After months of searching in the wake of Pat Foley’s retirement from football in fall 2012, the Waconia School District has chosen the new head coach of the Wildcat program: Sam Baker.
Baker comes to the field with both coaching and playing experience. For the last two seasons, he has been the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator for the Chaska Hawks. Prior to his time at Chaska, Baker spent a year working with wide receivers and as the offensive line coordinator at the University of St. Thomas. He also spent a year at Winona Cotter High School.
Baker is a former player and graduate of Robbinsdale Armstrong High School and Winona State University, where he earned his degree in health and physical education.
Although the Wildcats will be Baker’s first head coaching position, the team is in good hands according to Lambert Brown, Baker’s former head coach at Chaska.
“He has a good vision of what he wants to do and what kind of coach he wants to be,” Brown said. “He’s always been someone with a plan. I just think he’s a hard worker and he’s passionate, and those things tend to shine through.”
While the small town atmosphere is definitely a draw for Baker, he is most excited about the community that supports the program.
“I think I’m most excited about how excited everybody else is,” he said. “I’m excited about how passionate the community is about Wildcat football.”
While the Wildcats finished the 2012 season just 1-8, Baker said past seasons aren’t the focus.
“We’re going to focus on the process of getting better,” he said. “We’re going to respect the past and embrace the future.”
One way he plans to execute this idea is by zeroing in on the details of the game, focusing on the task at hand, and teaching each player how to do his job, so that the score and everything else will just fall into place.
Baker will work with six “pillars” in his approach: discipline, attitude, gratitude, pride, commitment, and toughness.
“Our practices are going to be very efficient,” he said, adding that the idea of “today is the day” to work hard and move the process forward will be at the forefront of training.
“We focus on today for a better tomorrow,” he said.
While his style of practice may be a bit different, no sweeping changes are on the horizon for the Wildcat football program. Small changes will include the addition of summer practices and upping the intensity of practices.
“The biggest challenge is going to be getting people to buy into the new direction,” he said.
One thing that will be different is the addition of the Wildcat Walk an hour and a half before each home game.
“That is the place to be on Friday night,” Baker said.
The Walk will begin in the Pizza Ranch parking lot and move west on First Street towards the stadium, beginning at 5:30 p.m. the night of each home contest.
“Our players will be dropped off and they will be led by the band to our stadium,” Baker said. “We want as many people as we can there. Anyone can attend. We want the whole town to line the streets for the players!”
Baker has always known he wanted to teach and coach, ever since a high school gym teacher inspired him to do so. Late in his academic career, while student teaching at Eastview (Apple Valley), Baker realized his passion for teaching and coaching at the high school level. Baker’s draw to football is the complexity of the game and the preparation it takes.
“It’s the greatest game in the world,” he said.
Baker said he couldn’t be where he is today without the help of some top-notch friends and mentors along the way, including: Bruce Carpenter (Cotter HS), Pat Bowlin (Cotter HS), Travis Walch (Univ. St. Thomas), Bruce Kay, and the staff at Chaska in Brown, Troy Stein, and Brenda Jerde.
Baker said Bowlin gave him his first coaching job at Cotter High School, and Carpenter “did more than I can ever explain or thank him for.”
On the last stepping stone to becoming a head coach, Baker thanked Brown, who helped in so many ways.
“I’m beyond appreciative,” Baker said.
When he’s not coaching or teaching, Baker enjoys spending time with his fiancee Kate, and of course, more football.
Contact Melissa Marohl at [email protected]