KINGSTON, R.I. – January 14, 2013 – OK Rhody sports fans, quick, name the most successful coaches in the history of the University of Rhode Island.
If you named Frank Keaney, you made the easy choice. But some of you might look for other greats who coached basketball, football, track and field, soccer or even volleyball.
But if you confined your search to the records kept by the University’s Department of Athletics, you would have missed the accomplishments of a 24-year coach who has directed a nationally ranked squad every year of his tenure and who is on the cusp of capturing his 24th 20-win season.
The name Joe Augustine could only have been one of your choices if you have been a regular visitor to the Boss Arena or followed men’s ice hockey, a club sport at URI. Augustine nailed down his 500th win on the road Friday, Jan. 4, with a 5-3 victory over West Chester University. On Saturday, Jan. 5, the Rams won 4-3 in overtime against the same Pennsylvania squad. After splitting with Delaware over the weekend (Jan. 11 and 12), Augustine now has a lifetime record of 502 wins, 225 losses and 42 ties. And the Scituate resident still has nine more regular season games, league and national playoffs to add to that tally this year. The team returns home for a two-game series with Niagra University, Friday Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. and Saturday. Jan. 19 at 4 p.m.
Considered one of the pinnacles of coaching, the 500-win mark puts Augustine in the company of the greatest of all Rhody skippers, Frank Keaney, inventor of basketball’s fast break, who posted 693 victories as Rhode Island’s basketball, football and baseball coach. But even Keaney only had 401 victories in hoops. As far as wins in a single sport, only volleyball coach Bob Schneck is better than Augustine with 544 victories. However, in terms of winning percentage, Augustine’s .652 is better than Keaney’s and Schneck’s.
But in typical Augustine style the coach from Scituate played down all his individual successes.
“I didn’t realize that I had hit the 500-win mark until about a minute to go in Friday night’s game,” the former Boston College defenseman and member of the Eagles Hall of Fame said. “It’s a nice achievement, but it’s more of a testament to everyone who has worked in our program, all the coaches and players we have had over the years.”
He praised Christian Rigamonti, who played for Augustine from 1990 through 1994, coached with him for 12 years, and is now the team’s general manager, and Don Pagliarini Sr., the team’s technician and equipment manager for the past 14 years. He said he has been fortunate to have players willing to make the commitment to training, academics and games. And don’t forget, current players pay $2,400 per season for the privilege of representing the University.
Including Rigamonti and Pagliarini, Augustine has assembled a staff that includes two orthopedic surgeons, a physician’s assistant and a physical therapist.
“Joe is great at helping the athletes develop relationships among themselves and between the athletes and him,” said Chris Daigle, URI club sports coordinator. “He is old school. He expects effort on the ice, off the ice and in the classroom.”
Thomas R. Dougan, vice president for Student Affairs, said Augustine has been a great coach, teacher and representative of the University.
“He holds his student-athletes to the highest standards of performance and conduct,” said Dougan, who oversees recreational and club sports at the University. “He gives so much to his players and to the University. We are very grateful at URI to have someone of Joe’s incredible talents and commitment.”
Augustine, who guided the team to the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division 1 club championship in 2006, was the head coach of Team USA for the 2009 World University Games in China, which had four URI players on the roster and placed four players on the 2011 squad.
“I guess that I would have to say that winning the national championship against Penn State was one of my favorite memories,” Augustine said. “But I would also have to say that the games, the coaching, and the camaraderie among the guys is what also makes it great.”
“Joe is just a hockey guy,” Daigle said. “He is committed to putting the best team on the ice, and that means cutting players every year. His team also performs great academically. They travel as much as any of our varsity teams, and that’s what so amazing.”
Augustine, who acknowledges that officials from Hockey East and the Atlantic Hockey League continue to talk with him about the potential for a varsity program at Rhode Island, said the hardest part of the job is cutting players. The experience is nothing like that experienced by varsity coaches at URI or anywhere else because of sheer numbers.
“I dread that first week because we have 60 to 70 guys try out for the team,” Augustine said. “I end up telling 40 kids they didn’t make the team. These are all good kids who have a dream and want to compete. It’s heartbreaking.”
And as Daigle pointed out, Augustine had to cut a few players this year who were on the team last year.
Augustine sometimes gets unpleasant letters from some of the athletes he has cut. But he received a surprising one this year from senior Bret Zimmerman, an engineering major and math minor, who wasn’t invited back.
Zimmerman thanked Augustine in his letter for the opportunity to play and be part of such a great program. He said he was proud to have worn the uniform. He said he is prepared for the next step in his life thanks to the lessons and experiences Augustine provided on and off the ice.
”I appreciate all of the time and effort that you and your staff have put into the program as well as helping me develop as both a player and a person,” said Zimmerman, a resident of Saunderstown.
“I guess this would have to rank right up there as one of the most gratifying parts of my coaching now,” Augustine said. “In all of my years here, I have never gotten a letter like that. This letter shows just what a special person Bret is. He is a very intelligent, hard working young man who is a credit to URI and his family.”
500 WINS AND COUNTING: URI men’s hockey coach Joe Augustine, joins members of his team as he holds the puck from his 500th victory at the University of West Chester in Pennsylvania Friday, Jan. 4. The players from left are: captain David Macalino of Washington Township, N.J., Paul Kenny of West Chester, Pa., alternate captain Matt DeJulio of Plainview, N.Y. and captain Mike Tait of Laurel, Md. Photo courtesy of URI men’s hockey.