by Ben Donovan
For fifth-year long-snapper Joe Spaziani, football represents not only the present, but the past and the future as well. The son of a football coach, Spaziani has spent his life around the sport, and his relationship with football is one that he cannot see ending soon. Despite not playing football until he was in eighth grade, Spaziani had already decided on his future.
“I have pretty much known since seventh grade that I want to coach football,” Spaziani said. “At that point in seventh grade I had not even started playing football, but I knew that I was going to play and whenever my playing time in football was done, I was going to coach. Once I am done playing, my life probably won’t really change a whole lot besides the fact that I’m not putting on pads every morning.”
This goal comes naturally to Spaziani. His father, Frank, played football at Penn State from 1965-1968, appearing in a pair of bowl games and lining up at both quarterback and linebacker. He was also a member of the Nittany Lion baseball team as a starting pitcher.
Immediately after graduating, he began a coaching career that is in its 46th year this season. Currently the defensive coordinator at New Mexico State, the older Spaziani spent 1982-1991 at Virginia, first as the defensive backs coach before taking over defensive coordinator duties in 1985. He later spent five years in the Canadian Football League and 16 years at Boston College, a stint highlighted by four years as the head coach.
Looking at the path his dad took, it seems as though Spaziani would only change one thing.
“I have never heard a coach say that he wishes he stopped playing earlier to coach,” Spaziani said. “So that is my mentality, to play as long as I can and then I’m going to coach after that and gain as much experience as possible.”
Spaziani is not limiting his playing future to just the National Football League though. Instead, after hearing about his parent’s fantastic experiences in the Canadian Football League, and taking into account his Canadian citizenship and birth, the CFL represents a very real option in his mind as well.
“I think that playing in the Canadian Football League would be very cool,” Spaziani said. “Obviously, I would love to play in the NFL, but if that opportunity does not present itself, I just want to keep playing football. They are in need of Canadian citizens up there, so I think that is one way that I can hope to play at the next level.”
Right now, he is focused on finishing his last season at. Spaziani sees his playing career is another chance to learn as much as possible. A metaphor that he heard several years ago has shaped how he views his time both as a player and before he began to play in college.
“My godfather always said that if you want to own a restaurant, you have to work every positon,” Spaziani said. “You have to work in the kitchen, be a bus boy, be a bartender, be a waiter, be a host and then be a general manager,” Spaziani said. “I see my life in the same way. Growing up, I was a coach’s kid, then I was around the team and around the equipment room, even being an equipment manager, and then I was a player and hopefully I am a graduate assistant and a coach. I’ll have all experiences at every level that I can use.”
Looking into his future, Spaziani has big goals. Instead of simply settling for any job, he wants to be at the top, and soon.
“Ten years down the road, I would like to be a coordinator at a Division I school,” Spaziani said. “I know that may sound ambitious, but honestly, I hope that if I set that timetable, then that is a good 10-year goal for me. Wherever I end up, I always want to grow and find ways to change my job and change my responsibilities so that I can learn more. But I feel like the faster you can grow and the faster you can learn and gain leadership experience, the better off you’ll be in the long run.”
It was not until college, though, that he began evaluating the actions of his coaches, looking for patterns of what they have done well and what he would do differently. That has helped him learn what type of coach he would like to be. In a word, his goal as a coach would be balance.
“I think Coach Mendenhall has had a great impact since he got here because of his passion for teaching and for gaining knowledge and his passion for developing players on and off the field,” Spaziani said. “That has been empowering to me and has been encouraging to go even more in depth in my own knowledge and my own learning.
“Learning how to be more selfless and using that same principle [of balance], you always want to take care of yourself, but you have to make sure that you are not being selfish. But you can be over selfless, and finding that balance is important because if you are trying to help other people you can lose sight of what you need to do for yourself.”
Despite all of the questions inherent in the life of a coach, going forward, Spaziani does have one idea that he thinks would be very cool – to coach with his dad.
“To coach with him would be pretty cool,” Spaziani said. “If that opportunity presented itself, it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity and would also fit perfectly. He has taught me pretty much everything, and he has been a huge influence in why I want to get into coaching so it would be cool to get to interact with him in that realm more.”
For Spaziani, the future looks much like the present, a life built around football. The only thing that is going to change is getting up to put the pads on every morning.