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Rare meeting of legendary cage coaches

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:05 a.m.

When Monessen hosted California in a boys' basketball game Sunday afternoon, the contest was billed as a non-section game.

In reality, it was a lot more than that.

That's because on the bench were two of the winningest active coaches in the WPIAL.

Between California's Phil Pergola and Monessen's Joe Salvino, there were over 1,100 coaching victories on the bench at Monessen.

Pergola, in his 43rd season, has a career record of 574-471 that includes one WPIAL and one PIAA title. His coaching career has spanned Mon Valley Catholic, Charleroi, Ringgold and California.

Salvino, in his 29th season, has a record of 737-215 with four WPIAL and two PIAA titles. His entire career has been spent guiding the Greyhounds.

Both coaches have multiple runners-up finishes in WPIAL titles games and Pergola has also finished as a runner-up on the PIAA level.

It is amazing, in this day and age, to see two coaches with over 500 wins go head-to-head.

Both are true gentlemen and ambassadors of their sport, and have taken different routes to the 500-win milestone.

Pergola has been more of a laid-back coach with relaxed coaching style while Salvino has been known to be intense and, for the majority of his career, was an in-your-face kind of coach.

As I watched Sunday's game between the teams, I couldn't help but spend time focusing on the two benches because you never know how many more times the two area legends will do battle and, more important, how much longer their careers will go on although neither shows signs of slowing down.

The two have squared off in a coaching battle of wits many times over their careers, first when Pergola's Charleroi Cougars played rival Monessen and later when Pergola was at Ringgold, although those meetings were not as often.

And finally, they have gone against each other a few times while Pergola has been at the helm of the Trojans' program.

Among all of the coaches I have come across in over 30 years of this business, Pergola and Salvino have always been two of my favorites. Both have always been honest, available and cordial.

I have watched them handle success with great humility and the few lean years with a lot of class.

In their highest highs, I've never seen either of them take credit for the success, always saying that players play the game.

Youngsters often look up to certain athletes to pattern themselves after as they try to hone their skills in a certain sport.

However, anyone out there who has the desire to be a coach could certainly do a lot worse in looking at Pergola and Salvino as someone to learn from.

I would think that any up-and-coming coach learn a lot about what is right in coaching by sitting down with or even watching the two area mentors go about their business.

Hopefully, such lessons by each will be on display for years to come.

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or joliver@tribweb.com.

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