Education — his own, as well as for his players and students — was always paramount for Paul Tessein. The late, great area soccer legend realized early on that learning was an ongoing process for himself and those he spent time with.
“He was the first coach who taught me tactics and ideas of what to do on the field,” said former Steinert High School and Hartwick College standout Art Napolitano, who went on to play pro soccer. “Coach Tessein was the first coach who taught me to love the game of soccer.”
Conversations with former players and colleagues carry a similar theme of a man who was passionate about many things but particularly the sport of soccer. Tessein, 82, passed away Sunday, January 3, while under hospice care in North Carolina.
“He was really into the game,” praised colleague John Wagner. “He was always trying to make himself better. He was videotaping (international) soccer games on TV (before it was fashionable) and I know he had quite a collection and he used these with his Steinert teams.
“He consistently put in all the time necessary to become a better coach.”
Tessein, who guided the SHS boys’ soccer teams from 1974-88, compiled an impressive record. During his tenure, Steinert went 257-49-28, won four state championships, five Central Jersey crowns, six Colonial Valley Conference titles and two Mercer County Tournament championships.
“Paul always made you play with pride when you put on the SHS jersey,” Jack Blair, a member of the ultra-successful ’77 squad, said. “The school’s soccer success was storied, the players before you were tremendous, and he had a unique way of blending all of that into an inspirational speech without being overbearing. You wanted to win for the team, the school and for him. He set high expectations for every game, and you entered every game with confidence.”
Tessein had a knack for making his players, his assistant coaches, and his competitors better.
“I was honored to be his assistant for close to 10 years,” Rich Giallella, the former successful Steinert athlete and coach, said. “Paul taught me how to develop a program as well as how to get your players to commit, be loyal and get a work ethic each and every day.”
The respect and admiration continued to grow.
“My relationship with Paul grew from a professional one to a close personal one,” Giallella said, with fondness. “Paul was so proud of the accomplishments of his players on and off the field. After graduation, Paul would make it his responsibility to keep in touch and give advice when necessary.
“Paul was so dedicated to his wife (Kay) and children (Scott, Sean, and Paula) and proud of their endeavors.
“I will always be so proud to call Paul my good friend.”
Tessein obviously helped countless athletes from the East side of Hamilton Township, but he also championed the soccer players and coaches from throughout Mercer County.
“I know I came out on the short side (as a rival coach at Hightstown High),” Wagner said, with a chuckle, referring to direct competition against Tessein-led teams. “But I think a lot of people don’t know how much he did for Mercer soccer. Paul was heavily involved in the Soccer Coaches Association of New Jersey. (Former Ewing High coach) Andy Greener, (former Lawrence High coach) Lou Angebrandt, and Paul helped our players get all-state recognition. They got me involved with it when they retired.”
Wagner, Tessein and others also worked the soccer camps at Rider College/University and Mercer County Community College which benefited thousands.
“He did a lot for the sport,” Charlie Inverso, the accomplished MCCC and Rider coach, said of Tessein. “He was always trying to make himself better. He did so much for the game.”
Inverso, an all-star at Notre Dame High, praised whomever came up with the idea for the annual “election day” soccer games in Hamilton Township. “What a great idea!” he said. “Playing Hamilton West and Steinert on Election Day, what an atmosphere! There were thousands of people at those games.”
Inverso, who has been involved with many ultra-talented teams, knows the pitfalls of leading such squads as Tessein’s at SHS.
“It was a different era when he coached,” Inverso explained. “He had one of the toughest high school jobs in the state in any sport because of how passionate people were about the sport in Hamilton Township.
“He waited and paid his dues for the job to open up.”
Tessein toiled from 1963-73 as the coach at nearby Reynolds Junior High School until the coveted SHS job became available.
Brian Tams, who played youth soccer, praised Tessein.
“I played for him for two years in junior high school,” Tams said. “He was an excellent coach. He worked us hard during practice but it paid off during the games.”
Tams, who went on to become an all-star kicker for the football teams at Steinert and Trenton State College, credits Tessein for the knowledge learned under his tutelage. Many others acknowledge their appreciation of Tessein’s expertise.
“He was always trying to learn about the game, and back then it wasn’t very commonplace,” Inverso reminded. “It was a three-month sport, and guys like John Wagner, Paul, and Lou Angebrandt were an anomaly back then.
“One thing that stands out in my memory is Paul wanted to learn, he was passionate,” Inverso confirmed.
And, what about the incredibly successful 1977 SHS boys’ soccer team? Inverso related that it might not have always been a day at the beach.
“Sometimes those are the hardest teams to coach,” Inverso said. “People would say he had all the talent, it couldn’t be a difficult team to coach.
“(To his credit) I think the players knew where they stood right away. They played good soccer.”
Inverso, like so many, remains a fan of the dedicated coach from Steinert.
“He had strong opinions. I learned a lot from being around him. He was in it for the right reasons.”