BOWLING GREEN - If the members of a President's cabinet are constantly changing, it is difficult to get much work done. If a general keeps losing his officers, it becomes harder and harder to do battle, let alone win the war.
In college football, the assistant coaches are the conduit that connects the players with the head man. If any of those assistants leaves the program, that connection has to be rebuilt, player by player.
When the coaches take sides for Bowling Green State University's annual spring game tomorrow, the faces will all be familiar to Falcon coach Urban Meyer.
There were 12 guys who helped Meyer go 8-3 last season in his first year as a head coach, and he kept the full set - an even dozen - for this season.
Meyer had nine assistant coaches, two graduate assistants, and a strength coach with him for BG's season-opening win at Missouri last fall, and they are all still here. For Meyer, stability, continuity and loyalty are extremely valuable commodities.
“All of those guys staying here, that was big, very crucial for this program,” Meyer said. “Are we very fortunate? Yes. We have a great staff and people called about them, people were interested in them. But we feel real lucky we were able to keep them. I'd like to think that says something about the kind of place this is.”
Meyer said several high-profile programs courted his coaches.
“We've got some big-time coaches here, and you can't keep something like that a secret,” Meyer said. “It wasn't a surprise at all that there were guys getting calls, and guys getting offers to make more money elsewhere. But they didn't go, and I'd like to believe that is because they love coming to work here every day, and that they coach for the right reasons - to be committed to the players and to their families. But great coaches are always going to have other opportunities.”
Meyer rewarded a number of his staff members with promotions. Defensive backs coach Tommy Thigpen is now the special teams coordinator, while he continues to direct the defensive backs.
Defensive coordinator Tim Beckman and offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon have both had “assistant head coach” added to their titles, while linebackers coach John Bowers and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales are the co-coordinators of BG's recruiting efforts.
“You want to reward guys who are so dedicated to what they are doing, and all of the assistant coaches here really deserve some kind of reward,” Meyer said. “I want to make sure the players know how fortunate they are to have such quality individuals to work with them, and to have guys who stuck around to continue to work with them.”
Besides Thigpen, Beckman, Brandon, Bowers and Gonzales, Meyer also held on to defensive line coach Mike Ward, offensive line coaches Greg Studrawa and John Hevesy, quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen, strength and conditioning coach Aaron Hillmann, and graduate assistants D.J. Durkin and Zach Azzanni.
Meyer said that after Bowling Green posted its first winning season in the last seven years - including wins over Northwestern, Temple, Missouri and MAC champion Toledo - it seemed unlikely that he could keep his staff intact.
“That usually doesn't happen. If you have a good year, your guys usually get nailed by other schools,” he said. “I was prepared to have to replace some people, but fortunately, that didn't happen.”
Junior defensive back Jason Morton said the continuity on the coaching staff has allowed the Falcons to concentrate on football this spring, and not spend time getting to know the guy giving the orders.
“It's very important, because these guys are like second fathers to us,” Morton said. “When guys are coming and going, it is hard to build and maintain strong relationships. But those relationships are stable here, and I think that has to make us a better team. We're going to play hard for them because we know them. It's like we owe that kind of effort to them.”
Morton said there was a lot of uncertainty in the minds of the players when Meyer was named coach and brought in an almost completely new staff, but a year-and-a-half later, the program is stronger than anyone thought it might be.
“Coach Meyer has done an excellent job of building a family trust thing here,” Morton said. “And that means we know these guys aren't going anywhere, and in turn, we aren't going anywhere, either. We're picking up where we left off at the end of last season.”