Six months and four days after being named the new football coach at Norwalk High School, Pat Miller got his first look today at the players on the field.
It was a pandemic view: players six feet apart, wearing masks, going to their own bottles of sanitizers for 75 minutes. There were three stations: strength, agility and form running.
It was not the way Miller, who arrived at Norwalk after serving as the offensive coordinator at Sheehan, which won the Class S title in December, envisioned opening day. But it was a promising compromised start.
“It was incredible. Mr. Marchetti was there and I remember yelling over to him “I get to coach on Testa Field.’ What more can I ask for?” said Miller, referring to Norwalk athletic director Doug Marchetti. “It was just great being out there and seeing those guys again. Even through all of the craziness everything we had to do just to get there. Being out there doing what we like to do. We had a blast.”
Miller, a 2008 graduate of Sheehan, where he was an offensive and defensive lineman, emerged from seven finalists interviewed by Marchetti. Miller takes over for Sean Ireland, who stepped down in December after eight seasons. The Bears went 40-40 under Ireland, including 5-5 last fall.
Miller had his players lifting four times a week starting in mid-January. Ironically, the final scheduled session occurred on March 11, when the CIAC cancelled the rest of the winter sports season.
Most schools were allowed to start conditioning sessions two weeks ago. Miller said Norwalk was delayed until Marchetti got the necessary approvals, which came yesterday.
The unexpected public health crisis has put Miller, a new coach in a new league, in a disadvantageous situation. He plans to make a number of changes on both sides of the ball and needs to learn more about his players beyond how much they can bench press.
“Things we want to do offensively, can this kid do it, can he not do it?” Miller said. “What are his strengths and weaknesses? What are the things he hasn’t been asked to do before? A back out of the backfield who hasn’t caught a pass, it doesn’t mean he can’t catch a pass. Things like that really become the toughest thing. The good news with that is those are things you can find out relatively quick, being out on the field. It sort of started today, seeing kids getting in and out of their breaks running around up there today. Every day we get to do something live you get more and more to evaluate them on.”
Miller was known for his explosive offenses at Sheehan during his four years as coordinator.
The Bears will have a new quarterback for the first time in three years after the graduation of Kyle Gordon, who won All-FCIAC honors. Taking over is junior Tommy Brown, who has made a strong immediate impression with his new coach.
Lomorris House — “a big play waiting to happen,” Miller said — and Austin Hall return at receiver, and Cam Edwards, a multi-purpose back, will get a bulk of the carries. Lorenzo Delfino and Sebastien Pierre will be on the line. The defensive personnel is still being evaluated.
“We’ve gotten to the point I know the kids’ personalities, I just don’t know them as well athletically,” Miller said. “You see the film and you can only get so much off of that. You have to implement a new offense and a new defense without being hands on. There are so many different kinds of learners. It is hard to figure out for some of those kids that have to walk through it and get that stuff down, it could be tough for them. It is what it is. We’ve got to roll from those punches.”
For now, Miller is remaining as optimistic as the day he got his first head coaching job. He is already envisioning the start of training camp. If all goes well, the Bears will be the first FCIAC team to play, traveling to Fairfield Ludlowe on the Thursday before the scheduled opening weekend.
“We all have to have the mindset that we are going Aug. 17, we are starting camp then, we’re preparing for that until they tell us different,” Miller said. “We are looking forward to having the greatest first practice in the history of Norwalk football.”