February 26, 2012

GBK EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with HC Rich Ellerson - Part II

As we continue with Part II of our Q&A with Head Coach Rich Ellerson, there is no doubt that this still remains a young football squad.

But make know mistake about it, this ball club belongs to the senior class, although it remains competitive from position to position. Quarterback Trent Steelman and other seniors know that there are some things that they have to do and aren't patting themselves on the back.

Yes, when the season, this will be Steelman's team, this will be captain and defensive end Jarrett Mackey's team and on that offensive line, it must be Frank Allen's team,

And if by chance it's not Mackey's, Steelman's and Allen's team yet, it's going in that direction.

GBK finishes off it two part series with Ellerson, who discusses the 2012 offense, his thoughts on Steelman and more.

GBK: You go into this season with plenty of offensive experience and firepower. Does that allow for you to do more as a coaching staff with this group and if so, how so?


I think there is some firepower out there, but I think what we need to do is just enough to take advantage, to challenge defenses appropriately and stretch defenses appropriately. We don't need to more, but frankly we need to do just enough and allow guys to play in their comfort zone. I want guys to be unconsciously competent. That's what I think had the ball on ground last year. I don't want to give myself an out as a coach by thinking that some of those things will get better just we'll be healthier and we'll be a little bit older.

So we say okay, with that same football team ... we started three different guys at quarterback, we started three different guys at center, we started four freshmen at different times in the backfield ... all those things are rationale why the ball might be on the ground as much as it is. What I have said the players is, yes, that's all true but that's going to happen again and it may happen next year, it may happen in two years because we may go through one of those moments. But when it happens, how are we going to better, because the truth is if we are better ... if we're just average we probably win 6 or 7 games. So how do we prepare for that, how do we use that painful experience we just had and take that forward.

I don't want to get off on some tangent to try to do all this stuff because everybody knows their assignments. It's more than that; When you are doing what we are doing with the football you have to be unconsciously competent. There's a difference between doable and playable. And we are getting the point where some of those things we've been doing, we've doing them but we haven't been playing it.

We aren't necessarily assignment wrong, where our assignments are right and we are trying hard but we are still not quite playing. But now we are starting to have enough guys ... they are still going to be a young outfit and we are still going to have more sophomores than seniors. However, we'll have enough guys who have been around the block enough times that we can play.

I'm looking for ways frankly to just do enough. Now there's some things we didn't do that we need to challenge defenses, i.e., throw the ball. But when we throw the ball, we need to throw the ball with a real impact ... it needs to make an impact, it needs to challenge run support, it needs to challenge run rotation, it needs to do the things that compliment that option part of our
offense the most efficiently and effectively as we can.

Again, you just don't throw the ball to throw, but you throw it with a purpose. You throw the ball to challenge your opponent. You challenge your opponent to defend that pass and the option on the same play.

However, we just can't add more, but we have to take something off, so we are looking for ways to simplify it and still stretch out opponent more effectively.

But once you it right, now you have to find ways to leverage it. So we are going to do that more and to do it more, to do it against more looks and more offenses, more varied personnel settings ... we have to be a little bit creative with some of the counts and blocks. We want to leverage that ability to play, where we are doing that in our sleep now. We're not trying to be right, we're not trying not screw up, we can do that in our sleep .... we can rip your heart out and that's what I think you will see.

And that's an offense that looks like it is operating, where it looks like a machine. From a defensive perspective, they're only going to do one of few things and all of them require something different from me and if I'm wrong, they will kill us.

And it's not many things, but they compliment one another and we are really good at it. And if you do everything right, the guy that's touching the ball may make you wrong ... he'll just whip your ass. There's a little bit of that in there too. It's not all x's & o's game, there' where we get to that point where we have better guys than you do.

We'd be happy with a fair fight, but there's a day coming and we are going to walk out there and it ain't a fair fight .... we're better than you.

GBK: This is Trent Steelman's 4th year at the helm. Can you share a little about how your relationship with Trent has evolved over these past several years.

Ellerson: {gentle chuckle} Trent's got a ... actually I would say that Trent is very representative of his class. You know those guys that were all together down at the prep school when we rolled in here. The were an extraordinarily close group and had been successful at the prep school. They've got some thorns, they got some rough edges those guys and they've chosen to embrace this message, this direction. But it wasn't obvious to them, maybe it wasn't all universal at the outset. Some of them came to that and embraced that culture easier than others. Certainly they are going to put their own voice to it and put their own personality on it. They personality is that they are a rough tough bunch, they really are.

I said that about Trent since we met. You can argue about his foot speed, you can argue about arm strength and accuracy, but you can't argue about his toughness, you can't argue about his competitiveness. Those attributes are in place, have been in place and now he has learned because he's had to because he was thrown into that unenviable position. And that is to play at West Point as a plebe, where you are in front of the huddle, the balls in your hands. So he has learned how his voice will resonate, how his personality is consistent with that leadership model because everyone's got to find their own way. You can't be somebody else, you have to be yourself.

But he is obviously comfortable in the huddle, he's obviously comfortable with the ball in his hands, he can operate within our system and he can do all those things. But the thing that I said ... he's a known entity and he's an open book. As I said, there's some rough edges to that book, but that's who he is.

You don't have to want to go on a double date with him, to respect him, to like him and if you were picking teams, you would still pick him early.

And what I think is nice about how he's evolved in this thing. He's had some great days and he's had some really hard days. He's had some wins and really tough loses ... he's had some days when everything went his way and he's had days where he's been constantly hurt and set back. But in all that, he's managed to use and leverage the Army football experience which is team building and leadership laboratory is working for him. He's getting the most out of it.

GBK: Thus far, you have been fortunate to have kept your staff intact during your tenure at West Point ... although we all know the landscape of college football would suggest that the odds are against that remaining for too much longer. Can you talk about your staff in general and is there one moment in particular that you can look back on and say that you are excited to have had the opportunity to shared that with this specific group of coaches?

Ellerson: Wow, I don't know. Well obviously we've talked before how special and idea that we could get to a place like the Armed Forces Bowl (2010) and win. That moment validated a lot of the things we're doing and I think for some of the guys that have been with me for awhile that algorithm that we brought with us and adjusted to West Point can work. Now we got our nose bloody this year, so don't get ahead of yourself but that was a great moment and you love sharing it with some people that you've been with for awhile.

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