It takes quite a bit to keep Mike Nappa away from a football field. One of the longest-tenured high school coaches in the state at Warwick Vets, Nappa suffered from serious health complications a season ago and couldn’t be on the sidelines.
Not being there was difficult, but with a back surgery squarely in the past and the health scare no longer holding him back, Nappa is once again doing what he’s done nearly every season since 1976 – leading the ’Canes.
“He’s been doing it since before I was alive,” said Mike’s son Bryan Nappa, who served as the interim head coach last season. “Last year, it hurt him not to be able to be there.”
Mike’s season away from the field was not his first, as he took time off for the 2002 and 2003 seasons, also for health reasons.
He returned the following season and coached each year up until the last one. The plan for this season is to simply pick up where he left off.
“I’m back walking at least,” he said. “I’m not doing any tackling or anything. Those days are over.”
Bryan will resume his role as the team’s offensive coordinator, a role he handled prior to his father’s hiatus last season. Terry Siravo will continue with the defensive coordinator duties.
For Mike, that’s the best-case scenario. He gets to oversee the program, while his coordinators – who both took on advanced roles a season ago – can settle back in to their specific spots, and not have to worry about the added responsibility that comes with being a head coach.
“That’s the best way I can monitor what they’re doing and be inputting into both,” Mike said. “The other way is that I’d have to take over one or the other – this works out better. Plus, the more you can utilize your assistants, the better off your program is.”
It’s a welcome change for Bryan, too, who did an admirable job in his first season at the helm last year, but doesn’t at all mind reprising his coordinating spot.
“It was kind of how we started a couple years ago before he got sick and needed to take some time off,” he said. “It’s nice to have a little bit less stress on my back and really concentrate on the offense.”
With Bryan as the coach last season, Vets went through a resurgence of sorts, finishing 3-4 and narrowly missing out on a spot in the Division II playoffs. It was the team’s best win-loss record since 2008.
Mike, although not on the sideline, still managed to have a hand in that success. The coaching staff held its pre-game meetings at Mike’s apartment, and he also worked on game planning and adjustments at home before relaying the info to Bryan.
“Like I tell everybody, I did the good (game plans) and he did the bad ones,” Mike joked. “We work good together.”
It turned to be a strong mix. And because of the success that the team did have, Mike isn’t planning on tinkering with too much, scheme-wise. If it isn’t broken, he’s not going to try to fix it.
“I’m not changing the ship,” Mike said. “I’m not stupid. They ran well last year.”
There is also the hope that the progress of the coaches will carry over into this season, along with the program’s momentum. Bryan and Siravo, as well as the rest of the staff, had to adjust their entire styles with Mike not there. The silver lining, though, was that they gained valuable experience
“Anytime you can take on more responsibility it helps you grow as a person, as a coach,” Bryan said. “We had a great group of kids last year. They helped a lot with me maturing as a coach. Last year we made decisions staff-wise. Everything was discussed as a staff and we came closer together as a group. We shared that burden of missing our head coach.”
Now, the whole coaching staff is back together, with the head coach back in the fold. Practice began on Monday, and Vets is scheduled for double-sessions each day this week. After being gone for an entire year, Mike has already fully committed himself once again.
It’s football season, and as usual Mike Nappa is the coach at Warwick Vets.
“I am excited,” he said. “The numbers are down around the state, but we’ve got 45 varsity and 30 freshmen. That’s a good program. You can accomplish a lot with that many.”