“The Morning Buzz” creators, clockwise from top left, Isaiah Davis, Mike Hathaway, Jamie Juntura and Morgan Hixson raise their mugs at the start of a recent show. Submitted photo

TURNER — Mike Hathaway and Skip Capone had a dilemma. The annual Maine Football Coaches Association clinic, slated for March 13, was canceled because of the coronavirus, and with it went a chance for a meeting of the minds of around 300 coaches.

Hathaway, the head coach at Leavitt Area High School in Turner, and Capone, a former Lewiston High coach and Bates College assistant who is now Portland High’s defensive coordinator, wanted to replicate the experience, somehow. They just needed an idea.

“Mike and I had gone back and forth, ‘What are we going to do?’” Capone said. “We kind of bantered back and forth, and said ‘Listen, why can’t we just see if we can get a couple of these things going on our own?’”

The answer was virtual clinics, which the two have been working on since March. Every weekday, Hathaway hosts three sessions featuring a college or high school coach, who breaks down an offensive, defensive or team-building concept, often the subject he was going to present about at the in-person clinic.

“Our coaches association has always been super willing to help each other out, and I think this is a good example of it,” Hathaway said. “I’m not surprised coaches are willing to take advantage of it. In our association, there are a lot of guys looking to get better.”

The list of participating coaches, including multiple Gold Ball winners like Thornton Academy’s Kevin Kezal, Bonny Eagle’s Kevin Cooper, Wells’ Tim Roche and Marshwood’s Alex Rotsko, is extensive, and the ones who have given clinics said there was a reason they came running to Hathaway’s and Capone’s call.

“People are looking for things to do, and this is valuable,” said Cony Coach B.L. Lippert, who presented a clinic on the vertical passing game and run-pass options. “It’s pretty cool. It’s a variety of stuff that I normally wouldn’t seek out, because my time is limited. … Now I’m able to branch out and look at broader topics that obviously have an impact on our program as well.”

Former Lawrence safety Spencer Carey, now a defensive backs coach at Bates, said the clinics are particularly helpful for newer coaches like himself.

“It’s great to see the game continue to grow,” he said. “The variety of coaches he’s getting is amazing. As coaches, we’re always trying to improve our game, especially in the offseason when there’s maybe not as much going on.”

The clinics have been a partnership. Hathaway hosts each session, and uses his technological savvy as a video production teacher to both manage the Zoom portion and then get the videos on YouTube, where coaches who missed the live airing can catch up. Capone uses his extensive network to schedule coaches for coming clinics.

Originally, Hathaway and Capone decided to film themselves talking about football and post it as an extension of Leavitt’s “Morning Buzz” show, which is run through the video production course. Hathaway soon saw on Twitter that North Carolina high school coach Justin Grandenetti was arranging live Zoom clinics, and he followed the lead.

“I talked to him a little bit, and figured out some specifics,” Hathaway said. “Skip and I tried one with (Roche), and it went pretty well. I did an interview with (Cooper), and we decided that maybe we could do this as clinics.”

Next, they had to book the clinics, and they went down the list of coaches who were going to be at the MFCA gathering in March. Hathaway reached out to high school coaches, Capone called up college coaches, and the two found out that it wasn’t hard to fill up the slots.

Hathaway has a schedule lined up through the first week of May, and all of the coaches were more than happy to sign up.

“We all like to talk about our craft,” Capone said. “Guys have just said ‘If you need me, let me know.’”

With so many coaches on the schedule – and word spreading to coaches outside of Maine – the clinics have been able to cover all aspects of the sport. Rotsko had a session on wing-T play action. UMaine Coach Nick Charlton did one on building a winning culture. Hebron Academy’s Tom Radulski and Kents Hill’s Steve Shukie broke down eight-man defense and offense, respectively.

“You see some of the guys that are in some clinics that you wouldn’t expect,” Hathaway said. “Me and B.L. talking wing-T with Alex Rotsko and Timmy Roche the other night was pretty fun. … It gives you a chance to see some different things.”

The live aspect allows coaches to chime in and comment, making the clinics a forum as much as a classroom lecture.

“One of my favorite parts of it is at the end they’ll open up the floor to conversation, whether it’s something that arose during the talk or another aspect,” Lippert said. “You might talk about recruiting, you might talk about ‘Hey, what do you guys run for plays off of that play?’ The interaction that way, the chatter between coaches, is pretty cool.”

It’s required a lot of work to keep it going, but Capone and Hathaway know the value they’re providing.

“It’s just worked out,” Capone said. “It’s been amazing, from not only a football knowledge standpoint, but I think … to not interact with others and be around your kids and coaches is hard. Now we’ve got an opportunity two or three times a day … to have some fun. It’s not (being) there, but you’re there.”

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