By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – As a youngster, Levi Nelson traveled to Green Bay from Ohio numerous times over the years to watch Packers practices and games.
“Instead of going to Florida on spring break, my mom, brother and I would vacation every year in Green Bay,” he said.
Years later, Nelson saw his dreams turn into reality when he accepted the head football coaching position at Green Bay East High School, where he stayed for three seasons.
That all changed earlier this year when Nelson was informed his teaching position at East was being displaced and that future employment would come outside the building.
“I wasn’t forced out of coaching,” he said. “(East Athletic Director) Steph Mathu was great and gave me time to think about it. She informed me I was more than welcome to stay on as coach, but after thinking things through, I didn’t think it was best to teach outside of the school and then still coach at East. I think it’s important to be in the same building you coach in. This will be the first time in 14 years I’m not coaching football.”
The wins haven’t come easily for East in the last few seasons.
After Nelson was hired in the summer of 2020, his first season with the Red Devils later that year was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
East went 1-6 during the alternate spring season in 2021.
In the fall of 2021, the Red Devils went 0-9 and were shut out five times in scoring a combined 34 points.
In 2022, East went 1-8 — with its only victory coming against Green Bay West — and was shut out seven times in scoring a combined 14 points.
Going back even further, the Red Devils haven’t been to the WIAA postseason since 2007.
“I always say I’ve got to coach better,” Nelson said. “I took the job, and then COVID hit. It was hard for any high school coach but especially someone in their first year — you’re trying to meet with your new staff and players and you can only meet them virtually. I’m not making excuses, but I feel like we were building some momentum, and then the unfortunate situation with the job happened.”
Though he’s not teaching and coaching at East anymore, Nelson said, “I’m still thankful to have a job and live in Green Bay.”
“It’s a great place to live — always something to do, never any traffic, you’ve got the Packers and my wife has a great job,” he said. “Having moved my family from Ohio three years ago was a big deal. We love Green Bay, so we’d love to stay here. I’m just a bit bummed I didn’t get to finish what I started (at East), but I’m a believer everything happens for a reason.”
LEAD by example
Nelson, who has a doctorate in sports psychology, used the LEAD philosophy in his coaching.
LEAD stands for Love, Effort, Attitude and Discipline.
“I had been an assistant coach for years and was going through my master’s program through the University of Akron,” he said. “The final assignment was to formulate your own coaching philosophy. I could tell you a lot about John Wooden, Lou Holtz and Tony Dungy, but I realized I didn’t have a lot of my own thoughts.”
After Nelson submitted his final assignment, his professor gave him some advice.
“He told me, ‘Buddy, no one is going to read a 12-page document, and no one is going to remember it,’” he said. “He handed me another book by Pete Carroll and told me, ‘You have to come up with a coaching philosophy in 25 words or less.’”
Using his LEAD philosophy, Nelson recently published a book: “L-E-A-D: A coach’s playbook on how to positively impact the world through Love — Effort — Attitude — Discipline.”
“That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book — well-intended coaches are doing their best, but they might not have that coaching philosophy that impacts every decision,” he said. “Many coaches might have good intentions, but then they get caught up in trying to win games.”
In the book, Nelson said he guides coaches through the process of how to formulate their own coaching philosophy.
“I tell them, ‘Here’s my philosophy, and here’s how I put it into practice,’” he said. “Coaches have playbooks for offense and defense, but this is the playbook on how to implement your coaching philosophy into practice. I’ve been studying this for a long time, and I thought I had some useful things I could share with other coaches. It’s not going to take you four months to read — it’s a quick read.”
Nelson said another reason he wrote the book was for his two children.
“I wanted to have something for my children when I’m gone from this earth,” he said. “I want them to say, ‘This is what Dad was trying to do with his life, and this is what he was thinking when he was 35.’”
Nelson said the process to write the book was lengthy.
“I’m a busy person, so I’m not one of those guys who has a cabin in Vermont and just wrote time on end,” he said. “It was a lot of time in the early morning before the kids got up.”
Nelson said he had been writing his thoughts down for several years, but nothing more came of it until he listened to a podcast one day.
“The podcast said, ‘You should share your goals out loud with others because they will hold you accountable,’” he said. “I had told one of my players, ‘By the time I turn 35, I’m going to write a book.’ Fast forward seven or eight years — I’m 34 years old (at the time) — and this kid texts me out of the blue and said, ‘Coach, how is the book coming?’ I can’t believe he remembered. It didn’t happen before I turned 35, but my new goal was 36 — which I happened to accomplish.”
Nelson said the easiest way to purchase the book is to search on Amazon.