In a time when staying with one employer is growing rare in the working world, a coach in the Shippensburg University football program has done just that.
Mark Maciejewski, who played for the Red Raiders from 1989-92, then served as a graduate assistant in the program in the 1995 and 1996 seasons, and came back to Shippensburg as an assistant from 2000-04, then came back to Shippensburg again in the 2006 season, has finished his first season as head coach of the football program.
The Red Raiders had a bumpy start to 2011, losing four games through the first seven weeks. They picked up a major win over Kutztown on Sept. 7, when the Golden Bears were the No. 12 team in the country. SU has picked it up in recent weeks, and has ended the year with a four-game win streak, including a 40-16 win over Mercyhurst last Saturday.
“I’m very proud of our kids,” Maciejewski said. “I think that they’ve had a very good year, as far as doing the right things, and we’re stressing that as a coaching staff.”
Maciejewski has stressed discipline with his players this season, and it is evident in practice. At a Monday afternoon practice to prepare for Mercyhurst, Maciejewski asked a player about missing a lifting session earlier in the day. Later in the same practice, while watching Raider sophomore defensive back Kyle Karpinski and redshirt freshman defensive back Trevor Mack on the left side of the secondary, Maciejewski screamed a call that Karpinski had been calling out, then turned away from the two frustrated when Mack responded in a low voice when asked what he should have been calling out.
“I’m not letting people slide on anything,” Maciejewski said. “If they do something that’s not up to our standards, they are going to pay a price for it, and a lot of times that’s playing time because that’s what I think hurts the player the most. I could run them up and down the field every day, doing extra sprints, but what really should hurt a competitor is not being able to play. I think we’ve gotten that message across in our program, and I think these kids are understanding that you’ve got to have discipline.”
Maciejewski said the SU coaches stress to the players the need to have discipline away from the field, as well as on it.
“We talk about winning in the classroom, we talk about winning socially, and we talk about winning on the field,” Maciejewski said. “It all goes together. To be successful, you’ve got to be able to do all of them.”
Avery Coleman, an SU sophomore defensive back, said Maciejewski’s focus on discipline helps the team keep its focus late in games.
“The maturing and coming through late in the game, that’s when the discipline is most important. You’ve got to focus on your reads and everything,” Coleman said. “When your coach really emphasizes that in practice, it makes you pay attention to that more in the game.”
Maciejewski said he learned to focus on discipline from his years under former Red Raider head coach William N. “Rocky” Rees.
“I can remember when Coach Rees first came, the first team meeting we had when Coach Rees was hired. It was no joke, let me tell you,” Maciejewski said. “It was discipline from the start, and we as a team needed that. I still believe today that discipline’s everything about a football team. Discipline’s got to be one of the main parts of our foundation.”
Coleman said Maciejewski expects perfection out of his players.
“If I mess up one little step in my coverage, he’s getting on me,” Coleman said. “He’ll let you know about it.”
Along with his high demand for discipline and perfection in execution, Maciejewski brings intensity and enthusiasm to coaching the program.
“I think as the head coach, you’ve got to have passion and pride and emotion and enthusiasm for the program that you’re coaching,” Maciejewski said. “It’s genuine with me because I’ve lived it. I’ve been here a long time, and this program means a lot to me. Every game we win is important, and every game we lose, it hurts. I’m not looking for my next opportunity, I’m worried about what we can do here at Shippensburg.”
Rees said Maciejewski’s enthusiasm is “infectious.”
“You can’t play football without emotion,” Rees said. “It’s demanded of that game because you’re putting yourself physically on the line, as well as emotionally and technically on the line, so you have to come with real intense feelings about winning and losing. If you have those intense feelings about it, you’re willing to pay the price a little more to get what you want. Mac brings that to the game. He understands the intensity for himself, and he understands that he has to teach the intensity to guys that are sitting on the edges and are trying to find their way through it.”
Coleman said that Maciejewski coaches with a loud, up-tempo style, which helps the Red Raiders play well when they really need to.
“He talks about Red Raider pride all the time,” Coleman said. “He’s just trying to get us to play for the program, and really have something to play for, instead of just running around playing football. I think it helps with playing the whole game. As you could see, at the beginning of the year, we’d get, it’s not like we were tired, but lose focus. And I feel like when he’s on us more and more, and we’re doing this much up-tempo stuff, it makes us stay focused later in games, so that we can come through in the fourth quarter and overtime.”
SU scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away against the visiting Lakers. Overall, however, the Red Raiders were outscored, 89-70, in the fourth quarter this season. In two of its four wins to end the year, SU had been outscored by its opponents in the fourth quarter. Cheyney outscored SU 7-3 in the Red Raiders’ 59-20 win over the Wolves on Oct. 22, and East Stroudsburg outscored SU 14-6 in the final 15 minutes in SU’s 44-14 win on Nov. 5.
“I feel like we need that experience, since we were such a young team this year,” Coleman said. “We’re going to have a lot of people returning.”
Rees said Maciejewski’s enthusiasm for football came naturally.
“It’s something that he had been blessed with since his playing days,” Rees said. “I assume it comes from his background and his family or his high school coach. He has always had intense feelings about winning and losing.”
Maciejewski finished his playing career as a three-time All-PSAC Western Division First Team selection as a nose guard.
