By Jeff Greenberg
Our goal with http://www.undertheheadset.com is to give an unfiltered voice to football coaches at all levels. Allow them to speak their mind in an open forum that goes beyond the typical press conference. In the process, we hope fans and fellow coaches alike get to see and hear what these coaches are like after the press conference is over and the lights are turned off. No filters. No agendas. Just conversations.
This upcoming season http://www.undertheheadset.com will have a weekly feature with Arkansas State University Head Coach Blake Anderson. Each week we will catch up with Coach Anderson after he’s had time to watch film and process what he saw, and get his thoughts on that week’s game.
This week we will start with a special edition of The 5th Quarter as Coach Anderson recaps what he thought of the Red Wolves’ spring practice season.
1st Quarter: What was the focus of this spring for you? – “Our focus all spring has been to build as much accountability as possible into everything we do, and try to create the most disciplined environment we can have as a program. We don’t want to beat ourselves in any situation or in any game this season. Every aspect of what our guys do on a daily basis was evaluated through the lens of discipline and accountability. Whether it was class checks, study hall checks, weightlifting checks, you name it and we were measuring it and tracking it in order to hold everybody accountable for their actions. We’ve brought in guest speakers on the subject, we’ve had feedback sessions, we had team accountability measures and position group measures as well. It’s about making good decisions and being accountable to the guy next to you on every play and in every situation. The carryover of all of this showed on the field in practice every day. We didn’t have many mental breakdown mistakes this spring. We weren’t having the big penalty or the big turnover. I think we’ve made a ton of progress now and we had a lot of guys grow up this spring and take ownership on their role on this team.”
2nd Quarter: How was this spring for you as the play-caller the second time around in working with Justice Hansen? – “I had a lot of fun this spring in that regard. I really enjoy what I do, but I just love watching a kid grow up, mature and develop as a player and as a quarterback. All of the guys in my room have done that and they’ve really pushed each other to get better this spring. What made us better this spring was having a system in place that everybody knew and everybody knew how to communicate it and what was being asked of them. Last spring we had to spend a lot of time piecing that together. Now we know what we want and we were able to progress further this spring. You could see the guys’ knowledge strengthen this spring. They’re thinking the right way on the field. They know what I want when I call something. They know what they can and can’t do in those situations. When you look at the spring as a whole I thought the production and the decision-making was solid. Justice only threw one interception in fifteen practices. To me, that shows me his head is in the right place and he’s making sound decisions with the ball. I think you add in the way he’s leading this team and his personality on the field and you can see that he’s taken some big steps in the right direction this spring.”
3rd Quarter: What position group came out of spring practice at a different level than you expected from them heading into spring ball? – “I think we saw progress in a lot of our rooms. But the defensive line stood out to me this spring. They showed up every single day. We were expecting to be talented at that position, but we also knew we were losing some really talented players at that position as well, some of which are working out with NFL teams as we speak. So we didn’t know how that transition for this group would translate over to the day-to-day actions of this group. I was excited to see how Ronheen Bingham took over that group and have a spring like he had. I mean, he was unblockable at times to be honest. Then to see the other guys see him and then try to match his level of play was exactly what we needed from this group. Everybody played well in this group. I can’t even name names because I would just be calling out the entire group. They were a force to try and block every day in practice. They made our offensive line get better and they brought an incredible energy level to the rest of the defense. I think all of this shows that we’ve recruited really well at that position. I think Coach Early has done an excellent job at evaluating talent and evaluating how a guy would fit into his room. He’s just set a standard in his room that guys take pride in and it’s reached that point where they’re not finding themselves in a “start-over” mode, but instead always working in a “re-load” mode. Guys are ready when their name is called. Here’s what it came down to this spring. I mentioned how well Bingham played this spring. Well, when your best player is your hardest worker; you will have a great environment in your room and in your group. He’s one of those guys Coach Early handpicked to be here, and his work ethic combined with his talent is a model for what we want. It drives everybody to match that effort. That’s what Coach Early has created.”
4th Quarter: Now that spring is over and you turn your attention toward the next few months leading into fall camp, where does this team have to improve the most in order to reach its goals? – “This summer will be very important for our program in terms of the work the guys put in to get stronger and faster. We focused a lot on increasing our physicality. We hit a ton this spring. We had three live scrimmages and three other live practices where we went full tilt. That’s a lot of hitting for a spring. There’s still work to be done though up front. Our guys need to attack the weight room this summer and push some heavy weight around. They need to gain that strength in order to have the confidence that you’re going to beat the guy in front of you in the trenches. We need to be the physical football team that finishes in the red zone and makes the stops we need in the red zone. Those were the areas that hurt us last year. When we needed to run the ball, we couldn’t. When we needed to stop people from getting into the end zone, we didn’t. Our focus was creating a physical mentality that forces people to kick field goals and finds a way for our offense to punch it in the end zone. I think we were successful in doing that this spring. We had the most physical spring we’ve had and that was our goal. We were able to accomplish that because we have the best combination of experience and depth that we’ve had since we’ve been here. They need to get the work in this summer to create a great fall camp. We can’t start over in fall camp. We need to be better on day one of fall camp than we were on the last day of spring practice.”
Overtime: You’re entering your 5th season as a head coach. Where have you gotten better in your job? – “I would like to think I’m more patient in everything I do. I think early on I was quick to make some heated decisions because I felt like I had to have the answer right then and there. I’ve learned to take a step back and take a minute to look at the entire picture of what’s involved and think about it and pray about it before taking action. I’ve learned to seek counsel from the people I trust and not be hesitant to do that when I need to. All of this has also helped me focus more on what matters most to the success of the guys in that locker room. You can get spread too thin and get watered down. My priority is to make those guys better as players and as people. You don’t have to do some things because that’s the way it’s always been done. I evaluate everything that comes across my desk in terms of how it will accomplish one of those two priorities with regards to the players. So that’s helped me be more efficient and impactful as a head coach to the players and as the head coach for the program as a whole. I’ll never stop learning in this job and never stop trying to get better as a head coach.”