AFM RSS Feed Follow Us on Twitter       

   User Name    Password 
      Password Help

Article Categories

AFM Magazine

AFM Magazine

Reloading at Rockhurst – Tony Severino, the head coach at Rockhurst High School for 29 years, believes in keeping his players busy in all aspects of their lives – not just on the field.

by: Steve Dorsey
© More from this issue

Click for Printer Friendly Version          

It was near the end of an hour-long interview when Tony Severino was asked a question that he has fielded numerous times in recent years. “How much longer do you think you’ll coach?”

His answer is the same every time.

“I get asked that every day. You’re the second one today that’s asked me,” said Severino, who will turn 64 in September. “I’ve been saying, ‘five years’ for the last 10 years. I have such a good time doing what I do. When I don’t, I’ll get out. When I no longer get goose bumps on Friday night when I run out onto that field and when I forget what it’s like to be a player, then it’s time to get out. I tell the kids, ‘You need my wisdom and I need your enthusiasm.’”

Severino has been sharing his wisdom, his enthusiasm for coaching football and his winning formula with players at Rockhurst High in Kansas City, Mo., since he was hired as the private Jesuit all-boys school’s head coach in 1983. His teams at Rockhurst have compiled a 279-62-1 record, including seven state championships and four undefeated seasons, the most recent one in 2010.

Recipe for success

All high school football programs, even the most successful ones, endure a down season or a so-called rebuilding year from time to time. As Severino’s record suggests, those have been few at Rockhurst, which never has had a losing season with Severino at the helm.

“We never talk about rebuilding at Rockhurst. We always talk about reloading,” Severino said. “We do have down years, but that may be three losses at Rockhurst. The key for any successful and consistent program is that your cycle of down years doesn’t last too long. The makeup of our school and the traditions established by over 450 years of Jesuit education also has a lot to do with the consistency of not just our football program, but all of our programs. It’s not just sports. We keep our kids busy in all aspects (of school) and that translates onto the football field.”

Unlike some coaches who insist their players concentrate solely on football, Severino encourages his football players to play multiple sports. “I don’t want just a football player, I want athletes,” he said. “I want kids to experience as much as they can (in high school). The experience is invaluable. The longer you’re in this business and the more success you have, the more it falls on the kids.”

The axiom that success breeds success certainly is true at Rockhurst. Former players often send their children there and Severino has coached numerous second generation players. There are 277 players in the Rockhurst program this year. He has three freshmen teams which are divided into A, B and C squads based on talent level. He said it’s not unusual for six or seven players who were on the B or C squad as freshmen to become starters by the time they’re seniors.

Severino instructs his freshmen coaches to strictly concentrate on teaching fundamentals. The junior varsity team plays a nine-game schedule and the varsity squad always has between 35-40 seniors. Close to 100 players suit up for varsity games on Friday nights. No student who comes out for the program is cut unless he breaks one of Severino’s two cardinal rules: lie or steal, and you’re done.

Rockhurst, which is in its 101st year of existence, does not belong to a conference, but is part of the Missouri state playoff system and has qualified for the playoffs 30 of the past 33 years. The team plays most of their opponents from Missouri and Kansas and often will play an intersectional nationally televised game.

Rockhurst Under Tony Severino

•  In 2000, he was named the National Coach of the Year.

•  The only coach to win state titles in Missouri and Kansas.

•  7 State Championships:
1983 (12-2)
1986 (11-1)
1987 (12-1)
2000 (14-0)
2002 (13-0)
2007 (13-0)
2010 (14-0)

Change with the times

Severino, who played at Kansas State, has been coaching for 42 years, 35 as a head coach. He says he is constantly learning something new. “I’ve learned that you can never stop learning,” he said. “And you cannot be so set in your ways that things pass you by. As a head coach, you have to believe in your system, your assistants and your players. There has to be a trust and loyalty from everyone for you to be successful.”

Severino’s defensive coordinator has been at Rockhurst for 29 years, his offensive line coach for 28. Five of the assistant coaches on Severino’s staff played for him, another key ingredient to the program’s success because they know the system and what Severino expects even before they’re hired.

“Everything is important to you as a head coach,” Severino said. “It is just the level of importance that you put on it that affects your program. You can’t run a program this size without great assistants, and you’ve got to let your coaches coach.”

As one might expect, Severino has seen quite a bit of cultural change over the past four-plus decades of teaching and coaching at the high school level.

