As the five members of the selection committee debated whether Elijah Brooks was the best choice to be the next football coach at DeMatha High, they considered the obvious: Is a 27-year-old just four years removed from college ready to lead one of the most high-profile positions in all of high school athletics?
“It was very briefly discussed to see if anybody thought that was an insurmountable hurdle,” DeMatha Principal Dan McMahon said. “But no one thought that.”
The selection committee unanimously recommended Brooks — a former standout football and basketball player at the Hyattsville private school — for the position. Late Monday night, McMahon offered Brooks the chance to succeed Bill McGregor as the Stags coach and Brooks quickly accepted.
“Youth is in, I can’t help my age,” Brooks said Tuesday, noting that veteran coaches Deno Campbell and Tim Breslin have agreed to be his defensive and offensive coordinators, respectively. “There are some guys that have been coaching for 18 or 20 years, but that doesn’t make them a good coach. They’ve just been coaching for 18 or 20 years.
“I’m very confident, and my players are very confident, in my abilities as a leader. I’ve been working hands-on with the team since the end of the season. We’re very excited to move forward.”
Brooks is a 2002 graduate of DeMatha, having played three years each on the Stags’ varsity football and basketball teams. He was a linebacker and running back in football and a point guard in basketball.
Brooks earned a football scholarship to Kent State, then transferred after 1½ years to William & Mary, where he also played running back before graduating in 2007 with a degree in kinesiology. He returned to DeMatha that fall, teaching world history and psychology and coaching running backs for McGregor, who resigned in late March after 29 years as the Stags’ head football coach.
Hiring a coach so young and inexperienced is seen as a risky proposition by some — a group of alumni mobilized to try to find a more veteran candidate — but it is consistent with how DeMatha replaced legendary basketball coach Morgan Wootten in 2002 with one of his assistants, Mike Jones.
Jones was 29 at the time of his hiring, and while DeMatha struggled in Jones’s first season, the Stags soon returned to their place as one of the nation’s top teams.
“There are people suited for jobs even when they don’t have as many years in,” McMahon said.
While it might be different to take orders from a head coach significantly closer to their age, DeMatha’s players are looking forward to running on the field under their new coach.
“We feel it’s a new day and age, we’re going to come back and try to get the championship again,” said rising senior Michael Moore, a tight end and defensive end. “We’ve known Coach Brooks and he’s been at DeMatha so it’s not somebody new.
“It’s not going to be any different, still the mind-set of he’s our head coach and we’re going to listen to him. Plus, with his age, we’ll be able to relate to him well and he can relate to us, too.”
As part of the interview process to find McGregor’s successor, DeMatha officials asked Campbell if he would remain on staff and asked Breslin, a former assistant to McGregor who took last season off, if he would return if Brooks was hired. Brooks, though, stressed that he was the one who asked Campbell and Breslin to be on his staff.
“He’s more than willing to listen to what we have to say,” said Campbell, a DeMatha graduate who has coached at the school since 1985. “There have been some holes in the dike. We have to patch some things up and move forward.”
Brooks takes over a program that is used to being among the best in the region and in the nation. However, after winning six consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles, the Stags have lost to rival Good Counsel in the league championship game each of the past two seasons. There is some concern whether DeMatha can maintain its position among the area’s elite programs.
“We can’t worry about what our competitors are doing,” Brooks said. “Our ultimate focus is continuing to do things the DeMatha way. That’s my ultimate goal, to put a product on the field that competes hard and does things the right way.
“DeMatha is not going anywhere. I’m fully confident we will remain a powerhouse in this area.”