North Miami coach never wavers on values, confidence through trying time

Joe Grant bounces right back from winless season

North Miami High School football coach Joe Grant shares a light moment with his players during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
North Miami High School football coach Joe Grant offers some words of encouragement to his players following a practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
The 1993 state championship-winning North Miami High School football team is honored with a large sign at the entrance of the football field in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
North Miami High School quarterback Zane Briggs works through a drill in preparation for a game tonight at Tippecanoe Valley during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
The North Miami High School football team works through a drill in preparation for its game tonight at Tippecanoe Valley during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
North Miami High School football coach Joe Grant instructs a Warrior player during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
A group of North Miami High School football players participate in a drill during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
A North Miami High School football player's jersey features a slogan that the Warriors' embrace during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
North Miami High School football coach Joe Grant, left, and his assistant coach and father, Jeff Grant, Sr., right, instruct a Warrior player during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
North Miami High School football coach Joe Grant, left, listens to former Warrior coach and current assistant, Bob Bridge, right, instruct a Warrior player during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
A North Miami High School football player listens to instructions during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
A North Miami High School football player's helmet is adorned with the Warriors' emblem during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
North Miami High School football coach Joe Grant instructs his players during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
North Miami High School football coach Joe Grant instructs his players during practice Thursday in Denver. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

“… you move on and you wish those guys well ’cause they’re your guys. It was a great time and it was great for our family. But now we’re here.”

DENVER – The above quote was made by former Indiana University football coach Kevin Wilson three months after he was fired in Bloomington and landed a new coaching position as the offensive coordinator for national power Ohio State. However, it could have just as easily come from North Miami High School football coach Joe Grant, and it would have been completely understandable if it had.

Grant spent five years immersed in the Hoosiers’ program as a student manager, with the final year having served as a personal assistant to Wilson. He was with the head coach everywhere on the field and even off of it.

“You get more and more responsibility the longer that you stay on,” Grant explained of the process of working inside the Indiana program. “I got to sit in on practice planning, practice meetings, and they’d even ask me my opinion every now and then. Here I am, some 21-year-old punk, but they’d ask ‘Hey Joe, can this work with your guys? What are you thinking?'”

Grant learned a ton about football from coaches like Wilson, offensive coordinator Matt Canada and quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns, but he also learned a lot about off the field matters, and some of those lessons have come in handy as he has built his own career.

“I’ve been fortunate to steal a lot from guys that I played for and worked with,” Grant said.

Grant is in his second season as a head coach, but first at his alma mater. His first try at leading a program, last season at Three Rivers Conference foe Rochester High School, didn’t go so well, but the lessons that he learned in Bloomington, as well as during a three-year stint serving under the winningest coach in IHSAA football history (Sheridan’s Bud Wright), enabled him to deal with what proved to be a very challenging start to his head coaching career.

ROUGH START

It’s hard to imagine how any 27-year-old could have prepared himself better for an opportunity to be a head coach than Grant had leading up to his brief stay at Rochester. Wilson helped resurrect the Indiana program to a degree and working under Wright is any young coach’s dream.

“I’ve got a bunch of stories about coach Wright,” Grant laughed. “I remember after my first year, we were sitting at a Golden Corral drawing (plays) on napkins. I left there and thought ‘Man, I don’t know anything, because (coach Wright) knows so much.'”

But learning an endless array of offensive formations can’t prepare a guy for the politics that often permeate high school athletics.

Grant finished the 2016 football season in the same manner in which he started it, in search of his first career victory, but despite the struggles – on and off of the field – he never wavered in his affection for his players and the Zebra program.

“You really need to practice what you preach,” Grant said of his experience last autumn. “I stuck to my guns last year. I made decisions that I believed were best for the program. I made decisions with player personnel. Player safety was always put first. I made decisions with my staff that I believed were best for the program, and they were the right decisions.

“I learned that it doesn’t matter if you are 10-0 or 0-10 (as Grant was), you need to coach what you believe in.”

That philosophy has shown to be effective for Grant this season with the Warriors.

WELCOME HOME

Grant wasn’t fired by Rochester following last season, but he saw the opening at North Miami as a sign that perhaps he needed to return to the program that he once quarterbacked to a stellar 9-3 season (in 2007).

“I think things happen for a reason,” Grant said. “I had a great experience last year with the kids. Even going 0-10, I absolutely loved those kids. But all the things happened in the right way for me to come to North Miami.”

The Warriors will travel to TRC arch-rival Tippecanoe Valley today at 7 p.m. and a win, coupled with a Southwood loss at Northfield and a Peru defeat at Rochester, both of which are very plausible, would give North Miami (5-3, 3-1 TRC) the top record in the South Division of the league.

So perhaps, Grant knows a little bit about the game after all.

“We tell this to our kids,” Grant said, “‘You need to have confidence in your ability, because we have confidence in you. But you also need to be critical of yourself whether you win or lose.'”

Grant and his wife, Britney, both of whom graduated from North Miami in 2008, and both of whom teach in the school system, have enjoyed being back among family and friends.

Joe’s father, Jeff Sr., helps assist Joe by coaching the running backs and special teams, while older brother, Jeff Jr., keeps stats and even lines the field when he’s not keeping the game officials in line, as well.

With 7-month-old son, Marshall, in tow, the Grant’s have been welcomed home and so far the move has paid dividends for Grant’s immediate family, as well as his football family.

“There has never really been an end game,” Grant said of his career plans. “My end game was not to be here or Rochester or Sheridan, but that is where I was at the moment. Now that we are here, my wife and I want to be here.

“We know how great North Miami can be if we have the right people and the right pieces. But you can’t predict the future.”

Grant can’t “predict the future,” but what he can do is assure everyone that he has learned never to deviate from his core professional values.

“If you love your kids,” Grant said, “and you coach what you believe in, and you do the right thing, you truly do the right thing and not just try to make certain people happy, you’ll be fine.”

Under Grant, North Miami certainly will be.

For more on prep football throughout Indiana, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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