It is February in the Northeast and Bob Casullo is spending the winter in his home in Fort Lauderdale with his wife, Pat. This doesn’t mean he has deserted his home, family and friends in the Mohawk Valley…it simply means he is a smart man who has followed his dreams all of his life! Since the days are warm and there is no snow to shovel, Bob graciously agreed to be interviewed for our next Alumni Feature.
The first question of our interview always asks what it was like growing up in Little Falls back in the day. We should precede Bob’s response by letting you know that since his retirement, he has done a lot of motivational speaking to various groups and organizations throughout the country. With that said, Bob’s description of growing up in Little Falls is as follows:
“I guess the best way to describe this is the way I end all my speeches on Motivation and Leadership: ‘Never Look Back, But Always Remember Where You Came From!’ My growing years (1951-1969) in Little Falls are cherished memories. My many classmates, neighbors and friends are still a part of my life today no matter where we meet. Our small town was a beautiful place where we all hung together. Although the town had definite ethnic “territories”, we were oblivious to that outside of own respective families. Eastern Park, the ball diamond, Monroe Street fields, the swimming pool, the canal, the south side, and most important all, the many country roads that were frequented for various “activities”. These places all contributed to our growing up! There were no keys to homes, all our doors were unlocked. LFHS and St. Mary’s were separated by a crosswalk and a stop light. Although our town was small, the two high schools thrived academically. I always believed, and still do today, that having two schools in such a small town hindered our athletic successes because the talent pool was split in half.”
Anyone who knows Bob, knows he has no problem striking up a conversation…with anyone. He claims whether it was reminiscing with coworkers at the water cooler or sharing “where did you come from” conversations at one of his many career stops, he loves talking about his home town and his school days. “No one believes me when I tell them I went to school in the same building for 11 of my 12 years of schooling. The one off year was 6th grade when I went to the local YMCA for class. This blows people’s minds. I go on to explain to them that Little Falls is a unique small town. It worked for us and the school was a short walk away! As for a favorite teacher, I think the correct question would be to ask any of those teachers if I was their favorite student! All the teachers were excellent in their respective areas and I guess the best compliment to them all is to say I can’t identify just one as a favorite! The one teacher/coach who made the most impression on me was Coach Dave McCauley. He came to town as our PE teacher and football coach in my senior year. He taught team work and how to win! Unbeknownst to him, he lit the fire which ignited me toward my future profession.”
In 1969 when Bob graduated, the US was at war in Viet Nam. The draft was a threat to all 18 year old men (or boys). However, the draft was also a motivator for high school graduates to pursue a college education. Bob was accepted at what is now known as SUNY at Brockport. He earned a four year dual Bachelors of Science Degrees in Political Science and Physical Education. When asked why two degrees, Bob, who always has an answer, claims, “I wanted to be either a lawyer or an FBI agent. One degree would have benefited me intellectually in the law and the other would have helped me physically if I either became an FBI agent or went into the service. Oh well, as the saying goes, the best laid plans go awry!”
Now for Bob’s career – and what a career it was! He is one of many Little Falls graduates who emulate the cliché “local boy does well!”
“Upon graduating from Brockport in 1973, I was very fortunate to get a physical education teaching position at Eastwood Jr. High School followed by a position with Henninger High School where I stayed for nine years. What was really exciting for me was the opportunity to coach high school football and baseball. This I did for 12 years – the last two at Baldwinsville High School as the head football coach.
