Joe Fincham knows his wife will head straight for the coffee pot at their home in Springfield every morning. That’s how the tradition of the Coffee Pot Letter began.
Years ago, before Fincham, the Wittenberg Tigers head football coach, and his wife Rita had cell phones and not long after they started a family, the start of preseason practice meant long separations every day. Joe left home early in the morning and returned late at night. He wasn’t always near a phone. The constant contact everyone is used to these days didn’t exist.
“Our communication was more, ‘Good morning and good night,’” Rita said. “That was it. Nothing in between.”
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That’s one reason Fincham started writing a letter every year before the first practice to Rita and their children: Mack, now a sophomore at Kenton Ridge; Samantha, a Kenton Ridge freshman; and Annie, a sixth grader. A few years ago, Rita began sharing photos of the letter, which Joe always puts in front of the coffee pot, on Facebook. She blurs much of the text to keep some of the content private.
Rita explained the letter this way in 2016 on Facebook: “Today we woke up to find our annual ‘Coffee Pot Letter.’ Every year Joe takes the time to reflect on the weeks of family time that we have spent together during the summer and leaves it in a letter in the corner by the coffee pot. This tradition serves as a reminder that our family time will be limited for the next nine months, but also reminds me how much his family means to him and his unwavering commitment to both his immediate family as well as to our football family!”’
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Two weeks before the 2019 opener, which comes Saturday at Washington & Jefferson, Joe explained why he starting the tradition, joking that he was trying to score points before the grind of camp, knowing he wouldn’t be home much for two weeks.
“I just thank God I come home every night and my stuff’s not laying out in the front yard,” he said with a laugh. “I just thank them for me supporting me. The month of July, that’s a pretty good month to be a football coach. There are probably ninth months out of the year where it ain’t so cool to be a football coach and certainly not cool to be a coach’s wife or kid.”
Rita addressed that in her latest Facebook post with the 2019 letter. Their kids have experienced the transition to football season their entire lives, she wrote, and know to expect the 14-hour days for their dad.
“It can be a challenging time,” she wrote, “but don’t worry, the Fincham’s got a pep talk at dinner last night. Encouraging words about working together to make this crazy, busy, insane fall schedule run as smoothly as possible. It’s a sad, yet exciting time. This is likely what many parents are experiencing today as their sons are reporting to camp.”
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Through the many long days, Joe built a successful career at Wittenberg, adding to the tradition of a program that ranked 27th last month on an ESPN list of the greatest college football programs of the last 150 years. Entering the 2019 season, his 24th, Joe is the 21st winningest coach by percentage (.824), across all divisions, in the history of the sport. His record stands at 210-45.
The family takes pride in those accomplishments.
“I think it’s amazing,” Rita said. “We get to see it firsthand at home how hard he works. He’ll always say he’s got great people supporting him, and that’s huge. He has a lot of loyal and dedicated coaches, which helps.”’
Joe hit the 200-win milestone in 2017. He's the sixth winningest active head coach at the Division III level. He'll soon join the list of coaches, across all divisions, who have won 221 or more games. Only 50 have reached that milestone.
However, Joe doesn’t expect to coach as long as some of the men on that list. He said he doesn’t plan to coach at Wittenberg for 30 seasons. That would prevent him from coaching more of the sons of former players, which is happening more and more these days.
Matt Warye, the dad of former Wittenberg running back Connor Warye, sent Fincham a text message recently with a photo of Connor and his young son.
“He said, ‘I hope you can hang in there for another 16 more years,’” Fincham said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m not sure I can hang in there for 16 more days.’”