GCC grad Joe Conlin prepared to tackle first football head coaching job at Fordham
A lifetime filled with football memories exists for Joe Conlin, but he vividly remembers two that helped shape his career.
The first happened after his sophomore season at Greensburg Central Catholic, where Conlin was a multisport athlete. The Centurions, with a big assist from the tall and sturdy Conlin, qualified for the 1994 WPIAL Class A playoffs — the program's first postseason appearance since 1982.
"People were telling me that if I worked hard, maybe I could play FCS or Division II," Conlin said. "Muzzy heard that and said, 'If you do what I ask you to do, you'll be a Division I football player.' "
Muzzy Colosimo became GCC's coach in 1995, and he led the team to extraordinary success. Conlin, who played tight end and defensive end, became an early entrant in a long line of Division I players from GCC during Colosimo's tenure. Two years after the coach's advice, Conlin was playing at Pitt, where he spent five seasons (1997-01) as a gritty defensive tackle known for playing through injury and four shoulder surgeries.
The second happened a few years into a coaching stint at New Hampshire. Conlin was coaching the defensive line in 2008 when two coaches left for other opportunities. Conlin set his sights on filling the opening at linebackers coach when head coach Sean McDonnell overheard a conversation Conlin had with defensive coordinator Sean McGowan.
"Coach Mac asks me if I want to be the offensive line coach," Conlin said. "He says it pays more than linebackers coach. I said, 'Absolutely.' "
The decision put Conlin on a rapid upward coaching trajectory. He went from New Hampshire to Harvard to Yale, where he became a successful offensive coordinator. He was so successful Fordham tabbed Conlin as its football coach Dec. 22.
"People tell me Vince Lombardi went here," Conlin deadpanned.
Fordham, the alma mater of legendary NFL coach Lombardi, is located in Bronx, N.Y., and is a FCS school that competes in the Patriot League.
Conlin replaced Andrew Breiner, who resigned to join Joe Moorhead's staff at Mississippi State. Moorhead coached Fordham from 2012-15 before becoming Penn State's offensive coordinator. The Rams finished 4-7 last season.
Fordham believes Conlin's success at Yale made him a perfect fit.
"We believe he is one of the top young coaches in the country who truly cares about the welfare of the student-athlete, which makes him a perfect fit for Fordham," Fordham athletic director Dave Roach said in a statement. "We look forward to Joe translating the great success he had at Yale, where he led the Bulldogs to the 2017 Ivy League title, to Rose Hill."
Since taking the job, Conlin's schedule has been filled with meetings, luncheons, dinners and networking. He put the final touches on Fordhman's recruiting class, and he added three coaches to his staff Thursday.
"The biggest difference, and it's so cliche and not original, is you make suggestions as an assistant, and you make decisions as a head coach. You know, as coaches, we all think we're the smartest guy in the room," Conlin said. "To be honest, it's been a heck of a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be."
His offenses at Yale, which regularly ranked among the best in FCS, leaned on a strong ground game with quick-hit and play-action passes. The quarterback isn't asked to be the star. The running back is, which means Conlin wants a dominant offensive line. He plans to keep an eye on the defense but will let defensive coordinator Paul Rice run things.
He also has plans to recruit Western Pennsylvania, along with the rest of the state, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
"We want guys who play hard, who play unselfish football and who will do whatever it takes to be successful in the classroom and on the field," Conlin said.
With a little luck and the right players, Conlin hopes to make the same impact at Fordham as his distant relative Ed Conlin, who played and coached basketball at the school. Ed Conlin's number is the only retired number at Fordham.
"This place has such great tradition in football and basketball," said Conlin, who missed his 20-year high school reunion last fall because of coaching commitments. "(Ed Conlin's) number hangs in the rafters, and though I never met him, my grandfather is one of my idols and my grandfather loved him. I hope I can carry that on."
Mike Kovak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @MKovak_Trib.