Friday, August 30, 2013

How will CMU football fare in 2013?

The Morning Sun

Predictions more often than that completely flop in your face (my MLB predictions are a near-complete mess), but every once in a while you run into one that you nail.
I did pick the Central Michigan football team to finish the 2012 regular season with a 6-6 record, which is exactly what transpired. I also had them beating Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, so I guess it was one of the rare times that I at least got the end result correct.
What I’m really saying is that expect the following predictions to be entirely inaccurate.
Even so, it’s a fun exercise so let’s get started.
Saturday, Aug. 31 - at Michigan
Quite a different way for the Chippewas to start the season in 2013 as opposed to last year when it hosted Southeast Missouri State. Playing in front of over 100,000 people and a national television audience against the 17th-ranked team in the country will be a daunting task especially with CMU breaking in a new quarterback in junior Cody Kater. The keys will be winning the turnover battle and getting a run game established to help settle in Kater. Even so, the mighty Wolverines will likely be too much to handle. But if Appalachian State (2007) and Toledo (2008) can win at the Big House, so can Central Michigan. I’d have no problem writing about one of the biggest upsets in CMU history.
Prediction: Michigan 35, Central Michigan 17 (0-1)
Saturday, Sept. 7 - vs. New Hampshire
New Hampshire only played one FBS opponent last year, that being a 44-7 loss at Minnesota. But traditionally, it is a strong FCS program and CMU cannot walk into its home opener thinking it has an easy win. Chip Kelly turned the Wildcats into an up-tempo offensive juggernaut. Look for a quick start to put the Chippewas well on their way to a victory.
Prediction: Central Michigan 38, New Hampshire 16 (1-1)
Saturday, Sept. 14 - at UNLV
This could turn out to be a key game for the Chippewas as UNLV has had its fair share of struggles with its football program and this is certainly a winnable game. The Rebels have only won two games each of the last three years, so a loss would be a low note for CMU.
Prediction: Central Michigan 27, UNLV 13 (2-1)
Saturday, Sept. 21 - vs. Toledo
This is another major game as Central Michigan opens its MAC slate with a Rockets program that is traditionally one of the better teams in the conference. Last year’s game was a close one until a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions returned for touchdowns turned it in Toledo’s favor. Flip the turnover battle and win the game.
Prediction: Central Michigan 38, Toledo 35 (3-1, 1-0 MAC)
Saturday, Sept. 28 - at North Carolina State
The first game of a three-game road trip, Central Michigan will need to put together another very good performance to top the Wolfpack, similar to the performance a year ago at Iowa. Look for the Chippewas to keep it close, but not quite get over the hump.
Prediction: North Carolina State 23, Central Michigan 17 (3-2)
Saturday, Oct. 5 - at Miami
Central Michigan compiled one of its best showings of the season in 2012 when it rolled past the RedHawks at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. Miami will certainly want a measure of revenge, but it seems as though it is a program that is a step behind the Chippewas in terms of development. Central by 10.
Prediction: Central Michigan 31, Miami 21 (4-2, 2-0)
Saturday, Oct. 12 - at Ohio
At this point of the road trip, there is a chance the Chippewas might be a little bit fatigued. If they are, the timing will be bad as Ohio appears to be one of the top teams in the entire Mid-American Conference. The Bobcats are my preseason pick to win the MAC Championship. While Ohio usually methodically wears down an opponent with a power running game, it is still proficient in the air with veteran quarterback Tyler Tettleton. If CMU struggles to stop both, it will be a long day.
Prediction: Ohio 42, Central Michigan 24 (4-3, 2-1)
Saturday, Oct. 19 - vs. Northern Illinois
It is fair to say that Central Michigan has Northern Illinois’ full attention. Two years ago, the Chippewas were the only MAC team to defeat the Huskies with a 48-41 victory. Central Michigan then went to DeKalb, Ill., last year and led in the third quarter before NIU eventually pulled away, showing why it was eventually a BCS team. Hard to see Northern Illinois losing again in Mt. Pleasant, but stranger things have happened.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 38, Central Michigan 34 (4-4, 2-2)
Wednesday, Nov. 6 - at Ball State
The lone mid-week game for CMU is a nationally televised tilt at Ball State, a team that has made tremendous strides under head coach Pete Lembo. In doing these predictions so late, I had the luxury of seeing some of the Cardinals’ Thursday night win over Illinois State. Needless to say, it wasn’t the prettiest of performances in the first have before the hosts eventually pulled away. It is unfair to take too much away from week one, but it showed Ball State is beatable. With such a layoff leading into this game, the Chippewas should be well-prepared.
Prediction: Central Michigan 37, Ball State 28 (5-4, 3-2)
Saturday, Nov. 16 - at Western Michigan
The ol’ rivalry game. The Broncos are super young and a bit of a mystery under first-year head coach P.J Fleck, while Dan Enos is in his fourth year and has established something in Mt. Pleasant. Central Michigan has struggled in its last couple trips to Kalamazoo, but this is the perfect year for the Chippewas to flip that script as long as a horrid fourth quarter like last year doesn’t derail them.
Prediction: Central Michigan 24, Western Michigan 20 (6-4, 4-2)
Saturday, Nov. 23 - vs. UMass
Last year, it was kind of unfortunate how much of a laughingstock UMass was in its first year in FBS, at least early in the season. By the time the Chippewas played the Minutemen in late November, it was clearly a much-improved squad. UMass should continue to make strides this year, but it isn’t quite there yet. With Central Michigan happy to be back home, expect a fairly sizeable win.
Prediction: Central Michigan 35, UMass 10 (7-4, 5-2)
Friday, Nov. 29 - vs. Eastern Michigan
Rare is the year that Eastern Michigan does not give the Chippewas fits. Even last year, the Eagles grabbed a 14-0 lead before CMU stormed back and earned the victory. Expect nothing less from this one, but some way and somehow Central Michigan pulls it out again. I’ll give it my five-overtime special.
Prediction: Central Michigan 57, Eastern Michigan 55, five OTs

