One aspect of the 2002 Cougar football team that has been greatly improved is the play of the special teams and this is due in part to Joe Robinson, the newest member of Coach Dimel's staff. Here is my interview of Coach Robinson, I hope that you enjoy it.
DD – Coach tell us a little about your background to get us started?
JR – I started in Louisiana in 1986 as an assistant coach at a small high school and in ‘87 became the head coach in my second year there. That is when I got the bug to do whatever I had to do to get into college coaching. I then went to Louisiana Tech in ‘89 as a graduate assistant defensive line coach. The guy that I worked for took an assignment at Arkansas and I was able to step right up into his position that I held through ‘91. Southern Mississippi was the next stop on my list and I was there for seven years. Right before joining Coach Dimel's staff, I was a running back coach again at Louisiana Tech for a year, then Dana called and here I am. I enjoy the special team aspect of the game and have a real passion for it. My wife and I have family here, this is where we really wanted to be both professionally and personally.
DD – Tell us about those seven years at our C-USA rival Southern Miss?
JR – Jeff Bower's first season there was in ‘91, he got that job with them coming off a bowl team that Curly Hall had prior to his leaving for LSU. The first season Southern Miss went 4-7, when I arrived in '92 we went 7-4 and had a pretty good season. Jeff was transforming Southern Miss into his program and in '93 they were building to join C-USA in '94. The program was in pretty fair shape when he arrived, but he had to go through a process of putting his stamp on the program.
DD – It appears that they have a similar problem in common with UH, in that, Ole Miss and Mississippi State duck them, right?
JR – Yeah, Ole Miss and Mississippi State simply won't play them at all. At least here we used to play UT and Texas A&M, whereas there it is just not going to happen. Southern Miss has tried every avenue including politically, but it hasn't happened and probably won't happen for a very long time. It is a power struggle, obviously they do not want to give Southern Miss the opportunity to share and headlines with them. Ole Miss and Mississippi State say ‘why should we play another tough in-state team when we are trying to get our teams ready to play a SEC schedule' and Southern Miss counters that they are just afraid to play them. It just depends which side that you are on as to this.
DD – Tell us more about Bower's program there.
JR – The staff's continuity has been a big factor there. We had a losing season in '93 and another in '92, in '94 and '95 we went 6-5 each season and believe me, you couldn't help but hear all the negative talk going on around there. They have stuck with Jeff, a guy that many have believed in through those trying times and it has paid off, their program is pretty consistent. They ran off a string of four consecutive bowl games and although they didn't have the season they wanted last year, they are always knocking around the Top 25. Had they bailed out after the first 3-4 years, they would have started all over again. Consistency in a staff is one thing that recruits and their families look for and it leads to having a solid program. Look at Virginia Tech, Beamer had a rough start, but they stuck with him and now they are looking pretty strong. Unfortunately, we live in a microwave society and everyone wants success in the next ten minutes, but that's not reality. We still have to deal with it, but a program does not develop over night and there are examples all over the country like Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Southern Miss and many more. I think that Coach Dimel has done a wonderful job and has started to develop a real program here. The relationships take time to develop within the program and on the outside with the fans, high school coaches and recruits. Consistency just can't be valued enough, it is the key to being successful over the long term. I understand the frustrations, they are not going to just disappear, we all need to see improvement on the field.
DD – How was UH perceived at Southern Miss?
JR – We always felt that Houston could be and should be a power in C-USA. The recruiting base here is the best in the conference and the facilities are either the best or as good as any in the conference as well. The '96 season confirmed our feelings as Houston took the conference championship from us.
DD – Let's talk about special teams. This is an area that I think most will agree is vastly improved over the last couple of seasons, how did you do it?
JR – Well, when you bring somebody in to focus on one thing like the special teams, you should see real improvement. A lot of programs have another position coach also working special teams, but there is a movement towards doing it the way we are doing it here. Special teams often become an afterthought for a position coach, his second assignment, but the NFL has shown everyone the importance of having a coach who is solely concerned with this aspect of the game. From a scheme, strategy and preparation standpoint, it gives a team a huge advantage over one that does not do it this way. It is my passion, it is all I'm concerned with other than recruiting. Defensive line or defensive back coaches are doing it on a lot of staffs because it is assigned to them. Jeff Bower went this direction in '96 and now you are starting to see it a lot more, we have 4-5 in our conference now. It allows for more organization and passion in an area that can really change the outcome of the game. Believe it or not, this team, the entire team, is the hardest working team that I've ever been around. The players spend more time in preparation than I've ever seen. We never had a team at Southern Miss that worked this hard. The one area that I can see that we need to pay more attention to is our concentration and attention in team meetings and our film sessions. We are now working hard on really improving through our film work. We are fine tuning in areas like this now because Coach Dimel has helped us work through the big hurdles, we are going in the right direction. I love being here and coaching this team, they have bought into what we are doing here and it is going to show very soon.
DD – Let's talk about the pluses or minuses of using starters on the special teams.
JR – Every team has starters who feel like they should not be playing on the special teams and every team have starters asking to play on special teams. Justin Davis and Jon Clark are examples of starters who want to be on special teams and they were doing a fantastic job before their injuries. Other players who have stood out would be Anthony Evans, Reggie Medlock and Corbin Mozisek. Anthony Evans has done an unbelievable job on our punt protection team as our ‘searchlight', he is the quarterback of that team, he is as good a ‘searchlight' as I've ever been around. We all would rather not have any starters out there and that is where we are headed. We actually had players come to Southern Miss to be a part of our special teams because they saw the opportunities there, it is a way to get on the team plane as well. Against Army we had 38 special team plays, the minutes can add up for these guys. We have the ‘Wild Coog Club' for our guys as a motivational tool and reward for those who excel, a lot of the time these guys do not get the recognition that a starter might get.
DD – Tell us about a little about recruiting?
JR – I have the Texas Junior Colleges, which I've been recruiting for quite a while now and a small area of northeast Texas for high schools. I've had a lot of success over the years in the Texas Jucos and I really like recruiting them. The best juco scenario is to get a player who has three years to play two and redshirt him the first year. In the real world, a lot of the time, you are looking for immediate improvement at a position, but these guys are making a transition as well. The offensive line is the most difficult position for a juco to come in and make an impact, so a redshirt year there is a big advantage, as is getting any juco in at mid-term.
DD – Do you enjoy the grind of recruiting?
JR – Recruiting is a primary function of any college coach, it can not be secondary. Right before a game, obviously, you attention is on preparation for winning that game, but it is a daily task. I really enjoy it, you have to do it everyday.
DD – Well, we have five more games, what do you think of our chances?
JR – As far as the special teams are concerned I see opportunities, I see us getting better each week. If we execute on special teams for four quarters, I do not see any reason why we shouldn't do well in all five games. If we win the special teams game, kick-offs, field goals and field position, we should fare very well in these last five games. If we set the offense and defense up in positive field position, there is no reason why we should not go out a dominate in these games. For example, against Army they kicked-off to us seven times and our average field position was the 38-yard line, we kicked to them nine times and their average field position was the 24-yard line. If we gain 14 yards each time the ball changes hands, well, you have to like our chances. I'm excited, my guys are excited and we are feeling very good about our chances.
DD – How does the staff as a whole feel?
JR – First, let me say, that this is the best group of guys that I've ever worked with and I'm not just saying that because I'm here. The comraderie here is the best that I've ever witnessed or been a part of on any football staff. We all want to win and are working very hard to get this program where it needs to be. Yes, we all feel good about the remainder of the season.
Coach, I want to thank you for your time today and your commitment to our team. Good luck in Memphis.
Eat ‘Em Up!