by Trent Merfeld
At one point in his life, Joe Callero worked as a carpenter in the morning, assistant coach in the afternoon, and attended Seattle University’s masters program in the evening.
He did all he could to coach basketball, and more importantly to coach people.
“My first job was coaching summer league for Foster High School’s junior varsity team, and my payment was a hamburger and a beer after the game by the varsity coach,” Callero said.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Central Washington, and then a master’s in counseling from Seattle University, Callero used his education to better his coaching.
“People are going through a lot of emotions through the basketball season. I’ve said many times that you’re not really coaching basketball, you’re coaching people. And if you don’t have a rapport with people of that age it’s really hard,” Callero said. “I think they respect that if you are consistent with who you are, then they can get a grip on what kind of mentor and leader you are.”
Senior David Hanson describes Joe Callero as a “very tough father[…] and a class act.”
As the middle child in a family of sixteen children, Callero has had invaluable experience dealing with the blending of different personalities.
“I’m very comfortable being around large groups of fifteen to twenty people. There’s a lot of jokes and camaraderie. The interpersonal dynamics within a family is similar to the interpersonal dynamics within a team,” Callero said.
Callero gained experience from his family and his education, but he especially gained perspective from his mentor, Fred Harrison. Harrison was Callero’s junior college coach, and the two still stay in touch today.
“He always put [everything] back in perspective, that it’s about the kids, and it’s not about basketball. He was great at sending birthday cards and following up with players through injuries. [He taught me that] if somebody thinks that you sincerely care about them, then they are willing to run through a wall for you.
The respect is mutual, as Harrison spotted Callero’s coaching potential as a young player.
Harrison said, “I was fortunate to realize that he was a coach on the floor while playing for me. He always knew what to do and when to do it. As a coach you are blessed when you have a guard like [him] and I was blessed having Joe play for me for two years.”
Callero’s genuine, honest attitude has earned him Harrison’s respect, and his players’ respect.
“I’m not trying to listen to the same music as them, and I tease them about clothing and hair and things, and I don’t think that they’re very concerned with that. The fact that I like classic rock and roll doesn’t really create a divide. The bottom line is that I really care about them and they feel that I care about their success as people,” Callero said.
Senior Will Taylor says Coach Callero is “straightforward and doesn’t sugarcoat anything.”
Throughout his decades of coaching, Callero has made an impact on so many players’ lives, many of whom he still keeps in contact with today.
“One of my former players, Brian Scalabrine, now plays for the Chicago Bulls. He’ll text me saying ‘Are you going to come back for playoffs?’ or ‘Good luck for this game.’
When you create that relationship, it does last a lifetime. Brian is 34 years old now, and I coached him when he was eighteen or nineteen at junior college,” Callero said. “At least once a week I’ll hear from somebody, and that’s the best part of coaching. You have an extended family that goes on and on and on.”
Callero cares about his players like they are his family. He said, “I have a twelve-year-old daughter and I have fifteen sons. I truly feel that these are guys in my life.” As a caring coach, Callero also wants the best from his players everyday, on and off the court. That is why he preaches “one-day contracts.”
“[One-day contracts] compasses the notion that today is the day you have to be your very best. You have to be your very best in the classroom, you have to be your very best at practice, and you have to be your very best with your teammates,” Callero said.
The best way to be successful is to worry about what you need to do today. Be in the moment, and do the best you can with the job you have right now. If you do that, you can be really good.
Callero is not only committed to his players, but to the fans as well. He said it is important to keep the community involved.
“I think the common man appreciates someone who will reach out and say thanks for coming to the game,” Callero said.
Callero said that by nature, people might think college coaches are self-absorbed about their team and themselves. So, he thinks the community appreciates the notion of the Mustangs staying after games to appreciate their fans.
“We’ve had a 43% increase in attendance since I’ve began coaching here. I think people vote with their feet, and if they don’t like the way your kids play, and your attitude and effort, they wont come watch you again. It’s like a restaurant, you’ll come once, but if you don’t like the way you are treated, you wont come back,” Callero said.
Through his experiences coaching and growing up, Callero has been able to put things into perspective. It has allowed him to easily care for all of his players, while at the same token, not to take anything too seriously.
“I think there’s an understanding that you can’t take things too seriously or you’ll be eaten up. I’m pretty thick skinned about people and places. I could be at a game and somebody could be saying “Hey coach, you’re getting balled coach,” or “You’re too short, did you ever play basketball coach?” You hear a thousand things and I’ll be like ‘that’s a pretty good one,’ “ Callero said.
“You have to let some things go in your life, and I think when you have a large family, they keep you in check. Don’t get too big of an ego, don’t take yourself too seriously, work your rear off, and enjoy the journey.”
Get to Know Joe Callero
Favorite Athlete– Gus Williams, starting point guard for the 1979 Champion Seattle Supersonics.
Favorite Quote- “What you do speaks so loudly, I don’t need to hear what you say.”
Favorite Food– If it was my last meal I’d have to go with some Dungeness crab with melted garlic butter on top.
Pick One Drink– I recently quit Diet Pepsi after ten years, and in the last year or two I’ve really got into the Lipton Ice Teas.
Guilty Pleasure– Once a month I will watch YouTube until 1 or 2 a.m. in the morning with old classic rock n’ roll on my headphones. My wife will say ‘What were you doing at 2 am?’ and I’ll say ‘I was on YouTube looking up Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Jackson Brown, and concert clips.’
Pick One Band– Bruce Springsteen, and I’m going up to San Jose in two weeks with my wife to see him in concert.
Favorite thing about Cal Poly– I love the whole community. ‘It feels like a college campus.’ Most students have pride in being a Cal Poly student, and that to me is cool, and that’s what college should be.