Cue up the Bryan Adams and journey back to the summer of 1969. That was the year of men landing on the moon, Woodstock and the Miracle Mets. It was also when Siena College hired Tony Rossi, its longtime head baseball coach, for the steal-of-a-deal sum of $200 a year. “The program was Division II, nonscholarship and was run by the head basketball coach, who was the athletic director as well,” remembers Rossi. “He told me the salary, but that was never and still is never why I coach. I accepted and have obviously been a very happy person.”
Still going strong after 51 years, the 76-year-old Rossi is the longest tenured head coach in NCAA Division I baseball history. A six-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Coach of the Year, Rossi has 908 career wins, more than any MAAC coach in any sport. Fifty-six of his former players have signed professional contracts, including three who have advanced to the majors—Gary Holle, Tim Christman and John Lannan.
“You know, I never really think of it,” Rossi says of his longevity. “It has gone real fast for me. When you have something that you really like, and you spend your life—every year since I was seven—doing it 24/7/365, you are always thinking about what you do and what the next challenge will be. There is never enough time, in my case, to do all of what I need to do. As I tell my assistants, there is always something to do, never any downtime.”
Unfortunately, Siena’s 2020 season was cut short by the COVID-19 crisis, and while it was a disappointment to Rossi, he is enthusiastic about his team’s future and looking forward to the 2021 campaign. “Every program is in the same boat,” Rossi says. “So the main thing that concerns all of us is that our kids did not have this year to continue to grow as baseball players and men.”
But he’s not using the time off to think about a curtain call: Rossi, whose teams have a record of 380-296 (.562) in MAAC play since the Saints joined the conference in 1990, is still full speed ahead. “I know there is an end, but really don’t think about it,” says Rossi. “There’s too much work to do.”
Web-exclusive: more from Saratoga Living‘s interview with Rossi…
Saratoga Living: Did you ever entertain any other jobs or has Siena simply been the ideal fit for you?
Tony Rossi: The first 33 years of coaching at Siena, I was also a teacher in the Guilderland Central School District. So, in my early days, I did apply for a few full-time coaching positions with colleges and got an interview at Central Florida University, along with a couple of others, but having a family, I thought the safest situation for us was to continue to teach, which I enjoyed, and run my own program at Siena. So, I believe it was the right decision for me and my family to stay teaching and coaching.
In what ways has your job and the program evolved throughout the years? What are some aspects of the job that you could’ve never imagined would be possible when you took the job in ’69?
Well, first, the game has not changed. Today, the NCAA has put in many, many rules that were not in effect in the early days. The strength and conditioning of the kids was nonexistent in 1970. NCAA roster size limits for baseball is a problem for the program and school. Baseball is the only larger-roster sport other than football in Division 1 which has limits. We were a Division II, nonscholarship program when I started and became a Division I program in, I believe, 1977, but still nonscholarship. We didn’t get scholarships until around 1992, so the first 22 years coaching baseball here, we were competing against mostly scholarship programs, but never having scholarships. That was a challenge. And the size of the athletes today compared to the early days is like night and day. Wood bats to aluminum bats has also been a change.
Who are some of your heroes in baseball and why?
My favorite players growing up were Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Stan Musial. All, obviously, are in the Hall of Fame and great players, but all, and I mean all, when they played, were seen but not heard. By that, I mean they produced and were real quiet players. It wasn’t about “look at me;” it was about “look at my results.” No jumping around pointing to themselves. Humble, great people. There are more, but these are the ones that jump out at me.
Do you have a favorite moment or season that you are most proud of at Siena?
Well there are a bunch, but I believe the 2014 team going to the NCAA Regional Tournament at TCU, and taking the nationally-ranked host TCU to the 11th inning before losing 2-1. Great game, then defeating another nationally-ranked team, Dallas Baptist, in the next game, 9-8 in 10 innings. We started off that season 0-17 against another tough preseason schedule. A great experience.
What are some things you enjoy and are passionate about other than baseball?
Other than my wife and family, absolutely nothing. No hobbies. Baseball is my hobby and life!