By Perryn Keys
The Southwestern Athletic Conference media day has ended. We were transcribing quotes, then eating dinner, then getting down the business of adding various items to this here Jaguar Nation blog.
Then “The Curious Case of Curt Flood” came on HBO, and, well, I couldn’t stop watching. Spectacular. Had no idea what a crazy, meandering life this baseball pioneer lived.
Anyway, if you came to the blog on a day like this, you didn’t come for a slice of Major League baseball history. You came for football. So here you go.
A few more notes, quotes and doodads from media day:
A simpler defense at SU
When you post a 2-9 record, it’s no secret that your defense probably struggled. And yes, Southern’s defense struggled last season, giving up a big plays by the bushel. SU allowed 33.8 points per game and a league-high 25 passing touchdowns.
It seemed to serve as proof to coordinator O’Neill Gilbert that his system was simply too complicated.
Sophomore linebacker Anthony Balancier said Tuesday the defense will be much simpler this season, allowing players to be more sure of what they’re doing before and after the snap.
“Now, everybody knows all their checks,” Balancier said. “We don’t have to talk. The players can’t say that they don’t hear each other on the field anymore. So now you have everybody in the same mindframe. Everyone knows the formations and the play that gets called in. They should know what they have to do. It’s just that easy.”
It’s quite a contrast from spring 2010, when Stump Mitchell and his coaching staff first arrived. As the story goes (it’s been re-told many times by many players), Gilbert — a former NFL assistant, with stops at Texas A&M, Illinois, Cincinnati and Tulane during his career — handed a phone-book-sized playbook to his troops and demanded they learn it all, telling them “it’s non-negotiable.”
Players said during preseason camp that they’d caught on. Apparently, they didn’t do so, or at least not well enough.
It didn’t help that linebacker Corey Ray and free safety Jason House, who were both responsible for making pre-snap calls and checks, went down with injuries in September.
At any rate, Southern often looked lost on defense. Other times, the Jaguars blitzed heavily but failed to get the quarterback, leaving weaknesses in the secondary.
Balancier said he believes all that will change now.
“It was just a case of decreasing the playbook, that’s all,” Balancier said. “Last year, we (were) just doing too much running around. Now everything’s the same; it’s just simpler.”
More ties that bind
It’s also no secret that the SWAC is something of a tight-knit community of coaches, all of whom seemingly worked together at some point. Example: Doug Williams had Melvin Spears and Heishma Northern on staff at Grambling; Spears and Northern are now head coaches at Alcorn and Prairie View, respectively. Also, Mississippi Valley coach Karl Morgan was on Pete Richardson’s staff in the early ‘90s; he coached Northern, who was an SU safety at the time.
But the ties go much deeper than that.
- Longtime SU receivers coach Eric Dooley is now offensive coordinator at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
- Longtime SU offensive coordinator Mark Orlando is now offensive coordinator at Prairie View, under Northern.
- Longtime SU defensive coordinator Terrence Graves is now linebackers coach at Mississippi Valley, working for Morgan (the two men once shared an office while on Pete Richardson’s staff).
- Michael Roach, the former Southern Lab coach — also on Williams’ first staff at Grambling — is now an assistant under Spears at Alcorn.
- Cliff Yoshida, defensive coordinator on Richardson’s first staff at SU in 1993, enters his fifth season at Grambling.
See? Connections abound.
Looking ahead at Valley
Speaking of Morgan, his first year at Valley was even rougher than Stump Mitchell’s first year at Southern.
The Delta Devils lost at SU and finished 0-10.
If nothing else, it forced Morgan to be a little more patient.
“I’ve got to be,” he said. “I’m also an optimist. I knew coming in we’d have some obstacles to overcome.
“Several times last year we were on the verge of getting beaten pretty badly. But the kids had a sense of pride and wouldn’t quit. It’s something to build on.”
Morgan had a full year to recruit this time around, and he signed some 28 players, selling many of them on a simple idea.
“A chance to play. After going 0-10, obviously we’ve got needs,” he said. “Having a chance to be part of the turnaround, but number one is the opportunity to play.”
(Mostly) best wishes
Northern said he best wishes for one Stump Mitchell — the coach at Northern’s alma mater, the man who got the Southern job ahead of Northern in 2010.
“I remember watching him play (in the NFL), and I would like for him to have some success at Southern. It’s still my school,” Northern said. “I don’t wish bad on him at all. Except that one weekend we play them.”