University of Akron football coach Tom Arth pronounced himself at peace ahead of his debut helming the team against Illinois on Saturday in Champaign, Illinois.

Why shouldn’t he be? It’s not his first go around as a head coach, having worked his way up the ranks from Div. III John Carroll in suburban Cleveland to University of Tennessee-Chattanooga for a two-season stint.

Still, he’s been tasked with injecting tradition and excitement into a program that struggled last year under former coach Terry Bowden.

“I really am [at peace],” Arth said in his first game week news conference Tuesday. “I feel really confident in what we’ve done these past eight months in really building the foundation of our program. I feel confident in our preparation and I’m really at peace right now.”

What accounts for that confidence that’s eased his mind?

“My confidence really goes back to our players — the effort they’ve put in and the way they’ve prepared,” he said, “the discipline that they’ve showed and just everything that they’ve done since the time that we’ve met them in January really gives me a lot to be confident about. They have exceeded my expectations in just about every way imaginable and I hope we exceed the expectations that people have for us as a team this year.”

Arth admitted the season and Illinois have kind of crept up on him given everything he and his staff have had to do in starting their program, not allowing him to stop and take it all in.

“Honestly, it’s come on me so fast I haven’t really had a chance to reflect on it. It’s been a little bit more reactive. You're kind of just getting yourself right back into that swing of a game week or an in-season schedule and in-season mode and it’s exciting because we all love the process of preparation. We all love getting out there and practicing every day and working on our craft, but at the end of the day, you play this game for those Saturdays.”

Leading the way

A huge question that has hung around this version of the UA football team is who will call the offense? Talk to Arth more and more and it’s easy to understand he prefers collaboration and that includes in-game decisions.

“It’s really a team effort in everything that we do,” he said. “There will be times that we come together and we’re making decisions on what play to run based on what gives us the best opportunity to be successful.”

There are no egos involved. Arth said he, offensive coordinator-offensive line coach Tommy Zagorski and passing game coordinator Bryan Gasser will make those decisions collectively.

“Really, [it’s] far less important who’s calling it,” he said, “and more important the mindset of putting our players in the best position to be successful. And that all starts with our quarterback — making sure he’s confident in the plays, confident in what’s coming in that he can go out and execute it and that those plays are designed to get our best players the ball.”

Bolstered defense?

The constant refrain from the offseason was that the defense took a significant hit by losing eight starters from last year, including every member of the secondary except defensive back Alvin Davis. Arth said he feels better about that unit after camp, adding the defensive line has made strides and the linebacking corps, with the addition of Demetrick Watts II, a transfer from Humboldt State, is better.

“I feel better about our depth at defensive back. We were able to sign a number of freshmen that have contributed at a really high level for us through fall camp and who we expect to contribute for us on Saturday, whether it’s on special teams or defensively. We expect that group to be strong for us."

A switch?

Look at the UA depth chart, and there’s a significant move. Davis, who was selected preseason All-MAC, is listed at cornerback. He’s played safety for his UA career. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him moved around like a defensive chess piece.

“Alvin can play anywhere,” Arth said. “He can be a starting corner for us. He can be a starting safety. He can play in the slot. He can do it all. So, I think for us to be as good as we can be, Alvin is going to have to play in multiple roles for us this season."

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.