At 9:00 am on a hot Monday morning in mid-July the hallway outside of the weight room at Clarksburg High School was lined with 20 to 25 young men doing planks and sit ups. Despite the fact that the air conditioner was running, the hallway was sweaty and humid. It smelled like hard work.
It was just the beginning of a journey that would take a lot more hard work. It was Bob Plante’s first day at his new job as head coach of the Clarksburg High School football team. He’d just met his new players about an hour before as they arrived to begin a new era in Clarksburg football.
Just two days earlier, Coach Plante was announced as the second ever head coach of the Clarksburg Coyotes. Less than a month earlier, Larry Hurd, Jr., the only other head coach in Clarksburg High School history announced that he was stepping away from coaching after more than a decade at the helm in Clarksburg to pursue other opportunities.
Plante is well known in Montgomery County high school football circles, but this is his first stint as a head coach. He is relatively unique as he is one of the few head coaches at a Montgomery County public high school which is not also employed as a teacher in MCPS.
Plante began coaching varsity football in 1988 at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Over his 33-year coaching career he’s been an assistant at Churchill, Sherwood, Quince Orchard, and Seneca Valley.
Most recently Plante served as offensive coordinator at Tuscarora High School in Frederick County for the 2016 season. Last year Tuscarora posted an 8-3 record and averaged 39 points per game making the post season, but losing in the first round of the playoffs to Oakdale.
As many of his players were stretching and planking in the hallway on Monday morning, Plante was in the weight room talking to another group of players. He was getting a feel for his new team and they were getting a sense of him.
“You only get one time to make a first impression. I hope I did that this morning,” said Plante in an interview a few minutes later in the storage room that was to become his new office at Clarksburg High School. “Most players understand that no matter how hard on them I am as a coach, the reason is that I want them to be successful and I want everyone around them to be successful. Once they have that realization, they usually buy in. They don’t buy in when it is all about the coach. It needs to be about the program and the community and our school.”
Plante understands that coaching football is not only about what happens between the hash marks on the field. He is very aware that Clarksburg is a program that has experienced some tragic events in the last few years. Beyond the Xs and Os of winning or losing seasons, the team lost three members to a tragic traffic incident in June of 2016 and the team and the community has been dealing with that loss.
“We are going to embrace that history,” he said. “That is part of who we are at Clarksburg. It is part of our experience. Those families are us. They are the part of our community. We are going to make sure the program recognizes them and makes them a part of everything that we do. That is important.”
“You always hear the quote, ‘sports don’t develop character, it exposes it.’ If that is the case, who develops character? It is the coaches, the teachers, and the mentors,” said Plante. “That is my job to develop character, to develop men of integrity; men that walk in the truth. Men of true grit. We don’t hear that term often anymore, it is an old school term, but grit is important. Toughness, persistence, responsibility, accountability and also — things that we don’t hear much about much anymore — like selflessness and humility.”
“When you put on the Coyote jersey, and you walk down the street that is what I want people to see,” said Plante. “When we are on the football field, that is what I want people to see true grit and character.”
“Through decades of coaching football, one of the things that I learned is that when I was with teams that were developing men of integrity and men of great character — we were also winning football games. The byproduct of developing character and grit was winning. If the goal, as a coaching staff, is the scoreboard, then you are going to fail. If the goal to build a program which makes great men, then you are never going to fail; you will either win or learn.”
The Coyotes finished last season with a 4-6 record playing in the tough 4A North against powerhouses such as Northwest, Gaithersburg, and resurgent Richard Montgomery. The Coyotes hadn't made the playoffs since appearances in 2013 and 2014 when they were stopped in the opening round by Quince Orchard both years.
Plante said that he’s not committed to any one offensive style yet because he needs to what his personnel is capable of and what will fit their talents best. “Offensively we are going to want to go fast,” he said. “We are going to start to identify the types of players we have here in short order. The beauty of the staff that I am going to bring on is that we have a great experience. We looked at our offense and defense as the trunk of a tree and based on our personnel we can branch off of our base concepts and go where we think the personnel fits best. I have done everything from double tight ends, Triple-I formation to no back spread formations.”
He said that for at least the beginning of the season, it might make sense to incorporate some of the things that the kids already know but hinted that a no huddle offense wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. “We are going to do whatever is in the best interest of the kids and their talent,” said Plante.
On competing with some of the best football programs in the state, Plante said, “When you look at programs that have been successful, such as Seneca Valley, those kids believe that they are going to win every game. There is no reason that sort of mentality can’t exist here. There has always been talent at Clarksburg, but it is up to us to get it going.”
However, Plante knows that success isn’t going to come overnight. He understands that grit and winning football games programs do not develop just because a new man takes over at the top. “This is going to be a tough year; there is no doubt about it. We are behind. I made the kids a promise that we are going to everything we can to be competitive. We have an awfully tough schedule. We play all the big monsters such as Northwest, Quince Orchard, and Damascus, but we wouldn’t want to have it any other way. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to play them and beat them. It is going to be tough, but it is my job to make sure that we can compete. I am sure that we can.”
Top: New Clarksburg High School Head Football Coach Bob Plante.
Next: Plante is just the second Coyotes coach in the history of the school. The Coyotes finished last season with a 4-6 record.
Photo by Germantown Pulse