August 11, 2011 at 9:08 a.m.
Nitti, who will be the fifth head coach for North Branch in the last seven years, replaces Justin Sawyer, who moved on to become the principal at Braham High School.
Along with his nearly 25 years of coaching experience, Nitti brings a defense-first attitude with him to North Branch. "If you look at the top three defensive teams in the North Suburban, that usually correlates with the top three teams in the standings," Nitti said.
The new coach graduated from Mounds View in 1987, where he excelled in football, hockey and track. His plans were to play football at St. Thomas University, but a freak power lifting accident left him with a broken shoulder and two years of rehab, essentially ending his playing career before it ever really took off.
His old coach offered him a job only a year out of high school, and he went from being a player to a coach within years. He served as Mounds View's defensive line coach until 1992, when he moved on to Spring Lake Park to become the Panthers' defensive coordinator.
After nine years at that helm, he moved back to Mounds View to become the d-coordinator there for five years until 2005. After his second stint at Mounds View, Nitti moved to White Bear Lake as an assistant for a year, then to Fridley as the defensive coordinator for two years and then back to White Bear Lake as the head of the defense.
His two years of work at Fridley gave him a head start on the competition in the North Suburban. "I'm familiar with the conference, and I've broken down all the games that North Branch played last year," he said. "I think it's a big advantage in that sense, but it's tough getting a head coaching job this late." Nitti was speaking to the fact that he got the job with only a few weeks to prepare before two-a-days, a dilemma created in part by the turnover in the activities department.
With his late arrival, it meant a late departure from his old team, the Bears of White Bear Lake. But, Nitti thinks that helps show he is in the program for the long haul, and doesn't see the job as a stepping stone. "It's hard leaving players behind, especially this late in the game, but they were supportive," he said. "And, I've just had a great experience up here from the Superintendent and Principal Coleman McDonough.
No doubt that there was also some familiarity with Nitti and new North Branch Activities Coordinator Brett Carlson, who also recently moved up here from the White Bear Lake school district.
Despite any challenges Nitti sees from coming on late, he thinks the potential in the area is great. "I look at this program as a sleeping giant. When I came up here, I saw a town that's behind their team and a lot of parents that have dedicated energy to the program and are ready to work," Nitti said.
Nitti, who has been married for eight years and has a daughter, will keep the staff on board, although he will take over the defense in the first year, since that is his specialty. "I think I'll run the defense, but then have Joel Lattimore, who's done a great job up here with the defense in the past few years, take it over the next year," he said.
With a defensive approach to the game, Nitti plans on installed a 40 Cover Three defense, which is four down linemen, four linebackers and three deep defensive backs. He also said that from the beginning, the team is going to be drilling mechanics down to perfection.
With so much change and so many tumultuous seasons moving from coach to coach to coach, Nitti wanted to get a simple message out to the seniors and all the way down to the middle school program. "It's going to be a family here," he said. "Talk is cheap, I've got to show these kids that I'm here for the long run. Things started to turn around for them last year under Coach Sawyer, and it's my job to bring them to greater heights."
Nitti closed by emphasizing the role the community and the youth programs will play in the success of North Branch football. He pointed out that bringing the program to a higher level is something that's going to have to be done together with the kids, the schools, the community and supporters throughout North Branch.
"The youth programs have been huge for us and the leaders have done a tremendous job over the last five or six years, there is football players in North Branch -- I've seen it coaching against them in the North Suburban," he said. "Now it's up to them to put in their work for payday on Friday nights."
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