When he took the head football job at Haddam-Killingworth 14 months ago, Erik Becker thought he’d coach there for the rest of his career. Only in a dream would he go somewhere else.
On Monday, Becker’s dream became reality when he was named the fourth head football coach in Hand football’s 50-year history.
“This is the only place I want to be,” said Becker, 43, who became a teacher at Hand at the start of the school year.
“I feel great there’s a fallacy that in life there’s such a thing as perfect timing. It’s all perfect timing. I always believe God puts me in the right spots. Whatever arch I followed to get back here, it’s been serendipitous. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to coach here and opportunity to serve the students at Hand.”
Becker takes over for his mentor, Steve Filippone, Hand’s seven-time championship coach who had come out of retirement in February 2020 to coach the Tigers following the sudden resignation of Dave Mastroianni in February of 2020.
After guiding Hand’s 7-on-7 outfit during its COVID-modified fall season, Filippone resigned a second time in hopes of handing the keys over to a new generation as soon as possible. “Why put the future off for another year?” he said at the time.
Becker won the job over what Hand athletic director Craig Semple called “a great applicant pool” from over five different states. Hand eventually settled on seven finalists, “I’d say every single one of them could be a head coach anywhere,” Semple said.
“(Erik)’s got a great approach with the kids, he’s connected to the community and we saw his body of work first-hand. He’s impressive. He’s organized and he bleeds black-and-gold. He’s in the building and will get to make connections with the kids every day.”
Filippone said he has maintained a special relationship with Becker, beginning when Becker’s father died during his senior year in 1995 and throughout Becker’s 12-year tenure as his assistant coach — the last six as offensive coordinator.
“Coaching is all about trust, forming relationships and service,” Becker said. “That’s what coach Filippone’s meant to me. He’s been the most important man in my life since I was 14-years old. I don’t know if I would have gotten through that time without him.”
Filippone credits Becker for transforming Hand’s offense into a high-scoring machine which led to state championships in 2011 and 2012 and produced four consecutive all-state quarterbacks.
“Hand football is in his D-N-A,” Filippone said with emphasis. “This is not a job for him. It’s a way of life. Admittedly, the learning-curve is pretty steep coming from a place with 35-or-so players to Hand High School. But it’s not a job he’s unfamiliar with. He’s a great choice and he’ll be popular with alumni and with our players. Nobody understands our tradition better than Erik.”
Filippone, who will stay on as offensive line coach, recalled Becker routinely quizzing the incoming players on Hand football history while serving as Hand’s freshman coach for six years. Becker said his first memory of moving to Madison as a 10-year old was watching a Friday night game at the Surf Club, Hand’s home field.
Becker struck out on his own instead of waiting for Filippone to retire in 2016 and applying for a job that ultimately came down to Mastroianni and Mike Ciotti, the son of program founder Larry Ciotti.
“I think he needed to prove to himself,” Filippone said of Becker. “We all knew what he could do, but he needed to prove himself that he could do it.”
Becker spent 2016 as quarterbacks coach at Choate Rosemary Hall under head coach and fellow Hand alum L.J. Spinnato and took his first head coaching job at Coginchaug in 2017. At the time, Coginchaug was coming off a 1-9 season and Becker was the school’s fourth coach in three seasons. Coginchaug went 18-12 over three seasons, including a 7-3 finish in 2019.
Becker was hired as the third coach in Haddam-Killingworth’s history in February 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he never coached an actual game. But he said he was proud of the kids’ effort during the loss of their season.
“Leaving H-K is bittersweet and I can’t say enough good things about everybody there,” he said, adding that he hopes assistant Tyler Wilcox will take over. “I had a great principal in Donna Hayward, a great athletic director in Lynne Flint, a great coaching staff and tremendous kids. They welcomed me with open arms.
“I don’t know if I would have been able to do this five years ago. But this feels right and I’m super pumped.”
Becker graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 2000, holds a masters degree at Eastern Connecticut State and earned his sixth-year teaching certification at Southern Connecticut State in 2015. He spent eight years as a teacher and administrator at Westbrook before returning to Hand as a career and technical education teacher.
Becker admits he’ll be starting from scratch with a team that hasn’t played a football game since the 2019 Class L championship final. And then there’s the added expectations of winning state championships. Hand has won 13 state titles in its 50 years of existence. All three previous coaches won multiple titles. Filippone (seven titles overall) and Mastroianni (two) won championships in their first seasons.
Semple said Becker’s already hard at work, visiting the Hand weight room just hours after getting the job. “We’re really happy,” Semple said.
“God willing, I’m able to do this and serve this program for the next 20 years,” Becker said. “A service to all the coaches who came before me, to all the kids I coached over years, the alumni who came before me and who played with me and service to my town and my school and the next generation of Hand football players.”