Central Michigan's Jeremy Gainer looks to make impact at defensive end after transfer from Michigan State

The Morning Sun

There was nothing disgruntled about the way Jeremy Gainer left Michigan State.
It was simply about opportunity or lack thereof.
Gainer, a 6-foot-2 and 235-pound defensive end, had a sitdown meeting with Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio following spring ball and the two talked about where the senior stood as far as the depth chart was concerned and his potential playing time during the 2013 season.
Dantonio was honest and forthright, according to Gainer.
“We sat down and he explained what my situation was on the depth chart and I basically told him that I wanted the opportunity to play,” Gainer said. “We saw eye-to-eye and he understood where I was coming from with my decision to transfer after spring ball.”
Gainer already had a connection with Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos, who had recruited Gainer out of Livonia Clarenceville High School back when Enos was an assistant with the Spartans.
So it was a no-brainer for Gainer to make the trek to Mt. Pleasant and play his senior season for the Chippewas in 2013.
“I was able to get ‘Coach D’ to contact Coach Enos and they talked amongst each other,” Gainer said. “It just worked out perfectly.”
Since Gainer graduated from Michigan State while still having a hear of football eligibility, he is able to play immediately.
Gainer’s statistics with the Spartans do not necessarily do him justice as he was stuck behind a wealth of talent, but when he arrived at Michigan State in 2009 he was ranked as the No. 15 outside linebacker recruit in the nation by Rivals. com before eventually sliding to defensive end last year.
He redshirted his first year at MSU, then made one appearance in 2010 before playing in all 14 games as a sophomore as he recorded 11 tackles with two forced fumbles. Gainer also was named Academic All-Big Ten.
Last year, Gainer appeared in all 13 contests with action coming mostly on special teams. He once again was named Academic All-Big Ten.
The addition of Gainer to the CMU roster adds a pass-rushing threat that was desperately needed as it was one of the primary areas of concern in 2012, especially over the first two-thirds of the season.
“He’s a very powerful guy,” Enos said of Gainer. “He’s a 6-foot-2 guy, but he has extremely long arms for a guy his size. He has a great first step and explosive. He plays hard and is a very instinctive, smart player. I think he is going to be a huge benefit for us this year.”
Gainer had similar thoughts when asked about what his best qualities are as a defensive end.
“I see myself as someone who is aggressive off the edge,” said Gainer. “Always get a good pass rush, because I understand that is something we need to do. Collapse the pocket, get some sacks, some turnovers on the quarterback, that kind of thing. I see myself as someone that can step in and make that happen.”
One might think that making a transition from one school to another after spending four years at the previous institution might be difficult, but for Gainer it seems to be going seamlessly.
“It’s been a quick transition, just because I already knew some of the coaching staff,” Gainer said. “Coach (George) Ricumstrict, my position coach, he recruited me to go to Indiana. So I already had that connection as well. It was basically just a great situation. The guys here accepted me right off the bat. Knowing that I was a guy coming in from another school, they were very welcoming and they all just said that at the end of the day we’re trying to win a MAC championship.”
Coming from the Big Ten Conference, Gainer has clearly gone up against some top FBS competition in practice and games over the past few years. But he has the utmost praise for the Central Michigan offensive line, specifically mentioning 6-foot-8 and 305-pound senior left tackle Jake Olson who he has gone up against many times during camp.
“Jake is a huge guy,” said Gainer. “People ask me all the time, ‘Do you think Jake could have played in the Big Ten?’ I always say, ‘Oh yeah.’ This guy is strong. I actually came up against him one time in practice and he hit me back a little bit. I told him I was never giving him my chest again. But he is a really good tackle. He’s a really big part of this team.”
Gainer is listed alongside sophomore Blake Serpa as a possible starter at left end, while senior Kenny McClendon along with senior Alex Smith and sophomore Louis Palmer will rotate in and out on the other side. True freshman Joe Ostman, who has had a very impressive camp, could also factor in at defensive end.
NOTES: The starting defensive backs for CMU are junior Jason Wilson and sophomore Brandon Greer at cornerback, while the safeties are senior Avery Cunningham along with junior Jarret Chapman and sophomore Kavon Frazier. Senior Shamari Benton returns as the starting MIKE linebacker, while junior Justin Cherocci is once again the starting SAM linebacker in the 4-2-5 defensive setup for the Chippewas.

