I’d known Tony for less than 3 years and even then only in a work context, yet he was somebody I unfailingly looked forward to seeing, to greeting, to catching up with, regardless of the soccer or the broadcast. I loved working with him and talking soccer, of course, but the pre-game lunch or dinner (or both!) together was just fun. He could listen and find a way to relate to almost anything, he could be both positive and realistic at the same time, and he was a heck of a storyteller.
In my experience (again, a small sample size compared to many), a meal with Tony meant some serious entertainment. Whether it was the restaurant in the hotel or a chain in whatever small town we were in or a fancy Italian place in Chapel Hill, he had stories. They could be funny and/or insightful, eyebrow-raising and/or sobering. They involved a lot of recognizable names, too, but it wasn’t overt name-dropping, just Tony talking. Stories about the 1999 World Cup team flowed just as easily as those about his family or his goalkeeping days or other teams he coached.
He was confident in his views and opinions – anyone who has heard him second-guessing other coaches as a game or studio analyst can attest to that – but it never felt arrogant or disrespectful to me. He was just sharing his take and could not help but think about soccer and coaching in terms of what his approach would have been, as if he could visualize just how things might play out.
It felt like almost every coach we came across had a connection to Tony's coaching tree. Some were, as I was at first, intimidated by the heights of his success. Others wanted Tony to do them a favor. He was happy to meet, greet, and help each however he could.
|Courtesy Ben Solomon|
On game days, you would never have known the heights he scaled as a coach, watching him interact with the production crew and the locals. “Hi, I’m Tony,” sufficed as an introduction. We got some good games and some crap games together (if I’m honest, our last working together was pretty blah), but we always had fun and we were always in it together. We would eat together, drive to games together, approach coaches together, and leave together afterward … it seems obvious, but it made an incredibly positive difference in our on-air chemistry.
I have to believe that focus on togetherness and connection and unity was something that set him apart as a broadcaster, as a coach, and, far more importantly, as a man.
I was looking forward to comparing notes with and hearing more stories from Tony this fall, and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I won’t have that chance. But it was a privilege to know and work with him for the last few years, and I feel terrible for his family, close friends, former players and colleagues, and everybody who knew him better and longer than I.
Joy and unity, caring and storytelling. We will all miss Tony DiCicco.