Q&A with ULM Football Head Coach Todd Berry
ULM football head coach Todd Berry sat down with director of media relations Adam Prendergast and ulmwarhawks.com to answer some pressing questions about the Warhawk football team.
How is your coaching staff starting to mold and joining together as one unit?
I am so excited about the staff for multiple reasons. First, I knew all of these coaches individually and I knew what kind of men and coaches they were. However, you never know exactly how a group is going to assimilate when you get them together. There is some bonding that goes on when you are working all hours of the day and night towards a common goal. One of the greatest things that came out of the recruiting process was during the exit interviews with both the parents and the young people. The comments I received, especially from the parents, about how it seemed the coaches had known each other forever, even though they had only been together for about three weeks were refreshing.
If you put a lot of good people in the same room together, good things are going to happen. You watch these coaches work with our young men in the morning workouts and you can see that they are earning the players respect. This group knows what they are talking about and I couldn't be happier with that.
One of the great things about this community is that it is truly an embracing community. Our staff has gone out into the community and they have really been welcomed. Now we just have to get all of the families here and moved in completely before spring practice begins.
You talked about the ULM community and how embracing it has been. You had a chance to expand that exposure with visits across the state and into Texas. How did that go and what are your plans to meet with fans in the Monroe-West Monroe area?
The Coaching Caravan was wonderful and it was a great opportunity for me to meet some people. We are planning on doing a lot of local events now that spring practice is about to get started. It was great to have an opportunity to meet those individuals who live a little further away but care deeply about the University and what's going on. I was able to share my vision on the direction of the program and what our need bases are in terms of what things we need in order to be successful. I am looking forward to doing the same thing locally. We have got a lot of local events coming up, some more select and some more open. I am looking forward to the local events and I have already had the opportunity to do some things individually in the Monroe area. There is great passion for this University and it says a lot for the University when people are passionate about where they graduated from and that something special happened to them while they were here. I am looking forward to continuing that process in the years to come, along with doing more of it in this parish and the neighboring parishes.
As with any new coaching staff across the country, there is going to be some roster turnover and attrition. Can you talk about the attrition that has taken place on the roster at ULM since your staff has taken over?
Any time there is transition, and even when there is not transition, there is going to be different motivations for players to leave the program. Some left the program because they were graduating with one year of eligibility left and decided since they were graduating they wanted to move on with their lives. Some guys were walk-ons and decided that they couldn't afford it anymore. Certainly some of the guys from an academic standpoint had to make a decision on whether football was right for them. We have high expectations for our athletes and sometimes it is difficult for them to balance it all. For some of those guys who were walk-ons, they were trying to work, go to college and play football. It just wasn't a good fit for them. They needed to get their academics in order.
At the first team meeting one of the things you have to state very clearly is what the expectations are. Not just on the football field, but socially and academically and we stated those pretty clearly in that meeting. The majority of this football team has done a tremendous job; I am really, really proud of these guys. They have been going to class and are doing things right socially. However, there were some guys that didn't want to make those steps with us and after several conversations with the staff, other individuals and myself, it was apparent that some of those guys were not going to conform to the team norms. As a head coach, you don't relish or desire for people to leave the program in the way that a couple of guys did, but it is my job as the head coach to protect those who want to do the right things for this program. We are going to do things the right way and that is the only way we are going to do them. If people are not willing to do that, then they are going to have to go find something else to do. I am not going to let individuals work within a team environment and distract from what we are trying to accomplish as a football team. We had a little bit of attrition, like every football team does, and then we had a few guys that we knew weren't going to make the trip and we knew that would happen. I am really happy about the guys who are making the trip with us right now.
You went after some specific needs in your first recruiting class back in February and left some scholarships on the table. Can you address your recruiting philosophy from this past season and for the years to come?
I don't know if a lot of people recognize this Adam, but when you look at the NCAA dead periods in the recruiting cycle we really only had a couple of weeks when we could get involved and interact with these young people. We were in over 100 high schools in Louisiana during that period, a number that I am very proud of. It was extremely important for us to meet those coaches. One of the things that is really significant to me with our class was the number of offensive and defensive linemen we signed. It's partly because of the numbers we have on the football team, but it's also looking at the future. Linemen generally take a little bit longer to grow up, because of the physicality it takes to play the position.