When he came to Shippensburg from Punxsutawney High School in Punxsutawney, Pa., Maciejewski was recruited as a defensive back. He played strong safety for a week in preseason camp during his redshirt season in 1988, then moved to linebacker for the rest of that season. In 1989, his redshirt freshman year, he played defensive end. Then in 1990, when Rees took over the program from Joe Bottiglieri, Maciejewski moved to nose guard.
At nose guard, Maciejewski would go on to earn Weekly Football Gazette and Associated Press Third Team All-America honors at the end of the 1991 and 1992 seasons.
“I wasn’t very big. I was 220 pounds, but I was decently strong, and I had pretty good technique and quickness, so that helped me out,” Maciejewski said.
In his first two seasons, Maciejewski totaled 66 tackles, including 64 in a breakout redshirt sophomore season in 1990, a season in which he also had eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
“I had to work hard to get on the field, but once I did get on the field, I had a decent career here,” Maciejewski said.
As a redshirt senior, Maciejewski had 82 tackles, 7.5 sacks for 74 yards, and 23.5 tackles for loss. The 23.5 tackles for loss totaled 115 yards. Maciejewski finished his career with 216 tackles, 23 sacks, 51 tackles for a loss and two interceptions.
It was also during his time as a Red Raider player that he caught the attention of current Mercyhurst head football coach Marty Schaetzle, who coached the offensive line at Shippensburg from 1990-96.
“He used to try to use his intensity to make us better,” Schaetzle said of Maciejewski. Schaetzle said that he had to create a special blocking scheme to contain Maciejewski because of how quick Maciejewski was off the ball.
After his playing days and a few years in the working world, Maciejewski came back to Shippensburg as a graduate assistant in the 1995 and 1996 seasons.
“I was taking a course on campus to get my master’s, and I ran into Coach Rees, and he asked me if I would want to be the GA here, come back full time, get my master’s degree, get it paid for, and coach a little football,” Maciejewski said. “I thought, ‘that sounds OK, that’s not a bad deal, to coach. It’s from 3-6 in the afternoon. I’ll have a lot of time for this and that.’ Well, that’s not the case. I got into coaching and it’s a whole different ballgame than what I thought. You don’t realize as a player how much time the coaches put into it.”
Maciejewski said during the season, coaches work 90 hours a week and more. He said Mondays and Tuesdays start with meetings with players at 6:50 a.m., then the coaches gather for a staff meeting at 9 a.m., and then the coaches start preparing practice plans and a game plan. Wednesdays and Thursdays involve getting ready for the following week’s opponent, and Fridays are more relaxed, as the assistant coaches do not have to show up until the staff meeting at noon.
“At first, I was like ‘Man, I don’t think I can do this,’ because it just takes up every part of your day and night and everything else, working a lot of hours seven days a week,” Maciejewski said. “But then it started clicking with me. I started to see the players respond to what I was saying and see them being successful in the field, in the classroom and things like that, and I just got hooked with it.”
After his two years as a graduate assistant, Maciejewski moved on to James Madison University, where he coached the secondary during the 1997 season and the defensive ends and special teams in 1998.
In 1999, he became the defensive coordinator at Saint Francis (Pa.), a position in which he said he grew a lot as a coach because it was his first time in charge of the entire defense.
“When things were not going so well, I had to look in the mirror and see what’s going on,” Maciejewski said. “That’s when I was first in charge of assistant coaches and making sure we were doing what we needed to do. Some days it was a struggle. Saint Francis is not a place where they have won a lot of games in their history, so it was a great learning experience for me to be in that situation.”
Under Maciejewski’s leadership, Saint Francis finished sixth in the Northeast Conference in total defense and fifth in sacks and opponent third-down conversions.
In 2000, Maciejewski came back to Shippensburg as an assistant coach who focused on guiding the secondary. Before the start of the 2002 season, when Schaetzle was hired as the head coach at Mercyhurst, Maciejewski nearly took his offer to become the Lakers’ defensive coordinator.
“It was very enticing to work with Marty, and also my brother lives in Erie, so I would be closer to my brother, but it was a hard decision,” Maciejewski said. “I decided to stay here. Coach Rees and I had long talks about it, and I’m glad I did decide to stay here. It’s worked out in a great way for me.”
Schaetzle said he offered Maciejewski the job because he felt Maciejewski would be a “natural fit” for the Laker program. He also said he was happy for Maciejewski even when Maciejewski decided to stay at Shippensburg.
Maciejewski became the SU defensive coordinator in 2003, and he worked at that until 2005, when he took a break from coaching to work at Orrstown Bank in Shippensburg. Maciejewski said he had a bright future at the bank, but he had really started to miss football. He said the time away from coaching made him realize that he wanted to coach for the rest of his life.
“I was bored. I was used to working 90 hours a week. Going to work at 8 and getting off at 5, I was bored,” Maciejewski said. “I guess once you get into the lifestyle of coaching, it becomes a part of your life.”
When he returned to the Red Raider program in 2006, he became assistant head coach, and he still coached the secondary. He served as assistant head coach until becoming head coach on Dec. 8, 2010. Maciejewski said he has a lot of great memories with the Shippensburg program.
“Off the top of my head, just being a player here,” Maciejewski said. “I can remember a lot of games as a player and a lot of things that I did here in college with my friends. You know, it’s something that will live with me for the rest of my life. Then also, as the coaching part of it, there’s a lot of great stories that I have as a coach. There’s a lot of great wins that I remember, and there’s some losses I remember too. There’s a lot of good times here.”