The specialty — and the passion — of coach Joe Koch is to take high school football programs to new heights.
He did that as the head coach at Dominican, Oak Creek and Pius XI in his career, and now he is tackling another opportunity at Greenfield High School in 2014.
Koch, who had most recently served as an assistant at Brookfield Central, took the top spot with the Hustlin' Hawks earlier this year.
He takes over for Scott Otto, who led Greenfield to the WIAA playoffs last season.
As the 2014 campaign approached, Koch sat down to talk about his career, his coaching philosophy and the reasons why he is returning to head coaching at this time and why he chose the Hawks.
NOW Newspapers: Give us a brief rundown of your coaching career.
Joe Koch: I actually started at Dominican. I was there for three years. The seasons were 1989, 1990 and 1991. We won the (WISAA) state championship in 1990. I was at Oak Creek in seasons from 1992 to 2005, so 14 seasons head coach there. We went to (WIAA) state championship games back-to-back in 1997 and 1998. In 2006, my son was at West Allis Hale, so I took a year off there.
In 2007-08, I was offensive coordinator for Bill Young at Catholic Memorial, and then 2009 and 2010, I was head coach at Pius. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, I was offensive coordinator for Brookfield Central.
Now: What made you decide to come back as a head coach this year?
JK: I enjoy it. I love football, and I like working with kids and seeing them come together and grow. I didn't need to be a head coach again. Honestly, I could still be an offensive coordinator. Jamie Muelemans (the head coach at Brookfield Central) wanted to spend more time with his son, who is in the middle school years, so he stepped down and away from it. There was this void. (The new coach) usually decides to go in a new direction, so he comes in and brings his own people, so I'm looking around and thinking I'm out of a job.
I've been coaching 30 years. I don't have any hobbies; I don't do anything else. I'm like, man; I'm going to have to get a head coaching job this year and get back into the game.
I was actually looking for a job, and Greenfield was like a godsend. It couldn't have been better. The location was good. I'm still teaching at Oak Creek; I've been there for 22 years. I drive by this school (Greenfield) every day on my way home. It was perfect. It's the right kind of community. It is very similar to Oak Creek — the demographics and the socio-economic background. It has the same type of kids.
I love teaching at Oak Creek because I like that variety. It has every range and type of person. I like the variety and all the different cultures, so I think it's fantastic.
Now: What do you see in the Greenfield football program?
JK: For one, the challenge. There are a lot of good coaches in the state, and every coach has something he is known for. I've always been good at turning around programs that supposedly couldn't be turned around.
I went to Dominican, and people said you couldn't win there. When I got to Oak Creek, they said, 'You can't win there.' Pius, you can't win there.
Now Greenfield; it's never been a big winner. That's what I want to change. I want to get this program turned around. It's great for the kids and the community.
It's not just me; I have a really good staff — some that followed me, and then we picked up some guys that had already been here. We're kind of blending them together and making it work, and there's something exciting about that when people say you can't do it.
It's always fun to see things grow. When you get to the top, it's not as much fun because now you're just trying to maintain. It's not the same. This is fun.
Now: How does Greenfield look to you this year?
JK: It's going to be a challenge, but they're really, really nice kids. They remind me of Oak Creek. They work very hard, do whatever you ask. The biggest challenge is that right now, they don't really believe that they're going to win. They want to win, and they hope they're going to win.
It's like Christmas. They're not sure what they're going to find. They really don't believe that the GI Joe set is under that wrapping. First of all, they have to believe in themselves and their teammates and trust them.
We're getting there. You can see it; they're making strides. We're behind the eight-ball right now, but that's expected. We've got a great staff. The kids have already talked about how much they've learned this year. There's going to be a learning curve, but we're going to get better.
Now: What have you learned in 30 years of coaching?
JK: I think that I'm still learning. I'd like to think I got to be a smarter coach. I realize you don't have the same energy as when you're young, so you definitely better delegate. You've got to trust your assistants more, and I'm very fortunate. I have some really good assistants.
My defensive coordinator, Bob Hellendrung, is fantastic. I think he's as good as there is. I retained (Kevin) Murphy on offensive line. He's really the ace in the hole for our staff because he's in the building, and he's been here a long time. I call him the mayor of Greenfield; he knows everyone and everything.
As far as the players, we try to play as many as possible. A fresh player is going to be better than a worn-out guy. Right now, just to get going, we're probably going to have some kids go both ways, but our goal is to eliminate that by the end of the year.
Now: Your goal is for Greenfield to be in playoff contention this year?
JK: My goal is always to be in the playoffs. I will not sell us short. I believe we will make the playoffs this year. I feel that strongly about our staff and about the kids I've seen so far, their work ethic.
By the end of the year, we'll make it interesting.
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