Lazerus: Transition, not change, at Valpo
By Mark Lazerus email@example.com | 648-3140 January 4, 2012 11:26PM
Mark Hoffman Valpo football head coach at Valparaiso High School in Valparaiso, Ind. Saturday August 6, 2011. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 6, 2012 9:36AM
At the end of the school day on Wednesday afternoon, Dave Coyle was sitting in Mark Hoffman’s office, and the two were talking Valparaiso High School football.
What else is new? These two have been doing that for 22 years now — Hoffman, the head coach; Coyle, the defensive coordinator.
“I’ve been with him as long as I’ve been with my wife,” Coyle joked.
But on this day, Coyle wasn’t there to hash out a game plan or break down film, as he’s done for two decades worth of autumns. Nor was he there to discuss player attendance at offseason weight-lifting sessions, as he’s done for two decades worth of winters.
No, this wasn’t defensive coordinator Coyle chatting with head coach Hoffman. This was head coach Coyle talking with athletic director Hoffman. And Coyle wasn’t there to talk defensive schemes, he was there to finalize an equipment order.
Welcome to Valparaiso’s new world order.
“We’re just in the process of making his first football order of equipment,” Hoffman said with a laugh. “I guess we’re really at the threshold now.”
That Coyle would take over for Hoffman — who retired in November after 35 seasons as head coach — was the town’s worst kept secret. Hoffman has been grooming Coyle for a couple of years now, showing him how to run a program, how to manage a staff and how to deal with the day-to-day operations and minutiae. When Hoffman announced this would be his last year back in August, he all but passed a literal torch to Coyle.
There wasn’t a coaching search to speak of. Despite a wealth of intriguing coaching candidates out there — Dan Klimczak, anyone? — Valparaiso never seriously considered anyone from outside the program. Heck, Coyle’s not even changing the staff — everyone’s coming back, and Coyle will continue to serve as his own defensive coordinator.
It’s easy to understand why. Hoffman built a respected, competitive and clean program that won six Duneland Conference championships, nine sectionals and six regionals, and made two state finals appearances. The community doesn’t think anything’s broken, so why try to fix it?
“I think Mark said it best when he said this was a turn-key operation,” Coyle said. “There are a lot of great football programs out there, but I can tell you we’re very blessed here. I think this will be the easiest and smoothest change for the program, simply because I’ve been doing the defense here for so long.”
That said, it’s not exactly a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” situation. Besides Coyle’s more fiery sideline persona, which contrasts with Hoffman’s more Zen-like demeanor (after four decades, nothing ever surprised Hoffman, who just seemed to be out there enjoying himself, always with a bemused look on his face), Coyle said fans should expect plenty of subtle changes. That means while the defense is unlikely to change, Coyle plans to put his stamp on the offense, too.
“One of the things Mark’s ingrained in each of his coaches is, ‘I do things my way, you do things your way,’” Coyle said. “Our goal is to put a great product on the field every Friday night and be as competitive as possible. And he’ll be the first to tell you the game changes quite a bit, and how you deal with those changes is how you stay competitive. So there’ll be little touches on the offense, those will happen. Everybody has a different personality, a different style.”
That’ll be the biggest change for Coyle. Aside from dealing with the day-to-day operations of the program, he’ll have to, you know, actually pay attention to the offense. That’s not something he’s done much of over the past two decades.
“Game management will be a big change for me,” he said. “Usually when the defense gets off the field, I’ll immediately go to the board and go over instructions with them. Now, someone else will be going to the board so I can focus on the game. There’ll be a learning curve.”
Coyle already has some experience running a program, as he completed his first season as Valparaiso’s head baseball coach last spring. He intends to continue doing both jobs.
Of course, so did Zac Wells at Merrillville. That lasted one year.
“Zac and I are close, and we rode down to Indianapolis together, and that’s a conversation we had,” Coyle said. “I’m not being naive, so it’s something we’ll re-evaluate every year. Right now, I’ve got the blessing of my wife, and I’d like to do both.”
It won’t be easy, but it should be less difficult for Coyle than most. He has a tremendous coaching staff to lean on — an experienced group full of guys who already know their roles. He has two decades in the system already, so the learning curve isn’t terribly steep. And he has head coaching experience.
And — perhaps as important as anything else — he has 40 years of coaching wisdom to mine just down the hall in the athletic director’s office.
“I refer to Mark as a consultant,” Coyle said. “He’s a walking encyclopedia to me.”