By EDWARD KENSIK
kensik@montclairlocal.news

Pete Ramiccio would like to drop the "acting" from his title.

He's been filling in for Montclair High School football head coach John Fiore — one of the top football coaches in the state over the last decade — since Fiore announced a leave of absence in July of last year. And now that Fiore is bound for the head coaching job at Elizabeth High School, Ramiccio has his eye on the permanent gig.

“I had heard he had been interviewing,” Ramiccio, who saw the team go 5-5 under his leadership this year, said. “Coach Fiore had a tremendous opportunity, and it’s something he could not pass up.”

Ramiccio told Montclair Local he applied for the open position as soon as it was posted.

“I would love to have the opportunity to be head coach of Montclair,” said Ramiccio, who had been on Fiore’s staff since Fiore took over in Montclair in 2010.

Ramiccio is a bit puzzled, though, about who is currently the head of the football program.

“To be honest the process has been shrouded in mystery,” he said last weekend. “I’m going to continue to lead the program and make sure the guys who also play spring sports play their games and their grades are in order.”

Ramiccio is under contract until June 30. He added that the plan remains to get the football players into the weight room starting this week.

Fiore told Montclair Local his intent had always been to return to MHS: "I even had put in my letter [to be reinstated] on Feb. 7, but this opportunity came along.”

He said it had been a difficult decision, one he mulled over for several days with his family. But he said there were several reasons in play, including an easier commute from his home in Cranford to Elizabeth as opposed to Montclair.

“This was 100% best for me and my family,” Fiore said. “You are always looking for a new challenge and to move on.”

In a separate conversation with NJ.com, Fiore also cited administration changes since his arrival at Montclair High School in 2010.

“We have some great people in place, but it’s not the same place as when I was hired,” he told that publication. “When I was hired, there were real football guys in the administration who got what a head coach goes through.”

P.J. Scarpello, Montclair High School’s athletics director, would only say: “I wish him the best.”

Fiore leaves with an impressive resume on the gridiron for the Mounties. Under his leadership, Montclair had a 93-31 record and appeared in seven NJSIAA sectional championships, winning in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017, while also having unbeaten seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2017.

In a letter to the Montclair community Friday, Fiore said it had been an honor coaching Montclair, “carrying the torch for an unmatched winning tradition established eight decades ago by Clary Anderson and Butch Fortunato.”

“The standard is high in Montclair, and you — the alumni, parents, coaches, players and fans — made me aware of that every single day,” the letter continued. “I can proudly say that we more than met that standard both on and off the field, and together we built a program that reflected the greatness of the town of Montclair and Montclair High School.”

The coach told Montclair Local he had ruled out the option of teaching in Elizabeth but still coaching in Montclair: “It was possible, but that’s not how I do things. The only way to be successful is to be a part of their (his players’) lives.”

Wilhelm Young, the director of the Montclair Cobras youth football program, praised Fiore for his work with his squads over the years.

“He supported our program, Montclair Cobras, from the very start here,” Young said. “Coach Fiore spent many weekends with us hosting clinics for the kids, he hosted coaching clinics for our staff during the week, and he often helped with facilities on game days at Woodman Field.”

The cooperation paid off, as many of the Cobras helped Fiore win those state titles. “Coach Fiore, I’m sure, touched a lot of young lives in his tenure,” Young added.

As it turns out, Fiore’s last game sent him out on a high note, as the Mounties won at Eastside 28-8 in the shortened 2020 season, in which Montclair went 4-4.

Between 2011 and 2012, Fiore’s teams went 23-1, with the lone loss a tough 14-13 defeat to North Bergen in the 2011 North 1 Group 4 title game at MetLife Stadium.

But his charges would come back and win the 2012 North 1 Group 5 championship by beating Bloomfield, 16-13, also at MetLife Stadium.

During the 2012 season, the Mounties outscored their opponents 392 to 57. In 2017, Fiore directed Montclair to another 12-0 season, which culminated in defeating Union City, 35-14, for the North 1 Group 5 title.

It might not be the last time that Montclair will see Fiore. Both Montclair and Elizabeth are in North Group 5, which means that the Mounties and Minutemen could face each other in the state playoffs and even in a state final.

During his leave of absence from coaching, Fiore continued to teach physical education in the 2021-22 school year.

“My kids need me at home right now,” Fiore said in a press release announcing his leave in July. “Something happened that I can’t share, that you wouldn’t want to happen to anyone’s family. It’s really important for me to be home and take care of my family and kids at this point.”