When Stockdale announced Brett Shelton as its new football coach last week, I was off for the day and unable to attend. So I called the new head Mustang up a few days later and got his thoughts on taking the job, being the youngest head coach in Kern County, the challenges ahead and where he expects to take his alma mater in the coming years.
Here's our conversation:
ZE: Did you apply for the job thinking you might be a longshot because of your age (Shelton is 28, making him the youngest head football coach in Bakersfield by four years)?
SHELTON: I knew that that's what was going against me. You apply thinking you can get it. But if I didn't get it, I knew the one thing holding me back was my age. Then they interviewed me and I think realized I'm not a young knucklehead.
ZE: Besides that, what do you think made Stockdale's administration take note of you during the interview process?
SHELTON: I think where I stood out (is that) men of character is what I want to deal with. That's what Stockdale has always been about. We're not going to take the easy way, we're not going to cut corners. Intelligence and strength is always respected, but not a lot of people work hard with those things. I think that kind of rung a bell with them.
ZE: Stockdale has had lots of success in athletics, but the football program hasn't been a part of that lately. What about the school and its athletes makes you think the potential is there for championship-level football?
SHELTON: At Stockdale, they do have athletes, but what people forget about is that football is a smart man's game. It's a game of heart, absotluely, but it's also a game of intelligence. You've got coaches who can draw Xs and Os, but are the kids able to understand and execute? I think I have that. You can tell by the test scores there. The players are intelligent and athletic, and I think the sky is the limit.
ZE: How about playing the SWYL, where you've got solid programs and coaches in Centennial and Liberty, a team that won the league two years ago in Frontier, Garces coming in next year — and, oh yeah, a certain team that might have won a state championship a couple of months ago?
SHELTON: That's what attracts guys like me. It's a challenge, absolutely. Some people could look at it as struggle, but coaches always look at it as a challenge. It's a challenge I want to take Stockdale towards.
ZE: What will fans see from Stockdale on Friday nights under your watch?
SHELTON: They're going to see a team that likes to fly around, have great time out there, pick each other up and not put each other down. We're going to fly around and show some passion.
ZE: Do you have any assistant coaches lined up, and how important are those choices?
SHELTON: I'm still working on it. I've been on the phone like crazy. I've got some lower-level (JV and freshman) guys ready to go, but I'm still working on supporting cast. They're a major part of the program. The head coach is whatever, but you've got to find really good assistant coaches. They're the ones getting the message out to kids; they get what they want out of them. I'm still looking, but I'm pretty sure we'll find them. Stockdale is a special place.
ZE: Give me an idea of what offensive and defensive schemes you expect to use.
SHELTON: I'm a defensive-minded guy (Shelton played safety in college and was North's defensive coordinator last year), so I'll start there. We'll use a two-high safety look; that way you can move a safety down and they don't know what coverage your'e running. You can play mind games.
Offensive-wise, we'll have a staple of plays, an (isolation), zone, power. It'll be pro-style, but you don't know what formation we're going to come out of.
ZE: What did your two years at North teach you, going from 0-10 (in 2012) to 4-6 and the playoffs last year?
SHELTON: Going 0-10, there is nothing worse than that as a coach, because it feels like you're failing the kids. But we had a lot of juniors that year, and what I saw from those kids was amazing. You're afraid they'll get used to losing, but we got seniors out of it that battled. They battled every game. That tells me these young men will do whatever they're told as long as you're passionate about it. Players will always take on attitude of coaches, and they bought in because we bought in. We still had a losing record, but we were in each and every one of them except maybe two.
ZE: What are your expectations at Stockdale, both for the 2014 season and long-term?
SHELTON: It's a tricky question. I don't want to put a number on it, because I always tell kids that if you look too far ahead you'll lose sight of what's important. For me, it's "Win the day, win the day." Everything else will take care of itself. If you say you can't wait to play BHS in three weeks, two weeks will fly by and you won't know what hit you.
ZE: I see you've got your coachspeak down pat. But point-blank: Is this a place where you think you can win a section championship?
SHELTON: Yes, absolutely. But you can't be farsighted. You can't start looking too far ahead.
ZE: Thanks for the time, coach. Anything else?
SHELTON: Go Mustangs. It's great to be back. I played here, I watched my brothers play here, and it means a lot to be back.