High School

New Weymouth football coach has logged plenty of miles for this job

Weymouth Wildcat #4 Brendan Farrow stretches for a first down with Braintree

WEYMOUTH – Michael Donovan drives over from Norton every day for his current job as a Weymouth High business teacher and his soon-to-be job as the Wildcats’ new head football coach.

That commute isn’t as tough as the one he made from Norton (and Taunton) to Rhode Island for his previous gigs as a Division 1 assistant coach at both Bryant University (in Smithfield) and Brown University (in Providence).

And those drives are nothing compared to the hauls he did crisscrossing Texas when he doubled as an area recruiter for Brown.

Considering that Texas is 10 percent larger than France (thanks, Wikipedia!), that’s a lot of time behind the wheel of a rental car.

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“It’s huge,” Donovan, 33, said of the Lone Star State. “Usually, I’d do Dallas and then go down to Houston and then go to central Texas – Austin, San Antonio. It’s a little harder to get to if somebody’s out in Lubbock. But if it’s fringe, like College Station, you (pair) it with Houston. It’s really (just a problem) if someone is far into East Texas or West Texas; those are the ones that are hard to get to.”

New Weymouth high school football coach Michael Donovan on Thursday April 6, 2023

How do you pass all that time on the road?

“Listen to some podcasts,” Donovan said with a laugh. “Eventually those would run out and you’d listen to the radio.”

“The sheer territory (is impressive),” agreed Brown coach James Perry, a Malden Catholic grad who was also Donovan’s boss at Bryant. “In Rhode Island, you can travel from the north part to the south part in 45 minutes. Then you go to Texas and you didn’t even leave the city in 45 minutes. You get a different perspective. All of that stuff is going to serve him well now that he’s a head coach.”

Traveling salesman

Sitting in the bleachers at Weymouth High on a warm spring day earlier this month, Donovan acknowledges that his life is a little more settled now that he’s off the college coaching track. He only had to relocate once – for a one-year hitch at the University of Delaware – but he logged time on the staffs at Bentley (his alma mater), Harvard (two different stints), Bryant and Brown.

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“I really wanted to be a head coach,” he said when asked why he detoured to high schools. “That was first and foremost. I saw the opportunity at Weymouth to be at a big school in a great town with passionate people. With college coaching you are on the road a decent amount. I loved it, but I want to be around (his wife Kaitlyn and their family) more. I have a young boy (Liam, who turns 2 in July) and another one on the way.”

New Weymouth high school football coach Michael Donovan on Thursday April 6, 2023

Donovan was a quality control coach at Harvard (his first tour) and Delaware, coached the defensive line and defensive backs in his second stop at Harvard, and handled the D-line at both Bryant and Brown. The last two years at Brown he also served as the Bears’ national recruiting coordinator, supervising a staff of eight other coaches, plus four Brown employees who helped with things like operational logistics and social media.

“I loved it,” he said. “It was a great experience. One, it gave me a lot of time to spend with Coach Perry so it helped prepare me for a head-coaching type role. You’re managing the staff, in a different way – you’re their co-worker – but you’re also responsible for something. It was a good way to get some experience working with the entire staff and working with people who are connected to the program but aren’t coaches.”

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College recruiters have to sell their program to high schoolers, so that should serve Donovan well at Weymouth if he wants to convince some 6-foot-2 rugby player to try football in the fall.

“One hundred percent you have to (be a salesman in recruiting),” Perry said, “but you also have to evaluate. You have to have a knack for finding good players, and they don’t all come in one shape or size. When you’re recruiting such a huge swath of territory you get exposed to lot of different kids, a lot of different ways of looking at it. You’re selling – that’s part of recruiting – but you’re also evaluating. He was very good at both.”

From taxes to X’s and O’s

Donovan never actually played football at Bentley, focusing instead on his studies. He wound up with a master’s degree in taxation and originally planned to work at a large public accounting firm specializing in federal tax law.

One day, Greg Burke, his old coach at Stoughton High, asked Donovan, who was then in college, if he’d like to help with some 7-on-7 football camps over the summer. Donovan, a linebacker at Stoughton, caught the coaching bug.

Stoughton varsity football Coach Greg Burke brings practice on Friday, August 26, 2022, to a close with the traditional Black Knights team slogan, 1-2-3 Hammer! Stoughton is scheduled to play Taunton High School in a scrimmage the next day.

Burke, who retired in the fall after 33 seasons at Stoughton, raves about Donovan. The two talk “probably every other day,” he said.

“One of the all-time tough kids (I’ve coached),” said Burke, who lives in Quincy. “Smart as a whip. He was one of those kids that you could tell was going to get into (coaching). Always asking a million questions, wanting to know why this, why that. He’s a killer in the film room. You really have to dedicate yourself to film work (as a coach). Sometimes it’s a little boring, but you have to get after it. He loved the game so much.”

Donovan returns the compliment to Burke, calling his old coach “a huge mentor for me.”

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Burke, who was assistant at Walpole, Milton (his alma mater) and Archbishop Williams before getting the Stoughton job, expects Donovan to make a smooth transition to being the boss.

“He’s a business/math guy,” Burke said. “He’s very good at putting things where they’re supposed to be. He’s not an English guy, he’s a math guy. He’s into it and he’ll be wicked organized. Kids are going to know where to go, when to do it.”

Being on campus already as a teacher also is big plus.

“When I got hired at Stoughton I got hired in August, three days before football (practice) started,” Burke recalled. “I had no assistants, I didn’t know the kids. Right now he’s in the school and he’s getting to know the kids. That’s the biggest part. You get to do the summer workouts with them and you can see who’s with you and who’s against you right off the bat.”

‘Listen first’

Right now, Donovan sees Weymouth as the best of both worlds. He gets to use his business background in this, his first-ever teaching job. He’s running classes on, among other things, web design, personal finance and business foundations.

“Teaching is like coaching,” said Donovan, who remembers loving a personal-finance course he took as a senior at Stoughton High. “I’m very comfortable in the classroom. I think it’s important to be in the building. I like being here all day with the kids. It’s a nice way for me to use my college degree. I feel like those courses I’m teaching are very valuable life skills for the kids to have.”

Donovan has met his players as well as their parents (at a recent get-to-know-the-new-coach night). There’s no spring football practices up here (that’s a Texas thing), but he’s content to check in with his future Wildcats in the school’s weight room and check out the multi-sport kids at their spring games.

His plan, he said, is to “listen first.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do here,” he said. “Just get to know as many people as I can in the building, make relationships in the building, hear what we liked, what we didn’t like (about how the team was run before) and go from there.”

Weymouth went 17-32 over the last five years under former coach T.J. Byrne, who left to coach at Hingham High. The Wildcats made the Division 1 MIAA playoffs each of the last two years but were bounced in the first round both times. There’s room for improvement, but the Bay State Conference can be a meat-grinder at times.

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Donovan makes no promises right now, saying only, “We want to be tough, we want to be dependable, and we want to be fast and physical.” X’s and O’s will come later. He has core schematic principals but cautions, “We have to do what fits Weymouth best. Everything looks good on the board. It’s what can the kids execute?”

Opening day is about five months away, so there’s plenty of time to come up with a plan. The stage might not be as big as it is at some of those Texas high school football factories he visited in his recruiting days, but that’s OK. He says the relative size of the stands and the intensity of the spotlight isn’t what it’s about.

“I love it because it’s all about kids having passion for it,” he said of the high school game. “It means something to them. Meeting the parents last night, it means something to them. I’ve had people reach out from the community; it means something to them. It’s great to have that feeling.”

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