very open about his history as coach, leading up to where we are now at Mars. He shared a plan that will be pretty much a major overhaul of what we're used to at Mars."

At Pine-Richland, Kasperowicz's teams were known for having an extremely effective, no-huddle offense that produced a lot of points. Kasperowicz, though, was the defensive coordinator for many of his years at Pine-Richland.

Mars had made the WPIAL playoffs 16 consecutive seasons until going 2-8 last season and missing the postseason. When asked if he will use the same offensive style at Mars that was used at Pine-Richland, Kasperowicz said, "We want to bring a program to Mars, but see the kids first and see if we have the kids to fit the system."

When asked if he had any goals at Mars, Kasperowicz had excitement in his voice. He knows he might be asked often about his Pine-Richland days, but doesn't want to talk much about what occurred in the past year. He's all about looking ahead.

"I'm really thankful to Mars," Kasperowicz said. "Ultimately, I want to get in there and leave the program better than we found it. We want to start from the ground up, with the community, the youth levels, and work as hard as we can. If you do that, everything else, the wins and losses, will take care of themselves."