Tom DiNuovo made a lasting impression on and off the field.
The longtime Babylon football coach was known not only as a masterful motivator who always had his teams ready to play on the field but as a compassionate and caring father figure who made sure they were successful off the field as well.
“My dad really knew how to motivate his kids and his players,” DiNuovo’s son Joe, a retired Air Force colonel who resides in San Antonio, said. “Beyond that he really cared about all of them. I know he would take kids in if they were having family problems and he would make sure his players had food in their refrigerators at home if they were going through tough times.”
DiNuovo, who was the head football coach at Babylon for 18 years, died on Oct. 11. He was 78.
He served as head coach from 1970 to 1987 and his 1985 team had an undefeated championship season. Overall he had a record of 90-45-6.
DiNuovo coached high school football for 56 years, 55 of them on Long Island. He also spent time helping coach numerous JV squads, including baseball, basketball and wrestling. He finished his final season as an assistant at Locust Valley in 2015.
Born in Brooklyn on July 23, 1938, DiNuovo graduated from New Utrecht High School in 1956. He accepted a football scholarship to Idaho University, where he played from 1956 to 1959 and suited up for two seasons alongside future NFL All-Pros Jerry Kramer and Wayne Walker.
After one season as an assistant at Somerville High School in New Jersey, DiNuovo moved to Kings Park and got a job as a physical education teacher at Northport High School, where he was an assistant coach from 1961 until 1969.
DiNuovo then spent the next 31 years as either a head or assistant coach at Babylon while teaching health and science before retiring in 1996 and moving to Bayville.
Hans Wiederkehr, who served two years as a Babylon assistant coach before taking over the program in 1988 with DiNuovo as an assistant and is currently an assistant at Shoreham-Wading River, remembered being blown away by DiNuovo’s motivational skills before his first game in the 1986 season.
“We went out and did a number on a Westhampton team even though they were bigger and stronger,” Wiederkehr said. “He was an inspiration . . . and I’ll never forget that day. From that point forward I knew I wanted to be a coach because of him.”
Current Babylon head coach Rick Punzone, who worked on staffs with DiNuovo and Wiederkehr before taking the head job in 2003, recalls DiNuovo changing his perspective on high school coaching.
“He was one of the best motivational speakers I have ever heard,” Punzone said. “I came to Babylon after coaching at the college level and everything was more business oriented. When I heard him speak to the kids it gave me a new perspective on what being a coach was about.”
Though his sons never got to play in high school for their father, Joe remembers his dad making sure his Babylon team scrimmaged Kings Park during Joe’s senior year so he could see him play.
DiNuovo enjoyed spending summer days at Robert Moses beach with his family, where he was also a lifeguard. He was also an avid sailor.
“He really was a New Yorker through and through and wanted to be known as a tough guy from Brooklyn,” Joe said, “but once you got to know him there was a soft side. He thought of his teams as a family and really took care of them.”
DiNuovo is survived by his wife, Joyce of Bayville, and his sons, Joe of San Antonio, and John of Coatsville, Pennsylvania.