My recent visit to my hometown of Andover, Massachusetts, for the screening of the documentary Four Games in Fall was huge for so many reasons. None of what I do today would be happening without so many people from Andover—many from the Andover High School football team. Our legendary head coach Dick Collins died in 2014. Without him pushing and prodding me, I don’t go to college. Or get out of Andover alive. My old wide receivers coach Peter Comeau was my friend but when I screwed up (which was a lot) he let me know. Yet when the bullets started to fly, he always had my back. Peter Reilly, Sr. is the best special teams’ coach in America. His biggest role for me for more than 30 years is as my sounding board and counsel. Good or bad, he is there. Ultimate Fox Hole guy. The best. But the guy who showed me how to break down film and scout was my Pop Warner coach and AHS defensive coordinator Joe Iarrobino a.k.a. Coach I. And after more than 25 years, he showed up for his old player.
I was lucky enough to play for Coach I in the Andover Junior Football League for two years. We had so many future AHS stars on that team including his son Joe, who was one of my better friends. Mrs. I, a.k.a. Jayne was like my second mom, and whenever I went over to the Iarrobinos, the joke was I had to go talk to her in the kitchen before I could talk to the guys. Coach I followed us to the Andover High program and the combination of his defense and Coach Collins offense made a deadly pairing. He was not for everyone, nor was he perfect, but he was perfect for me. He stressed assignments, reads, tendencies and gap control. Forget high school. When I started volunteering with the Michigan Football program, I already had a Ph.D. from Coach I.
I was not a great player but Coach I didn’t care. I was one of his guys. I was the first to everything and the last to leave. I asked questions and studied. I was an eager student. He always went out of his way to make me feel a big part of the team although I was a bottom of the roster, special teams player. He had a plan for each week to take away the thing they do best—a play, a player, or scheme. Coach I had a plan. This was Bill Belichick taking out Marshall Faulk in Superbowl 36. The Bullseye game plan. Make a team left-handed or uncomfortable. And always focus on stopping that. You do that, you win. We did, and we won. A lot.
Because of Coach I, helping my Buddy on the Patriots figure out how to attack the Legion of Boom or The Lewis-Reed Ravens is not that hard. We are just doing the reverse of what he did at AHS. I look at what the Pats do well and how can we use that to attack the defense. Coach I always told me every defense has a weakness. (He would know) I also have the advantage of knowing how the Brady guy thinks and what he likes. And he has been in the same offense since 2000. I cannot emphasize enough how much Coach Iarrobino teaching us formations, coverages and so forth helps me do what I do today.
I know we have had a bad run with Coaches in the news recently. And two of my friends who coach at AHS were falsely accused and tried in the media this past school year. The Maryland and Ohio State scandals dominate Big Ten country. When you think of these sad stories, think of someone like Coach I. The man runs a successful business, raised three kids and semi-adopted 100s like me via his coaching in basketball, football and baseball. And when you read about me writing reports for that #12 guy as he throws for 505 yards, think of Coach I explaining to me the difference between Cover 2 and Cover 3. I do. And because of Joe Iarrobino’s teachings, I am scouting for a guy who has played in eight Super Bowls, won five, and has more records than the Beatles. He is a big reason why I do what I do. Thanks Coach I!