Born: October 10, 1946
For former De Smet soccer and baseball coach Greg Vitello, playing and coaching don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.
That isn’t to say that good players can’t or won’t make good coaches, but success on the field doesn’t always equate to success in the dugout or on the bench. And Vitello, who enjoyed a hall of fame career in both sports as a student-athlete at Benedictine College, would know.
“Playing soccer and baseball in college was great but I think playing and coaching is so different,” Vitello said. “When you play you are in control of you. When you coach there is the whole group that is relying on you.”
And those coached by Vitello in his 46 years at De Smet knew nothing but success. Between soccer and baseball, Vitello and De Smet reached 14 state Final Fours, winning soccer titles in 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, and 2011, and taking home a baseball state championship in 2000. For his excellence as a coach for nearly a half century, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Vitello in the Class of 2023.
Like many coaches, Vitello is a teacher at heart. He always wanted to teach, and his classroom at De Smet was the soccer pitch and the baseball field.
“Ever since I could, I worked kids camps for all kinds of sports, but mainly soccer and baseball,” he said. “There is no greater satisfaction than to see a young child light up when they get a bit of instruction in their sport and run with it.”
He arrived at De Smet in the fall of 1969, just two years after the school opened its doors. He started off coaching freshman football, and eventually moved on to track & field as an assistant before becoming the soccer head coach. Eventually, Vitello became the head track coach, and later added baseball to his resume.
What did he learn by coaching so many sports?
“Each sport is obviously different but the thing that was so neat about each of those sports were the athletes themselves and their dedication to their sport,” Vitello said. “I felt very fortunate that I was able to coach these various sports because I got to see first-hand the special talents that it takes to participate in each of those sports.”
His first soccer team was made up mostly of sophomores, as the school was still in its infancy. By 1972, Vitello had the Spartans in the Final Four for the first time, where they finished third. Another third place came in 1977, and runner-up finishes came in both 1984 and 1987. Vitello and De Smet finally broke through in the final, capturing their first state title in 1991.
That started a run of five state championships in seven seasons. While Vitello had his share of stars in those days, the guys are the end of the bench were just as important.
“Great soccer teams are made up of great soccer players,” Vitello said. “But the real success of teams are the supporting players that give you all they have no matter if it is in a game or practice. I was blessed to have plenty of both.”
Vitello became baseball head coach in 1980 and began applying a fundamental style of play. The results included five Final Four trips, the first coming in his first season. After three trips to the last weekend of the season, Vitello and De Smet finally broke through in 2000, winning the Class 4 title game with a 9-3 victory against Lafayette Wildwood.
“There is a lot that can go wrong in a high school baseball game, so preparation is the key,” Vitello said. “So, when you get to that championship game, and it goes your way it is so gratifying.”
Between baseball and soccer, Vitello saw 350 of his players earn opportunities at the collegiate level, with 115 earning Division I opportunities.
Citing several coaching mentors including Little League coach Vic Sarcia, and his college soccer coach Tom Colwell and college baseball coach Terry Hanson, Vitello mostly gave credit for his success to his parents, and his wife, Kathy.
“My mom was a stay-at-home mom, but I probably played more catch with her than anyone,” Vitello said. “My dad worked six days a week, but we played ball together every chance we got.
“And as I got further in my coaching career, it was my wife, Kathy, that taught me that no matter what, I could get it done. She was the ultimate supporter in everything I did.”