Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey talks BCS, Jordan Lynch, Iowa opener, etc.

The most entertaining coach I spoke with last week at Mid-American Conference Media Day was new Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey, who inherits the program from the departed Dave Doeren (now at North Carolina State). After a season in which the Huskies went 12-2 and played in a BCS Bowl game, it's hard to imagine any improvements on that during the 2013 season.

Coach Carey talked to me about hopes for the 2013 season, Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch, and several other topics including the battery life on my phone for recording all morning. It was right around 70 percent a few hours in, which seemed to amaze him.

Taking over the program, has it been a seamless transition for you?
"It's not seamless. I don't think there is anything seamless. When you switch coaches, you have to get to know each other for quite a bit of time. Is it more seamless than when we all came in with Coach Doeren? I think so. Because there is already familiarity and we already knew each other. But seamless? No."

Has the BCS berth paid dividends for the program in terms of recruiting? More attraction to the program?
"It's gotten us into more conversations. But you have to be careful with that stuff. You can't get distracted with the really cute girl and away from the girl you've been taking to the dance the whole time. Because she may dump you. And she's pretty cute. So what we've been doing what we always have and there hasn't been a whole lot of reason for change."

How do you improve on a BCS appearance? Isn't it a bit of a challenge to do that the year after?
"Now that is the first time I've been asked that. I've been waiting for that question for three months for someone to ask me that question. How do you improve on a BCS appearance? What's the next step? That's a good question. I don't know. I guess the natural one would be a national championship. That's the next step. But for us, it comes down to each day and what we're doing. I wouldn't be arrogant enough to say put national championship down on paper, but I'm also not going to put anything by my players. I think they have the ability to do whatever they want to do. However they make this their team and take that leadership forward, we'll go as far as that."

Do you try to temper the expectations or roll with them?
"Expectations are great. That means people think you're pretty good, right? That's a good thing. If someone doesn't have expectations, they probably don't think they are worth anything. And I always say that no one has higher expectations for us than us. So I don't worry about outside expectations and I know these guys don't either. They worry about what's going on in the weight room. What's going on on the field. Day in and day out, they try to take care of the little things."

From watching Jordan Lynch in the spring, where has he made his biggest strides?
"I think he got better with his feet throwing the ball. Now listen, his feet were good before when throwing the ball. But some of the nuances when you are throwing left or throwing right when rolling out, some of the details with that he has made a lot of improvements on."

Is Akeem Daniels the guy at tailback or are there others figuring into the mix?
"Akeem obviously had a great end to the year and he's looking to move forward on that. Unless you have someone really special and I think the kid at Toledo (David Fluellen) is really special, but even with a special player you have to rotate. So there are going to be other guys in the mix. Guys can't last the whole season anymore. It's too rough and tumble of a game."

Do you have a gamebreaker who can replace Martel Moore?
"Boy, we'll see. We've got some good candidates. I'll tell you that. Tommylee Lewis, Daron Brown, Juwan Brescacin, Angelo Sebastiano. I could go down the list. We've got guys and we'll see who does it."

You only have about four starters returning defensively. Do you have confidence in the players who will be filling those roles?
"Yeah, I think so. We've got a lot of guys who've played a lot of football around here on defense. But now those players who were maybe role players are going to be starters. How they handle that transition is going to be the key to our defense."

Iowa was your one regular season stumbling block a year ago. Are you looking at the season opener as a revenge game?
"No, because you can't go back to Soldier Field and play that game with the same teams. Both are new teams and we're at Iowa. I just think we all look at it as a great challenge. And it's the most important game on our schedule because it's the first game."

Have you watched what Central Michigan did at Iowa last year to help prepare your team?
"Oh yeah, I've watched that game. A bunch of times."

Is it true that opposing teams gun a little harder for the team at the top?
"No offense, but I've been asked that question a ton today. I think that is you guys. The media picks a target and finds a good story. Whatever word you want to attach. I think that's fine. For us, it's not about that. It's about what we're doing each day to get better. That's the biggest thing."


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

UMass coach Charley Molnar explains where the Minutemen have progressed going into 2013

After finishing the 2012 season with a 1-11 record in its first FBS season, UMass clearly had a lot of holes to patch up and improvements to make. I spoke with UMass coach Charley Molnar a week ago at MAC Media Day about what he sees from his 2013 Minutemen and how his program is progressing.

Central Michigan hosts UMass Nov. 23 at 1 p.m.

I've seen you on record saying how much you think your team has improved in one calendar year. Can you go into specifics as to why you feel that way?
"I think we're just a year more experienced. We'll have a lot of the same faces that were out on the field in 2012. The difference is that some of those guys will have 500-700 snaps under their belt. Experience is the best teacher in our game. Those guys who were so young and inexperienced a year ago will now be experienced when you go out on the field."

How important was that one win against Akron?
"It was important to our team to validate all the work they've put in. I want to win every game I coach, so I'm not different than any guy in this room. But I really felt that win was more important for the players than it was for me. I saw the progress our team was making. I saw the odds were stacked against us and some of the liabilities that were just about impossible to overcome. So I was very cognizant of what we were up against. But to tell the young men that all the hard work and all the belief that you have wouldn't be rewarded with any amount of success would have been a travesty."

