The list of individuals to coach football at Sweet Home is a short one. It’s about to get longer.
That’s because legendary coach John Faller has decided to retire after 30 seasons in which the Panthers became one of Western New York’s signature programs.
During his tenure, Sweet Home won two state Class A championships, eight Section VI titles – including six straight from 2007-12, and 16 division crowns -- including a run of 11 in a row from 2004-14. The Panthers also won 69 straight games against Section VI foes – a run that ended in the 2013 final to eventual state runner-up Williamsville North.
“It’s just time to get out of football, I’ve been doing it long enough,” said the 67-year-old Faller, who also plans to step down as boys lacrosse coach after the 2017 season. “It’s been a great run. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been very lucky to coach at a school like Sweet Home.”
The Panthers were lucky to have Faller, who posted a 217-84-1 record after taking over the program following 12 seasons as an assistant under another Section VI coaching legend, Joe Shifflet (1964-85). The only other coach in team history -- Steve Kakook, founded the program in 1958.
Faller’s career-victories total ranks fourth in Western New York history. Those ahead of Faller include Johnny Barnes (Canisius – 287 wins), Gene Masters (Brocton and Grand Island – 248) and Dick Diminuco (Albion, Alden, Pembroke – 245).
"It's definitely one of the storied careers in Western New York," said longtime assistant and Williamsville East boys hockey coach Mike Torrillo. "He's a legend. I love to say it. I learned so much from him as far as how to treat kids and how to make a program successful."
From 2008-12, Sweet Home lost just three games – two to private school Aquinas of Rochester in the state quarterfinals and the other in the state final to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in 2012. The 2010 loss to Aquinas snapped the Panthers’ 36-game winning streak.
Under his watch, numerous Sweet Home players moved on to play collegiately – including current University at Buffalo running back Jordan Johnson. Another notable Panther, Keith O’Neil, played at Northern Arizona and won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts.
“It speaks for itself what John has done for the program,” Sweet Home Athletic Director Chris DeMarco said. “He’s done amazing things. I think it’s what John has brought to this district (that’s stood out). … John is a very strong character person and he’s passed along that integrity to many. He’s always meant a great deal to this district and community.”
Faller, the only boys lacrosse coach in Sweet Home history, enters his 41st season with 372 victories and six Section VI championships.
Faller played football at University at Buffalo from 1967-70. After graduating, the Greece Arcadia graduate spent some time in the military, returning to the area and earning a teaching job at Sweet Home. He retired after 41 years as a teacher with the school district two years ago but stayed on to coach football and lacrosse.
He’ll get to coach his grandson, Nate, one last time in a sport. Like his father Todd, Nate has played football and lacrosse for John Faller.
Nice memories indeed. The coach’s favorite?
“Obviously all the success we’ve had but going to three state championships (in football), you’re lucky if you get to one," Faller said. "The two state championships we won back to back, I’m very proud of that fact, that we got that far.”
DeMarco said the job opening has been posted and hopes to have it filled sooner rather than later.
“With all of our sports, it’s becoming a year round thing. It’s very important that we fill any of our coaching vacancies as soon as we can,” DeMarco said.
Even though Faller has been retired from teaching, did DeMarco envision the day someone else becoming the face of Sweet Home football?
“John’s been here so long … I never thought of it,” DeMarco said.
Faller said he’d stay on as Class A North Division chairman next season.
Does that open the door for Faller resurfacing as an assistant somewhere? Don’t count on it.
“If I wanted to coach, I’d stay where I am,” he said. “I’ve done it long enough. I’ve done the best I can.”