Matt McFadden has probably tried to suppress all known photographs of his one-day, off-beat coach act from two years ago, though some are out there.
He knows he could be subject to friendly fire as an internet sensation. The super-tight white top, well-worn Chuck Taylors, short-shorts or suspenders could be his undoing, or any of the above. Some who saw his dark hair under a visor mistook it for a wig too.
Witnesses to this cameo appearance along the sidelines at Spike Vannoy Field during a 2017 practice have long memories and are still laughing.
“I think it was Halloween,” assistant coach Bret Engdahl said.
It was. And assistant coaches joined him in costumes. The head man mimicked a comedy cult figure called Coach Hines.
Actor Keegan-Michael Key’s MadTV Coach Hines had fuzzy, wrap-around thick dark hair surrounding his otherwise mass of baldness, wore short-shorts, a tie over his short-sleeved jersey, and sometimes a whistle. His shtick was issuing seemingly deadly serious rants that left observers agog and in stitches.
McFadden said it happened to be the coldest day of the season and his exposed flesh went numb before the end of practice.
Players on that Cody High School state championship team said McFadden used humor to emphasize they had to ignore weather conditions.
“He was definitely fun to play for,” said Reece Andre, a member of that team now playing college basketball at Central Wyoming College.
The incident as performer Coach Hines shows a side of McFadden not on display during games. When the clock is ticking, McFadden is not playful, he’s calling plays. Everyone knows McFadden is passionate about football.
He is just beginning his seventh year as head coach and 11th in the Broncs program with a 38-21 record. The school has won two state championships on his watch.
But whether it is McFadden, his wife Mindy, his boss activities director Tony Hult, or players, there is an acknowledgment he is not all about Xs and Os, but devoted to imparting life lessons.
It is often said about sports, particularly football, that games are as much about building character as wins and losses. The Ws are sweet, but when teenagers graduate, their coaches want them to turn a corner from youth to adulthood, from boys and girls to men and women.
“I want you to know, it’s bigger than you,” McFadden said of team, program, school and history. “The biggest thing is watching those kids grow into men.”
Players attest this is not an idle comment, but that McFadden reminds them frequently behavior and bearing matter.
“He talks a lot about that,” said senior receiver-safety Tristan Blatt. “About how we should be responsible and not get in trouble.”
Taking a time out
McFadden is responsible for keeping the Cody student body in shape.
He is a physical education teacher who supervises Zero Hour, the before-school weight-lifting class for those who have roosters for alarm clocks.
While the community knows McFadden, 38, for his front-man role in football, he is an all-around sports guy. He stays trim and said when growing up in Kanab, Utah he competed in football, baseball, basketball and track.
When it is convenient, meaning when Dusty Tuckness is in town, McFadden trains with the world champion bullfighter from Meeteetse. Tuckness is a workout zealot. Together they can probably bench-press the Empire State Building.
Given that she operates CrossFit Cody, Mindy can probably match them.
McFadden was high school All-State, but received limited football recruiting attention. However, after being granted an academic scholarship, he walked on to the football team at Weber State, playing linebacker between 2000 and 2004. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, McFadden ended up All-Big Sky Conference.
His first year out of school he was a staff graduate assistant, thinking coaching was his career path. He also wanted to stick around Ogden, where he was dating Mindy, a cheerleader still in school.
But then the gig ended. Disappointed and a little soured on the sport, McFadden took off for Alaska with a college buddy.
“It was a time out,” McFadden said.
For two years, based in North Pole, McFadden worked construction and fished – a lot.
North Pole is not the place at the top of the world. It is a community of 2,100 people located on the outskirts of Fairbanks. The town does try to sell the idea that it is Santa Claus’ home base. The No. 1 tourist attraction is the widely known Santa Claus House that is a year-round gift shop, and since 1952 has sent Santa letters to children with a North Pole postmark.
McFadden did not exactly roll his eyes regarding memories of the Santa Claus House, but left the impression he spent more time pursing salmon on nearby streams.
“I was a fishing bum, pretty much,” McFadden said of that period in his life.
Although a from-afar fan of Ohio State (his parents went to school there) and the Pittsburgh Steelers, McFadden regained his spark for the sport in the purest and simplest of ways.
The one high school game McFadden attended in North Pole became a special occasion.