Is there a quarterback battle or is Mike Wegzyn the guy?
"No, there is a QB battle. But Mike came out of spring clearly as our No. 1. He'll go into camp as our No. 1 and he could go into day two as No. 2. So who knows how that will go, but he has been a tremendous competitor for us. He was our most improved player this past spring and I would expect Mike to continue to develop through the 29 fall practices just as he did during the 15 spring practices."

Who are going to be some of the playmakers around the quarterback?
"The first guy is sitting to my left, that being our tight end Rob Blanchflower. As Rob Blanchflower goes, that's how our offense goes. If he has a good day on the line blocking, I think our run game has a chance to be much improved from a year ago. And he should be our leading receiver at the end of the day."

You have one starter back on the offensive line?
"Right now, I would say we have two. That would be Anthony Dima and then Matt Sparks was a sometimes-starter for us. Matt had a really solid spring, so that brings two. Another veteran in Vincent Westcarr should be a starter for us and we are battling it out at one of the other spots. David Osei, a transfer we brought in from Rutgers, hopefully can fill a spot. We brought him in to play, we didn't bring him in to sit and watch. So hopefully he can take one of the other spots."

You struggled at times to protect the backfield last year. Do you see improvements in that area?
"If you can't manage your business up front, you have no chance. It's hard for any running back. We had a great running back drafted by the New York Giants (Michael Cox) and even he had some tough afternoons because there was so much penetration on the line of scrimmage. So if you can't even run the ball and there is someone penetrating the line just as he is getting the ball, it disrupts everything. From a quarterback's perspective, when you are getting harassed it is really hard to get good at anything you do. It is hard to get your reads when you don't have the time. So hopefully we can improve in those areas just through improved offensive line play."

Your special teams appear to be a positive going into the season.
"I think our team of specialists might be our strength. From our holder to our kicker to our long snapper to our punter, we are really good in all those spots. Not only by MAC standards, but by any league standards."

When I looked at your defense on paper, it looks like your back seven is pretty strong. Do you feel that way?
"I don't one if there are any great players back there, but I think we are solid across the board."

Looking at your non-conference schedule with road games at Wisconsin and Kansas State along with Vanderbilt at home. You couldn't make it any easier on yourself?
"Really, that's the way I want it. I want our team out of conference to play really good teams for many different reasons. Number one, when our team gets hyper-competitive we want to go and play those teams and have a chance to beat them. The only way to beat them eventually is to beat them year in and year out. This gets us used to the speed, the size, the level of skills, and the level of competition playing in those stadiums and those environments. Number two is in recruiting. I don't ever want to lose a recruit to someone because he says they have a better schedule than what I can give them in the Mid-American Conference. Which again, I think is a super-competitive league. By going out of conference, if a guy says he wants to go play at a BCS school because he likes their schedule better I'm trying to provide as much BCS as I can give them in my non-conference schedule."

Recruiting rankings don't mean everything, but I did see somewhere that you were ranked fifth in the MAC with this year's recruiting class. What are your selling points to recruits as you build this program?
"I think when you look at UMass it has a great mix of location, academics, football, support, and social opportunities. It has it all. We're a stone's throw from Boston. A very quick ride to New York City. Up and down the East Coast there are so many job opportunities with the excitement that the East Coast has to offer. Obviously we've proven we can be a national player in basketball. And certainly we believe we can follow that same blueprint to a degree and have success in football."

Good chance of moving up a little bit in the MAC East this year?
 "That's the plan."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Miami coach Don Treadwell's comments at MAC Media Day

This week, I will be providing MAC Media Day quotes from a number of MAC opponents on Central Michigan's schedule this season. My original plan Tuesday was to talk to every MAC coach on CMU's schedule, but time ran short and coaches had other video obligations that took them away from their respective tables. Coaches I were not able to talk to were Toledo's Matt Campbell, Ball State's Pete Lembo, and Ohio's Frank Solich. Kind of disappointing because those are a few of the upper-tier teams in the two divisions, but those are the breaks.

First up, here is my conversation with Miami coach Don Treadwell:

One big question is in replacing standout quarterback Zac Dysert. Austin Boucher played extensively in 2010 when Dysert was injured, but not much since then. What does Austin bring to the table?
"One big thing, and you touched on it, is that he has been in the fire before. That's huge. You can only do so much simulating game day experience. So to have a guy that has been in the fire and has been successful in leading the team, that is a huge benefit for us. That's not the norm when you lose a guy who has played quite a bit like Zac Dysert. Austin has always been a factor. I always tell people one of the unique things about him that most people don't know is that's he's always been a leader behind the scenes in the last couple years that I've been here. Now he has an opportunity more at the forefront to do what he has always been capable of doing. He's excited to do that and we're excited about that as a staff."

Losing Nick Harwell is a big loss at wide receiver. How do you go about replacing that production?
"We haven't dwelled much on losing him per se, but we've looked at who is currently on the roster and how we are going to continue to improve in what we do. And we have some other players who are returning in those areas, so we'll make the most of it."

