Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

COLLEGE FOOTBALL ; New Coordinators in Spotlight as Spring Practice Blooms

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

COLLEGE FOOTBALL ; New Coordinators in Spotlight as Spring Practice Blooms

Article excerpt

Spring comes early in college football - or at least spring practice does.

Arizona, Duke, Northwestern and Stanford have already started spring practice. Soon after the calendar flips to March there will be football on college campuses all over the country. Off campus, too. Michigan opens its spring practice on Monday in Bradenton, Florida, at the IMG Academy. Maybe you have heard?

Coaches get 15 practices to sort through their rosters and implement new schemes, leading up to a spring game which in some places will pack game day-sized crowds into stadiums.

At Arizona, Rich Rodriguez has decided to take a different approach this spring. The Wildcats are focusing almost exclusively on fundamentals instead of schemes, and they won't be playing a spring game.

"Half the scrimmages you have, or the spring game, you either don't play your top guys or you cross your fingers that nobody gets hurt, Rodriguez told reporters last month. "It's good to look at schemes, but what are you trying to win? Beat your own team? It's not nearly as important as teaching them how to play.

At Pitt, the Panthers are taking their spring game back to the big stage.

Pittsburgh will wrap up its workouts with an intra-squad game on April 26 at Heinz Field. It will be the first time since 2011 the Panthers have held a spring game at the home they share with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Construction at Heinz last year forced Pitt to hold its spring game at nearby Highmark Stadium, a 4,000-seat facility used by a professional soccer team. In three seasons under previous coach Paul Chryst, Pitt either played its spring game at local high schools as a way for the new staff to build relationships in the area or did not have one.

The Panthers' average attendance last year was 48,150, up 17 percent from the year before as new coach Pat Narduzzi helped excite fans.

Coming off an 8-5 season, Narduzzi hopes playing the spring game at Heinz helps Pitt develop a home-field advantage that has been challenging to cultivate off campus.

"It's always important to get into your home field and get our kids comfortable with playing in that stadium, Narduzzi said.

While Narduzzi and Rodriguez are taking different approaches to spring, they do have something in common: Both are breaking in new coordinators on the side of the ball that is not their specialty.

Narduzzi, the architect of Michigan State's great defenses while working under Mark Dantonio, brought in former North Carolina State offensive coordinator Matt Canada to replace Jim Chaney, who left for Georgia.

Rodriguez parted ways with longtime assistant Jeff Casteel, who had been his defensive coordinator at West Virginia, and brought in Marcel Yates from Boise State to fix an Arizona defense that ranked 93rd in the nation in average yards allowed per play.

Here are six more teams breaking in coordinators for whom much will be expected next season. …

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