Pictured: Sal Morello brings 18 years’ experience as a head football coach back to Cromwell for his second go-around with the Panthers.

By Paul Augeri

Cromwell athletic director Kelly Maher was surprised to see fewer than a dozen applications submitted for the opportunity to be the Panthers’ next varsity football coach.

Not a deep roster to choose from. Then again, the choice was fairly clear.

Sal Morello.

“I wasn’t sure if he even would apply,” said Maher.

Morello, whose hiring was approved Tuesday, was head coach at Cromwell back in 2003 when the Panthers were a start-up.

After two seasons playing a CIAC-mandated JV schedule, the Panthers were competing for state championships. They got theirs in 2008, with Morello staring down Ansonia’s Jack Hunt and his team beating the mighty Chargers 14-12 in Class S.

Morello resigned after the 2009 season to take the time needed to get certified in teaching. By 2010, he was whole on the education end and lined up to be Middletown’s new head football coach under then-athletic director Mike Pitruzzello, who previously cut a large figure in Cromwell as AD and multi-sport coach.

Two winters ago, Morello succeeded Maher as Cromwell’s girls varsity basketball coach after 15 years on the bench as her top assistant. In the spring, Morello coaches the varsity softball team at Middletown High.

Despite wearing all of these hats, he is a football guy through and through. His mind was built for the sport. He works hard, as all coaches do. But his natural ability to connect with and relate to his players is special and his peers would agree.

When he stepped down as Middletown’s head football coach in 2021 after 12 seasons (counting COVID), I had a hunch that he wouldn’t be away from the game for long — even though he said he needed more time with his family.

“We never thought he’d go back to coaching football,” Maher said, “so we’re happy with how this has turned out.”

After being nothing more than a spectator in 2022, Morello agreed last fall to assist Josh Rosek in working with the Blue Dragons’ offensive linemen. Rosek was Morello’s longtime defensive coordinator before succeeding him as head coach in 2022. The two go back decades.

In Cromwell, Morello succeeds one of his former players in Randell Bennett, who coached his teams to four playoff appearances and a state title in six seasons.

After forming a staff, Morello’s first order of business is to connect with the leadership in Portland. Cromwell and Portland have been a co-op for a decade now. However, the number of Portland kids on the roster has waned in the last few years.

“I’ll be reaching out to see if we can get kids interested and people invested in this football program,” Morello said. “There’s work to do and it’s going to get done.”

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