By Paul Augeri
Erik Becker, who resigned in January after three seasons with the Coginchaug co-op program, has been hired as the new football coach at Haddam-Killingworth.
Becker will remain in the Pequot Conference, becoming just the third head coach at H-K since the program’s varsity inception in 1977. He replaces Mike Baklik, who stepped down after six seasons to spend more time with his growing family.
“To be the third coach in a program with a 45-year history is something that has some real weight to it,” Becker said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s rare in this day and age to find that. That speaks to the quality of the town and the quality of the program.
“I feel really conscious of the fact that I’m a steward of what coach (Dennis) O’Rourke built and what coach Baklik tended to. I’m grateful to be the third guy, being entrusted to carry this program, and I’m really excited about it.”
Becker, 42, abruptly stepped down as Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton coach on Jan. 23. On Wednesday, he again would not discuss specifics about what led to his departure. Neither would Coginchaug athletic director Todd Petronio, who at the time termed the situation a personnel issue.
“I didn’t expect to be looking for a new home,” Becker said. “I want to be a head coach and I want to lead a program. When the opportunity at H-K opened up, I reached out to Mike and decided to apply, and I’m just really grateful for this opportunity.”
H-K athletic director Lynne Flint, who received 12 applications for the opening, said whatever reasons why Becker left his previous coaching job did not affect the search committee’s final decision to hire him.
Becker, who played football at Hand and later served on the Tigers’ staff, lives in Madison and teaches at Westbrook High School. He said the proximity to H-K was a key factor in opportunities he sought to remain a head coach.
“My thoughts were, number one, to find a job close to home. Family comes first for me always,” Becker said. “When I was looking, I did not apply for anything too far away. I love the Pequot and I’ve really loved my time in this league and it’s awesome to stay in this league.”
Becker left Coginchaug with an 18-12 record, with the Blue Devils winning 7 of 10 games in 2019, their best mark in five years. His on-field success coupled with an ability to motivate and encourage his players were among the draws for H-K’s search committee, Flint said.
“I think he does a lot with his players with character building. We’ve seen him in the Pequot a few times now,” Flint told middlesexcountysports.com, “and his sideline demeanor, how he speaks to kids, how he builds relationships, all of that character-based education … for him to come in with that expertise, which he obviously learned at Hand and at Coginchaug, and his X’s and O’s are very well established.
“I think we got a really great hire. He’s excited to work with (the Cougars’) assistants and the assistants are excited to work with him.”
Becker said the working relationship he has had with Baklik was an important factor in pursuing the H-K opening.
“I think the world of Mike and feel like we’ve built a bond,” Becker said. “He is a really solid guy. I have always admired H-K. In the three years I’ve faced them, I feel like the kids are hard-nosed, physical and tough, and to me it has all the attributes of a great program. I will be guided by Mike and the guys who were on the staff before, to get a read on kids and learn what they can do.”
The Cougars were 33-32 under Baklik, who led them to a school-record 11 wins in 2018 and just their second appearance in a state championship game.
H-K endured a 2-8 season last fall, their hopes for another run dashed when the school’s all-time leading rusher, senior Dalton Modehn, suffered a broken collarbone in Week 2 and missed more than a month of action. The Cougars struggled to score but their defense gave them a chance, allowing only 18 points per game in the eight losses.
“Losing Dalton was probably a catastrophic blow to their season, but they were competitive in almost every game,” Becker said. “The Coginchaug game was a one-score game and there a bunch pretty similar to that. From what I know, I think there’s a lot of talent coming back and a lot of talent coning up. I remember watching the (Coginchaug/H-K) JV game last year and I was impressed by the athleticism on the H-K side.”
Becker expects to meet with his new team next week.
“My job is to build relationships with kids and parents and all the stakeholders” in H-K’s program, he said. “That certainly means getting to know the athletes, but more importantly getting to know them as young men. Those relationships are the most rewarding part of this work. I coach to help boys become successful, responsible, respectful, honest and caring men who will impact the world in positive ways.”