It looks as though you are going to have a bigger, stronger offensive line. Is that the case?
"Some of our guys have really developed more physically and I think that's huge. We've had a couple years to really evaluate what our needs were on our offensive line and we've tried to address that."

It has to be tough in that first year or two to really develop your own program.
"That's the challenge. There is a lot of evaluation going on. That is from year to year, but certainly when you first get there there is quite a bit to evaluate as you can imagine."

Defensively was where your team had its biggest struggles in 2012. Where do you see the team getting better on that side of the ball?
"We've made it really simple. Coming out of last year, we had about two or three things that we focused on. Offensively, we needed to be more balanced which means we needed to run the football more effectively. That's been an emphasis. And on defensive, stopping the run. I think if you look at statistics, if you finish in the upper echelon of your conference stopping the run you are giving yourself a chance to win. So those have been really a couple key points that we've focused on." 

What are your thoughts on your defensive line situation and do you see improvements in that area?
"We're very fortunate to have a good mix of returning talent and young guys there. One of our mainstays in Austin Brown is back in the middle. It's his final year. Wes Williams is back anchoring on the edge. It's his senior year. So you've got a veteran core of players who have played a lot of football and been productive. We've mixed in some young guys who got some game experience last year. So we had a couple true freshmen who played last year, where now hopefully they are more comfortable in their roles."

When you think of Miami, you think of linebackers. What do you see there?
"That's an area we've grown at. We were pretty young last year. You take away the one true veteran in Chris Wade who led us in tackles last year and we were very young. The other two linebackers were true freshmen who started. Seeing that transition from a wide-eyed true freshman to taking a deep breath and becoming comfortable, that will make a huge difference as we turn the corner here with our football program. That will help us."

What are your thoughts as a coach, just in terms of having been in this program for a while now?
"That's always exciting. The two years I have been here have felt like two months. I'm just so excited to have been given this opportunity to impact a program that has been so special to me ever since I was a player. We are able to share those life stories with our current players about the significance of the where the block 'M' on their helmet comes from. So we've tried to lay a foundation we're very proud of and when you are laboring well, the harvest is right around the corner as they say."

It seems as though there isn't another conference in the country that is so competitive from No. 1 through 13. Why is that?
"I don't know if it's as much a question of why, but more in terms of each team in our conference maximizing what they have. Recruiting nowadays is different than it was 20 years ago. Players are so much more in front of us now. You just push a button and there are so many different things you can view. We aren't lugging a suitcase around for a month now trying to find the next-best player. You can push a button and at least get that initial feel for where the players are. It's changed our job because it's so much more expansive now. The upgrades and the things that are available have served coaches very well. Coaches that have taken advantage of that are bringing in players that you see that really help upgrade your program. It makes a difference."

Is this league better than when you played in it?
"I don't know if you can say better because it's just different. These guys would think those were the prehistoric days, like we wore leather helmets and such. And that was just 30 years ago. So things have changed, but it's exciting. As you go forward, you continue to evolve."


Saturday, July 27, 2013

MAC Commissioner Dr. Steinbrecher's Media Day press conference quotes

Mid-American Conference Commissioner asked many questions during his Media Day press conference Tuesday at Ford Field. I planned on delving into the specifics on the future of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but CM Life's Aaron McMann beat me to the punch there. It was clearly one of the questions on everyone's mind. Here is what Steinbrecher had to say about that plus many other topics.

Commissioner, there has been a lot of talk about the future of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl going forward. Do you see there being a Pizza Bowl in 2014?
"That is a good question. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl has been a wonderful partner with the Mid-American Conference and we are grateful to be associated with it. I know Ken Hoffman ((LCPB CEO & Executive Director) and his staff are working together to see what they can do to put together a game. We're interested in being in bowl games, so we're interested in talking to folks who want to put on bowl games. If Ken is able to bring something forward, then we will engage in that conversation."

There has been discussion of possibly playing a game at Comerica Park. Do you see that as feasible? 

Thoughts on the new illegal contact rules that result in ejection?
"I want hits from the shoulders down. I want the head and neck out of it. I think we would all agree that is where some danger comes into it. Using the crown of your helmet. That is what we have to get out of the game. That's the challenge that we are facing here. I would argue that any hit we see where a defender wraps up the ball carrier is more or less a legal hit. The hits that we are focusing on are the ones that go high with a shoulder or elbow or lead with the head."

Regarding the stipend issue, does the MAC have an official preference or blueprint they want to explore?
"It would be disingenuous of me to say that we don't have concerns from a financial point of view. But we also recognize that the higher revenue institutions have some pressures on them and we're going to have to figure out a way to come to grips with that. We don't have an official stance on this, but personally I'd like to explore some need-based models. But I'll engage in whatever the discussion is and we'll go from there."

So you feel there is enough support nationally that this has to be dealt with one way or the other?
"I think we recognize there is an issue here. We need to quit kicking the can down the road. We need to sit down and figure out a solution that is viable."

