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Mid-Year review with Wildcats head coach Brian Jenkins

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The first seven weeks of the 2012 football season has been a whirlwind experience for the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats football team. They have experienced some incredible highs, (defeating rival South Carolina State 27-14 after falling behind 14-0 early; avenging a 22-3 2011 loss to North Carolina A&T by besting them 28-12) and some incredible lows (back to back losses to Miami (FL) 38-10 and Tennessee State 21-14). Even with the emotional rollercoaster the Wildcats have endured through the first half of the year, they still sport a 4-2 record and an unblemished 3-0 record in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play heading into Saturday’s game with conference foe Norfolk State.

Tuesday, B-CU’s head coach Brian Jenkins, after making his round of weekly coaches teleconferences, was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to sit down with myself and HailWildcats.com editor Jerry Bell to discuss a number of topics. Interestingly enough, what started out as a conversation about the team and its performance through the first half of the season progressed into Jenkins “cutting loose” with the Marching Wildcat band after games and some hilarious commentary about his wife’s assertions of his current mental state.

Assess your team's performance in the first half of the season.

“I am a perfectionist so I am pleased but never satisfied. We didn’t play a complete football game until the A&T game. In the other games we had so many miscues, and different assignment errors as well as a lot of dumb penalties. Our operation was not very good at times, but in some cases it was good enough to get us the victory.

On the positive side, one thing that I have felt good about all year is the conditioning of our team and another thing is the fight of our team. I think that they have exemplified that from the first play of the first game so I do know that is there. What has decreased our grade to a C or C+ is all of those other things that I previously mentioned. If we can clean up and continue to improve, we can definitely get to an A”.

Your team is positioned atop the conference standings and you are in complete control of your destiny. Are there any areas of concerns that you feel need to be addressed in the 2nd half of the season to ensure this team fully meets the expectations that you have for them going forward?

“We need to continue to execute well. That’s always an area that you have to be sound and solid. We have to tackle well. The game is won with good tackling and good blocking. We just have to continue to improve and develop as a whole”.

I have a few numbers for you coach: 7, 0, 0, 16, and 3; that’s the number of points your defense has surrendered in the 2nd half of games against FCS competition this year. It seems that once they settle in they have been lights out.

“That’s a good thing. It shows you that down the stretch we’re conditioned and we’re mentally focused to continue to execute at a high level and finish things out. But if you look on the flip side at the points given up in the two quarters, it demonstrates why we need to execute better. If we can have that same urge, effort and execution in the first half of games then automatically we become a better football team”.

There are a host of young players on the defensive side of the ball. Do you feel this unit is ready to take the leap from being very good in the second half of games to being dominant throughout the entire contest?

“I don’t like to get caught up in the we’re young argument. These guys have been playing football since they were 8 years old and it’s the same game. You put your helmet on, you put your shoulder pads on and you go out there and you have to tackle, execute, and stop your opponent. I think what comes with being young is that sometimes our guys don’t execute within the scheme. But when we settle down and they start operating in the scheme they are able to see what we can do. I think if we continue to execute within the scheme then we are ready to propel forward and start being a dominant defense”.

Through the first half of the season, your Wildcats have the #1 rushing offense in the conference and the 2nd to last passing offense, a stark contrast to your inaugural season when your offense was coined the “Speedway O.”Is it more of a situation where you are letting the talent you have dictate how you run the offense, or has it just been a concerted effort to become a primarily run first team?

“You have to do what’s necessary to win.We’re letting our talent take over and that’s a plus to any football team.I don’t get caught up in being #1 in passing or #1 in running.The main thing that we have to do is be consistent in execution in order to win. People know we can throw the ball we have proven that.We will continue to do whatever is necessary to win”.

Coach there are many overlooked aspects of a quality football team. For instance, I am sure that both Jackie Wilson and Brock Waters would prefer to be on the field receiving snaps from Center; however, you can see those guys on the sidelines giving pointers to Quentin Williams and they have both seemed to willingly take up a mentor position with your young quarterback. Is this part of that developing men and developing character aspect of your job that you hold so dearly?

