SAUGUS — The Saugus football team came together Monday afternoon at town hall to protest Sachems head coach Anthony Nalen being placed on administrative leave by school officials before the beginning of the season.
The team’s message was simple.
“We just want our coach back,” Sachems senior captain Dante McGrane said. “It’s just been hard for our whole team, really. We’re very young still. It’s not easy for us to handle. We’re still trying to figure everything out, trying to figure out what we can do.”
Nalen enters his third week on leave pending the result of a police investigation into a team-related issue that happened during last month’s preseason workouts, according to several reports.
The team made its way to the Saugus Administration Office shortly after the school day ended and arrived around 2 p.m. for a 15-minute meeting with Superintendent David DeRuosi Jr. Parents also attended the meeting.
“All 50 of us walked into his office,” McGrane said. “We all had a sit-down and talked with him. Parents were in there, people who don’t even play football were in there. We all gave him our minds about how we feel and how we want our coach back. The whole team was there and we all feel the same way. There were a lot of messages sent from the heart.”
The protest then shifted to outside of town hall where players remained until 5:30 p.m. They held signs that read, “Reinstate Coach Nalen,” “Bring our football coach back,” and “SHS football wants Coach Nalen back.”
School Committee member Elizabeth Marchese said the team was supposed to practice Monday afternoon with town Pop Warner coaches coming in to oversee them. Marchese said a different set of coaches has been tasked with running the team’s practices each day since September 4. Since then, neither Nalen nor any of his assistant coaches have attended practice.
Despite reports of a potential hazing accusation, Marchese said parents were never informed of anything related to hazing. Saugus High Principal Michael Hashem sent an email to parents Aug. 30 informing them that assistant coach Chris Coutu would assume the role of acting head coach. But Coutu did not coach the team Friday night.
Interim head coach Mike Mabee, along with coaches from the town’s youth football program, directed the team during last Friday’s season opener, according to reports. The Sachems lost the game to host Amesbury, 30-12. It’s unclear as to whether Mabee will coach this Friday’s game at Northeast.
Nalen coached the Sachems to a 4-7 record in 2017. The Sachems struggled by losing five of their first six games but closed their season on a positive with victories in three of their final four contests. Senior captain Jake Morgante said the team looked forward to taking another step forward with Nalen this fall.
“I’ve been a captain for two years and I’ve been with Coach Nalen for two years,” Morgante said. “We got four wins last year, nothing special, but I think he might’ve tripled our wins for the past three years and they want to just get rid of the guy. It’s crazy.
“We beat Amesbury pretty bad last year. We go in there this year for the season opener with a chip on our shoulders, ready to go, but we go in there with middle school coaches. Now the superintendent’s talking about bringing in Pop Warner coaches. Nothing against those guys, but we have a coach that’s high school certified. That’s why he’s here.”
Fellow senior captain James Moise said every player wants to see Nalen return.
“It’s been like 10 days and we’re still worrying about whether we’re going to get our football coach back,” Moise said. “Our football coach that helped turn this program around and they’re doing nothing about it. They just keep pushing it aside and it’s going to get worse from here on out if nothing’s done about it.
“Every single player is fighting for this coach right now. We all want him back because we know what he’s like and what he can do.”
McGrane said he hopes the team can back to a normal practice routine, with Nalen and the rest of the coaching staff, soon.
“He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met and one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” McGrane said. “I just hope we can get him back here and the rest of our coaching staff so we can continue our season.”