Thursday, August 04, 2011

Patriot League Media Day 2011, Part Two: Coen's Very Different Offseason

On Friday, November 20th, 2009, Lehigh head football coach Andy Coen appeared to be playing for his job, following a 3-7 season going into the big game against Lafayette.

His Lehigh team would win that game, 27-21 in overtime.

Back then, Coen was in a polar opposite place as to where he is today.

Strangely enough, that same guy that seemed to be at the edge of losing his job in 2009 didn't seem too different than the coach I saw and interviewed at Media Day this week.

Coach Coen's offseason couldn't have been more different than the others - but the guy coaching the team, refreshingly, isn't different at all. (more)

"When I started, we were at a point where we lost four in a row to Lafayette when I first got here," Coen told me.  "It's a lot of hard work, a great coaching staff, a great bunch of kids that have really bought into what we do, who love to play football, love to compete, and love to work hard at it.  That's the difference."

Of course, last year's season didn't end with "The Rivalry" at the end of the year.

For the first time since 2003, the Mountain Hawks played postseason football, travelling out to Northern Iowa in the first round in the playoffs and beating the Panthers, 14-7, before falling at Delaware 42-20.

"I look at it like this: We were a 10-3 team last year, and in those three games and in the three losses, we got beat pretty good," Coen said.  "The Delaware game has come up more in the sense that the guys are not happy about it.  They're competitors."

That losses to the defending FCS national champions (Villanova, 35-0), the FCS championship runner-up (Delaware) and a FCS championship quarterfinalist (New Hampshire, 35-10) are seen as disappointments shows exactly how high the bar has been set for this team this year.

And don't talk to coach Coen about the New Hampshire game last year, either.

"After that game, I was furious," he said.  "I was probably the most furious I've been at any loss, because we were in that game but we couldn't really push them, and in the end we just didn't."

The great hallmark of the 2010 edition of the Mountain Hawks was that they did learn from the New Hampshire loss, and after losing for a half at Harvard by three scores Lehigh found a way to come back and win the game 21-19.

"We learned from our mistakes and got better," Coen said.  "My hope now is that we don't have to learn them again.  There are so many kids back, and the experience is with them.  But the schedule's a challenge now.

"Monmouth was a lot like we were in '09 - losing so many close games.  Against Colgate, they missed a 2-point conversion [in overtime], or else they would have won.

"New Hampshire is picked, like, first, second or third in the CAA in every publication.  Liberty has got some great players, like senior QB Mike Brown, and they've got a defensive tackle that's 385 lbs.  We'll be playing two Top 20, if not two Top 15 teams in the first four weeks. We've got a lot of work to do."

Ceon told Michael LoRe of the Express-Times about the increased expectations as well:

"Our expectations for our program every year are high," coach Andy Coen said. "Last year, we met them by winning the league championship and winning a playoff game. It's nice to be in this situation than where we've been in the past. How the team handles the added expectations and playing with some prosperity remains to be seen."

And in the official release, Coen tells more about the mindset of the team in the face of the challening schedule ahead:

“Our guys came back for the second semester in January with a great attitude and mindset. I wanted to get on them about not being complacent with what we had accomplished already but they beat me to the punch. They weren’t happy with how the season ended at Delaware last year and those are the kind of kids you want.

"We have a veteran team coming back but we have a couple holes to fill. We made some strides in spring ball but we have a lot of work to do in training camp and our kids are excited to get to work.

Those "couple of holes" are some pretty gigantic ones, too. OL Will Rackley, who is busy earning a starting left guard spot on the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, is one.

And both bookend corners from last year, CB John 'Prez' Kennedy and CB Jarard 'Main Man' Cribbs, are two more won't be easy to replace. Between them last year alone, they were responsible for nine interceptions, 15 passes defensed - not to mention 794 all-purpose yards, including punt and kick returns.

"You never replace a guy like Rackley," Coen said. "You don't even try. There might be one like him in 25 years in this league. And [Cribbs and Kennedy], they played so many snaps. But we have guys that are working hard, and have played before.

"Also, if a freshman comes in here and he's good enough to play, he'll play. If we think through our evaluation early on in camp we'll accelerate kids if they're good enough, and give them reps if we think they're the guy. I've always been that way."

Plus ca change... plus c'est la meme chose. As offseasons change, Coen's straightforward style - refeshingly - remains the same.

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