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Vukovcan: How Hopewell Should Move Forward with the High School Football Coaching Position

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Let me start by saying that this unenviable situation for plenty of people.

Hopewell superintendent Dr. Jeff Beltz is in a crucial period right now with the future of the Hopewell School District facilities which is a heck of a lot more important than who’s coaching the high school football team. Back in January, Beltz and the Hopewell School board thought they hired their new high school football coach but that all changed on Monday when John Rosa accepted the athletic director’s position at Winchester Thurston.

Rosa didn’t want or expect to be in this position either but as he told HSN, it was a professional opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.

As often happens, life throws you a curve ball and you must be able to adjust.

That’s the current situation the Hopewell School District finds themselves in.

With 3+ plus months until the start of the 2024 high school football season and with spring practices underway, who will be put in charge of the program?

On Monday at the first spring practice, the coaching staff that Rosa hired ran the 2-hour workout that included 60+ players, which is a real positive.

Keeping the current group of assistants together and naming one of them the new head is certainly an option, and one that is getting plenty of buzz around the community.

Some believe that it’s too late in the ‘game’ to try and hire a new coaching staff and that it would be impossible for them to implement their system prior to the August.

While I don’t necessarily agree with that, let’s also keep in mind that it’s not as if the players on the team have been around this new coaching staff for a ton of time either. They were hired in January, so it wouldn’t be impossible.

The bottom line is that this important decision by Hopewell has to be about the kids in the program and what’s best for the football program LONG TERM, not for 2024. The next hire shouldn’t be made because it’s an easy or convenient decision. This decision should be made by Dr. Beltz and Dr. Beltz alone.

While keeping the current staff in place will certainly be an option, Hopewell can’t have blinders on and can’t be narrow minded with this hiring. Explore ALL options and scenarios, even if they’re unconventional.

Although I’m not a football coach, through my previous occupation, I’ve been around and dealt with high school, college and professional teams for 30 years. I know some of the important characteristics and things needed to have a winning program. I also know Hopewell Township and the some of the talented people in this town. With that being said, if Dr. Beltz wants some free advice, I’ll be kind enough to give it to him (LOL).

Will he listen to me, probably not, but here goes.

Before coming to this opinion, I wanted to run it by a few people in the coaching industry to get their thoughts and asked if this was realistic and doable. Without naming names, I messaged and called, a current local college coach, a current Power 4 assistant coach and a former college/NFL head coach. Once I explained the situation, they shared their thoughts with me, and I felt comfortable voicing my opinion.

While it certainly wouldn’t be conventional, if I was in charge, I wouldn’t name a head coach and instead, I’d hire co- head coaches to run the team in 2024.

I’d make it a TOTAL GROUP EFFORT and have it be an all-hands-on deck approach. Then after the season, the administration can reevaluate things and hopefully name one of the 2024 coaches the permanent head coach moving forward.

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In a way, it would be a real hands-on job interview for a bunch of the coaches, with the administration observing from a far.

In terms of who I’d name as the co-head coaches, it would come from the group of people that Dr. Beltz and the school board interviewed prior to hiring Rosa along with the current staff.

While it sounds complicated and chaotic, it really isn’t.

The scenario in which I’m endorsing is putting Paul Mann, Jonathan Baldwin, Jeff Brunton and Matt Mottes in charge.

The biggest reason I’d bring aboard coaches that you had as finalists is because if you thought enough of them to originally interview them and thought they could be a potential fit, why not give them an opportunity to prove themselves? Each of them is qualified football people, give them a chance to show what they can do and how they can lead.

None of them have been head coaches before, so this will be a learning experience for all of them but no doubt a valuable one.

Another huge positive is Mann, Baldwin and Brunton are each very familiar with every athlete on the Hopewell football roster. They would not have to learn their names, their positions or what they’re capable of doing. Mann and Baldwin are very familiar with the current high school roster as well as the incoming 8th graders. In terms of Brunton, he has plenty of coaching experience from Geneva College and his reputation as long-time head coach of Hopewell’s Track and Field program is impeccable. Not to mention, the success that he’s accumulated along with the athletes he’s been able to develop.

As far as Mottes, he is someone that comes highly endorsed by Rosa, having served has his top assistant for a number of years. Plus, he has a long history of a high school assistant in general. Since being hired in January, Matt has shown a dedication to the program and started to form relationships with players on the current team. Like the other names I mentioned, he deserves an opportunity to show what he can do as the possible head coach in the future.

I should also mention that I’m not even sure all parties would be interested in a setup like this but let’s say that are.

The biggest question is would they be able to co-exist under a group coaching scenario like this? It’s certainly not ideal but either is the current situation. Someone would have to be in charge on gameday but that can be worked out. The most important time for these players will be in what they do and learn in practices, workouts and team sessions; all of which can be run by multiple leaders.

Here’s the other twist that I’d add to this, and feel would work and could be important- I’d look to add to the assistant coaching staff with some former Vikings of the past. Reach out to former Hopewell greats Rushel Shell and Craig Bokor to gauge their interest in either being assistants or join as advisors/consultants. Both exceled as Viking players and took their talents to major college football and no doubt could be a valuable resource for the players. How big would it be for a running back on the team to get advice and guidance from someone like Shell, one of the best players in Hopewell history. Think that would carry some weight?

As the saying goes- ‘been there done it’. They’ve shown the ability to talk the talk and walk the walk.

A huge part of high school and college sports is tradition and embracing positive tradition. It’s time that Hopewell looks to start doing that in all sports, not just football.  In the end, no one will want their team to win more than athletes that once wore the Hopewell uniform.

Getting back to the main topic, put Baldwin, Brunton, Mann and Mottes in charge and at the end of the season, evaluate the jobs they did during the 2024 season and come November determine which one of them you’d be most comfortable as the next head coach.

Personally, I’m not endorsing one candidate over another, I’d need a season of evaluation before I’d come a definite conclusion. That’s how the Hopewell School District should look at it.

I just believe that not exploring all possibilities and candidates could be harmful long-term and set you back even farther.

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