Central Michigan aiming for major upset at Michigan

By NATE SCHNEIDER, The Morning Sun

Appalachian State did it in 2007.
Toledo managed the same feat in 2008.
Can Central Michigan pull off a similar historical upset victory at the University of Michigan in 2013?
The Chippewas enter Saturday’s 3:42 p.m. kickoff at the Big House in Ann Arbor as a massive 31.5-point underdog according to odds in Las Vegas, not exactly surprising news even if the point spread might seem a bit excessive to some.
To put it in some perspective, Central Michigan was a 14.5-point underdog last season at Iowa when it shocked a lot of people with its last-second 32-31 victory on a David Harman field goal.
But with the Appalachian State and Toledo upsets at the Big House within the last seven years at the Big House plus what the Chippewas achieved at Iowa in 2012, there is always a chance.
That’s sports. That’s college football.
“Any time you get to play on national TV against a Big Ten team, I think it is a great opportunity,” Enos said. “Our team plays Division I football to play in environments like this in front of big crowds and this type of fanfare, so everybody is really excited. Everybody’s excited about playing a different team rather than ourselves. I can tell you that.”
Central Michigan comes into the 2013 campaign with some serious momentum after winning four in a row to end last year, including the 24-21 victory over Western Kentucky in which it was much smaller underdog (3.5 points) than it will be Saturday at U-M.
On the other hand, the Wolverines finished 8-5 a year ago and lost in a down-to-the-wire finish to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Overall, it was a season Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has gone on record many times calling “unacceptable” and that any year U-M does not win the Big Ten Conference championship is considered “a failure”.
But while Michigan is very well one of the favorites for the Big Ten title, it could be a couple years before the Wolverines enter the discussion for a national championship as Hoke’s recruiting classes in 2014 and ‘15 are currently among the top ones in the country.
As for this year, U-M has plenty to replace due to graduation and injuries but Enos points out that it is the norm all around college football.
“I say this all the time, but every year in college football there is graduation,” said Enos. “Guys leave. There are always those unknowns about who is stepping up and who is replacing them. I think they have question marks just like we do, just like any team in college football does. I see a very solid football team and I think they are very well-coached. They are big and getting bigger. I think Coach Hoke has made that an emphasis since he arrived there to get bigger and more athletic and you can see that on their roster right now.”
Michigan has won 17 consecutive games at Michigan Stadium and is 109-21-3 all-time in season openers. The Wolverines are 3-0 all-time against Central Michigan, the last meeting a 41-17 final at the Big House in 2006.
Getting his first career start at quarterback for the Chippewas will be junior Cody Kater, who won the well-documented three-way quarterback battle this fall. Kater saw action in two games in 2012, going 2-for-4 for 12 yards.
Kater’s backup quarterback, sophomore Alex Niznak, could also potentially see some snaps although Enos is understandably keeping that information under wraps.
“He might (play). We’ll see,” Enos said.
Zurlon Tipton, who was named to the Maxwell Award and Doak Walker Award watch lists in July, will almost certainly be a focal point of the Michigan defense as the Chippewas break in a new starting quarterback. Tipton rushed for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, while also picking up another touchdown through the air.
Enos is well aware that Michigan will likely key in on Tipton.
“I’m sure they want to make us one-dimensional like any team would,” Enos said. “Especially with a guy coming back for us who rushed for 1,500 yards. I’m sure it’s going to be a focus trying to get us in passing situations. They do a very good job on third down with their sub packages and those kind of things to get pressure on the quarterback. It’s very important that we remain two-dimensional and it is going to be a huge key to the game in my opinion.”
Tipton certainly has the attention of Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
Here is what Mattison had to say in a recent story done by Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press: “Very good running back. I’m talking about a very good running back in the country, compared to other good running backs, not a good running back compared to the Big Ten,” U-M defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said this week. “Great cutback runner, and he is a very physical back. He earns a reputation. You watch him, he’s running down the sideline and a lot of guys would step out of bounds. He turns back in to try and hit somebody. He’s a very physical running back.”
After the setbacks to Appalachian State and Toledo under previous coaching regimes, do not expect the Wolverines to come out with anything less than a full focus Saturday as it opens its season with big goals in mind.
Hoke won’t allow anything less than full effort and he made it clear during Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference that he has the utmost respect for the Central Michigan football program.
“Well, you know, Dan has done a really good job,” said Hoke. “I think you look at how they play and I know some of the coaches who are on that staff and have a lot of respect for them – Mike Cummings, up front – and you watch those guys play and the pad level. Then defensively, I think they do a nice job scheme-wise, and they do a nice job in the effort that they play with. They’ve got a veteran team, I think eight starters on one side of the ball and seven on the other, so they’ve got guys who have been in big games. They played a great bowl game, beat a very good Western Kentucky team, so obviously that program has continued to grow under Dan’s leadership.”
To their credit, the Chippewas have ended every practice leading up to Saturday’s showdown by huddling up and yelling “Beat Michigan” in unison.
Central Michigan might have to play a near-perfect game for it to happen that way, but in the world of sports the word impossible is outlawed.
“The one thing we do with our opponent is talk about ways we can wins,” added Enos. “Things we need to do to win. This is no different. I know they may have lost five games last year, but the bowl game was a last-second game and had many other close games. I really thought they improved as the season went on. I think they are a good football team and preseason ranked in the top 20 for a reason.”
The game will air live on the Big Ten Network, while it can also be listened to on the IMG Sports Network (WCFX 95.3 FM and WUPS 98.5 FM).

