Coach Joe Stasi juggles a full-time high school teaching job with part-time coaching of six Wagner intercollegiate teams. Multitasking doesn't phase him; he has been doing it successfully for 15 years and shows no signs of slowing down.
Story by Laura Barlament / Photos by Nick Romanenko
Juggling three stopwatches, a pen, and a well-worn composition notebook filled with names and numbers, Coach Joe Stasi calls out the time as eight men and 10 women pound around the track.
“91, perfect. … 96, 99. Let's go, ladies, look good.”
Zach Spector '11 cruises past effortlessly. “He's a machine,” Stasi (pronounced “Stacy”) comments of Wagner's top contender in men's cross country, a four-time All-NEC pick. “Stay smooth, keep them in contact,” he encourages the next panting passerby, who has fallen behind his pack.
It's a cool, cloudy day. Stasi, his stubbly dark beard beginning to fleck with gray, wears a black Seahawks T-shirt with black shorts and gray Nikes, a green Wagner hat shading a face that often seems on the verge of breaking into a grin — except for right now. This requires concentration, monitoring essentially six different workouts simultaneously.
This scene epitomizes Stasi's complicated life, juggling a full-time high school teaching job with part-time coaching at Wagner. That is to say, on the books it's a part-time job, but what he does at Wagner actually makes him the equivalent of several full-time coaches: Head coach for indoor track, outdoor track, and cross country for both the men's and women's teams.
This kind of multitasking doesn't phase Joe Stasi. After all, he's been doing it for 15 years and shows no signs of slowing down. And the results show, both on the scoreboard and in the lives and the loyalty of his student-athletes.
“I don't like cross country personally, but I enjoy it because of Coach,” says Cameo Kirk '14 after she finishes her run. Kirk specializes in 400 to 1600-meter distances in track, and was a member of several record-setting distance relay teams last year.
Before running, Kirk's neon pink top had caught Stasi's eye. “What is that color, Pepto-Bismol?” he teased.
Humor is an endearing hallmark of Stasi's coaching style, says Kevin Kearney '10. “Coach possesses a special ability to connect with his team on a personal level that I've rarely seen from other coaches around Wagner and even collegiate athletics in general,” Kearney says. “It's everything from his lighthearted, joking demeanor at practice to the mid-winter dinner he hosts at his own home.”
According to his runners, past and present, Stasi strikes the perfect balance between being demanding and being understanding, welcoming, and encouraging.
Kearney's story exemplifies this dynamic. According to Kearney, he was a “decent high school runner,” but not one who was being recruited by Division I college coaches. Then he found Wagner College and Coach Stasi. “I could tell he was genuinely interested in me as a runner,” says Kearney. “After I had meets, he would call my house and ask how my races were going.”
Stasi saw Kearney's potential and pushed him to achieve it — and he did, becoming an NEC Championship qualifier, Academic All American, Wagner College record holder, and team captain.
Brecken Drager '10, a 2010 NEC Champion in the 10,000-meter and 5,000-meter, confirms this assessment of Stasi.
“Coach has high expectations and says it like it is,” she notes. “He sees the true potential in each of his athletes and doesn't let them settle for less.”
But while Stasi's runners are being pushed, they also know they are being cared for. “Coach caters to each athlete as an individual,” says Drager. “He often had three or more available practice times in a day, and it wasn't uncommon for him to make a different workout for every single runner.
“Running track for four years under Coach Stasi were the best years of my whole life,” Drager continues. “Classes and New York City and parties are all secondary memories. Running track was what defined my college years, and I attribute those great memories to Coach Stasi.”