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Patriot League Media Day: Andy Coen Can Finally Take A Deep Breath

(Photo Credit: Lehigh Athletics)

Despite the meetings with the other coaches beforehand, despite the bustling schedule of Media Day, where coaches are shunted around for two straight hours, fielding video spots, and reporter after reporter with digital recorders in hand, by the time I got to Lehigh head coach Andy Coen, any stress from the commotion was not evident anywhere when I talked to him.

Perhaps part of that came due to his incredible success over the past three seasons.

With a 31-6 record in the past three years, two Patriot League Championships, playoff wins against the CAA and Missouri Valley champs, and last year's 10-1 record, his three last years at Lehigh can be stacked up against anyone's in the country.

North Dakota State's Craig Bohl, who downed Lehigh on their way to their first FCS National Championship in 2010, went 37-7 over that time period.  The coach of the team they beat twice for the national championship, Sam Houston State's Willie Fritz, sports a 31-10 record over that period.

Heck, Alabama's Nick Saban led the Crimson Tide to a 35-5 record over 3 years.

A 30 win record over a 3 year period gives you peace of mind, even if last season ended waiting for an at-large playoff bid that never came.


"Our senior class went 31-6, but that's gone," he told me.  "A lot of the kids coming to camp haven't played.  Now, they want to play, and they're working at it, but that 31-6 record don't mean [anything] right now.  We've got to start it all over again.  That's the way everyone looked at it when we won 10, won 11 games, you've just got to keep going with what you're supposed to do."

While fans certainly have felt the bitterness of being left out of the playoffs with a 10-1 record, Andy has definitely moved on.

"I feel like we talked about it with the kids at the end of last season," he said.  "The reality is what it is.  It's not going to change, and - guess, what, guys, if you don't win the league next year, you're probably not going to make the playoffs either. You've got to win the league.  The kids will be hungry, they all know what happened."

Last season, with a senior class that included QB Michel Colvin, WR Ryan Spadola, DT Sajjad Chagani and LB Billy Boyko, the incoming squad had never tasted a defeat to Lafayette but did remember a tough, defining season.

2009 featured a squad that "was just finding ways to lose", according to coach Coen, losing all of their out-of-conference games and starting the season 2-7 before battling and winning their final two games, denying Lafayette a possible at-large playoff berth 27-21 in what was - surprisingly - one of the best Lehigh/Lafayette games I've seen.

"I think that year [2007] we were growing at the end," Andy said, looking back, "figuring things out, and how that season ended was a big impetus going into the next year.  Even that year, we had a chance to win the Patriot League championship in November."

This season's senior class, though, has known nothing but winning, more winning and success.  Will that have an impact?

"Nobody in the program has experienced anything but great success," he said.  "I hope it's why they came here.  The challenge would be if they took it for granted, and we haven't had that over the past couple of years.  I don't expect that to start now.  My expectations have never changed since I got here in 2006.  It's a program that should be competing for a championship every November."

This year is no exception, even though nobody knows who the quarterback will be when Lehigh lines up against Central Connecticut State on September 7th.

"I'll make a decision, along with [offensive coordinator] Dave Cecchini, at some point in time during training camp," he said of the quarterback situation.  "Our camp setup's a little different, we've got two full weeks of classes before we play CCSU.  Our camp mode would normally go up right to one school week right before we play the games, so you're kind of in camp mode the whole time, but kids will be taking classes.  The last time we had this type of schedule was 2007."

No matter who's going to start at QB, though, whether its senior QB Brandon Bialkowski, junior QB Gerard Poutier or junior QB Matt McHale, they'll have a lot of returning experience to lean on going into camp.

"I really like our offensive line," Coen said.  "They did a really nice job in the spring, and I think we have a chance to develop a good starting unit there, and add depth to that."

He also had good things to say about the senior captains as well

"Senior RB Keith Sherman and senior LB Nigel Muhammad have always been leadership guys," he said.  "They've done a great job in the community service program, been great in the community, they're great kids and great representatives.  They're also proven themselves to be good football players.  I'm really expecting Keith to do great things this year on the football field, and I think Nigel already has.  They're two of the captains, senior FS Tyler Ward and senior WR Lee Kurfis are the other two.  One thing we value in our program is leadership, and one of the premier leadership roles we can play on Lehigh's campus is to be the captain of the football team."

On defense, Nigel will be expected to bring some new faces up to speed quickly.

"I think the offense may, at this point, be a little bit ahead of the defense coming out of the spring.  We lost two starting corners (CB Gabe Johnson and CB Bryan Andrews), LB Billy Boyko, who's in training camp with the Raiders, three seniors on the defensive line who played the bulk of the time, DE Tom Bianchi, NG Sajjad Chagani, DE Anthony Verderame - they all played at a real high level.  I think we've got good players that will fill those roles, but they haven't played yet."

They're challenges, all right, but it's not something that head coach Andy Coen will stress over.  Thirty wins in three years will do that.

Notes: Lehigh football players will report to school on August 7th, and the first day of preseason camp starts on August 8th... Andy said that 30 kids reported to strength and conditioning over the summer, "which is good.  The bulk of the kids are on financial aid, which means they need to go home and work, but a lot of them make the effort to get back at least at some point in time to work out with the guys.  I'm pleased with that, and my strength coaches have said we've had tremendous numbers in the weight room, so it's been a really good offseason."

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