Q & A with University of Michigan football beat writer Nick Baumgardner from MLive

With Central Michigan getting set to square off at the University of Michigan Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., Wolverines beat writer Nick Baumgardner from MLive has taken the time to answer some questions about U-M football.

Q: Coming off a five-loss season last year, what have been the primary areas of focus in order to improve the 2013 win total?

A: I would say, if anything, the biggest thing Michigan needs to improve upon is its run game. This always gets skewed when you look at last season’s statistics, because Denard Robinson was around. But in terms of a pure, downhill power run game that can control the clock and dictate pace — Michigan didn’t have it last season. Fitz Toussaint never found a rhythm, and the interior of the offensive line really struggled when the Big Ten became difficult. Even when Devin Gardner gave the offense a shot of life late in the season, the interior of the line was still struggling. There’s three new starters now who have yet to record a college start (left guard Graham Glasgow, center Jack Miller and right guard Kyle Kalis). In a lot of ways, they hold the key to the offense’s true potential.

Q: ith Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off the leg injury, how has he looked the past few weeks? Are the running backs behind him on the depth chart going to share the carries fairly evenly?
A: Well, at Michigan, they don’t allow us to watch practice. Not a second. We’ve gotten snippets of scrimmage highlights here and there, and obviously we can go by what they tell us. From what we’ve been able to see, and what we’ve heard, he’s shown no lingering ailments from the leg injury. He won the starting running back job with almost zero resistance, he was the most complete back Michigan had in camp and the job is firmly his at this point — something we really didn’t expect going into camp. As far as the rest of the backs are concerned, we’ll have to see. Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith — the two freshmen — are pretty low on the depth chart, but they’re going to get carries. At least Green will. Redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson will probably be the team’s true No. 2, and he’ll see time early to give Toussaint a break now and then.

Q: The injury to Amara Darboh seems like it leaves some question marks at wide receiver. How do the Wolverines fill that void? Does it make Devin Funchess more of a focal point at tight end?
A: The Darboh injury is a blow, no question. Michigan anticipated him being the guy on the outside, the big, rangy wideout who could stretch the field and make the big play. But, if we’re being honest, we really don’t know what Michigan’s missing there because he never recorded a catch as a true freshman last season. We can speculate, but that’s about it. Jehu Chesson, a redshirt freshman, will have to fill that void. He’ll be helped by seniors Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds, and I think Michigan’s hoping a combination of those three can makeup for what they felt they lost with Darboh. As for Funchess, I go back and forth there. He was going to be a major factor in this passing game anyway. Does his role increase because of Darboh’s injury? Maybe. But, more than anything, the thing that’s keeping him from exploding is his blocking. Last year, he was barely 230 pounds and couldn’t block an end. So, when he entered the huddle, the defense knew it was a pass. This year, if he can be competent in the run game and keep people honest, he could be in for a huge season.

Q: How does the Michigan defense stack up? Who are some of the playmakers to watch on that side of the ball?
A: Michigan’s defense is a lot like it was last season. Very talented, but pretty inexperienced in a lot of spots. Hoke hopes to rotate up to three guys at every position along the defensive line, which is anchored by Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black in the middle — two seniors who have played a lot. With Jake Ryan out, Michigan turns to Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker. Both MLB Desmond Morgan and WLB James Ross were starters last year, and primary backup Joe Bolden played a ton as well. Michigan gets Blake Countess back at one corner, and Raymon Taylor started all but one game at corner last year. Thomas Gordon’s a two-year starter at strong safety. The biggest hole on defense, really, is the void left by Jordan Kovacs. Kovacs was such a heady player, he kept everyone in position at all times and always seemed to makeup for his lack of athleticism with angles and sure tackling. And, of course, Michigan still has Greg Mattison … which isn’t a bad thing.

Q: Any worries that Michigan might look past Central Michigan considering Notre Dame is on tap next week? A score prediction if you wish to give one?
A: Michigan, as a program, has lost to Appalachian State and Toledo in the past seven years. I can’t see them overlooking a pre-conference opponent ever again. Of course, never say never. But no, in all seriousness, Hoke loves the Mid-American Conference and has great respect for every coach in that league. They’ll be prepared. The score I wrote down earlier this week was Michigan 38, Central Michigan 10. I’ll stick with that — until it’s wrong, of course!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

CMU two-deep depth chart

 Copied from's game notes:

