Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Let's Begin

TigerBlog was walking out of the building yesterday when he noticed spring football practice going on on the FieldTurf fields adjacent to Princeton Stadium.

TB glanced over for a few seconds before heading over to the lacrosse game against Rutgers. As he watched warmups for the lacrosse game, he started thinking about Princeton's new coaches and how their jobs are radically different.

For instance, Megan Bradley, the first-year women's tennis coach, oversees a roster of seven players. Sam Shweisky has the men's volleyball team in second place in the EIVA, which is an extraordinary accomplishment considering the road block that is Penn State.

The job of men's lacrosse Chris Bates is a difficult one, taking over for a Hall-of-Fame coach when Bill Tierney left for Denver. It's not hard just because of how successful Tierney was; it's also difficult taking over for someone who has overseen every aspect of a program for better than two decades.

TB is talking about simple stuff here, like the team photo for instance. Tierney's policy for the team photo was to have players only, with no coaches or support staff or anyone. Bates' policy? TB had no idea.

As for the Tigers on the field, well, there haven't been too many radical lineup changes. About the biggest has been the move of Paul Barnes from being the face-off specialist to a regular second midfielder. The other major changes have involved fusing the freshmen and sophomores into the lineup, something Tierney would have had to have done anyway.

TigerBlog was thinking about that while his mind went back to spring football practice.

In lacrosse, Jack McBride is going to be an attackman, Chad Wiedmaier is going to be a defensemen and Tyler Fiorito is going to be the goalie no matter who the coach is.

In football, it could be completely different.

TigerBlog tried to think of it from the standpoint of Bob Surace, Princeton's new football coach. Here you are, starting your first head coaching position. Where do you begin?

You have a roster of more than 100 players. Some are entrenched in their positions; others are trying to get on the field. Plus, the skill difference between being an offensive lineman and defensive lineman or fullback vs. linebacker isn't as great as it is in other sports.

In other words, the potential to move players all over the field is greater in football than it is in any other sport, at least in TigerBlog's opinion.

So what do you do? Take your 100 players and not care where they played before? Watch every minute of every game for the last two or three years to see what they can do, or start completely from scratch?

Do you move your quarterback to wide receiver? Your cornerback to tailback? Doesn't it have to be at least slightly intimidating, with the number of possibilities?

From his quick view of spring practice, TigerBlog saw associate head coach Steve Verbit, whose tenure at Princeton dates to when Ron Rogerson was the head coach. Verbit is now working for his fourth Princeton head coach, and he was a coach (on the defensive side) when Surace was Princeton's center in the late 1980s.

What must it look like to him? Or to E.J. Henderson, who was also on the staff last year?

You're set in a certain way of doing things, and now everything is changed. At least to the new members of the staff, they don't have any familiarity with how things used to work around here.

The spring practice weather has been perfect for Princeton, and the first set of practices under a new coaching staff are hugely important for coaches and players.

Even though it's mid-spring in terms of Princeton athletics, TigerBlog couldn't help but think ahead to the fall and next football season. Surace's first game comes up Sept. 18 at Lehigh; the home opener is one week later against Lafayette.

That opener is five months and four days away, which must seem like an eternity now to the Princeton coaches as they go through spring football.

To TigerBlog, it promises to be as intriguing as watching the other new coaches put their stamps on their program. Actually, it'll probably be more intriguing, given the nature of the sport.

In the meantime, it's back to spring, where five new head coaches - Bradley, Shweisky, Bates and rowing coaches Greg Hughes and Marty Crotty - are all in position for strong finishes to their first seasons in their new assignments.

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