Joe Urbanovich’s coaching career was all of two weeks old. In his early 20s, Urbanovich’s playing career at Villanova University had come to an end and he returned home to Jersey City to start a job as an assistant coach at, of all places, Hudson Catholic, the archrival of his alma mater, St. Peter’s Prep.
“I was only there for a couple of weeks,” Urbanovich said.
Then, the true pontiff of Hudson Catholic, the late, great Joe “Rocky” Pope, who was a coaching fixture at the McGinley Square school for decades, gave the young Urbanovich a piece of advice.
“Rocky told me that I had a better chance to coach at Prep,” Urbanovich said. “He told me that I should go down there and start there instead.”
So Urbanovich went back to his alma mater and served as an assistant to the legendary Bill Cochrane, who coached Urbanovich when he was a player in the late 1960s.
That was 1973. Little did Urbanovich know that he would spend the next 36 years coaching at his alma mater, the last 34 as the head coach, after he was selected to replace the larger-than-life Cochrane when he retired.
“Bill was very good with me when I started,” said Urbanovich, who announced his retirement as a coach recently. “He let me do a lot of things. I think he knew that I was going to be next in line, because at the time, I was the only other coach they had. But I felt like I was ready after coaching with him.”
Urbanovich won 580 games as the head coach of the Marauders and captured seven HCIAA championships, all coming within the last 13 years. For the first two decades, there were no titles, but then, there were seven in a little over a decade.
“I guess I became a better coach as I got older,” Urbanovich laughed.
Urbanovich was asked if he thought he would be the coach at Prep for such a long time.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I never could think that. But it was fun. I began coaching at a place like Old Colony Field [where County Prep is currently located] that had rocks and glass and I ended up coaching on a perfect facility in Caven Point, named after the guy I replaced at Prep. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Through his career, Urbanovich was able to first coach his younger brother, Bob, and later coached his three sons, Nick, Mike and Paul and his two nephews, Dan and Brian. It was definitely “All in the Family” with Marauder baseball.
“My wife always said that coaching my brother Bobby was the longest three years of my career, because he always took the brunt of all of our problems,” Urbanovich said. “It was always easy to yell at him. But I coached my brother, my sons, my nephews and that was a lot of fun. They’d always talk and say which team was better. All three of my sons were able to win county championships while they were with me and that was fun.”
Urbanovich also recalled the 1988 Prep team that won the HCIAA South Hudson championship, the first baseball championship for the school in more than 30 years.
“That team was definitely the most fun to coach, because there was a cast of characters,” Urbanovich said of the team that featured pitchers Gene Keohane (who later became the head coach at McNair Academic) and Raul Camiligan. “Unfortunately, we had to play Memorial for the county championship and they were No. 1 in the country. They handed it to us pretty good. But that team played together all summer and actually played a team from Japan.”
Urbanovich remembered winning the first-ever HCIAA title in 1996.
“Winning championships are always nice,” Urbanovich said. “Enjoying that feeling on the field with the kids, there’s nothing better.”
That’s why Urbanovich wanted to experience that feeling one last time, when the Marauders faced Memorial for the very last HCIAA Coviello title game in May. Urbanovich knew that he was stepping down at the season’s end, but didn’t tell his players until the final out was recorded and the Marauders had clinched the league crown. It was definitely a fitting farewell.
“I definitely wanted to win the last game, to go out on top,” Urbanovich said. “I have no regrets. I knew that I was going to have to retire at some point, so win, lose or draw, that was going to be it. I had enough of coaching. It became so involved, taking up 365 days of the year. I gave all that I could give.”
Urbanovich was asked what he will remember most about his illustrious tenure at Grand and Warren.
“The greatest part is being a part of so many kids’ lives,” Urbanovich said. “So many great people have gone through Prep and the Prep baseball program and have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, successful people. I would have loved to have had more kids be part of the program. I hated cutting kids. That was the hardest part of the job.”
Added Urbanovich, “Since I announced I was retiring, I received so many phone calls, e-mails, letters, thanking me. It makes me feel like I made a difference.”
And Hudson County baseball won’t be the same without Joe Urbanovich.
“You never know,” Urbanovich said. “I might turn up somewhere as an assistant coach.”
Once it’s in the blood, it never leaves…
The annual District 7 Little League All-Star tournament is underway, right now in pool play. Defending champion North Bergen is in the hunt for the title, as is perennial favorite Roberto Clemente of Jersey City. Hoboken is always in the mix as well. The tourney is always very competitive and gives local baseball fans a glimpse of what the future will look like for Hudson County baseball.
These stars of tomorrow deserve their recognition now, so do yourself a favor and make a concerted effort to see these brilliant 11-and-12-year-old kids in action over the next two weeks. You won’t be disappointed.
The EXTRA INNINGS weekly feature focuses on the best stories that come from local baseball and softball leagues throughout the area.
If you have any noteworthy information to contribute to the EXTRA INNINGS, feel free to contact Jim Hague by voice mail at 201-798-7800, ext. 751, by general mail at 1400 Washington Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, or via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com.
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Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.