Now in his second season at the U.S. Naval Academy – and his third as a coach for the U.S. National Football Team – Joe Battaglia knows fully well what the profession of football coach means to those in his charge. Prior to coaching, Battaglia was a four-year letterman at Guilford College.
Battaglia started at linebacker for the Quakers – honing his skills and philosophies regarding the defensive side of the game that he would use later in life – and graduated with Bachelor's degree in sports management in 2008, but he knew all along that his path in life would lead to coaching.
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He broke in as a volunteer at Towson University before earning his first paid coaching job at Juniata College. He would progress through his career over the next decade with stops at Midwestern University, Brevard College, and Bethany College before getting hired at the Naval Academy to be its Defensive Quality Control Analyst in 2017.
Coaching at Navy brings its own unique set of challenges and rewards. A typical student-athlete already has the burden of finding a way to balance academics and athletics; at a service academy, there are those responsibilities added with the need to meet those of their military responsibilities. For Battaglia, coaching the Midshipmen is something he takes great pride in. He carries that same pride in coaching the athletes of Team USA.
He recently took some time to talk about coaching both squads and what he looks forward to at the impending International Bowl.
EM: Before we talk about coaching at Navy and for Team USA, let's get a little background on you. When did you first know that you wanted to be a football coach?
JB: I think in high school. You know, I think everyone who plays has that dream of making it to the NFL, but at a certain point you come to the realization that that's not going to happen. My Dad was a coach in the youth leagues and in high school and he coached me my whole life. So from him and my high school coaches, they gave me that inspiration that this is what I wanted to do.
EM: I know that for many, a coach's career takes a lot of twists and turns but everyone has to start out somewhere with that first job. How did your career path open for you?
JB: Yeah, it's been a crazy one for me. I was 5'9”, 175-pound linebacker in high school. So, knowing that I wanted to play somewhere and coach, I could have gone to a big school and be a student assistant coach or go somewhere smaller and play, I got the advice that I should play as long as I could, so I did that.
From there, my college coaches, one in particular, helped me. They took me to a convention one year and introduced me to everyone. I volunteered at Towson University that summer and caught a job right before camp started at a small-school called Juniata College and it just progressed from there.
EM: Let's talk Navy now. Being at a service academy and knowing what the everyone there has not only on their plate while they're enrolled there but what they have in front of them post graduation, has that changed the way you interact with your players at all compared to how you have coached at previous spots?
JB: Not really. I think that the experiences are different, but one of the misconceptions with kids here is that they're robots. They're not, they're normal 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids. In terms of how I interact with them, nothing has changed. Here they're incredibly smart and incredibly talented, but they're still kids.
EM: Gotcha. What about the actual 'circumstance' of coaching at Navy? Does it mean anything extra to you to be at a place as storied and as meaningful to our country as Annapolis?
JB: It means a tremendous amount to me. To see the courage and the commitment of the student-athletes here has given me a whole knew respect for what they're able to handle and what they go through on a day-to-day basis. They're selflessness to make that commitment to the rest of us is extremely humbling and it makes me very appreciative.
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EM: Perfect. What about coaching Team USA in the International Bowl? What does that mean to you?
JB: This will be third one that I've coached in and it continues to be one of the most favorite things that I've ever done. I plan to continue doing it as long as they keep picking me to. I say that for some of the similar reasons that it means a lot to coach at Navy. You've got kids that come from all over the country and you put them together for a week.
These kids are obviously still in high school and some of them have never been around anyone from the south or the north or they've never left their own little small town. It's amazing to see how well they bond in such a short time.
To me, that's the coolest part of this whole thing. That and getting to represent your country and see the amount of pride they get in putting on the red, white, and blue. In this day and age, with how polarizing the political climate is, it's pretty cool to see how much it means to the kids to represent the country like this.