“As much as I enjoyed what I was doing, I was not satisfied and grew weary of the high school routine. So, at the age of 34, with a wife and 8 and 5 year old sons, I left for a volunteer position on the Syracuse University football staff. Yes, volunteer meant just that – no income! We struggled, but survived that year. Fortunately, the next 3 years I was a paid administrator in the football program overseeing many areas like recruiting, academics, housing, travel etc. Finally, at the age of 38, I was appointed running back coach for the SU football team. During the next six years, I was fortunate to be a part of a successful run of winning seasons and four major Division 1 Bowl games. Our head coach, Dick MacPherson, used to always say, ‘from team success comes individual honors!’ So, when I got a call to move to Atlanta Georgia to accept a position as coach on the Georgia Tech staff, I packed my bags and moved away. My wife stayed behind to get the boys through high school without disrupting their lives. The excitement to rebuild the Tech football program was exciting. We went 6-5, 5-6, 8-4 and 10-2 (ACC co-champs) and beat West Virginia and Notre Dame in Bowl games the last two years. Again, from team success etc., I moved on to Michigan St. in 1999 where we were 10-2 (Big 10 co-champs) and beat Florida in the Bowl game. Once again, per team success, I got a call from the Oakland Raiders and at the age of 49 I began my ten year professional career of coaching football in the National Football League – the pinnacle of any football career.
“Now comes the staggering and fortunate part of my career! Four NFL coaching stops – the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. My combined record as a part of these teams, 95-64 – a .600 winning percentage. I coached in Super Bowls 37 and 40, the Pro Bowl, in two AFC and one NFC championship games and fifteen (15) total NFL playoff games.” All this from a small town boy from Little Falls New York! Do this epitomize “local boy does well” or what?
When asked how Little Falls shaped him, Bob once again referred to his speaking career. “I end my speeches by saying ‘never look back, but always remember where you came from!’ I am from Little Falls, New York where you were taught to respect your elders and address them as Mr. or Mrs.; you were taught to listen, be seen and not be heard! We listened well and we learned a lot. When we speak now, we are intelligent, thoughtful, respectful, knowledgeable and polite. Our friends then are our friends now. Other than family, our friends are our gift. Families are a commitment to our dying days. The family bonds formed growing up in Little Falls are what made us the successes we are today. The old timers may be gone, but their legacies live on through us. Our children should be so lucky to listen and learn and share in these values.”
Sharing memories of high school with other alumni is always a fun thing to do. And, Bob, never a person to turn away from a good-time, had some thoughts to share here as well. “There are so many great memories of my high school days. We just celebrated our 45th class reunion last summer and was it ever fun. The memories of athletic events, school dances, all followed by hanging around Main Street, usually at Kandyland with friends will always hold a special place in my heart. However, my favorite memories of LFHS are the Friday and/or Saturday night parties at someone’s house or out in the country roads. We weren’t malicious or disorderly, but we did stretch the rules and, in our then innocence, we enjoyed each other’s friendships.”
In closing, Bob was asked to share any advice he might have for current students of LFHS. As always, Bob has some thought provoking comments and noteworthy advice.
“Take a look around at each other. Remember what friendship is, how to enjoy each day and really experience the joy of growing up. Help each other out. Let no one fall behind. Remember my favorite teacher Mr. McCauley. He always said this, ‘A team is as strong as its weakest link. Don’t be that link!’ Together you and your friends can accomplish so much more. I always say, ‘don’t wish your life away!’ I hope you believe me when I say when I was attending LFHS I never said, ‘I’m gonna coach in the Super Bowl someday.’ I didn’t even dream that. Heck there wasn’t even a Super Bowl! BUT, how I interacted with my friends and how I listened to and respected my elders, all played a vital role in me inching further up the ladder of success and recognizing how I got there. How do you get ahead, do your job, whatever that job is, to the best of your ability and make it so they cannot get rid of you? Make it so the job you do makes everyone and everything around you better than if you weren’t there!”
“If I can convince any of you this one thing – don’t think for one minute that the successful people in any profession are strictly from New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or any big city. The successful people in any profession are from the small towns like Little Falls. I am convinced of this. The reason being, because the values, morals and lessons we learned from our families, our friends and our elders make us stronger! Remember…NEVER LOOK BACK, BUT ALWAYS REMEMBER WHERE YOU CAME FROM”!
Bob and his wife, Pat, currently split their time between Syracuse and Florida. Their son, Rocco, lives with his wife and two children in Fort Lauderdale and their other son, Jamie, resides with his wife in Syracuse. In the summer, Bob frequently travels Little Falls to visit other family members as well as to serve as a member of the Little Falls Hospital Board of Trustees.
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