By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
A PAIR of Shenango Valley kids who have grown into venerable veteran coaches in different sports. One — having recently reached a milestone — is still making his mark, with no end in sight; the other, who resigned at the top of his game more than a decade ago, has been considering re-emerging from retirement.
Recently, Hickory High boys basketball head coach Nick Cannone copped his 400th career coaching win.
The Farrell native is in his 4th decade on the bench, having coached at his alma mater, as well as West Middlesex and Wilmington prior to making Hermitage his home. His Hornets are 17-3 and recently annexed the District 10 Region 5-AAA crown.
No sooner had his Hornets harvested their title by forging a win over Franklin, then Cannone was cruising toward Warren for a scouting trip
But regarding No. 400, Cannone contemplated by commenting,
“I really wasn’t paying attention to it. I’ve been at a lot of good places, I’ve met a lot of good people, had a lot of good players, and a lot of good assistant coaches (at West Middlesex, Cannone coached Rick Ladjevich, who has become Cannone’s lead assistant at Hickory), and that’s what makes it special. All of those places, my stops, were part of (400 wins). And from the administrators, to the parents, to the faculties at all those stops, it’s been neat to get all them involved.”
Four decades into his scholastic coaching career, however, Cannone is not considering calling it a day any time soon.
“I like what I do, I like what I do. And I’ve got a fourth-grader, now, so, who knows?”
ä For months, stories have been swirling about Sharon High’s head football coaching position. Candidates’ names have been bandied about, some factual, some rumored.
One name that has surfaced is Jim Wildman, the former Tigers’ taskmaster, who is on the school board’s short list of finalists. A Wildman protegé, Bobby Fromm, has skippered Sharon during the past 9 seasons and posted a composite 55-47 ledger. Fromm forged Sharon to the 2010 D-10 Class AA title, but the Tigers tumbled to 2-8 and 1-9 marks the past 2 years.
Almost exactly 11 years ago to the day the then-54-year-old Wildman announced his retirement following a 25-year tenure in which he posted a then Mercer County-record 208 wins (76 losses, 6 ties). His Sharon squads won 13 league, 8 District 10 and 2 PIAA western regional championships. Arguably his two best Bengals’ teams bowed to Berwick back-to-back in Class AAA state championship games.
While Wildman was not approached by The Herald thus far for a comment, he received a recent endorsement from one of the Sharon program’s finest products — Marlin Jackson.
Prior to the recent 66th anniversary Mercer County Hall of Fame banquet, in which he served as a guest speaker, Jackson said of Wildman, “I’m fully 110 percent behind Coach Wildman. He’s been a great coach, a great leader in the community. Obviously, he was a winning coach, which people will hang their hat on. But, really, he was a disciplinarian and a leader. And I think that’s really what the kids need, they need some guidance, off the field, as well.”
A former University of Michigan All-American and standout for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts before his career was short-circuited by injury, Jackson said he and Wildman had “ ... been sitting down and talking about the possibilities. And what I do with my non-profit (Fight for Life foundation), implementing those things within the framework and structure of a footbal program, with the care and development and mentoring programs, keeping the kids engaged as much as possible, because too much time on their hands is causing problems in this community here, with a lot of the youth.
“I feel he brings a lot more than just X’s and O’s to the table, and that’s what’s needed in coaching — period,” Jackson continued, regarding Wildman. “If you’re not willing to step up as a coach and be more than just an X’s-and-O’s guy, then I don’t know why you’re doing it, because you’re responsible for leading the lives of young men.”
Jackson proved painfully prophetic, as only hours after his remarks a Sharon High basketball player senselessly was killed in a gun-related incident still under investigation.
“We all know, in this community here, what’s going on, and the need for that type of approach with these kids, and just with the generation nowadays, period. It’s a different generation, and they need more guidance, and you have to bring that to the table as a coach.
“And I know, that if Coach Wildman gets the job, I will definitely be a part of everything he’s doing there,” Jackson concluded.
During his retirement announcement, Wildman related an anecdote. A friend of his father Bo — a former NFL official by the name of Jim Hamer — once gave the younger Wildman some advice: ‘Jimmy, let me tell you something: You say you want to be a high school coach. Well, getting into coaching can be pretty good and it can be pretty bad. But when all is said and done, you’ll find out there are only about five people — that’s probably how many people you’ll be able to count on as your true friends.’ ”
The irony, as Wildman related on that day 11 years ago, is that Hamer — due to a workplace mishap — had only four fingers.
Which means coaches enjoy even fewer friends than they realize, or as Cannone could attest, and perhaps Wildman, also, more than they can count. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Which is why Cannone continues to coach and Wildman would welcome another opportunity.