CONCORD It was a strange football practice Thursday for First Assembly's high school team, but coach Mike Minter loved it. Some kids were playing soccer on the football field, so Minter had his team going through its plays in the baseball outfield. Of the 20 kids at practice, half had their hair painted in neon colors. One wore a sombrero. This was only a walk-through practice, and it was spirit week at their private Christian school.
Minter – once a 10-year starter at safety for the Carolina Panthers – was dressed oddly, too. Now a local entrepreneur with about 17 irons in the fire, Minter had come straight from speaking at a business luncheon. He still wore his dress shoes and slacks but had changed into a T-shirt for practice.
Although his surroundings in Concord are modest compared to the opulence of Bank of America Stadium, the game remains the same.
“Football is football,” Minter said. “Whether you're 5, 15 or 25 years old, the principles are identical.”
First Assembly lost its first game under Minter, which he said was attributable to “the mistakes of the rookie head coach.” Since then, the team has won four in a row entering tonight's homecoming game against Hickory Grove.
And Minter, 34, thinks he has begun writing the next chapter of his life.
“I believe coaching is my calling,” Minter said. “I'm supposed to do this.”
An incurable optimist, Minter always thought the Panthers were going to be a playoff team in training camp. He's optimistic about his coaching future, too. Although Minter had no coaching experience until this summer beyond coaching his sons in Pop Warner football, he has a big dream.
Get this: Minter said in a few years he hoped to have done so well as a high-school coach that the Charlotte 49ers will want to hire him as their first coach.
For now, though, Minter is more than content at First Assembly, where all four of his children go to school – an eighth-grade boy, a sixth-grade boy and first-grade twin girls.
Minter was supposed to be the school's head of football operations this season, charged in part with helping raise enough money to build an on-campus stadium. But when last year's coach left for another job, Minter took over as varsity coach this summer.
“Mike has really poured himself into it,” said Dave Murr, First Assembly's athletics director. “He's doing a great job.”
The kids at First Assembly had had success before – they won the state championship in their division in 2007. They hadn't had a celebrity coach, however, and some seemed in awe of Minter at first. After all, many had grown up watching him on Sundays during his Panthers career that only ended in August 2007.
“But Coach Mike didn't come out here like, ‘Hey, I'm a superstar,'” star running back Andrew Burton said. “He came out here like he was one of us.”
Minter said he tried to shrug off any attempts to place himself on a pedestal, although he did have to fulfill some autograph requests at the beginning. Said Minter: “I tried to let them know, ‘Look, I'm just like you. We're in this together.'”
He said his local celebrity status also hurt him at times. Said Minter: “I had to make them believe: ‘I'm going to be here. I'm really going to do this. I'm not just going to show up every now and then and be a figurehead.'”
Minter is not the first former Carolina Panthers player to coach an area high school football team. In fact, Brentson Buckner is 1-3 in his first season at Northside Christian . Close to a dozen others have done so, usually as assistants.
There were a couple of high-profile head coaches in Charlotte who were former Panthers, too, and neither did well. Former linebacker Carlton Bailey coached one year at South Mecklenburg High in 1999, going 1-9. Former offensive guard Kevin Donnalley had to resign as the coach at Charlotte Christian in 2006 after he admitted taking “inappropriate disciplinary action against a player.”
For Minter, though, I think it will turn out differently. He's always been one of my favorite Panthers – honest, intuitive, genuine. He knows football, of course, but he also knows what coaching requires.
“I've learned this about coaching – you've got to be a salesman,” Minter said. “If they buy in to what you're selling, they'll run through a wall for you. What was the difference between our 1-15 team with the Panthers (under George Seifert) and our Super Bowl team (under John Fox)? We had a better salesman as the head coach. So I'm selling, baby. I'm selling.”
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; email@example.com.