Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New O-Coordinator An Engaging Character

I had my first meeting with new Idaho State offensive coordinator Phil Earley (right) on the coaches' show Monday night, and I must say he charmed the socks off me. Earley, who has a coaching resume longer than Larry Brown, is engaging, funny and sharp. I'd be shocked if this guy can't recruit.

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.

Personnel Updates

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.

--Brad B.

SID Musings...

So as I sit here the morning after another bizarro basketball game in which I can't figure out (like we gave up 82 points), I started thinking about certain things, as a person tends to do. I should mention that this thinking started while watching the reruns of the Pyramid on the Game Show Network at midnight (total aside, but was there ever a better game show minute then the Pyramid's Winner's Circle? Any game where a prepositional phrase is considered illegal is something I'm going to love.)

Anyways, I've come up with a couple of theories on this, and the first is this...sometimes the ingredients are correct but they don't just mix. Case in point...I have three daughters. My oldest Jessi (22) and my youngest Angie (14) both like to cook and know how to cook, especially things like cakes, cookies, brownies...you know, the stuff that spikes my cholesterol. Well, both kids make brownies a lot. Both use identical brownie mix, and both use identical ingredients, the same oven, the same pans. Yet what inevitably happens is that one set of brownies is usually good...better than I would have thought, and one set of brownies is disappointing. Why? Everything is the same ... but sometimes the ingredients mix better, and sometimes they don't mix at all, and for some reason, this Bengal team has a hard time mixing together. The ingredients are there, and some games, and even for portions of games, everything mixes well, but sometimes ... the brownies just don't come out right.

The other thing I've come to realization is that it might be me. Now while that might sound silly...but I've done a little research on this, and well...it sucks. I've been an SID for 18 years, two at Belmont Abbey, four at Augusta State, and this is my 12th here, and I'm starting to think, especially in men's basketball, it's me. I've always kept this file, and I've now updated, but this is not something I want on my tombstone...

Year School Overall .PCT Conf. .PCT Finish

1992-93 Belmont Abbey 12-16 .429 6-8 .429 5/8

1993-94 Belmont Abbey 7-19 .269 3-11 .214 T7/8

BAC TOTAL 19-35 .352 9-19 .321

1994-95 Augusta State 8-19 .296 4-14 .222 10/10

1995-96 Augusta State 11-16 .407 6-12 .333 7/10

1996-97 Augusta State 9-19 .321 5-13 .278 9/10

1997-98 Augusta State 5-22 .227 3-13 .188 T11/12

ASU TOTAL 33-76 .303 18-51 .261

1998-99 Idaho State 6-20 .231 4-12 .250 8/9

1999-00 Idaho State 8-19 .296 3-13 .188 T8/9

2000-01 Idaho State 14-14 .500 10-6 .625 3/9

2001-02 Idaho State 10-17 .370 3-11 .214 7/8

2002-03 Idaho State 15-14 .517 7-7 .500 T3/8

2003-04 Idaho State 13-18 .419 7-7 .500 T2/8

2004-05 Idaho State 9-18 .333 3-11 .214 8/8

2005-06 Idaho State 13-14 .481 4-10 .286 T7/8

2006-07 Idaho State 13-17 .433 8-8 .500 T5/9

2007-08 Idaho State 12-19 .387 8-8 .500 T4/9

2008-09 Idaho State 13-19 .406 9-7 .563 4/9

2009-10 Idaho State 7-19 .269 4-9 .308 8/9

ISU TOTAL 133-208 .390 70-109 .391

OVERALL TOTALS 185-319 .367 97-179 .351

The So if you can't figure that out yet...in 18 seasons, I've had one....ONE...winning season, and that was 15-14 back in 2002-03. I've had TWO winning conference seasons...10-6 in 2001 and 9-7 last year. I have had 11 18-loss seasons, and counting this year, three 20-loss seasons. Only four times in 18 years have I seen my team finish in the top half of the conference, and thankfully for Joe O'Brien, he's gotten me half of those.

At Idaho State I cover football, men's basketball, and softball, and I figured this one out too. The last time one of the teams that I cover was more than one game over .500 for the season ... was January 5, 2006 when Idaho State men's basketball was 7-5 after starting 7-2. That was so long ago the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin hadn't started yet, the Seahawks had never played in a Super Bowl, and Blu-Ray DVD players were not available in stores.

My wife swears it's not me, but after I left Belmont Abbey, the made the NCAA Tournament five years later, and Augusta State in the last 12 years after I left has had 11 winning seasons, six 19-win seasons, five 20-win seasons, one 30-win season, three conference tournament titles, five NCAA appearances, they lost in the National Title game last year, and they were ranked #1 this year.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into this....

Z and E with J and B....
Jon Zamberlin and new offensive coordinator Phil Earley joined Jerry Miller and Brad Bugger courtside on Monday night to talk football recruiting and a little Bengal football offense prior to the Bakersfield game, and fans got a great look into what ISU will be trying to do offensively, and what ISu is still looking for recruiting-wise. The amazing thing is they didn't run over in talking with Earley, who has more stories than a Dr. Suess library.

Conference Tournament Musings...
First to the women, who got a road sweep this past weekend against Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado to go to 6-6 and stay tied with Montana State for fifth place. Northern Colorado is the closest team chasing ISU, and the Bengals take on Weber State this Thursday, and a win there would give ISU sweeps over NAU, UNC, and WSU, the three teams chasing ISU, meaning the Bengals would have all sorts of tiebreakers with those teams, and would be a near lock to make the tournament.

The men's side isn't so simple. ISU is at Weber State on Saturday, and the big games are with NAU and UNC hosting EWU and PSU. Right now, it looks like the best team for ISU to catch might be Portland State, who is 5-7, as the Vikings have two tough road games this weekend, and then still have to host Weber State and Idaho State. It's still too early to figure things out, but ISU could make it into the tournament with just one win, or they could conceivably win all three and have to rely on tiebreakers, but ISU would get in with three wins. That all starts on Saturday in a rematch of the game of the year, ISU's 95-93 loss in triple overtime to Weber State.

Softball Stuff
The Bengals got one, and then lost four at the Red Desert Classic, but the team had never won in three previous trips there, and have a double header at the College of Idaho on the 27th for their next contest. The team didn't get great pitching overall, but that should improve with fourth-year junior Kandis Clesson and freshman Nora Maschue, who both had moments over the weekend, and were facing their first live opponents in an outdoor setting.