Wins and Losses Not Top Priority for New Irvington Football Coach
By Tom Pedulla—
Jeff Michael, Irvington’s new varsity football coach, wants the success of his program to be measured far beyond wins and losses.
Since Michael launched his career as a volunteer coach at Fordham Prep in 1997, he has viewed football as a means to an end. More than passing and catching, blocking and tackling, he seeks to instill character in the teenagers he coaches during formative years and to create a football family.
“I’m not really worried about wins and losses. Wins and losses kind of come on their own,” said Michael, 46. “If you can get the student-athletes now to kind of buy into a system where they can expect the best from themselves, when they understand that the coaching staff cares about them beyond the football field, then they buy into that system.”
“They begin caring about the program. They begin caring about each other. They don’t want to let each other down. They don’t want to let themselves down,” he continued. “That’s why I say wins and losses kind of come on their own. If you can get the students to care about their football family, then those wins are going to happen.”
If that sounds like the voice of experience, it is. Michael is beginning his 25th season as a high school football coach.
Michael said of his approach: “It’s not magic. It’s not a special formula. It comes from hard work, it comes from pushing each other. It comes from picking each other up instead of pointing a finger and looking to blame someone else. It’s a personal accountability. It’s holding yourself accountable on the field, in the classroom, on the streets. There are more benefits to playing football than just winning on Friday night or Saturday.”
When last season was pushed back until the spring due to the pandemic, the Bulldogs won only two games, both against Croton-Harmon. The Bulldogs have not won big in a long time. Players look forward to seeing what they can accomplish with Michael and Andy Di Nardo, his offensive line coach.
“They are really turning this program around,” said Morgan Balkin, a junior quarterback. “The way we condition, the way we practice, the discipline we have is really a new culture for Irvington football, and that’s no knock on previous coaches. It’s just a new way of doing things here and it’s an excellent way that we’ve started this program.”
Tommy Flanagan, a senior halfback and linebacker, also quickly warmed to Michael. “I like him a lot. He’s very knowledgeable, really easygoing. He knows how hard to work us. He definitely pushes us to do our best. I’m looking forward to the season with him.”
Irvington kicks off against Peekskill on Saturday, September 11 at 3 p.m. in one of only two home games. The schedule will have a very different look. Edgemont, the second game, is the only returning opponent.
It does not help the cause that Michael was not formally hired until the middle of the summer, leaving him precious little time to evaluate players and for them to learn his offensive and defensive schemes.
Still, Flanagan is hopeful. “I think we definitely have a lot of potential if we execute and come together as a team and don’t give up in games and get down on ourselves,” he said. “We have a chance to win every game.”
While Michael wants players and fans to understand the big picture, he emphasized his desire to win. “I’m not here to just sit back and be other teams’ whipping boy. I know Coach (Di Nardo) is the same way,” he said. “But priority number one is establishing a caring football family and generating success based on that.”