So, you thought new Lafayette football head coach John Garrett had done a pretty good job of putting together a staff that would change the direction of the program.
Well, consider this. I talked with Coach G last week, and during our discussion of the staff, he said, “I really feel good about the staff – the makeup and the structure of it. It may be even stronger than [what] we originally had.”
Having to research two vital components of a Division I staff at a time when the most obviously qualified candidates have already been picked doesn’t sound like fun.
Unless you’re Garrett.
When offensive coordinator Rich Bartel and tight ends coach Luke Chiarolanzio surprisingly left first-year coach Garrett’s staff during the first week of June, it left him with deep holes to fill, little time to do it and a smaller pool that he might have had to work from five months earlier.
It’s done now, and during a wide-ranging interview last Thursday, Garrett said, “I think some people are uncomfortable with the hiring process, but I’m not. It’s all about relationships for me and I enjoy getting to know people and expanding my network.
“It really is [fun]. When you have a chance to bring people in to add to your organization and you get to talk football all day and get up on the board and listen to them teach and talk about recruiting and adding to a football family and organization, it’s a great process.
Earlier, Lafayette announced that David Girardi and Josh Zidenberg, both of whom worked on the defensive side of the ball at their most recent positions but who were offensive players earlier in their careers, had been added to Garrett’s staff, Girardi as the quarterbacks coach and Zidenberg as the running backs coach. It was also announced that Christian Pace will switch from running backs to tight ends coach.
What the college release didn’t say was that Garrett, who last year was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Richmond, will also will assume the Leopards’ offensive coordinator duties and will be the play-caller when the team opens the 2017 season at 3 p.m. Sept. 2 at Monmouth.
But Girardi, who was an all-star quarterback at Geneva College, will be plenty busy with quarterbacks. Lafayette has eight QBs coming to preseason camp, which begins Aug. 3, and he’s not really familiar with any of them.
That doesn’t concern Garrett, who called Girardi “clearly a great hire for us. He’s a really good communicator of quarterback play and technique and skill.”
Zidenberg and Garrett go back a long way – Zidenberg was a running back and a special teams standout at Virginia when Garrett was on the staff there.
“He’s really was a smart, instinctive player when he was with us at UVA,” Garrett said. “He’s got a great story. He was a walk-on who earned a scholarship because of the type of player he was and the character he displays. He’s a great addition and I’m thrilled to have him coach the running backs.”
Pace should also be a better fit with tight ends than running backs because he has more of an offensive line background.
The circumstances that make these two hires particularly important are the fact that the quarterback position is without any meaningful experience – only senior Josh Davis has thrown even one pass – and that the running game, which averaged just 69.8 yards per game in 2016, may be asked to carry a good bit of the offensive load while the young quarterbacks get their feel of the college game.
SUMMER WORKOUTS IN FINAL WEEK
One thing the 2017 Lafayette team seems to have is solidarity. The Leopards are in the final week of their second series of summer workouts, and Garrett said “over 75 guys” were in Easton for strength and conditioning workouts with Brad Potts, the assistant director of athletics for peak performance and head S&C coach.
“It’s a great number and the guys are really committed to it,” Garrett said about a program that even had a yoga component to it. “We feel good about them and we laid out the expectations. We’re encouraged and we challenged them that the way to be a part of it this first year is to be here, get to know your teammates and the sooner you get to know the system and prepare, the quicker you get to be on the field. It’s not mandatory, but they decided that it’s important to them so they’re going to do it.”
Every member of the incoming freshman class is attending this second session. What makes it important is that, while coaches cannot work with them on the field, the NCAA allows four hours a week to be devoted to position-group meetings and film led by the coaches. Sessions were broken into eight half-hour meetings
The players are permitted to conduct their own football workouts that will help the young players learn the schemes in advance. And Lafayette has some outstanding senior players at almost every group who can get the word out there. And for Coach Garrett, the matter of x’s and o’s can finally take the place of resumes and interviews.
PRESEASON CAMP IS TAKING SHAPE
The players will report for preseason camp on Aug. 2, with the first practice scheduled for the following day. The NCAA has a new policy on preseason camp workouts – no more two-a-day sessions. Coach Garrett has no problem with that arrangement.
“It’s really not any different for me because for years at the places we’ve been, a lot of people have gotten away from [two-a-days] anyway, Garrett said. “Last year at Richmond, we may have had one or two days where we had two practices. We didn’t have many at Florida, a few, and before that at Oregon State, there weren’t many as well. So, it doesn’t feel any different for me when I put the schedule together
“The NCAA does allow you to have a second session, a walk-through that we call rehearsals … rehearsing the game, what we do on field. No pads, no helmets, basically a walk-through. Our basic practice schedule will have meetings in the morning, practice 10 to noon and then those rehearsals from 5 to 6 in the evening, then meetings at night. We’ll have Sundays off. We’ll alternate padded or not padded throughout the month. It’ll be pretty consistent once you get through the acclimatization period. We’ll be in pads and scrimmage most of time Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, but that will not always be the case. We have a capability to change that, too.”
SOME PERSONNEL CHATTER
Coach Garrett had hoped earlier that he would have a squad of 90 players for the start of preseason camp, but last week, he said, “We’ll be a little bit shy of that, 87 or 88 available. But that’s plenty of guys and is contingent on injuries and availability.”
I asked him about the status of offensive junior lineman Kevin Zataveski, who has been a starter his first two seasons. “He has been ruled ineligible for an NCAA rule violation,” Garrett said. “He is not going to be able to play but he will be able to practice. I don’t want to get any more specific than that.” Zataveski was expected to be a steadying influence on the o-line.
I wrote in a blog last month that defensive back Kaizer Butler had been cleared by a doctor [from his home state of California] after a long bout with granulomatosis with polyangiitis. Garrett said that Butler, who missed all of last season, “has doctors here that he has to see in order to be cleared, but he’s progressing remarkably well … to the point where he is continuing to make progress to be eligible to play and cleared to play. The only people that clear our players are our doctors and trainer.”
Garrett also said that players who were injured and could not participate in spring practice “have recovered or are close to being cleared, no real concerns.” Perhaps the most questionable at this very time is incoming freshman offensive lineman John Burk, who broke an ankle while participating in high school track as a shotputter. After a throw in the state meet, he came down awkwardly on the metal lip around the shotput ring. Garrett said it was a clean break and that Burk is in a boot and has had no complications from the surgery.
And at the end of our talk, I asked coach Garrett about the one thing that has been a long time coming: a two-deep chart after spring practice and heading into preseason camp.
“We’ll be able to provide you one,” he said. “We’re finalizing it. None of it is etched in stone. Obviously, training camp is a critical part of the evaluation of setting the starting 11, particularly in some of these positions like quarterback. We’ll just list them all the way across. It’s completely wide open there. We might just list them alphabetically or something like that. Some of the other [positions] that have more veteran players that are a little more established, we’ll just make notes on them as to how they are listed. The offensive line is so young that all these positions are still open.” And about team captains, he said, “We’ll vote during camp for the captains and they will be announced prior to the season, probably halfway through [camp]. We’ll be able to provide this pretty soon. There have also been some number changes as well with some of the requests of guys coming in, so we have to make sure that’s all accurate before it gets out to the public. It’ll be soon.”