IOWA CITY — Iowa City Regina Athletics Director Chet Wisniewski knew he had a diamond in the rough when he hired Marv Cook.
Cook, who had no previous coaching experience before taking over the Regals, sparkled in his fourth season, proving Wisniewski and other supporters right.
“We knew we had to clean and polish it,” Wisniewski said about Cook when he took over the Regals program. “I can honestly say we have the product we thought we would.”
The product was a coach that the Regals to a 14-0 mark, capturing the Class 2A state football championship and producing one of the best seasons in all classes this year. He is t SourceMedia Group News 2010 Coach of the Year.
The Regals entered the season with a senior-dominated and senior-laden squad. Cook parlayed that into a stellar campaign, reaching the state title game for the second time in his tenure.
“We felt like we were going to be blessed with a lot of experience and depth across the board,” Cook said. “Coming into this year, we knew we had a good chance, but we still had to play (the games). We had a good district we were unfamiliar with, then we had to get through our matchup district … it takes just one setback and you’re out.”
Regina didn’t experience anything close to a setback the entire season, shutting out three opponents in the playoffs including a 21-0 blanking of North Polk in the state finals. Regina was dominant all season, outscoring their foes, 591-53, owning a 203-14 scoring advantage in the postseason. The 538 point differential was tops in the entire state.
“You have to take care of business every week,” Cook said. “That was the good thing about this group. They were focused. They were always locked in.
“It was a great group of seniors. Great leadership by them.”
And Cook put them in position to win. The team thrived in the spread offense, a conversion over the last two seasons, Cook, a West Coast offense product, relied on the expertise of assistants Ed Hinkel and Ron Hughes. The Regals tallied 4,787 yards, including 2,932 on the ground and scored 64 touchdowns.
They adapted their to the athletes in the program, and a cornerstone in his coaching philosophy is providing the players with the tools to succeed — on and off the field.
“That’s our job as coaches to try and put them in position to be successful and let them showcase their skills,” said Cook, who has a 45-5 career mark. “We had a great group of guys that when you gave them an opportunity to make a play they stepped up and made it.”
It helped them make it back to the UNI-Dome after finishing Cook’s first season as the 1A runner-up in 2007, losing to Southern Cal, 7-6. That loss showed how close and distant Regina was from a title. The seniors got back and finished the job. Cook, who never played in the UNI-Dome as a prep, stressed enjoying the title, but don’t let it define his players.
“Use the lesson we’ve developed in football,” Cook said about camaraderie, discipline, hard work and sacrifice. “Use those things as they go on in life and do things that have greater impact on our communities and state than winning a championship.”
Wisniewski called Cook a role model and that he conveys similar expectations on to his players.
“He emulates all of the qualities that we expect,” Wisniewski said. “He’s gentle, but firm. He knows how to handle kids.”
Of course, Cook played for some exceptional coaches during his career that ended after 1995. He played for Butch Pederson at West Branch before becoming an all-Big Ten tight end for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and Coach Hayden Fry. In the National Football League, Cook played for Bill Parcells and his assistant Charlie Weis.
Cook recalled playing catch in a schoolyard with neighborhood pals when his junior high coach, Tom Nosbish, called him into a trailer, being used by the school after the junior burned down. Nosbish asked Cook what he wanted to do with his life and Cook shared aspirations of playing pro football.
“He basically was the first guy who didn’t laugh at me when I told him what level I wanted to play at,” Cook said. “he gave me the template to get there.”
Cook said he thrived under Parcells discipline, even though it tested players. He said he is a very demanding coach.
“My expectations are through the roof, as far as what I expect of the players both on and off the football field,” Cook said. “I expect them to practice perfect every day and practice and play with great effort every single day. I’m probably harder than I need to be.”
Senior quarterback Jack Verducci echoed Cook’s sentiments. Verducci, a three-year starter and captain of the Iowa Newspaper Association’s Class 2A all-state team this year, said Cook put the Regals in position to win each tiome out.
“Playing for Coach Cook is an honor and a blessing,” Verducci said. “His knowledge is greater than anyone I know.”
That demand led to the signature win of the season, and of the short Cook era so far, in week 2. The Regals outplayed their rival Solon, snapping the Spartans 42-game win streak with a 21-15 victory. Solon, which moved from 2A to 3A this season, finished 13-1 and became the first program in state history to win four straight state titles after topping Sioux City Heelan, 45-7, for the 3A crown.
“That really was a definiing moment,” Senior QB Jack Verducci said. “it was great to win that game.
“Beating Solon was one of our main goals.”
Cook said facing Solon helped the Regals transition from Class 1A to 2A for the 2008 season, getting a firsthand look at the speed and physicality needed at that level. He was also quick to share any credit with all his assistants, including Hughes, Hinkel, Jason Dumont and Alex Kanellis. The former West Branch standout and Hawkeye tight end, who played seven seasons in the NFL earning Pro-Bowl honors twice and was an All-Pro in 1991 with 808 receiving yards on 82 catches, exhibits humility when it comes to coaching. One of the qualities that resonated with Wisniewski when he hired him.
“He was humble, yet knowledgeable,” Wisniewski said. “He has a resource web out there. If he needed some advice, he could go to people.”
The first person he sought advice from was Cedar Rapids Xavier Coach Duane Schulte, wanting to find out the workings of a parochial football program. The two weren’t acquaintances until the day they met in Schulte’s Xavier classroom for hours, discussing football with Xavier assistant Jim O’Connell.
“I remember standing in front of the whiteboard going over stuff and see Marv Cook, sitting there and I had to pinch myself a couple times,” Schulte said. “I told myself this is a Hall of Fame person. Who the heck am I telling this guy about football.”
The product speaks for itself. It is one that has many around the program pleased and is a testament to Cook as a coach.
“It’s phenomenal. He obviously knows what he’s doing. He’s got some good help with some good assistant coaches,” Schulte said. “It shows how smart he is. It indicates he knows you never stop learning in this game.”