It’s difficult to become a coach in the National Football League; there are only 32 teams. Lou Anarumo, the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, the NFL’s American Football Conference champions, followed an arduous road to get there. And on Feb. 13, that road took him all the way to the Super Bowl. Anarumo, a 54-year-old Staten Island native and a graduate of New York City public schools, got his share of screen time during the big game’s telecast as his Bengals’ defense put Cincinnati in a position to win. The Los Angeles Rams rallied for the victory, but there was some consolation for Anarumo. Tickets are elusive for the average fan, but Anarumo was able to purchase some for family members, some longtime pals and his high school football coach at Susan Wagner HS, where the road to the Super Bowl began. Anarumo played quarterback for the high school football team, where he was influenced by his coach, who taught him countless life lessons. He went on to be an assistant coach at six colleges, including Marshall and Purdue universities, and spent the last 10 years as an NFL assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins, the New York Giants and the Bengals.
I was influenced by public school educators before I even started school. My dad, Lou Sr., was a teacher at PS 44 on Staten Island and eventually became an assistant principal there, and he became principal at PS 53 on the Island in 1987. His first cousin, Christy Cugini, was the district superintendent in the borough for many years, and there were about a half-dozen other family members who worked in the city’s public schools.
Dad was also the junior varsity basketball coach at Port Richmond HS, and then was on the committee to pick the all-stars from the high schools on Staten Island. He was always involved in sports and always around teachers, so that was all I knew growing up.
I seemed to be headed down that road. I went to Wagner College and got a degree in special education, and I thought I was going to be a high school teacher and football coach.
I started school at PS 29 on Staten Island in 1971 and then went to IS 27 in 1977. There’s no doubt that the overwhelming majority of my teachers through the years were dedicated and caring. I had to work at school, and my teachers were always willing to give me extra help.
But when I started at Susan Wagner HS in 1980, I met Al Paturzo. He was a special ed teacher and the varsity football coach, and I learned early on he wasn’t going to back down from anything when it came to helping kids. The football program had a mix of kids from all over Staten Island — from the neighborhood as well as from communities like New Dorp and West Brighton — and they all blended together, thanks to coach.
He ran the football program as if it were a college program. During the season, you got to school early to watch film before class, checked into the football office during lunch period to see if there was anything you could do to get ready for the game, and then after the game, you had meetings and practice. Then a week after the season was over you were back at it, lifting weights almost every day.
Giving young people structure was important. Grades were important, too. Coach Paturzo had study tables for kids who struggled. If you missed a class, he knew it. Your grades had to be at a certain level to be eligible to play, but coach Paturzo’s standards were higher than the school’s.
I was lucky enough to have a strong family behind me, but not every kid did. And for those kids, a lot of them stayed on the right path because of coach Paturzo.
There was another public school teacher who shaped my life: Charlie Pravata. He was a coach and educator at Lincoln HS in Brooklyn before becoming the head football coach at the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. He gave me my first full-time coaching job as an assistant in his program at Kings Point. Once I got that job, I knew I wanted to stay in coaching and keep moving toward the next level. And eventually that meant coaching in the NFL.
I still talk to coach Paturzo at least two or three times a month. I was able to have him in the stands at the Super Bowl — along with my parents, family and friends — which was a small way to repay him.
— As told to reporter Joe LoVerde