Monday, January 16, 2017

Leopards' staff is ready to go to work, Garrett says

“(Rich) Bartel is very smart and has been exposed to a lot of different systems. He will be a coach in the NFL one day, if he so desires.”
Ken Whisenhunt, then-Arizona Cardinals head coach – Aug., 2012.

When I sat down with new Lafayette College football coach John Garrett for the first time, his first words to me, after we introduced one another, were, “Tell me about yourself.”

Just that quickly, the interviewee became the interviewer, and vice versa. The discussion of X’s and O’s could wait.

That’s the modus operandi for the 25-year veteran who’s in the first month of his first job as a head coach.

“I start all the interviews with just asking them to tell me their history, their story,” Garrett said when we talked on Saturday about the hectic first couple of weeks of his life at Lafayette. “(I want them to) tell me how they talk about themselves, their influences to family. I’m constantly trying to figure out if they are going to be a good fit in the program and with other staff members.”

When he was first introduced to the college and the media, Garrett, speaking about his eventual staff, said, “We’ll have a collection of guys with NFL experience, major college experience, FCS experience and a real familiarity with our recruiting footprint, which will be an 8-10-hour drive from Easton. We’re going to have guys who are familiar with Pennsylvania and all the border states -- Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia. We’ll have great teachers on the staff. Our job as coaches is to teach (players) how to do it and why to do it that way so they buy in.”

He was obviously pleased with how things turned out. My story in the Tuesday Morning Call hits some of the highlights, but I thought it might be good to get a bit more from him. S0, here are some comments on the various staff members.

Offensive coordinator Rich Bartel: “He had a great experience at IMG, but his foundation is Texas high school football, college (at SMU, Tarleton State), pro football under the tutelage of some great coaches … Dallas, Cleveland, Arizona, Jacksonville, Washington. He has a wealth of offensive knowledge. Loves football, loves to teach. Loves to be in a position to impact young men. I got to know him when I was a tight ends coach at Dallas and he was a back-up quarterback for us and spent the year with us on the practice roster. Love his passion, how he prepares, his competitiveness, how he worked at it. We stayed in touch. I reconnected with him when I was at University of Florida and he was at IMG bringing guys up to our campus, and I reconnected this spring in recruiting when I went down there”

Because Garrett is intimately familiar with coaching quarterbacks, too, I suggested that their interview might have been pretty animated. “It was fun,” Garrett said. “We were in the same offense at Dallas, and he was in similar offenses; we see football the same way. We like that style of passing game. We’re on the same page. I think it’s important to have a former quarterback on your staff because they are just natural leaders. The way they look at football is a unique perspective in a lot of ways, and to get him to coach our (QBs) is going to be fantastic.”

Defensive coordinator Luke Thompson: “The first thing you notice about him at Georgetown is that the point total that he’s given up is very low from his defenses.” I use most of Garrett’s comments in my print-edition story, but he added, “He teaches with great energy, really detailed. That showed up on (film) and it was clear in his interviews.”

I took a look at the last three years of Georgetown-Lafayette games just to get an idea of  how Thompson schemed the Leopards. In 2014, the Leopards rushed for 103 yards and passed for 147 against the Hoyas. Ross Scheuerman had three touchdowns, but only 58 yards rushing. One of his scores was a four-yard run set up by an 81-yard Jared Roberts punt return. Lafayette won 24-21. In 2015, the Leopards got just nine yards rushing, 248 yards passing. The Hoyas defense had four sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery that led to a shocking 38-7 victory. In 2016, Lafayette won 17-3 on a day that belonged to the Leopard defense and running back Tyler West (117 yards rushing). I found it interesting, though, that Georgetown allowed just 23.3 points per game for the season and was particularly effective in red-zone defense. Opposing teams penetrated the Hoyas’ red zone a total of 45 times for the season. On 16 of those chances, the Hoyas gave up NO points. Pretty impressive for a 3-8 team.

Offensive line coach Gordie Sammis: “Gordie and I got to know each other when I was coaching at Virginia from 2004-06. He was a backup offensive lineman, really smart, ready to go in the game. He’s got a great passion and enthusiasm. I stayed in touch with him after that and tracked him while he was coaching at Columbia and VMI and I would see him on the road, at clinics or conventions. He impressed me because he’s really bright, energetic, detailed, loves recruiting and loves bringing the right kind of guy. He’s (coached) at high academic schools, graduated from Virginia, so he’s a perfect fit. Impressive in our interview. Love the way he teaches offensive line play. Excited about that hire.”

Wide receiver coach Gunner Twyner: “He’s another former NFL player, who played for me with the Bengals when I was the wide receivers coach. Signed him as free agent out of Western Illinois. He then went with Saints and Jacksonville and had a long career in the Arena League, then coached at his college alma mater. We stayed in touch. He worked camps for me when I was at UVA and was an intern for us at Tampa Bay when I was coaching there. Phenomenal technician. He’s going to teach it the way I teach it; he was trained under me. Great feel for the players. Special teams experience, too. Fantastic addition to staff because of his playing and coaching experience.”

Tight ends coach Christian Pace: “He’s a guy I coached with at Florida. Great background. He played high school in Ohio; at (University of) Michigan, he played offensive line, He was a grad assistant, coached fullbacks, then went from there to Florida. Tireless worker, a grinder, has knowledge of a lot of positions. Could coach several positions on our staff. A real coup to get him with his experience.”

