Naugatuck hires longtime college coach to lead Greyhounds

Dave Sollazzo has been hired as the new Naugatuck High School football coach. –UMASS ATHLETICS

NAUGATUCK — The resume is extensive and impressive.

Thirty-eight years of football coaching experience. Twenty-nine seasons in Division I. A dozen years in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Victories in the Gator Bowl and the Peach Bowl. An appearance in the Orange Bowl.

And now, 61-year-old Dave Sollazzo can add head coach at Naugatuck High School to his ledger.

The Naugatuck Board of Education last week hired Sollazzo to lead the Greyhounds’ football program. He takes over for Craig Bruno, who resigned in January after four seasons.

“It’s a great program with a great reputation, and they’ve won a lot of games,” Sollazzo said. “Coach Bruno did a great job here when he was here, and I’m looking forward to continuing that success.”

Sollazzo’s resume is loaded. He was a defensive lineman at The Citadel from 1973-76. He bounced between jobs as a high school defensive coordinator in South Carolina and a volunteer assistant coach at Maryland for the next decade before entering the coaching profession full-time as a defensive line coach at Division III Guilford in North Carolina in 1988.

Next came 10 years at The Citadel, followed by two seasons at Georgia Tech. He then traveled to Maryland, where he spent the next 10 years as the defensive line coach and later the recruiting coordinator for Ralph Friedgen’s Terrapins. That stint included an appearance in the 2002 Orange Bowl and victories in the 2002 Peach Bowl and the 2004 Gator Bowl.

He exited College Park, Md., when Randy Edsall left UConn to coach the Terps.

Sollazzo then spent one season at Villanova and four at UMass. It was during Sollazzo’s tenure in Amherst, Mass., when a conversation with his son, Christopher, made him realize that his 30-year college coaching career needed to end soon.

“He’s playing football, and as a college coach and recruiter, you’re never home,” said Sollazzo, whose son is now 13. “On Sundays, he used to call me when I was at UMass and breaking down film. One day, he said, ‘Dad, I got my first sack today. You should have seen it.’ When he said, ‘You should have seen it,’ I realized I needed to start seeing it.”

So last March, he decided to resign at UMass and join Bill Mella’s staff at Avon Old Farms. Sollazzo and his family had been living in Avon since 2012.

“When you’re a college coach — my son moved from Maryland to Villanova to here, and he didn’t want to move anymore once I got the UMass job,” Sollazzo said.

But there was one title missing on Sollazzo’s resume that he wanted to fill: head football coach.

“I’ve always wanted to be a head coach,” he said. “After the season was over, I decided I was going to pursue some high school head coaching jobs.”

He applied to several schools in Connecticut early in the offseason. When the Naugatuck job opened in mid-January, Sollazzo submitted his four-page resume to Athletic Director Brian Mariano.

“I had some other opportunities where I was offered the head coaching position in Connecticut, but I actually turned those high schools down because I had my eye on this job,” Sollazzo said. “I’ve always been impressed with Naugatuck. I’ve recruited there, I’ve liked the facility, I’ve liked the school. It all worked out for the best. I feel like I’m in a really good situation now.”

Sollazzo was one of 19 people to apply for the job, according to Mariano. Applicants chosen from that pool were then whittled down through a two-round interview process.

“The committees were very impressed with Mr. Sollazzo’s experience and knowledge of the game,” Mariano said. “We felt as though he was a man that could take our program to the next level.”

“He has an old school feel to him,” Mariano continued. “He likes to play a hard-nosed style of football, similar to how football was played years ago at Naugatuck. He spoke a lot about creating a community-based football program, which is important to us. Additionally, with his extensive professional network we were very excited for the opportunities he may be able to provide for our athletes.”

Sollazzo said one of the top reasons he was attracted to Naugy was the tradition surrounding the program. He said it reminds him of his playing days at Harrison High in New York state, and he’s looking forward to meeting members of the community.

“That’s something I’ve always valued, where the entire community is behind the football team,” Sollazzo said. “I’m looking forward to the fact that the community is behind the football team 110 percent. You’ve got people in this town who have been here their whole lives and will do anything to support this team.”

Sollazzo said he will meet the returning players this week and has already begun work on assembling a staff. Although he doesn’t yet know the specific identities that the Greyhounds’ offense and defense will assume, he said his goal for the overall program is simple.

“I want to be recognized as a tough football team,” Sollazzo said. “I’m an old-school guy, and I believe in coaching fundamentals, technique and toughness. That hasn’t changed in 100 years; that’s what wins football games. It’s real important that we practice hard, because what you do in practice, you do in the game. If you have a tough, hard-nosed week of practice and perfect your fundamentals, then that’s going to show up on Friday nights.

“I want my coaches to teach technique and fundamentals,” he said, “and I want my players to solve their problems with aggression. That’s how you play football.”

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.