BLOOMFIELD, NJ--Long-time New Jersey high school football coach Chet Parlavecchio speaks glowingly of his near 40-year friendship with Tommy Matthews.
Parlavecchio's first head coaching job, following a playing career in the NFL, was at Bloomfield High, beginning in 1987. At the time, the Bengals were enduring a long losing streak, which had reached 30 games (0-29-1) and dated back to 1983, when Parlavecchio arrived in town.
In Chet's first year, the team finished 0-9, extending the dubious streak to 39 games. After a season-opening 29-6 setback to John F. Kennedy High in 1988, the streak ended, at 40 games, on Oct. 1, 1988, when the Bengals defeated Paramus Catholic, 7-0.
Parlavecchio has many good memories of his seasons at Bloomfield, but noted, specifically one with long-time assistant coach Tommy Matthews.
"I first met Tommy during one of the lowest times of my life," said Parlavecchio, who recently retired from high school coaching after winning 123 games and a state championship, in 25 seasons at the helm of five different schools. "My NFL career had ended, because of injury (after the 1984 season) and I was home. I was somewhat depressed. I mean I was really down."
Parlavecchio recalls a phone call from Frank Verducci, the legendary football coach at Barringer High, who, in 1986, was the head coach at Gov. Livingston, in Berkeley Heights.
"Frank knew I was done playing, and he said 'Chet, stop by my practice. I would love your insight.' Well, I wasn't sure I wanted to, but I always liked Frank and thought, why not?"
Parlavecchio had no idea the influence that first team at Gov. Livingston would have on him.
"Seriously, I say it saved my life," said Parlavecchio. "When I got to the field, and saw the practice, I knew right away this is what I wanted to do next. I fell in love with coaching. And that's when I met Tommy Matthews."
Matthews had worked with Verducci, at Barringer, for many years and would join Verducci, at Gov. Livingston.
"Tommy and I hit it off right away," said Parlavecchio. "Frank let me run the defense, and Tommy was the defensive line coach. We literally put a defense togehter in two days, in time for the team's first scrimmage."
Matthews and Parlavecchio would have a great time together, at Berkeley Heights, in that 1986 season.
"Every Monday, I would have the players over to my mother's house, to watch game film," said Parlavecchio. "And Tommy and I would run the session. We all had a great time. I'd order pizza and we'd all watch film."
A year later, Parlavecchio was named the head coach at Bloomfield High, and Matthews would join him there. After that 0-9 season in '87,Parlavecchio put together an intensive off-season conditioning program, including a much-needed weight training regimen.
Bloomfield improved to 3-5-1 in '88, then finished 8-1 the following year and earned the program's first playoff berth in 12 years. After a 4-5 season in 1990, Parlavecchio would move on to a new coaching job at Irvington High and assistant coach Mike Carter was named the new Bengals coach. Carter, of course, still holds the job today.
Matthews and Parlavecchio stayed together for 20 seasons, at Bloomfield (1987-1990), Irvington (1991-1992), Passaic Valley (1994-1998), Clifton (1999-2003) and Elizabeth (2006-2009). In 2006, Elizabeth won a state championship.
Parlavecchio would go on to coach in the NFL for three seasons (2011-2013), as an linebacker and special teams coach with the Tennessee Titans, then returned to high school coaching, at Passaic Valley, in 2015. He retired from coaching following the 2019 season.
"The kids loved Tommy," said Parlavecchio. "I mean they really respected him. Tommy knew his stuff, he was a tremendous line coach, and I mean tremendous."
When Parlavecchio returned to Passaic Valley in 2015, Matthews was not on the staff.
"We wanted him back, big time," said Parlavecchio. "But Tommy didn't feel as well as he'd like. I'm telling you this, he was sorely missed during my last five seasons at Passaic Valley. It wasn't the same for me, without Tommy Matthews. Leaving the NFL was tough, but the hardest thing for me, when it came to coaching, was not having Tommy Matthews on my staff. That's how much he meant to me."