“Absolutely! 100%! I want 2 things from my players:

  1. I want players who are trying to find a way in and not trying to find a way out; and
  2. I want players that are all in.

If you don’t have those two characteristics then you can’t play for me. Right now, those guys are finding a way into the game and that’s by helping each other. When Jackie was on the field it was Q and Brodrick. When Brodrick was on the field it was Jackie and Q being his eyes and ears. They are all in it together. They all train together and they receive the same amount of reps in practice. They are all focus and they are finding a way to contribute to the team. That is all a part of developing men and developing character and it is very much a part of our program”.

And what about the play of Quentin Williams, last week he was named as the MEAC Offensive POTW. He seems to really be growing right before our eyes?

“Quentin is definitely growing just like Matt (Johnson) grew when he was here and Jackie grew last year when he had his time. I always tell our guys that before growth takes place, you have to humble yourself and realize who you are. Once you do that you open yourself up to being developed. That’s what Quentin has done. He came in with all of these accolades but I told him that he had to strip himself of being “Q” the big time high school quarterback and just be Quentin and develop Quentin as a person. That will make Q the quarterback that you want to be.

Let me tell you about Quentin. Everybody was telling him how well he played on Saturday (against NCA&T). He had our video guy make cutups of all of his bad plays and he was evaluating those bad plays on Sunday much more intently then what he did well. When we had our questions and answers session on Sunday and asked him what could you do to improve yourself, he said coach I made 8 bad plays and I have 8 coaching points that I need to correct. That goes to show you how he’s open to development and correction”.

For the second time in 3 years, your team leads the nation in turnover differential. That doesn’t just happen by accident, does it?

“I learned from Greg Schiano, trained behavior becomes instinct. We train our guys 7 days a week all year long on security and security of the program. They have taken to it and the results have shown. It’s something that we drill every day. I can’t tell you everything that we do because I would be giving parts of my program away and I can’t do that. We do some mental drills and exercises. Our coaching staff believes in the drills and philosophies even though some of them tell me that I am a different type of guy and kind of out there but the philosophies work and produce results. It’s a total program effort”.

You have been singing the praises of Coach Harrell (Howard), Coach Broadway (North Carolina A&T), and Coach Frazier (North Carolina Central). I guess it’s not a surprise to you to see their teams sitting near the top of the conference standings huh?

“No It’s not. I knew when those men were hired a change would take place. No disrespect to anyone else but those are true men. Coach Kerm (Blount) at Delaware State is another one. These men are true competitors who have a drive to master their craft and prepare a high level football team and program so it doesn’t surprise me at all.

Look at Coach Frazier’s record at Prairie View. He is proven by the results that he got at Prairie View. Coach Flea has been prepared by some very good coaches. He called me and asked me for some advice when he first got the job and we spoke at length. He doesn’t have an ego and he understands his role and he takes it very seriously. Coach Broadway is a vet and he’s been through this before. He’s been through challenging times but he’s long lasting and he has always come out on top. Coach Kerm is another solid individual. He took his success from Winston-Salem to Delaware State. He implemented his system and he has been patient. All of these guys are good ball coaches and good men and no one should be surprise that they are having the success that they are having”.

Are you surprised to see perennial power South Carolina State and last year’s champ Norfolk State struggle to the degree that they have?

“There is so much parity in the league I wouldn’t say that they are struggling. Norfolk loss one ball game off of a flag. Right now, their records don’t match their coaching and for whatever reason, they haven’t caught their rhythm or hit their stride. There is not a coach in the league who works to finish second. Everyone wants to finish first but someone has to lose. Those are still good football teams but their records just don’t show it”.

