Like anyone recently retired from a career they spent decades in, Sam Feldman found himself looking for something to do. When he couldn’t come up with anything substantial, the former boys soccer coach at Northeast High School reached for the familiar.
With his son, Kraig, now in the position his dad occupied for 10 years, going back to Cottman and Algon seemed like a great idea. Kraig is off to a 6-0 start in his first season as the Vikings head coach with his father by his side as an unofficial co-coach, and the unlikely combination has helped ease different transitions for both Feldman men.
Plus, they both bring their own strengths to the job.
“A lot of it is co-coaching, I’d say,” Kraig Feldman said. “We both have a whistle at practice, but on game day, I make the calls and the subs … he likes to do the yelling, because he always says he’d rather get thrown out of a game than me.”
“Well, I do have the gym voice,” Sam responded with a hearty laugh. “He’s just a teacher.”
Last fall, Sam Feldman, a physical education teacher at Northeast since 1997 and the soccer and baseball head coach since the 2002-03 school year, went into the year knowing he would retire as an educator and presumably, a coach. The Vikings rewarded his swan song with a memorable and inspired run to a Public League championship, his second at the school, and Sam was at peace with his decision.
Meanwhile, Kraig had been the soccer coach and athletic director at Charles Carroll High School in Port Richmond, as well as a biology teacher. When the school closed earlier this year, he made extra efforts to try to gain a position at Northeast, something he had been trying for some time. As it turned out, Northeast had both an opening for a biology teacher and a head soccer coach. He applied, and didn’t find out he had been hired until late July.
At that time, the state of the reigning Public League champs was in flux. Sam Feldman had taken the Vikings to three straight championship rounds, and the players cared for him deeply, so much so that two of the team’s top returning players, George Chavez and Tyler Gormley, weren’t expected to come back and play for a new coach.
“The way he talked to those kids, I never had a coach talk to me like that,” Kraig said of his father. “He would tell them he loved them, and I think it was a fatherly thing for a lot of them. At the end, you just felt that connection he had with them. I knew how important it was to him and how much he cared for those kids. It was a season of destiny, a culmination of his entire coaching career.”
When Kraig got the job at Northeast, he went to his father to see about contacting returning players and talking them into coming back. When they found out that Sam would still be involved in some capacity, the turnout was no surprise.
“I called the kids and told them to round up everyone they could,” Sam said. “Miraculously, the first day of practice, 20 kids showed up with physicals. I got us started and by the end of it, we were moving.”
Initially, there was some confusion from the players about who was the highest authority figure on the team, but according to both Sam and Kraig, that was straightened out quickly. Sam is not there every day, so it’s clear to the kids now who the head coach is. When Sam is there, he gets to work on the technical aspects of their games (his biggest coaching strength, according to Kraig), as well as keeping his old coaching philosophy and system in place, which the kids are already comfortable with. Sam is around usually three or four days a week, which, as he said, “gives me something to do for a couple hours.”
If there were any remaining questions about how the transition has gone for Sam, Kraig and the 2013 Vikings, look no further than the team’s schedule to date. In four of Northeast’s wins, the Vikings outscored their opponents by a composite score of 29-1. Chavez and Gormley, “the two people that make this horse run,” according to Sam Feldman, have picked up right where they left off in 2012. A sophomore, Dean Hernandez-Carrera, leads the team in scoring with a goal in all six games, while junior captain Mario Kureta and senior Erick Cerrada have stepped up as well.
And while Kraig Feldman jokingly shushed a reporter when the “c-word” was brought up, another championship run could be in store for the Vikings, even with a deeper Public League in 2013.
“One of the first things I noticed about them is that they aren’t cocky or overconfident,” Kraig said. “Even though they’ve won consistently, you don’t hear them going around calling themselves champions or saying they’re the best. They aren’t satisfied, and they want to play better and improve no matter what the score is. That’s been contagious.”
As far as the coaching relationship between father and son, there hasn’t been any stepping on each other’s toes. As Kraig said, “Everybody understands that I’m the head coach,” and the combination works because the two can play off each other’s strengths.
Sam coached Kraig from the time he was 4 up until he began playing soccer at Central Bucks East High School. Even so, Sam always helped Kraig work on his game at home in the backyard, and he’s still teaching his son things about soccer to this day.
“He was always involved in making me a better soccer player,” Kraig said. “That was always his first sport, his first love, and that reflected back onto me.”
Above all, both men are enjoying the unexpected experience of coaching alongside one another. For Sam, it makes him feel like he’s still part of the team; and even though he’s retired, according to him, he gets to experience all of the good things and not have to deal with the stress that comes from being both a teacher and a head coach.
“I’m actually having more fun now, because it’s only the good stuff,” he said. “It’s all good, all positive. The toughest part for me was that first day of classes when I woke up at 4:30 and had nowhere to go. It was killing me. Now I get to deal with kids who want to see me all the time, which makes a difference, and I don’t have to take any responsibility for it because there’s only a few people who even know I’m here.”
As for Kraig, getting to spend more time with a man he’s been close with all his life has been all gravy.
“It’s super cool,” he said. “We have a great relationship as father and son. Between me, my dad and my brother, we always did stuff together anyway and always got along real well. We’re probably a lot closer than the average family. We enjoy just being around each other and hanging out.
“In his retirement, it’s great that he can still be involved, and he loves it. I get his tutelage, and he can help me understand what I need to do. He’s still teaching me. It’s been a wonderful experience. He’s not here every day, but I love it when he is. It makes coaching a lot more fun to be able to share this, together.” ••