They’re big shoes to fill, but Newman has found a new head coach to replace a Hall of Famer.
Thursday, the Comets selected Brandon Kreczmer as the new head of the football program.
Kreczmer, who has been a part of the Newman football coaching staff for six seasons, and for the past three seasons was the Comets’ defensive coordinator, succeeds Mike Papoccia, who announced at the team’s postseason banquet in December that he would step down after 39 seasons at the helm.
Kreczmer said that when he got the news he was “excited and shocked at the same time. There were a lot of great candidates that applied, and a lot that have been on staff a long time.”
The Western Illinois graduate came to Newman in 2013 after spending a year as the linebackers coach and video coordinator at Illinois College. In the 3 years he was the Comets’ defensive coordinator, Newman’s defense recorded 10 shutouts and allowed an average of 10.2 points per game.
A seven-member panel interviewed candidates and selected Kreczmer, with Papoccia offering advice and answering questions the panel had. In Kreczmer, the committee saw a coach who has a deep love for the game and has been a part of the Newman program and knows that Newman’s traditions help make the Blue Machine special.
“The football job’s pretty special,” Papoccia said. “The kids gravitate to the head coach, and we felt that was one of the big reasons we thought of Brandon. He’s young, and he’s put the work in in any capacity.”
Papoccia saw Kreczmer put in that work not only as an assistant coach with the football team, but also with the school’s girls track & field program for the past 6 years, and for three seasons as the girls basketball coach.
“He continually worked to get better,” Papoccia said. “His position coaching in general. in basketball, he put in the time to get the girls ready, and always put the kids first.”
With the football program, Kreczmer has already spoken to all of the assistant coaches in hopes that they will stay on.
“They helped make this program what it is,” he said. “They know what the program and tradition is about. I hope to keep them on board.”
Though there may be some differences in the way Kreczmer will run things compared to the way Papoccia did, the new coach said those will be little tweaks to the strong foundation already set.
“We know what works for us,” Kreczmer said. “We’ve been successful.”
Newman’s reputation has been build on tough running between the tackles and a strong corps of linebackers able to stop just about everyone. Kreczmer sees no reason to upend that.
“I don’t think you can just trash it,” he said. “It’s been our calling card. The schemes works. You have to analyze the players, but that’s who we are.”
In 39 years as the Comets’ head coach, Papoccia’s football teams recorded 339 wins and 98 losses, and won five state championships (1990, ’94, 2004, ’10 and ’13).
“It’s not going to be easy, and you’re never going to replace a legend,” Kreczmer said. “You just have to hope to build on that foundation.”
Papoccia will still be around – he is still the school’s athletic director – and will be able to lend advice to his successor when he needs it. He said one piece of advice he has for Kreczmer is to simply follow his instincts.
“He’s played and coached enough that he knows what the fundamentals are, and that should be stressed,” Papoccia said, “and do what’s right for the kids.”
College: Western Illinois, bachelor’s 2009, master’s 2011
Newman: Assistant coach since 2013, defensive coordinator 2016-2018.
Before Newman: Illinois College linebackers coach and video coordinator, 2012
Head coaching experience: Newman girls basketball, 2014-2017; Newman girls track, 2014-present
Family: Wife Michele; daughter Brynlee (22 months)