In Dan Sutter's first year as the head coach of Merino, he made sure turnabout was fair play. A year ago, the Rams entered the 8-man state playoffs as the No. 3 seed and played their first game on their home field. They walked off that field in defeat. A 42-32 loss to Soroco ended a hopeful championship run for Merino. It's safe to say the sting has worn off for the players this year. As the No. 15 seed in this year's bracket, the Rams were more than convincing in a 40-0 win over No. 2 Mancos. Because Holly also grabbed an upset win over Sargent, the Rams must hit the road again this week but there is certainly reason to believe that traveling isn't necessarily so bad. A win over the state's No. 2 seed certainly has a way of boosting some confidence. It also has a way of receiving honors. With that win over Mancos, Sutter has been selected as this week's Broncos High School Coach of the Week. When informed of the honor, the first thing Sutter wanted to clarify was that he was accepting on behalf of the Merino staff. "There is no way we would be in the playoffs if I did not have Nathan Schmidt, Rocky Desanti & Joe Frank on the sidelines with me, period," he said. The Broncos Coach of the Week is selected in partnership with the Broncos and CHSCA.
Years as head coach:1 (6-4)
Years at Merino:1 (6-4)
Previous stops: Assistant coach Merino (2016-17).
Q: What made coaching a desirable job for you?
Sutter: I suppose it's a corny answer, but it's true. I love the game of football and I love being around kids. I have three daughters so I get to see a lot of high school volleyball. My wife is the head volleyball coach here at Merino so I get to see a lot of volleyball, but I missed the game of football. That's why I started volunteering a couple of years ago. It was a way to stay involved with the sport and be around the kids as well.
Q: You guys went through a rough stretch losing four out of five games, including one to Mancos, what was it like watching your boys bounce back and get to the point where you are today?
Sutter: It's been very rewarding. I'll say this, I think a lot of those losses are on me as a rookie head coach. I think we've evolved over the season and I was very thankful that we got that win over Sedgwick County a couple of weeks ago so that we could continue on into the playoffs. I think if we don't win that game we don't make it into the playoffs. I was super proud of the kids for standing tall and coming away with that win.
Q: Coaches always talk about what can be learned from losses, what did your guys learn in that loss to Mancos that helped generate a different result in that rematch?
Sutter: I think they learned we were a team of very few kids. We traveled with 16 kids this past weekend to the playoff game. The first loss to Mancos, we lost our starting tailback in the first quarter and we kind of had to shuffle kids around to different positions. I think they learned more about every position as the year went on. We dealt with injuries throughout the year, especially through that five-game stretch you mentioned earlier. They learned to play multiple positions and to be mentally strong and mentally tough when the chips were stacked against them.
Q: What's the difference between taking a week-to-week approach during the regular season then facing a win or go home situation when you're in the playoffs?
Sutter: I'll be honest, I don't know that our approach is any different. I think we got to the point that night before we took the field against Sedgwick County that I gave a heartfelt message to the boys before the game to not take anything for granted and it could be their last game. You never know when it's your last game. The next thing you know, you could be a 40-year-old grey-haired guy that's playing scout team quarterback for his boys at practice wishing he could be out on the field and playing the game. I delivered a message there that I think rang through them and they went out and played their hearts out that night. Now, you can see that fire in their eyes every weekend and they know this could be the last game they play.
Q: Once again a perceived underdog this week, what's your message to the team as you work to duplicate last week's success?
Sutter: Just go out and play to the best of your ability. I know I'm giving you stuff you hear week in and week out at every level, but that's really all you can do. Just go out and play your best and I truly believed in every game that we played in this year that if we played to the best of our ability we could come out winners. We still believe that every week. It's nothing special. I wish I could give you a special recipe, but that's it.
Q: Regardless of the result this week, what can you take away about yourself and about your team after this season?
Sutter: We've learned how to persevere in tough situations. What I've learned about myself is that sometimes as a coach this year, you have to call the shots in tough situations. Sometimes you have to take a step back and even if you think you know the answer of how to win a game, but if you're willing to swallow your pride and see that maybe your game plan was not correct going in and maybe we have to switch it up. I learned how to do that this year for myself. As far as my boys, I think they've learned that they're capable of so much more than they believed at the beginning of the season. Now they're starting to believe a little bit more as each game comes and goes.
Story by Dan Mohmann/CHSAANow
Photo Credit: Merino High School