John Mazziotta, one of the winningest high school basketball coaches in Bergen County history and mentor to the Detroit Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank, died on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011, after falling at his Ridgewood home. He was 81.
The Bronx native taught history and coached boys’ basketball at Bergen Catholic and Teaneck high schools from 1958 to 1992. He is tied for the third-most victories in Bergen County — 536.
An emphasis on fundamentals paid off for Mr. Mazziotta’s squads. He took over a forlorn Teaneck program in 1966 and built a winner by 1970, when the Highwaymen captured their first Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League championship.
Under Mr. Mazziotta, Teaneck won four Bergen Jamborees, none more exciting than in 1979. In the final against Hackensack, Teaneck pulled even with a three-point play with 6 seconds left in regulation. Tony Campbell, a future Los Angeles Laker, scored 12 of Teaneck’s 14 points in overtime, sealing an 85-78 victory.
Mr. Mazziotta’s team manager in the mid- and late-1980s was a 5-foot-7 redhead whose older brothers, Bruce and Steven, had played point guard for the Highwaymen. Lawrence Frank was cut from the basketball team all four years at Teaneck but proved his worth as Mr. Mazziotta’s right-hand man.
Frank, a former head coach of the Nets, said on Thursday that Mr. Mazziotta was a tremendous influence.
“He was the one who gave me a chance,” said Frank, who was named Pistons coach in August. “Even though I wasn’t good enough to make the team, he made me a member of the team and taught me a lot about the game.”
Frank added, “What stands out most was that Coach Mazziotta was a person of character and integrity. … At the heart of it, he was an outstanding teacher, and his ability to connect and challenge in the classroom and on the court made him an outstanding coach.”
John Mazziotta graduated from All Hallows High School in the Bronx and went to Georgetown University on a basketball scholarship. He was a Hoya for three years, then left the school because his widowed mother needed him at home, his daughter, Hannah Mulchrone, said.
He finished up at Iona College, then went to Columbia for a master’s degree in history.
Mr. Mazziotta began his coaching career at All Hallows, in basketball and baseball. He coached basketball and football at Bergen Catholic. A 1958 article in The New York Times described how Mr. Mazziotta was getting Bergen Catholic’s new football program off the ground.
“They’re all perfect gentlemen,” he said of his boys. “But I wish our football players weren’t quite so polite on the field.”
Before long, Mr. Mazziotta was focusing on basketball.
Mr. Mazziotta is survived by his wife of 48 years, Marjory; his children, Hannah Mulchrone of Chicago and Daniel Mazziotta of Ridgewood; a sister, Betty Mazziotta of the Bronx, and three grandchildren. A daughter, Cassie Mazziotta, died last year.
Visiting is 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today at Feeney Funeral Home, Ridgewood. The funeral Mass will be Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Mount Carmel R.C. Church, Ridgewood. Burial will be in Maryrest Cemetery, Mahwah.