Mark Mortarelli took the reins in 2010 after Tom Lamb retired as Natick High head football coach.
Mortarelli had played for Lamb and later was his line coach. Lamb felt confident he was leaving the program in reliable hands. But he also found it difficult to completely leave the sidelines. So he began a long and winding road that took him from his Natick driveway to the inner city, not just helping out with one of the urban schools, but serving as a roving assistant coach for five of them.
That lasted a year, followed by seven years as an assistant at Boston English before Lamb decided two years ago to leave the city scene behind. When Mortarelli heard that Lamb was available, he couldn’t dial up his old coach fast enough. “I wanted him to coach with the varsity.”
Lamb instead agreed to coach the freshman team, which went undefeated. Mortarelli’s contention had always been “it’d be crazy not to want Tom on your staff.” So this year, Lamb will work with the varsity.
“Sort of a quality control coaching position,” Lamb kidded.
Not if Mortarelli has anything to say about it. “He’ll help out anywhere he can. He’s a great evaluator of talent.”
One thing is certain. No name tags will be necessary. All nine Natick coaches have either played for Lamb or been an assistant under him.
“Nothing will be awkward,” said Mortarelli.
For instance, Matt Brenneman will continue to coach the offense. “We still use a lot of Tom’s plays,” he said. “Everything I’ve learned about offense I’ve learned from Tom. We’ve called him and texted him a lot over the years. He’s been one of our resources.” Brenneman and Lamb live on the same street, about a mile from the high school.
Two years ago Lamb, now 71, was dealing with atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) and decided to back off from coaching at Boston English. He’s doing well now, exercises regularly, and is ready for the next adventure on familiar ground.
“We have a staff that really likes working with each other,” said Brenneman. “We have a lot of fun.”
But last season’s 6-5 record wasn’t much fun for the Redhawks, perennial Bay State Conference (and postseason) contenders. The team was sophomore-laden, which might bode well for 2019.
“Mark has won a lot of games,” said Lamb. “My goal is to stay out of the way and not try to fix what isn’t broken. I never really stopped coaching, just stepped back a little bit.”
One step back, two steps forward for the coach who went 248-65-2 in his career, mostly at Natick, with a stopover in Norwood. Lamb’s teams went to six super bowls, winning four.