After a long day of sitting in the sun and tweeting away while the football team continued making its preparations for the upcoming season, Sun Assistant Sports Editor Evan Rich had a few minutes to catch up with head coach Kent Austin and discuss what he's seen from his team so far, and the plan moving forward.
The Sun: How have the first few weeks of practice been for the team?
Kent Austin: We’ve been practicing for a couple weeks, guys are doing well; they’ve picked up from where they left off in the spring. Most of them have recalled what we installed in the spring and have retained that information, and I think we’re getting a lot better.
The Sun: Do you see any improvement compared to when you took over as head coach?
K.A.: Well we do on the [practice] field, but we will certainly know for sure come game time when we play a real game [laughs]. I think the guys have improved both physically and also assignment-wise.
The Sun: When you’re out on the practice field do you ever look at the team and see that something has clicked and the light has gone on?
K.A.: There’s always a point when you’re learning a new system on either side of the ball — because there’s new terminology, there’s a new set of expectations and different rule sets — you might be being coached differently fundamentally, so you have to learn different techniques that you’re not familiar with. When a new staff comes in, there’s always that point at which the light bulb goes on, and all of a sudden the understanding becomes imbedded with a player … and that’s when you see that player playing faster, and his level of understanding begins to increase.
The Sun: Moving into the Kent Austin era of Cornell football, is there something you’ve tried to do for the upperclassmen to erase last season and turn the page?
K.A.: Focusing on anything that is not pertinent and relevant to your progress of improving as a player is just a distraction. Whether it’s focusing on previous successes or previous failures, it’s not a wise thing to do. What I’m trying to get the guys to do is to focus on the process of how to get better … individually and collectively. When you’re focusing on improving each day, the rest of it typically takes care of itself. It’s hard enough to beat our outside opponents — we don’t need to create inside opponents as well.
The Sun: Has anything changed regarding the quarterback situation since The Sun published an article on the competition earlier this week?
K.A.: Not at this point. We need to see our guys in a few more live situations. Whether it be a controlled scrimmage or other live periods, we’re still evaluating that. We’re still evaluating all the areas. Most importantly good decision-making is the No. 1 thing a quarterback has to have, and there’s a lot underneath that umbrella. First and foremost we need to have guys who protect the football and can put our offense in a position to make plays and be successful.
The Sun: Is there any thought of having a two quarterback system?
K.A.: No. It might look like that early when we’re still trying to find who our guy is, but as an implemented system — as a strategy — I’m not a big fan of that.
The Sun: Would you rule out having one quarterback running something like the wildcat offense?
K.A.: Well that’s a different set of circumstances. If you’re talking about the foundation of our base offense … we want to find the right guy that we can develop to lead this football team. There certainly are packages like the wildcat that we might incorporate a different player, but that’s a different discussion than the base offense.
The Sun: Have any players in particular stood out to you and the other coaches during training camp?
K.A.: I think Rashad [Campbell] has been doing pretty well in the secondary right now; he’s had a pretty good camp and he’s going to be a good corner for us this year. Bob Bullington is a guy who we moved to the center position in the spring, and he’s just picked up where he left off — I think he’s going to be an outstanding center in this league. … I like our tailback situation. I think we’ve got three guys that can play at that position right now with Nick [Booker-Tandy], [Grant] Gellatly the freshman and Marcus [Hendren]. There are certain areas that we’re a little stronger from a depth standpoint, but we’re still tweaking and moving guys around … but we still need to see our guys in game time situations.
The Sun: Do you see the offense featuring more passing, more rushing or a balanced attack?
K.A.: I believe in [implementing] a balanced offense as much as you can, but some of that obviously is dictated by the complexion of the game … every game plays out a little bit differently. Some games you’re going to run the ball more, and some games you’ll have to pass the ball more. A lot of that’s dictated by how the defense has decided to strategize against your offense to shut you down, but over the course of a 10-game season you’ll probably see that we’re going to be fairly balanced. At the end of the day we’re going to put our players in a position to be successful, and ask them to do what they do well — and not ask them to do what they don’t do well.
The Sun: Is there one word or statement that comes to mind if you wanted to sum up this team as a whole?
K.A.: I think we have players who care, which is indicative of the quality of their character … but I want to see them when the lights are on and the bullets are really flying.
The Sun: Considering this is your first year here and the players have had to learn a completely new system, do you think it’s realistic for this team to compete for an Ivy League title this year?
K.A.: You only play sports for one reason in my opinion, and that’s to be the best — to be a champion. Individual goals are great — I’m all for them — but they can never supersede the team goal, and the team goal is to be the best. Otherwise why play? We’re not interested in being competitive, that’s not the way we think. We’re interested in being champions. As far as a prognosticator, I’m not real good at that. It’s my job to get our players to play at the highest level that they’re capable of playing … to sustain that over a full season, and to believe when they take the field that they can win.