Saturday, October 26, 2013

Remembering Don James

We will be honoring the memory of Don James today by wearing a gold sticker with the letters "DJ" in blue.

As one of Kent State's fans wrote on a message board earlier this week, "Don James was a giant. He brought winning to Kent and never forgot us."

We will never forget coach James and the impact he had during his time here.

Earlier this week, we posted a vintage 1972 highlight film of the "James Gang's" victory over Toledo to clinch the MAC title.

We hope you enjoy it:

Also, the voice of the Golden Flashes, Ty Linder, re-posted an interview he had with coach from James last year in anticipation of the 1972 team's reunion.

He can find Ty's blog entry by clicking here,

... and go directly to the audio file of the interview with coach James by clicking here.

If you haven't had a chance to watch, there is a moving interview with Kent State alum Gary Pinkel on YouTube with him remembering coach james.

Here is the link to "Gary Pinkel shares leadership lessons from mentor Don James"

From the Kent State Centennial Collection

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Preparing the next man in

By Brian Rock
Offensive Coordinator

When you are preparing for a week like this, you don't want to create an atmosphere where anything feels different. It's next man in.

You go through the process of preparing like you normally do. You let the next man in know that he should carry all of the confidence and swagger into this week and this game as anyone else. They have worked long and hard to get an opportunity to get on the field, so let's go do it.

For the people who haven't seen David Fisher, he is a guy who will bring great energy to the quarterback position. He is a mobile guy. David will operate our offense very well. He is not afraid to run with the football, but he is also a durable guy who can throw it. 

David is also a very vocal leader who will bring energy and enthusiasm to our to our huddle. He will also bring attention to detail.

I have tried to make it so that he can just go and play. He has won some games in his career, and I know he's excited to have the chance to get in there and help this team win.

Our gameplan isn't going to change much going from Colin Reardon to David Fisher.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Getting better in the film room

By Paul Haynes
Head Coach

I love the heartbeat of this team. I can see it when I walk into the film room and see our guys in there studying and working on their own to get better, and often late into the night.

When we study film as a team, our coaches have done a good job of giving the players questions to answer. Over the years I've seen a lot of players who will go sit in that film room for two hours, and when they leave you ask them what they learned. They'll really have no idea. 

You have to ask them questions to make sure they'll get something out of it. I told Darius Polk, who plays our boundary corner, to chart every single pass play that the boundary receiver ran. Now he has an understanding of where he lines up, and based on what formation he'll have an idea of what route his receiver will run.

We will tell our linebackers and our safeties to come in and watch the end zone film, and when they do, study the tight end and the tackle because that's who they read. See what they do on pass and See what they do in run.

We also do a neat thing on defense every Friday. The players will give a presentation on every position. So, the corners will get up and give a scouting report to the entire defense on the receivers we'll face on Saturday. Then the defensive line will get up and give a scouting report on the opposing offensive line, safeties will do the tight end and quarterback, and so on, and so on. It makes everyone understand that they are going to have to study during the week because they'll have to present to the entire defense on Friday.

The presentations also help players understand how their responsibilities fit within the entire defensive scheme and how what they do impacts the guy next to them. By studying film, players learn their keys. And those keys don't lie.

I'll never forget something I learned from Jim Tressel about studying film. He asked me, "do the players truly understand the importance of making zero missed assignments."

That's the key, and it falls back on film study. If you don't miss assignments, then the opponent has to earn it. A good player has to go out and make a good play to beat you, and that's OK. But a missed assignment against a good football team is inexcusable. You have to have a burning desire that it will not happen, because when you do miss an assignment, you let your teammates down.

Knowing your assignments starts with your work in the film room. We harp on these guys that it is not unrealistic to have zero missed assignments.

I found that understanding the importance of being good at watching film came to me later on as a coach. I have to admit, I didn't have it when I was a player. I kind of just played. If you talked to my position coach, he would probably say that I had good instincts. But I didn't study. It's all hindsight. If I could go back and study the way I should have, I would have been a much better player.

Studying film has changed so much between now and back when I played in the 1980's. There's obviously so much technology that allows us as coaches to break things down and watch so many different views in so many different ways.

During my freshman year at Kent State we still used reel-to-reel film. Then we moved to VHS when I was a sophomore in 1988, but we still only had sideline views. There were none of the cut-ups we have now.

We've even just added the technology that will allow our players to log on to their computer and watch all of the film from all of the available angles right from home at any time they want.

What some players don't yet realize is that they can have a career in football just because of the way they study and care about knowing their assignments. 

There are two guys I have been around who were unbelievable at film study. One of them is Donovan Darius, who played at Syracuse and was with me when I was with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The other was Donte Whitner when I was at Ohio State. Those guys would come in on Tuesday and they would already have five or six pages of notes, and they would already have an idea of what the opponent would do on 1st-and-10 or in different formations. 

It was unbelievable to watch them and how they studied. And the great thing was that the younger guys saw them and what they were doing, and the culture was built. Now we are trying to build that culture at Kent State that preparation pays off. There are so many guys who were great players in high school who just played on instinct. But we have to help them to understand that it is incredibly important to study film and know your assignments. We have to break them of their bad habits.

You only get so many reps at practice. You get 20 hours a week with players. There is so much riding on 20 hours a week, so there are a lot of things they have to do on their own to be successful.

