There has been a lot of talk the last few months about a new direction of Cornell football. Head coach Kent Austin has brought in new offensive and defensive coordinators, with hopes of instilling a winning attitude and letting the masterminds do their respective jobs.
When the competitive season begins on Saturday, offensive coordinator Jeff Fela will have an experienced offensive lineup running a more successful system this year –– if only for the confidence of knowing that he is calling the shots.
“Some people say it is a lot of responsibility, catching the fire when something goes wrong, but I like having more control and taking care of the offensive line,” Fela said.
Fela’s offensive lines have broken numerous scoring, passing, rushing and total offensive records over the years. A tribute to his 33 years of coaching expertise, the Red hopes to utilize his successful experiences.
Lacking a strong offensive presence last season, Cornell posted 172.6 yards per game in its passing game, compared to its opponents’ average of 206.4. Additionally, the Red posted 128.9 yards rushing as opposed to its oppositions’ 198.9. With these statistics, Fela will be looking at the Red’s future data hoping to see bumps in not only total offensive yards, but also in the passing game.
Most linesmen, including Fela, would rather play smash mouth football over finesse, so that the Red continues to run the ball down the field. Despite this preference, Cornell’s offensive lineup has been working on both sides of the spectrum, as it tries to obfuscate its opposition.
“There are certain games that we are going to run the ball more than throw it, and there are other times where we will throw it a little bit more because they are allowing us to throw it because there are a lot more people in the box. As an offensive coordinator, you like to think that we can run the football because that is demoralizing for a defense. It is hard to say what we are going to hang our hat on,” Fela said.
Having not played in any games so far this season, the Red’s offensive capabilities have yet to be put to the test.
“We haven’t played a game and it is a brand new offense. We ran the ball fairly well in the spring. We have three very capable running backs that make it a lot easier for our linemen. We don’t have to hold our blocks quite as long,” Fela said.
On the defensive side of play, the Red has gained a lot more confidence this year, as it has greatly upgraded its defensive lines in 2010. With the old playbook thrown to the curb, defensive coordinator Ron McCrone is opening his bag of tricks –– assembled from over 40 years of coaching expertise.
“Defense is more aggressive; you have to be a little disciplined. It’s what I played in college and [have] been coaching all my life,” McCrone said.
Although football games are won on the field, McCrone enjoys the deep competition on the sidelines, when he goes head-to-head against the opponent’s offensive coordinator.
“It’s a match-game against the offensive coaches; it’s something I have thoroughly enjoyed over the years, coaching all different positions on defense. The caliber of kids on defense can play a little bit more reckless than an offensive player can.”
Coaching on Cornell’s sidelines for the first time, Austin, Fela and McCrone are in awe of the Red’s great talent and ready to take on the challenge of the Ivy League conference. No strangers to one another, McCrone was the defensive coach at Old Miss during the time when Austin played quarterback.
“There is a great quality [to the] players. It’s young men who are playing football for the love of the game and still doing excellent work with their academics. Academics come first in their mind, but they are a bunch of dedicated players who are hungry to win,” McCrone said.
The Red’s coaching staff has not rested and is already looking into the future to begin recruiting for next year’s class.
“With the kids we have now and the recruiting effort Coach Austin has put forth, we are going nationwide because there is no doubt in our mind that there are academic players out there that want the Ivy League education. And when you are sitting in the No. 1 college town in America, it is going to be easy to recruit,” McCrone said.
Not only does Cornell hope to attract dynamic student athletes, but the Red also looks forward to maintaining an experienced coaching staff to supplement the players’ efforts on the field.
“When a staff can stay together for a long period of time, we have a good understanding of what we are looking for in recruits, what we are trying to do on offense, and it’s a trust –– like in a marriage,” Fela said. “We have to be consistent and recruit well. We have to be technique savvy, schematically sound, make sure our communication is well, and find some good football players.”
Viewing ever Ivy team as a threat after being picked to finish last in the preseason poll, Fela and McCrone are providing the fuel to give Cornell the fire to succeed this season. With roughly three weeks of practice under its belt, the team is anxious to challenge itself against its foes, and hopes to see payoff from its offensive and defensive lines.
“The kids are putting forth the effort. They are going great in the weight room and came back in great shape. They seem to be enjoying football, but we’ve reached a point where we are tired of going against each other, and are ready to hit some other teams,” McCrone said.
Original Author: Jill Mendelsohn