10 @CMU_Football • •
LT 73 Jake Olson (6-8, 305, Sr.)
77 Ramadan Ahmeti (6-7, 300, RSo.)
LG 66 Andy Phillips (6-3, 306, Jr.)
63 Connor Collins (6-31/2, 300 RFr.)
C 54 Nick Beamish (6-3, 305, RSo.)
79 Austin Doan (6-4 296, Fr.)
RG 72 Cody Pettit (6-3, 300, Sr.)
75 Kenny Rogers (6-6, 304, RSo.)
RT 60 Kevin Henry (6-4, 306, So.)
71 Kevin D’Arcy (6-4, 300, RFr.)
QB 7 Cody Kater (6-3, 220, Jr.)
2 Alex Niznak (6-3, 227, RSo.)
10 Cooper Rush (6-3, 216, RFr.)
HB 34 Zurlon Tipton (6-0, 221, Sr.)
6 Saylor Lavallii (5-9, 213, So.)
27 Martez Walker (5-8, 193, RSo.)
44 Anthony Garland (6-1, 218, Sr.)
11 Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore (5-11, 204, RFr.)
FB 49 Adam Fenton (6-2, 246, Sr.)
30 Ben Masztak (6-1, 224, Sr.)
42 Tyler Lombardo (6-1, 248, Sr.)
37 Christian Conley (6-2, 249, RSo.)
Y 33 Mike Kinville (6-3, 255, Jr.)
89 Connor Odykirk (6-3, 242, Sr.)
83 Ben McCord (6-4, 243, RSo.)
15 Deon Butler (6-31/2, 238, RJr.)
12 A.J. Westendorp (6-2, 226, Sr.)
X 85 Courtney Williams (6-1, 212, Jr.)
81 Jerry Harris (6-1, 187, Sr.)
88 Jesse Kroll (6-3, 214, RSo.)
80 Anthony Rice (6-0, 178, RFr.)
Z 84 Titus Davis (6-2, 190, Jr.)
9 Andrew Flory (6-0, 182, RSo.)
82 Defarrel Davis (6-2, 175, Sr.)
3 Mark Chapman
LE 46 Blake Serpa (6-3, 255, RSo.) OR
21 Jeremy Gainer (6-2, 235, Sr.)
45 Joe Ostman (6-3, 235, Fr.)
NT 58 Leterrius Walton (6-5, 300, RJr.)
95 Shafer Johnson (6-1, 300, RSo.)
52 Jabari Dean (6-2, 295, So.)
DT 50 Matt Losiniecki (6-3, 290, Jr.)
98 Kelby Latta (6-4, 312, RFr.)
56 Louis Palmer (6-2, 265, RSo.)
DE 31 Kenny McClendon (6-2, 250, Sr.) OR
32 Alex Smith (6-3, 250, Sr.)
56 Louis Palmer (6-2, 265, RSo.)
93 Donny Kyre (6-2, 255, Fr.)
MIKE 41 Justin Cherocci (6-0, 231, Jr.)
51 Cody Lopez (6-1, 225, Jr.)
47 Kyle Zelinsky (6-1, 230, Sr.)
SAM 26 Shamari Benton (6-0, 235, Sr.)
43 Tim Hamilton (6-1, 233, RSo.)
59 Nathan Ricketts (6-3, 230, RFr.)
ST 29 Jarret Chapman (6-0, 194, Jr.)
10 Kevin King (5-10, 191, Jr.)
DS 36 Avery Cunningham (6-0, 203, Sr.)
20 Denzel Wimberly (5-10, 201, RSo.)
CS 5 Kavon Frazier (6-0, 213, So.)
18 Tony Annese (6-1, 205, RFr.)
FC 35 Brandon Greer (6-1, 203, So.)
28 Dennis Nalor (6-0, 178, Jr.)
BC 14 Jason Wilson (6-0, 174, Jr.)
16 Stefon Armstead (5-10, 175, RSo.)
P 13 Richie Hogan (6-2, 207, Sr.)
99 Matt Cotiguala (5-10, 180, So.)
K 17 Ron Coluzzi (5-11, 185, RFr.) OR
99 Matt Cotiguala (5-10, 180, So.)
KO 37 Connor Gagnon (6-1, 198, Sr.) OR
17 Ron Coluzzi (5-11, 185, RFr.)
LS 92 Mike Zenk (6-3, 250, RSo.)
61 Nick Adams (5-10, 230, Jr.)
PR 84 Titus Davis (6-2, 190, Jr.)
6 Saylor Lavallii (5-9, 213, So.)
KR 85 Courtney Williams (6-1, 212, Jr.)
6 Saylor Lavallii (5-9, 213, So.)
H 37 Connor Gagnon (6-1, 198, Sr.) OR
13 Richie Hogan (6-2, 207, Sr.)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck talks "Row the Boat", everyday changes, future expectations

Ever since Western Michigan University hired P.J. Fleck last December as its new head football coach, the well-spoken and untested Fleck has ruffled some feathers. That's just how he likes it. Fleck is unafraid to speak his opinion or make sweeping changes with the Broncos' football program.

He has seemingly recruited very well and has added another layer to the rivalry with Central Michigan University. The Central Michigan faithful have been outspoken about how they are not exactly fans of Fleck's style of doing business.

Meanwhile, CMU head coach Dan Enos had a "no comment" when asked what he thought of Fleck's hiring. Enos might not have meant anything more than he said right there, but by not saying anything it kind of says it all. 

With a coaching resume that only dates back to 2006, the 32-year old Fleck is certainly untested as a head coach. Whether his "Row the Boat" motto and "change something every day" ideas take hold and help develop a consistent winner in Kalamazoo remain to be seen, but from watching Fleck at MAC Media Day last week it's clear he can take charge of a room. If only vernacular talent and ability to address the media won football games, Western Michigan would be all set.

