Veteran coach Bottiglieri new Wesley defensive coordinator

Joe Bottiglieri

DOVER — Joe Bottiglieri probably wouldn’t call Mike Drass the most talented football player he ever recruited for Mansfield State.
But he said the young offensive lineman may have been the toughest.

“He was so intense,” said Bottiglieri, who was Drass’ head coach at the NCAA Division II program in northern Pennsylvania.

“He put his heart and soul into everything, when he was on the field and in the weight room. He was a coach’s type of player. He was a great leader, too. He had a way of talking to his teammates and getting them excited about playing.”

Bottiglieri was hardly surprised that Drass went into coaching when he was done playing.

Now, in a twist of fate 40 years later, it is Bottiglieri who will take one of Drass’ spots on Wesley College’s coaching staff.

Wesley announced on Monday that Bottiglieri has been hired as the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator. The veteran coach’s resume includes working as the defensive coordinator at NCAA Division I FCS programs Rhode Island, William & Mary and Lehigh.

While he was head coach, Drass — who passed away suddenly on May 14 — also ran Wesley’s defense. The hiring of the 68-year-old Bottiglieri helps balance a coaching staff where most of the experience lay with new head coach/offensive coordinator Chip Knapp, assistant head coach/receivers coach Steve Azzanesi and offensive line coach Jeff Braxton.

“Coach Drass was a one-man show on defense,” said Knapp. “That just leaves a big hole and a big imbalance in the staff. Bringing in Coach Bottiglieri shores that up. His ability to draw from previous experiences. … he’s had to solve a lot of problems on defense against some really good coaches.

“He’s going to provide some good leadership, some good mentoring to our younger coaches and be a nice sounding board for me.”

While he may be new to Wesley’s staff, Bottiglieri isn’t a stranger to the Wolverines. He and Drass kept in touch over the years.

After leaving Lehigh following this past season, Bottiglieri visited Drass in Dover in March. Bottiglieri and his wife, Debi, had decided to move to Lewes but he was still looking for coaching opportunities.

Bottiglieri sat in on a Wesley staff meeting.

“I had followed Wesley over the years, of course, because of Mike,” said Bottiglieri. “It’s just such a strong program. They’ve done an unbelievable job. That was very attractive to me. The fact that I was going to be moving to Delaware I thought, wow, maybe there’ll be an opportunity.

“Mike said, I’d love to have you come coach with us but he said we don’t have anything right now.”

Like everyone else, Bottiglieri was stunned by Drass’ death in May. The veteran coach came to the memorial service held at Miller Stadium a few days later.

“It was a tremendous outpouring of emotion that day,” said Bottiglieri. “So many great things have been said about Mike — that day especially.”

Both because of Bottiglieri’s experience and his relationship with Drass, there was a feeling that he was the right man at the right time and place to take over as the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator.

In a lot of ways, this situation is unchartered territory for both Wesley’s coaches and players. But Knapp believes Bottiglieri will help the program keep moving forward.

“He was very enthusiastic,” said Knapp. “You could tell in our interactions that he really wanted to coach here. Some people think, you’ve been coaching that long, maybe you lose your edge.

“But that was one of the things that drew me to him — his enthusiasm and passion for coaching football. It kind of all fits together. The guy who was there when Coach Drass started his college football journey is here to replace him. It’s like the perfect fit for our program right now.

“I don’t think we could ask for anybody better to step in for Coach Drass. I’m sure he’ll have some great stories to tell us, too, about back in the day.”

“I said when I put my name in for the job that I would love to work with Wesley,” Bottiglieri. “I have a passion for Wesley even though I hadn’t been affiliated other than I was proud of Mike and what he had done.

“I thought, wow, what a great opportunity for me to give back in this profession by going to Wesley where Mike built such a great program.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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