What is your reaction to the comments made by the commissioners of the Big 12 and ACC seeing the future of power conference schools being in super divisions? And how could that potentially impact MAC football?
"I'm not sure if that is completely what they said. I think they got there, but I think they said that is kind of a last resort. They are looking for a system in which their views can be clearly articulated and we can address them. We have not had that system for some time. So I say let's play it out and get our governance system working. We need to get our ADs much more engaged than they have been in the past. That's been a problem. When we went to the representative form of governance, what the various conferences did is that they had one or two ADs on the various cabinets or counsels. Every other AD in the room kind of signed off to them. You guys handle it. I need 13 ADs engaged in what the national issues are. I also need my presidents engaged as well as senior representatives. But particularly we need the ADs engaged. I think if we do that, we can take care of the issues."

Big 12 Commissioner Bowlsby said specifically that Texas and NIU aren't alike. Do you see a line being drawn in the sand?
"He actually said Northern Iowa. You know what? There is no doubt. There is great diversity from the top of Division I to the bottom of Division I. I would also argue that in the higher revenue conferences, there is great diversity in those conferences. It's part of what we do and it's our job to manage that. I would suggest that yeah there are differences in how much revenue they are generating and what they are spending, but I think we have shown in a few of the examples I have talked about is that we are able to go out there and compete. The question is whether we can come to agreement on a set of rules that allows us to co-exist amicably. I tend to believe we can."

Go into detail about how proud you are of the successes of your conference on the gridiron last year. Eric Fisher, the BCS game, the successes over other FBS schools. 
"It was truly a bright shining moment for this conference. It was validation for some of the things we've talked about. It's a simple formula that is really tough to execute. You go out and hire really good coaches who put together good staffs and go out and recruit motivated student-athletes who continue to develop. And we go out and compete. It sounds simple to do, but it is incredibly difficult. It's a culmination that starts at the top of each of our institutions from the school presidents and their ADs, then throughout the administration and through the staffs and student-athletes. All we ask for is a chance to compete. When we're given that, we'll let the chips fall where they may. Now the challenge is to take that from being an exception and make it more of a rule. It's going to be a challenge every year just from a numbers perspective. But I think if you talk to our athletic directors and coaches, we expect to get into a BCS bowl game. When we go into the playoff format, we expect to be challenging for that slot. We have high expectations. We'll see every year if we can live up to those."

Do you feel that with more bowl games, it weakens the bowl field possibly to the detriment of the Mid-American Conference?
"I think that is why we are pursuing the bowl opportunities we are pursuing. I'd like to grow our primary opportunities to address some of those issues if we could. I've not been shy in saying that I'm not a huge fan of 6-6 being good enough to be eligible for a bowl game, but that's where we are at. If that's the standard, then we'll try to work within that standard. I don't see a movement to change that, so there we are."

With the Pizza Bowl's future in doubt, has there been talk about another game in the Midwest somewhere?
"There have been conversations about bowl games in all sorts of places. Like I said, we're interested in talking to people who are interested in putting on bowl games. We are interested in partnerships that we can grow within and grow with."

How do you feel about the new Ford Field bowl game between the ACC and Big Ten?
"You know, we were aware since I think last January. There was some question that we might be able to be involved in the game every other year or a portion of that time. We're proud to be partners with Ford Field. We have a great championship game here. It's a chance to for us to bring our student-athletes and fans into a wonderful venue where in that first Friday in December we know it is going to be 72 and sunny in here. Not many Midwestern conferences can do that. We're fortunate to have that. They partner with us on a lot of things. The youth clinic (Monday) was another example. We have a good partnership with Ford Field and we hope to continue that."

Are you any closer to a decision on making the MAC a 12-team or 14-team football conference?
"I don't think it is an either/or. You add or subtract teams from your conference for two reasons. You do it to survive or you do it to get better. We have the luxury of being able to be deliberate. Is 13 a bit of an inelegant number? Yeah, it probably is. But we have made it work for seven or eight years now. So there is no clock ticking and I don't have administrators breathing down my neck saying that I need to grow this conference. If an opportunity develops that makes sense for us, sure. It's much broader than a football question or a basketball question. It's what is the institutional fit? What are the funding models? A whole host of things that we get into. If all those things match up, then perhaps we move forward. I like our 13."

Are you in any discussions with other schools about joining the MAC for football?
"I guess what I'll say is that I spend a little time every week scanning the environment. I know what's out there. I dig a little behind the scenes and ask what makes that program tick? I try to figure it out. But we are where we are."

If you could pull your crystal ball out, how do you see the bowl landscape changing starting in 2014?
"For the Mid-American Conference, I would expect to be in four or five permanent bowls along with a couple backups. We want to be in position so our 8-4 and 7-5 teams can get placed and hopefully opportunities as well for 6-6 teams if they exist. The financial model is changing a little bit. A bit for the better. For one, there is more money in the system. So we are getting to a point where we are better able to cover the expenses for the institutions involved. The models with the bowls themselves are changing a little bit. Our bowl deals are typically a little different. We don't have a bowl deal where we turn to the school and say we'll give you this amount of money, but you are responsible for selling X amount of tickets. We take care of that and we facilitate in other ways. I think there will certainly be other opportunities for the Mid-American Conference and our student-athletes. The FBS Subdivision is growing a little bit, so we'll be able to grow a few more bowls. Adding too many bowls gets a little unhealthy, but I would expect a couple more bowls to be added."

