For many years within the Johnston High girls basketball program, assistant coach Chris Corsinetti played the role of good cop to head coach Dan Mazzulla’s bad cop.
“One thing I loved about Danny is that he challenged the kids to be their best every single day. At the time, they didn’t always understand what he was doing or why he was doing it,” said Corsinetti, who worked under Mazzulla for 16 seasons before taking over as head coach of the Panthers from 2012-19. “For a while, I was a shoulder to cry on while trying to make them understand what he was doing.”
The R.I. sports community was a better place because of individuals like Mazzulla, who passed away on April 22 at age 61. Whichever anecdote you start the portrait with, rest assured the canvas reserved for Mazzulla’s legacy won’t remain blank for long.
Mazzulla’s true legacy is a lifetime of vivid hues that epitomize what this gentle and sincere man meant to the town of Johnston. The news of his death was a jolt to the system of those who interacted with him over the years. Judging by the number of heartfelt posts via social media, countless people had the good fortune of coming into contact with Coach Mazzulla.
In his hometown, Mazzulla was known as the Director of Parks & Recreation who made it a point to coach regardless of the sport or what time of year it was. It didn’t matter if it was at the recreation level or if a state championship was on the line. Mazzulla wanted his youthful charges to understand the importance of seizing the moment at hand.
“He accomplished his goals and made a lot of kids better … from the 12th kid on the roster to the first player,” said Corsinetti. “He used sports as a platform to teach. Whether it’s college or your first job, the principles are always the same. It comes down to hard work and treating people fairly based on the way you want to be treated.
“Danny always stressed to be nice,” Corsinetti added.
Mazzulla was also a transcendent individual. He coached in different eras and coached both genders. He was coaching the Johnston boys basketball team as recently as 2019 before stepping away due to health reasons.
“He adapted to the times, but there was always a common theme throughout his tenure. He did it for the genuine love of our community,” said Corsinetti.
Once Mazzulla closed one coaching door, another one seemed ready to be opened. From basketball, to track, to soccer, he felt right at home and most comfortable on the sidelines.
What is Mazzulla’s legacy? It can be found in every person who’s ever had the privilege to be coached by him.
“Making future leaders is what Danny dedicated his life to,” said Corsinetti.
Below are additional tributes to Dan Mazzulla:
Marissa Janton (formerly Missy Dromgoole) who was coached by Mazzulla and helped Johnston High School capture the 1997 Division II girls basketball championship:
“I was one of the lucky ones to have been coached, mentored, and loved by Danny Mazzulla.
He challenged me in so many ways to be a better player, teammate, and person. He pushed me to the absolute brink of mental and physical exhaustion, knowing he was building a resilience in me that would not just get me through the fourth quarter, but also through some of the hardest times in my life.
“As an adult, he asked what job I was doing and how I was giving back. He also asked why I wasn’t coaching. I had excuses … my kids, my job, etc. Since then, I have been a coach – no questions asked. I made the time. He made the time for me, for all of us. I am forever grateful to his children for sharing him with us. I am a better person because he was in my life. He will be missed, but never forgotten. He has etched his work ethic, leadership, lessons, and love into too many hearts.”
Chelsea Marandola, Mazzulla’s niece and four-time First Team All-State recipient who played for her uncle at Johnston High School before going on to play at Providence College:
“From when I was a young kid, my uncle played a huge role in my development as a person and a basketball player just like he has with many other kids in Johnston. I had the opportunity of a lifetime – my uncle was my high school coach. Not many people can say that. Boy, did we have fun.
“I was so lucky that he even coached me in track when he decided, ‘If you don’t run track, you won’t play basketball next year.’ He only pushed me to do this because he knew that would make me better for basketball, but at the time, boy was I mad. Our track team had maybe five people on it. I was lucky enough that those opportunities would help build a base that shaped the player I would become in college.
“There was not a day that went by that he took it easy on me because I was his niece. He taught me life lessons that I still hold onto to this day. One time, I was late for a team breakfast (I wasn’t even able to drive) and because of that I didn’t start in my first playoff game in high school. I was never late for another practice, game, or breakfast.
“One time during my senior year, I showed poor leadership for a split-second and ended up sitting an entire second half of a game. Never again did I let anything get in the way of my leadership or being a role model. Truthfully at that moment, I couldn’t understand what he was doing or thinking. As I grew older, I realized as much as he loved my basketball skills and who I was becoming as a player, he cared more about who I would grow to be when that ball stopped bouncing. These memories will stay close to my heart forever as will all of the memories we have built throughout the years as a family on and off the court.”
Bryant University, where Mazzulla played college basketball for four seasons before graduating in 1984:
“Bryant Athletics and the entire Bryant community are saddened by the passing of Dan Mazzulla. Dan was a Hall-of-Famer in every sense of the word. He was an outstanding student-athlete during his time at Bryant and has continued to be a champion for the Rhode Island community, specifically his hometown of Johnston. He will be missed and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and his three children.”
Tom Mezzanotte, R.I. Interscholastic League Executive Director:
“The RIIL offers its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Dan Mazzulla, who impacted countless lives over the past three decades as a coach of multiple high school and middle school sports, as well as the town of Johnston’s Director of Parks and Recreation. As an athlete, coach, mentor, and father, he had a significant impact on many lives. You are gone, but will never be forgotten. We will fondly remember you and cherish the dedication and love you had for athletics and for all of your athletes. Goodbye, old friend.”
Tammy Drape, St. Raphael girls basketball head coach:
“My college playing career ended and I went to him and asked if I could volunteer. He ended up giving me my first coaching job. When you think back about someone who had a profound impact on your life … Dan had an intimidating presence about him and he was very tough and disciplined. That’s what I respected about him. When you got to know him, he had the biggest heart.”
— RIBCABasketball (@RibcaBasketball) April 25, 2020
Below is Mazzulla’s bio when he was honored in 2018 as a RIIL Basketball Legend:
A second-team All-State selection in 1976 and a three-time All-League selection, Dan Mazzulla helped lead Johnston to back-to-back Suburban Division State Championships in 1974 and ’75 and a runner-up finish in 1976. Finishing with 1,217 career points, he followed up his Hall-of-Fame career at Johnston with another hall-of-fame career at Bryant, where he led the Bulldogs to back-to-back 20-win seasons and the school’s first two NCAA Tournament appearances. Finishing with 1,390 career points and 761 rebounds, Mazzulla still ranks among Bryant’s all-time leaders in several statistical categories.
After college, he played semi-professional basketball for five years in Chile, South Africa. For more than three decades since, Mazzulla has served as Johnston’s Director of Parks and Recreation, earning himself induction into the R.I. Recreation and Parks Association Hall of Fame. During that time, he has also coached multiple sports at the town’s high school and middle school, including the Johnston High girls basketball team for 22 years and the boys basketball team for the last two. He guided the girls team to three Division II titles in 1998, 2000 and 2002. Mazzulla’s sons Joe and Justin both enjoyed All-State basketball careers at Bishop Hendricken, where they both played a key role in three state championships. Additionally, Danny’s daughter Gianna played basketball for her dad when he was Johnston’s girls basketball coach.
In addition to girls and boys basketball (boys basketball at both the high school and middle school levels), Danny coached boys soccer (high school), track and field (high school and middle school) and unified basketball (high school). He was also the assistant boys volleyball coach at the high school.
— Bryant Men’s Basketball (@BryantHoops) April 25, 2020