April 29, 2010

Kent Austin Discusses Future Plans for C.U. Football

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The Sun: What would you say, in general, are your goals for the 2010 season?

Kent Austin: Well obviously we want to be winners on the football field and off. We’re trying to establish a different philosophy, a different environment –– kind of a different culture here and that all working together, integrated properly, will establish a set of expectations for excellence both on and off the football field.

Sun: And how do you think you’ll go about taking the team in this direction?

K.A.: Well first you have to establish what that philosophy is. You have to have a coaching staff that adheres to that philosophy and believes in it personally so they can continue to give that message consistently to the players. Then, you have to put action steps that are meaningful and that are tangible in order to accomplish those goals and give a clear direction on how to get there and how to achieve them. And then, you have to be consistent in your approach –– you know, every day with the players … how they prepare, how they practice, how they study, how they interact with each other. All those things, in establishing that culture, have to stay consistent. And keep building that vision for the players and like I said, tangible steps to achieve that vision.

Sun: How would you say that your previous experience, like at Ole Miss, has helped shape those philosophies?

K.A.: You know everybody that I’ve coached –– I’ve had an opportunity to coach with some great guys –– and everybody that I’ve coached with or for I’ve learned from because everyone has something to offer as long as you check your ego on the sideline; you want to listen and to study and to see how they do things. But my previous experience as the head coach at Saskatchewan helped me quite a bit in what I feel like works and what doesn’t work. Then, going to Ole Miss –– going from the pro level back to the college level and being there for two years –– dealing with a different age group that really are at different levels of maturity in their stage of life also helps; you know, both experiences as a head coach in the pros and as a coordinator in the college level combined helps to fashion some of the things we’ve discussed, but I also have a world view, too –– that’s more centered in how I live personally, how I live with my family, and things that we believe in that really transcend just football … that really permeates into every aspect of life.

Sun: Did you play a great role in selecting the five new assistant coaches and the quality control?

K.A.: Yeah, they were all my selections, yes.

Sun: So, what did you look for in choosing these candidates?

K.A.: I wanted great, unfilled coaches that knew how to teach fundamentals of technique and needed to be fundamentally sound coaches, first of all, so it’s schematically that –– anybody could get on the board and put out stuff that is schematically sound on the offensive side or the defensive side of the ball –– what’s more important [is] are the kids fundamentally and technique sound? At the end of the day, that is more important than the X’s and O’s. In addition I wanted individuals that had strong character, lots of integrity, that were completely unselfish, didn’t care about their titles and at the end of the day knew that this game is about the players and not about them as coaches, so they had to be very unselfish in the process. They’re all quality individuals, they have great personal skills and they understand the value of building the lives of our players both on and off the football field. And, they had to be great recruiters that had shown significant success in recruiting at different levels in college.

Sun: And would you say the same thing about the quality control coach?

K.A.: Yeah he has more of a different role, he’s more about handling some of the backhand processes and how we handle our video –– filming of our video –– and also helping to integrate our recruiting video with our football video. So he wears a couple of different hats but he’s handling more of the quality control issues for us; but again, another great person, came highly recommended, [has] a great personality and fits well with the rest of the staff.

Sun: How great of a role did you play in recruiting players of the class of 2014?

K.A.: The current class –– only a handful of players, the late guys that we signed, I had a role … most of the players, though, that are in this class were committed and staying committed through the hard work of the previous coaching staff, in particular David Archer, Travis Burkett and Pete DeStefano. Obviously I got in touch with those players and tried to keep them staying committed, but really that’s a real credit to the coaches that I retained.

Sun: What would you say that you looked for when selecting the few players that you did –– the late signers?

K.A.: Athletically they had to be able to play at this level. They had to be someone that we felt like could win football games and we weren’t interested in just filling spots –– carrying those spots over to the next class –– and obviously they had to be a fit for financial aid and their academic admissibility, too, was important, but first and foremost we find players that can play and then see if they fit the requirements in the other two areas.

Sun: How would you say that it is, from your previous experience to now, working to recruit at an Ivy League school because you don’t have the ability to just give out scholarships?

K.A.: It’s a puzzle and what we’re doing is re-designing the process of how to properly identify players and take it through the different layers of getting from A to B and getting into Cornell and then being able to quantify the efficacy of those processes; those processes have accountability built in, tracking what we’re doing from a database standpoint, and we’re casting a much wider net for players who are playing nationwide, and evaluating a bigger number of players in order to raise the water level, if you will, for the 25 to 30 that we’ll end up attracting here.

Sun: What is your position on transfer students as filling roles on the team?

K.A.: Well I think that there’s a place for those prospects, but they have to meet the requirements in the other areas. Obviously there’s some university-level issues with respect to transfers –– they have to meet certain requirements there as well, a number of credits that they’ve already achieved and those types of things that may preclude them from coming, but there’ll hopefully always be some players that are great players and great students that are a fit here socially and academically and athletically that we certainly don’t want to pass up if we have an opportunity to get them here.

Sun: Now that you’ve started working with the team during spring practice, how do you think that the older players are doing and how do you think that the voids left by some of the graduating players like Bryan Walters will be filled?