“Players are still basically the same. It is what they are exposed to on a daily basis that has changed,” Severino said. “There are so many things available to young people today that it is much easier for kids to quit or move on to other endeavors when things don’t go their way.”

Severino still uses a flip-up cell phone, not a smart phone. “I-pads and texting and all that, it drives me crazy,” Severino said. “I still like to call people.”

Severino said he’s had “very few challenges with parents, administration or staff.” However, he said one of the dilemmas he’s faced in recent years with the popularity of modern technology is that it’s caused a problem with communication among young people.

“There’s no balance in our kids’ lives today,” he said. “They haven’t learned to listen. Kids still want discipline, but the communication part is the tough part. The biggest challenge today is with verbal communication with players. In an era of computers, iPhones, etc., and instant information, players are not challenged enough to listen to instructions from coaches, teachers and parents, or verbally communicate with one another, and football is such a communication game that requires communication to be successful.”

Severino gets his message across by making sure his players are looking him in the eye when he’s speaking to them on the field. Players also know that if they don’t pay attention, their playing time could be reduced. That usually wakes them up.

“They know the parameters,” Severino said. “Coaching today is so different than 40 years ago. There’s so many diversions. I consider myself a simple, sound, fair and compassionate coach. And my office door is always open.”

Finding a comfort zone

The basics of the game have not changed that drastically, which is why Severino stresses teaching fundamentals extensively when players are freshmen. What has changed, however, is the amount of different sets and schemes used on both sides of the ball. Rockhurst runs a multiple offense that is based on the team’s personnel.

 “Some years, we may run more veer and option,” Severino said. “Some years, more power, some spread, some zone. We have it all available in our scheme, but will use only what our people are capable of doing that year to be successful. Some years we have to throw 20-25 times a game, sometimes five times a game. We don’t care if it’s fashionable or popular as long as it’s successful.”

The same philosophy is used on defense. Rockhurst’s base defense is a 4-3 alignment, but there’s multiple sets or schemes depending on personnel and the game plan for different opponents.

“We tweak things every year, but our basic philosophy and schemes stay pretty consistent year-in and year-out,” Severino said. “It is a comfort for players and coaches to be consistent with the things that have made you successful. I do not believe in change for the sake of change.”

One thing that has not changed at Rockhurst under Severino’s watch is the off-season workout program. As earlier stated, Severino encourages his football players to play other sports if they want. If they’re not involved with another sport outside of football season, they are strongly urged to participate in the weight-training and conditioning program. The workouts are optional, but the consequences of not participating likely will result in standing on the sideline on Friday night.

The winter and spring training programs are eight weeks long, three days a week. Workouts last 45 minutes to no longer than one hour, 15 minutes. “More than 90 minutes is a waste of time,” Severino said.

Missouri has summer football practices that are allowed to begin in early June after school lets out for summer break. Teams are allowed 25 contact days until Aug. 1. However, Severino’s regimen does not include full-contact tackling workouts. He conducts his drills in shoulder pads and shorts and there is no live tackling or scrimmages. There is plenty of work on tackling techniques.

“You find out who the hitters are even in form tackling (drills),” Severino said.

Those who are not the “hitters” are moved to some other position. As Severino said, “You don’t have to be a big hitter to play football.”

Labor of love

Severino said he has turned down more than one opportunity to coach at the college level because it would have meant too much time away from his family. He coached all three of his sons at Rockhurst and has no regrets at shunning the chance to be a college coach. “It was more important to watch my kids grow up. I wanted stability in my life,” he said.

Severino is a member of the Missouri Football Coaches Hall of Fame and has been named the state’s Coach of the Year seven times. In 2000, he was named National Coach of the Year by USA Today. He said one of the most cherished honors bestowed upon him was when last year he was selected to be the West squad coach for the U. S. Army All-American Bowl, played last January at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

“That was one of the highlights of my career,” Severino said. “It was a wonderful experience and an honor.”

Asked what his other most memorable experiences have been, Severino said there have been so many over the years that it would be difficult to single out any one or two. He genuinely loves what he does,

“My priorities have stayed the same over the years. I smile and laugh a lot because I don’t take myself real seriously,” he said. “Winning games can never be greater or more important than having the respect of your family, your players, your assistants, your administration and your opponents. What I do is a labor of love, and I enjoy getting up every day and look forward to the next challenge, and hopefully, a chance to make a difference in someone’s life.”


AFM Videos Streaming Memberships Now Available Digital Download - 304 Pages of Football Forms for the Winning Coach


Copyright 2024,
All Rights Reserved