WOODBURY – In June, Region 14 Schools announced the hiring of Zach Mihaly as its new head football coach. Mihaly replaced John Oko, who had been the only head coach in Nonnewaug’s brief football history.
So, who is Zach Mihaly, and why is Nonnewaug Nation excited about his hiring? Just Woodbury had a Q&A conference call with the Chiefs’ new head coach. Here’s what we found out.
Zach Mihaly is 29 years old. But don’t let his age fool you – Mihaly has a very deep and diverse football background.
Mihaly’s father, Serge, was an All-State player at Trumbull High School, and was a letterman at Yale. A tight end, Serge Mihaly got a taste of the NFL with the Denver Broncos’ in the 1982 preseason.
Zack Mihaly himself was also an All-State player. The former Seymour High School lineman went on to play at Nichols College. That’s when Mihaly caught the coaching bug.
Since graduating from Nichols, Mihaly has coached at the Pop Warner level in Seymour, and as an assistant coach at Seymour, Masuk, East Haven and Oxford high schools. He was most recently the defensive line and strength and conditioning coach at Post University.
When he isn’t coaching, Mihaly is the Director of Public Safety at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven.
Questions and Answers
Just Woodbury: Who are the people that have inspired you to become a football coach?
Zach Mihaly: Ever since I was a kid I idolized my father. I want to emulate everything he did in his career. But the good Lord blessed me with his size and his skill set. But he wouldn’t let me play Pop Warner until he felt I was old enough. Finally, in eighth grade, after years and years of begging them him to let me play, he let me. He knew I was going to play in high school so he wanted me to at least get a taste of football was like.
Tommy Lennon was one of my high school coaches before he became the head coach at Seymour. I reached out to him and he welcomed with open arms on his staff. And that’s when I really started falling in love with coaching at the high school level.
When I left Masuk, I thought I was going to take a year off. Joe Stochmal, the head coach at Oxford High School, reached out to me and wanted to know if I was coaching. Joe brought me on staff there gave me a lot of responsibilities as a strength and conditioning coach and defensive line coach special teams coordinator. I really found my passion for the game again.
When I left for Post, it was a very hard conversation to talk to Joe about because of my respect for him and what we did to build the program. But his words were – if you want to be a head coach, you need that on the resume. He said it’s good for you, bad for us. But the ultimate goal is for you, and what you want to do with your life and everything else. He also offered if it doesn’t work out, I can always come back.
JW: What attracted you to the Nonnewaug High job? What do you know about the program you are taking over?
ZM: I’d been ready to be a head coach for a while. I applied for the Wilby job when it was open. I was 23 years old and I thought I could run a program and I was ready to go. Little did I know at that time and going through my experiences now, I was not ready at 23 years old to be a head football coach at that time.
When the Nonnewaug job came up, it was almost perfect timing. Post University went through a coaching transition. I didn’t want to leave my career right now and become a full-time college coach. Financially, it just wouldn’t have made sense at the time, and I still had my duties that I had to fulfill as Post’s strength and conditioning coach. I didn’t want to cut it short.
I just threw my name in the hat. I felt it could be great to get more experience with another interview and get to meet people. Luckily enough, Suzi Green, the athletic director at Nonnewaug, gave me a call and brought me in for an interview. So here we are today.
I knew of Nonnewaug beforehand – When I played high school baseball, we played them in the state tournament.
JW: How are you planning to build your staff?
ZM: So right now, what I’m doing is I’m bringing in interviews. The job is posted online on the CIAC Web site. As well as Frontline recruitment on the Applitracks website. There have been some guys I’ve interviewed thus far. And right now, all I’m looking for in these interviews is to see how good of a person they are. We’ll worry about the X’s and O’s later.
My goal with the program is that for each individual that comes to the program four years, or one year of being this year it’s my first year there, that they leave the program a better person. So right now I’m looking for guys, as coaches, who are going to be great role models, preach the right things to these kids, establish an awesome relationship with the players, and not just establish a relationship with me.
If I surround myself with those guys, and run the program around those guys, I think we’ll be in pretty good shape.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: After Just Woodbury’s interview with Zach Mihaly, he hired Ray Nappi as his offensive coordinator.]
JW: What is the football team doing this summer to prepare for your first season at the helm?
