Back in 1982, Dan Romano was running the family business, Romano Electric, when his brother-in-law placed a fateful call that changed his career and started him on a Hall of Fame journey.
"He was moving back from Florida to take the head coaching job at Walkill Valley, which was just starting a (football) program, and didn't know anyone so he asked me if I would coach," Romano recalled. "I told him I never coached before and he said, 'I don't care. I want you to coach with me.'"
Some 29 years later, Romano is basking in the afterglow of his greatest coaching honor: The venerable James Caldwell High School football assistant earned induction into the New Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame on June 27 during a halftime ceremony at the 33rd Annual North/South Football Classic at Kean University.
“Just to be honored for something that you love to do, that other people, your peers especially, think you're good at it—you can't describe that,” Romano, 53, said. “Everybody loves to be recognized for something you do well.
“To me, it's a great honor. You really can't do better than that. I love coaching football and love coaching kids. I got into it not knowing what it would give back to me.”
This has been the most memorable of years for Romano. Also the athletic director and former baseball coach at Bloomfield Tech, he was on hand watching his former player, relief pitcher Hector Santiago, reach the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox earlier this month.
Before his brother-in-law called him, Romano gave up football after four years as a standout guard and linebacker, opting to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University to study electrical engineering. Upon graduating in 1980, he stayed in the family business instead of taking out-of-state offers since his mother was ill.
Following two seasons at Walkill Valley, Romano returned to his alma mater under legendary head coach Ken Trimmer. From his beginning as the coach of the undefeated 1984 freshman team, he became the Chiefs' defensive coordinator before taking over Trimmer's offense in 2008.
“When I look at the hall of fame and look at the caliber of coaches that are in the New Jersey hall of fame, first of all they're the caliber of guys you want your kids to play for,” said Trimmer, a 2008 inductee who nominated Romano. “And number two, they are the type of men who have integrity; they're not cheaters. The third thing is they are guys that don't talk 'me, me, me', they talk 'we, we, we.'"
Trimmer said Romano doesn't take the credit when things go well offensively.
"It's not 'I did this' or 'I did that.' That really stands out to me as a hall of famer: a guy who's been extremely successful, a great family man, a hard-working man and the type of guy you would want to coach your son. And he fills the bill on all of those fronts.”
Meanwhile, being around kids inspired Romano to become a teacher. In 1992, he began teaching electrical shop, an extension of the family business, at Bloomfield Tech. He still teaches the trade, although he gave up baseball coaching two years ago because of a school rule that administrators cannot also coach.
No matter, though: Romano returned to Caldwell to assist Charlie Honeker.
Romano never left the football sideline at his alma mater, helping the Chiefs capture four sectional titles. If the latest came in 2008, the most memorable was in 1991 when the underdog Chiefs shocked heavily favored Dover for the first of their championsips.
“They were just killing everybody,” Romano said. “But we shut them down defensively. Then we scored on a last-minute drive.”
Since then, the Chiefs have beaten Mendham in 1997, Pequannock in 1998 and Governor Livingston three years ago. The Pequannock victory was especially satisfying since Dan Romano, Jr., the coach's son, caught a dump-off pass over the middle and turned it into the go-ahead touchdown.
There are so many of these memories for Romano. And even after his recent Hall of Fame induction, he plans on celebrating many more with the Chiefs.
“Our staff is an unusual staff in that the longevity on the staff is phenomenal. I'm there 28 years, there are two coaches there more than 20 years,” Romano said. “That's a credit to Ken Trimmer. He allows us to coach, which is big. A lot of head coaches, they'll call the offense or call the defense. Kenny allows us to run the show. He oversees us, but he allows us reign to do our own thing.”
And his own thing has put Romano in the Hall of Fame.