It’s a Monday night film session but the main participants aren’t football coaches or players. They’re football parents, watching Rob McNeely run through the previous week’s high school football game.
McNeely is Fort Mill High School’s new football coach and transparent and constant communication are critical to success, in his opinion. The most interesting way he demonstrates this belief is Monday night film sessions with the parents of his players.
“I’m able to tell them why I went for it on fourth down here, why we threw a pass here, why we’re in this coverage versus this formation,” McNeely said. “I just want to make them feel a part of it. Because in many respects, they are.”
That kind of transparency served McNeely well at his last school. He was hired this week from Lake Norman High School in Mooresville, N.C., just north of Charlotte. The similarities between McNeely’s old and new schools are numerous, chiefly that they share suburban locations and demographics. McNeely’s experience in a school like Lake Norman made him an attractive candidate to Fort Mill athletic director Dwayne Hartsoe, who was making his first head football coach hire.
“I thought he would be a good fit,” said Hartsoe, who received 61 applications and interviewed 10 candidates. “He’s dealt with our type of school before.”
The 45-year old McNeely graduated from West Iredell High School in North Carolina and played college football at North Greenville and Newberry. He has no previous connections to the Fort Mill area. He and his wife, Ali, have two daughters, Grier and Loch.
McNeely helped launch Lake Norman’s program when the school opened in 2002 and was the team’s defensive coordinator for eight years before taking over as head coach in 2010. McNeely was 54-40 in his eight years at the Lake Norman helm, including a 42-20 record in the last five years. He took the Wildcats to the state playoffs six times in eight years.
“It’s bittersweet because I owe Lake Norman a lot,” he said Thursday morning in Fort Mill’s athletic offices. “The relationships that I started there and hope to continue are ones that I’ll cherish forever. But this is a great opportunity for me and my family.”
It’s not clear exactly when McNeely will start working at the school -- he’ll teach weight-training -- but it could be early next semester. Hartsoe was pleased to get McNeely on board barely a month after former coach Ed Susi announced his resignation.
“That was one of our goals, to try to get it done as quick as possible,” said Hartsoe. “The main reason so that our kids would go forward knowing what was taking place in the spring. We’re happy we’re able to get him in here in January.”
McNeely is meeting with current members of Fort Mill’s coaching staff but said he’d like to bring a few coaches with him from Lake Norman. As of Thursday morning, his salary is still being ironed out by the school district’s human resources department.
McNeely’s teams will base out of a spread offense and 4-3 defense, but present multiple looks. More of that clear communication mentioned earlier should enable the Yellow Jacket players to think -- and react -- faster on the field
“Making sure we tell guys why we do certain things,” said McNeely. “There is not a lot of gray area. We don’t draw things up in the dirt. It’s important to teach our kids how to exactly play their position.”
McNeely coached Josh Ladowski at Lake Norman several years ago, calling the quarterback and baseball standout the best high school football player he had ever coached. But most seasons the Wildcats weren’t loaded with college football recruits.
“I’m used to developing my players,” said McNeely. “Generally speaking we don’t have the most athletic kids. We have had some, but hard work is what I hang my hat on.”
He’s energized by the addition of another school in town when Catawba Ridge opens in 2019 -- another rivalry game -- and is ready to work with the community. He hopes that initiatives like the Monday night film sessions will get parents and boosters behind him and the program the same way that happened at Lake Norman.
“I was definitely challenged up there, but that’s a good thing,” McNeely said. “Because when parents care, it’s really good to know. I know that parent involvement, parent buy-in, is crucial to my job because I can’t do everything by myself.”
Open lines of communication, what McNeely termed “elite communication” will help to that end. Doing likewise with his players, whether they’re the star players or not, should help get the most out of Fort Mill football.
“I can’t stand to have a kid settle to be on the sideline,” said McNeely. “I want them to excel, and they have to know their role, no matter how insignificant they think it is.”