Rochester basketball icon Mauro Panaggio dies
by Jeff DiVeronica Democrat and Chroncile April 11, 2018
Mauro Panaggio had two loves in his life.
"His family and basketball," his son, Mike Panaggio, said on Wednesday, a few hours after the Rochester basketball coaching legend died early in the morning from complications related to diabetes.
Mr. Panaggio was 90.
A 1946 graduate of Rochester's Madison High, where he was a standout athlete, Mr. Panaggio is a member of the Section V Basketball, Frontier Field Walk and The College at Brockport halls of fame. He also left his mark in the professional level as the winningest coach in the history of the Continental Basketball Association, the former developmental league for the NBA. That’s where Panaggio used to butt heads with future NBA coaches Phil Jackson and George Karl.
Mr. Panaggio died in Daytona Beach, Florida. Mr. Panaggio had lived in Florida since leaving Brockport in the mid-1970s to pursue coaching in the pros. His wife of 68 years, Rita, also a Rochester native, died nearly a month ago on March 16. Mrs. Panaggio was 87. They met as college students at Brockport.
Services for Mr. Panaggio will be at Lohman Funeral Home, 733 W. Granada Blvd., Ormond Beach, Florida. Visitation will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday. A funeral will begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday. The family may hold a ceremony locally at some point.
He is survived by his children, Mike (Jennifer), Dan (Ellen), Kathy (Mike), Tom (Shemi), Jim (Kay) and Mary Beth (Michael); 23 grandchildren; and 27 great-grandchildren.
"He touched the lives of so many players from the 1950s and then for over 40 years," Mike, 65, the oldest of his six children, said from Florida. "He just wanted to help kids. He loved the game."
Mr. Panaggio was a multisport high school athlete and then a basketball standout at college at Brockport, where he was MVP and team captain for two seasons from 1949-51. Before that, he spent one year at Canisius College in Buffalo. But make no mistake, Mauro Panaggio made his name as a coach, inspiring others to do the same.
“He was a coach of coaches. He’s the reason I got into coaching. He loved the game. It was in his blood,” former Brockport High coach Charlie Hage said Wednesday. “He’s helped more people than you can shake a stick at.”
The Panaggio coaching tree included his son, Dan, who coached at McQuaid Jesuit and Monroe Community College locally and then in the CBA (Quad City) and as an assistant in the NBA (Portland) and on the college level (Marquette and Indiana).
Mr. Panaggio started coaching south of Rochester in Wellsville, then guided powerhouse Section V teams at Franklin and East High in the Rochester City School District for 10 straight seasons in the 1950s and 1960s. His teams won two Section V titles. He coached one season at Rush-Henrietta.
Mr. Panaggio's Franklin teams won four city titles in his five seasons (1956-61). Those teams included future track Olympian Trent Jackson, who later became a Hall of Fame coach himself at Franklin.
Panaggio’s East squads (1961-66), two of which included Norman Bounds, one of Section V's top players, won three city championships in five seasons. That included the 1966 Section V Class AA crown.
Mr. Panaggio coached Rush-Henrietta the next season to a league title and R-H reached the sectional title game, which it lost to Panaggio’s former East squad.
After leaving R-H, he began building Brockport into an NCAA contender. The Golden Eagles won four SUNYAC titles from 1967-77 and reached the 1973 and 1975 Final Fours under Mr. Panaggio. His teams went 148-76.
"He was brought in (at Brockport) to build a winner and he did," son Tom Panaggio said Wednesday. "He was a driven guy. When he set his mind to something, that's what he was going to do."
His all-time Section V mark was 240-48.
From 1978-83 he also coached the Rochester Zeniths in the CBA.. A three-time CBA Coach of the Year, Mr. Panaggio coached the Quad City Thunder, based in Moline, Illinois, from 1986-91 and retired after that season. His record at that point was 306-150.
"I was a little kid back then, but those are fun memories. … Between Brockport and the Zeniths it was pretty exciting," said Tom Panaggio, who is 60 now and lives in Tampa. "Basketball, I guess, it was the family business at the time."
Mr. Panaggio was lured back into coaching a few months after stepping down from Quad City. He took over the CBA's Rockford (Illinois) Lightning and went 21-35 that season. The highlight, which drew some national attention, was coaching against his son, Dan, who succeeded him at Quad City after serving as his assistant there. Dan’s Thunder beat his dad’s Lightning, 104-101, on Feb. 17, 1992. Mauro Panaggio was 64 at the time; Dan was 37.
“If a script had been written it couldn’t have been a much better game,” Mr. Panaggio told the Rockford (Ill.) Register, “except maybe the father should have won.”
The Zeniths played from 1978-83. Despite their on-court success, including a 36-12 debut season and 159-65 overall record (25-12 playoffs), they folded after struggling to draw fans. "If we detected any glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel to turn it around at the gate, we'd have stayed," Panaggio told the Rochester Times-Union in 1983. "But we saw no hope."
The CBA was mostly a Northeastern league then. Mr. Panaggio never made it to the NBA as coach, but he thought he should have. “My theories have worked on every level,” he told the Democrat and Chronicle in 1991. “I think they could have worked on that (NBA) level, too.”
Mike Panaggio said his dad was a straight shooter, honest to a fault, and people sometimes held that against him. "He would have done well (in the NBA), but so much of coaching was politics and my father told it the way it was and never pulled any punches," Mike Panaggio said. "Sometimes that doesn’t get you far in that type of political arena."
From gymnasiums in Rochester to arenas all across the country, Mr. Panaggio chased and lived his dream. Even after Rockford, there were teams in Georgia and San Diego that he coached briefly.
"He never cared about money. Till the day he died, he never cared about money," Mike Panaggio said.
Mike and Dan each played for their father at Brockport and are also members of the college's Athletic Hall of Fame. Tom played soccer at St. Bonaventure, and the youngest, Jim, now 59 and living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, played basketball at Providence in the early 1980s in the Big East.
Mr. Panaggio's daughters also live in the Daytona area now.
Mike, Dan and Tom started a multi-sport academy, including basketball, soccer and gymnastics, among others, there three years ago. It has a 10,000-seat stadium and a gymnasium that features the Brockport colors of green and gold.
Mr. Panaggio preached about practice and hard work, teaching players "necessities for life in general,” Mike said. He used to have practices planned out to the minute, Tom recalled, remembering the yellow legal pads his dad used.
Although detail-oriented, Mr. Panaggio never scouted teams.
"We're going to worry about what we're going to do," Mike Pannagio said, remembering his father's mantra. "We’re going to just execute our game plan and if we have to make a change we will and because we’re fundamentally sound and can do it."
About 15 years ago they held a reunion for his teams in Brockport and more than 100 former players showed up. "I asked a lot of them, ‘What was it like to play for him?' " Mike said. "They told me, 'He changed our lives.' Many of them became coaches and others became business people like me, and he was a catalyst."