St. Peter’s Prep coach Pat Laguerre says fostering relationships with his players is among the most important roles he plays as a coach and mentor.
“Sometimes a young man has a lot going on,” he said. “Because of that you need to put some things aside. A particular game is not always the most important thing going on in his life.”
Laguerre, 56 and one of the more admired men among the coaching fraternity in North Jersey, picked up career victory No. 400 on April 10 in his team’s 13-0 victory over Hudson Catholic, continuing his march up the state’s career victories list unabated. Laguerre is now No. 15 among all active New Jersey coaches.
“It’s a longevity honor,” says Laguerre in his 23rd year as a head coach. “It means I’ve been around a long time.” He has been around a longtime, coaching first for 12 years at his alma mater, St. Mary’s in Jersey City, then the past 11 seasons at St. Peter’s Prep.
But, even Laguerre would admit, 400 wins in 22-plus seasons is an awful lot of winning. “It does show I’m doing it pretty well,” he said, “but I’ve also been blessed with some great players.”
At press time, Laguerre’s career record sits at 405-191 for an impressive .680 winning percentage.
Along the way, Laguerre says he’s learned what is most important in coaching high school athletes. “You can’t lose sight of what is going on day-to-day with your players,” he said. “I found out how important that is when I lost one of my players.”
Former St. Peter’s Prep star Dan Cooney was 20 and recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2017 as a sophomore at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. He was struck by a train and killed on April 9 of that year. Cooney had texted Laguerre the previous week to congratulate him on his 300th win.
Laguerre told Ron Zeitlinger of the Jersey Journal that awful day, “Danny had many talents. He was a very bright, smart kid. He just wanted to extend his playing career at Babson, but he wasn’t the type to say that he was going to be a big leaguer. He could have done whatever he wanted to do.”
The annual game honoring Cooney — who went 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA to lead the Marauders to a 26-3 record and the 2015 Hudson County Tournament championship — is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. tonight, weather permitting, against visiting Union City.
“Danny’s death really made me change how I approach my players,” says Laguerre. “At St. Mary’s we had a lot of boys coming from single-parent homes who were dealing with a lot of challenges, as well.”
Laguerre’s success at both of his high school stops reflects an ability to reassure, nudge, prod and direct depending on what the situation calls for.
His St. Mary’s teams reached five Seglio Division title games in the HCIAA, winning one in 2009. And tiny St. Mary’s, under Laguerre’s direction, remarkably reached the 2010 Hudson County Tournament final.
Laguerre’s first 10 seasons at St. Peter’s prep has borne plenty of fruit as well. His Marauders have reached eight HCT finals, winning titles in 2013, ‘15, 16, 18 and 2022.
While he was a baseball player, Laguerre’s athletic career, many may be unaware outside of Hudson County, took a decided basketball lean after high school. After leading St. Mary’s to a Hudson County Tournament Basketball championship, the talented point guard played four years at Division 1 Jacksonville University.
He came back to Jersey City after college and his high school baseball coach, Hudson County legend Ed Ford, himself an MLB scout, encouraged Laguerre to try coaching baseball.
“I knew Ed since I was eight years old,” said Laguerre. “He definitely was my inspiration to get into coaching baseball.” Ford, who died in 2011, was also a columnist for the Jersey Journal and was an assistant director with the Jersey City Department of Recreation. Ford’s influence, personality and the impact on the youth of Jersey City were, by equal measure, huge.
Laguerre is one of those youths – calling him a Ford disciple he says would be accurate – who’ve gone on to shine in life and to have a profound impact on the lives of many young men.
Shep is now No. 2 in state and Abene is No. 1 in Edison
Seton Hall Prep mentor Mike Sheppard, Jr. continued his own climb up the state’s all-time victories list in the early going this season. It was a rocky start for the Pirates, who needed just two wins to get their coach past retired CBA coach Marty Kenney and into second place all-time.
The Pirates (6-6-1) opened at 1-3-1 before a 10-2 victory over Verona on April 12 got Sheppard to 833 wins and past Kenney (832-349 in 46 seasons). Sheppard sits now at 837-227-6 in his 38th season, trailing the state’s all-time leader Kenny Frank (925-331) of Toms River South, still charging forward in his 45th season.
Meanwhile in Edison, coach Vinnie Abene passed another legend from that Middlesex County program, Jim Muldowney, on the school’s all-time victories list. Abene’s team’s 10-3 victory over Piscataway on Wednesday pushed him to 276 career wins, one more than Muldowney, who concluded his career at 275-75 and with a remarkable .786 winning percentage.
While MKA’s Ralph Pacifico had reached career victory No. 500 on his team’s second game of the season, we anxiously await Riverside’s Gary Herron’s inclusion in the 400-Club. Herron is at 393, just seven wins shy of the milestone.
Cranford’s Dennis McCaffery has put a sudden rush on the 500-win plateau as his team has opened at 13-0 to push his career record to 485-142 and a gaudy .774 winning percentage.