Football operations-recruiting and offensive assistant Brett Guminsky: “He was a tremendous asset to our program at Richmond last year as a volunteer offensive assistant and a huge help to me on a daily basis as the offensive coordinator. He has the versatility to help make our program better.”

Special teams and recruiting coordinator Marc Nudelberg: I have no comment from Coach Garrett since I just learned late Monday afternoon that he would be named officially on Tuesday. His bio on the University of Nevada website indicates he’s been involved in lots of different areas dating back to his undergrad days.


You’ll have no problem making the connection between the Leopards’ new offensive coordinator, Rich Bartel, and the National Football League, but you may not know a lot about the place where he spent his last two seasons – IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It’s a boarding school for athletes. It was started by tennis hall of famer Nick Bollettieri, but it is no longer just a little school for young, high-profile tennis players. It offers programs in eight sports. Football may be the newest.

IMG (for International Management Group) is, depending on how you look at it, the best thing that ever happened to sports (football only in the last handful of years) for elite young athletes -- or the worst. It’s “high school” sports on a huge dose of human growth hormone.

I tried to find a 2016 football roster for IMG but couldn’t find it on the academy website. However, I did find a story that ran in the New York Times in September of 2015. The story, written by Jere Longman, reported that the Ascenders’ roster for that year included players from 21 states and six countries.  Yep, COUNTRIES, not counties.

I did find a page that listed the cost of attending IMG for the 2016-17 school year. High school tuition for grades 9-12 football players at IMG is $72,900 for a boarding student and $57,600 for a commuter. That doesn’t include a bunch of fees, includi9ng a non-refundable $4,250 competition fee. Private school and sport tuition, room and meals are included. The bill can be paid in full before the year begins or broken into nine monthly payments. The student-athlete’s family pays for insurance or can get it from IMG for an unstated fee. There are no scholarships, but “limited” financial aid is available.

Is it worth the money? You decide. I’ll give you a couple of intriguing examples, each involving an IMG quarterback, two of whom played under the tutelage of Rich Bartel.

Deondre Francois was the IMG quarterback in 2014, a year before Bartel joined the staff. He got a scholarship to Florida State, where he redshirted in 2015. In 2016, he became the starter and was the ACC Rookie of the Year for the #11 Seminoles after passing for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns. He finished the year at the Orange Bowl. He had five 300-yard passing games, including a 419-yarder against Ole Miss in the season opener.

Shea Patterson was Bartel’s QB in 2015 at IMG, where he played only his senior year after playing one year in Texas and two years in Louisiana. Patterson got a scholarship to Mississippi and was headed for a redshirt year until the Ol’ Miss starter suffered a knee injury. Patterson was called in to start the final three games, again as a freshman.

In the Times’ story, which is accompanied on the website by a photo of Bartel and Shea Patterson talking, the writer quotes Patterson’s father. “If your son’s a great musician, you want to send him to Juilliard,” Sean Patterson Sr. told Longman. The father also said, “Some kids don’t want to leave that high school experience. It’s important for them to have pep rallies. Shea’s already been through that. Sometimes you just know it’s time to move on.”

Kellen Mond, Bartel’s QB at IMG last fall, is a second-semester enrollee at Texas A&M, where he’ll be able to compete right away with two other QBs for the starting spot vacated by Trevor Knight. “My goal is to start as a true freshman,” Mond told Chris Hummer for a story on the website. Mond played three years at a high school in San Antonio, Tex., before transferring to IMG for his senior year.

If Mond can achieve his goal, it would mean that IMG produced three consecutive freshman FBS starters at football’s key position. Bartel schooled two of them

He’ll have a different kind of challenge at Lafayette. Austin McCrum didn’t take a snap as a freshman, but he’s not going to be classified as a redshirt freshman for 2017. He’ll be a sophomore, and while he had solid stats as a high school quarterback in Maine, no one really knows yet what his college career will look like.

The Lafayette coaches could have given him some playing time in games during the 2016 season but elected not to go that route. I brought up the QB situation to Garrett again on Saturday, and while he said he couldn’t discuss commits – some guys who follow stuff closely indicate the Leopards may already have two QBs in the upcoming freshman class – he did say, “It’s going to be a competitive quarterback situation. We have guys in the program who haven’t taken any snaps and we’ll bring in some as well. So, it’s going to be very competitive.”

When I asked if he had talked with McCrum specifically, Garrett said, “I’ve been able to talk to a lot of players, welcome them. They are excited. I told all the guys at all the positions that it’s going to be a competitive situation, so bring your best. We’re going to play the best guys.”

The schedule for spring practices has not yet been finalized, but Garrett said it’ll be a “great teaching atmosphere.” With new systems to install “and tailor to our guys,” everyone will be busy. “We want to give them a perspective on how we want to practice, lay out the expectations on how we want to play and the identity we want in all three phases. We’ll be teaching them to play fast.”  He didn’t say that meant no-huddle all the time, just that “everything we do will be full speed.”

A number of players were on campus over the weekend to spend time with the recruits. I talked just briefly with linebacker Brandon Bryant, who is rehabbing from extensive knee surgery. I mentioned that he seemed to be walking fine, but that he looked small. He told me his weight dropped down to close to 200 pounds while he was unable to do any training. He said he’s back to 213 and that he hoped to be able to step up the training routine. I don’t expect him to be full tilt in April, but he said, “I’ll be 100 percent when the time comes.”

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