This is the second in a series of Saturday stories profiling the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013.
By Aaron Mansfield
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
It’s all about Christmas time for Dick Diminuco.
It’s the days after Dec. 25, actually, that the ball coach enjoys the most. Reflection is in the air; the pizza and calamari spread is out – his wife, Dale, takes care of that. Players from the annals of Albion and Alden football fill Diminuco’s house to catch up, reminisce and see their old leader.
That leader is one of the most legendary high school football coaches in Western New York history. Diminuco will be inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 30.
“I don’t think there’s any question – the best part is the kids,” Diminuco said. “You form lifelong relationships. I’m humbled and blessed to have been the godfather of many of my players’ children; I’ve been in their weddings; they come over at Christmas. The relationships you build with your players is something I cherish.”
He retired from coaching high school football at Alden at the end of last season but was lured out of retirement by The College at Brockport, where he is coaching the quarterbacks. Under his tutelage at Alden, the Bulldogs went 38-6 in Diminuco’s four seasons there, winning three straight sectional titles from 2010 to 2012. They lost in the state semifinals last year.
“The wound has healed with time now,” Diminuco said of missing out on the state title. “I look back and, just, what a great bunch of kids, coaches were terrific. What a good three-year run we had.”
Diminuco is as grounded as they come, never accepting praise but instead deflecting attention – even when he is entering a prestigious hall of fame.
“Obviously I’m humbled and thrilled by it, but to be quite frank, when you look at the people who are in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, I’m really not sure I measure up. I’m a high school football coach,” Diminuco said.
Diminuco said that same thing to one of his former players. The response? “Coach, you have touched so many people. There are so many kids you have touched.”
“I got to thinking about that, and I have been touched way more than I have touched other people,” Diminuco said. “I have been so blessed by so many people.”
One of those people was his fifth-grade teacher, Lou Ricci. Diminuco grew up in Rochester without a father, and Ricci assumed that role. He had two sons and essentially made Diminuco his third.
Ricci was also the JV coach at the neighborhood high school. He asked Diminuco to be a team manager.
“Ever since fifth grade, I wanted to be like him,” Diminuco said. “I wanted to be a football coach.
“He just was a guy I looked up to – a tremendous guy, just a great man. He actually was in my wedding. … I’ve had some really good people to guide me along the way. I was kind of a knucklehead when I was a kid.”
The knucklehead turned into one of the most successful high school coaches the area has ever seen.
After playing football and baseball at NAIA school Ottawa University in Kansas – where Diminuco was an all-conference quarterback for three years – he began coaching football and teaching at Albion High School in 1975. He ended up coaching the team for 34 years to 204 wins and two state titles, in 1983 and ’87.
Diminuco retired from Albion in 2008, but he didn’t stay off the gridiron long. He returned to the game to coach Alden for two years.
At least that was the plan. He ended up staying four.
“I really like the kids there and the kids responded to our staff, and I think we did some pretty good things,” Diminuco said. “Each year, I thought, ‘Geez, this could really be the year we could contend for a state title.’ ”
He made up his mind a month before Alden’s season ended that 2012 would be his final year – he was worn out, dealing with a knee replacement and just “thought it was time.” He planned to take a year to watch college football and relax. Then in March, while he was in Florida, Diminuco got a call from new Brockport coach Jason Mangone asking him to come coach the quarterbacks.
“I was kind of taken aback by it,” Diminuco said.
Taken aback, but equally intrigued – Diminuco couldn’t pry himself from the game he loves.
Diminuco is 60 years old and has his master’s in physical education from Brockport. He uses the degree as a lesson for his players – telling them that if he can get a master’s degree, anyone can.
That’s one of the biggest lessons Diminuco has preached to his players: Take your education seriously and don’t sell yourself short. His other primary lesson?
“Be good to your family. Love your parents,” he said. “I don’t have my parents anymore. … Respect and love your mom and dad.”
Diminuco and Dale were celebrating their 37th anniversary the day he chatted with The News. They have three daughters and four grandkids. One of those is a boy who seems to have football in his future – as it is surely in his genetics.
“He’s 1 year old and the thing he says the most is, ‘Ball, ball, ball.’ I’m liking that,” Diminuco said. “He goes around wearing his Yankees and Buffalo Bills hats.”
Diminuco was a standout quarterback at Monroe High School, where he won a Rochester city championship. He also played basketball for the school and is a Section V Hall of Famer.
“It really developed me as a person,” Diminuco said of attending a high school at which a majority of the students were African-American. “Ninety percent of my best friends in high school were black kids. I look back on it very fondly. I had a great high school experience.”
Diminuco entered coaching with a fiery style learned from his tough upbringing in Rochester, but he said he coaches with a different disposition now.
“I certainly have mellowed and my style has changed a little bit,” he said. “I’m not quite as demanding as I was. Some of the rough edges were knocked off.”
The edges were knocked off by the relationships he built over the years.
“My favorite accomplishment is Christmas time, when a lot of former players come back and visit,” Diminuco said. “Or when I get invited to their weddings, or when I’m the godfather of their children. My favorite accomplishment is the connection that we’ve been able to keep over the years.”
The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame’s 23rd induction dinner will be held Oct. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom. The cost is $85 per person or $750 for table of 10. For tickets, visit http://buffalosportshallfame.com/awards-dinner-tickets