But can he design and run an offense? We'll find out next fall. What I wanted to know Monday night was exactly what kind of offense he'll be expecting the Bengals to execute. The apparent answer? A little bit of everything.
"Multiple" was a word Earley used a lot in discussing his philosphy. He admits to being a Mike Price-Dennis Erickson, one-back disciple in his formative years, but he says he's been enough places and coached for enough people that he truly believes in the value of "multiple" looks on offense. To that end, the Bengals, who have been largely a one-back team since Larry Lewis arrived on the scene in the late 1990s, may be playing with more tight ends and fullbacks than we've seen since the late Babe Caccia was running the Bengals in the 1960s.
Indeed, ISU invested scholarships in junior college tight end Andrew Zamora and Pocatello High fullback Wes Howard this year, and they already have four experienced tight ends on the roster. That doesn't mean we'll see the Bengals consistently lined up "old school," though; it just means Earley is going to make it a much bigger guessing game for opposing defensive coordinators, who in the past really had only to spend most of their preparation time on the five-wide, spread attack.
Who will be running that offense on the field? Well, Earley, who has just started working with incumbent quarterback Russel Hill during winter conditioning, is impressed with Hill's work ethic and commitment. And the new Bengal coach acknowledges he's just cocky enough to think he can make Hill a better quarterback next year. Judging from the fact that he's coached quarterbacks everywhere from Syracuse to Auburn, and from San Diego State to Idaho, it's hard to dismiss Earley's self-confidence.
ISU head coach John Zamberlin was on our show as well, and he noted that, with no disrespect to Hill, the Bengals haven't exactly been a juggernaut with him at quarterback. So there is no guarantee Hill will be the No. 1 quarterback when ISU opens its season next September against Western Montana. Certainly incoming junior college transfer Grayson Galloway, he of the "prototypical" drop-back mold at 6-5, 220 pounds, will be given a long look in fall camp. But you get the impression from just talking with Earley for five minutes that he's the kind of guy who will build a bond with Hill and the other quarterbacks on the roster during the upcoming spring practice sessions. That time together has to give Hill a big advantage over Galloway, who won't be here for spring practice.
I did ask Earley how he feels about the "revolving door" approach to quarterbacks, which has been an issue at ISU in recent years. In summary, he said: 1) He is pretty firm about setting out his playing time expectations for his quarterbacks from week to week, and sticking to it; 2) He has no problem pulling a quarterback in mid-game for a series or two of "observation" if he's struggling, but only if he has a backup he has confidence in.
Earley said he'll start installing his offensive system when spring ball starts in early April, but it will definitely be a "slimmed down" version. He wants to keep things simple because he wants the players to be focused on execution in spring. Earley talked about "toughness" a lot Monday night, and in my experience, that's kind of unusual from an offensive coordinator. He wants to keep his offense simple in the spring because he wants to see which of his players want to hit; he doesn't want them worrying about complicated schemes when they're supposed to be exploding off the football.
So it'll be fun to watch this entertaining guy install his system and philosophy, and see what comes of it. As someone who was a bit skeptical about his vagabond coaching career, I'll admit it: I've become a Phil Earley fan.
During our show Monday night, Zamberlin was asked for an update on the status of three Bengals who were academically ineligible last fall. He reported that cornerback Kelvin Miller is back in good standing, and in fact is competing in indoor track this winter. Cornerback Kenny Viser is back at the University of Nevada re-taking some classes in an effort to get back into academic good graces. And linebacker Jeremy Gibson is still in school at ISU trying to regain his eligibility. Viser and Gibson will probably be question marks at least until after summer school.
In answer to a question about whether he will consider moving one or more of a bevy of young quarterbacks to new positions, Zamberlin said no, he wants to see them all learn the offensive system and compete for playing time, at least initially. He noted that Riley Sessions, a quartertback from Salmon who signed with ISU, will be going on an LDS mission before he enrolls, as will Capital High defensive end Beaugh Meyer.
As far as position switches are concerned, the only one Zamberlin specifically noted was that Minh Williams, who played on both the offensive and defensive lines as a true freshman last fall, will probably stay on the offensive side of the football this year.
Zamberlin said he's continuing to look for a punter/placekicer to challenge redshirt freshman Brendan Garcia, and he's got an in-state candidate for the position who was supposed to visit recently but had to cancel because of basketball commitments. ISU is in the process of rescheduling that visit.
Finally, on the coaching front Zamberlin said he's interviewing a candidate this week for the position on the defensive coaching staff. He's looking for somebody who is familiar with the current scheme the Bengals run, and the candidate who's coming in fits that description.