Steve Antonucci Steps Down at Middletown South After Legendary Run
One of the most accomplished football coaches in the history of the Shore Conference is calling it a career.
Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Famer Steve Antonucci said Wednesday that he is stepping down after a legendary run of 26 seasons at Middletown South. It's the end of an era for the Eagles, as Antonucci leaves with a career record of 220-68 for one of the highest winning percentages (.764) in Shore Conference history.
He led the Eagles to six NJSIAA sectional titles during his tenure and 13 total appearances in state finals, plus 13 division titles. He is one of only six Shore Conference coaches in history to pass 200 wins, and his six sectional titles are tied for the second-most of any coach in conference history. His six titles tied him with one of his mentors, Keyport legend Mike Ciccotelli, whom Antonucci played for in high school, as well as late Brick legend Warren Wolf.
"Honestly, I just felt like it was the right time," Antonucci said. "I found myself at times this year kind of being disinterested, and I knew right away. I hold myself to a certain standard, and that wasn't the standard I want to be at. I can only do it one way, and my wife will attest to that. When you get to the point where you're not coaching at the level you want to be at, it was kind of a no-brainer."
Antonucci's teams won 10 or more games eight times, and the Eagles had undefeated seasons in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2015 during his tenure. He was the architect of one of the most legendary runs in conference history, a Shore Conference-record 43-game winning streak from 2003-06 that included four straight state titles.
Those teams are in the discussion as the greatest in Shore history. They featured arguably the greatest player in Shore Conference history, former Denver Broncos and University of Georgia star running back Knowshon Moreno, former Stanford linebacker Nick Macaluso, former Rutgers offensive lineman Howard Barbieri and a host of other standouts.
"I talked to Moreno and Macaluso yesterday, and they put things in perspective," Antonucci said while growing emotional. "I set the expectation, and every year I tried to push the bar further. I was fortunate because not only did I have guys like Moreno and Macaluso, I had so many guys who don't get included in those conversations who were also great players and kids, plus all the great coaches that I've had over the years. I think at some point, I'll sit back and really look at it."
The Eagles became the rare public school to finish No. 1 in the state during the Moreno and Macaluso era, ahead of traditional powers like Don Bosco Prep and Bergen Catholic.
"It was a lot of pressure," Antonucci said. "During that streak, just making sure we were getting the job done, I spent a lot of hours waking up in puddles of sweat making sure I didn't screw it up. One thing I'm most proud of is that there's a lot of guys who have had great talent, and this is not a knock against anybody, but they were not able to get them where they need to go. When those guys were here, we won, and we took it to the ultimate level."
The Eagles finished 5-5 this past season and fell to Shawnee in the first round of the state playoffs. They only had one losing season out of 26 under Antonucci, and that was a 2-4 record during the shortened COVID-19 season in 2020.
While hoisting the trophies and coaching a parade of All-Shore players were certainly highlights, Antonucci will also miss the little things.
"It's going to be hard," he said. "The thing I'll miss most is standing at the top of that hill (at The Swamp) and listening to 'Hell's Bells.' Those Friday nights, I'll just miss being in the chaos of it all, the constant battle, the back and forth, the ebbs and flows and making pressure calls. That's part of me, that's part of my anatomy. I love that stuff.
"But I won't miss getting up on Aug. 3 at 5 in the morning to get here for practice, or the 7-on-7s and all the preparation it takes to get ready for a season. I'm looking forward to being able to relax."
Antonucci also has been coaching at Middletown South while his sons have been progressing through their own careers. Two of his sons, Tommy and Jake, have finished their careers at Manasquan, while his youngest son, Matthew, will be a junior with the Warriors next season. In 2017, the Eagles faced off against Manasquan while Tommy was the starting quarterback.
"I have a lot of guilt about that, but it's part of the job," Antonucci said about coaching at a different school while his sons were playing. "You'll never get that stuff back. Having to play against my kid, that was brutal. But being able to watch my youngest son, that makes (stepping down) easier."
Antonucci also had a veteran coaching staff, so it may be a season of turnover if many of them decide to also hang it up with him. One potential candidate is defensive coordinator Marc Tomo, but it will be daunting for whomever has to fill Antonucci's shoes.
Antonucci also said he hasn't ruled out a potential return to coaching, but right now is looking forward to a "recharge and reboot."
He is one of two Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Famers to step down this season, as Shore Regional's Mark Costantino also ended a legendary run with the Blue Devils.
Antonucci's resignation also comes a day after the coach of his alma mater, Keyport, stepped down. Jason Glezman told SSN he resigned after five seasons as the Red Raiders' head coach after leading them to two straight division titles for the first time since 2002-03.
There are now vacancies at Middletown South, Shore Regional, St. John Vianney, Brick, Keyport and Freehold Boro.