Paul Rodio: Character in Action
By Caroline Chapman P’15 ’18, Humanities Division Chair and English Faculty Member
Father. Teacher. Coach. Hermit Brother. The man behind these titles, Coach Paul Rodio, easily transcends them. For those fortunate enough to know Coach Rodio, there is only one word necessary: It.
In 1977, when Larry Aldrich, then the Head Basketball Coach for St. Augustine, had to step down due to declining health, Paul Rodio was the first choice for then School President, Fr. Stephen LaRosa, OSA. Admittedly though, he was not everyone’s. “I was twenty-four years old and naming me Head Coach was an unpopular decision, but Fr. LaRosa believed in me. He knew I had the energy; I had the juice. I was here 24/7. Fr. LaRosa and I talked often, and he knew I had the kids at heart. He knew I would go after it.” And go after “It,” he did.
While Rodio feels strongly that luck had a big part in determining his path at St. Augustine, those who know him well, know better. From students to colleagues and from players to friends, he is the embodiment of character in action– equal parts fairness, devotion, respect, responsibility, hard work, and warmth.
As he maneuvers his forty-eighth year of teaching, and his forty-fifth year as Head Basketball Coach, Rodio is reflective of his legendary career, both on the court and in the classroom, as well as the connection between the two. “It may be cliché, but to be a good basketball coach you need to be a good teacher. It’s the same principles: pay attention, listen, communicate.”
Rodio’s colleague and close friend, Anthony Iaconelli, reflects, “I remember a conversation he and I had on the practice floor about thirty years ago. He told me, ‘I really believe South Jersey is ready to be taken.’ I thought he was talking about basketball, but the sentiment was much larger than that. He has given every ounce of himself to the Prep, whether it be in the outreach to prospective students, in development, in teaching, or as the Athletic Director.”
From his earliest days at St. Augustine, as the Freshman Basketball Coach, the Cross Country Coach, and a novice teacher, Coach Rodio has given the school his all and never stopped going after it. Family is first, but the Prep is a close second.
“I was hired at a time when St. Augustine wasn’t good at anything. The basketball team had a 2-20 record the year before I started. There were about 140 kids in the school when I started, and I hit it off with them.” According to Rodio, that’s when his luck kicked in. “I got a break my first year and we ended the season at 14-10. The next year, we had twenty wins. By year four, we were in the South Jersey Championship, and in my fifth year, we won it.” He won it and continues to win it today, clearly embodying the idea that he who wills the end, wills the means. His team also went on to win four more state championships in 1999, 2004, 2011, and 2016.
While Rodio may chalk up some of his success to luck, his colleagues and students know it is much more than that. Athletic Director Michael Rizzo explains, “Coach’s message is consistent. Anyone who’s been around him for a number of years will say the same thing. He always says, ‘Surround yourself with the right people.’ Aside from my parents, Coach Rodio is one of the few others who made me the person I am today. When I was a student here, everyone wanted to be Coach Rodio. He was it. Coach is still it.”
As with so many Hermits, Mr. Rodio’s connection to St. Augustine began in the spring of his eighth-grade year in the form of a visit to the school. Noting that St. Augustine was not a popular choice for high school in those days, Rodio remembers that eight of the twenty-four boys in his class enrolled along with him. “In the spring, I came with my dad to visit the school. My older brother had also enrolled, but he only lasted three weeks. Me? I loved it from day one.” He loved it and thus began a connection that has lasted for decades.
Mr. Rodio graduated from St. Augustine in 1970 and attended Villanova University finishing with a degree in marketing. Immediately after college, he went to work for his father, and within a year, he was ready to move into teaching. “I had five preps that year with a starting salary of $7700. Honestly, I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher until I became one, but it’s a thrill. Watching kids change and knowing that I have a small impact on them is the best part.”
With a perspective of the school that few have, Rodio notes that the mission, the heart of St. Augustine Prep has remained consistent from his earliest days as a teacher through today. Reflecting, Coach notes his great esteem for his colleagues, then and now. “I work with people who are genuine– out for the kids. I treat my fellow teachers as equals, a lesson I learned from Mr. Spina (St. Augustine Prep co-founder and faculty member). Let me tell you, I was in awe of Mr. Spina. It was tough to work for him, but I learned so much. I never felt inconsequential. He was never condescending. From Mr. Spina, I learned how to do things ‘the right way.’
