March 2nd, 2012

Hyland's Heroes: Paul Passafiume

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer

Hyland's Heroes: Paul Passafiume
photo from Paul Passafiume

Long-time coach finds rich rewards working with youth

The following feature is a part of a weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland, called "Hyland's Heroes" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports. Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero? Send your recommendation to

This week’s Hyland’s Heroes feature highlights a man who has taken those time-honored qualities that coaches love to instill in their young student-athletes, principally leadership and virtue, and packaged them into a program that is being utilized throughout the country.

Paul Passafiume started coaching in the CSAA nearly 19 years ago at St. Agnes, but like so many of the local Catholic coaches, he was a three sport athlete at St. Stephen Martyr and continued his athletic career at St. Xavier high school. He made a choice to not participate in athletics at the University of Kentucky, choosing to focus on his academics instead.

“As many of the coaches in the league right now, I played all the sports in the CSAA at St. Stephen Martyr,” said Passafiume. “I’m kind of an ‘all-in’ guy. In high school and grade school I wasn’t as serious about academics, so I decided to take my college academics very seriously.”

He settled in Louisville got married and started a family. Again, fairly typical life path. But it was his wife Jean who nudged him into coaching after their young children got a bit older.

“I never intended to coach,” he said. “I had five children. Jean and I had been married for 11 years—married for thirty years now—and we had four kids at the time. I was busy building my business and raising my family and I really didn’t ever contemplate coaching. But it was my wife who encouraged me to get back in it. She thought that I could make a difference. She was the person who motivated me to do it. When I first got involved I thought, ‘well, I’ll just coach for a few years while my kids are playing.’ But as I began to do it, I saw that God blessed me with an ability to connect with kids. And secondly, I really enjoyed coaching. That’s probably why I’ve been doing this for so long.”

Passafiume cites current St. X head football coach Mike Glaser as having a major impact on his coaching style, but he also gleaned quite a bit of knowledge from watching Howard Schnellenberger’s UofL practices as well as watching how Trinity high school conducted their workouts.

“Almost anyone who gets into coaching draws on their experiences from when they played,” stated Passafiume. “But I also spent a lot of time studying what other coaches in the area were doing. Whether it was Howard Schnellenberger or a St. X or Trinity practice, I would integrate my coaching philosophies from what I saw from those practices. If you had to peg me, I’m a St. X guy with regards to coaching style. If you watch us practice, we probably look a little more like St. X.”

He began his coaching career in the CSAA with the 6th grade team at St. Agnes and did so until the school started an 8th grade team, for whom he is the only coach in school history. While the will to win with Passafiume and his teams is great, he found a richer, more satisfying end to his coaching than results on the scoreboard.

“The base of our football program includes a structured environment,” he said. “Then we add a level of discipline. Young men love structure and discipline because it gives them an opportunity to grow as a football player and as a man. The third plank of our program would be the character-virtue formation that we give them.”

His coaching experiences led to the development and creation of the SportsLeader program. The SportsLeader program goes beyond coaching the X’s and O’s of sport, but extends into the lives of the young student-athletes who play them. Essentially, it is a playbook for the lives of the young men and women who participate in the program.

“I’ve always been a structure and discipline coach,” Passafiume revealed. “What I started experiencing as a coach was that as long as the kids were with me, they did great. Then I started noticing that the kids I was coaching were having just as many problems off the field as anybody else’s kids. I thought, ‘I’m not having any permanent effect on these kids.’ I thought that there was more that I could do to help the kids grow and to help the parents help their kids grow.”

The experience that got him to think about changing his style of coaching was a priest’s series of talks on virtue and virtue formation that in 2001. The messages he took from those talks were the genesis of the SportsLeader program.

“I heard a priest give a series of talks on virtue and virtue formation,” he said. “And I remember telling him that we could do this in sports. Joe Lukens and I got together and figured out how to do this. We put together our first SportsLeader program and officially started it in 2004. The impact that I can have on these young men as a coach and to help other coaches in this manner brings a lot of joy to the job.”

He acknowledges that there was a difference in his coaching style before he started SportsLeader.

“Before SportsLeader, there was a level of frustration for me and also with coaches saying, ‘I’ve got a good group of kids’ or ‘I’ve got a bad group of kids,’” he said. “Once I figured out how to raise the maturity level of these young men and help them aspire to practice doing good things on and off the field, coaching became a much richer, fuller experience for me. I used to be more of a dictator type coach. Now, through virtue formation, I can motivate these young men to want to be their best because they see the good in it.”

Through SportsLeader and virtue formation, positive core values and character building, Passafiume is determined to make a difference in the lives of young student-athletes in the CSAA and beyond.

“Kids today are fed a steady diet of bad stuff for their lives,” he said. “Our culture has shifted with regards to what it means to be a man and you hear all the time that ‘kids are not like they used to be.’ Consequently, SportsLeader grew out of that necessity.”

But make no mistake, Passafiume and his staff is committed to having their teams be successful on the field as well.

“In terms of building football players, we are very fundamentally sound,” he said. “Our priorities as coaches at St. Agnes is to help the kids make progress towards being a strong, Catholic man and to win the Toy Bowl.

“Coaching in the CSAA has been very rewarding,” he continued. “It’s been a pleasure to get to know so many young men and their families and also to help them make the transition from boyhood to becoming a man. It’s a blessing to be involved in these kids’ lives. When you see kids you’ve coached who are now married and starting families and they still talk to you about things they learned from you, that’s a real treasure in your heart to know that you made some small difference in a boy’s life.”


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