By Paul Augeri
Mike Eagle took his first dip into coaching high school football nearly 20 years ago as a member of Tim King’s staff at Valley Regional, where he oversaw skill-position players and called the junior varsity offense.
A few years later, when he began his teaching career at McGee Middle School in Berlin, Eagle joined the Berlin High staff and dabbled in a little bit of everything for six seasons. Morgan gave him his first head coaching opportunity. Guilford, his second. Eagle then returned to Berlin to coordinate the Redcoats’ polished, high-powered offenses of 2017 and 2018.
The coach took a breather from football in 2019. On Thursday, his career officially circled back to the Pequot Conference when he was named coach of the Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton co-op program.
He replaces Erik Becker, who stepped down after three seasons before recently being hired as the new head coach at Haddam-Killingworth.
“The fall away from coaching allowed me to sit back and recharge and help out at home,” said the 47-year-old Eagle, who lives in Guilford with his wife and two sons. “To be honest, the time off was great. It allowed me to do a lot of things and it also solidified the fact that I missed football.
“I missed the Friday nights, but more than that I missed being in the locker room with the guys. I missed the March 6 lifting sessions, the offseason work, the passing league in the summer, everything that goes into being a part of a football program. So it’s not only the games, but the relationships, all those things that revolved around football. This is a labor of love and a passion and I’m ready to jump back in.”
Eagle’s hiring in Durham has generated positive reaction. His varied experiences as a head coach with medium- and large-school programs inside the Pequot and out, plus his working knowledge with an offense and defense, give the Blue Devils a veteran they haven’t had out of the gate with past hires.
“We’re lucky to have an individual like Mike Eagle moving forward,” Coginchaug athletic director Todd Petronio said. “His familiarity with the Pequot certainly added a positive (to his candidacy) after the fact. It helps that Mike has connections, but his experience as a head coach in different settings gave us a flavor of what he’s accomplished in the past.”
The fact that Coginchaug has taken an upward turn in the last three seasons did not go unnoticed by Eagle. Last fall, the Blue Devils finished 7-3, their best record in some time, with a roster of almost entirely underclassmen and a loss of only a handful of impact seniors. In film study, Eagle quickly realized the team “has some dudes” who can play.
“Way back when, you had to ask around and try to find film of players, but with the advancements in the sport now, you can just click on YouTube,” he said. “So here I am in the application process watching game film of Coginchaug against Rockville and Coginchaug (versus) Old Saybrook. I’m watching and saying, whew, they have some very athletic, very fast players, in a very similar scheme to what I do. I know Coach Becker professionally. I know what he does as far as an offense. We are similar yet different, but looking at this opportunity, you do your homework going in. You study up on the school and the community so you’re not jumping in blind.”
Eagle played high school football for Tony Jaskot at Xavier in the late 1980s. He was an all-conference receiver, an all-county kicker and a senior captain (and later a short-lived walk-on at the University of New Haven).
He had a good run as a first-time head coach at Morgan from 2010-14 — a 28-25 record with a playoff appearance in the 2013 Class S quarterfinals, the Huskies’ first since 2000. Morgan was 8-3 in his final season, just missing out on another playoff berth.
“It was fun. I really enjoyed my time at Morgan,” Eagle said. “I was blessed to have some great coaches and great administrators and some great kids there who bought into my philosophy. Morgan had small-school appeal. We had a pool of 285 boys to pull from then. That has challenges in itself. I liked the challenge of how to get kids to play real iron-man football both ways, as well as the challenge of game-planning.”
The Guilford job for him was a step up to the Southern Connecticut Conference with a large roster at his disposal, but “it didn’t pan out the way I had thought it would.” He resigned (his choice, he’s said) after winning just five games in two seasons.
“When the Guilford job opened, it seemed like a good fit. I was in town already,” Eagle said. “When I left, Joe Aresimowicz, who had taken over at Berlin, invited me back to Berlin to call the offense for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. His son Michael was on my staff at Morgan and Guilford. That was my offense they had been cultivating at Berlin since 2010, so I jumped back in head-first.”
The Redcoats, a state finalist in 2012 and ’14, played for the Class M championship in 2018, where they lost to a St. Joseph team that blew out 12 of its 13 opponents that season.
Last summer, Eagle assisted Plainville’s Tim Shea for Team Constitution in the state senior all-star game. “That was my last little fix before taking some time off,” he said.
As Becker did before him, Eagle said he will call offensive plays at Coginchaug.
“That’s what I do,” he said. “I’ve built my own brand of offense, just things I’ve accumulated over the years. I’m a split between old-school Wing-T and new-school spread and all the bells and whistles of the RPO (run-pass option) game. And any offensive coordinator worth his salt has to know defense. Actually, I did (call) both my first year at Morgan and at Guilford. Coaching both sides, it really sets a foundation for you. If you know offense, you have to know defense. But offense is definitely my forte and my love is on the offensive side of the ball and putting together an offensive game plan and calling it.”
In the coming week at Coginchaug, Eagle looks forward to meeting the players and the coaching staff and learning how a co-opted program navigates both the challenges and advantages of partnering with a family of schools.
“The Pequot is a hodgepodge. It’s a jambalaya of everything – big and medium schools put together,” he said. “With co-ops, they give kids who don’t have a chance to play at their school a chance to play at another school.”
“When this (job) came about, the familiarity with being in the Pequot for five years at Morgan, the proximity to home and work, the great facility at Coginchaug … and I know the program has really taken big steps,” he added. “Everything is heading in a positive direction, and with the co-op there’s numbers, so there are positives there, too. And here we are. I’m right back in the middle of it and ready to get my hands dirty and get coaching again.”