In late February, Greg Chimera was named the 27th head coach in Hopkins football history. Chimera was appointed as the successor to the late James F. Margraff, for whom the head coach position is now named.
Chimera himself played for the Blue Jays from 2005-2008 and stayed on with the program following his graduation as a position coach. In 2014, he was appointed to the offensive coordinator position, a role in which he served for the subsequent five seasons.
Chimera will be joined on the staff by offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach David Josephson, defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Harrison Green and special teams coordinator/defensive line coach Dan Wodicka, among others. The News-Letter sat down with coach Chimera to discuss a variety of subjects, including his path to becoming a head coach, his appreciation of the Hopkins football program and his coaching style.
The News-Letter: What originally drew you to coaching?
Greg Chimera: I never grew up thinking I was going to be a football coach. Most people don’t come to a school like Hopkins and plan to be a coach, but coach Margraff went here and he got into coaching.
Toward my senior year, I leaned on him as a mentor and for advice, and I told him that I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life. I’d had some finance internships, so I was thinking about going into that field.
But he told me that there was an opening on the coaching staff and that I could try out coaching for a year to see if I liked it. I decided to stay on, and that year, we had our best season in school history. It was a really exciting season; I fell in love with coaching and figured out that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
N-L: You played for Hopkins, you chose to coach here and you have now been coaching here for a decade. What is it about this program that is so special and has kept you here all these years?
GC: Hopkins is just a great place, and I really do feel like I have the best job in the country. I’m around 90 great people (the players) every day, and the staff is awesome as well, so it never feels like work. A lot of people say “you’re working so many hours,” but to me it’s something fun.
Being around 90 great guys who are striving to be the best they can be on and off the field is inspiring, and seeing what they do after they graduate is the really gratifying piece of the whole deal.
N-L: What did coach Margraff mean to you personally, what did you learn from him and how do you want to carry his legacy forward?
GC: It’s been a whirlwind. January feels like it was yesterday, and it also feels like it was a few years ago. Our relationship evolved over time. At first he recruited me personally, then he was my coach, then he was my boss for a while and then he was a mentor in the profession.
By the end of it, he was just a really good friend to me and someone I considered a best friend. So it was really tough and it still is. It’s never easy to get by that and it’s kind of weird even choosing words to describe the situation.
But I’m using our relationship as motivation to be a better person first and foremost. He always focused on things that were way bigger than football and one of his big sayings was “Pressure is for surgeons and soldiers, not college football players.” He kept things in perspective, and that’s what I’m trying to do every day.
My position is now called the James F. Margraff head coach of football, so I see it (the title) on my business card and my door every day. It motivates me to be a better guy and to be there for the players. I know what he stood for, and I’m really trying to make those things my legacy as well.
I want to use what he taught me and use the culture and the broader spectrum to make this a great place, a place where guys want to be and can then graduate and do great things. I feel like my biggest tribute to him can be continuing on what he built here, so that’s what I’m trying to do.
N-L: What is it like to coach players that are so academically driven?
GC: It’s amazing! You’ll ask some of our players what time it is, and they’ll tell you how to build a watch. They’re so analytical and they pick up things so fast. You can put something on the board one time and they’ll retain it. There are so many advantages here compared to other football programs in terms of the knowledge aspect of the sport.
The guys really strive to be great on both sides of it (academically and athletically). There are lots of schools where I’m sure guys put all their time into football and not so much time in the classroom, and I’m sure that there are some schools that are the opposite.
Our guys find a really good balance: When they’re on the field, that’s all they think about, and once practice ends, they know there are other things to do. Being around these guys on an everyday basis inspires me to be better as a coach because I see them getting better at everything they’re doing.
N-L: With respect to in-game coaching, how will your responsibilities change? Will you be taking on a larger role with the defense and will you still be calling plays for the offense?
GC: For a long time here, we’ve been pretty independent on the defensive side of the ball. Coach Margraff would give input, but the defensive coordinator has always been an independent contractor in a sense. Coach Green is amazing, and what he’s done already in spring ball has been awesome to see. I’m really excited for our defense next year, and I think that it has a chance to be the best in the country.
Offensively, coach Josephson has taken over from where I left off last year and has already improved upon things. He’s such a bright football mind offensively, and the two of us think very similarly. Regardless of who’s calling the plays, we’re going to be a one-two combination.
I fully trust both coordinators and I do feel like we have the best staff in the country. I know coaches like to say that, but I truly believe it. There are young, bright guys all over this office. All five guys that are in here with me every day are amazing recruiters and football guys, as well as soundboards for our players.
Having two alums here is great. Coach Wodicka was a Biomedical Engineering grad here, so he knows the hardest things about getting through Hopkins. It’s the same with coach Josephson, who went to Hopkins and was just working on his Master’s at Stanford.
Both guys understand our players’ mindsets and what they’re going through, so the players can go and bounce questions off them.
My focus on game day will just be trying to keep my emotions in check and to not yell at the refs. In the past I could yell through the headset from the booth and the refs wouldn’t hear me.
But now I’ll be on the field, so I have to keep my emotions in check and be a time and game manager. The good thing about hiring a great staff is that they can take a lot off my plate, which I’m excited about.
N-L: Are there any new big ideas that you are emphasizing this spring that you would like to carry forward into the fall?
GC: I wouldn’t say there’s been anything huge. A lot of people in my interview process and since then have asked me what I’m going to change. The truth is, I’ve been here for 10 years, so if I changed a bunch now, it would mean I didn’t believe in what I was doing before.
There may be some little tweaks with respect to the pregame warm up and the type of food we have before games, but the general structure and the culture of our team is going to be exactly the same. It’s been working for us and it’s something that I’ve been a part of, so I believe in it already.
N-L: Are there any games in particular that are circled on calendar for next year?
GC: If I gave an answer to that, coach Margraff would be mad at me! We’re circling the next day of practice, so tomorrow morning we have spring ball practice and that’s what we’re focusing on. I know it’s cliché, but it’d be foolish to talk about trying to get back to the Final Four or trying to get beyond that.
We’re just trying to get better every day, and if we really focus on the process and how to get better on each rep, each practice and each meeting, the results will take care of themselves. We have a ton of talent and great guys in the building, so I’m excited about the fall.
N-L: There are a wide variety of football coaches, from the serious, no-nonsense personalities (like Bill Belichick) to the more enthusiastic, fun personalities (like Sean McVay and Dabo Swinney). Where do you see yourself and where do you want to be on this spectrum?
GC: I think the really good coaches are just who they are. I think that’s who Belichick is at the end of the day, and I think that’s who McVay is at the end of the day, so I’m just going to be true to myself.
That said I’m probably closer to the Swinney/McVay side of things: I have an outgoing personality, and I like to joke around. The guys know that’s who I am, so I’m going to be true to that. I’ll obviously put my foot down when I need to, but I’m more of a lover not a screamer at practice, and hopefully things will stay that way.