A little after 9:30 p.m. on a typical fall Friday night in the Mother Lode, high school football players and their families head to their favorite postgame spots – places like Mel and Faye’s in Jackson or Perko’s in Sonora – to celebrate hard-fought wins or receive consolation for tough losses. After a week of preparation and an exciting battle under the lights, it’s time at last to relax.
But for many of the coaches, the work is just beginning.
“On a good night … I’m home by 2 a.m.,” Bret Harte High School head varsity football coach Casey Kester said.
There’s equipment to put away, statistics to report to area newspapers, video to download, and it all needs to get done against the persistent distraction of moments from the night’s game being replayed and second-guessed inside their own heads.
Wins are more relief than joy. Losses are punches to the gut. Either way, the next game is never far behind.
“After a game, we have a 24-hour rule before mental preparation for our next opponent,” Summerville High School head varsity football coach Sean Leveroos said, before adding that the system is “easier said than done.”
It’s all part of a never-ending cycle from August through November that comes with being a high school football coach. Around the Mother Lode League, coaches log 30 to 40 physical hours per week on coaching duties during the season and even more mental hours. It’s consuming, it’s exhausting and it’s probably not good for their health. Not to mention there’s no “offseason” any more. And, oh yeah, the pay stinks; a one-time stipend totaling a couple thousand bucks or so is what most coaches get.
“I sat down with a former basketball coach here at Argonaut and we wrote down everything we do throughout the year and it broke down to about 33 cents an hour,” Argonaut High School head varsity football coach Rick Davis said. “We definitely don’t do it for the pay.”
But year after year they do it and they do it with enthusiasm. Gluttons for punishment? Maybe. High school football coaches who love the game? No doubt.
“I just have a passion for the game of football,” Sonora High School head varsity football coach Bryan Craig said. “I love the strategy, the chess game that goes on throughout a football game … There’s nothing like it. They’ll have to bury me before I give it up.”
Saturday: Sleep and family
It’s Saturday morning and Calaveras High School varsity head football coach Jason Weatherby knows this will be his only opportunity to catch up on sleep this week, so he wakes up a little later than usual. For Weatherby, who has been the head coach at CHS since 2008, Saturdays are family days. But before devoting his attention to his wife and sons, he first needs to make sure all the film from last night’s game has uploaded properly and, assuming there was no glitch in the process, he then reaches out to the coach of his next opponent to exchange videos for the week.
Mother Lode League rules require teams to provide films from their past two games with their next opponent.
The process of exchanging films has been made significantly easier in recent years thanks to advances in technology and companies like HUDL, which enable coaches to easily share videos online.
“It used to be that if you were playing Summerville in your next game, on Saturday morning someone from each coaching staff would have to drive and meet halfway to exchange films from the night before,” said Doug Clark, a longtime assistant coach at Calaveras High. “It’s unbelievable how easy it is now. As soon as the game is over, you download it and with the click of a button you can send film to any coach in the world on HUDL. It is so much more convenient.”
With film exchange complete, the rest of Saturday is a chance to take a brief step back from football and spend time with family.
“Saturday’s are for us,” Amador High School varsity head football coach Bill Baker said. “I don’t believe in trying to get an extra day in. I’m married and have two daughters and Saturday I spend time with them.”
Clark doesn’t typically get the same chance to sleep in on Saturdays that his coaching boss Weatherby gets. The father of three young, athletic girls, Clark is typically up early on Saturday mornings and on his way to a soccer or softball field somewhere to watch his daughters play.
“That’s more family time, but sometime throughout the day between soccer or softball, when there’s a break, I’m taking a peek at who we are playing next,” Clark said. “I don’t write anything down, but just go through the video a little bit or check out their stats on MaxPreps and get a mental picture.”
Sunday: Pizza and football
For a lot of people in the United States, watching football and eating pizza are synonymous with Sundays in the fall. It’s no different for high school football coaches, although, technically, they’re working.
