High School Sports

Transition ‘harder than expected’ for new Lincoln football coach Masaki Matsumoto, but mostly seamless

First-year Lincoln High football coach Masaki Matsumoto yells out instructions to his players during the Abes’ first practice at Lincoln High School on Wednesday. Matsumoto, a highly successful coach in California, replaces equally successful Jon Kitna.
First-year Lincoln High football coach Masaki Matsumoto yells out instructions to his players during the Abes’ first practice at Lincoln High School on Wednesday. Matsumoto, a highly successful coach in California, replaces equally successful Jon Kitna. Staff photographer

Masaki Matsumoto said he recently took a week off before his first official practice as Lincoln High School’s head football coach on Wednesday.

And by off, what he really meant was he traveled back to California to visit some high school football programs for inspiration and rejuvenation.

“I came back more excited than I have been, I would say, in the past two to three months,” Matsumoto said.

“I think it has been a lot harder than what I expected. I don’t think it has anything to do with Lincoln. I think it is just transition in general. I think transition is hard and I think coming from a successful place and going to a successful place is hard because there is that clash.”

Matsumoto, or Coach Mat as the players and coaches have referred to him, comes from a successful program at Hollywood Bernstein in Los Angeles to what has turned into a successful program in the past three years at Lincoln under alum Jon Kitna — a former Seattle Seahawks quarterback who left to take over Waxahachie High School in Texas.

For the most part, the transition has been seamless, which impressed some players considering the shoes Matsumoto is stepping in to.

He has brought with him many of the same philosophies Kitna embraced in regards to character building, and said Lincoln’s low-income, intercity community has many similarities to that of Hollywood Bernstein’s.

Senior running back Dionte Simon was part of a player committee that helped interview Matsumoto for the position.

“At first, it was a little tough adjusting, to be honest,” Simon said. “But now, I don’t feel any different with him than I did with Coach Kitna. It’s the same stuff, just different words and coming from a different person.”

The difference, the players say, is that Matsumoto is more calm.

But that was tough to tell Wednesday. His shouts rang throughout Lincoln Bowl.

“Don’t walk!”

“Give me five (pushups). Now! … You too!”

Said junior quarterback Joey Sinclair: “He’s more calm over the little things. Big things, Coach Mat will still get on us.”

One thing Matsumoto didn’t do was announce grandiose plans for the Abes. He said he never has cared about wins and losses.

“You hear from kids and some of the people around the program, ‘Oh, well, this is what we did last year.’ Or, ‘Oh, well, we didn’t do this last year,’” Matsumoto said. “But that is natural. For the most part, they have been great. They’ve been supportive and they let me do what I do. And I don’t put pressure on myself in terms of wins and ‘I need to be relevant in five years or this and that,’ because you can’t control that.

“All you can control is your attitude and effort, and I just try to really work hard to prepare these kids for success — on and off the field.

“Any pressure that does come is not coming from the community, it’s not coming from the kids, it’s coming from me. I want to do a good job.”

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