The Broncos were picked to finish fifth in the MAC West Division this year and while no one is expecting a whole lot from WMU this season, if a highly competitive football team is not put on the field by late 2014 and into 2015 I wouldn't be surprised if Western Michigan fans get exhausted by his way of doing things.

Of course, if what he is doing in Kalamazoo takes hold then look out. Western Michigan could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Here is some of what Fleck had to offer at MAC Media Day:

What does "Row the Boat" mean?
"Row the Boat’ is very simple. It’s a family mantra my wife and I had. We lost our second son and had to start living it instead of talking about it. I kept it in my back pocket until I was a head football coach because I thought it was something I could give back at that point. The oars are the energy of the program. The boat is the sacrifice to get into the boat. The community is the players and the focus is where we set sail. When you are rowing a boat, you are facing the opposite direction you are actually going. You are going toward the future, but you can’t quite see what is there. You have to trust in your process and trust where you are going. When one person stops rowing, another player has to pick it up and row for two instead of one. We can look back into the past and see where we’ve made mistakes and then try to correct them. We don’t care what’s ahead of us. Calm seas, waterfalls, rocky seas, injuries. It doesn’t matter. We are going to continue to row the boat."

You are getting a lot of attention these days for the recruiting you are doing. Are you pleased with all that attention?
"Recruiting these days stems from how much attention you are getting. Where do you rank? Where are you? That was never the case when I was growing up in the profession. Now it is. I don't really know if the stars project as accurately as people have them as far as who is going to be a player and who is not. It's really a true guessing game. But I'm really happy with all the progress we are making in recruiting. The number one job in our program is to recruit. Recruit these guys on a day-to-day basis. Make these guys think that Western Michigan is the greatest place they'd ever want to be. Make them happy. But I'm really happy with our staff and how long they work. They work long hours. It's nice to see some results. We don't know who we're going to sign or where we are going to be. We're going to lose some spots just because of the high numbers we have. Some of the other teams haven't signed as many, but I know this class is going to be really special."

It will be your first year in the CMU-WMU rivalry. Have you been reading up on the rivalry and what does the rivalry mean to you?
"It's a phenomenal opportunity for our players to play in a true tradition game. You aren't playing for something that no one knows about that is just between the team. It's the eighth-greatest rivalry in all of college football. That says something. That is awesome. The trophies have win-loss records that go back 100-some years ago. It's absolutely incredible. I want our players to understand that they can play within the Mid-American Conference in a huge traditional game. You don't have to go to the Big Ten or the SEC or the ACC to play in that. We have that in the MAC. We have the eighth-greatest rivalry in all of college football. Now I don't know who rates that. Maybe it's seven, maybe it's nine. But I know it's one of the greatest in all of college football and I'm proud to be the coach of Western Michigan that gets to play in it." 

The last week of the season you go back to DeKalb? What is your thought process for that one?
"You know, I thought about it one time and I got stressed out so I stopped thinking about it. I don't believe in stress. Stress is things I cannot control. I can't control DeKalb, Illinois right now. I can control P.J. Fleck and be the best coach I can possibly be today. And that's pressure. I put a lot pressure on myself as the head football coach and I have no problem doing that because I know these guys will back me up just like I'll back them up. Pressure is a day-to-day thing. Stress is down the road. But I'll tell you this, I have a lot of respect for that program. I truly love it with all my heart because it is the place where I played. It's where I bled, sweat, went to school. I met a lot of my friends there and they've always been so good to me. I'll be looking forward to that one when we get to it. That's for sure."

Is that program at Northern Illinois a blueprint for where you want to be?
"We're going to be us. That's a standard answer, but we're going to be us. We don't want to be anybody but ourselves. We're going to define that one day. If people want to be like us one day, OK. If they don't, that's fine too. But we're going to be us. I like to see what NIU has done, because I was a part of that. I remember going to recruit Jordan Lynch at Mount Carmel High School because I was there. The last senior class is the last one I had as a recruiting coordinator. They are a wonderful group. An elite group of men. They deserve all the success they've had, that's for sure."

How big do you think the BCS berth was for the Mid-American Conference?
"Tremendous. I don't care who went there. Whether it was Toledo or Northern Illinois or Eastern Michigan, it didn't matter. Having a MAC team in the Orange Bowl is one of the greatest feats this conference could ever have. I think it stems back to 2003 when Northern Illinois beat Alabama, Maryland, and Iowa State. That opened the door for a Boise State. And now look what Boise State has done. Because we went 10-2 and didn't get into a bowl game at that time. I think with Northern Illinois going to the Orange Bowl, who knows what can happen now. I think the new playoff system is going to help everybody. It gives people like us a chance to possibly win a national championship. To get into that top four one day and compete for it. It can happen more now than it could with the BCS, I promise you that. So we're excited for that challenge."

How do you think it changes an outsider's view of the conference?
"I think it changes the thought process and shows people it is possible. It helps increase the fan base and makes people take this program and this conference seriously. It takes wins like that to make people buy in. It shows someone that they don't have to go to the University of Illinois. They can go to Northern Illinois and get the same experience. I don't have to Michigan State or Notre Dame, I can go to Western Michigan with 36,000 people in the stadium just loving you. We can do that in this league. I think you are seeing that with Dan Enos being held over at Central Michigan, a team with so much turnover. I think you are seeing it at Bowling Green with Dave Clawson. Tenured guys in this conference. Frank Solich at Ohio. You are starting to get coaches that actually stay. Once that happens, you start building the league fan base and see things really take off."