I don't know if this group is going to be representative of the groups to come as most of this class was Oklahoma and Texas players. While as coaches we can certainly watch a video on a young man and say he is talented enough to play at this level and check the character references, one thing that is hard to measure from film is his passion for the game and his work ethic. Having been a head coach before, I recognize how significant that is to being a good college football player and not just being a skilled guy. Last spring I watched most of our current signing class on the field. I can certainly watch them on tape, but that was my opportunity to see what their work ethic was like. I am really excited about this class, because we filled some needs and I know exactly what I am getting. I don't have any doubts in my mind about whether this group is going to come in and do the right things. This is a group that is already fully qualified academically. In fact, every single one of them has already applied for admission to the University, which has got to be some sort of NCAA record.
We chose to hold some scholarships back this year as we had about five other scholarships that we could have given out. I took a calculated risk and I believe it to be true. We don't have a large senior class this year and I think this next year is going to be a banner year in the state of Louisiana from a recruiting standpoint. I wanted to go in with the NCAA maximum 25 scholarships next year, because I wanted to touch on every position. I didn't want to not have enough scholarships to be able to fill every positional need we might have. We would like to have our recruiting base in the state of Louisiana. Based on the responses we've got from the young people we are recruiting right now and the more tape we watch on these young people, I believe the risk of holding scholarships back is going to pay off.
With the start of spring practice right around the corner, what are you as a head coach looking for from your team?
We are very excited about getting out on the field. All of these other things (morning workouts and strength training) are basically tools to help you play better, but in the same sense you can't rely on 40 times or bench presses to say whether a guy can play or not. You have to believe what you see. We are just really, really excited about the fact that team's attitude has changed. We've been doing some really strenuous work, and it hasn't just been physical, it has been emotional and mentally challenging. The team has really responded to that, better than I could have really hoped in terms of having done this before. It was certainly notched up to some degree in terms of the amount of activity and the pressure of doing things exactly the right way, and if you didn't do it exactly the right way then you had start over again. That comes down to discipline and I think this team realizes that discipline is a big part of winning.
We are ready to get out on the field and find out who are the real ball players and not those who are just in good condition or who are physically or emotionally tough. You are looking at a lot of different things in spring practice. Obviously we are going to be installing systems and those systems are going to have to change a little bit based on our personal, they do every year. We need to find out what our guys can do. We are going to give them this broad, paint stroke if you will, of what we are going to do offensively and defensively. We will then refine our approach and become a little bit more precise as spring practice goes on. One of the things that is nice when you have a new staff is that everybody has a clean slate. We don't care who plays, we are going to put the best players out on the field based on what fits our system. There is going to be equal opportunity for ever player to go out and show what they are all about. I think that equal opportunity presents more excitement. Everybody feels that I've got a chance to win this job and has to come out and bring their "A-Game" with them every day.
We are looking for the leaders to come out on this football team. We are going to try and encourage leadership instead of letting it naturally happen. We are going to put some guys in leadership positions and put them in some pressure situations and see how they respond. There is a difference between reacting and responding. Reacting means I wasn't expecting something bad to happen and I have to react to it. Responding knows that every time we step on the field something bad could happen and we have to respond to it accordingly. We have to respond in a good fashion to those things that are negatives and we have to respond to those things that are positives too. That is something that is a learned behavior and that is something we are going to expose our athletes to during the spring period.
We are going to try and build some unity and team chemistry as the spring goes along. We have a really good idea as to who we are as a football team. We have a great identity and our players understand what that identity is and they are ready to buy into that identity and understand this is how we will win. The foundation is always going to be work ethic, discipline and team utility.
