After spending 33 years as a part of Penn football, coach Ray Priore knows the importance of being meticulous and not forgetting a single detail, whether it be recruiting, X’s and O’s on the field, or crafting relationships.
Priore’s extensive career in football began as a six-year-old, when his father coached him and his older brother Chuck in Pop Warner football. From there, the Priore brothers, though separated by three years, both moved on to play college ball and eventually began coaching together at Albany.
Chuck was then hired as the offensive coordinator for Union, where he met coach Al Bagnoli. As a tandem, the pair made their way to Penn in 1992, where the younger Priore had already been coaching on the defensive side of the ball since 1987.
“[My brother and I] talk virtually every single day,” Priore said. “We talk about football every day, aspects of the game. It’s family, football, and fun in the Priore household.”
With Bagnoli at the helm and a Priore brother on either side of the ball, the Quakers experienced a prosperous run, capturing three Ivy League titles before Chuck moved onto a head coaching role at Trinity.
Like his older brother, Priore kept moving up the ranks, elevating his responsibilities by proving himself at every stop. Beginning as an assistant linebackers coach in 1987, he excelled and then rose from special teams coach to defensive coordinator to associate head coach and finally to his current position as head coach.
During a part of his tenure as defensive coordinator, the Red and Blue defense stifled opponents, posting the best rushing and scoring defense in the Ancient Eight for three consecutive seasons. Penn’s defensive unit was also featured in the top five of the Football Championship Subdivision in 2002, 2008, 2009, and 2010.
However, Priore’s strengths extend beyond the football field. Not only did Priore lead the charge in building up Penn’s California pipeline, but his defensive draft classes from 2005 to 2015 featured 35 first team All-Ivy selections, as well as NFL draftees Jake Lewko and Brandon Copeland.
As a mentor, friend, and role model for Priore from 1992 to 2014, Bagnoli displayed the model of a great leader and all the responsibilities that came with being the head of a program with such an illustrious legacy.
When Bagnoli’s long tenure as head coach ended, there was no clearer choice to fill his shoes than Priore.
“He’s high energy, he’s a bright, thoughtful guy that is creative,” Bagnoli said. “His ability to go from handling one side of the ball to the entire program—his success is not a surprise to me.”
Remaining modest and grateful to his predecessors, Priore credits Bagnoli and other former coaches for teaching him about what it means to lead a team, on and off the field, as well as the tips and tricks to success.
Specifically, Priore marveled at his mentor’s mindset for managing the game itself, as every play call and decision was well-thought out.
Since taking over as the leader of the program, Priore has established the motto “Family First. Championships Will Follow.”
“We use the phrase, ‘Make football the best two hours of your day,’” Priore said. “Our guys go out there, and they enjoy being a part of it. There’s where the family comes in.”
What this entails is building relationships founded on mutual trust and creating bonds of brotherhood. For Priore, football and family have always been inseparable.
In knowing Priore and his family for over three decades, Bagnoli has noted Priore’s growth and maturity, as a person and as a father. Bagnoli describes how Priore keenly observes before speaking and how he has remained steadfast in his care for others.
“Ray was always a great personal friend, and I’ve always had the greatest respect for what he stood for as a person,” Bagnoli said. “It’s been a really positive experience for me, and it remains so to this day.”
Priore is motivated by goals larger than himself, carrying the tradition of Penn on his shoulders, but more importantly seeking to impact as many young people’s lives as possible.
Priore has preached the importance of players utilizing their platform to impact others’ lives and to improve the community around them. These lessons have materialized in the story of Vhito DeCapria, who battled to defeat cancer in 2014, and players who donated bone marrow in 2016.
As new challenges face the team in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, Priore misses his players' smiles and their little interactions on the football field. However, their mindset of brotherhood enables them to stay connected and enjoy helping each other out in any way possible.
The pandemic has taught Priore many lessons. He is more aware of his players’ mental health and takes advantage of technology, reshaping the team's everyday operations and deploying social media to stay in touch with alumni and friends.
Every Thursday, Penn football replays historic games virtually, and the team hosts Zoom tailgates beforehand as a chance for alumni and players to connect. At their most recent Zoomgate, former players from the 1986 team were there to catch up.
“Before home games, I always take a scroll and go right through Franklin Field,” Priore said. “It just gives you chills to think about all the greats that played in that stadium, the great games that we won, the hardship losses, and so many friendships that you have over 30 years.”
The Ivy League is still unsure about its return to play in the spring. All that is certain is that Priore has a second home in Penn football, and he can’t wait to get back to work.