You've mentioned the potential for FCS schools to come up. Do you see that in the near future?
"I think they have already come up. I don't know if I see any others coming up. There really aren't many more slots and because of the movement, Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference brought in some FCS schools. For the time being, Conference USA says they are happy at 14. I don't know for sure what the Sun Belt is thinking, but I don't think there is too much more room in this sudivision." 



Friday, July 26, 2013

Part three: Coach Enos quotes from MAC Media Day

Here is the third part of what Central Michigan University football coach Dan Enos had to say at Tuesday's Mid-American Conference Media Day in Detroit. Tomorrow, I will have everything MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher had to say during his press conference.

Last year, you played two Big Ten opponents. Your team seemed more at ease on the road at Iowa as opposed to the home game against Michigan State. Do you feel your team might be a little more at ease this year having the high-profile game at Michigan being on the road?
"I feel ease has a lot to do with how you execute. The biggest thing that happened at Iowa is that right after they went and scored on its first drive, we came right back and scored on our first drive. I think that helped our team exhale. I think if they would have scored and then we went three-and-out, the crowd would have gotten into it more and we might have been up against it. I think executing early in the game is important and that is what we are going to try to have to do at Michigan. We're going to try and put our guys in the best position to execute."

How has the stability of the Mid-American Conference helped the league as a whole?
"The one good thing about this conference is that people know who is in it. Some of these other leagues you look at and have to keep track of the schools. We have our branding and everyone knows the schools in our conference."

What does Western weekend mean to you and do you still have a bit of a sour taste from last year's loss?
"I thought that was a football game we could have won. That's how rivalry games go. But we've moved on from that. Our team did a great job of bouncing back the next week. It's a great rivalry. It's personal for everybody. It's personal for our coaches. It's one of the great rivalries out there and one of the great rivalries in the nation."

Avery Cunningham said he is staying at his same safety spot where he was last year. Who will be filling the safety position left by Jahleel Addae?
"There are three safety spots and we're not really sure who the third guy is going to be yet. It's going to be Jarrett and Avery. The third one is probably going to be Kavon Frazier or Tony Annese or Denzel Wimberly. We're still working on how we are going to move those three guys around."

I've noticed that you've recruited a lot of safeties over the past few years. What is the reasoning behind that? 
"You know, we've recruited a lot of running backs. Kavon Frazier was a running back. Brandon Greer was a running back. They also played defensive back. Tony Annese was a quarterback. One year, there were four or five guys that we recruited who were all running backs and defensive back. We try to get guys who have experience playing both sides of the ball and are versatile. Those kind of body types, the 6-foot-1 and 200 or 210-pound guys really work well in terms of versatility. They are big enough to play in the box, but athletic enough to cover a slot receiver or a tight end down the middle of the field."

Do you think this team has what it takes to compete for a MAC Championship?
"I believe we do. We have an improved defense and we have some very explosive players on offense. At the start of the college football season, everyone has questions they have to answer. One thing no one has asked me today is about the loss of David Harman. He was huge for us last year. We have to figure out who is going to play quarterback and we have to replace our kicker. Those are the biggest things we have to do. Do I think we are capable in both of those spots? Definitely. But again, we have to figure out who fill the spots best for our team."

That's on my list. We all saw the leg strength of Ron Coluzzi during the spring game, but does he have the accuracy to get the job done?
"He does. He's very talented. He really worked hard to get better during his redshirt year and he is still finding his comfort level. But yeah, Ron Coluzzi has a great opportunity for us."

You've talked a lot about being bigger up front. It's really going to help the back seven isn't it, just being able to create more pressure in the backfield?
"It's been my goal since I've gotten here to become bigger and more athletic. We've done that. If we can get pressure up the middle and there is nowhere for the quarterback to step up, that's an ideal situation. We have the size and talent to do that this year and that will help everybody."

How is the health of Alex Smith?
"Good, really good. He's been doing everything he needs to be doing and he's headed in the right direction. Doesn't he, Avery? You should ask these guys the questions. Us coaches aren't even allowed to glance at them. If I glance at Avery in his workout gear, I'll probably get in trouble."

Tyler Lombardo and Jake Olson coming along well too? Any other health concerns?
"Yes, Tyler and Jake both look good. Jake is at 308 pounds, somewhere in there. We start camp August 5 and everyone should be practicing."

