Phipps takes the helm

Tim Phipps has been an assistant coach at Woodland since the football program’s inception in 2001. This year, Phipps took the helm as head coach. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Tim Phipps has been an assistant coach at Woodland since the football program’s inception in 2001. This year, Phipps took the helm as head coach. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Editor’s note: This article appears in the special Thanksgiving football section published the week of Nov. 28, 2014. It has been updated to include statistics through games played the week of Nov. 21.

For Tim Phipps, game day at the helm of a high school football program had finally come. And it was speech time.

“I went back and forth on it,” Phipps, a long-time Woodland assistant coach, admits. But, once he got going, it seemed to flow.

“I told them to take a knee, close their eyes, imagine a football field with their teammates next to them and opponents in front of them,” Phipps explains. “I asked them to think about what they wanted the scoreboard to read and what they needed to do to win. Then, burn it into their memories.”

The rest was history — and a 24-0 win for Woodland over Watertown.

In a season with ups and downs, the win was one of many proud moments in a season filled with learning situations for Hawks’ first-year head coach. The Hawks are 3-7 heading into the annual rivalry game with Seymour.

Make no mistake, it’s been adjustment period for a coach who as an assistant didn’t spend much time on the sidelines during games. Phipps started as the quarterbacks coach and special teams coordinator under Chris Anderson and had been the offensive coordinator since 2008.

“It’s definitely different,” Phipps says of being the head coach. “Your view of the game changes when you get out of the booth and on to the field.”

Coaching is nothing new to Phipps. He was an assistant with the Woodland program since day one in 2001. His dad was a long-time head coach in youth football.

But, Phipps acknowledges that you’re never quite ready for the all of the responsibilities of being the head coach.

“I remember walking out of the principal’s office after I just got offered the job and one of the kids on the team stopped to congratulate me,” Phipps recalls. “And then he asked what time weightlifting started, and it hit me. All of a sudden I got the questions — that’s when it hit me.”

Phipps says it was the players who helped him make the transition.

“I always tried to keep them included in the process all along,” Phipps says. “And they were very supportive and I was up front with them.”

This year’s seniors and many other players connected with Phipps.

“They embraced me and my situation, and I’ll be forever appreciative of that,” Phipps says.

Phipps says he’s also had the unwavering support of his wife, Karen, who has been there day after day. She listens and is not afraid to speak up.

“She knows how to set me straight,” Phipps says.

He’s also had the support of his dad, a former chief of police, and former coaches Chris Anderson and Tim Shea, not to mention current assistant coaches.

Ultimately, Phipps had to become his own coach. And that, he says, is a work in progress.

“You need to decide what kind of head coach that you want to be,” Phipps says. “And you need to have a vision of what kind of program you want to be seen as.”

And that’s where Woodland remains constant. Phipps’ image is starting to become clearer, and it starts with teaching high school students to be more than football players.

“What these kids do to get ready each week is amazing,” Phipps says. “I wanted the kids to feel more victories this season, and that’s what drives them, they want to get that taste again and they always keep their heads in the game. That speaks volumes about the kids that we have, and I’m proud of that.”

Woodland may have learned its most valuable lessons in the heartbreaking loss to Ansonia earlier this month. More importantly, how the team responded.

The Hawks nearly pulled the monumental upset against the Chargers, but saw a 12-point lead evaporate in 2 ½ minutes.

“It was an awful feeling on every level,” Phipps says. “But we got back to practice on Monday and had to put that game behind us, and we did. And that’s the mark of football team that I want to be associated with.”

Phipps’ approach is not all X’s and O’s or wins and losses. Success might be best defined by the character of the players on and off the field.

“I want to look at the bigger picture,” Phipps says. “I want our kids to be productive in the real world more than football.”