In 2008, Tony Shermeyer was The Baltimore Sun’s Football Coach of the Year after leading Century to the state semifinals in only his fourth season as head coach. The Knights also had their first winning season, 12-1, that fall.
After that, Shermeyer left the Knights to start the program further north in Carroll County when Manchester Valley opened. Now in his fourth season with the Mavericks, he has guided them to their first berth in the regional playoffs and their first winning season.
Saturday, the Mavericks (7-3), who clinched their playoff spot with Friday night’s 26-7 win over archrival North Carroll, will meet top-seeded Reginald Lewis, from Baltimore City, in the Class 1A North region semifinal Saturday at 1 p.m. at Poly.
Shermeyer, 42, played high school football at DeLone Catholic in Pennsylvania and played a year at Kutztown University. He started his coaching career at his alma mater and stayed at DeLone for two years before moving to Century as an assistant coach when the school opened in 2001.
As this week’s Coachspeak guest, Shermeyer, a social studies teacher at Manchester Valley, talks about the similarities between the rise of the Knights and the Mavericks under his guidance, about building a program from scratch and about how he has adapted his coaching style to today’s players.
What comparisons do you draw between your experience at Century and now at Manchester Valley? Do you have a secret to building a team into a winner in four years and getting it to the playoffs?
At Century, I was there for four years prior to becoming head coach, so I knew the kids I had to work with. I think the biggest comparison is the senior classes that I had those two years. At Century, I had a large number of hard-working kids and at Manchester Valley, I have a large number of kids again. We have 19 seniors, which, for a 1A school, is a pretty big group and they’re hard working. It comes down to senior leadership. If you have a large group of seniors, they’re going to pull some games out in the end and you’re going to win some games you wouldn’t win without that leadership.
What does it take to get a football program off the ground at a new school and turn an 0-10 team into a 7-3 team in four seasons?
I was at Century too when it first opened and so I think that experience carried over to Manchester Valley with me. It’s about being a salesman to the kids and getting them to believe in their hearts that they can achieve something if they work hard enough towards a goal. The kids buy into what I’m selling and it’s really the kids who put the hard work in. They’re the ones who make the success on the field. I’m just the one who has to convince them that they can get there. I saw the group of kids that I had in the freshman class (at Manchester Valley) and I knew it was a good group of kids. When the school was built, they gave us a great facility and the area that it is, the kids like to play football, so I didn’t think I would have too much trouble getting the interest up in playing football. It was just a matter of getting the kids buying into what we were doing and meeting that goal of getting to the playoffs. I think that happened towards the middle of last year. They saw that we could have some success -- we had some tough losses at the end of last year -- and it carried over into the off season. My seniors worked really hard. We won a close game the first game this year and they were like, “Wow, we can do this. We can have a good season.” So I think that’s what it was. It was the facilities and the attitude of the kids and the family structure up here is very supportive of what’s going on and I think that’s what allowed us to do it so quickly.
What was the reaction of the players to finding out they were in the playoffs? They didn’t know that during Friday’s game, did they?
No, they did not. We knew what the situation was, the players knew and I asked them not to look at their phones to try to find out whether Northwestern won or lost the game. I just wanted them to focus on beating North Carroll. Then after the game was over I pulled them aside and said, “Great season.” Then I said, “Plan on coming to practice on Monday,” and when I told them that, they all got big smiles on their faces and started cheering. They were glad they made the playoffs. They worked very hard. We’re very fortunate to get this opportunity, but at the same time, we’re going to waste this opportunity. We’re going to give it the best shot we’ve got.
What do you enjoy most about coaching high school football?
I enjoy working with the kids. I enjoy kids having success, any type of success. It can be the team success, it can be individual kids being able to pick something up or do better as the year goes on. That’s what I enjoy most. That’s the rewarding part of it. As a high school coach, you put a lot of time in and the kids put a lot of time in and if I wasn’t seeing the benefits being paid back to me through how the kids played and how much better they got, then I don’t think I’d be a coach much longer.
What is your coaching philosophy and how did it develop?
My coaching philosophy goes back to my coach in high school. I had a very experienced coach in high school and he just preached hard work and he preached doing things the right way. Where my generation we were treated a little bit differently by our coaches and we reacted a little bit differenlty to the coaches, I think I was able to adapt my coaching to style to the new generation of kids and how they respond to coaches. When I played football it was, “Do what the coach says. You do it this way every time. You don’t say a word to the coach. You don’t give your input to the coach.” You just work hard and you really don’t expect to be told you do a good job every time you do a good job. You’re doing a good job when your team has success and that’s just sort of the way we were brought up and the mindset we had playing football. Now I think we have to be more kid friendly. We have to allow kids to speak their minds a little bit more. There's been a cultural change and things are different. I hate to say it’s a reflection of what’s going on in schools but it is sort of a reflection of what’s going on in school and in society in that things are not as strict, so to speak, as they were back when I went to high school, so by adapting to that and understanding the high schools kids of today, I think that allows me to be a good salesman for them and get them to believe in what they can achieve.