FORT WAYNE – This takes Kevin Donley back some, these formative days before the 35th season of his head coaching life. Actually it does more than that.
What it does, this change of focus to defense, is stuff the man in the Wayback Machine and fling him all the way back to 1978.
Disco had not yet taken a stake through the heart. Lapels with the wingspan of a 747 had not yet descended to the seventh circle of fashion hell. And Donley was 85 miles to the south, the alarmingly young head football coach at what was then called Anderson College.
Where he ran both the offense and defense.
I had one full-time guy, the wrestling coach, Donley said Thursday, two days before his No. 5 Saint Francis Cougars open their 16th season at No. 16 William Penn (1-0). He coached the line and I coached everything else. I called both offense and defense, and I was 26 years old.
So it’s kind of déjÀ vu.
DéjÀ vu or starting anew, or perhaps both. After 15 seasons as the Cougars’ only defensive coordinator, Warren Maloney now is the associate head coach at Olivet College. In his place are a pair of co-defensive coordinators – Joey Didier and Eric Wagoner, both of whom played for Donley a decade or so ago – with Donley as the final arbiter for a defense that last year gave up 18.6 points and 301.2 yards per game and surrendered 45 points in each of two losses to Marian.
Coach Donley’s taking the lead, said Didier, the coordinator in charge of inside linebackers, and coach Wagoner, coach Donley and myself work in a collaborative effort all week long to prepare so that Saturday isn’t just pulling things out of left field.
And if it’s something of a sea change for a man who built his reputation, and his Hall of Fame coaching career, on dazzling people with his offenses, it’s really not. As noted, he’s done this before. And his basic nature – go after people – hasn’t changed.
It’ll be an attacking defense, he said.
Though not, oddly enough, this week.
In William Penn, the Cougars face an offense – a physical, bust-you-in-the-mouth triple option – that’s as quaint as rotary phones in this day of the spread offense. And so the preparation has been markedly different, and the extra time to prepare because it’s the season opener has been a blessing.
It’s a huge advantage to play this first week, Didier said. If you would pick a time to play an offense different than everybody else, you’d want it to be the first game of the year. Triple-option football, you don’t see much of it. These guys pack it in, they want to slow the game down, shorten the game.
So this week, it’s all about who has dive, who has the quarterback, who has the pitch man, your basic option fundamentals.
As for this and every other week, the emphasis will be on speed. The Cougars have it on the back side and at linebacker in particular – Taylor Brown and Kory Stamps lead a fast, athletic secondary, and Kyle Mathewson, Cale Tabler, Devon Rush and Mike Brevard a deep linebacker corps – and plan to use it.
We’ve got more speed than anything, said Mathewson, who moves over from running back. It’s different than the defensive linemen in the past, with like big, stocky guys. This year everything’s speed, and I think it’s going to help us in the long run.
Donley hopes the same is true of his greater presence on the defensive side.
I’ve always had an involvement, he said. I’ve just got a little more involvement now. You know, the head coach’s job is to coach coaches. And we’ve got some good coaches. I’m in a position where I can push buttons when need be, and I’m very fortunate that way.