Interestingly enough, you kind of called this whole thing back in July. At the MEAC Press Luncheon you were quoted as saying, in regards to NSU being selected to repeat as conference champions, “If all that mattered, just give out the trophy now to who they picked first and why play the games? I don’t pay any attention to that and it doesn’t really matter to me.” Should we expect to see you on ESPN College Gameday alongside Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit once your coaching days are done?

"We will see. I am going to be honest, that is something that I am interested in and a lot of people have asked me about that. It is something that draws and interests me and we’ll see many years from now if God pushes me that way.When I made that statement though, it wasn’t because Norfolk was picked to win.You still have to get in the ring, put on the gloves and fight.That is just a strong belief that was instilled in me by my dad. I also said that because when I looked around that room, I saw a good group of coaches who were looking forward to competing.It was nothing against Norfolk State, but you have to play the game.”

Now I know it’s early and there’s a lot of football left to be played but, as I’m sure you know, Tennessee State is 7-0 and looks poised for a playoff run if they continue their string of success. Considering you make no bones about the fact that you hate to lose, how special would it be for you to meet the Tigers again in the FCS Playoffs?

“Coach Rod Reed is doing an exceptional job at Tennessee State.Everybody counted him out and was ready to push him out of the door.He’s a quiet assassin and his mind is always working. They came up here and kicked our tails. They have proven that they are one of the best teams in the nation.Hopefully they don’t get slighted like some other teams have been slighted in the past.If that road comes to show, that means that we were able to stay focus and be in that position (to make the playoffs). I am sure that it will be good and it will be challenging”.

Last question, I watched a Youtube clip of the Marching Wildcats at South Carolina State and somewhere near the end of the clip I saw a figure that looked a lot like you grooving in front of the band. I know sometimes you can’t remember last week’s game, but does that ring a bell at all?

“(Guilty Laugh) Yeah it does. We have a closeness with our band that is tremendous. Donovan Wells does a tremendous job with the band. Our band gives a valiant effort to do the things to get us going. I feel like our football team is a part of the band and the band is a part of our team. I go down and do things like that with the band to show them that I appreciate their professionalism, their high productivity, their consistency, their detail, I appreciate all of that. There are times that I go over and just watch their practices and see how in to it they are and how focus they are to put on a good show and represent us. So in return we have to make sure that we do the necessary things to represent them because they deserve to be represented at a high level. So yes you did. I went down there and cut loose for about 15 seconds, but that was just to show the band my appreciation for all that they do for our team and our university.

And let me say this, people can talk all they want about Bethune-Cookman football, but we know the lead ship here at Bethune-Cookman is the Bethune-Cookman Band. And I have no problem with that because it gives me an opportunity to have my program a part of greatness and our band is greatness. I really look forward to having a chance to interact with them and I thank Mr. Wells for opening up the door and allowing our team to have that type of interaction with the band.

There is a mutual respect between me and Donovan Wells and I tell people this all of the time. Donovan Wells is Coach Jenkins in charge of the band and Coach Jenkins is Donovan Wells in charge of the football team because we’re one and the same. We’re very aggressive, we’re very detailed, we’re very serious about our craft, and we’re very demanding. Sometimes I go and watch this guy in practice and preparation and I say this guy should be a football coach. I have a very high level of respect for him because of the way he shows up every day and do his job.”

Coach, do you want to give us any hints on what you’ll be performing (with the band) after the game this Saturday?

“(Laughs) I wish I knew. I don’t even know what I am going to do when I hang up this phone today.

I heard the other day and I was trying to figure out if that was me. But I heard that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. My wife keeps telling me that I have mental problems. I have been trying to deny it but I don’t know (anymore). She tells me you do the same thing seven days a week and she says that you have a plan for Monday through Sunday of what you will eat, from the time that you will eat, you have everything scheduled. Yet you expect different results out of me when it comes to cooking. I tried to clean it up and say “well baby if being with you is insane, then I’m OK with being insane.” That just lets you know what I deal with every day. Hey but if it works for me then I guess I am okay with being insane”.

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