Q&A with MIT football coach

Coach talks about excelling at football the MIT way

It was not that long ago that the MIT football team followed a 1-8 season (2010) with a 2-7 season (2011). Since then, the Engineers enjoyed their first winning season (5-4 in 2012) and followed it with a program-record 6-win season in 2013. The rest as we know is history. MIT finished 9-0 in the regular season en route to clinching the New England Football Conference (NEFC) and defeated Husson College to win its maiden NCAA playoff game. As the defending champions seek to extend their dominance, The Tech caught up with the mastermind who oversaw the emergence of the MIT football team as a NEFC powerhouse, head coach, Chad Martinovich. Coach Martinovich talked about challenges of recruitment, “life-scheduling”, and an incredible story of how perseverance prevailed in one of the most crucial moments of the season.

The Tech: Hello Coach, thanks for talking to us. You took a team with one and two victories per season to a winning team, then to a team-record 6 wins, and finally to a 9-0 record, winning the NEFC and a playoff game. What would you attribute the success of the team to?

Coach Martinovich: As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child; it takes a village to build a quality football program. A lot of people have worked really hard overall a long period of time for us to get to where we want to be.

That starts with the administration and the support staff around here. I have been very fortunate to have the same core of assistant coaches for 4-5 years now.

We have worked very hard in recruiting and that has gone a long way. We’ve been fortunate enough to recruit some players in the last 5 to 6 recruiting classes who have been committed to excellence in football just like they are committed to excellence in academic and research. The mentality is very similar to the general MIT mentality, which is whatever you take on whether it is academics or outside academics, you work hard to excel in it. That’s what we are trying to do as a football program and we have been fortunate enough to have some success in the last few years and hopefully we can continue to be successful and continue to get better.

TT: How difficult is recruiting keeping in mind the requirement of an excellent academic record?

CM: It is difficult and time-consuming. We have to cast a very large net to gather as many names across the country as we can. The good thing is because of our national academic reputation, the qualifying students are definitely interested especially if they have a passion for mathematics and science. So, we have to identify the students among them who can really excel on the football field. Those kids are out there and we have been having some success in finding them and that has helped us to be competitive as a program.

TT: On one hand there are obvious challenges student athletes’ face, such as taking a regular dose from the fire hose and being up for the challenge come game-day, but do you notice any advantages of having such bright, motivated students on the team?

CM: If you talk to any of them, most of them will tell you that they do better academically during the season than they do in the off season because they have to be much more regimented and structured with their schedule. They have to really be good at their time management skills. They have such a limited amount of time allotted to attending classes, studying for tests, doing the p-sets, practicing and studying films and doing the things they need to do on the football field. That makes them very disciplined and regimented. In the off-season when we are not practicing everyday, they are lifting weights and doing off-season training and have more free time. When 18-21 year olds have more free time, do you think they study more or procrastinate? They procrastinate. It’s human nature.

TT: Being an elite academic institution, how difficult is it for the student athletes to balance academics with the grind of a football season? You have a mentoring system that includes something called “life scheduling”—could you please elaborate?

CM: We help the freshman especially to make the transition from high school to MIT, which is tough. They were one of the smartest students in the class if not the smartest in high school. Once they get to MIT, they realize, they are one of many and they are going to be challenged at everything.

One of the things we try to get across to them is that it is okay to ask for help. You need to be able to collaborate with other people while studying and doing p-sets and so on because that is the MIT way. We are helping develop the future leaders of the world and the only way the world’s problems get solved is when great minds collaborate.

I have freshmen plan out all 7 days a week. For the 5 weeks till the red flags go out, they hand me a life schedule at the begin of the week, where they have planned when they are going to class, study, solve p-sets, go to practice, watch film, sleep, eat, and call home. That way you have less stress and yet are able to accomplish everything.

TT: Going back to last season in that crucial playoff game, you were down 3 points down with 48 seconds to go and no time-outs left. Was that the most thrilling point of the season? Can you take us through the play calling and that experience?

CM: That scenario was something we work on a regular basis. We work on two minute drills both offensively and defensively. So we knew what type of calls we like to help us get the ball down the field. With no time-outs remaining, it is important to be able to run our field goal unit to kick the field goal. That is something we work on every Friday, just for that scenario. I have been coaching for 22 years now. That’s the first time that scenario played out in a game. We have practiced that scenario every Friday each of the six years I have been here. It came to fruition. It worked.

TT: What is off-season like for coaches? What do you do to improve your skill set?

CM: You are either getting better or getting worse. You never stay the same. My staff and I are trying to improve ourselves as coaches through different professional development programs or by going to clinics put on by other coaches. Several of us travel to the American football coaches’ convention every year. All premier coaches from all different levels are there speaking on an assortment of topics. If somebody is having success doing something a certain way then we try to see if it is a fit for what we do. The off-season for the staff is split between professional growth and recruiting. 75 percent of the time goes into recruiting. Recruitment is a year-long process at the college level now.

TT: Have you noticed a change in perception since the historic last season? Do you feel an increased level of excitement on campus or heightened expectations? Is there more pressure to live up to last year?

CM: I think so, it will be interesting to see once classes start again. I think more people on campus at least know we have a football program whereas when I first got here 7 years ago, I am willing to say there were a lot of students on campus who did not know MIT had a football program.

We have turned the page from last year. We keep it simple We have a process and it has been successful the last few years. The standard is much higher for our players. They have higher expectations from themselves and hold each other accountable. We shall see how it goes. A big part of it is staying healthy which is not something we can control too much.

TT: Wish you all the best for a new-season ahead. Hope you win the division and embark on a playoff run! Do you have any message for folks on campus, particularly the freshmen?

CM: To the non-varsity athletes, I encourage you to come out and support the varsity athletes. They are just like you and they work very hard at what they do just like you . Work very hard at what you do no matter what. We encourage our athletes to go and encourage endeavors outside the football field. It will be great if this campus became more of a family and supported each other in everything we do outside of academics.

It would be great to come together for positive things and support each other whether it be a game on Roberts Field or a play in Kresge Auditorium or some event on East Campus. I would love to see that kind of support across the board from the student body.