In the seven years since his last head coaching gig, eight-time state championship coach Jack Cochran has kept a relatively low profile aside from an assistant gig here or there.
But when several state prep schools canceled their seasons because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cochran says several fathers reached out to him to see if there might be another way to give their sons a chance to play.
The idea of starting an independent team fell through, however, when the prep schools began locking down their campuses, Cochran said. But, as it became evident the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference was going to shut down the sport to comply with the Connecticut Dept. of Health’s recommendations, Cochran figured he could revive it for the state’s public schools.
What he came up with was something he dubbed as the Yankee Independent Football League. He spoke with New Britain’s Parks and Recreation Department about securing Veterans Stadium — where he once coached New Britain High to three state titles in the early 2000s — for a potential eight-week season with games played each Saturday and Sunday until Nov. 27.
“When it really looked as though the CIAC would shut it down, I thought ‘Why give up on it now?’” Cochran said, adding that he’d offered the plan to “every high school coach in Connecticut.”
Cochran estimated a price of at least $123,000, which he said included the rental, trainers, officials, insurance and — most importantly, he said — cleaning supplies for eight weeks of rental time. “Our COVID protocol would go above and beyond the CT ReOpen committee,” he said. “There’s a lot of space in that stadium.”
It took “three days of work,” Cochran said, getting insurance quotes (anywhere from $45-$85 per player) and verbal agreements with a trainer company and an officials board.
“That’s more than a crew of 20 has been able to do at CIAC,” he said.
Cochran said the response so far has been “incredible,” and said at least four teams have expressed interest. But he said he would need at least six or seven more to meet the basic expenses and rental costs. He also suggested stitching together players or incomplete units to form teams.
As of now, this remains nothing more than a plan and Cochran admits numerous obstacles would have to be cleared to make it a reality.
He said he’d be content if it was just a handful of games, suggesting possibly between longstanding rivalry games like New London-NFA, Darien-New Canaan, Maloney-Platt, Westerly (R.I.)-Stonington.
But Cochran says there’s still time to pull something together. “We have time, but it’s almost now or never,” he said.
“Basically, it’s there if we want it,” he said of Veterans Stadium. “I don’t want to undermine coaches and start to recruit kids to play. I’m just saying here’s what I got. The thing is to overcome costs and figure out a way to get teams together. I’ve got it reserved and if we can give it a shot, we’ll give it a shot.”
He praised FCIAC coaches for expressing the willingness to create something similar in Fairfield County. Other leagues, Cochran said, “have basically given up on the kids.
“If we can do this successfully, great. If there’s a problem, we shut it down and at least can say we tried,” he said. “The government hasn’t tried. The CIAC hasn’t tried. At least, we could say we tried.”