Follow the Lleader; Joe Llodra went from the O-line to the sideline

In 1960, Llodra was named as the freshman line coach at UConn under former head coach Bob Engels. Over the next five years, he coached at Southington High School, Greenwich High School, and eventually moved to Massachusetts when a head football coaching position opened up at Adams High School, but Llodra began to stretch his skills beyond the gridiron. At Greenwich, he coached the baseball team to their first and only state title. In the winters, he coached their freshman basketball team.

It didn’t matter what sports he embraced, Llodra had a knack for coaching. “It’s how you relate to people,” he said. “Whether it’s coaching or being an athletic director, if people you are working with know that you’re sincere and really care about them, you are going to have some success. IF you’re a phony baloney, people will see that.”

By the mid-1960s, Massachusetts lured the Southington native across the border. He served as head football coach at Adams High School for one season. He served as the coach at Drury High School in North Adams the following year. Soon, college coaches came calling again, and Llodra left the high school ranks to try his hand at college football.

“I really wanted to be a college coach. That way, I could spend all of my time on football. That was my love. It was the other woman in my life, but once I got up there I hated it,” he said. “You couldn’t have warm feelings for a kid that couldn’t help you to win because, if you didn’t win, you’d get fired. In my third year, I knew that something was wrong. I mean, I love football, but I hated that job. I was so unhappy that I decided to go back to high school.”

Once again, he packed up his family and returned to Massachusetts. In 1970, he was hired as the varsity coach at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, and he served with the Chicopee school system through his retirement in December 2000.

Boston Red Sox sports writer Ron Chimelis was a student at Chicopee Comp in 1970. “He came in with a tough, no-nonsense, but fair reputation that under the circumstances was very well received,” he said. “Llodra built a winning attitude at Comp and encouraged quality athletes to play the sport. In the early 1970s, he reached one high school Super Bowl and nearly another, and also defeated Chicopee High twice after Comp had lost to its cross town rival seven years in a row,”

Once again, Llodra stretched his coaching skills beyond the football field. When school officials threatened to disband the floundering swimming program, Llodra stepped in to save it.

“They were going under water. I think we only had something like three swimmers, but we knew that once you lost a program you’d never get it back,” he said. “I had them work hard, and we kept attracting other kids. We even won the division a couple of times—both the boys and the girls, and that was neat. It’s really all about the kids. They keep you young. You develop relationships, and that’s the best part about it.”

Llodra spent six years as the swimming coach at Chicopee Comp. He spent six years with the girls track team and 10 years with the football team. His reputation as a jack-of-all-trades helped open the door for Llodra’s next career—administration.

Llodra moved across town to serve as faculty manager at Chicopee High School from 1990 to 1995 and rose up to the level of athletic director for both Chicopee programs in 1995.

“The interesting part of Joe is how he changed with the times,” said Chimelis. “As years passed, he became more accepting of a different philosophy among his kids—hair length is one example that comes to mind—yet without sacrificing the values of hard work and the expectation of commitment. From an ‘old school’’ coach, he became a respected modern coach, not an easy transition to make.”

It’s no surprise that the selection committee chose Llodra for induction into the Southington’s Sports Hall of Fame.

“Once you’re a Blue Knight, you’re always a Blue Knight,” said Llodra. “It feels very good to be inducted into the hall of fame, but I’m really honored that they’re inducting the 1954 football team. That was certainly a special year in all of our lives.”

On Thursday, Nov. 8, he will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf. Llodra will be inducted for his own contributions and as a member of the 1954 football team. For tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335.

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