The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 17, 2013

Harold Raker's high school football column: Former Colts coach Maniskas at home in Halifax


Daily Item

---- — Peyton Manning and Matt Maniskas, although not even acquaintances, are forever linked by the 2010 NFL season.

You know Manning, he of the Hall of Fame performances for the Indianapolis Colts and, currently, the Denver Broncos.

Both were fired, so to speak, by the Colts.

And each is happy with his new gig.

The Colts had famously released Manning because of concerns that a neck injury might turn the quarterback into a shell of his former self. They moved on, staking their future on Andrew Luck.

When coach Jim Caldwell struggled to win games, his solution was to ax his entire defensive staff, which included Maniskas.

The latter had joined the Colts at the request of his former defensive coach at the University of Pittsburgh, Larry Coyer. Ironically, Coyer had come to Indy from Denver.

So Maniskas, who played football at Pittston Area and who had left his wife, Kristen, behind in Harrisburg to pursue his NFL dream, went back home.

He put his family, which today includes Kristen and their 16-month-old son, Zachary, ahead of any ideas of chasing another NFL job.

Shortly after the birth of his son, Maniskas interviewed for a position with the Minnesota Vikings. Then Kristen developed serious complications from the pregnancy, resulting in a 40-day hospital stay.

"I couldn't leave. It was one of those life-or-death circumstances. I decided I would stick around here and (return to) coaching high school football," said Maniskas, who previously served as an assistant on then head coach Bob Folk's staff at Newport.

He had already left his pregnant wife at home while working for the Colts.

He spoke with other coaches, including Coyer, who had to move his three children numerous times while coaching in the pros.

"You get a different perspective. I didn't want to do that to my son every year for 18 years, move him from school to school, and tell my wife we have to pack up again.

"It's a hectic lifestyle. I loved it, but it just wasn't me," he said.

They say timing is everything, and it certainly was for Maniskas. Just up the road in northern Dauphin County, former Penn State standout Yaacov Yisrael left during this past off-season as the Halifax head coach to take the same job in Shamokin.

"When I found out that Cov had left to go to Shamokin, I thought, 'Here's an opportunity. It's a league I know (Newport and Halifax both compete in the Tri-Valley League, formerly Twin Valley Conference).'''

He also noted the job was at a school that he greatly respected. "When I was at Newport, those (games with Halifax) would be the toughest games to play. I wanted to be a part of that tradition.

"They graciously gave me the job. I was excited," he said.

But the tradition was not what it used to be. The Wildcats had only two starters returning and faced an uphill climb to get back to their winning ways.

"I just went in head first and said 'Let's see what we can do.' We've made some progress. It's a long stretch (the Wildcats are 0-7 and face 6-1 Tri-Valley tonight). I am just looking forward to my freshmen here now and seeing them as juniors and seniors and seeing what they can do.

"I want to rebuild that tradition of Halifax football; that's what I want to get back to," Maniskas said.

Toiling seemingly light years from his NFL days, Maniskas is looking forward to what he and his staff might be able to do in this community which loves its football.

"Do I think we will get there? Patience is a virtue. We will get there. It's a matter of time, at least that's what everyone tells me, and I can see (improvement) each week," Maniskas said.

In his former position and, even at the college level, football is a job.

Maniskas wants his players to improve, but more importantly, to enjoy the game.

"The great thing about high school football is you want to have as much fun as possible. I saw what it's like when it becomes a job and that is what it shouldn't be. These four years, these kids should have the greatest time, and memories, good memories, they will carry with them for a lifetime."

Will Maniskas seek another job in the NFL? Perhaps. Perhaps not. For now, he loves what he is doing and where it could take him and his Wildcats.

"We'll see how it goes. I'm enjoying this part of (the game), this aspect of it."

From talking with Maniskas, and hearing others talk about him, I believe the feeling in Halifax is mutual.

n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school football for The Daily Item. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.