Less than 24 hours after receiving the news he’d head the Seymour High School football program, Mike Kelly was meeting with players from the team.
Going to bed at midnight and waking up at 4 a.m., Kelly was eager to get things started, and a one and one-half hour drive from Fishers wasn’t going to slow an opportunity for growth.
In the Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium, Kelly — with Seymour assistant coaches filed behind — told the team his vision and philosophy.
However, it wasn’t his first visit to Seymour outside of the job interviews.
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On Sunday, with his wife of 13 years, three kids and two foster children, Kelly ventured south to Seymour for church.
Afterwards, they visited the stadium and the facilities on the school’s campus.
“We’re here and ready to be Seymour Owls,” Kelly said.
On Tuesday evening, the Seymour Community Schools board of trustees approved the hiring of Kelly as head varsity football coach and physical education teacher.
Kelly, 34, had coached at Fishers since 2008, taking over as the offensive line coach in 2010 and in 2015 was named offensive coordinator.
The Tigers, with Kelly on board, won a Class 6A state title against Lawrence Central in 2010.
In his first season with the Tigers, Kelly coached the freshman offensive and defensive lines and began teaching in the health and physical education department.
In 2009, Kelly worked as the varsity tight ends and defensive tackles coach and junior varsity assistant coach.
Before going to Fishers, he was a teacher and coach at Central Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where he coached varsity wide receivers and defensive ends.
Kelly, who is originally from Portland, Indiana, said Seymour feels like a perfect fit.
“I’m from a very similar community to Seymour,” Kelly said. “I’m from Jay County, and it was attractive to me that there’s a community aspect. You’re going to have a lot of community support and buy-in. It gives you the opportunity to build the program and support the community at the same time. I can remember when I was in high school, the parades, the stuff that goes on in a smaller community.”
During Wednesday’s meeting with players, Kelly made it clear to the returning players his expectations.
“I told them that character is number one to me,” Kelly said. “We’re not going to remember what happened in one game specifically, but the discipline, responsibility, dedication and commitment to football, those things you don’t realize you’re learning them until you’re away from it.
“I want to make sure I’m selling that message to the kids with the way I interact with them. To me, that’s how I’m going to measure my success as a football coach. Not necessarily in wins and losses — which are important — but I think it’s a byproduct of doing those things.”
While some incoming coaches purge coaching staffs, Kelly plans on keeping much of the personnel.
“I have a couple guys that I’ve contacted, but I’m not one to just clean house,” Kelly said. “Josh (Shattuck), the former coach, has done a great job building the program. He has good guys around him who have helped take the program from 0-10 to 8-4.
“I don’t want to clean house completely, but there will also be people who don’t believe my philosophy or have the same expectations, which is fine. I’m going to meet with each one of them, and we will go from there.”
On the field, Kelly preaches the pursuit of mastering the basics.
“We’re going to be fundamentally and technically sound,” Kelly said. “We’re going to be in the right positions. I want to play systematic, disciplined football. Offensively, I run more of a pro offense. We’re going to have a lot of different personnel packages with a lot of different people on the field, hopefully.
“Defensively, we’re going to be basic but come after people. We’re going to pursue the ball. We’re looking for takeaways. Those are things we will be working and practicing on daily.”
Kelly said the Owls will not be built around one player on offense and will run multiple sets with many players getting on the field.
In his one encounter with the players, Kelly said he saw the eagerness to get back on the field.
“They seem hungry, which is a testament to what (Shattuck) has built here,” he said. “They seem eager, all the things that are important to a successful program. A lot of times, with today’s high school kids, they’re not willing to put forward that effort it takes to be good. I think it’s unique because they’ve been doing that here. They’re ready to get at it.”
Kelly plans to get involved with the youth football programs.
“If you look at good, successful programs, one thing they all have in common is a youth program, feeder programs that are doing skills and drills every day starting in elementary school,” Kelly said. “ It’s like an investment. If you invest early, you get much bigger returns when they get to high school. You will have kids buying in when they get to high school. It’s going to be a huge part of this from flag football up.”
Outside of season, Kelly said he will encourage all of his players to participate in multiple sports.
“I’m 100 percent supportive,” Kelly said. “This specialization, which frankly is pushed by AAU and summer league coaches, doesn’t have the kids’ best interest in mind. The reality is, the statistics show that college athletes are multi-sport athletes.
“I’m going to push multi-sports as much as I can. I want as many of our guys in track, baseball, basketball, golf as I can. I want us playing everything. The more we have, the better the buy-in to the school and all the programs. I’m a huge advocate.”
With little time before the summer practices commence, Kelly has a plan in place.
“We’re going to practice three times a week and lift three times a week,” Kelly said. “We will start with weights and go right into on-field drills. We’re going to work fundamentals and then start building schematics both offensively and defensively. We’re then going to have some competition within that.
“I don’t plan on putting them in helmets and shoulders at the beginning of the summer since we’re limited to 12. We will put those on as we go. We will have a team camp right before the moratorium week and will have the community come out and engage with us. Then it’s time to lock and load for the season.”
Kelly said he plans on moving to Seymour with his family as soon as he finds a new home.