JIM PETERS: McCormack looks to the past to help Portage's future

2013-08-15T17:00:00Z 2013-08-16T01:29:07Z JIM PETERS: McCormack looks to the past to help Portage's futureJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
August 15, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

Fresh out of Portage High School, Wally McCormack started his football coaching career as a 19-year old at Fegely Middle School, brought on board by his own coach, Bob Mattix.

Over a couple decades have passed and the two are together again, under much different circumstances.

McCormack, in his second year as Portage's head coach, has hired Mattix to help at the freshman level and serve as an unofficial guru for all things Indians football.

"It's hard to explain the value of Bubba," McCormack said. "We're fortunate to get him to come over to coach. He's like a walking football clinic for every position everywhere. He's a great sounding board. The kids love having him around and the coaches love it more."

Mattix, who has spent time in recent years with McCormack at Hobart and Craig Buzea at Michigan City and Homewood-Flossmoor, didn't want to commit to coaching at the varsity level. While he's designated as a freshman assistant with 1994-95 Portage greats Nick Wellman and Tom Bonez, he pops in on varsity practices when he can to lend his wisdom.

"Our five coaches on defense, five years is the most experience anybody has," McCormack said. "Any time you can add guys who have been around successful programs, teams, to help young coaches coach, it's a good thing."

McCormack also has gone into the wayback machine to tap into Steve Livingston's background at Fegely Middle School. A varsity assistant during Buzea's run at Portage, he will be working as an assistant at Fegely, where he still teaches.

"When I first started, knew nothing and didn't say anything, 'Livvy' was the one guy who didn't big-time me," McCormack said. "I met with him all the time before practice. He was 'Buz's right-hand man. He learned so much football behind the scenes. His kids are grown up and his wife is letting him out of the house. We're adding a guy who's in the building and can help the young coaches we have at Fegely."

When Buzea left for Michigan City, Livingston was part of the assistant coach exodus that coincided. Among the group, McCormack estimated there was 150 years of combined experience, just on the varsity staff.

"That was huge, at all levels," McCormack said. "A big part of the reason Portage was successful in the 90s in all sports was (Willowcreek coach) Myron (Fessler). When you're stable down there, doing things right, it becomes a feeder program. The state of education now, it's hard to keep people a long time. All sports are becoming 365. It's been tough here, in every sport. It's been a revolving door."

Of 21 coaches in the entire program, eight are new this season.

"You've got a lot more lay coaches now," McCormack said. "Everybody goes through it. When I was in high school, you couldn't go down a hallway and not run into a football coach. When you're there from 7 (a.m.) to 3 (p.m.), it's easier to keep track of kids, to build relationships, to learn more about kids and their families in settings other than football practice. It's an uphill battle. We're lucky to have two young coaches come in. We hope we can keep them a long time."

Through all the change, one thing has remained the same.

"When you win, you have a little more stability," McCormack said.

It won't be a quick, easy fix, but McCormack's look to the past has Portage's future headed in the right direction.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

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