Upon his graduation from Ithaca College, Glenn Caruso planned to go to law school. His dad, Frank, had built a successful law practice in Greenwich, Conn., and following him seemed like the sensible thing to do.
Frank Caruso knew otherwise. He loved the law, but he had seen a different kind of passion take hold in his son. “He told me, 'You’re in love with football,’’’ Glenn Caruso recalled last week. “'You need to pack up everything you have, get in your car and go away as far as you can. Go find out who you are.’’’
Caruso, now 36, took that advice — and with St. Thomas’ football team now ranked No. 4 in NCAA Division III, others are learning who he is, too. The Tommies’ head coach has reshaped a chronically underachieving program into a MIAC champion in only three seasons. He is a husband and father of three children who has woven family life into his profession in surprising ways. He can discuss poetry, feng shui and Oprah as easily as the ace formation or the bubble screen.
Last Saturday, the 9-0 Tommies defeated Gustavus 43-6 to earn a playoff berth and at least a share of their first MIAC title since 1990. The seven-day road to victory included hours of film sessions and meetings, a cake that resembled a graveyard, a season-ending knee injury to a key player, an evening of pumpkin-carving and 57 pizzas in a parking lot — a typical week for this resurgent program and its atypical coach.
SUNDAY, OCT. 24 The planning begins
St. Thomas’ victory over Bethel on Oct. 23 pushed its record to 8-0 for the first time since 1956. That night, Caruso invited several coaches and friends to his home in St. Paul’s Highland neighborhood for a low-key postgame social. His mind already had turned toward Gustavus when he awoke at 3:30 a.m. Sunday to check on his 3-year-old son, Truman, who was calling for him.
He knew he never would go back to sleep, so Caruso dived into his 80-hour work week. The official agenda opens every Sunday with an 11 a.m. coaches’ meeting to critique Saturday’s performance. The players arrive at noon for film sessions, weightlifting and running. Throughout the week, the coaches will spend their mornings dissecting video, scripting practice plans and assembling the game strategy for Gustavus; in the afternoons, they will join the players for three hours of film analysis and practice, followed by more video at home.
With the offense gathered around him in the locker room, Caruso uses a laser pointer to break down plays from the Bethel game.
That makes me want to vomit,’’ he said, shaking his head at a missed block. “That makes me want to cry with pride,’’ he said of a perfect one. And an interception thrown by quarterback Dakota Tracy? “That’s my fault,’’ he admitted. “Should have called a better play.’’
Even the slightest flaws in footwork or positioning are pointed out and discussed, revealing Caruso’s obsessive attention to detail.
Before the week is over, he will have scrutinized the bus route to the stadium, the exact angle of the winds across the field on game day, how high his players zip their jackets for a video appearance and how many cans of diet Coke are in his office fridge.
Just before dusk, he goes home to write thank-you notes while his wife, Rachael, cheers loudly for the Vikings in their game against the Packers. “We have some total role reversals in our house,’’ he said. “I’ll be changing a diaper, and she’ll be discussing the Twins’ rotation.’’
MONDAY, OCT. 25 Success is sweet
The players have Mondays off. The coaches have no such luxury, but they do get a respite when Rachael, Truman and Cade Caruso show up with a favorite tradition: victory treats.
This week’s creation is a graveyard cake, a chocolate mousse and Oreo confection studded with cookies frosted to look like tombstones. Each bears the name of a beaten foe. “I think you should have the one with St. John’s,’’ Rachael said, handing a plate to her husband. Cade, 4, and Truman, 3, share a piece in the conference room with their dad, while the assistants take their portions back to their offices so they can continue looking at video.
Rachael met and married Glenn in Fargo, N.D., where he rose from graduate assistant to offensive coordinator during a six-year tenure at North Dakota State. He became offensive coordinator at South Dakota in 2004, and she started baking victory treats during a Coyotes winning streak. “When we lost, the athletic director asked me where the treats were,’’ Caruso said. “I told him, 'My wife doesn’t bake for losers.’ He didn’t believe me. I wasn’t kidding.’’
Caruso’s identity is planted as firmly in family as it is in football, and the two are never far apart. He drives daughter Anna, 6, to school every morning. He chose to live 10 minutes from campus so he could get home quickly. His kids’ drawings hang in the conference room and his office, and the kids sometimes come to practice.
“I love having my kids around,’’ Caruso said. “It’s good for them to be around these guys, and it’s good for the players to see me with my family. Part of our mission is to help them become good husbands and fathers and members of the community.’’