K.A.: Bryan was a great player here and certainly anytime you lose a great player you’ve got to find another great one, but that’s part of coaching; you’re always going to graduate good players and that’s why recruiting has to be such a strong focus of this job. At the same time, it’s an opportunity for the upper players to step up and they’ve got another year under their belt and there’s time for them to mature and to be great players for us so we don’t make excuses for things like ‘well you know we lost six starters’ or ‘we’ve got injuries’ –– it communicates the wrong message to your current players. It kind of creates, indirectly, kind of an artificial safety net for them not to excel, so we set an expectation that we would set as though we still had a Bryan Walters here for the receiving core in particular for that case. I think you have to do that as a coach to make sure that the players achieve at a high level and keep striving to be excellent.

Sun: Have you determined whom you’re going to replace in these starting roles yet?

K.A.: It’s being determined this spring but that may change in the fall as well; I mean we’re still evaluating and don’t have a lot of practices really –– certainly not a lot of live practices where we can hit here in the Ivy League so some of those evaluations will have to take place in the fall, but we’re getting a better idea.

Sun: Of the practices that have happened so far, though, how do you think the team is shaping out to be offensively and defensively?

K.A.: We’ve made a lot of progress, I mean we’re changing philosophically what we’re doing and how to play the game and what we expect from our players –– how they practice, how they prepare. Football is a tough game and we need to become more physical overall as a football team, and the players have responded really well; they’ve worked hard and we’re proud of the progress that they’ve made at this point.

Sun: Are you trying to implement any strategies that will help, I guess, to get the team more than just two wins for the season?

K.A.: Absolutely. We’re going to build a philosophy that in all three phases of the game will be built around the strengths of our players, first and foremost. We don’t want to fit a player into a philosophy that they can’t succeed at just because they’re not capable of doing it, so we’re going to ask our players to do what they do well and what they don’t do, well, we’re not going to ask them to do. We’re going to figure out how to do what they do well more often. That said, we do have a philosophy –– you know, we have a philosophy on how we want to play defense, we have a philosophy on how we want to play offense, and then we modify philosophically what we’re doing based on our players’ skill and also their experience.

Sun: How would you say that the energy of the team has been?

K.A.: Really good. I think the guys are practicing really hard; they’ve come up with a great spurt, and they have throughout all of the spring. I think the guys are hungry to have success and they just need to learn how to be successful.

Sun: What would you say your expectations are for the Annual Red-White game coming up [tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field]?

K.A.: Again it’s another day to evaluate and to finish strong. We want our players to finish on a high note so they have confidence going into the fall –– so that the work that they put into the spring improved them as a player, improved them as a teammate, and that they can carry those same values and work ethic into the fall and over the summer.

Sun: How important would you say these off-season practices are for the team?

K.A.: Really important. The players get to see how they’re going to be coached; they get to hear what the expectations are from the coaches –– not just me as the head coach but their individual coaches. They’ve learned schematically what we’re doing, how we want to attack the defense on offense, how we want to attack the offense on defense, how we want to play special teams, so, you know, they’re learning a lot –– [we’re] throwing a lot at them –– and they’re trying to absorb a lot and in addition they’re learning how to practice the way we want them to practice, and how we want them to prepare in the film room and in their down time. So it’s really, really important that we get those foundational elements established right now that they can carry throughout the summer and be ready to come back with in the fall.

Sun: What would you say is the weakest part of their style of play that you’re focusing on improving?

K.A.: Well, like I said, when we see a weakness we quickly get away from the weakness [laughs]; it doesn’t make a lot of sense –– I mean everybody’s got a different philosophy, but if we’re not really good at playing man coverage, let’s just say, then why are we spending a lot of time trying to get good at playing man coverage?

Sun: Fair enough.

K.A.: It’s not very smart. Let’s figure out what they do well and let’s figure out more ways to do that and eliminate what we don’t do well so we kind of have a different philosophy on that … I’m not going to have a quarterback go out there and if he’s not a good three-step dropper to his left in the passing game, we’re not going to stay out there 20 minutes after practice trying to get him better at it because typically that’s a formula that doesn’t work. Let’s just ask him to put himself in a situation where he does well.

Sun: Would you say that there are any specific players that would be key to look out for that you’ve seen so far?

K.A.: I don’t know that I would name anybody individually yet because we really haven’t been live a lot, but there’s certainly guys –– especially some of the older players –– that need to play well and be leaders for us. At the same time, we believe that leadership’s plural and we’re not good at knowing anybody as a leader because we think everybody can lead. It doesn’t matter where you’re at on the ladder, if you will –– leadership, at the end of the day, is really just being an influence. You can be a good influence or a bad influence for the team’s dynamic.

Sun: Has there been anything that you’ve been doing to promote team bonding?

K.A.: Well, we talked a lot about what it means to be a good teammate. What does that mean? What does it look like to be unselfish? How do you practically do that on a day-to-day basis, if that’s actually authentic in your worldview? And if it’s not, we encourage and continue to motivate for it to become part of your character and while that’s important to winning in a team dynamic, because without that you can’t do it; you can’t be an individual in this sport and expect great success. Your success is directly tied to the success of the players around you. If the players around you are playing well, guess what? Your play probably goes up as well, simply by proxy –– this isn’t tennis [laughs] –– so we try to instill that philosophically into our players and understand that any role that you’ve been given is just as important as the next guy’s role because every role has to be played to its maximum in order for us collectively to be successful.

Original Author: Reena Gilani