With the Little Caesars Bowl being uncertain past 2013, was it disappointing with the weather keeping people away from what was a very good football game last year?
"Yeah, it was. I think they said they sold over 40,000 and the game attendance was 23,000. I have to be honest with you, I thought the atmosphere was great. With the weather the way it was, I didn't think there would be that many people there. Some people did unbelievable things to get here. I heard so many stories where I asked someone if they went to the game and they said, 'Yeah.' I asked what they did after the game and they told me they drove home. I would ask what time they got home and they'd say 4 o'clock in the morning. It took my mom and dad and brothers from Dearborn an hour to get here and that is from 10 miles away. I thought the game atmosphere was still electric. But if there had been nice weather and 40,000 people there? I can't even fathom. We really appreciate the effort people made to get here and it really was a great atmosphere. When we came out after halftime, we noticed there were more people here because so many people were late."

Do you think that the lower attendance last year will play an unfortunate factor in the future of this bowl game?
"No. I think they look at ticket sales and there were 40,000 tickets sold. 2.6 million people watched the game on TV. I don't think it has anything to do with it."

You lose Eric Fisher and Darren Keaton from your offense line, but have a few starters back on the O-line and CMU has traditionally had a strong offensive line. Are you pretty confident in that area?
"We have four guys back that have all started games and been productive. We have to find a fifth guy at right guard or right tackle, depending on where we slot Kevin Henry. Not many teams in college football have all five guys back. That'd be nice, but it's not usually the norm. We're very confident that the four guys are going to be productive and that we'll be able to find a fifth. We're going to pick the five best and get them situated."

Have you used Eric Fisher's going No. 1 as a recruiting tool?
"Yeah, we use it as a tool. I don't tell guys that they are going to come in and be the first pick in the draft. But we use it as validity. You can come here and be a first round pick if you work at it. You don't have to go to a school in another conference. At Central Michigan, it's happened twice in six years. What I use it for is to show how our program and our staff develops people coming in. Eric Fisher was developed both on the field and off the field. Now obviously he did it. The way we do things on a day-to-day basis gave him an opportunity to go after his dream."

Is there any added pressure trying to improve upon last year's season?
"I don't put any pressure on myself. Things are going to work out. I don't worry about the outcome. I just try to prepare them every day the best I can and that's what we do. I think academically and athletically, our football team is rising. We're in great shape right now and I like our football team. We've done the very best we can to mold it and I think we'll have a tremendous football team on and off the field. Our first two recruiting classes we're very good and the third one that just got on campus might be the best one athletically from what I understand. I think there is going to be a tremendous future for us."

You had a few departures from last year's coaching staff and hired some replacements. You sound pleased with who you brought into the fold.
"For sure. Gino Guidugli we brought back. Gino was a graduate assistant. He is very familiar with us and how we do things. He is as bright as they get and a superstar in the making in this business. We brought George Ricumstrict back, which was an easy hire. He's done an outstanding job with our defensive linemen in a very short period of time. He's a great person. And then Archie Collins we hired to coach our cornerbacks. Again, good people. They are all character guys. They are going to relate very well to our players. I love our staff and I think we have as good of a staff as anywhere in the country."

Your thoughts on Tim Phillips transferring to Austin Peay?
"I think it is going to be a great situation for him. He graduated from here and will have an opportunity to play down there. We wish him the best."



Thursday, July 25, 2013

Part Two: Dan Enos quotes from Tuesday's MAC Media Day at Ford Field

Here is Pt. 2 in a three-part blog post transcribing some of what Central Michigan University football coach Dan Enos had to say during Tuesday' Mid-American Conference Media Day at Ford Field.

I will complete Enos' stuff Friday plus this weekend and into next week I'll blog quotes from several other coaches as well as MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher.

Also, Monday's Morning Sun will feature a Q &A with CMU seniors Zurlon Tipton and Avery Cunningham, both of which took part in the media day festivities.

Without further adieu, more from Coach Enos:

After last season's finish, what is the mindset of the team going into the 2013 campaign?
"Our players are very proud of the way they finished. To play in a bowl game and win the third bowl game in the history of the school, it was great to see that. They have the understanding just by looking around the room that they have the opportunity to be a very good football team. But what happened last year is in the past. We are starting anew and we have to work. We have to provide leadership and I think our guys had a very productive offseason. We are excited to get going."

With sites like and and so many recruiting tools, is there more pressure on recruiting on a day-to-day basis?
"We have a process and a system we use with every recruit. We go through it and are thorough every day. We have outstanding relationships with coaches and our approach has stayed the same. We believe in our system and it works well for us. There are certainly more tools to use nowadays, but I think if you change too much in the way that has been working for you it can take you off course."

What has it been like for the program having Eric Fisher go No. 1 in the 2012 NFL Draft?
"It's been pretty neat. Everywhere I go, there have been people talking to me about the bowl win or Eric Fisher. For our players, I'm sure it has been the same for them. It's been cool to see the added exposure for the program. It's a real positive. To have Eric Fisher go No. 1 in the NFL Draft, it proves that you can come here and accomplish your dream. You can come here and be an All-American. If you want to play in a bowl game, you can do that here. When we talk to recruits, we ask them what they want. Do you want to graduate? We can make that happen here. You want to play in a bowl game? We can do that. Do you want to be an NFL first round pick? It's happened here. It doesn't guarantee anything, but we can say that we've done that."

