The three generations of Gucciardos, Pat, Jr., left, A.J., and Pat, Sr., right, have led Whitmer and Springfield high schools to success during the past 30 years. THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY
Plenty of high school football coaches have had the chance to coach their sons, and many of those sons happen to be quarterbacks.
But few have made this a third-generation affair, and fewer still have had the same good fortune the Gucciardo family has enjoyed.
Last season, sophomore quarterback A.J. Gucciardo helped Springfield to its first 10-0 regular season in school history under the guidance of his father, Blue Devils head coach Pat Gucciardo, Jr. This came exactly 30 years after Pat, Jr., was the senior quarterback for the Whitmer team coached by his father, Pat Gucciardo, Sr., who guided the 1986 Panthers to a 10-0 regular season.
The performance of A.J. Gucciardo — then a skinny, 5-foot-10, 145-pounder — reflected the evolution of the high school football passing game, and an unfortunate injury that hindered Springfield’s chances at a deep playoff run in Division II.
When the Blue Devils lost star running back Bryant Koback to a leg fracture early in their fifth game of the season, Pat, Jr., needed his team to transfer the offensive focus from the ground (Koback already had rushed 93 times for 1,096 yards on 93 carries and scored 21 touchdowns in just over four games) to the air.
His son — aided by a superb receiving corps — proved up to the task. A.J. completed 154 of 233 passes (66 percent) for 2,506 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 11 games last season.
“The fact that I play for my dad, and he played for his dad, is obviously cool,” A.J. said. “I felt a little pressure at first, but as the season went on, I think I proved myself, that I deserved to be there. He treated me as if I was any other player, and that’s how I wanted to be treated. I don’t want any special privileges.
“It’s a team game, and you’ve got to work as a team. That’s something he stressed — ‘You’re no different than anybody else.’ I call him ‘coach’ on the field, like I’m anyone else. I thought we had a very successful season, but it fell a little short. I thought we had a little left in the tank. Going 10-0 in the regular season was really special, but I wish we would’ve gotten a little further in the playoffs. “
Springfield finished 10-1 with a gut-wrenching 48-41 overtime loss to visiting Westlake in a first-round playoff game in which the Devils once held a 27-point lead. A.J. was 20-of-37 passing for 279 yards and three touchdowns in the defeat.
As he prepares for the 2017 season having grown to 6-1 and almost 170 pounds, A.J. already has garnered a scholarship offer from Kent State in the Mid-American Conference, and made unofficial visits to Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, and Toledo.
“A.J. is extremely mature for his age,” Pat, Jr., said. “Growing up around the game has helped him out with the basic Football 101 skills. He really knows the game inside and out, and he’s calm and level-headed. And he’s a 4.0 student academically, so that’s really helped him out too. He’s able to manage things because he processes things so well.
“It’s not even close. He is 10 times the player I was when I graduated from Whitmer. There’s no comparison.”
As for Part II of the Gucciardo’s father-son, coach-quarterback act, the dynamic 30 years apart is in many ways the same, and in some ways different.
Following an example set by Pat, Sr., Pat, Jr., and A.J. leave football at the stadium when practices or games are done and reserve their household interactions for nonfootball subject matter.
“I want him to enjoy that side and not have the pressure of being a coach’s son,” Pat, Jr., said. “That was important for me back then, not having my dad try to coach me 24 hours a day. It kept my interest in the game, and I didn’t get burned out.”
Pat, Jr., has fond memories of playing for his dad.
“I don’t think I realized how special it was until years later,” he said. “At the time it was just the norm, growing up around the game and being in the stadium all the time. Being a ball boy when I was really young, I was always around his program. It was just normal.”
But there were ups and downs.
“The worst moments were just the pressure of living up to expectations that you had, playing for a dad that was really successful as a player and as a coach,” Pat, Jr., said. “Going into my senior year, I had potential but I was kind of unproven. I felt pressure from the community and my team to be productive. That was very difficult.
“The best part was we were very successful as a team, and it took a lot of that pressure off because we were winning games. Being with dad was really cool.”
Pat, Jr., had no qualms in starting his son at quarterback as a sophomore. It was a different story for Pat, Sr.
