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What was obvious halfway through the football season became a reality after the season: West Brunswick High School football coach Jimmy Fletcher is the Mideastern Conference Coach of the Year.
Fletcher won the 3-A title in the conference, a feat that would merit consideration for coach of the year. But the conference coaches were aware of what Fletcher had to overcome: a winless season in 2007. The Trojans finished the 2008 season 6-6 after a loss in the first round of the state playoffs.
Fletcher gave most of the credit for the turnaround to his team and staff.
“Anytime you get an award like that,” he said, “it goes back to your players and, of course, your assistants. I think the players just committed that they were going to have a successful season.
“It started last January. They worked in the weight room till June and when school was out. We didn’t give them any time off. Sometimes we practiced three times a day. You can’t coach if you don’t have players who are committed and that are going to work hard.”
Besides a new commitment by the players, Fletcher also benefited from some new coaches: defensive coordinator Mike Alderson, Rob Foringer, Chris Bland and weight room coach Andre Cook.
“All four of those guys (specialized on) defense and that allowed me to go back to offense,” Fletcher said, “and that is what I am most comfortable with.”
The coaching staff was not the only thing that changed for the 2008 season. Fletcher himself changed.
“After you have a year like (2007),” he said, “you go back and re-evaluate everything. I evaluated myself and the other coaches evaluated me. The biggest thing that we all talked about is that I needed to be tougher. I needed to take more of a stand with certain things, more of an assertive role in everything.
“I think it worked. Sometimes it was some things that maybe I would have not done last year that we did this year, decisions that you make that are not easy decisions, but you gotta make those because they are going to help your football team.”
Fletcher knew changes had to be made. And he allowed himself to be a target of constructive criticism.
“After (2007), you question everything,” he said. “I think that is just part of growing as a coach and growing even as a person. I know we hate to be evaluated, but I think that is the only way to get better.”
Of course, players were also assessed.
“I am always very honest with our players,” he said. “I don’t sugarcoat it. I try to be upfront with them.”
By the end of the season, the program had been transformed.
“This was probably the most rewarding season I’ve ever had, and I say that because of where we came from,” Fletcher said. “When you were at the very bottom and you didn’t know if you could turn it around in one year. Everybody kept saying, ‘Well, you know, Jimmy, if you win two games it’s going to be a big accomplishment.’ I just felt we were better than that. We were in every game. I felt every game we had a chance to win.
“And we’re not where we want to be. I want to win 10 or 11 or 12, and I want to win convincingly. But to do what they did, to get it headed back it in the right direction, that was a great year.”
Optimism has returned.
“I met on Monday with all the players after we lost on Friday (in the playoffs),” he said, “and they are excited about getting the chance to go back and do it again. They were disappointed, because they felt they should have won. On the other hand, they we excited. We’ve been here (in the playoffs) and next year we (expect) to win. I know I will be very excited about coming back next year.”
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at email@example.com.