Is Zurlon Tipton going to be relied on more in the early going as a quarterback gets settled in?
"You know, I think the running game is going to be a big part of our offense but ultimately we really want to stay balanced. When we put our winning streak together through the bowl game, we had a strong running game that complemented the passing attack. Our defense also stepped up to keep our scores down. That's going to be the formula every year. Run the ball effectively to set up everything else and play good defense. Zurlon is going to be important and he knows that. If we need to count on him to have a big game, then we'll do that. It starts with a solid running attack and our play-action works off of that."

How is this year different for Zurlon with more attention on him from a national scale?
"I think it plays in somewhat that everybody knows who he is now. But I think the way he started to play last year really showed his ability and brought notice upon him. I'll tell you one thing, we are really good at wideout. We're always going to have some playmakers to the outside. So pick your poison. If you want to load the box up and stop Zurlon, we've got Titus Davis and Andrew Flory and Courtney Williams plus others to the outside that can really do some damage."  

Titus Davis, Courtney Williams, and Defarrel Davis ended last season on a sour note with the bowl game suspension. Are all three back in good graces right now?
"Yes they are."

What are your thoughts on Western Michigan's hiring of P.J. Fleck as its head coach?
"I don't have any comment on that."

Any additional thoughts on playing mid-week games?
"I don't mind it. It's a national TV game. As you get later in the season I think it goes without saying that Sunday and Monday is the NFL, then Tuesday through Friday you are still going to be able to see a game. Everyone is getting their fix seven days a week. I think even Commissioner Steinbrecher said that some of the bigger conferences are looking to play more mid-week games because of the opportunity to be the only game on and the only show in town. Everyone in the country will turn your game on and watch it. My whole thing with mid-week games is this: Just don't make us play it on short rest. I think that puts the kids at risk. You want to talk about safety rules with targeting? Well, let's not make a young man play a football game and then five days later, playing another mid-week game without the rest. Football is a game that requires some rest between games. So make sure both teams are on equal footing and the same amount as rest as possible. If we have to play on six days, make sure they play on six days too. If they have a 12-day break and we have five, that isn't fair. Other than that, they're great. Just make sure everyone has rest and the student-athletes are safe. That's my number one concern is that people are playing tired."

What are your thoughts on the first game at Michigan and the program Coach Hoke has put together there?
"I have the utmost respect for their program. Brady Hoke and his staff have done a great job in their time there and Coach Hoke is a class act. He does things the right way and they have a tremendous program obviously. There have been some great stories over the years about what Michigan football has accomplished. But it's going to be a great opportunity for our team. and we're excited about it. I think it's going to be great for our football team to go play in that environment the opening week. We are going to be on national TV and there are going to be 100,000 people in the stands. Go figure it out. Whoever is going to be the guy under center better be ready to go because you are going in the toughest environment as far as atmosphere goes that you are going to get to compete in. I think it will be a great test and a good opportunity."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dan Enos MAC Media Day quotes Pt. 1

Part 1: Some of what Central Michigan University fourth-year coach Dan Enos had to say at MAC Media Day Tuesday at Ford Field. While it's impossible to transcribe everything Enos said during the course of the four hours, I will have Pt. 2 Thursday and Pt. 3 Friday.

Also look for quotes from MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, Miami coach Don Treadwell, UMass coach Charley Molnar, Eastern Michigan coach Ron English, Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey, and Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck over the next week.

On the quarterback battle:
“We have three capable guys there and we are giving them all the opportunity. To be honest, I hope one of them wins it outright. I would love to see a clear-cut winner. We’re going to give them all an opportunity and whoever comes out of it as the starter will put us in good shape. And we’ll also know we have two other pretty good guys we can turn to as well. We will mold our offense some to help whoever is the quarterback play at the best of his ability. We’re going to figure out the guy who gives us the best chance to win football games and this will be a great opportunity for whichever one of them gets the job. It’s too early to tell if more than one quarterback will play in the first few weeks. All three guys are going to have to bear down and win it. If one or two of the three guys don’t show us that they are ready to play in a game, then we won’t play them.”

On slot receiver position:
"Within our structure, they all play inside. Titus Davis has played inside, Courtney Williams has played inside. Jesse Kroll can play inside. They've all been forced to play inside at one time or another so they've all learned those routes. They big thing that Cody Wilson did last year that I noticed from watching the cutups is that he caught the ball in traffic. That's the big thing that we try to get through to these guys. It's a little different now with running those option routes in zones. There are a lot of nuances in running those. Andrew Flory showed well in spring and we are going to give him the opportunity to play in there. We're going to put the best guy in there who understands the nuances."

On difficulties of schedule:
"Every year I've been here, you guys come in here and say we have a difficult schedule. When you are on our side in the MAC West, it's a tough schedule. We always play Northern Illinois, who has won the league I don't know how many times. The way I look at it is that we have an equal amount of home and road games. We typically play well at home, but we also won some tough road games last year. We're going to look at the positives in our schedule and there are a lot of teams in our league with a tough schedule. I think that is kind of the lay of the land in our league. We don't really worry about it being tough."

