As a young player, Ivan Mack knew he wanted to return to Montezuma-Cortez as a coach. After a year as an assistant, Mack is now the head coach of the Panthers football team.
Mack, who spent two years at Montezuma-Cortez High School before he graduated from Mountain View High School in Loveland in 1999, was named the head football coach of the Panthers in May. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has not been able to get to work with his players yet, but he hopes that will change Friday.
“I played and went to high school here for part of my career, and I always had the passion to come back and see this program thrive,” Mack said. “I felt like now was the time.”
Mack has served as an assistant coach on the Montezuma-Cortez track and field team for two years and was the wide receivers and defensive backs coach for the football team last year, when the Panthers went 1-8 overall and 0-4 in the Class 2A Intermountain League in the final year under head coach Jarrett Watkins.
Now, the Panthers have their fourth coach since Chuck Cotter after the 2010 season. Casey Coulter led the Panthers to their only winning season in the last decade in 2014, a year in which Montezuma-Cortez went 8-3 overall and 4-1 in league play. Scott Conklin replaced Coulter from 2015-18 and led the Panthers to the first round of the state playoffs in 2018 with a 4-6 overall record and 1-3 mark in the IML.
But 2019 saw regression with a lot of youth on the field.
“We are looking to improve in terms of wins,” Mack said. “We want to build off what we did last year. I felt like we made some good strides with the young guys we had. We had several freshmen starting and a lot of sophomores. So, with that experience with the younger guys, it should help a bit this year.
“Our main thing is increasing the numbers of players on the team. I think we need more personnel to have more options at practice and in games. We need to get guys breathers out there.”
Mack, who played college football at Mesa Community College in Arizona before he graduated from Brigham Young University, will complete his training for new health protocols surrounding coronavirus on Friday and hopes to get together with players for conditioning. He is permitted to meet with the team outdoors in groups of 15. Players can run on the field without equipment as long as they stay six to 10-feet apart.
“It makes it hard. We’re behind the eight ball right now,” Mack said. “I assume all the other schools are, too. It’s going to be tough, but we gotta make the best of it when we do get together.”
Mack believes the season will start as scheduled Aug. 28, when the Panthers are slated to host Aztec High School. But that will depend on the approval of fall sports to begin by the Colorado High School Activities Association as well as the New Mexico Activity Association. With two states factoring into the equation, it may be a more difficult ask.
“I keep going back-and-forth, but I think the way I’m leaning is that it looks like we’re going to have a season,” Mack said. “It’s up to the state governments calling those shots. But, as long as there is an NFL season, as long as there is a college season, there should be a high school season. If any of those doesn’t happen or the season is delayed, that changes the numbers for us being able to play games.”
If the Panthers do take the field Aug. 28, Mack hopes parents, students and all other fans will be allowed to come cheer on his team.
“I’d love to see as many fans as we can possibly get out there,” Mack said.