WRENTHAM — King Philip Regional High football coach Brian Lee has often raided the riches of the coaching experiences from his dad, John Lee, the legendary mentor of many a Walpole High football player.
“I’ll never forget my dad telling me not to over-coach them,” Brian Lee said between the Warriors’ MIAA Division 2 semifinal playoff-round win over Milford, a one-TD loss on Thanksgiving Day to Franklin, and Thursday’s MIAA Division 2 Super Bowl game at Gillette Stadium against Catholic Memorial.
As the younger Lee is so often want to proclaim, “We get these 14-, 15-, 16-year-old kids, coach them up and put them out there.” If only the words were so easy to translate into execution on the football field. The elder Lee coached at Walpole High from 1968-1992, guiding four teams to MIAA Super Bowls.
The younger Lee has coached at King Philip High since 2005, leading the Warriors to two MIAA Super Bowls titles in 2016 (21-18 over Reading) and 2017 (10-7 over Lincoln-Sudbury) and to Super Bowl title games in 2014 (loss to Marshfield) and 2018 (6-0 loss to North Andover).
The younger Lee was a member of his father’s 1989 Super Bowl team. Brian Lee will be the first to admit that he is not even close to being the coaching genius that was his father, rather passing along the praise to his able-bodied cast of assistant coaches.
“Without a doubt, I’ve been fortunate to have the coaches that I have on the staff,” Lee said of the loyalty and devotion to KP football, not to mention the countless hours of individual sacrifice to make the Warriors better, individually and collectively.
The nine-win Warriors won their first two games of the season (over BC High and Needham) before losing a one-point decision to North Attleboro at Macktaz Field.
Then came a nine-point win over Taunton, an eight-point win over Attleboro, a three-point final-minute win over Milford, 18- and seven-point wins over Mansfield, a 35-point win over Chelmsford in the opening round of the Division 2 playoffs, and a second win of the season over Milford in the second round of postseason play.
Lee will point to his assistant coaches for putting the Warriors in positions to make plays that have enabled the team’s success and a route to Gillette Stadium for an 8:30 p.m. kickoff against unbeaten (11-0), No. 1-seeded Catholic Memorial.
There is Matt Wassel, the defensive coordinator since 2006 — another Walpole High product and 1989 Super Bowl team member — and Shawn Hill, the offensive coordinator in his second tenure with the Warriors after guiding Nipmuc Regional to a Super Bowl.
Greg Norris, the running backs and defensive ends coach, has been with the Warriors since 2009. There are plenty of former Warriors on Lee’s staff as well, including Micah Thompson (class of ’90), Matt Monahan (’09) and Matt Anderson (’10).
“People, officials ask me all the time, what is it about the program, that it’s been on the rise,” Lee said. It definitely helps to have student-athletes who support the system and special players, but it traces back to the foundational work set by the staff of assistant coaches.
“People ask me what it takes to get to this Super Bowl level, and I tell them, you have to have the same coaches,” Lee added. “I’ve been lucky enough to have the same coaches, the same system. Even when some things traded off (offensive coordinator John Sarianedes leaving and Hill returning), I’ve had the same two guys as offensive and defensive coordinators the whole time.”
Lee points to the tradition of success (11 Super Bowl appearances) at North Attleboro High and the continuity of its coaching staff from year to year as the harvest of years of four quarters of competition, bus rides, practice sessions and game plans.
No sooner does one game end on a Friday night than game film is being reviewed over the weekend and then game film on next week’s foe is being scrutinized.
“The familiarity and how we work together, our expectations — it is a tremendous amount of work,” Lee admitted. “If you don’t have the dudes (special players) all the time, then how do you find an edge?
“It has to be in your prep work. In football, it’s one of the few sports that you do a little bit more with less. With basketball, for example, you either got them or you don’t. We have guys who can coach, guys who can will things out of kids.
“In football, it’s not easy.”
“These kids who have gone through so much through the last two years, it does a lot for school spirit,” Lee said of the COVID-19 hybrid learning process, everyday in- and out-of-school and practice protocol, the maturation process just not following the same path.
“They’ve lost so much over the last two years, so getting back to having a (Super Bowl) game like this means a lot,” Lee continued.
“We scrimmaged Foxboro to start the season, and I was glad to see how good they (Warriors) were because they kicked our butts pretty good,” Lee recalled, as he and his staff then figured out where personnel changes had to be made, and what schemes on offense and defense would better suit the 2021 edition of KP football.
“Take Matt (Wassel) with our defense, defense is really an attitude,” Lee said of the ingrained toughness and dogged determination that has resulted in KP allowing the fewest points in the Hockomock League from year to year.
“We have done just enough, gotten a little bit better every week to win,” Lee said. “We’re not much to look at, but we definitely have been able to get better enough, to get the kids to believe enough that we can put it together, get some wins and keep moving forward. “That’s why I think a lot of my coaches, to put the kids in position to make plays. “You find out who can do what, figure it out and put them in the right spots and give them a chance to have success.”
“My dad used to say it all the time: don’t ask them to do things that they can’t do — don’t put them in harm’s way, don’t put them in the wrong situation.”