New Martha’s Vineyard football coach talks team

Steve McCarthy says the measure of his success will be found in the character of his players, not just the win column.

In February, Steve McCarthy was named the new football coach at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. - Photo by Sam Moore

The February announcement of the selection of Steve McCarthy of Edgartown as head coach of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football team seems a particularly wise choice, because high school football is different here.

For one thing, we are an island, and when our players travel to the mainland, they carry our values and culture to the larger world. Our limited population provides a limited pool of potential players — success is hardly a given. There is also the experience of competing in a larger, faster world, and measuring up in an unfamiliar environment.

Mr. McCarthy, who played high school football here in the 1970s, has 36 years of coaching experience. He understands this place as a player and as a coach in Island youth and high school football, and from the perspective of a championship-team coach in bigtime California high school ball for the past two years. His bona fides are in good order.

He steps into the shoes of Donald Herman, who retired in November after 28 years at the helm of the Island’s football program. “I coached with Donald for 12 years,” Mr. McCarthy told The Times in a recent conversation. “He taught me organization, right down to practice plans. Donald is a very disciplined guy. Kids like discipline and structure, and Donald always provided that for kids. And he always listened. Those are important things he taught me.”

Mr. McCarthy is married to MaryLou McCarthy. He operates McCarthy Landscaping with his stepson Michael Gunn. The 58-year-old coach has a daughter Ashley, three grandchildren, and three stepchildren, including notable Island athletes Ben, Elizabeth, and Erin Gunn.

Mr. McCarthy recently spoke to The Times about his coaching philosophy.

Coaching philosophy

“I want to help to develop great young men; I like the W’s [wins], but success is also to have guys come back and say that their football experience here helped them in life, and to see kids develop a passion for the game. I tell them that my job is not to put a ring on my finger, but to put them in a position to put a ring on their fingers.

“In that regard, a key goal for me is to develop a strong alumni program to bring back players to talk to the kids about football — college football, life after football. They may not know the Todd Araujos and the Ben Gunns, but those are important people for them to know. They do know Mike McCarthy [a 2009 MVRHS grad who set quarterback records at Bridgewater State University (BSU), played professionally in Europe, and now coaches at BSU], and they definitely know Randall Jette [a 2010 MVRHS grad, senior captain on the University of Massachusetts Division 1 team, and a pro prospect], guys that can help them see what’s possible.”

Message to players?

“The message to kids is ‘we.’ They will hear that constantly, that we take care of each other all the time — on and off the field … Really, it’s all about love, and when they buy into it — and it takes a little time — they have created a camaraderie for the rest of their lives …”

“I have a questionnaire that players fill out about their lives, likes, dislikes, their goals. They share those beliefs out loud with one another, so they really get to know each other as people. Another goal is for every player to make the honor roll. I struggled with academics. I know how important learning is. We will institute a daily 30-minute study hall before practice so the kids can do their work or get extra help.”

On winning chemistry

“One thing I’ve learned is that the difference between a championship team and not a championship team is that everyone on championship teams loves one another; they will do anything on and off the field for each other. And the kids appreciate the contributions of teammates who are doing their best, regardless of skill level. At San Juan Capistrano we were 24-4 in the past two years. We had 45 kids on the roster, about the same as here, and went to the state championship …”

“It was a long season, but we didn’t suffer extreme injury rates. I believe that games are won in the weight room, and the stronger you are, the less susceptible to injury you are, and the California kids are in the weight room 365 days a year.”