You wonder why good players don't last very long in the game. I guarantee it's because they don't prepare like others.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Building a homecoming tradition with the Captain's Breakfast

By Paul Haynes
Head coach

We will be welcoming back almost 30 former Kent State captains for our annual Captain's Breakfast on Saturday morning before our Homecoming game with Northern Illinois.

The list includes Richard Mostardi (1959), George Jenkins (1962), Jerry Bals (1963), Pat Gucciardo (1965), Ron Swartz (1966-67), Frank Dreier (1970), Arthur Gissendaner (1974), Art Daniels (1976), Mike Whalen (1977), Darryl Hoyett (1977), Mike McKibben (1977-78), Ben Batton (1979), Moe Clemmons (1980-81), Charlie Grandjean (1981), Jerry Grisko (1982), Darren Brown (1982), Scooter McGruder (1983), Louis Jefferson (1985), Mike Percher (1986), Ray Carroscia (1989), Brian Dusho (1993), Lance Hansen (1996), Bob Hallen (1997), Jose Davis (1998-99), Brian Hallett (2001), Fritz Jacques (2007), Spencer Keith (2010), Chris Anzevino (2011) and Luke Batton (2012).

The tradition we are trying to build with the Captain's Breakfast means a lot because it brings back guys who are leaders from our past.

Our team read a book this summer called the Traveler's Gift that talked about the importance of seeking wisdom. Any time you can get some insight like we will get on Saturday from guys who have been here, who know this place and still have a lot of passion for it, that is extremely valuable.

We also want our guys to really understand the history of Kent State and to hear it from the people who lived it. Too often I listen to people talk about the negative things that have happened in the history of Kent State football. It upsets me to hear to them talk about how bad football was here because it devalues the work and the passion of a lot of people. 

There are a lot of good coaches and players who came through here who don't get brought up in the conversation about Kent State football just because of some of the records of our past teams. A lot of guys came through here and played in the NFL or went on to success in other areas. 

Having so many captains come back shows the pride they still have for Kent State. We have just about every era coming, from the 50's through the 2000's. Those captains will sit amongst our guys and tell stories, and that's what I want. We've had Pat Gucciardo talk in front of our team, and he almost comes to tears because he has so much passion for this place.  

Our young people are not yet in touch with that past the way they need to be.

The Captains' Breakfast is something we did at Ohio State, and Darrell Hazell brought it here to Kent State. I'm glad he did, and it was important to me to keep that tradition alive. 

The most impressive memory I have about those Captains' Breakfasts at Ohio State was that Gary Moeller came back every year. Gary Moeller is Michigan through and through, having coached there as both an assistant and a head coach for almost three decades. But before that he was a student and a captain at Ohio State in the early 1960's. 

Gary Moeller may bleed Michigan blue, but he was a captain at Ohio State and that is a part of his life that will always be there. It brings him back to Columbus every year.

I want our guys to have that same feeling for Kent State.

To me, being voted a captain by your piers is a big deal. It's not a popularity contest.

I missed an opportunity here at Kent State back when I was named captain. I didn't realize how important that honor was until after I left Kent. I think about it every time I see our record from those years. Sometimes you are named captain and you don't know what to do with it. Other guys take it too far and they want to make speeches every five minutes. To me, that's not what being a captain is about. The best captains are the guys who lead by example and then say something when it needs to be said.

When you look at our current captains like Dri Archer and Roosevelt Nix, they are guys who lead with their actions. They don't talk. It's not in their nature. Phil Huff is the same way. Pat McShane is that way, too. 

There really aren't any talkers in this crew this year, and that's fine. I never liked guys who want to stand up and talk. I never liked player meetings or anything like that, because then guys go out and practice hard for one or two days and then slide back to normal. 

If you want to be successful, you have to change your lifestyle. If your lifestyle isn't changing, then you aren't going to be successful. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Polecat Offense

By Brian Rock
Offensive Coordinator

We've had some fun running what some fans have been calling the "Swinging Gate." We call it the "Polecat."

Unique formations are part of our offense. We want to show opponents something they haven't prepared for, and we always want to try to keep a defense off balance.

The Polecat originally came from a guy named Tiger Ellison, who invented the Run and Shoot Offense back in the 1920's or 30's. As a gift, an old friend of mine gave me the original book on the offense. A portion of the offense was called the Pole Cat, and he had five or six plays off of this formation.

We didn't just go through a bunch of old books and decide to give this formation a try. We've had it in for a while. We've talked about it all season, and we just felt last week was the right week to use it.

The formation forces defenses to decide how to line up, and it is all based on numbers. That makes it an easy read for the quarterback. There are usually only a few ways defenses line up against it, and the quarterback in the formation can usually figure it out, and then it's up to him to either throw it or run it.

Teams have to practice for it.

Looking ahead to Saturday's game, the Northern Illinois defense has great team speed, the players are very athletic, and they are very well coached. They are good. There is a reason why they are undefeated right now. That's because they play hard and they play sound gap-control defense. They will get after you. They are not a sit-back-and-wait defense. They are a take-the-game-to-you defense.

The thing that really jumps out to me watching Northern Illinois' defense on tape is their team speed and how athletic they are.

Their defense in 2013 is very similar to the defense we prepared for last season when we played them in the Mid-American Conference Championship game. The defensive coordinator was on the staff, so it's not going to be drastically different.

They do play a little bit more "Wide-Nine" technique out of their 4-3 whereas last year they were more over-and-under based. They've gone back to a little more of a true 4-3 defense, and that's something a little bit different. Their coverages are the same base coverages they played last year.

Saturday is going to be a great test.