We are going to open spring practice to the public. Anyone is interested in watching us we'd love to have them come out and watch the new staff coach and watch the players perform. During this time period we are not worried so much about scheme. Most universities around the country close spring practices and close fall practices. With a lot of the things that have gone on with the internet there is too much information that gets passed around too easily and we will close fall practices for that reason. If we've got a reverse planned for that week, we don't want the other team to know about it and sometimes that kind of information gets out now. It's not about keeping people away from practice; we are just trying to give ourselves the best chance to win. Spring practice is going to be a great chance for fans to come out and watch the coaches coach and the players play.
You have talked a lot about this new attitude and discipline and a lot of it has started in the weight room. How has Coach Grieco helped this program in the short time he has been here?
What a great blessing Coach Grieco he has been for all of us. I don't worry about the weight room or what's going on in there. With as much time as the players spend with the strength coach so much of the discipline and the attitude that has changed happened in that room. Having worked with Coach Grieco before, not only do I know that he is a professional and knows exactly what he is doing, but he also is going to do the right thing for the athlete. He is going to train the athlete based on their set of norms, what their muscle tone is and to what their skeletal structure is. He is going to indentify all of those things to help that young man reach his potential from an athletic standpoint. The other thing that he does a great job of, and something that I think is a really special trait of an excellent coach, is he can really drive a player and force him to reach their potential. The player doesn't always like what's going on with how hard they are working, but they love the guy because they know he cares about them. His players would run through the wall for him. Coach Grieco has a great attribute and there is no question that this football team has responded in a real positive fashion to him.
We compete every single day in the weight room and I think that is very important, because in order to learn how to win you have to learn how to compete. We have competitions every day at the end of our drills and there are natural consequences when you win and natural consequences when you lose. It's that idea of competing out in front of your teammates and that they can trust you because you are going to compete. I know we'll see the strength improve, because it has everywhere Coach Grieco has gone, but the biggest thing that has happened is the attitude change. The way we go out and approach drills, the way we go out and approach practice with discipline and a competitive spirit you need in order to have success.
What are some facility improvements that you would like to see take place in the immediate future?
We are going to evaluate everything we do based on two things. We are going to evaluate on "does it help us win" and "does it help our student-athletes' lives." Do our student-athletes' lives get better because of something we do. Anytime you evaluate the time we spend on something as a football team or the money we spend, it has to be built around those two facets; does it helps us win and does it help our student-athletes' lives. We are going to see a lot of changes in the next few years. We are to see a lot of changes because of the work of the athletic administration in terms of direction we are headed. I think we will see everything from facility enhancements to scheduling and all different types of things that are really going to impact this program not only currently but also in the future. When we look at improvements, we have to look and see if it helps us win and does it help our student-athletes' lives and that has to take priority over anything that is fluff.
We certainly have a lot of needs here, things that we have to improve upon, and we are in the process of improving those things. Sometimes certain things take a little bit longer than others, but we want to do things the right way instead of the cheap way or the fast way. We want to do everything in a first class manner. You hope that everyone is going to trust the decisions being made right now in relation to those two things early on. We are going to prioritize things based on whether it helps us win and if it helps our student-athletes. We are going to address everything over a period of time. There are a lot of people working really hard behind the scenes to make things happen. We are going to do it in a timely fashion and we are going to do it the right way.
There is always a lot of discussion on having to play "guarantee games". What is your opinion on playing those games?
I'm excited about playing those teams. We have played the major conferences schools in the past and have been competitive against them. There are risks that are obviously involved in playing those games, but I want our athletes reaching to a high level and if that's the high level, which the SEC obviously is, than I want to play against those teams. That is going to be the measuring stick. We are going to measure success here by winning conference championships and winning bowl games. That is success regardless of where you are at.
Another thing that we want to do is take that next step in relation to competing at a very high level and playing well enough to win those games. I am excited about that and from a financial standpoint it makes a lot of sense. To continue to grow the program, part of it is we are going to have to grow our financial base, which is part of winning. All you have to do is look around the country and see who is having success, and a lot of the schools who are successful are reinvesting in their program to allow better recruiting, better facilities, better lives for your student-athletes and better academic support. In saying that, we also recognize that we want to reward our fan base. Part of rewarding our fan base is getting major conference schools to play us at home.