It’s difficult enough for any coach to come into a new situation with a team.
For John Peterson, whom the University of Akron selected as its offensive line and assistant head coach in February, there was an additional challenge.
Peterson replaced Alan “Tank” Arrington, the youthful, exuberant coach who held the same position and was killed in a car accident in December.
Peterson has the credentials.
He played at Ohio State, where he also coached, and has experience coaching in the Mid-American Conference, including at UA from 1995-98.
However, his is a situation somewhat more complicated by circumstance.
“Obviously, there are a lot of heavy hearts and Coach Tank will always have a place in these players’ and staff’s hearts. He meant an awful lot to a lot of people,” Peterson said after Thursday morning’s spring practice.
Acknowledging that fact is key to easing into his new role on coach Terry Bowden’s staff.
“I’ve had coaches leave before, but obviously not like that. It’s been tough,” senior center Travis Switzer said. “I think one of the things we did was take away some of the things [Arrington] tried to teach us in his time here because he was so influential with his emotion and passion, and adopt them to what Coach Pete has taught us coming in.”
Were it not for the baritone voice, Peterson would be borderline soft-spoken. He talks, but doesn’t bellow.
Arrington would have never been accused of being soft-spoken. Switzer said that his new coach has handled the transition as best as possible.
“The styles aren’t as different as I’d expect, because off the field they’re very personable with all the players, learning about each one and really getting a feel from where all the players are coming from,” he said.
Peterson said he brings his own style to coaching.
“The key as with anything is coach within your personality,” he said. “I’m not a screamer or yeller. I think I’m more of a teacher and understanding that communication is the essence of teaching. That’s what I base my coaching on.”
He will need every advantage he has coming into his role on the coaching staff. Of the units hit by players moving on, the offensive line might have taken the biggest hit, losing three starters.
That is the second challenge.
Peterson arrived not knowing who is on the team now or much about their capabilities on the field. It doesn’t faze him in the least.
“I’ve seen the young men who have graduated and have futures playing at the next level and I drool a little bit,” he said, “but I’m happy for them and what they’ve been able to accomplish. But my whole goal is to develop the offensive line that’s here … I don’t try to look at the past as much as what the kids here are doing every day.”
Of particular importance to him: finding two linemen who can step in and fill the tackle spots.
“We have to push hard and it’s going to continue all through the summer also,” he said of competition at those positions.
It’s likely he’ll keep learning about all his players throughout the summer process, but he’s learned something about them since his arrival.
“The kids care. They care about each other,” Peterson said. “They care about working hard and being accountable. I think they understand the process of how hard it is to be at this level and they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do.”
The NCAA rid itself of an antiquated and questionable rule that’s been in place for years Tuesday when it announced that athletics departments could feed their student-athletes unlimited meals and snacks.
The rule has been a bone of contention for a while with some schools self-reporting violations of athletes eating extra pasta at meals. It’s no longer a worry.
It presents a double-edged sword for MAC schools, said Bowden, who is all for the change.
“Just because they tell us we can feed our guys whenever they need it, doesn’t mean we have the budget to feed them whenever they need it,” he said.
Bowden contends that it’s a change that further separates the NCAA’s haves from the have-nots. He might have a point. Programs like Ohio State could treat players to the likes of Columbus’ famous City Barbecue, but UA probably couldn’t afford to do the same with Swenson’s.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.