It’s homecoming at the University of New Hampshire this weekend, and Elon head coach Tony Trisciani is among those returning to UNH’s Durham campus.
UNH (2-2, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association) and Elon (2-3, 1-1) will meet Saturday at UNH’s Wildcat Stadium.
Trisciani is a New Hampshire native who had two stints as an assistant coach at UNH. He was the team’s running backs coach in 1998 and 1999, and coached the defensive backs from 2001 to 2004.
“It’s definitely where I cut my teeth coaching, and with some really talented football coaches,” Trisciani said. “It really helped me form a lot of my philosophy and foundation when it comes to offense and defense, having coached two years on offense there and then four years on defense.”
Trisciani, 46, was elevated from Elon’s defensive coordinator to the program’s head coach when Curt Cignetti left Elon to become the head coach at James Madison last December. Trisciani recruited UNH interim head coach Ricky Santos — a record-setting quarterback at UNH — while he was on his second tour of duty with the Wildcats.
“He was in my area of Massachusetts: Bellingham High School,” Trisciani said. “We identified him at the (Boston College) camp in the summer. He caught our attention. Chip (former UNH offensive coordinator Chip Kelly) really liked him. Chip was working with the quarterbacks at the time and he had told me, ‘Stay on the Santos kid.’
“We had some other kids above Ricky on our recruiting board that we had offered and were actively recruiting, but as that list kind of kept moving down and those guys were committing to bigger schools we started getting closer to Ricky. I just kept recruiting him and going to see him every week during the contact period and staying in touch with him.”
If you’re searching for a college head coach, Manchester, N.H., isn’t a bad place to look. Trisciani graduated from Manchester Memorial High School, and Manchester Central, Memorial’s cross-town rival, counts Ohio State coach Ryan Day and UCLA coach Chip Kelly among its graduates. In addition, Florida coach Dan Mullen graduated from Trinity High School, a private high school in Manchester.
“I have the utmost respect for (Trisciani) and everything he’s done working his way up from a young coach to becoming a head coach,” Santos said. “Obviously he recruited me here. It was a great experience. (He) did such a good job throughout the process of being honest and open about what was going on. He had mentioned before I wasn’t high on New Hampshire’s (recruiting) board. He called me every week. Showed up at school. He just did it the right way. He’s a great leader, a great motivator. It’s very evident why they chose him as their head coach.”
Trisciani was a four-year starter and a two-year captain at Springfield College. He joined Cignetti’s Elon staff as the team’s defensive coordinator after serving as the secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Villanova from 2012 to 2016. During Trisciani’s final season at Villanova the Wildcats led the Football Championship Subdivision in total defense and the CAA in rushing and scoring defense.
Trisciani became familiar with Elon when he spent the 2006 season as the program’s defensive backs and special teams coach. His resume also includes coaching stops at Alfred University, and Lehigh. He also served as the head coach at Whitehall (Pa.) High School from 2007 to 2011.
Elon has made significant improvements to its football program since his first coaching job at the school.
“Everything has been elevated,” Trisciani said. “There’s a commitment to winning from a facilities and a resources standpoint. And the school has a stronger brand now. We’re able to cast a bigger net in recruiting now than we used to be able to.”
The Trisciani name is synonymous with football in New Hampshire. His brother John is a former high school head coach in the state who is currently the defensive line coach at Saint Anselm College, a Division II program in New Hampshire. Trisciani also has a nephew — also named John — who is the head coach at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, N.H.
UNH head coach Sean McDonnell was UNH’s offensive coordinator during Trisciani’s first two years on staff there, and was the head coach for his four seasons as UNH’s defensive backs coach. Trisciani said McDonnell, who stepped away from coaching this season following a cancer diagnosis, was a major influence on his coaching career.
What did he learn from McDonnell?
“You can’t take shortcuts,” Trisciani said. “You gotta do things the right way. Gotta hold everybody to the high standards and expectations of the program. Attention to detail is critical to the success of any program.
“Sean has always been a great motivator of players and coaches. He’s always been able to get the best and the most out of everybody. His toughness and competitiveness is contagious amongst the team and the staff.”
Despite his ties to New Hampshire and the UNH program, Trisciani said Saturday will be business as usual for him and the Phoenix.
“It’s a CAA game,” he said. “Being from New Hampshire and knowing I’m going to have a lot of family and people who support me there, we want to play well and win. This will be the one time this year where they won’t root for UNH.”