Longtime coach Joe Kocot returns to his alma mater, Northampton

  • Northampton coach Joe Kocot talks to his team during practice, Monday, Aug. 20, 2018 at the school.

  • Northampton coach Joe Kocot talks to his team during preseason practice, Aug. 20 at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 9/6/2018 8:38:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Joe Kocot knows football. He’s coached in five decades, first at Northampton in the mid-1980s under Frank Tudryn before starting the Easthampton program from scratch in 1998. The Eagles won Super Bowls in 2005 and 2010, and he stepped away in 2014.

“I’m a coach,” Kocot said. “This is what I do.”

The new Northampton coach returns to western Massachusetts football sidelines at 7 p.m. Friday when the Blue Devils host Amherst Regional to open the season.

He stopped in 2014 because he had to for work, retiring after more than 100 wins with the Eagles. Soldier On, where he worked at the time, wanted him to stay later than he could with coaching. Kocot asked for one more year, 2014, and they said yes. In 2016, Soldier On RIF’d him – reduction in force.

That was the last year of the Pat Sledzieski era, a successful run for the Blue Devils that featured four winning seasons out of five, and culminated in a playoff appearance in 2016. Eddie Jewell and his spread offense took over for a 4-6 campaign last year.

Northampton athletic director Kara Sheridan reopened the position in January and encouraged Jewell to apply. He didn’t and took a non-football related job in the eastern part of the state instead.

There were eight applicants, including Kocot. He wasn’t working, so he asked his wife.

“She said, absolutely, go for it,” Kocot said.

He stood out blatantly from the group of four Northampton interviewed.

“Joe really fit what we were looking for in a coach. He knows football very well, but he also has a really great way with kids,” Sheridan said. “He does a great job of correcting skills and behavior, but still lifting kids up.”

He also has a strong connection to the town and the program. Kocot played at Northampton and coached current assistants Sean Kellogg and Ryan Parent.

“I have an attachment here,” Kocot said.

It was important to Sheridan that whoever received the job would retain those assistants. The program would be under its third head coach in as many years and needs some stability and familiar faces.

“They have the pride of Northampton football ,” Sheridan said. “The kids love them and they work really well with them.”

No problem for Kocot. He retained them when he was hired in May and brought in much of his former staff from Easthampton, including offensive coordinator Steve Dion, his longtime compatriot with the Eagles.

“Before I put in for it I called all these guys because it ain’t a head coach thing, it’s a group thing,” Kocot said. “If you’ve got a great head coach and a bunch of crappy assistants, you’re doomed.”

Kocot has been installing his system since practice started the week before Labor Day. The offense runs a power veer scheme, and the defense is balanced. It’s Northampton football.

“It doesn’t matter if I coach in Northampton, if I coached in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I’d run the same offense. It’s what I know, it’s what I like,” Kocot said. “At Easthampton when we got good, coaches were yelling out what we were gonna run and they still couldn’t stop it.”

He’s eschewed football’s popular trend of wide-open spread offenses. It’s an old-school, ground-and-pound approach.

“We want to control the clock on our terms,” he said. “For every set of four downs we’re on the field, that’s four plays those spread teams are on the sidelines watching us.”

Kocot enjoys the nuance of football. He relishes the strategy of how plays work in concert within an offense or defense and setting up a home run.

“If you’re playing chess and the other guy swaps his rook out with his king, I’m not a chess player, but your approach changes with every other move,” Kocot said. “I already have the next play prior to that play being over. It’s the ongoing strategy, ergo by absorption them getting it.”

The teaching aspect is also a large part of it. Kocot came to as many of the spring and summer lifts as he could so he could learn players’ names.

“I think he’s a really good coach,” Northampton senior Anthony DeJesus said. “He really cares about our team.”

Kocot could use some more players, though. There are 34 Blue Devils on the roster.

“That’s horrendous for a town the size of Northampton,” Kocot said. “We need more players and that’s not going to happen any time soon, but if we can be successful and garner some interest from the younger kids. W’re trying to build something. We’re trying to get it back to where it used to be.”

And if the team succeeds, don’t give Kocot all the credit.

“People need not to think I’m just gonna waltz in here (and win), if these guys win it’s because they put the effort in,” he said. “Every win’s going to be hard to come by, we’re gonna have to earn it.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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