“Whether under the leadership of Fr. LaRosa, Fr. Galetto, Fr. Reilly, or Fr. Murray, the school hasn’t changed even a little bit. Camaraderie, brotherhood, pride– it’s the same in 2023 as it was in 1978.”
Kevin Burke, a former Hermits Basketball scholar-athlete and current Principal at Holy Ghost Prep (PA), knows Rodio as both a former student and player. “Coach Rodio is an amazing father to his own four children, but he is truly the father-figure of hundreds of young men. He made me believe in who I was beyond who I thought I was. He believed I could do things I did not believe I was capable of doing.” As a former player and colleague, Burke witnessed the broader impact Coach Rodio has. “Coach Rodio is a motivator, and at a time in young men’s lives, a critical time, when they need a purpose, he provides it and then some.” He provides it without question or hesitation.
2016 graduate and another former Hermits Basketball scholar-athlete Marlon Hargis also reflected on his impact. “Coach Rodio always said that when you’re on one of his teams, ‘you either get it or you don’t.’ He says it can’t be explained, you just get it or you don’t.” Luckily, for students at St. Augustine Prep, it seems that when they are around Coach they have a better chance of getting it.
Current Virginia Tech Basketball superstar and 2017 Prep Graduate Justyn Mutts also agrees. When asked about the most important lesson their Coach has taught them, he has no hesitation. “Loyalty. With Coach Rodio, it doesn’t matter if it’s family, academics, or advice in general…he’s the guy you can call on at any time. He’s got us. He’s always had us.”
Young men in high school are facing a myriad of challenges and decisions, questions and conflicts, and this makes Coach Rodio’s demeanor and wisdom a perfect fit for this juncture in their lives. As Iaconelli explains, “Coach loves life and people. He is a larger-than-life personality whose mere presence can lift a room. He may be the most underrated teacher in the building. Every student he has feels like he has connected with them in a personal way. He loves the underdog and embraces the kid who seems shy or awkward or troubled and instantly gives him self-esteem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told him about a student who seems to be in trouble – Coach will focus on that young man like a laser. That is the thing I love the most about him. He always says anybody can teach the A student or coach the Division I athlete, but he reaches the kids who really need it the most.”
There have been many of those kids who really needed it at St. Augustine and beyond. Rodio tears up when thinking back over some of the kids who needed him most. “You know the most incredible thing about teaching? There’s so much power in what we do and say. It impacts the kids in ways we don’t always know. I just love watching the kids change, seeing them as adults with their own kids, and knowing that I had a small impact on who they are. It’s powerful.”
Iaconelli sums up his friend and colleague well. “He is genuine and not only loves what he does but believes in the Prep and its mission. He has willed his program to the heights it now enjoys with his ability to make the people around him better, as players, coaches, and people. Coach always does the right thing. He is the most loyal person I know.”
Coach Rodio will add to his stellar resume with an almost unfathomable achievement of 1,000 wins and in the process, he has cemented his legacy as a pillar of St. Augustine Prep by impacting the lives of thousands of young men.
Congratulations, Coach, from your proud colleagues at St. Augustine Prep.
Gameday information for Wednesday, January 11 • Hermits Basketball vs. Ocean City
In advance of tomorrow’s home basketball game vs. Ocean City, please take note of the following information regarding in-person attendance and live stream information.
- Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. (Doors will open at 4:00 p.m.)
- Spectators will enter through the front doors of the Buondonno Forum. This will be the ONLY entrance for Wednesday’s game.
- There will be NO presale tickets sold in advance.
- Game entry is complimentary; donations will be accepted for the Hermits Basketball Athletic Advancement Fund
- The Consalo Dining Hall (also located in the Buondonno Forum) will be open for overflow viewing of the game via the Hermits Broadcasting Channel live stream
- For those unable to attend in person, the live stream link is as follows: https://www.youtube.com/hermitsbroadcasting