In 1985, when Pat, Jr., was a skinny junior, Pat, Sr., figured the best option for Whitmer’s starting quarterback was a hard-working senior who had paid his dues. His son might have been the better player, but the elder Gucciardo removed any controversy by making Pat, Jr., wait until ’86 to get his chance.
“It was tough,” Pat, Sr., said of coaching his son. “He was a skinny, 6-foot-1, 135 or 140-pound quarterback who had paid his dues being on the scout team. As a dad, I called some of my buddies around the state and asked them about coaching their own sons.
“The advice I got was, ‘You’ve got to let the other coaches coach him, and you can’t show any favoritism.’ It’s got to be where the other kids say, ‘Man, I’m glad he’s not my dad.’ That sounds bad, but I didn’t want the other kids to think he got the position because he was the head coach’s son.”
When he did finally become the starter, Pat, Jr., ran the Panthers’ triple-option offense well enough to help Whitmer to an 11-0 start, including a Division I playoff win against Troy, before falling to Worthington during a second-round contest.
He threw often enough in Whitmer’s run-oriented attack to receive a scholarship to Bowling Green State University, where he would serve as mostly a backup in his career with the Falcons.
“I probably should have thrown the ball more with him in our offense,” Pat, Sr., said. “He had a live arm, and we could’ve thrown it more. Honest to God, I was too tough on him. When it was all said and done, I thought, ‘Maybe I could’ve let up a little bit.’
“At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do. The beauty of it though was that we went 10-0 with him, and then we won the first playoff game against Troy. He had a great senior year, and he was a leader on the team.”
Looking at two pairs of still-frame snapshots from the Gucciardos in 1986 and 2016, what is captured is eerily similar — one pair of shots reveals almost identical form by Pat, Jr., and A.J. as they set up to deliver passes. The other pair shows father-son sideline hugs which also are near carbon copies, although separated by three decades.
But even closer matches are the three generations of football Gucciardos, who share a love and devotion to the game and to themselves.
Pat, Sr., was a talented quarterback and defensive back at Wickliffe High School near Cleveland in the early 1960s before becoming a two-time All-Mid-American Conference defensive back during his time at Kent State.
He later spent one season, in 1966, on the roster of the American Football League’s New York Jets along with a Hall of Fame quarterback named Joe Namath.
Pat, Sr., also coached younger son Tony Gucciardo at Whitmer. A receiver, Tony played football and baseball at Kent State. There was less pressure in that father-son bond.
“The separation between coach-player and father-son has to be a fine line,” Pat, Jr., said. “It can really drive some families apart if it’s not handled correctly.
“I’m not saying what dad and I did, or what A.J. and I do, is the only way to do it. But I do know it was extremely successful for me as a player, and it was extremely successful for him last year playing as a sophomore.”
Separated by a generation, the grandpa-grandson interaction is free of pressure.
“My grandpa is in the picture 100 percent,” A.J. said of Pat, Sr., and Springfield football. “On Friday nights, he stands in the end zone during every game. Sometimes he’ll come to the edge of the field if I’m there, and he’ll give me some advice. He’s there, but he lets his son coach.
“He talks to me about being a leader on the team. The coaches talk more about the physical side, and he talks about the psychological part of the game.”
Pat, Sr., not only enjoys talking to A.J. he enjoys talking about him.
“A.J. is bright kid,” Pat, Sr., said. “He’s a 4.0 student, so that helps him remember things and understand what his dad’s trying to teach him. I didn’t think he would be intimidated by Patrick. A.J. is the type of kid that really wanted to absorb everything that Patrick was teaching him. They have a remarkable relationship.
“I’m really impressed with the way A.J. has adapted to all the techniques that quarterbacks have to know — his footwork, his release, how well he sits in the pocket, how he takes a hit. He’s getting a lot of attention, and it’s because he can read a defense and find the open receiver. That’s rare in high school football. He’ll be a Division I quarterback somewhere.”
A side-by-side look at the throwing motions of A.J. Gucciardo, left, and Pat Gucciardo, Jr.
Pat, Jr., and A.J. share a special moment during the 2016 season at Springfield.
Pat Gucciardo Sr. hugging Pat Jr. in 1986.