New West Hall coach Tony Lotti has had a full plate in his first few months with the Spartans program.
He is trying to renew excitement in a program that has struggled in recent history while getting the players to buy into a new system.
So far, he is encouraged with the response. The numbers are up and he said the effort is as high as ever.
Lotti spoke with The Times on Sunday to discuss the learning curve of a new head coach and the expectations for his team in 2012.
Question: It’s your first year as a head coach and your first year at West Hall. How’s it been so far?
Answer: It’s going very well. I’m really pleased with the attendance and the participation. The big thing I’ve been focusing on since I got here was changing the attitudes, getting people excited about the program again and getting the numbers up. I’m pleased with where we’re at. We’ve still got a ways to go, no question, but I’m pleased so far. We started with 20 returning players when I got here, and now we’ve got about 60 out there. I like those numbers.
Q: Is there much of a learning curve for you as a new head coach?
A: The biggest thing for me is probably just the policies and procedures that we have in Hall County, because I’m new here. So just getting up to speed with that is a process. As far as the coaching goes, there hasn’t been a whole lot — yet. For me personally, things are going according to plan so far. I’m sure I’ll have to learn some things as I go; the best way to do certain things. Until we get that first game down, though, I won’t really know what we’ve got going here.
Q: What’s been the biggest difference?
A: Everything falls on me. No matter what happens, it’s my responsibility. As an assistant coach, the head coach is able to shield the assistant from a lot of things. But I’ve always taken my job personally. Sometimes I think I hate losing more than I love winning. Everything is my responsibility, and I want to make sure I’m putting the players in the best position to succeed that I can.
Q: Tell me about the first bit of practice here. How does the team look?
A: Overall, I’m pleased with where we’re at. The other thing we’ve focused on is the mental part of the game. When adversity strikes, responding to that mentally. Understanding how to react to tough situations. What I’m pleased with is that the repetitions we’ve been doing, the kids seem to be absorbing it. They seem to have caught on fairly quick, and they seem comfortable. I’ve been pleased with the willingness they have as far as wanting to learn.
Q: The team has struggled in the past. What’s the biggest thing you’re trying to do to turn things around?
A: One of the things I’ve really stressed is that, because of the difficulties we’ve had here over the past 10 years or so, we try to focus on the mental part of it. There’s a good foundation there. There was some good football played here early on, and we’re just trying to get them to understand where we can get back to. Changing the perception of, not just who we are at West Hall, but the kid’s mindsets as well. I want the kids in the Junior Spartans program to want to grow up to be Spartans.
Q: How has the team responded to that?
A: I think positively. The numbers show that, I think. The numbers and the attendance. In the past, they’ve had problems getting kids to come out in the summer. They’ve had problems getting kids to come out period. And we’ve exceeded that here already. So that right there is probably one of the most positive things to me. The kids are attending regularly and giving the effort we expect. They understand that it’s a process. Nothing comes easy.
You have to work for it. We try to instill the belief in these kids that they can have anything they want, but you have to work for it.
Q: I try to ask every coach if they can give some prediction about the season, but try as I might, no coach is willing to give one.
A: You know what my answer will be.
Q: I know.
A: My answer is no different. But I will say this: Our attitude going into every game is that we can win. We can fight for 48 minutes, control what we can control and let the chips fall where they may. The three hardest words for anybody is to look back at the end of the season and say “Coulda, shoulda, woulda.” We have to control our effort and make sure we’re putting in our best effort every time out. If we do that, we can win some games.
Q: Since you’re new here, I thought we could do a couple of quick questions to let everybody learn a little bit about you. First, what’s your favorite movie?
A: No doubt: Rocky. The whole underdog story, I was able to relate to that. It’s a great movie.
Q: What’s your favorite sport other than football?
A: Probably ice hockey.
Q: Ice hockey. I wasn’t expecting that. Why ice hockey?
A: You know, the agility and so many things that go into that sport, even just watching it, you forget they’re on skates. It’s a tough sport. And it’s fast-paced. It’s just fun to watch.
Q: What’s your favorite TV show?
A: Coach. That’s my all-time favorite.
Q: I guess that fits, right? How about your favorite food?
A: Mama’s lasagna. You’ve got to print that. It’s got to be Mama’s.