That day, the home-team star running back for the Patriots established a new Alaska state rushing record. Exuberant fans roared and teammates carried him off the field on their shoulders.
McFadden soaked in the scene. This is what it’s all about, he thought.
Coming to Cody
McFadden found Cody by attending the wedding of friend Randy Smith, who has been a Bronc assistant football coach. The community made an impression on him. Later, when he saw a teaching opening he applied.
McFadden was an assistant football coach first (and has been an assistant track coach for five years too). His first season as head football coach was 2013.
In 2014, when the Broncs went 10-1, he presided over his first state title team. In 2017, after a slow start, his 8-3 group won again. Last season, Cody finished 8-2, losing in the playoff semifinals.
Hult, who promoted McFadden, said when looking for a football coach, “You want someone who has a great knowledge of the game and can teach life skills. Matt checks all those boxes and always has.”
Hult said even when the team isn’t highly ranked he feels players have fun competing and conduct themselves in mature fashion.
“He made it like a family,” said a member of the 2017 championship team Peter Klessens on McFadden’s coaching. “We had fun, but you had to be serious when you needed to be serious.”
Anyone who watches McFadden’s game sideline demeanor knows those are occasions he considers it time to be serious.
His eyes are riveted to the field and his body language is linked to the flow of the game.
“He is very passionate,” Hult said. “I think he’s very passionate about everything he does.”
And organized too. Watching McFadden move from group to group on the practice field, he is clutching a piece of paper, a cheat sheet as a reminder of what each unit should be doing.
Andre said he can still hear loudspeaker announcements in his head telling players the to change drills.
Engdahl called McFadden “super organized.” Almost to an extreme.
“He’s focused and driven, but that’s what makes him good,” he said.
McFadden communicates with assistants constantly leading up to games and Engdahl said “there’s no doubt he’s got” a reason for everything he does.
When McFadden alighted on the idea of a Midnight Madness for day one of authorized high school practice this season, starting workouts at 12:01 a.m., it sounded like a quasi-goofy idea.
The Broncs, he told his players, would be the first ones on the field in Wyoming – and the last ones off. The second part of the statement gave it all purpose, meaning in November when they pull their helmets off for the last time, they would be state champs.
Winning in the dark
Even if Matt took time contemplating his future while communing with a fishing pole, Mindy McFadden was pretty sure in what direction he was headed.
“I think I always knew he was going to be a coach,” she said. “Coaching and football have always been in him. It’s always been a gift. He just loves his boys.”
They seem to know it. Senior quarterback Hunter Hays said each Tuesday time is set aside for a coach to tell the players an inspirational story.
“The coach’s motto is to turn the players into men, on and off the field,” Hays said.
That comment reaffirms the players are listening to McFadden.
McFadden can exhibit an old soul when it comes to respect for past football teams.
An athletic-department-wide trophy case greets visitors entering the Sweitzer Gym lobby. But part of McFadden’s off-season was spent developing a special football corner upstairs near the Broncs’ meeting room.
He invested time researching school records and posted a list. There are photographs of past Cody teams and shelves hold examples of helmets worn in different seasons.
The cozy corner is part museum and part history lesson. He hopes each year’s players gaze at the items, pause and think of where they fit in and how they can leave their mark.
It is possible one future player will be McFadden’s son, Cache, soon to be 11. The McFaddens have three children, including girls Bradlee, 8, and Piper, 5.
Mindy said they all like football, though when the girls go to games it’s mostly to play with other coaches’ children.
Cache is a for-real fan, with a particular affinity for New England star quarterback Tom Brady. He told his dad he badly wanted to see Brady play in person once.
So last year Matt made it happen, the two of them joining his brother for a Steelers-New England game in Pittsburgh.
Another game besides football big in the McFadden household is Uno.
“We play lots and lots of Uno,” Mindy said.
Competition is not ruthless, but there are no freebie victories for the youngsters.
“They have to earn it,” she said.
Which matches what McFadden teaches his football team.
Another reason for the Midnight Madness: The Bronc schedule is almost all night games, so the season theme is “winning in the dark.”
The words of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his “Hymn to the Night” galvanized McFadden. That poem concludes with this: “The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
“The best-loved Night!”
It could be the best night for the Broncs if they win the state championship in Laramie. McFadden might give coach Hines a shout-out too.