“Sunday mornings, I go to church with my family and after that I come straight to school and start working on game film,” Weatherby said.
“Every Sunday, we meet as a staff at the school and put together a game plan,” Craig said.
These meetings can take anywhere from two to eight hours.
“Sundays are long days,” Clark said. “Seventy to 80 percent of the time, we end up ordering pizza … Sunday dinner is not with the family.”
These staff meetings include film breakdowns of Friday’s games, the upcoming opponent’s last game and last year’s game against that team.
When the coaches finally head home, they have the game plan for Friday night in hand.
Monday: Juggling jobs
Monday morning arrives for high school football coaches just as it does for everyone else, bringing with it the start of a new workweek. While many coaches work as teachers on school campuses, others work jobs off-campus, which can present certain challenges when it comes to juggling work and coaching.
“I have one coach who is on-campus, an assistant principal, but the others are off-campus and work off of the school grounds,” said Kester, who has 12 coaches in all on his Bret Harte staff. “That sometimes makes the practices a bit problematic, as coaches may work later than normal practice start time, have to work late or go on travel.”
Kester, a software system engineer with Lockheed Martin since 1979, stays in contact with his coaching staff via email and telephone to make sure everything is covered when practice time arrives.
Monday’s practices are relatively “light,” as coaches install their game plans, taking all the information they pored over as a staff at the previous day’s meetings and sharing the relevant parts with players. Sprinkle in some video breakdowns with players, throw around some iron in the weight room and call it a day.
Just don’t call it a night, because for the coaches, there’s still more work to do at home, mainly coming up with a plans for the next day’s practices.
Tuesday: Bring it home
The intensity for the week picks up with Tuesday’s practices. Players wear full pads. Coaches run their stuff for the week, then rerun it and make adjustments to the week’s game plan.
Some days, everything clicks; the energy is high, the execution is sharp and coaches head home with hops in their step. On other days, well, not so much.
Davis, who has coached at Argonaut since 2000, said good or bad practices affect his mood away from the football field “way too much,” adding, “but not as much now as it did when I first started coaching.”
He’s not alone. While all coaches try not to let the performances of their teams affect them one way or the other at home or at work, they are human.
“When I first started coaching, it would really bother me, but I realized that I was focusing on the wins more than developing the players,” Kester said. “If I let the wins/losses be the focus, then I was really going to be an emotional wreck. So I try to focus on the players performing well and growing up. I can’t let my emotional state be dependent on how well a 16-year-old player performs.”
Again, it’s easier said than done.
Leveroos sums it up well.
“A good practice or bad practice mood-wise can linger until the next practice,” he said.
Wednesday: Loafs and Giants
As the defensive coordinator for Calaveras, Clark loves Wednesdays. It’s defense day, so after spending much of Tuesday in the background organizing the scout team defense, his unit takes center stage on Wednesday. On top of dialing in the defensive game plan for the week, it’s time for his players to get their weekly lessons in accountability. Players own up to any plays in last Friday’s game in which the coaches deemed they didn’t give all-out effort, referred to as “loafs.”
“When we break down the video earlier in the week, we chart loafs and before practice starts Wednesday, the team circles up and the guys who have loafs come to the center of the circle, say their names and how many loafs they had on Friday,” Clark said. “Everyone on the team does one up/down for every loaf.”
Meanwhile, at Sonora, practice won’t begin until the evening, as Craig supervises a mandatory study hall after school for any football players that aren’t carrying at least a 3.0 grade point average.
As the intensity increases around the Mother Lode as the countdown to kickoff ticks down, so, too, does the need to decompress a little bit away from the football field.
When Baker gets home from practice at Amador High, he makes a concerted effort to leave football on the back burner, at least for a little while.
“I like to interact with the family, help cook dinner, help the kids with their homework, watch part of a ballgame, anything but football for a few hours,” Baker said.
