Maybe you’ve heard the stories. The stories about coaches who work 16 hours a day, the coaches who hardly see their families, the coaches who sleep in their offices. Maybe you’ve heard of some of those coaches: Jon Gruden, Rick Pitino, Dick Vermeil, just to name a few. To say that these men are passionate about their job would be a huge understatement. Obsessed, driven, focused – even these words might not do justice to describe just how invested these coaches are in their team. The practices, the film sessions, the team meetings, the interviews. It takes a lot out of a man.
While not quite as demanding as it is for those at the collegiate and professional ranks, being a high school football coach, especially in football-crazed Ohio, certainly requires an enormous amount of personal, physical, mental and emotional fortitude.
I recently spoke with Oak Harbor head football coach Mike May and asked him what his daily regimen is like before, after and, most especially, during the season.
May, now in his third season at Oak Harbor, has been coaching football since he got done playing offensive guard at Defiance College in 1996. Since then, he coached at Elmwood High School (three years), Ohio Northern University (one year) and St. Mary’s Memorial High School (eight years) before taking the reins at Oak Harbor. A father of four who has two boys and two girls ranging in age from eight months to nine years, May, is also a history teacher at the high school.
He described an average day during football season as follows: Wake up a little before 6 a.m., begin school at 7:40 and finish at 2:30 p.m., meet the players on the field for pre-practice activity at 2:45 and begin practice at 3. After practice concludes around 5, the coaches speak with the players, summarizing the day and looking ahead to the game.. At about 6, after the kids have showered and left for the day, May meets with his assistant coaches and discusses the gameplan. Around 7, he goes home, fresh off a 12-hour day and eats supper with his family.
“I try to have some family time until the kids go to bed,” said May. “(After that,) maybe watch a little bit more film. That’s a typical day.”
According to May, Sunday thru Wednesday is a very time-consuming and chaotic period, but things start to slow down a bit on Thursday.
“We have the team-feed on Thursday night; it’s a family night for us.”
On Friday night, it’s show time. But the work is not done there. The JV plays the following morning. And then, on Sunday, May and his assistants begin the process anew.
How do things change when the season ends?
“We have exit interviews right away (and then) we just get away from our kids for a month. The state of Ohio says you’re supposed to stay away from the kids for 30 days. In December, that leads us into our winter-lifting cycle, then we have the spring-lifting cycle. During the summer, we start lifting in June.”
During the offseason, May and his assistants travel, attending clinics and visiting with other coaches’ staffs in Ohio from January thru April. It’s a chance for the coaches to get to know and learn from one another.
“We’re always looking to add a new wrinkle to our offense or defense.”
The Oak Harbor coaching staff is one filled with experience. Three of the Rocket assistant coaches were former head coaches themselves.
“Any coach that is successful has a great group of assistant. One of the best things we have going right now are our assistants.”
May certainly has confidence in his fellow coaches.
“I divide up the responsibilities. I don’t micromanage.”
The assistant coaches serve a vitally important role — it is their job to teach the fundamentals of the game and to motivate the players.
This season, despite finishing 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Sandusky Bay Conference, the Rockets missed out on qualifying for the playoffs by just .05 of a point. The team’s only losses came to playoff-qualifiers Genoa (15-7), Huron (32-26) and Clyde (26-17). They did win their share of hard-fought games, however, defeating Holland Springfield (21-12), Sandusky Perkins (12-9), Milan Edison (14-7), Port Clinton (10-7).
For much of 2009 and 2008, respectively, things were not going so well, however. In 2009, the Rockets finished just 4-6, but did end the season on a high note, giving them hope for 2010. The year before that, the Rockets struggled to a 2-8 finish, a very trying experience for a program rich in tradition.
“I think initially, it was tough for everybody because it was a big transition. There hadn’t been a change in 29, 30 years. I come in and wanted to do some things differently. It took some time for the kids to buy into the system.”
The turning point came late in 2009 when the Rockets upset SBC powerhouse Clyde, who hadn’t lost a conference game for two-and-a-half seasons until that point.
“When we beat Clyde (last season), I think the kids were at the point where they started to buy in and things could get rolling again.”
Despite the recent success on the field, May understands that a football coach’s real work is done in shaping the kids into young men. Coaches are not teaching kids about sports so much as they’re really teaching them about life. And May sums it up the way any good coach or leader of men would.
“I think football is a great reflection on life. We talk about that with our kids. All the emotion, the ups and downs, the adversity, the good times, working together. I think football teaches a lot of life lessons.”