A Maple Grove football alum grills the new head coach.
Writing self-deprecating stories about stumbling in a Jazzercise class or tapping out in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu workout come easy to me—for some strange reason.
Writing about playing football at Maple Grove High School for a story on the program’s new head coach isn’t … as … easy—for the reason of reticent pride.
I recall my Crimson career fondly. We won plenty, and the coaches – led by Craig Hansen, the program’s first and only coach until now—helped me become a man. Now, head coach Matt Lombardi begins a new era and speaks about instilling pride in future winning teams.
Lombardi, the defensive mastermind behind powerhouse Wayzata for the last decade, will, I believe, continue to keep fellow alums and I proud of being Crimson.
AG: I must start with some due diligence. Your name is Lombardi, and you coach football, so—and I’m sure I’m the first to ask this—is there any relation to the man who put Green Bay on the map?
ML: You would think, but no. The funny part is that my great grandfather is actually Vincenzo Lombardi, but he is a different guy. He was a first generation from Italy … But my father was a head coach; my brother is a head coach; I’m a coach; my mother’s father was a coach … Everybody in my family is involved in football, but it’s not that Lombardi.
AG: Coming from a family of coaches, which fellow coaches do you look at and say, “He’s got it. That’s how you are supposed to coach?”
ML: I’ve patterned a lot of what I’ve done off my father. (Bob Lombardi is a member of the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.) I think my dad was a brilliant coach … I’ve never seen anyone better at connecting with the kids and really making all of his decisions for their benefit. He was unbelievably good at getting kids to do more than they ever dreamt they could do.
AG: What will your “Crimson Way” be?
ML: I want the kids to be proud of their high school. I think that it should be a place that they look forward to, and there is a responsibility towards it. And when they graduate, they have tremendous pride that they came from Maple Grove.
AG: Describe your offensive and defensive philosophies.
ML: They are both similar in the fact that our goal is to have a system flexible enough to allow us to get our kids in a position to where they can succeed. I don’t ever want to be trapped by my system; I want my system to adapt to my kids … I want fearless mentality on both sides of the ball. I want them to feel on defense that they can attack, and they can come downhill, and they can do things aggressively, but with a purpose and be well prepared.
AG: Where does your ‘Mad Scientist’ nickname originate?
ML: It was after last year. We had a good run (to the Class AAAAA state title) … We won with a defense full of defensive backs. People thought it was weird that my nose guard weighed 190 and my (defensive end) was 185. We had one guy over 200 pounds on the whole D. We did a lot of Steelers-type stuff: We moved around and kept our kids attacking in different gaps and doing different things. In the playoffs, because we were so small and moving around so much, I think people thought I was a ‘mad scientist,’ but that was a fad for a little while. I don’t know if I qualify for that. My real nickname that people call me is actually “Lombo.”
AG: After having as much success as you did at Wayzata—and besides the promotion to having your own program—why did you want to come to Maple Grove?
ML: In all honesty, after the state title we had—it was no one’s fault—I sensed from the community and everyone involved that it was an expected thing. (Wayzata also won titles in 2005 and 2008)… But I really do value the process, and I’ve loved those years early on when I was just starting out at Wayzata, and Maple Grove and Armstrong took it to us. Then, the Wayzata kids started to believe. I really liked that process more than I realized because there are so many victories that go on during the whole thing … It’s invigorating to come to Maple Grove, where there is a little bit of a lull, and now try to watch these kids go through the same process. It’s exciting as a coach to watch the kids dream and believe.
AG: What’s it going to take to get Maple Grove back to state and beyond?
ML: The best football programs are the ones where there is a lot of ownership and a lot of people take great pride in it. Every time they practice, play in a game or do a workout, it’s with the expectation of being great. I hope that as I coach, the kids start to push themselves to levels than they never thought they could go. When they do that, that’s when you become a great program.
AG: Maple Grove and Wayzata have met often in the playoffs. What impression did the Crimson leave with you?
ML: In the early 2000s, I thought they just beat us up. The Maple Grove teams that beat us I thought were tougher, hard-nosed kids. They were mentally tougher than our kids at the time … We would come in with a good record and the Maple Grove kids would come and hit us in the mouth, and we just wilted. I thought they were better street fighters than we were. They forced Wayzata into having a blue-collar attitude, and once our kids got that way, we became dominant.
AG: A hypothetical: Maple Grove scores a touchdown as time expires to narrow Osseo’s lead to 14-13. Do you count on your reliable kicker to force overtime, or do you attempt a two-point conversion to try and beat the arch rival?
ML: Honestly, you are going to say that I’m a coward, but it would depend on the flow of the game. A lot of times, if it’s a game which I feel that we are in total control, and a couple things went against us, and if it’s a 10-yard game (in overtime) and I feel we can win it, I have no problem going for one. But if it’s a moment where I think they are on their heels and their heads are down or something like that, I think we would go for it and win it right there … I think it’s situational … That said, there is nothing tentative in what I do.
Andy Greder at a Glance:
- Varsity linebacker: 1999, 2000
- Northwest Suburban Conference first team: 1999, 2000
- Star Tribune All-Metro second team: 2000
- Played linebacker at the University of Minnesota Duluth: 2002, 2003
- Holds Crimson single-game tackle record of 20
- Holds Crimson tackle per game average of 10.8