Weatherby said he has never been much of a baseball fan, but one of his favorite things to do after practice this year was come home and watch the San Francisco Giants play on TV with his family.
“That was something different this year for me, and it was a lot of fun,” Weatherby said.
This fall, even when he’s on the football field, Weatherby is never far from family. His son Logan, a sophomore at Calaveras High, was moved up from the junior varsity team to varsity midway through this season, and his younger son, Colton, 11, can typically be found running around at practice a couple of days each week.
The biggest challenge of juggling family life and football, Weatherby says, is communicating with his wife from day to day to make sure they’re on the same page about rides for the kids, dinner plans and such.
“She was out of town at a training all day one day last week and I didn’t even know,” Weatherby said.
But football never stops, at least not for long.
“Once the family goes to bed, I’ll film it up some more,” Baker said.
Thursday: Dress rehearsal
With kickoff a little more than 24 hours away, Thursdays are basically dress rehearsals for Friday’s games.
“We script the whole thing, starting with kickoff, so everyone knows what they’re doing,” Craig said.
It’s a routine that works for Craig. His Sonora Wildcats won a state bowl game in 2015 and are undefeated so far in 2016. Needless to say, everyone seems to know what they’re doing.
Another Thursday tradition for a lot of teams is sharing meals together.
“Parents have volunteered throughout the year to cook dinner for the team,” Clark said. “Once we’re done with practice (Thursday), the whole team goes up to the gym area and we eat as a team, coaching staff and players.”
Those moments together as teams away from their fields are a part of the job coaches cherish.
“It’s all about relationships,” Baker said. “We do this to try and create the best possible experience for the kids. Hopefully we can build some confidence in these young men to become great members of our community and family members after they leave our program. I love when those kids come back and talk to you; you cannot put a price on that.”
Friday: Ready or not
The alarm sounds early Friday morning and there’s no turning back. Ready or not, it’s game day. Excitement. Nerves.
Craig tries to clear his head with an early-morning workout that includes a 4-mile run.
Clark runs his kids to school in Valley Springs, then heads to Toyon Middle School, where he teaches eighth grade, taking advantage of any spare moments between classes or during lunch to go over everything one last time.
Kester likes to use up a few accumulated vacation hours at work to free him up on Friday afternoons to tackle his list of game-day issues that can include the inevitable “Coach I forgot …”
Players and coaches meet up in the afternoon for team meals, or bus rides to away games, and then final walkthroughs before kickoff.
Halftime is all about adjustments, making subtle changes to the game plan based on what the opponent did in the first half.
And then, the clock ticks down to zero and it’s over. But, win or lose, it’s never really over.
“We still discuss big wins and losses 15 years later,” Davis says.
Clark tries his best not to wear the night’s outcome on his face when he’s greeted by his wife and daughters on the field after the game, but they know how he feels.
“They’re very good to me,” Clark says of his wife and daughters. “They know right off the bat. After we lost to Sonora, the first thing the girls said to me was, ‘Sorry, Dad, how mad are you?’ The next morning, they’re always asking, ‘You OK, Dad?’”
“I try not to let it affect me in my life. We’re a pretty busy family, so there’s not a lot of time for me to sit around and pout and be angry. I’ve got to move on.”
A strong support system at home is a common thread among the Mother Lode’s coaches.
“My wife is super supportive,” Craig said. “She is my best friend and she allows me to decompress and then, that’s it, you’re done. Get it together and get moving. It’s a lot like how we treat the kids. A disappointing loss, we talk about it Friday; then Saturday, we start getting ready for the next team. That goes for a win, too; we don’t celebrate that long. You get a day and then start preparing.”
When one game ends, preparation begins almost immediately for the next. The cycle starts all over again.
It’s a little after 9:30 p.m. on a typical fall Friday night in the Mother Lode and high school football players and their families are heading to their favorite spots to celebrate hard-fought wins or receive consolation for tough losses.
But for many of the coaches, the work is just beginning.