Masaki Matsumoto has developed a coaching philosophy partially gleaned from experiences with some of the great football coaches in the Puget Sound area, from legendary PLU coach Frosty Westering and his progeny, to Bothell coach Tom Bainter. Bottom line, for Matsumoto football is the means by which he wants to shape better men.
By Doug Drowley
Special to The Seattle Times
Masaki Matsumoto thought he had found his life in Los Angeles.
The 32-year-old teacher and football coach, who grew up in Shoreline and attended King’s High, went to Trinity International in Chicago, Ill., before moving back to the West Coast for graduate school in the summer of 2006.
Matsumoto enrolled at Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego to pursue his special education credential. At the same time, he started his high school coaching career as an assistant at Cathedral Catholic there.
Upon completion of his graduate program in 2008, Matsumoto needed a job.
“I started looking and went to Bernstein because it was a new school just opening, and I figured they would need football coaches, too,” said Matsumoto, who agreed on Friday to take over as head coach at Tacoma’s Lincoln High for the departed Jon Kitna. “Once in L.A., I thought I would be here forever. But as you start to get older, you realize family is the most important thing. I started missing home.”
Home still is in Shoreline, where his mother Keiko still resides. Keiko Matsumoto has continued to make the trip down to L.A. to watch her son’s teams play since he took over as head coach at Bernstein in 2012.
But Matsumoto said he wasn’t sure how long she would be able to continue that as time passes by. So, despite successes that saw him turn a program that went 4-36 from 2008 to 2011 into a league winner that went 29-8 over the three seasons he was the head coach, Matsumoto started looking around.
“I didn’t really look seriously, but then Coach (Jim) Shapiro showed the article to me,” Matsumoto said. It was an article about Kitna’s resignation at Lincoln.
“Really, the last two to three weeks has been crazy,” Matsumoto said. “There were a lot of tough decisions. And I think the next couple of months could be even harder. But I am excited for the long run.”
Matsumoto came up from Los Angeles to interview with Lincoln, and while here met with a man who has become a coaching mentor of sorts – Bothell’s Tom Bainter. The two had met previously, but this time Matsumoto had specific requests.
“He had 10 questions on paper that he emailed me before he came so I’d have a chance to look at them,” Bainter said. “None of them were ‘Should I take the job or not?'”
Instead, there were questions concerning off-season programs, spring and summer rules that are different from California, 7-on-7 camps, etc., Bainter said.
Matsumoto takes over for Kitna, who turned around the former NFL quarterback’s alma mater in three seasons before taking a job in Texas recently. Matsumoto intends to bring the philosophy, honed in part from experiences with many of the Seattle area’s top coaches, to Lincoln that helped Matsumoto turn Bernstein around so quickly.
“He’s following a guy whose name spoke volumes,” Bainter said. “He spoke to Kitna a couple of times before taking the job. The program is much better than it was before. They made the semifinals last year, after all.
“Masaki is a smart kid. He’s a great guy to have, and I’m excited to have him in Washington.”
From Shapiro, his high school coach, to college coach Andy Lambert and mentor Scott Kessler, Matsumoto has strong ties to legendary PLU coach Frosty Westering. All three played and/or coached with Westering.
“I’ve definitely been around the Frosty philosophy,” Matsumoto said. “We always would go to the PLU camps (in high school).”
Matsumoto’s philosophical ties to Seattle don’t stop there, though.
“Since I grew up in Shoreline, I was always aware of coach Thomas Bainter from back when he was at Shorewood,” Matsumoto said. “I had friends who played for him. Then he went to Bothell.”
After Matsumoto’s first season as the Bernstein coach in 2012, he came home for the Christmas break. He continued a pattern of trying to contact and talk to two or three well-respected coaches.
“I emailed coach Bainter and just asked if I could pick his brain,” Matsumoto said. “He met with me and we talked for three hours. We didn’t even really get into Xs and Os.”
One idea that Bainter gave Matsumoto garnered the Bernstein coach national attention that next summer, prior to the 2013 season, though.
Bainter told Matsumoto about having had parents of his players write love letters back to those sons. Matsumoto seized on the idea and ran with it.
“I just thought how powerful it would be, especially at a school like ours,” Matsumoto said. “I know a lot of kids here don’t get told, ‘I love you.’ A lot of kids don’t do well because of that.
“When they feel love, when they are motivated by love, when they feel important, they start to do the right things. It was a great experience for them.”
Matsumoto ended up doing radio interviews around the country after the exercise, including on KIRO Newsradio here in Seattle.
“We met and talked about a lot of things,” Bainter said. “It was all about helping boys to becoming men, putting integrity into your program. If somebody wants to talk about that, I’ll talk forever.”
And the ideas of self-esteem and self-worth perpetuated by that exercise continue to form the basis for Matsumoto’s coaching philosophy today.
“You have to have a vision,” Matsumoto said. “And it can’t be just about football. We want these kids to become better teachers, better workers, better fathers. We use football to help that come through.”
The philosophy also shapes the hiring process for Matsumoto’s assistant coaches. Two of his guys from Bernstein will accompany him to Lincoln – offensive coordinator Charles Jacome and Sergio
Several coaches from Kitna’s staff, Matsumoto said, have expressed interest in staying on board. That hiring process will continue over the next couple of months. But Matsumoto knows what he is looking for in coaches.
“I need those coaches to be the right guys,” Matsumoto said. “Even if they may be lacking in football areas, we can teach them that. You can’t teach them how to love kids, how to be reliable, to be committed. As long as they have those things, I can work with them.”
Through coaching and commitment, Matsumoto hopes to instill certain attributes in his student athletes that will make them successful going forward in life.
“Discipline, accountability, love,” Matsumoto said. “Once you do that, success and wins on the field are just a by-product. We’ve won by changing kids’ hearts.”