Haley, Saccani, Gensler inducted

Published Sep 18, 2013 at 9:28 am (Updated Sep 18, 2013 at 9:28 am)

Todd Haley easily could have abandoned plans to attend the Hall of Fame festivities at Upper St. Clair High School. But the 46-year-old offensive coordinator did not, even though he had already experienced his own Friday the 13th, five days prior when his Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a 16-9 loss to the Tennesse Titans and lost starters, center Markice Pouncey and linebacker Larry Foote, to season-ending injuries in the 2013-14 NFL opener.

“Todd wanted to be here,” stressed USC head football coach Jim Render.

Haley concurred. “I’m happy to be here. I’m in awe really.”

Delighted, Haley was when he learned that he would be inducted along with tennis coach Rich Saccani and basketball standout Alex Gensler into the Upper St. Clair athletic Hall of Fame. Several additional former students and teachers were also admitted to their respective halls for their contributions to academics and the arts.

Of the induction Haley said, “it means the world to me.

“It’s just a great honor having grown up in Upper St. Clair and it being a big part of my life. The coaches and the teachers all shaped me into the person that I am today.”

Though he was born in Atlanta, Haley attended USC. And while he did not play football for the Panthers, he golfed on the school’s varsity. Haley excelled enough to gain a scholarship. In fact, he was a member of the golf squads at the University of Florida and Miami and participated in the NCAA golf tournament during his time with the Gators.

“At USC, I was pushed in the direction of golf and was fortunate to golf in college,” Haley said, “but my passion really was with football.”

Indeed, because his father, Dick, was the director of player personnel for the Steelers from 1971-91, Haley served as a ball boy for the team. He attended training camps, watched games and even viewed practice film.

“I grew up around football and I was fortunate to be the ball boy for the Steelers during their glory days. With Mean Joe Greene and Jack Lambert,” Haley said. “That was a great part of my life.”

Haley parlayed that passion into a professional career that has spanned 19 seasons in the NFL, 17 of them as a coach. After earning a degree in communications from the University of North Florida in 1991, Haley embarked on a career that saw him gain experience with the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears and New York Jets before landing his first offensive coordinator position with Arizona in 2007. Haley devised schemes that enabled the Cardinals to compete in Super Bowl XLIII.

Before being hired by the Steelers in February of 2012, Haley enjoyed a three-year stint as Kansas City head coach. His Chiefs’ offense led the league in rushing yards in 2010. The team also clinched its first playoff spot in four seasons and Haley earned AFC Coach of the Year honors as voted upon by the national media and was also awarded NFL Alumni Coach of the Year laurels.

Haley was also recognized with the Distinquished Alumni Achievement Award, the highest distinction given by the North Florida Alumni Association. The merit recognizes those who have made significant contributions to their profession, community and society.

His induction into the USC athletic Hall of Fame equals, perhaps even surpasses that honor, for multiple reasons, says Haley. “To be able to share this with my five children and seeing how happy they are here,” he said, “is really special to me.”

Haley and his wife, Chrissy, have four daughters, Taylor, Peyton, Kady and Ella as well as one son, Richard Todd Jr.

After the evening’s festivities, which included dinner as well as an on-field recognition prior to the Panthers’ 41-0 victory against Peters Township, Haley returned to the business of righting the Steelers’ ship. “Absolutely,” he said. “We are going to find a way to win and get back on track.”

Saccani top coach

In addition to Haley, Rich Saccani was inducted into the athletic hall as a coach. The former math teacher (1967-2001) guided USC to six WPIAL championships during his tenure as tennis coach. He also coached one state singles champion in Martin Sieckman in 1982 and several PIAA doubles winners. The Charleroi native also coached California University of Pennsylvania to its first-ever PSAC women’s title as well as a national championship.

“It’s quite an honor,” the humble Saccani said of his induction. “It’s great to be recognized but the really neat thing is seeing all my old players. It’s for them we coached; for them, we did this. They were what made this special. They were what made this possible.”

More than a dozen of Saccani’s former players, including Sieckmann, who is also in the sports hall of fame, returned to pay tribute to their mentor. Some of the players came from as far as east as Boston and as far southwest as Houston, Texas.

“That means a lot to me,” said Saccani.

But then Saccani meant a lot to the program and the players. He laid the foundation for success. USC has produced 14 total WPIAL titles in men’s tennis.

Chris Brown spoke of USC’s tennis tradition. The 1985 USC graduate attended Saccani’s induction ceremony and was able to meet many of the players who paved the way for his triumphs.

“I felt like I knew them because I’d heard so much about them when I played. Coach Sacanni made sure we knew who had come before us and stressed how important the former players were to the success of the program.

Based on the number of players who came back to see Saccani’s induction, Brown added, “I think it’s easy to conclude that Coach had a tremendous impact on all of us.

“Coach Saccani successfully turned an individual sport (tennis) into a team sport,” Brown continued. “We always knew we were playing for the team, our school, family and community, and not just for ourselves.”

While Brown went on to play one season at Pitt and later coached a successful team in Vero Beach Florida at Saint Edward’s School, he said he never experienced the feeling of team that Coach Saccani established so successfully at USC. Occasionally, Brown breaks out the scrapbook compiled during his high school days, from 1982-85, when USC won two WPIAL titles and shows it to his children.

“Not to brag,” he said, “but because I’m so proud that I was a part of something so outstanding. Playing for Coach Saccani and at Upper St. Clair produced memories that are invaluable. And, they become more special as I get older.”

Gensler in too

Alex Gensler was the lone female inducted into this year’s athletic class.

After her distinguished career at USC, Gensler went on to excel at Duquesne University, where she also earned a degree in marketing. Gensler led USC to the 2008 WPIAL championship, scoring 25 points in that Quad-A final. She finished third on the Lady Panthers’ all-time career scoring list with 1,305 points.

Gensler finished her college career ranked No. 1 with 238 3-point field goals. She racked up 1,445 career points, ranking her No. 4 on the Dukes’ all-time scoring list. She is listed No. 10 for field goals made.

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