New Spartans coach Brown eager to turn Hempfield football into winners

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Saturday, July 17, 2021 | 8:57 PM


When he was an assistant at Robert Morris, Mike Brown recruited football players from Hempfield, so he was familiar with the program.

That he is a Penn-Trafford grad also added to his knowledge of the success-starved Spartans.

Brown knows about the ire of fans and alumni, even the casual observer, all of whom arrive so often at the same riddle: Why can’t Hempfield win?

“Hempfield football is looked down upon,” Hempfield’s new 30-year-old head coach said. “I want to instill a chip on our shoulder, a little swagger. We need to quit being a doormat. We’re changing everything here. We’re starting from ground zero.”

Hempfield has not won a playoff game since 1997 and has not had a winning season since 2013.

Brown wants to wipe the board clean and get things trending in a new direction.

Change is the tagline this season for the Spartans, from a new staff to a new playbook, to player incentives and advanced training.

Oh, the team also is getting new turf at Spartan Stadium, although that project had nothing to do with Brown.

“The kids have been receptive learning a new offense and defense,” Brown said. “They have embraced competition.”

Brown broke the team into groups — blue team and white team — that compete against one another in drills, tasks and other contests.

“Nothing is given,” Brown said. “The best 11 will play. It’s nice not having any connections here. I have a clear mind and can treat all the kids equally and have them earn what they get.”

Like any aspiring coach, Brown has borrowed from coaches as he has ascended up the ladder. But the vast majority of that acumen is not X’s and O’s. Former Penn-Trafford coach Art Tragesser and RMU and Duquesne assistant Scott Farison are among his influences.

He called Farison a mentor.

“It’s about more than football,” Brown said, pointing to traits of Tragesser and Farison. “They are learning how to compete and how to be held accountable. We’re learning how to trust the kids, and they’re learning how to trust us. We picked them. They didn’t pick us.”

Senior lineman Daniel Sierk said the team has welcomed Brown and his philosophies.

“I’ve loved playing for coach Brown so far,” Sierk said. “He’s brought a lot of much-needed energy. He sets high standards for himself and all of us. He’s very dedicated to pushing the team beyond what we think is possible.”

Brown replaced Rich Bowen, who resigned in February after nine seasons. Bowen, who went 30-55 with four WPIAL playoff appearances, now is an assistant at Norwin.

Hempfield finished 1-4 last season and had its final two games canceled because of covid-19 cases.

A substitute teacher at Hempfield, Brown also works for a family plumbing company. The latter job keeps pipes clean. The former keeps him around his players.

He wants to reestablish Hempfield as a WPIAL contender. His end game is the oft-suggested but rarely achieved culture change that follows new hires to struggling programs, but he has the enthusiasm and energy of someone working on a one-day contract.

“I really wanted this job,” Brown said. “I would have been a custodian if I had to.”

Hempfield is working closely with Tim Cortazzo of FSQ Sports in Trafford. In fact, Brown considers Cortazzo a part of his staff, his “strength and conditioning guy.”

Aside from the football-specific training that thus far has overshadowed the playbook, players can earn Spartans’ gear for good behavior and achieving coach-set goals. They also can earn a stripe on their helmets, signifying they have bought in to Brown’s competitive credo.

“We’re all starting to push each other,” Sierk said. “We all want to see each other improve.”

Brown was the defensive coordinator the past two years at Greensburg Central Catholic. He was a coaching intern at Robert Morris and James Madison before taking over as linebackers and defensive backs coach at RMU.

He also will serve as the Spartans defensive coordinator. His staff will be one of the youngest in the WPIAL. Nobody is older than 36.

His assistants include Joe Lauricia (linebackers, running backs), Khaliq Coleman (wide receivers), Ryan Reitz (offensive coordinator), Trevor Petrillo (linemen), Zach Altieri (defensive backs) and Ryan Graft (defensive backs).

Reitz and Petrillo have a combined 13 years of experience on Jeannette’s staff and have won WPIAL and PIAA championships. Lauricia is a former Penn-Trafford assistant, and Coleman coached with Brown at GCC.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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