ZM: I have set up lifting programs and conditioning programs to incorporate into the Nonnewaug program. You like these kids to learn movements that they never thought that they would ever do. So the big thing is power clean and explode, being in a low stance and exploding out. The power clean is going to be a big part of our program.
As far as lifting goes for this summer, with the recent renovations and the limited space for us to use, there’s some programs I have that we don’t necessarily need a weight room to accomplish our goals moving forward in teaching them those movements. There’s a lot of progressive work in some of the programs I’ve built in the high school and college level that’s going to make us successful going into the season which I think overall will probably benefit us now at this point in the summer. Especially with our roster size right now [about 35 kids], it’ll be easier to teach easier to monitor, and it’ll be easier to learn coming from the players standpoint as well. Once we get into the season, we’ll get more in depth with in-season lifting and then once we get into the winter season of offseason lifting, we should be rocking and rolling at that point.
At the passing league, the players are playing. But as coaches at the high school, we’re not allowed to coach them so. It’s hard when I’m watching it. I’m just biting my fist. You know you want to help them out in that situation. But then. The kid, Trevor, who’s a former player, has done an excellent job leading the way for the passing league. It’s great to have alumni to come back and help like that.
But you know I’m juiced up. We’re we have a saying called “Bring the Juice” with this football program, and the players have bought into it and they’re saying now on their own. So, you know, that’s how I play and what I’m bringing and that’s what the program plans on bringing as well. That’s just not on the football field that everything we do inside the classroom you know in the community and then at practice.
JW: How difficult will it be to build a program in a community that doesn’t have a feeder program?
ZM: It is difficult and obviously it’s a little bit easier with the towns that have the youth programs just because you’re teaching kids the basics at that point: How to tackle how to block, how to get in a stance, how to catch a football, how to throw a football, how to kick a football.
It is going to be a little difficult in the beginning, because what we’ll be getting are guys are coming on as freshmen playing football for the first time. So, we must spend a lot more time on technique and the basics of the game earlier on than you’d like. Typically, when someone comes up to the high school level, they’ve already had some sort of football background within him.
Now that’s not to say that every kid that comes out as a freshman has played football before. There’ve been guys I’ve played with that the first year of football is freshman year. But that’s going to be a bigger group of kids.
The plan moving forward is to get that youth football program back in the town so we get kids interested in football early on at an early age and get them playing, because the only way you’re really going to enjoy is when you experience it. They must play and have fun doing so, especially at a young age because it’s all about having fun at that age, so they can continue on in high school.
Just to piggyback off that, there are some people around town that have been involved in the program before. I have to set up meetings with them and see if it’s possible [to bring youth football back]. it may not happen this year or may not happen next year, but the ultimate goal is to eventually get it back.
JW: How do you build the program from within the current student body?
ZM: Right now, we are about 30 to 35 kids on the roster. And I’m hoping that we gain some more interest come closer to the football season and training camp and when school starts as well. But right now, it’s roughly around 30 to 35, and that’s not including incoming freshmen. So it’s still there’s still a good chance of more members.
I think you may see something like that with the word of mouth that we’re trying to get around town. It may be kids who have an interest in the past, or maybe their friend hypes up the fact that there is a new football coach in new football program, and they bring a friend in. etc.
You know there’s quite a few kids in the school system right now that walk down the hall, and you’d think they would be starting on the offensive line, but they’re not playing football. So the goal is to get those kids out to play. And hopefully we create enough buzz positive buzz – come in and just give it a try and see if you like it.
JW: How will you get the community involved. Can Region 14 become a “football town?”
ZM: I know one thing is winning, but I’m not coming into this program and promising any wins. The thing I am promising is that I’m giving my 110 percent commitment to these kids.
Now in order to get the community involved, there’s going to be some there’s going to be some volunteer work within our program to get involved in the community. We’re going to do our best to do our part by helping whoever needs a lending hand in the community.
The parents are going to be a big part of that with the community. As long as our program represents ourselves in a positive manner, for someone to link onto that and say, “You know what, they’re good people they’re doing good stuff,” that that’s how I’m hoping to build in the community. Plus, too, if we kick off the youth program a couple of years down the road, we’ll bring in more people from the community to get involved.
Whenever you have a big organization, the people you help are going to want that group be successful.
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