In 1971, the first time Tony Severino drove past Rockhurst High School on State Line Road, he turned to his wife and said it would be his dream to work there. Maybe, just maybe, he thought, he could be the school’s football coach.
In December, he will leave his dream job as the best to ever hold it.
Severino, the winningest football coach in Kansas City high school history, informed his team Tuesday that the 2019 season will be his last. He’s been at this for half a century, the past 37 years at Rockhurst.
“When I told the kids this morning, I had to stop crying for two hours,” Severino said. “But it’s time. It’s not for any other reason. It’s just time.”
Severino, a member of five different Halls of Fame, has been progressing toward retirement for nearly a decade now, his colleagues joking that they thought he would never retire. He enjoyed it too much, he would reply. Couldn’t imagine life without it.
He’s built an institution at Rockhurst. Rather, he is the institution there. The Hawklets have compiled a 338-88-1 record during his nearly four decades at the helm. He’s won seven state championships. Made the title game 11 times, including last season. He previously won a football state title at Shawnee Mission Northwest and a baseball state championship at Shawnee Mission West.
“There’s been so much that I don’t know where to start with the experiences from the past 49 years. But you remember the good times, and there have been a whole lot of good ones,” Severino said. “I learned a long time ago from an old coach that you need to celebrate the good ones and not always dwell on your losses, because as coaches we have a tendency to think so much about the losses and what could have been. It made a lot of sense.”
Severino turned down four college job offers to stay at Rockhurst. He wanted to coach his three sons. They all graduated from Rockhurst.
He’s known for his remarkable consistency in approach. Championship teams run the football. Championship teams stop the run.
“What an icon,” Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe said. “When you think about it, you’re talking about one of the most special high school coaches in the nation, not just the Midwest. I just marvel at the career he’s had.
“He’s always been a great mentor to me. I’ll always consider him a good friend. I have a great respect for him and how he does things.”
Severino says he recently found out he needs an operation on his Achilles. He begged the doctors to hold off until the end of the season. He doesn’t want to wear a boot during his last year. He’s fine with limping around.
His kids have asked what he might do next. Coaching football is ingrained in his life, after all.
“Hey,” he replied. “I’ve got one season left.”