You've had some facility upgrades already in place at WMU. Do you expect more improvements?
“Oh yeah. Every day we are looking for something that can be changed or asking ourselves what can be changed. What other door can I open? There will be a ton of changes around our building. Six months from now, nothing will look the same. From the field turf to the lockers to the hallways to the logos and possibly other things. Nothing will be the same. But that's me. I’m a firm believer in taking something and breaking it whether it needs to be fixed or not. You take a horse and you break it. You build it back into a horse, great. At least you took the chance in breaking it to see if it did need change. If you take that horse and break it and now it's a turtle, you needed to change it. You changed it to what it needed to be. That's what we're doing within our program and that's what these guys are being taught on a daily basis. To break themselves on a daily basis and find out about yourself. We're going to do that every day.”  

You have a lot of early away games against Big Ten Conference opponents. Do those games worry you?
"I think we have to change people's perspective because that's what everybody says. They say well if they go and lose against Michigan State, then no one is going to show up. They are the same old team. It's about changing the mentality of the town. Changing the mentality of the people. That's my job. I've been working the last seven months doing that. Rowing the boat has been a huge part of that. It's like a stock. You almost control a part of the team. If you can get 100,000 people at businesses or houses or wherever, they are going to have ownership of that program. I want that game day experience to change. They broke it down. It's like a 90/10 split. It was an NFL study, but it works for college too I think. Ten percent of the people that come to the game are the die-hard "you better win or else we will fire you" types. Then ninety percent just want to be entertained. We want to provide an entertaining atmosphere when you come to Waldo Stadium. Not only for these guys playing, but for the fans too and have it be interactive. There are going to be changes every year. Every day. Every day you come into the building there will be something. There might be a new lock on the door. There might be a new light switch going in. Or whatever. But every day something is going to be changing."

You talk about all the changes, but what older traditions at Western Michigan are you hanging onto?
"I think when you look at the Central Michigan/Western Michigan rivalry, it's the eighth-greatest rivalry in the nation. That's all of college football. Think about that. You can come to the Mid-American Conference and get the eighth-greatest rivalry in college football. You can get that within this conference and that is special. It's special to these players and special to me. We're going to keep that tradition alive. And then we're going to invent new ones. A hundred years from now, they'll talk about the traditions we started. This program needs that. It needs the stability. When you look at, what other traditions are there? It comes down to the fact that all the people show up. We're going to change everything. The problem with change is that everyone wants change until you have to change. They wanted change until they got me. Then they asked if they really want change or if this is what they signed up for. If they bought in, then they bought in. But everyone wants change until you have to change. That's hard for a lot of people. But if you want to get to where you want to get to, you have to accept change. Positive or negative, you have to change. So that's what we continue to do."

Some players adapt to change better than others. Do you ever think there could be too much change?
Oh I think so. About 30 years ago, Coca Cola changed its formula. Coca Cola went to the New Coke. That was the only time in the history of soda that Pepsi outsold Coke. Six months later, Coca Cola went back to their old formula and back to outselling Pepsi. So yeah, there are times too much change is bad. But we're not sitting there changing our name to the Mustangs. We're not doing that. What we're doing is establishing a new era that we're going to continue to build on. We're changing in order to make ourselves better on a daily basis. You break the horse and it comes back as a horse, you didn't have to change it. But we're going to challenge ourselves to change on a daily basis. That's fine as long as you challenged yourself and broke yourself to see if you've changed today. We'll always learn something every day that's changing."

When you built your coaching staff, did you want guys that fit your mold with constant energy? Or did you want coaches who offset your style?
"I think you want both. If there are too many me's, I don't know if you'd like that. I think what I wanted to do was to hire guys who offset any strengths I may lack in. I think I did that with every single one of my coaches. Whether that was personality-wise or X's and O's-wise or recruiting-wise, everyone had a role in why they were hired. It was a strategic plan and I got everyone that I wanted. I got my first choice with every single guy. I was pretty proud of that and proud that every one of these guys wanted to be a part of this program. I couldn't ask for any two better coordinators and our coaching staff does a tremendous job."

What would you say the number one thing is that you've learned as a head coach in six months?
"It's very simple. It's that not everyone is willing to change, but you have to find a way to still get to them. There are a lot of people in this organization that haven't had to change in 30 years. It's hard to change after 30 years. Now you've got this young punk coming in here telling you that you need to change and here is where we are going. Here's the direction we are going and hold on tight. That's been the biggest challenge, to get everyone on the same page. Not just the football team, but the organization and the administration. That's going to be the biggest challenge with me being the head football coach."

There have been some former players or alumni groups that haven't been on board with some of the changes you've been making. If you could tell them something to help get them to understand, what would you say?
Row the boat. That's all I'll tell them. Row the boat is a mantra that can be used in their everyday life that can help them. Just try that and then see if you want to be part of our program. I'm not going to make everybody happy. I don't plan to make everyone happy. It's lonely at the top because you have to make some tough decisions. There is never going to be a time where there is 100 percent feedback that everyone loves Coach Fleck. There are probably guys at this table that probably can't stand me. I don't have a problem with that. I'm not going to make everyone happy, but that's OK with me. Because I am doing the right thing and what I know is the right way. to get this program where it needs to be. That's what I got hired to do. I wake up every morning and think about how I can make Western Michigan elite."