On mid-week games:
"I think it will be good to have extra time to heal for guys who are banged up to get them healthy. It will be good for our coaches to get out on the road to recruit. We'll treat it very similar to getting ready for a bowl game. We'll continue to work out and get back in the weight room. We'll continue looking at video. At the end of the day, I think it will be good to have that extra time."

On who will be filling leadership roles:
"Two of them are here today in Zurlon Tipton and Avery Cunningham. Shamari Benton and Kenny McClendon on defense. Leterrius Walton and Jason Wilson also on defense. We've got a lot of guys on that side who have played a lot of football. On offense, it's the same thing. Receivers like Titus Davis and Andrew Flory. Jake Olson and Andy Phillips on the offensive line. Those guys have started a lot of games. Adam Fenton is a fifth-year senior who has provided god leadership. We're not concerned at all about our team. We lost two tremendous leaders. There is no doubt about that. And way more leadership than even that because a lot of those seniors that don't get a lot of notoriety did a great job behind the scenes like Mike Repovz and Darren Keyton. Our guys learned a lot about leadership from them. They are going to take the reins. Leadership sometimes has to come from young guys too and we have the guys to do that."   

On the winning streak to end last season being a turning point for program:
"I think it showed our guys that what we are doing is working. Last year I kept telling everybody that I think we have a pretty good football team. Our football team believed we have a good football team. I've talked to our football team many times since then that they never wavered. We went down 14-0 at Eastern Michigan. Titus Davis fumbled and got hurt on the first play of the game. You know what? A lot of people can fold the tent in that situation. Our team did the opposite and got it to 14-10 by halftime, then went on to win that football game. Our coaching staff and players really stuck together. and believed in one another. Football is a game of adversity and highs and lows. You have to play through that and I'm proud of the way our football team was able to do that last year. Hopefully we can learn from that and carry it with us when we need to. If we buckle down and stick together, we have a chance to beat everyone on our schedule."

On importance of linebackers Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton:
"A lot of people don't realize it, but Justin Cherocci began last spring as a walk-on. He had the mentality that he wanted to come here and we didn't have a scholarship for him. Al Fracassa told me that if we take on Justin Cherocci, he'll become a three-year starter for us. When Al Fracassa says something like that, you listen. He earned his scholarship and he was in the top 10 in the league in tackles. He continues to get better and better and better. He is a great young man. Him and Shamari form a very solid linebacker duo that will only get better. When we played in the bowl game and Western Kentucky had the ball on our own goal line after we missed on the 4th-and-1, I believe Shamari made all three tackles to keep them right there. Then we blocked the punt. Shamari either made every play or disrupted every play. That really changed the game. That's the way we expect him to play this entire season. They are both tough linebackers who work hard."

On the new helmet-to-helmet contact automatic ejection rule:
"I think any rule that makes the game safer for players is good for everyone. Now if you do it you know you are going to get thrown out. It's really going to question the depth of your football team. I think the one great thing they have done with the rule is that they are going to review it. So they are going to make sure they get it right. Because if a player gets thrown out, it hurts both the team and the player. You don't get a lot of opportunities to play college football games. When you have to miss a game for that it's pretty devastating. So it will definitely have an impact, but I'm encouraged that they are taking the steps to make sure they get it right. We review so many things now that I don't think it will disrupt the flow of the game."

On transition of Deon Butler from wide receiver to tight end:
"It's going great. I couldn't be any more pleased. Two years ago, I asked Deon about moving to tight end. He flat out said no. I'm not big on making guys change positions when they don't want to, so he played the year at receiver. I approached him again this winter about moving to tight end and he said, 'Yes. Yes. Yes.' He was really good with embracing the move. He's up to 238 now from 219. One thing about Deon is that he is tough. We had no questions that he could line up on the line and match up with a defensive end. He's put on the size and strength to get it done. He knows the nuances with the routes and can put pressure on teams downfield. Being a wide receiver, he knows how to do all those things and he has good ball skills."

On chance this will be last year of Ford Field hosting Little Caesars Pizza Bowl:
"I think it's up in the air from what I've heard from everybody. It's a great game. It's great for our league. It's going on it's 17th year and a lot of bowl games don't make it that long. Having participated in it last year, our coaches and players and fan base had a tremendous time."

On having built this roster the past few years:
"One of my biggest jobs, and I say this to my staff all the time, is that I am the general manager of our team. I'm not just the coach, I'm the general manager too. We need to make sure we bring in the right people. I have a heavy hand in it. It's something I do every day. I continue to look at our roster and I am very pleased with these last three recruiting classes we have put together. Our last one is big and athletic and has the chance to make a real impact. We're excited about what we've put together. I see growth and development in all phases. I see more depth. I see bigger guys. I see a bigger defensive line. They are bigger everywhere. That's the big thing. I think we are doing a good job of developing the younger guys. The older guys are typically playing now and the younger guys are redshirting and developing. They are waiting to get their turn. In college football, you can't take a year off in recruiting. You can't have a bad class because it will come back to bite you somewhere down the line. We work very hard and we are very thorough in who we bring in. It's fun watching these guys grow and develop."