FORTVILLE — After stints overseas, on the west coast and throughout central Indiana at the collegiate and high school levels, Neil Kazmierczak is grateful to finally settle down.
Kazmierczak, 52, was officially approved by the Mt. Vernon Community School Board on Feb. 21 as the Marauders new head varsity football coach, and he feels right at home — quite literally.
“That was a big selling point. I really look forward to coaching at a school that’s local to me. I haven’t had that opportunity in a long time,” said Kazmierczak, who was born in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I live in McCordsville, so I’m really excited about that.”
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Formerly the head football coach at Lebanon High School, Kazmierczak stepped down from the position in late January after two seasons. He led the Tigers to an 11-11 record during his tenure and a second-place finish in the Sagamore Conference at 6-1 in 2016.
The Tigers were 8-3 last fall after going 3-8 the year prior. Along with the program’s increase in wins, the team upped it’s production as well, going from an offensive average of 27.5 points to 44.5 in one year’s time.
Kazmierczak intends to bring the same productivity to Mt. Vernon, where he replaces former head coach Doug Armstrong, who was 45-23 through six seasons. Kazmierczak also will serve as a physical education and strength and conditioning instructor.
“I think coach Armstrong did a great job and they’ve been successful with several winning seasons,” Kazmierczak said. “They won a lot of football games, so I think it’s easier to step into that situation. There are different challenges, but overall, it’s better.”
Prosperity is something Kazmierczak is accustomed to since his coaching career began in 1990 at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles.
A former tight end and linebacker for the Michigan State Spartans from 1983-86, Kazmierczak was defensive coordinator at John Marshall until 1992. From there, he took his first head coaching job at Oxnard High School in California where he remained for three seasons.
He became a graduate assistant at Stanford University from 1996-98 working with the defensive backs as the Cardinals played in the Sun Bowl and the Liberty Bowl.
After earning his master’s degree in physical education at Stanford, he was an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator in 1998 at Ritzumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. While there, his team went undefeated and won the Japanese National Collegiate Championship.
In 1999, he returned to California and was a linebacker coach at St. Mary’s College in Moraga before coming to Indiana where he led the DePauw University Tigers to a pair of conference titles from 2000-05 as defensive coordinator.
He worked at Butler University from 2006-09 as a defensive backs and linebacker coach while the Bulldogs seized the Pioneer Conference title in his final year.
Prior to becoming the head coach at Earlham College in 2012, he spent two seasons at Marian University in Indianapolis.
The Marian Knights were ranked No. 1 in the nation in 2011 and went 12-1 and reached the NAIA semifinals when he was the team’s pass defense coordinator and defensive backs coach. Marian was 10-3 in his first season.
Kazmierczak received his bachelor’s degree in history from Michigan State and has a master’s degree from Azusa Pacific. He and his wife, Frae, have three children Zach, Saron and Caleb.
Recently, the Daily Reporter spoke with Kazmierczak about his new position, his first meeting with players and the challenges ahead.
What was it about the position at Mt. Vernon that intrigued you the most?
At Mt. Vernon, I see a program and a school that has a great future ahead of it. I think with the growth of the community and the influx of students, there has always been a great talent pool, but I see that talent pool increasing. Plus, there’s a great administration and community support as well. I think (Superintendent) Dr. (Shane) Robbins and principal (Greg) Roach are all really behind all of their athletics and are serious about being really successful in football.
How difficult was it for you to step away from Lebanon after two seasons, especially after reaching the sectional semifinals and nearly beating Roncalli last year?
That’s always hard. There are a lot of really good players there, so it was tough to leave them. I felt we had some unfinished business, and I had a really good coaching staff. Those relationships you build, it’s difficult to step away from those. But I felt this is what was best for my family and for me. I felt I had to make this decision.
Coming from the Sagamore Conference to the Hoosier Heritage Conference, do you see a major difference between the two?
I think those conferences are quite similar in a lot of ways. I guess I can’t say until I really get in and coach in the HHC, but the Sagamore is a very solid conference. We have some really tough programs in there and our non-conference schedule is pretty challenging as well. But I think the Hoosier Heritage, you have just as much talent, and maybe it’s depth from top to bottom is a little more consistent, but I think they’re very comparable.
You met the players officially for the first time last week, what was the message you conveyed to them looking ahead to this season?
I was really excited to meet the guys. I think we have a really good group of young men that I’ve met so far. I talked to them about how they’ve had some success. It’s been a program that has had a winning record. What we’re trying to do is find what it takes to kind of take the next step to be not just a winning program but a championship-winning program.
How eager are you to have two key players back from last year’s sectional runner-up team in senior quarterback Zac Montgomery and senior running back Eric Jones?
Definitely. It’s always good to have guys back that are experienced and seniors that are talented and seasoned, so it’s a good starting point.
Last year, the Marauders implemented a spread offense, do you foresee continuing that or do you have a new offensive philosophy in mind?
Score as many points as possible. Or actually, score more points than the opponent does (Kazmierczak quipped). No, my overall philosophy is to take advantage of what you have as far as your talent and be flexible to fit the system to the abilities of your players. We want to try to be balanced, but we’re going to tailor it.
The past few years New Palestine has been one of the state’s premier programs and has won the HHC the past four years. How excited are you to face a team such as New Palestine?
Definitely. They’ve had a lot of good success, and that’s the team we’re going to have to compete against if we want to win the conference. It seems everyone talks about that rivalry. Most of the kids I’ve spoken with and the administrators, that’s what they ask, how are you going to beat New Pal? It’s exciting.