March 23, 2000
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Vic Koenning officially begins his coaching era at the University ofWyoming with a spring training that will be important for installing a newoffense and some subtitles on defense.
But it will be important for another reason, according to Wyoming'sformer defensive coordinator who is the program's 29th head coach.
"To me the number one focus for this spring will not be about 'x'sand o's" as much as it will be about removing barriers," Koenning said. "Weall do this, but we have many players who have self-placed barriers.Barriers that 'I'm too young', or 'he's better than me', or 'I can't getthis done'. I'm talking both athletically and academically.
"We are going to take steps forward everyday. They may not be big,there may not be many of them, but we are going to work hard to avoid goingbackwards. If we can reduce the barriers you we take steps forward. Believeme the programs we are opening up against (Auburn and Texas A&M) don't havemany barriers."
Koenning welcomes back 37 lettermen from last year's team thatfinished 7-4 overall, and 4-3 in Mountain West play. Among that group arefive returning starters on each side of the football, plus the place kickerand punter from last year. There are 17 lettermen returning on the offensiveside, and 18 returning defensively, plus the two special-teamers.
Without question there is a positive continuity factor involved withKoenning since he had been in the program for three season prior to takingover the head job. Everyone knew what to expect.
"There will be enough change that they will know there is a new headcoach," he said. "Changes in such things as organization, the tempo ofpractice and an increase in enthusiasm on the offensive side will benoticeable. But they all know me. They all know that as long as they workhard things will be fine. Great effort is the only thing that will beaccepted. There's only one grade for effort and that's a '10'. That has tobecome a habit.
"I thought everyone got on the same page during winter conditioning.The defensive guys were used to me, and the offensive guys picked it up. Ithought together they all went to another level. It was fun to watch thempush to a point they had not been."
Wyoming's spring training will feature the usualspringtime rituals. . .installation of offensive and defensive schemes,some position adjustments, and the winning of jobs.
"We have to take care of all of those things," Koenning says. Weare installing a new offense, an offense I think will be easy to adjust to,and one they are going to like. There will be a little tweaking defensively,but not much. We are going to work on becoming much more consistent in thespecial teams area.
"We have stressed to the squad that there are probably just a coupleof jobs that aren't up for grabs. I think Jay Stoner will be ourquarterback, and I have a good idea that Jeff Boyle will be our nose guard.Now there are some guys with the upper hand at some positions, but I wantthem all to know that they are going to have to compete. That is thefairest way, and I think they all appreciate that.
"Because we have so many quality players coming to our program inthe fall, we will not get a totally accurate picture of what we are allabout until then. While spring training is very important, I believe ourpreseason camp will be more so because we will have all of our guys."
Koenning indicated that four Cowboys, all who have undergone varioussurgeries will be held out of spring drills. . .Boyle, defensive end PatHirsch, safety Al Rich and offensive lineman Brian Johnson.
The new head coach definitely has his goals set for this team, goalsthat will be focused upon during spring training.
"We want to improve dramatically on special teams. Make themspecial. We want to be much more balanced offensively, as well as morefield-position oriented. To create the balance and be more consistentoffensively we must do a better job of protecting our quarterbacks. Don'tplace the defense in as many negative positions. We want to reduce thenumber of negative plays, and not allow offenses to make as many big playsagainst our defense."
Koenning indicated his biggest concerns heading into spring revolvearound receivers. Last season's entire starting receiver corps hasdeparted. Only sophomore Brock Ralph offers any starting experience to thegroup. As a matter of fact the leading returning receiver is not a receiverat all, but running back Cliff Brye. "Our goal during the spring is to findreceivers who will catch the ball and stretch a defense. We must be ableto run the ball to help our receivers, and with our running backs thatshould be very possible. This is a very critical spring for the receivingcorps."
That receiver concern also spills over to the tight end position.Obviously the Cowboys did not utilize a tight end in last year's"triple-shoot" offense so Koenning and his staff are recreating theposition. "This is a position very much in the air," the head coach said."We have moved Arlen Smith (senior with two letters) from running back totight end and we'll see how he reacts. We also like Casey Adams (redshirtfreshman), and will take a good hard look at him this spring. Like thereceiver corps, this position will be a major focus during spring training."
The secondary also will be a place of interest for Koenning and hisstaff. But there won't be any finality to the area when spring is completedbecause at least six new players penciled for the four positions will notjoin the program until the fall.
While the running back position is a strength, fullback will receivespecial attention. Talent is there but it's untested. Darth Tesinsky headsinto spring training as the number one guy. He came to Wyoming as afullback was moved to linebacker and is now back to his original position.Junior Marcus Ford is the backup, and he comes over from the defensive sidewhere he was a middle linebacker. Koenning will watch with interest to seehow this position develops.
The strengths for the Cowboys include quarterback, running back, thedefensive front, and the offensive tackle position. While he cautions thattheir jobs are not assured, the two kickers, Aaron Elling (placements) andTom Waring (punter) are both senior veterans and should be a strength.
At quarterback, Jay Stoner should be the best in the Mountain West.A four-year starter, he will finish his career with a bucket-full of recordsand the knowledge that he has excelled in three different offenses as aCowboy. He is a coach on the field who, with better protection (the Cowboysgave up 47 sacks last year), should have a banner senior finale.
At running back sophomore Cliff Brye, the team's leading returningrusher and receiver, and redshirt junior Nate Scott are "difference-makers"according to Koenning. Brye didn't even start until the sixth game of lastseason yet finished with 451 yards and four touchdowns.
While there is some inexperience in the offensive line, the twoprojected starting tackles--Rob Kellerman at left tackle and Adam Goldbergat right tackle--could be the best pair in the league and they are onlysophomores. Koenning believes that Kellerman may be the best in the leaguealready. Another sophomore, Mike Irvin at center, will be good for a longtime. The Cowboys will have to come out of spring ball with two new guards.That will be an offensive line area of focus.
Although two projected starters will sit out this spring--Jeff Boyleand Pat Hirsch--the defensive front is a team strength. Not only are thosetwo veteran players they are as good as any at their respective nose guardand end positions. Boyle is an All-American candidate. The "bandit"position also is a strength with the return of sack-leader PatrickChukwurah. He should have a sensational senior year. As Koenning said,offenses will have to identify where Chukwurah is on every down.
Although the Cowboys lost starting middle linebacker Jared Jarnaginto graduation and weak-side linebacker Cortney Barnes--a big play guy--asan academic casualty, the linebacking corps has loads of experience, andshould be solid. Adrian Hill should have an outstanding season on thestrong side and there are two proven veterans in the middle who havestarting experience in Kwabena Peprah and Herman White. On the weak-sideboth Leo Caires and Matt Klotz played lots of football last year. Caireswill be a senior and Klotz a junior.
The Cowboys' spring game is set for April 15. Fall drills will beginon Aug. 8, with Media Day Aug. 11.