Rutgers Head Coach Chris Ash had his first game week press conference for a home game yesterday. Many were anxious to hear how he would respond following the shellacking the team took on Saturday out in Seattle against the #14 Washington Huskies. As usual, Ash did not disappoint.
Ash began by discussing the first home game, and how important the game-day situation is for home games. He jumped right to the importance of the product on the field. He mentioned that while the staff has worked to improve game day, nothing was more important than a quality team.
The method for announcing injuries was shared as well. Unless there is an injury that will keep a player from the field for a lengthy period of time, injuries will not be announced. That is a change from the previous regime, where an injury list was put out each week. While it is better for the team’s preparation against their upcoming opponent by not tipping their hand, so to speak, it is obvious less information for the fans regarding who is able to play in the coming game.
Howard gives the staff and team “an opportunity to show that we are improving, we are going to go out and compete and show that we came back from last Saturday[‘s loss to Washington] and worked on the things we need to work on to get better.”
He addressed the obvious look of a mismatch, where a game like Howard is a “tune-up” that can be overlooked. Coach Ash assured that would “not be the case…every game will be approached the same by the staff.”
An interesting question was asked- What have the past 48 hours (following the loss in Seattle) been like for you? “Whenever you go through a win or a loss, you have to go back and evaluate what helped contribute to the victory, or what helped contribute to the loss, and that exactly what we do every week, it doesn’t matter who we play, where we play or what the outcome was. We’re going to go back and evaluate the ‘goods’ and the ‘bads’, discuss them as a staff, discuss them with the players, and put together our plan for moving forward.”
This as much as anything, in my mind, demonstrates the mind of the coach. He doesn’t express highs or lows. During the game, when something goes right or wrong, he is focused and on task. This is quite a difference from his predecessor, who was very emotional and energetic on the sidelines during the games.
What did Ash see as positives from the defense in the loss to Washington? “Statistically, we were a lot better than we were in the first quarter…we did a nice job of stopping the run…of adjusting to the speed of the game...defending the deep balls. I thought we tackled well, I thought our effort and our pursuit in running to the ball was outstanding. We were caught off guard by just how fast Washington was…just the speed of the game caught some of our guys offguard…I was much more encouraged by what I saw watching film than what the score would indicate, or what you felt standing on the sidelines watching the game.”
It was obvious listening to the press conference that attitude and effort was equal if not more important than the score to the coaching staff. As he put it, “There was no quit, and I was really encouraged by the way we continued to go out. We got better, our fundamentals got better, our execution got better, our effort remained high and everybody was ‘into’ the game and being coached on the sidelines. We were able to make adjustments to certain things we had not necessarily practiced or seen. Again, that’s a sign of a team that’s mature and that wants to be coached and do well.”
Those are signs of a coaching staff that looks at the long term progression, not lurching from week to week, attempting quick fixes. This is not only a mature team, but despite the relatively young age of the staff, this is a mature staff as well.
Ash left a door open for changes in the starting lineups continuing as the season progresses. He was clear that just because a player starts one game does not mean that player is a lock for the season. Competition, whether against a teammate, or against oneself is important. However, he did not see changes coming for the game this Saturday.
Ahmir Mitchell’s transfer from Michigan was discussed. Ash made it clear that he had carefully vetted Ahmir, and is comfortable with him coming to Rutgers. Ash had previously worked with his family, and actually had recruited his older brother to Arkansas, and knows the home situation. Some of Mitchell’s plusses were discussed as well.
When a reporter attempted to suggest that losing a game by a wide margin was a new experience for Ash, coming as he did from Ohio State, the reporter was interrupted before even finishing the question. Ash stated very clearly that in his 20 years in the game he has faced big wins as well as big losses, and knows how to do that. It was good to hear that it didn’t rattle him.
The entire press conference is shown below:
It is obvious this is a thinking coach that will continue to strive to improve, no matter how well they do or do not do on the field.
That’s all any of us can ask of the team and the coaching staff. While an incredibly disappointing opener for our new coaching staff, this was not something that rocked the staff or the team, and it was obvious they plan to keep working, and preparing for the next challenge. It is obvious that this staff does not hold onto the past week, whether a win or a loss. It is a “next man up” mentality, and we will see how effective it is in a schedule that faces five ranked opponents this season.