The opportunity was too tempting for Bobby Lutz to pass up, the chance to become a head coach for the first time, at Greenwich, one of the state’s elite programs.
Most assistants have to start on the first floor and work their way up, not slide right into the penthouse.
And Lutz’s resume made him a worthy candidate for the opening that developed with the Cardinals. Still, Lutz said he had to get past the color wars.
“I started off wearing red in New Canaan, then had to go to blue in Darien and hate red, and now I’m back wearing red again,” Lutz said with a chuckle. “It has been an adjustment.”
Lutz’s rise in the coaching profession has come by taking stepping stones that required him, in part, to use his experiences from the past while severing the emotional ties.
Lutz, a 1991 New Canaan graduate, played for legendary coach Howard Benedict, later serving as an assistant in the program, including one year with the varsity. Lutz then accepted an offer from Jeff Brameier at Darien, first as the goaltending coach, working his way up to defensive coordinator and then associate head coach.
It was the high school version of leaving the Red Sox to accept a position with the Yankees.
After eight years, Lutz was contacted this offseason by Scott Bulkley, the coach at Greenwich and a former Darien player. Bulkley was stepping down to take the job at Newtown, to be closer to home. The Cardinals were in need of a new coach.
“Scott gave me a call and said get your resume ready,” said Lutz, who is an English teacher at Stamford High. “It was just an opportunity that was too good to pass up and he said that the captains that I had and the captains’ parents are absolutely unbelievable. This is a good time to come in. And he’s right.”
One of the people Lutz also relied on before signing on was Brameier.
“It’s part of the challenge,” Brameier said. “There aren’t that many great programs around. Guys like him are looking to go to a good program to start. One like that opens up and he has to go. That was the key thing. We talked about it quite a bit.”
The Cardinals are 1-1 heading into Tuesday night’s game at Ridgefield, their first major conference test. So far Lutz has played to strong reviews inside his locker room, though the players were initially cautious when they learned a change was forthcoming.
“Obviously our first reaction was we were a little upset,” recalled Will Perry, the Cardinals’ outstanding middie. “(Bulkley) had been coaching us for six years. I’ve known him since I was in 7th grade so I had a really strong relationship with him. It was a hard pill to swallow. But we knew we would get a good coach and luckily we got a great coach. We’re very happy.”
Lutz said it would be difficult to overstate the impact on his methods gained from being associated with Brameier and Benedict, who along with former Wilton leader Guy Whitten are arguably the three most influential coaches in league history.
“I think I’ve seen it all,” Lutz said. “And although those two might have different personalities and different coaching styles, the way they approach the game, the way they talked to kids, the way they taught kids, that’s really the greatest lesson and as a teacher, sometimes you want to apply the teaching side of getting the kids to be students of the game as well as players. Both of them had that teaching side and that’s a big asset.”
Perry said the Greenwich players have adapted well to Lutz’s coaching style.
“It’s really good to have Coach Lutz out there,” Perry said. “He’s a different coach from Coach Bulkley but that’s what I think we need for our team. He’s more of a calm guy. He doesn’t scream. He likes to criticize people but in a good way. That’s what we need with a young team right now.”
Lutz was given a great deal of latitude with Darien, which he said has probably made the transition even smoother than anticipated.
“Jeff gave me full autonomy of the defense,” Lutz said. “We followed the practice plan. Now it’s just a little bit more. A lot of extracurricular planning. With the assistant coaches usually you had fun and coached. You worried about coaching and the scouting reports. Now as head coach there is the practice plans and medical cards and refs and out-of-season schedule. Just being involved in every aspect.”
The Cardinals, who have won one state and two league titles, again face a demanding in- and out-of-state schedule, but Lutz said one road game next month is already circled on his calendar.
“Coach B keeps calling it my homecoming on May 14,” Lutz said. “I was heavily involved in that program. I was a youth coach. Everyone was really supportive. They all knew it was the right move and they wanted what was best for me. If I had stayed at Darien it would have been nice because it’s nice to win all the time, but leaving for a program like Greenwich, at least it’s a similar program where every time you start the season the goals are to win FCIACs and states. There’s only a handful of teams that can say that.”