The Gloucester High football team has found its new coach and it’s a familiar face in its community. Former Gloucester football player and assistant coach Dan O’Connor has been tabbed to guide the team. O’Connor, a 2003 Gloucester graduate, succeeds former Fishmermen coach Tony Zerilli, who stepped down shortly after last season ended. Gloucester Athletic Director Bryan Lafata announced the appointment last weekend.
“I was really excited to be able to go back home and and give back to the program I grew up with,” O’Connor said of his reaction when he learned of his appointment.
O’Connor played offensive tackle and defensive end in his days wearing the Gloucester uniform. He returned to the team in 2008 as an assistant coach and remained in that role until 2011. Most recently, O’Connor spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach for Jim Rabbitt’s staff at KIPP Academy.
“I’m incredibly grateful of this opportunity and the opportunity coach Anthony Grimaldi and coach Jim Rabbitt helped provide at KIPP,” O’Connor, a physical education teacher in Swampscott, said. “It’s a new chapter but the memories at KIPP are things I’ll never forget.”
O’Connor inherits a Gloucester team that reached the Division 4 state semifinal last season. The Fishermen went 6-1 during the regular season and swept their way through Division 4 North with wins over Melrose, Revere and Wayland. They finished the season with consecutive losses to Nashoba and Danvers, and ended at 9-3.
“I know they have a lot of kids coming back that are very skilled,” O’Connor said. “There’s definitely talent on the roster with real strong underclassmen. They graduated a lot so the kids that are coming back may lack some experience but in all the things I’ve heard are that there’s definitely talent coming back.”
As a former player and assistant coach, O’Connor hopes to put his familiarity with the program to good use as he steps into his new role.
“I’m able to relate to what the kids are going through, walking the halls in that building, understanding the history and tradition that are associated with the program,” O’Connor said.
“I have a great amount of respect for the program,” O’Connor said. “Even before coach Zerilli, with coach Paul Ingram and others, the program has been a model of success for the past 25 years dating back to the early 90’s. It’s one of the best in the North Shore and the entire state. I feel a great deal of pride being able to carry that on and keep Gloucester football at the standard that people expect it to be.”
As for his coaching style, O’Connor said he relies heavily on film, He also makes it a point to teach the ins and outs of the game to his players.
“I think I’m definitely somebody that’s heavy into film and getting to understand the strengths of not just the teams you’re playing but also ourselves,” O’Connor said. “I try to do what I can to relate and teach the strategies of the game to the kids, and really getting them to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing so they can make in-game adjustments that are needed. I’m a teacher at heart and by profession, and I’ve always enjoyed doing that.”
O’Connor foresees tough competition ahead in the Northeastern Conference. The Fishermen went 5-2 against NEC opponents last season.
“I’m familiar with the traditional powerhouses in the NEC,” O’Connor said. “Whether it’s English, Classical, Swampscott, Beverly, Winthrop, Marblehead, those are well-coached, talented programs. You can never take a week off, you can never take a play off. Every game will be a hard-fought game. You can’t take any game lightly. Regardless of record, anybody can beat anybody. Every week’s a grind, regardless of the previous result.
“The ultimate goal is to compete and put out a product that the school and community are proud of.”