Ralph Pacifico has been coaching the same tiny school for 31 very big years and he has now joined an exclusive club of coaches who’ve won at least 500 games in their storied careers.
Pacifico’s Montclair Kimberley (1-1) team defeated Super Essex Conference rival Glen Ridge (0-2), 5-4, on Tuesday, one day after the Cougars dropped their opener to Bloomfield, 16-9.
“I’m glad it’s over,” said Pacifico, who had entered the 2023 season one shy of a milestone he now shares with 34 other New Jersey coaches. “The wins are a testament to my players over the years. I didn’t play. They did. It’s a nice milestone but I’m happy it’s behind me.”
Pacifico is now just seven wins behind longtime Glen Ridge mentor Lou Calderone for second all-time in Essex County. Calderone retired from Glen Ridge in 2001 after three stints with the Group 1 school and a 507-199 career record. Pacifico sits at 500-311-1.
Of course, the all-time leader in Essex County is Seton Hall Prep’s Mike Sheppard, Jr., who, at the season’s start, stood one win behind Marty Kenney of Christian Brothers Academy for No. 2 all-time in the state. Kenney retired after 46 seasons with 832 wins. Sheppard sat at 831 as of Monday and will soon vault Kenney and begin his chase for the No. 1 career total held by Kenny Frank of Toms River South. Frank entered his 45th season this week at 919-326-3.
Pacifico is an Essex County guy, through-and-through. Raised in Montclair, he was graduated from Montclair Immaculate in 1981, before playing football at New Haven University. After a few attempts at a professional football career, he would go into education and coaching. He began teaching and coaching in 1991 at Montclair Kimberley, a private school currently with a student body of 530. Pacifico teaches health and physical education in MKA’s primary school.
As a reporter who has covered Pacifico his entire career, it’s accurate to say few coaches believe in or stick up for his players more. He says about his most recent charges, “I really like these kids. They don’t give up.”
Ralph Pacifico, center in white, picked up career victory No. 500 on Tuesday.
That was proven on Monday when after falling behind Bloomfield 9-0, the Cougars rallied to draw within 10-9, before falling 16-9. On Tuesday, MKA surrendered a lead late to Glen Ridge before rallying to a victory that, we all know, Pacifico will never forget.
“I still love coaching the game,” says Pacifico, who still resides in his beloved Essex County. “I learn a little more every year. I’m a very different coach today than I was when I started. I’m a better listener. And I think I like to coach even more.”
Pacifico, the 1997 Essex County Coach of the Year, took two MKA teams to an NJSIAA state final. His 2002 and 2009 teams made those two long runs. His 2002 team, guided by eventual major league pitcher Frank Herrmann, lost to Bishop Eustace in the Non-Public B state final. Pacifico’s 2009 squad reached the NP-B final as well, but lost to St. Rose of Belmar.
Herrmann hooked up with fellow major leaguer-to-be Rick Porcello in an epic Greater Newark Tournament championship duel for the ages. Porcello pitched a perfect game for Seton Hall Prep and Herrmann held the eventual No. 1 team in the state to just two hits that day. Herrmann pitched in a total of 109 major league games in four seasons with Cleveland and Philadelphia. Porcello went 150-125 in 12 MLB seasons with Detroit, Boston and the Mets.
“Frankie was a great one, for sure,” says Pacifico.
Pacifico has been front and center for an athletic transformation at MKA. He’s certainly credited with putting the tiny school on the state baseball map. “I remember shop-vacing water off our field years ago,” he said. Now we have a $4 million turf facility for baseball and softball.”
A cool treat for Pacifico was seeing his Immaculate High School coach, Richie O’Connor, at Tuesday’s game. Pacifico’s loyalty to family, his players and coaches is no secret. His current coaching staff includes former players Mike Sasso and Nick Masterson.
Masterson, who went on to pitch at Coastal Carolina, has dated Pacifico’s daughter Paige since they met in high school at MKA. The couple will marry in May.
Pacifico also spent many years as a football coach, including the nine years he cherished as an assistant at Montclair State University.
Two years ago, Pacifico experience a life shaking heart ailment that required surgery to remedy. To say he was shaken by it — as any man would — would be an understatement. All that experience has done is to make him appreciate life, his family, his players and team even more.
“We are a small school and we grind it a bit,” says Pacifico. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I thank God for MKA and what the school has given me.”
NJ COACHES WITH 500-PLUS CAREER VICTORIES
x-Ken Frank, Toms River South – 919-326-3 (.738) (44 seasons)
Marty Kenney, Christian Brothers Academy – 832-349 (46 seasons) (.704)
x-Mike Sheppard, Jr., West Orange/Seton Hall Prep – 831-221-5 (37 seasons) (.790)
Tony Ferrainolo, Memorial (WNY) – 754-208 (.784)
Harry Shatel, Morristown – 752-326 (.698)
x-Sam Tropiano, St. Augustine/Bishop Eustace – 727-260-1 (.737)
Rich Bender, Delran – 672-349 (.658)
Lee Ware, Woodstown – 671-414 (.618)
Bob Brewster, Westfield – 655-342-3 (.657)
Ray Korn, Elizabeth – 651-308-1 (.679)
Gordon LeMatty, Union – 641-272-4 (.702)
x-Norm Hewitt, Bridgewater West, Bridgewater, Hillsborough – 631-326 (.659)
Frank Salvano, St. Joseph (Mont.) 630-184-1 (.774) (1988-2015)
Mike Zadroga, Dickinson/NBergen/HCath/CtyPrp – 611-254 (.706)
Russ Spicer, Hadd., Moorestown, Paulsboro, Cinnaminson. – 603-287 (.678)
Joe Kasberger, St. Benedict’s Prep (1930-’68) 593-137-3 (.812)
Joe Urbanovich, St. Peter’s Prep – 580-272 (.681)
x-Kurt Hommen, Ridgewood – 571-271-1 (.678)
x-Rich Horan, Audubon – 572-223-3 (.719)
x-Tim Byron, Glen Ridge/Montclair/Old Tappan – 567-317 (.641)
John Ponchak, Ramsey – 555-342
Bob Carcich, Emerson – 539-233 (.698)
Joe Cervino, Paramus – 538-284-2 (.648)
x-Dennis Barth, Gloucester Catholic – 528-108-1 (.830)
Butch Servideo, Lyndhurst – 524-265-1 (.664)
Tom Gambino, Immaculata – 522-133-1 (.797)
Ralph Cobb, Old Tappan/Rutherford – 522-321 (.619)
Bill Frank, Toms River East – 520-279-2 (30 yrs., retired in 2014) (.651)
Mike Hogan, St.M(J.C.)/St. Anthony/Marist/Ferris – 519-427 (.549)
Champ Atlee, Lawrenceville – 519
John Brunelli, Cliffside Park – 511-239 (.681)
x-Gary Sarno, Camd. Cath., Cherry Hill West, Hamm., Paul VI – 509-307 (.624)
Lou Calderone, Glen Ridge – 507-199 (1971-’90; 93-98; 00-01) (.718)
Dave Martin, Cherry Hill East – 502-286 (.637)
x-Ralph Pacifico, Montclair Kimberley – 500-311-1 (.617)