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Former Fairmont State head coach Joe Mazzulla objects a call during a home basketball game last season.

I came to West Virginia 13 years ago to attend college and play basketball, but something else drew my heart to this state: its people and its mindset.

Coach Bob Huggins has always stated the West Virginia’s most valuable resource is its people. He is 100% correct. This state is blue collar, combining a mindset of toughness, work ethic, and genuine care for others. The personality of this state has kept me here for the last 13 years. It has made me feel like I have been raised here and this is home. In a lot of ways, West Virginia will always be home to me.

I have spent some of my most important years here — my college years and the years of growing emotionally and spiritually after college. I started my career here and began the task of finding my purpose as a coach. I was also very fortunate to meet my beautiful wife, get married, begin growing our family here and purchase our first home. West Virginia has given my family and I experiences that we will forever be grateful for and never forget.

My wife Camai, my stepson Michael and my youngest son Emmanuel are the most important people in my life. Thank you Camai for your love, support and sacrifice. You are the true face of our family by how you keep us all together and give everything you have every day. We have stuck together through so many successes as well as adversity. Nothing sums up West Virginia, Fairmont in particular, better than this.

In 2016, I left for seven months to coach in the NBA Developmental League in Portland, Maine. I left my wife and two children behind while I did what we thought was best for our family. The people of Fairmont treated my family with so much respect, love and care, and everywhere my wife turned she had nothing but support and love. It was amazing! Thank you, West Virginia, for welcoming me and sticking with me. Thank you, Fairmont for always loving, supporting and caring for our family.

It was truly an honor for me to be the Fairmont State University men’s basketball coach. The school and community are so full of such rich tradition that it is hard to not put pressure on yourself to live up to the tradition and leave the place better than you found it. Thank you to the community for accepting me as a coach and supporting my philosophy and vision. I fell in love with Fairmont because it reminds me of my hometown Johnston, Rhode Island. A small Italian, Catholic city full of tradition, community, toughness, and togetherness.

Fairmont State’s biggest resource is no doubt its people. The people of Fairmont will do anything for their city and school to be successful. They know what it takes to protect the legacy that the late coach Joe Retton and others have built here. Thank you to everyone who accepted our family, who accepted me as a coach and accepted our vision to protect Fairmont’s legacy and build success the right way.

I would always tell people how blessed I was to be the head coach at Fairmont State University at just 29 years of age. Quite honestly, I didn’t think I deserved it. There have been so many coaches before me that were not fortunate to have the resources and support that I had. Along with the community, the support of our administration and school — in general — was amazing.

There are so many components to being a successful coach. You cannot do it without the alignment and connection of your administration. From day one, we had that alignment and connection. We were always on the same page about what success looked like and how we wanted to go about achieving that success. Anything you needed, the athletic department and everyone on campus was willing to go the extra mile to help. Thank you so much to the administration of Fairmont State University for the support and resources you provided to make this one of the best jobs in the country.

As I have gotten older (and yes I do feel old at 31), I have realized that God has done two amazing things. One, to always be there and show up and two, he has always strategically placed people in my life when I needed them to help me become a better version of myself. I think we can all do a better job of building awareness to why people come into our lives and how they help us improve. You are nothing without the people around you.

Another reason I was one of the most blessed coaches in a sport at any level is because of my staff. Everyone on staff from day one believed in our “Trust” model. They believed in me as a coach and have been loyal and hardworking from day one. One of the hardest things for me is not being able to take my staff with me. I wouldn’t be moving on without them. However, from the moment this opportunity came about my staff was right there supporting me and was very happy for my family and me.

I couldn’t believe it.

Thank you guys for your loyalty, sacrifice, trust and love. No matter what, I will always feel I could have done more for you.

For me, the hardest part was saying goodbye to the players. They are one of the most, if not the most important resource, to our university. They come from so many different places to Fairmont, West Virginia and take on the personality of the community and school and represent Fairmont State University with such high regard. I was the most blessed coach at any level of any sport because of the people I was able to coach for two years. Coaches don’t get that. They are amazing people.

Throughout my time, I would always tell our players that they are much better people than I was at that age. They have such great emotional maturity, character and values and they are rooted in their faith. They understand who they are as people and how they play into a bigger picture in this community. They have great parents and families. Those families embrace Fairmont and the university as well.

Then there is the part I care about least: that they are actually really good basketball players. Great people make great players.

Thank you to my former players for believing in me, trusting me, loving me, giving me everything you had and even bailing me out a lot of times. Thank you to your families for trusting our vision and philosophy and supporting our school and staff. A coach is nothing without his players!

What have I learned through this process?

One, that our only job is to be exactly where God wants us to be and we have no control over how long that may be. We must stay in the present and worry about fulfilling our purpose and adding value to society, and at any time God may call us to do that elsewhere.

Two, God has placed so many people in my life that have helped me get to where I am today. You cannot do anything alone. I would not be where I am if I always didn’t have someone looking out for me and making me better. How have I gotten to this point? The sacrifices of my family, the acceptance of a state and community, the belief from an administration, and the loyalty, work ethic and trust of an amazing staff and amazing people who happen to play basketball.

In my opinion, the state of West Virginia is misunderstood and its people are undervalued. Thank you, West Virginia. Thank you to the community of Fairmont and Fairmont State University.

You are truly a place my family and I will always call home.


Joe Mazzulla