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Column: Players, not coaches, dictate success of programs

Mike McKay led Judge to a win over Lincoln on Thanksgiving. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

It might be time to change that job posting.

According to a post on aopathletics.org, Father Judge High School is looking for a football coach. If the school hopes to compete, a good football coach isn’t what it needs. The Crusaders need a good general manager.

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They had a good coach.

He got fired.

Last week, Mike McKay, a good football coach, lost his job when he was fired as coach of the Father Judge team. You really can’t blame the school for pulling the trigger.

The Crusaders went 3-8 last year, and they always seem to lose at least three of five divisional games against the best competition in the state. And because they want to prepare for the brutal Catholic League Red Division games, they load up with a challenging nonleague schedule, so wins can be hard to come by.

McKay hasn’t been racking up the wins lately, but it’s not because he’s not a great football coach.

It’s because he coached the kids who showed up.

In most cases, to be a good high school football coach now, you have to be a good recruiter. It used to be a few Catholic League schools would take the elite players and then everyone else would get what was left. Every team had good players and usually had rosters full of players who lived in the neighborhood. Now that’s not what happens.

McKay had some talent this year. A few of his players would have been stars anywhere they went. But a lot of his starters were kids who would be second string at other schools.

It doesn’t matter what kind of football coach a school has. For Catholic League teams, it matters how much tuition assistance you can get a kid. And in both the Public League and the Catholic League, it matters which AAU coach or 7-on-7 team a kid has ties to and which direction those coaches filter kids. That’s where championships are won. Coaches will preach working hard in the weight room and dedication and all that kind of stuff, and that may be part of it, but elite players are who truly win games.

Some coaches are willing to go out to grade schools and playgrounds to recruit. I understand it’s good to get out there and be seen because a football coach is one of the faces of a school, but it looks kind of odd for these men to be waiting in line to talk to an eighth-grader.

High school coaches shouldn’t be begging kids to go to a school, and schools should be embarrassed to have their coaches go to youth games and try to woo 13-year-old kids. And kids shouldn’t be worried about that. If a kid goes to a school simply because it has a good football team, there’s something wrong going on. Parents should pick a school because it’s best for a kid, not because he’s going to play on a great football team. Oh, and by the way, if your kid is good and deserves a college scholarship, it doesn’t matter which high school he goes to, college coaches will find them.

Another thing was McKay didn’t have much to offer when he did go to these youth games. Judge is a great school with a lot of tradition, but Catholic school is expensive. It’s hard to make a deal with a kid when you’re just offering that and your competition is offering the same, plus a few dollars.

In the Catholic League, schools like Judge and Ryan have to compete this way against teams that have a huge edge in this area.

McKay lost his job because of that.

Having a great football team is important, and Judge wants to win games. I understand why Judge made a move. But unless things change there and they get a guy who is willing to beg for players and has the ability to throw some assistance in the players’ direction, there probably won’t be a huge improvement.

I’m no football expert, but I’ve been to Judge games over the past four years and I’ve never seen McKay get out-coached. I’ve never seen him not have his team prepared for a game. I’ve never seen him do anything but what was best for Judge, the team and, more importantly, his players.

I did see him have four years where he made good kids better football players. I did see him make good kids great, average kids good and, more than his football acumen, I saw him do right by his players.

A high school coach should care about wins, and I’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t want to run the table and win a state championship. But that’s not their main job. Their job is to help athletes get better on and off the field, and I would argue that McKay did that. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough.

I covered a lot of football this year. The only games I went into not having a pretty good idea of who was going to win was the Washington-Lincoln playoff game and a nonleague game between Archbishop Ryan and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. I pretty much knew who would win the rest of the games I went to, and had a good idea how close they would be. And coaches didn’t factor much into it. It was all about the players.

On paper, the Crusaders were a 3-8 team. If things broke right, they could have won another game, but at the same time, they could have lost to Roman, so they were a 3-8 team.

Judge is now looking for a coach who can win. There will be a lot of candidates because Judge is a good school with great kids. But, hopefully, people will understand that wins won’t come right away and they might never come.

Like McKay, the new coach will have to deal with top-notch schools like St. Joe’s Prep, La Salle and, for whatever reason, Imhotep Charter (a school that got a poor rating, according to an online report card) skimming the top talent and you get what’s left.

Judge made a move it had to make. Alumni want winning football teams and, under McKay, the Crusaders didn’t win.

But if things don’t change, even if the school finds the perfect candidate, they’ll be in the same position.

And the school better act fast in naming a coach.

Those 13-year-old free agents are officially on the market.

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