With your philosophy on change, is that what made the Western Michigan job so attractive to you?
"It did. To be honest, making the jump to the NFL I didn't know how long I'd be there. When you buy a house, it tells you we are going to be somewhere for a long time. We built a house at Western Michigan, so that tells you I plan on sticking around a while. I feel like this program has so much to offer. I feel like it's just a hidden gem and a ticking time bomb. You have the rural area and you have the urban area. It's a true college town. You have some of the best restaurants in America in Kalamazoo. You have 26,000 students and a community around you. You have malls and shopping. You have pure Michigan. You have all these things to offer and it's just a hidden gem. It just needs to be dusted off a little bit and shined up. That's what I'm doing and the changes are to do that. It's not to change everything about the institution, it's to say this place can shine. Let's show how it can shine. Here is what I am going to do to make it shine. That's all it needs. A little buffering."

What do you say to people who bring up the fact that you've never been a coordinator and are therefore unqualified to lead a program?
"Well, I know a lot of head coaches right now that have never been coordinators. Offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator are totally different jobs than being a head football coach. Being a head football coach is all about leading. You organize, you hire. You structure. As a coordinator, you are locked into the X's and O's. That's your job. My job is to oversee everything. I've been around enough offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators and called plays. Maybe I didn't have the title, but I've called enough plays during a game. Just because you are a phenomenal offensive coordinator, it does not make you a phenomenal head coach. I've seen tremendous coordinators flop as head coaches. I've seen a lot of non-OC and non-DC's flop as head coaches as well. It just is what it is and I don't think it has to be a prerequisite to be a head football coach. Not just because it is me, but because I am living that job right now and it has nothing to do with being a good head football coach. I am living it on a daily basis and I think people are look way too into the whole coordinator deal. The progression they really need to start focusing on is that when you are an assistant, you are in charge of 15 young people. That's is who you are responsible for. As an offensive coordinator, now you are in charge of 50. It's the next progression. As a head coach, you are in charge of 105 plus the rest of your staff and everybody else. But just because you are good at being responsible for those 50 doesn't mean you will be a good head football coach. Some people believe otherwise. Living the job on a daily basis, the things I have to do, if I was a phenomenal offensive coordinator but not a very good people person I probably wouldn't be a very good head coach."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Eastern Michigan head coach Ron English discusses why 2013 is an important year for his football program

Eastern Michigan head coach Ron English is entering his fifth year as the Eagles' head coach and is under the final year of his current contract. He has a 10-38 overall record at EMU and after progress was shown with a 6-6 record in 2011, a 2-10 mark last season was a major disappointment.

English sat down with me at last week's MAC Media Day to talk about his 2013 Eastern Michigan squad and why this year is so important.

What does Stan Parrish bring to the table as an offensive coordinator and what kind of identity is he trying to bring to your offense?
"I think he has proven he can score points. I have coached against him several times and he's been difficult to defend. So I knew a lot about him. I knew what he did and what he likes to do. He's going to be multiple. But he's just a guy with a proven track record and I have a lot of confidence in him to do what he needs to do."

Is Tyler Benz the quarterback or is there a competition there?
"Right now, Tyler is the quarterback. He had some good games and some not-good games last year, but what he did gain was valuable experience. I think he has the ability to be very good, particularly with Stan developing him."

He has a couple very talented running backs to hand off to (Bronson Hill and Darius Jackson) along with an experienced offensive line. You have to like the talent on the offensive side of the ball.
"No question. It's a team that should score a lot of points. Stan's going to put guys in the right positions and use his weapons. I feel really good about our offensive football team."

A couple of the main areas of concern last year defensively were the lack of creating turnovers and pressuring the quarterback. Do you feel you've made improvements in those areas?
"Not only those two things, but we couldn't stop teams from running the football. When you can't stop the run, you allow teams to be multi-dimensional. To me, you've always got to stop the run first. But our team speed is such that I think we will limit big plays. That's the second part of playing good defense. You need to make teams have to drive to score. If you give up chunks, you're going to give up a lot of points."

Do you feel the pressure to win this year?
"You know, I've been doing this 21 years. There are always expectations, but more than that I am concerned with developing players. I'm in a role where I can have a significant impact in developing players. I've probably had more fun since January than I have had in four years here."

I know you have done some fun things over the offseason such as skydiving. What has been the reasoning behind these side activities?
"It's fun and helps bring attention to the program, but it's also to bring in revenue. We are a program that has to generate outside sources of revenue to move forward. I think if you look at our conference, all of our teams are continuing to move forward with their facilities and so on and so forth. That's all we're trying to do. We're continuing to move forward."

What are the keys to becoming a bowl eligible team this year?
"Health is always number one, but we also need to develop some depth. I think we just need to have the mindset that there is going to be some adversity and we have to keep moving forward. And when we are playing well, continue to play well. That's the biggest thing. How do you handle all the different things that are going to occur during the course of the season?"