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Spring Practice #12 Report

Is Mack Brown anything for Coach Lembo to look up to?

As spring practice winds its way down to the end with the pending spring game this Saturday, practice #12 is in the books, and Coach Lembo sat down per usual with the BSU media relations staff. To the release!

We are one week away from the annual Spring Game, are you where you want to be at this point?
Today was a pretty good day in terms of tempo, enthusiasm and execution. But, as a general rule, I am never satisfied. You will never catch me feeling too good about where we are at. Those kinds of feelings are a breeding ground for complacency. Even when we built Lehigh and Elon into consistent winners, we never took our foot off the gas pedal. You have to keep pushing to get better every day both on and off the field. It is human nature to get comfortable. You can find it in every organization and on every college campus. I assure you, no one in this program, including me, is good enough to become satisfied. We have a long way to go in all areas. If you ever need additional motivation, just look at our schedule the next few years, that will get you out of your comfort zone in a hurry. At the same time, you have to enjoy the process. It’s definitely a process. There has to be some balance. You can take your job seriously without taking yourself too seriously. I hope this team sees that in me as well as in the rest of the coaching staff. We work hard, but we truly enjoy our work and enjoy being around each other. We value what each guy brings to the table, knowing that none of us are perfect.

There has been some good competition at placekicker, when do you plan on making a decision on this position and others that have been competitive?
Excellent observation. Kickers sometimes fly under the radar to the casual fan until that moment of truth comes and the game is on the line. Like most positions, there is a lot more to it than what meets the eye. We are evaluating Steven Schott and Scott Secor daily not only in terms of their PAT/field goal consistency, but also on kickoffs and specialty kicks. Hang time and placement on kickoffs is critical to good kickoff coverage. It is possible both guys will have a role to play as starters next fall. Like every other position, the backup is always just one play away from being “the guy”, so he has to be ready. Much like our quarterbacks, Schott and Secor are great kids who work hard and support each other. It has been competitive with them all spring and I have no concerns if the competition continues into preseason camp in August. I continue to be pleased with Scott Kovanda at punter. He had another excellent day today in terms of distance and placement. Garrett Mack has been very steady at long snapper on both punts and field goals. Our operation times have been on target thanks to his speed and accuracy.

Are there a couple of coaches in your career that you would say you pattern your style and philosophy after?
Absolutely. I have had to work my way up through the coaching ranks, so my mentors are definitely not household names to most fans. Bob Ford at Albany was my first boss. He’s been the head coach there since 1970 and has transitioned the program from club status all the way to the FCS level. He was very organized, detailed, took an mentoring role with all his coaches and was a good delegator. He was also very thorough in the hiring process, even if it was a graduate assistant position. Kevin Higgins, my boss at Lehigh when I was an assistant coach, had a lot of similar qualities. Coach Ford and Coach Higgins were similar because, once you earned their trust, they allowed you to do your job without micromanaging. They were also both program builders who sincerely cared about their players. They treated me well, allowed me to grow and I wanted to do my best for them. I try to treat my staff the same way. I was also fortunate to work with a great group of assistant coaches under John Lyons at Dartmouth in the mid 1990’s. Several of us went on to become head coaches. One high profile coach I have always admired is Mack Brown at Texas. I have never met Coach Brown in person, but we have a mutual friend in North Carolina. I listened to Coach Brown speak at a national convention in the early 1990’s and I have tried to follow his progress ever since. He’s an excellent CEO who stays even keeled through the highs and lows. He hasn’t forgotten where he came from or what it took to get there.

With just a few practices left before the Spring Game, what are some of the things you want to be sure are taken care of before summer conditioning arrives?
There are some situations we want to introduce or perhaps cover for a second or third time in practice before the spring season ends. We have definitely been multi-tasking this spring as we install new systems, create a new culture and evaluate our personnel. At the same time, we want to make sure our guys are learning the game and gaining a better understanding of the scenarios that will present themselves in the fall. We have a certain way of dealing with particular game situations. It’s the Ball State way. We want our guys to understand the rules of the game and how they should react. For example, when does the clock start and stop in a two minute drive? When should I try to get out of bounds versus going down quickly in bounds? Do our backs and receivers understand not to fight for an extra yard and waste precious time in a two minute situation? This is all part of the their football education. It takes repetition because not everyone truly gets it the first time around. It has to become second nature to them if they want to play for us on Saturdays. We want our guys to earn a “PhD in football” by the time their career is over.

To be honest with all of you, this is probably the most hope inspiring spring practice report that I’ve read this season. First and foremost, let’s touch on the kicking game. In recent years, the field goal kicking was inconsistent at best and mind bogglingly frustrating at worst. Not so much the PATs and field goals, they certainly had their moments of consternation, but more so the kick offs and the inability of the kickoff unit to pin opponents deep and let our speed put a long field between the opponent’s starting position and their end zone. That, and that alone, would be reason to at least be optimistic.

Of course, sprinkled on top of the kicking game was the explanation about how Pete Lembo runs his staff, what he values, and the importance he puts on building a program and a team through educating his players about situational decisions. If I had to pick one significant difference between the Hoke years and the Parrish years (aside from the wins, of course) it’s that the pursuit for perfection under Hoke seemed to not be as important to Coach Parrish. I can’t say for sure whether Parrish was simply incapable of coaching the minutiae of precision in favor of flashy plays and a macro view of the system, but it’s oddly comforting to hear a coach talk about things like knowledge, details, and precision. In the MAC, and really most every other conference, it’s not a coincidence that the teams most dedicated to the little things are often the teams racking up the highest number of wins. Strange how that works…

I do find one little tidbit of information humorous in this update, as moments after referencing Coach Higgins and Coach Ford for their respectful treatment of staff and lack of micromanagement while developing those that worked under them Coach Lembo references Mack Brown, he of Texas fame, as a Coach that he admires. That’s interesting to me, as Brown is universally regarded as a coach who consistently underperforms relative to the talent on his roster and this past season basically threw his entire assistant coaching staff under the bus, backed it up, and ran over them again amidst a disappointing season for the Longhorns. Brown’s comments after a loss to Iowa State focused first on his players, saying, “I do think there’s some entitlement with this team. They sit around thinking it’s just going to happen.” But of course, Brown needed to direct some of that ire to his staff since his anger cuppeth apparently overfloweth, adding, “I told them if one of your guys is playing bad, I can change them. If three of your guys are playing bad, I change you.” Higgins, Ford, Brown… one of these things is not like the others.

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