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The Cistone legacy lives on for St. Vincent-St. Mary football

Terry Cistone coached his first game as the head coach at STVM Thursday night at the field named after his father
Photo by Jeff Harwell

Photo by Jeff Harwell

AKRON, Ohio – Since 1994, the football field at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Green Street Stadium has been named John Cistone Field after its legendary coach who coached at STVM through 1996.

On Thursday night, a Cistone was the head coach for the Fighting Irish on that field for the first time in over 25 years as John’s son Terry made his STVM head coaching debut in a 25-0 loss Glenville.

But the story for STVM wasn’t really about the game or the loss, it was about the legacy of STVM football. With John in attendance, Terry patrolled the sidelines for the first time as the head man for his alma mater, where he played and coached under his father.

“This is a special place,” Terry Cistone said. “My dad had great years here. (They) played tough schedules and we are trying to get that back there.”

John Cistone was the head coach of the Fighting Irish for 34 years and won more than 200 games and four state championships. 

And as luck would have it, STVM was honoring the 50-year anniversary of the 1972 state championship team on Thursday night, which meant John Cistone was there to see his son’s STVM head coaching debut. Terry was glad his father was able to be at the game, not only because Terry was coaching but because John got to celebrate with his 1972 team.

“He is 90 years old, and he was able to be here tonight,” Terry said. “I think it meant a lot to him.”

At 90 years old, Cistone is still as sharp as a tack and remembers everything about those years when he was coaching, even remembering the teams that won titles in other divisions. He also still has a sense of humor. When asked if he has given Terry any advice on how to coach the team, John said he doesn’t talk to him about that because Terry has proven himself to be a good head coach. But then John joked about what he might do instead.

“I might slide a play here and there for him,” John Cistone said with a laugh.

Terry is in his 39th year of being a coach in some capacity and began his coaching career while in college under his father, where he was on the STVM staff when the Fighting Irish took home back-to-back state championships in 1981 and 1982. After leaving his alma mater, Cistone had assistant coaching jobs at Buchtel, Firestone, Lake and Revere and was the head coach at Revere in 2003-09 before returning for another stint as head coach of the Minutemen in 2019.

He then returned to STVM in 2020 as the special teams coordinator and was the running backs coach in 2021, both under former STVM head coach Bobby Nichol. When Nichol stepped down following last season, STVM turned to Cistone to lead the team.

“I love it here,” Terry Cistone said. “Being back here and being a part of this, I am enjoying myself, I really am.”

While Terry describes John as a “quiet guy,” Terry got a sense of pride from his father when the younger Cistone told him that he thought he was going to accept the STVM head coaching job this past offseason.

“When I told him I think I am going to take it, I think he felt good about that,” Terry said. “I think he is proud of me that I took the job.”

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John concurred with his son’s sentiment.

“I am glad he got a chance to take this job,” John said. “I am proud of him. I was happy for him. I was glad he got to come back and coach here.”

One person who knows the Cistone family and the tradition of STVM well is former standout Frank Stams. He was on the state championship teams in 1981 and 1982 and remembers John Cistone caring about families and the legacy of the program. It’s why Stams believes the school made the right hire in choosing Terry as its head coach.

“It was about family and families and legacy (under John Cistone),” Stams said. “Terry is a perfect example of that tradition-rich legacy that John perpetuated and carried forward from (his predecessor) Eddie Wentz. I couldn’t think of a better guy.”

Stams has known Terry Cistone for a long time, even before Stams was a player for the Fighting Irish. John Cistone was classmates with Stams’ father at St. Vincent’s and is the godfather to Frank’s brother Steve.

When Stams was in the seventh grade, he was told he was too big to play CYO football, so his dad told him that instead of sitting around the house, he weas going to go down to STVM and help out as a manager for the football team.

“Terry Cistone was the captain on that team along with three other guys,” Stams recalls. “That’s when I really got to know Terry. He was an outstanding athlete, but more importantly he is an outstanding person just like his father.”

Stams has played for some of the best coaches in football, as he has played for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame and then Bill Belichick and Nick Saban when Stams was on the Cleveland Browns. And he would put John Cistone up there with those coaches, especially early in a young man’s career.

“There is not a better example for young men looking for an identity during a very crucial and significant part of growing up,” Stams said. “You talk about great character, great example on how to compete and I don’t want to slight his football knowledge. His football knowledge was top shelf with the top coaches around the state and around the nation.”

And Stams believes that has rubbed off the younger Cistone.

“Terry is a chip off the old block,” Stams said. “They couldn’t ask for a better man down there to lead that program back to its successful history.”

Was Terry nervous on Thursday, knowing that he would be standing on the field that carries his father’s name for the first time as a head coach? That’s a question his wife Marie asked him Thursday morning.

“I am more excited than nervous,” Terry said. “20 years ago, I wanted to throw up on a (gameday). Now 20 years later you look at things differently. I was excited.”

For Terry, STVM just felt like the right place to be, and he hasn’t second-guessed his decision one bit.

“No regrets,” Terry Cistone said. I have enjoyed every minute.”

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