BEACON FALLS — Tim Phipps couldn’t have imagined his football coaching career was on the perfect path when he narrowly lost out on the Naugatuck job last year.
But they say good things come to those who wait, and Phipps can attest to that this week.
The longtime assistant coach at Woodland finally has the first head coaching job of his career, and it will be with the team he has helped build from the very beginning.
Woodland selected Phipps this week to become the third head coach in program history, a title that left him struggling to find the right words for his emotions.
“On one hand, it’s a surreal moment for me,” said Phipps, a 39-year-old history teacher at Woodland. “But on the other, I’m very happy. I can’t believe it’s happened to me, but I’ve recognized what’s going on. I know it’s very rare to be able to teach and coach in the same school.”
Phipps, an Ansonia native and Prospect resident, played under Jack Hunt at Ansonia in the early 1990s and later volunteered as a coach under Hunt for a pair of seasons. He joined Chris Anderson’s first staff at Woodland in 2001 and has never left the Hawks.
He tried for the last five years to secure a head coaching job and reached several final interviews, including one at Naugatuck in 2013, but schools passed him over each time.
Those disappointments, though, gave him experience he deemed crucial as he applied for the Woodland job — something he called a “no-brainer” to pursue.
“I couldn’t take anything for granted,” Phipps said. “I started interviewing for head jobs in 2009, and the big thing is that you have to be as meticulous in your planning as you would be for any opponent. That helped me out, especially with the interview for this job.”
Phipps and Anderson figured to be the top two candidates for the position, and a source said that Anderson pulled out of the running earlier this month. That left Phipps, the only remaining coach from Woodland’s original staff, as the obvious choice.
His longevity with the two-time defending Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division champion makes his appointment as head coach even more special, he said.
“I’ve been here since 2001, and this is home to me,” Phipps said. “I’m living a dream right now, but I’m wide awake to the responsibilities that I’m going to have.”
He learned under Anderson and Shea, both of whom stressed organizational skills as a key to running a strong program. Phipps started as the quarterbacks coach and special teams coordinator under Anderson and has been the offensive coordinator since 2008.
“(Organization is) something that Chris really emphasized with all of us, and Tim did the same thing,” Phipps said. “That’s one of the keys to success, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful. The other thing is passion. You need to be passionate about this profession to be successful. I wish people could have seen some of the early practices with Anderson to see the passion that was there.”
Phipps said he will continue to call plays for Woodland and the rest of his staff, including defensive coordinator Chris Moffo and special teams coordinator Cody Kingsley, will remain. Phipps will have the opportunity to hire an assistant coach to replace his position.
“They’ve all agreed to stay on, so I’m very happy about that,” Phipps said. “You have to trust in your staff. That was one of the big things that’s led to the success of the football program. The previous coaches let their assistant coaches develop their own styles.”
Woodland will have to retool its offense after the graduation of quarterback Tanner Kingsley, one of the leading passers in state history. Phipps presided over spring practice earlier this month and said his squad is off to a good start.
“We’ve got competition at quarterback for the first time in years between Pat Hale and Mike Kenney, and we have (running back) Sean McAllen back,” Phipps said. “I’m thrilled to death with our offensive line. I think it’s rare when you find a group of kids who love being linemen, and that’s what we have right now. Jake Laliberte and Max McSperrin have started for three years, and Alex Varhol and Will Flormann are two-year starters.”
When Woodland begins practice in August, the pressure to uphold one of the NVL’s most successful programs over the last decade might start to set in.
“I do feel pressure, but it’s not for me personally,” Phipps said. “I just need to run this program in a manner that lives up to the tradition set by guys past. I want guys like Mike Stankus, Pat Krakowski, Jared Katchmar and Shane Kingsley to say that we worked as hard as they did.”