By Preston Byers
Ed DiGregorio, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball coach with the most wins in program history, died April 5 at age 93.
Hired by former athletic director and personal friend Joe Malmisur in 1983, DiGregorio coached the Penguins for 20 years, winning a school-record 320 games in that time. His team qualified for the NCAA tournament three times, and he was named Mid-Continent Conference Coach of the Year twice, in 1995 and 1999.
But his accomplishments are not the first thing people who knew him will bring up. DiGregorio was, by all accounts, a kind and giving person who treated his team like family.
Greg Gulas, a YSU alumnus and former sports information director, met DiGregorio in 1983 when he was being interviewed for the women’s head coaching job. Gulas said he knew DiGregorio was the right person for the position.
Gulas also said DiGregorio was the most giving coach he’d ever been around.
“We used to take two buses — one for the women and one for the men,” Gulas said.
“The men would get some meal money. And I was basically attached to the men’s team,” he added. “But I always traveled with the women’s program because Coach DiGregorio made sure he’d have a box of apples, a box of oranges, 3 or 4 pounds of meat, 3 or 4 pounds of cheese, fresh bread and some dessert. So his team, not only did they travel in style but they ate in style.”
On the court, DiGregorio’s teams were some of the most successful in program history. When he took over the program in 1983, DiGregorio was the third head coach in as many years and in the year before, the team finished 11-16.
Finishing up a 7-17 season in 1983-84, the worst in program history to that point, the Penguins improved to 14-13 record the following year. DiGregorio’s teams floated around the .500 mark until 1990-91, when YSU finished the season with a 24-4 record and a perfect 13-game home record.
After joining the Mid-Continent Conference in 1992, the Penguins enjoyed some of their greatest success. In the 1990s, YSU won five consecutive Mid-Continent Conference regular season titles and three conference tournament championships, the latter of which clinched YSU’s spot in the NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Tournament.
Before YSU’s first NCAA tournament game in 1996 against Pennsylvania State University, YSU President Jim Tressel, the athletic director and head football coach at the time, arranged for Joe Paterno, Pennsylvania State University’s head football coach, to speak to the YSU women’s team before the big game.
“I had been longtime friends with Joe Paterno and coach DiGregorio was an admirer of coach Paterno, so we arranged for coach Paterno to talk to our women’s basketball team the day before the game,” Tressel said. “I’ll never forget those two legends standing there on the court. … He was just always trying to make it a special experience for his players.”
While YSU would be unsuccessful in its first NCAA tournament game, the Penguins qualified again in 1998 after a 27-2 season, which remains the best season in school history.
As a No. 12 seed, YSU won its first — and only — NCAA tournament game by upsetting the University of Memphis, which had qualified for the national tournament four straight seasons. The Penguins would lose to eventual semifinalists North Carolina State University in the second round, but DiGregorio’s legacy was secured with the win against Memphis.
After coaching more than 500 YSU games, DiGregorio retired in 2003. That year, he was inducted into the YSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Even in retirement, DiGregorio tried to help the program he had helped build, according to John Barnes, the current YSU head women’s basketball coach.
“He always asked if I needed anything or if he could help in any way,” Barnes said. “So many people loved him around here and thought so highly of him. He was just a great guy.”