Wally McCormack jumping right back in as Portage’s head coach
By Steve T. Gorches 648-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org August 2, 2012 11:38PM
Portage Head Coach Wally McCormackworks on drills with quarterback Gage Pearman at Portage High School on Wednesday August 1, 2012. | Jim Karczewski~for Sun-Times Media
This is the last of a week-long series letting region football fans get to know the new head coaches in some of the region’s most high-profile programs, as two-a-days begin. Catch up on the others at post-trib.com/sports.
Updated: September 4, 2012 6:18AM
PORTAGE — To say Wally McCormack was happy not being a varsity head football coach and just dealing with freshmen last season would be a huge understatement.
He was relaxed. He was able to be a husband and father much more.
And then it happened. Previous Portage coach Jeromy Flowers resigned in early May and McCormack had to evaluate whether he was ready to dive back into the deep end of the pool or continue to wade in the shallow end as the Indians’ freshman coach.
Deep end it was — but with slight trepidation. Only slight, though, since the former Chesterton assistant and head coach at Andrean and Hobart looks like he’s in midseason form during the first week of official practice.
“When you walk out the door you didn’t think about it,” McCormack said about the difference between being a freshman coach and the head honcho.
“Now being a head coach, you sit here the whole day thinking, ‘OK, I’ve got to make sure this kid’s not in any trouble, this kid got his form signed, this kid needs shoes, this kid’s got an ankle ...’ When I was coaching ninth grade, when I went home after football, I didn’t think about football. So the next question you’re going to ask me is why would you sign up for this again? I don’t know, glutton for punishment, I guess. I was hoping Jeromy wouldn’t do this for a couple years, to be honest, so I’d have time to evaluate whether I liked it better this way or not. But now that I’m back in, it’s like I never got out. We’re right back at it and I’m enjoying it.”
If it were any other school looking for a head coach — and there were plenty in a busy offseason — McCormack would have passed.
But when the school you live less than a mile away from needs a coach, in the city in which you’ve lived for a very long time, it’s hard to say no.
“The first time Coach talked to us, he said, ‘I’m a Portage guy,’” said senior lineman Justin Givens, playing for his third different coach in high school. “He said, ‘I was meant to be here and I’ll be here until my kids graduate from high school.’”
Considering those two children are still in grade school, that means McCormack could be the Portage coach longer than the eight years he was the Hobart coach.
It’s plain to see the comfort level has returned for McCormack as he roams the field during practice, running the gamut of emotions from an occasional smile and compliment — “Nice decision,” he told one of his young quarterbacks — to inevitable yelling and the trademark McCormack sarcasm: “That’s a great run ... for a loss of 2 yards.”
But there are definitely some aspects of coaching at a big school — the second largest in Northwest Indiana — that McCormack has to get used to.
“Right now we have 92 (kids),” he said. “But at the same time, numbers are overrated. Lowell went to the state championship game a few years ago with 40 guys on their roster. If numbers were the No. 1 factor to determine success, why doesn’t China win every gold medal in the Olympics?
“It means you have to coach differently. You’re coaching 92, so you’ve got to organize practice differently. It’s going to be an adjustment for me.”
One change in particular is that McCormack can be more generous as a coach, with plenty of players to choose from.
“Why not get more kids an opportunity to play?” he said. “In the long run, if more kids feel like they’re potentially part of the plan, the happier they are and the more they’re willing to come and work.”