COVENTRY TWP. Mike Zografos' head coaching career - and his tenure at Coventry High School as the new head coach of the Comets - has been whistled for a false start.
Zografos, like every other coach of every high school team across the United States, has seen his work with his team and progress on offseason activities come to a screeching halt due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the repercussions of the global pandemic on life, sports and society as a whole.
"It's a unique situation and we're finding ways to stay connected to the kids using social media and our communications with them," Zografos said. "Weekly, Keith Shinn, who's our strength coach, sends out a home workout for kids and we try to build excitement without being able to be face to face at certain workout facilities."
Each week, the coaches send out the workout and challenge players to share videos from their home workouts. Zografos admitted that while not all of the returning players are actively participating in workouts and the communication process, the rate is above 70 percent and given the uncertainties of the crisis and the normal factors that come with players having other interests and demands on their time in the offseason, that falls within the normal parameters.
After being hired as the program's new head coach in December, replacing Ed Egan, Zografos had a couple of months to get to know his new team, but that time is on pause as he and the rest of the team wait and see when school and sports will resume.
"One of funny things said to our athletic director, Danny Savage, is that this calendar will probably change a thousand times before we get it right," Zografos said. "You've got to navigate the effects on society and the health risks, but once we get the green it's safe and we can get back to work, we'll be right off and running with what we have planned for offseason."
It's easy to hear in his voice the excitement to get back to work. After spending nearly a decade as an assistant coach at Medina and Brunswick, two successful large-school programs in the area, Zografos is eager to put his imprint on a program as its head coach for the first time.
In his seven years at Medina and two at Brunswick, he was able to develop the offensive philosophy he wants to implement at Coventry.
"The biggest thing is to play hard-nosed football, to be aggressive on defense and just as aggressive on offense as well match that on special teams," Zografos said.
In addition to being a chance to become a head coach, being interested in the job was a byproduct of two main factors, according to Zografos. Being from the area, he was able to do research and talk to other coaches about their thoughts on the Coventry program and whether it would be a good fit for him.
"One thing before I even applied, I reached out to a couple of coaching friends in the area who told me Coventry had great athletes and also that it's a great community to work in, so those were the two main things," he said.
For now, working in the district will be limited to coaching, as Zografos currently works in the LEAP program, which works with students who deal with emotional disturbances and related issues that affect them in the classroom and with their school work.
He'll be working at LEAP's Green location for the coming school year, so he won't be far from Coventry and hopes that he'll be able to get a teaching position in the district before long. In the meantime, he's working on plans and ideas for what remains of the offseason and what he and his staff will be able to do with whatever time they have left between the end of the pandemic (and the resumption of school-related activities) and the start of the football season.
Of course, given the current rate at which the crisis is escalating, even starting the next school year on time is anything but a given at this point. Whenever football finally does resume, Zografos has a definite idea of what he wants his program for be known for in the community and in the area.
"The biggest thing is discipline not only on the field, but off of it as well," he said. "I tell them that football is one small part of their life and we want to help them grow and become better people and down the road, better husbands and fathers in the future."
Those are the goals, and at some point in the months ahead, the pursuit of them will resume for Zografos and his new team.