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Granato back in the game, joins FUS

Mike Granato

WEIRTON — When Mike Granato decided to retire from coaching basketball after a 21-year successful career at Weir High following the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, those who know him well wondered what he would do next.

He’s still teaching at Weir High, of course, but they know he isn’t one to just sit around during his non-teaching hours.

Wonder no more because Granato has accepted the invitation to be one of the assistants on the men’s basketball staff of Joe Wallace at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

There is a saying that things that go around, come around, so it may be ironic that Granato was Wallace’s basketball coach at the former Bishop Donahue High School in Benwood back in the early 1980s. Wallace was a star athlete for the Bishops in football, basketball and baseball. He played college football at West Liberty University.

“One of the things that continues to go on in the coaching ranks is establishing relationships,” Granato said. “Joe and I never lost contact since he left Bishop Donahue, went to West Liberty and began his coaching career. When he got the job at Franciscan five years ago, our contact became more frequent because we suddenly were living and working so close together.

“It is kind of like the circle of life. He played for me, and now I’m coaching for him.”

Wallace said he invited Granato to his staff because he feels he “still has a lot of gas in the tank.”

“He has a great basketball mind, and I believe Mike will be a huge asset to our operation here,” said Wallace, who began his coaching career with the Bishop Donahue basketball program as an undergraduate student at West Liberty, then moved up to the Division 1 level as an assistant at Tulsa, the College of Charleston and San Jose State. “He’s not only a guy that I’ve known for a long time and trust. I have a lot of respect at a high level. He’s a guy that, with me being younger, I can really bounce stuff off of because of all that experience he has.”

Granato’s first teaching and coaching job began in 1983 at Bishop Donahue as the 22-year-old head girls basketball coach when the girls in West Virginia played basketball during the fall months. During the winter months, Granato continued coaching as an assistant with the boys basketball team. Then from 1992-1999, he also took the head coaching position of the Bishops’ baseball program. Granato was at Bishop Donahue a total of 16 years.

“Joe and I would talk basketball a lot,” Granato said. “He had been an assistant for quite a while at some Division I programs, but I was impressed that he and his wife, who also graduated from Bishop Donahue, wanted to come back to the Ohio Valley to live and raise their family. The more we talked, the more interested I became, and when I told him that I had decided to retire from coaching at Weir High, he made the offer and I decided I would like to try going to a higher level.

“It just gave me the opportunity to keep my hand in the game without the time constraints of being a head coach.”

Granato explained that he wanted everyone to know that he didn’t leave the basketball job at Weir High because there were conflicts with the administration there or because of the opportunity at Franciscan, which didn’t exist until after he gave his resignation.

“When I retired, I did it on my own terms,” Granato said. “Nobody could be treated better than I was by the current and past administrations.”

He added that all of the principals and athletic directors that he worked with at Weir High were exceptional, and he had very good relationships with them.

“I just felt it was the right time and the best thing for me and my family, “ he said.

Granato said that another thing that attracted him to the Franciscan staff is that the university now is a member of the Presidents Athletic Conference (PAC). He said that was important to him because Bethany was in the PAC when he went there and graduated from there in 1981.

“Most of the schools in the conference are relatively close together — schools like Waynesburg, Washington and Jefferson, Geneva — are only about 45 minutes away,” he said. “The conference they were in, the AMCT, had schools in Buffalo, New York, Altoona, Pa., and even beyond that, so that wouldn’t work well with me still teaching at Weir High.”

Even though the PAC opted to not open its basketball season until, tentatively, in January because of the pandemic, practice at Franciscan began this week. The practices won’t be daily, but Granato is getting his first taste of players talented enough to compete at the collegiate Division III level.

“There is a lot of talent on that team,” he said. “Obviously, they aren’t kids that have the size and athleticism of Division 1, but they can play. There are a couple of kids from local schools competing. There also are guys on the team from all over the country.

“There’s that circle of life again. At 61, I’ll be starting a new career. I began coaching as a teenager in the baseball leagues at the Kings Creek Complex, was a student assistant at Bethany my senior year, with my years at Bishop Donahue and Weir High and now back in the same conference I started in at Bethany. It is kind of neat.”

Looking back, he said that in coaching, like any other profession, there always was good and bad things that happened. He noted that is the basic part of life that he has tried to instill in the kids he teaches and coaches at Weir High.

“But, for me, the good always outnumbered the bad. We just talk more about the negatives,” Granato said. “One of the heartwarming things for me in this transition is the great number of ex-players and coaching peers that I have had at Weir High and Bishop Donahue that have reached out to me. And, that’s something I’ll always cherish.

“I’m looking forward to this new experience with Joe and the staff at Franciscan. They already have made me feel so welcome. They are hard-workers and want to get after it. This new experience is refreshing to me. It is something different.

“Joe’s ambition, and mine, too, is to bring back the prominence that the old College of Steubenville basketball program enjoyed in the past. Franciscan has a great basketball reputation. That kind of brings me back to that circle-of-life thing. When I was a kid, my mom and dad used to take me to the St. John Arena in Steubenville to see the Barons play. Then we’d stop at DiCarlo’s for pizza on the way home. What great memories.”

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