Schenectady County

Schalmont’s winning formula begins with head coach

Before Joe Whipple came along, Schalmont had never won a playoff game, going 0-for-4. Last year, the
Schalmont varsity football head coach Joe Whipple talks to quarterback Nick Gallo during practice Wednesday, November 12, 2014.
Schalmont varsity football head coach Joe Whipple talks to quarterback Nick Gallo during practice Wednesday, November 12, 2014.

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• Sabres aren’t overlooking Peru.

Joe Whipple

Schalmont football coach 2009-present

Age: 40

Family: Wife Michelle, daughter Julia (ninth grade), son Rocco (fourth grade)

Occupation: Special education teacher (Schalmont High School, history, English, grades 9-10)

Education: Mohonasen High School (1992 graduate), The College of Saint Rose (bachelor’s degree, special education), University at Albany (master’s degree, administrative certificate)

Previously coached at: Guilderland, Mohonasen, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons

Schalmont football accomplishments: 63-8 record; six Class B division championships in six years; six Section II Class B championship-game appearances, with five Super Bowl wins; four state regional wins; two state semifinal wins; state runner-up in 2010 (12-1) and 2013 (12-1); currently ranked No. 2 in the state by the New York State Sportswriters Association

Joe Whipple didn’t win right away when he took over as head football coach at Schalmont High School.

He didn’t panic, either.

“Our first two games, we were 0-2, and everyone is looking at me like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” said Whipple, recalling the start of the 2009 season. “I knew what we had around us: great role models as coaches, supportive parents, kids who had bought into the weight room.

“They believed. … I believed.”

Schalmont began its run of six straight Section II Class B title-game appearances that season and won its first of five area championships against a Lansingburgh lot that had beaten the Sabres earlier in the season. That 2009 edition was also the first of Schalmont’s four to notch a regional win, and two teams that followed, in 2010 and last year, prevailed in state semifinal contests.

Before Whipple came along, Schalmont had never won a playoff game, going 0-for-4. Last year, the Sabres came within a point of the state championship.

“I always tell the guys, ‘Opportunities will present themselves,’ ” said Whipple. “ ‘If you prepare the right way, you can take advantage of them.’ ”

Detailed and diligent preparation is a major part of Schalmont’s turnaround story, but not the only part.

“You have to surround yourself with people you trust. If not, it’s not going to last,” Whipple said of his staff, which includes former Schalmont head coach Mike DiCocco. “We all work together to make things right. That’s a very important part of all of this.”

Schalmont is 10-0 this season — and headed to yet another state tournament — and 63-8 overall under Whipple, a running back in his playing days at crosstown Mohonasen. He has built on the things started by DiCocco, whose 2007 team went 3-6 before his next team tied a school record for wins that dated back to 1964 with its 7-2 mark.

“I was in my second year at Schalmont [as a special education teacher] when Mike said he was going to step down. His kids were real young then,” said Whipple. “He said he wanted me to take the job, and I said I’ll do it as long as you stay with me. We’ve been friends since we were 6, 7, 8 years old. It was an easy transition.”

Whipple brought Ray Kearney over from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, where the pair had worked together in 2007 and 2008, to join a staff that currently includes Pete Rings, Greg Loiacano, Sean Kearney and Nick Sweet.

“We invest a lot of time in our kids, year round, and we all really get to know the kids,” said Whipple. “Establishing relationships with kids is so important. We love them as if they were our own.”

And with that, they are treated as such.

“We hold them accountable,” said Whipple. “That’s big.”

Whipple was talking about more than moving weights, in-depth film study and showing up on time. The 40-year-old father of two is big on in-class success — several of his teams have achieved scholar-athlete status — and on-field demeanor.

“I try to do my best to keep the emotions in check. I think it reflects on the kids,” said Whipple. “I try to stay calm. I try to do it and set an example, hoping the kids will be the same way. You show stress, and the kids will show stress.”

The kids bring Whipple back year after year, more so than the victories.

“We’re teachers first. We’re teaching kids to keep their priorities straight. We’re teaching them about morals, and I think people appreciate that,” he said. “We want the kids to graduate, be great husbands, great fathers.”

Whipple coached alongside his own dad, Joe Sr., in the Rotterdam Pop Warner League while studying at The College of Saint Rose before going on to the University at Albany.

“He was a corrections officer for 30 years. That’s where the discipline comes from,” said Whipple. “He’s why I am what I am today.”

That doesn’t mean the Rotterdam resident is a my-way-only coach.

“He’ll listen to us,” said Schalmont senior tackle Austin Wetsel. “We might see something, and he’ll look at it and not just pass it off. Sometimes he’ll make a change. Communication and trust is key. We have that.”

“We’re definitely on a more personal level with Coach,” added Schalmont senior center Andrew Hewitt. “I think it helps us that we can talk things over, and it goes beyond the field.”

Whipple’s first high school assignment was as a volunteer with the Guilderland freshmen, and in six years at Mohonasen, he led the junior varsity for three before three more as the varsity team’s offensive coordinator. At Bishop Gibbons, Whipple’s first varsity team didn’t win a game in 2007, but his second posted a 6-3 record for the program’s finest season since 1972.

“I was very fortunate to work under some great coaches, and as much as I observed the Xs and Os, I really observed how they interacted with kids, as well as the coaches who they coached with,” said Whipple.

Whipple knows how to get a point across without raising the volume.

“We critique kids on film. We critique kids in practice. We do it to make them better,” he said. “It’s instructional. It’s all about putting them in position to be successful.”

Schalmont beat Schuylerville on Saturday for its fifth Section II championship and extended its winning streak inside Section II to 20 games. Schalmont has never lost a league game under Whipple, going 5-0 against Reinfurt Division competition this fall to extend that streak to 32 games.

“I think even the Mohonasen side of Rotterdam kind of likes us,” said Wetsel. “We’re all one town.”

Youngsters from all parts of Rotterdam have competed the last few years for Schalmont teams in the Capital District Youth Football League.

“It’s definitely one step to continue to go in the right direction. Our first group is this year’s junior varsity,” said Whipple, whose son, fourth-grader Rocco, plays center for one of Schalmont’s youth teams. “They run a shotgun offense like us. They run a lot of the same plays. They use a lot of the same blocking schemes.”

Schalmont has never stayed the same with Whipple, who, several weeks into every season, makes adjustments in personnel and with offensive and defensive formations. He has also had younger players on all of his teams, grooming them to be the next stars in the cycle.

“We see who the best athletes are, and we bring them up,” said Whipple. “We feel they get more out of practicing with us then playing in a JV game.”

There isn’t much downtime at a Schalmont practice.

“Today, we ran probably 200 plays,” Whipple said after Wednesday’s practice in preparation for tonight’s regional game against Peru. “We keep running them over and over. When a bad play happens, it’s play the next play. That’s what we teach them: Play the next play.”

“People don’t see all the hard work,” said Hewitt. “During the week, the game is the easiest part. Practice is the hard stuff.”

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