After his 15th season of coaching basketball at Carlsbad's Army-Navy Academy ended last spring, John Maffucci decided he'd had enough.
Maffucci had taken the Warriors to two San Diego Section 1-A basketball championships in the past two seasons. He had coached the academy's football team for 18 seasons and the baseball for 15 seasons. It was time for him to "relax", he said, which meant only coaching golf and cross country.
But it didn't work out that way. Two weeks before the start of the basketball season, Maffucci's successor, former junior varsity coach Joe Pimental, left suddenly to take another coaching job. Maffucci, also the academy's athletic director, knew there was only one person who could take over on such short notice.
"There was no choice," Maffucci said. "When Joe left, I automatically stepped in. I couldn't let the program go down the tubes."
It didn't. The Warriors (17-5) won their third CIF 1-A title last Saturday and will face Santa Monica's Crossroads High in the state regionals tonight at 7:30 at Carlsbad High.
Playoffs are nothing new for Maffucci. His football teams reached the finals four times in the early 1970s, winning the title in 1972. In 1970, his first season as basketball coach, Army-Navy went to the CIF finals. The team also made the finals in 1977. Despite those achievements, Maffucci said he neglected the basketball team until a few years ago.
"When I did both football and basketball, basketball always took a back seat," he said. "In 1980, I said at a banquet that I'd work as hard at basketball as I had at football. Since then, we've won 130 games and lost 30."
Maffucci's coaching philosophy reflects his upbringing in a working-class Italian neighborhood in New Rochelle, N.Y.
"The key thing is caring for the ballplayers and having the ballplayers care for each other," he said. "It has to be a family situation. I care about them personally, I care about them academically, I care about them as whole people, not just as ball players. They need that because when they get out of high school they're going to meet some hard knocks, people who aren't going to care as much."
Maffucci's players seem to appreciate his approach.
"He's a lot different from what I was used to," said forward Nick Markowitz, Army-Navy's leading scorer. "He's concerned with developing us for life and the future, instead of like most coaches who just care about the way you play basketball. He demands a lot of perfection and hard work. I'd say I've learned more in two years here than I have in the rest of my basketball career."
The Warriors started slowly this season, with a 3-4 record at the Christmas break, prompting Maffucci to send his players home for the holidays with a stern admonition.
"I couldn't remember the last time we went on Christmas vacation with a losing record," Maffucci said. "I told the kids, 'If you don't want to play with your brothers as a team member, if you want to play as an individual, don't come back after vacation.'
"They all came back."
The Warriors went 14-1 after the break to win the Coastal League. Their coach, however, won't be coming back.
"I'm dying to get out on the golf course," he said. "But if I have to wait another two weeks until after the state championship, that's what I'll have to do."