Joe DiPietro was shooting hoops on a warm March afternoon when he saw some girls from his former high school, Camden Catholic. DiPietro, then enrolled at Gloucester County College, walked over to chat and found them disheartened. Their junior varsity softball team was about to get cut, the girls told him, because they had no coach.
“I said, ‘Tell them I’ll do it,’” DiPietro said. “I was only joking around. Well, they went and told the athletic director. He called me and said, ‘Look, just do it for one year.’”
That was 37 years ago. DiPietro has been coaching softball ever since.
He spent 25 years at Camden Catholic, winning three straight championships and finishing with a record of 274-98. From there, DiPietro took a part-time coaching job at La Salle University, before becoming Temple’s head coach in July 2008. The story is funny, DiPietro said, for a man whose first love was basketball. And it all started with a softball team about to get cut.
Now, DiPietro’s own team has been cut, and at Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting the administration stood pat on its decision.
When this season ends, DiPietro will find himself without a coaching job.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” DiPietro said. “I’ll wait and see what opens up, but there’s no guarantee I’ll get a job.”
Still, he said he’s proud of what he’s accomplished as a softball coach, especially at Temple. The softball team is the only program at Temple to have increased its win total every season for the past five years.
DiPietro also speaks with pride about his first Temple recruiting class, calling it his “fondest memory.”
His players, past and present, are equally fond of him.
“He’s very easy to get along with,” sophomore outfielder Annie Marcopolus said. “We go into his office and just talk for hours with him. He’s awesome.”
“He understands us,” senior catcher/first baseman Stephanie Pasquale said. “He does what needs to be done for us. Some coaches are just there for themselves, but he’s there to make sure we get everything we need.”
Even players from La Salle still stay in touch with their former coach, DiPietro said.
“They’ll get a hold of me somehow, let me know how they’re doing,” DiPietro said. “I have lunch with a few of them every once in a while.”
DiPietro spent six seasons as head coach of La Salle and he said that there were many challenges.
“La Salle was tough,” DiPietro said. “In the Atlantic 10 [Conference] there were seven teams that were fully funded. I only had five tuition-only scholarships. It was hard to recruit. The football team used to practice on our field. So they would rip the outfield up. And we’d be out there in March, and left field was complete dirt.”
But DiPietro said he loved working for La Salle.
“I felt a sense of family there,” DiPietro said. “The administration cared about their coaches. They cared about the student-athletes. If I needed to go in and say, ‘Hey, I could get this kid if I had two more thousand dollars,’ they gave it to me.”
But economic reasons forced DiPietro to leave La Salle. In 2008, his title abstractor business went under, and he needed a full-time job. Since Temple was near his home in Mount Laurel, N.J., it was “a perfect spot.”
DiPietro built up the Temple program, turning it into a contender within a few years. Last season, the team set a program record for wins and led the country with 94 home runs.
“Where we could have gone, if they wouldn’t have cut us – we’ll compete for the league this year – I think we were in a really good place,” DiPietro said. “We had good kids coming in next year.”
Now, though, he has to bid goodbye to Temple, and DiPietro said that while he’s frustrated with the athletic department, there are still plenty of things he will miss.
“I’m going to miss my players, especially the freshmen and sophomores,” DiPietro said. “I recruited them, I helped develop them. The girls I have here, I wouldn’t trade them for anyone.”
“I met a lot of great people here,” DiPietro added. “There’s some coaches here that I’ll always be friends with. I’ll always stay in touch with coach [David MacWilliams] and Eric Mobley and [Bakeer Ganes] and [Fran Dunphy] especially, Dunph’s the best.”
But senior shortstop Sarah Prezioso believes that honor goes to DiPietro.
“We just respect him so much,” Prezioso said. “Our team loves him, because he’s so approachable, and because he’s so laid-back and fun to be around. Just a nice guy.”
Don McDermott can be reached at email@example.com.