Thunderbirds Coach Profile: David ‘Weasel’ Lionetti
January 2nd, 2018
Pittsburgh, PA – As the Thunderbirds enter their 4th season as an organization, so will David ‘Weasel’ Lionetti as assistant coach. Lionetti has been on the sidelines for Thunderbird practices and home games since 2015, providing his insight, time, work and feedback without monetary compensation.
“I remember when we first spoke back in 2015 about the opening position,” recalled General Manager Andrew Gardner. “I started talking numbers and he stopped me and told me it wasn’t about the money, it was about the experience and opportunity to coach these players in Pittsburgh and be a part of the organization. That meant a lot.”
Lionetti began coaching for the first time in 2005 when a young Pittsburgh freshman, David Vatz, approached Lionetti with the prospect of coaching the Men’s college ultimate team, En Sabah Nur. Lionetti, who was a competitive ultimate player at the time, was battling an Achilles injury which made the transition from player to coach much easier at the time.
“The team was young and small, but had great leadership in Sean McComb, Josh Suskin and former Thunderbirds player Rob Dulabon and former Thunderbirds assistant coach Stu Kellner,” said Lionetti. ”The team was gritty and extremely receptive to the ideas and coaching style that I brought, which in hindsight was more of a make-it-up-as-you-go-style.”
Lionetti, a firm believer in letting the leaders of the team lead, found himself simply there to help implement their decisions and facilitate their development. This strategy worked well for En Sabah Nur, capturing a Regionals berth in 2005 for the first time ever in the programs now storied history. During the same year, En Sabah Nur would beat George Washington in the 2nd place game at Regionals to clinch their spot at Nationals, commencing a consecutive streak to Nationals that is still intact heading in 2018, thirteen years later.
Flash forward to 2015, it is the inaugural season of the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds hold a slim 4th quarter lead against rival Indianapolis AlleyCats at home on a hot, July 18th evening. With only 16 players dressed, fatigue began to set-in. That’s when Lionetti chimed in on the sideline, “Time to run the no-mark zone.”
“Since [the AlleyCats] were down, it would force them to still complete passes and try to score,” says Lionetti. “My thinking was that it would force them to throw a lot of passes laterally [by loading] the front of the zone up with four players without initiating a stall count to take more time to score, thus essentially shortening the game. And since the mark, or chase in a zone, does the most running, eliminating that position meant that players were really not exerting a lot of energy on each point.”
It was this “make-it-up-as-you-go-style” that Lionetti realized back in 2005 with the En Sabah Nur team that helped propel the Thunderbirds to a 29-25 victory that day.
“We forced a number of short field turnovers and got some quick scores which really allowed us to build up our lead,” continued Lionetti. “I was careful to revert to straight person defense every few points just so they would not get comfortable playing against the same scheme.”
At the Professional level, there are some very unique tweaks to the game of ultimate in comparison with the club, college and recreational levels of play. The field size is much wider, stall counts are reduced, double teams are legal, and games are much longer. Both players and coaches experience a steep learning curve. Lionetti from the beginning embraced these challenges, commenting that the AUDL rule set brought to the forefront the evolution of new ultimate strategy. It is something that Lionetti saw eye-to-eye on with former Head Coach David Hogan.
With Hogan leaving for the city of Seattle after the 2017 season, Lionetti will now be working alongside Head Coach Pat Hammonds.
“Pat Hammonds has always been a great student of the game, from the instant he stepped on to the field as a brand-new rookie his freshman year at Pitt,” says Lionetti. “He has a great combination of being very intelligent, but also a wonderful communicator and motivator. I’m really looking forward to collaborating with him for the 2018 season.”
The Thunderbirds are very fortunate to have a dedicated coach who is excited to be on the field as much as he can each and every practice and home game. “I have nothing but great memories working with the team,” says Lionetti. “I know that sounds corny, but it’s true. I love every minute of it.”
Outside of ultimate
When asked what Lionetti does outside of ultimate, it is no surprise he mentioned ultimate alongside family, friends and work. “It works for me,” he says.
Lionetti works for Philips Healthcare as a Principal Software Architect, focusing on user experience. Aside from work, he spends as much time as he can with his wife and kids (his 6 year old son has been to a number of Thunderbirds’ games).
If you would like to get in touch with David Lionetti and discuss ultimate strategy or how he got his ‘weasel’ nickname, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org