KENT: One of Paul Haynes’ biggest concerns heading into the preseason of his first year as a head coach isn’t what plays to run or even what players he has to run them.
Kent State’s new football coach is most concerned about his team’s attitude. With an emphasis on team chemistry, Haynes has dubbed this season’s motto to be: “How Do We Respond To Success?” — a mantra he and his assistants will repeat over and over during camp.
“Right now, to me, we’ve got a long way to go,” Haynes said as his Golden Flashes prepare to begin preseason camp Friday. “These guys had great success last year. Now, what’s the followup? When you have a new head coach and staff after you’ve had a bunch of success, a lot of players are like, ‘well, we didn’t do that, we didn’t do this.’ ”
But taking over for Darrell Hazell, who left for Purdue in December after leading the Flashes to their first bowl game in 40 years, Haynes knows it can be just as difficult to lead a team that has tasted a little success as it is one that has been starved as long as KSU was prior to last season’s stunning 11-3 season.
“You talk to anyone who’s won championships or been in championship games — like [Alabama] coach [Nick] Saban, [Michigan State] coach [Mark] Dantonio and [former Ohio State] coach [Jim] Tress[el] — and they always say, ‘it’s not the first one that’s so hard, it’s the second one and the third one and the fourth one that’s harder.’ ”
Like Hazell, Haynes cut his coaching teeth as an assistant and disciple of Tressel for seven years before moving on as defensive coordinator at Arkansas.
So, he knows firsthand that one winning season doesn’t guarantee equal success for the Flashes.
“Your mentality and your attitude has to change,” Haynes said. “If you want to stay the same, you’re going to lose. So far, I don’t know if [the players] have totally bought into that. I would say the majority of the team have, but we need everybody to believe and truly understand how difficult this season’s going to be because of last year’s success.”
That’s why Haynes’ biggest concern following the completion of spring camp was his team’s chemistry.
“It doesn’t matter what plays we run and it doesn’t matter what we call if we truly don’t have a genuine love for one another, for every person on the team,” he said. “If we don’t have it, we aren’t going to win games. So, to me, it’s all about team chemistry and guys giving up for each other. That’s the main thing. All the little individual stuff — fundamentals and technique — we’ll clean up.”
It’s not that different of a concept than the one Hazell employed.
“Understand, winning cures all, so [team chemistry] was at an all-time high,” Haynes said. “If you would have asked Coach Hazell about it in year one, he probably would have felt different about it than he did last year. So, to me, that’s a misconception because it’s always all good when you’re winning. But what’s truly going on behind the scenes? No one really knows.”
Once practice starts this morning, plenty of focus will be put on the players. The Flashes will have a new quarterback, need to replace left tackle Brian Winters (who was drafted by the New York Jets) and will seek much-needed depth at linebacker.
But a lot of attention will be focused on running back Dri Archer, whose 23 touchdowns last season surpassed the Flashes’ previous single-season record of 18 and who also became the first player in the program’s history to reach 2,500 all-purpose yards in a single season.
KSU officially kicked off its “Dri4Heisman” campaign Wednesday. The dynamic Archer is the nation’s leading returning rusher in yards per carry (nine) and kick return average (36.9) and is the Flashes’ top returning receiving.
Fans can visit Archer’s Dri4Heisman.com website, and @Dri4Heisman Twitter page, a Facebook page and a digital comic strip dubbed The Archer, illustrated by Akron resident Chuck Ayers of Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean fame.
Haynes, a former KSU defensive back, heard plenty about the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Archer from his KSU connections last year while he was coaching at Arkansas.
“They were always talking about Dri, about what a special player he is,” Haynes said. “Because of his small size and speed, they compared him to Pat Young (1986-90), our quarterback from when we played.”
Retaining Archer’s services for his senior season became Haynes’ first order of business when he took over for Hazell, as Archer considered declaring early for the NFL Draft. Haynes and many others helped to convince Archer to stay for his final season.
Having a playmaker like Archer makes a big difference for the Flashes, but it’s still going to take the proper team attitude honed throughout preseason camp if the Flashes are to continue their winning ways.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.