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AFM Magazine

Schutt Sports I-A Coach of the Year Finalists

by: Curt Block
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The “other” unbeaten Division I-A school registered its 12-0 record in the tree-lined Idaho capitol virtually hidden from the harsh glare of the media limelight by the majestic Rockies. While undefeated Ohio State and its Heisman QB had a wire to wire grip on the nation’s number one ranking, the Boise State Broncos were chalking up another spectacular season capped by its sixth straight WAC title. Then, in one of the most incredible bowl games in memory, the Broncos defeated Oklahoma, 43-42 in the BCS Fiesta Bowl.

The Broncos reputation as a potent offensive powerhouse is evidenced by its gaudy numbers in scoring, rushing and total offense but Chris Petersen, in his first season as head coach, prefers to spread the credit to other areas in analyzing the ’06 season. “The headline around here often goes to the offense but I think the credit needs to go to the defense most of the time. You don’t win the championships we have without great defense.”

Coach Pete says the nuances in this season’s defensive schemes are the work of DC Justin Wilcox, who was raised in and played in the system at the University of Oregon. “It’s four down linemen based,” Petersen explains. “Coverage-wise, it’s a quarter scheme. This year we started going to more multiple coverages and mixing things up and giving the QBs some different things to look at.”

Of course there is at least one more element to the Broncos sensational season. “I think special teams are always the most overlooked aspect of anyone’s program,” Petersen continues. “If you look around a lot of good teams will use their best players on special teams. We’ve won many games in recent years thanks to our special teams. This year we kicked a field goal with no time left to win one game and returned another kickoff close to our opponents goal to seal a victory. In other games, we blocked punts and faked some punts.”


When Bret Bielema was handed the leadership of Wisconsin football this season he not only faced the daunting task of following legendary Badger coach Barry Alvarez and an always brutal Big 10 schedule but also a squad with just two returning offensive starters. Bielema, at 37, one of the youngest head coaches in D I-A ranks, realized to succeed he needed to place his own imprint on the program that would include new personnel as well as dismissals. Succeed he did. The Badgers posted an impressive 11-1 record and then won the Capital One Bowl.

“When I took over the program last January I needed to establish a staff that identified with my thoughts and my coaching style,” Bielema said. “I brought in seven new coaches. We took Coach Alvarez' blueprint and carried it forward but also identified and tweaked certain things to give us a better opportunity to win over the longhaul.

“The key ingredients I believed in were that the staff had to have great passion in everything they did from recruiting, Xs and Os, or coaching an individual or public relations. The second thing I wanted was great teachers. The biggest thing you need to understand on game day is not what we know, it’s what the players know.”

Bielema and his staff did a critical team analysis during the spring, summer and early fall camp. “We had to determine what players could be our strengths and put them in position to have success. On offense we use two tight ends and one back in the backfield at all times. We used one of those tight ends in a way that one time he’s a tight end and another time he’s a wing. Then next time he’s a fullback and generally put him all over the field which creates some adjustments for the defense.”

One of the toughest decisions Bielema was forced to make early on was to dismiss 16 players from his squad. “What I wanted everybody to understand is that I didn’t want any negative energy.”


If there was an award for 2006 Turnaround Coach of the Year, Todd Graham, in his first season at Rice, would be the leading candidate.

Graham inherited a 1-10 slate when he moved from Tulsa and promptly guided the Owls to a post-season berth in the New Orleans Bowl with a bounce-back 7-5 mark. To achieve the reversal of fortunes Graham immediately put his new game plan into effect. “I knew we couldn’t run the same offense as a Texas, or USC, Oklahoma or LSU. We had to be innovative about what we did. First we adjusted our schematics and program to the skills and talents of the kids we had. We’re really lucky at Rice because the school has high academic standards and with that comes kids that are smart and with great character. We installed a work ethic second to none. We were going to be the hardest working, most disciplined, best conditioned team in the country. We knew we weren’t the biggest or fastest but we could be the toughest.

“Offensively, Rice had been using a wishbone offense. We had to go from A to Z. We designed a spread offense because we couldn’t run over people without the personnel upfront to blow people off the football. We use the run ‘n gun. Our quarterback is a tailback who happens to throw the ball.

“Defensively the hardest thing to recruit at this level is a defensive lineman. What we did is go to a three-man front, a 3-3-5. With that defense you only need two linemen with size. Your nose tackle can be 6-foot, 280. Then you want strong safety linebacker type kids in those five positions back there.”

Graham, being the strong not so silent type, demands a positive attitude and approach from his players, coaches and himself. “I brainwash myself every morning. Anything less than being Conference USA champions, bowl champions and academic champions, is unacceptable.”


The 2006 season did not start well for Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons, coming off consecutive 4-7 seasons, lost their starting QB in the opening game and was forced to go with a freshman. Then in the third game their star running back went down.

Through it all coach Jim Grobe kept his predominantly senior squad focused enough to clear the way to an outstanding 11-2 record and an Orange Bowl invitation. “This year we had our first senior class that we recruited to Wake Forest,” Grobe said. “We were a more veteran football team. We red shirted most of our freshman classes over the past five years and I think that’s probably the number one thing why we’re more experienced than we’ve been in the past. This year we had a lot of late games, games that went to the last possession that we found a way to win and I think the reason we did is because of our past experiences.

“From a defensive standpoint we were a really good red zone team defense and been stingy giving up points and we forced quite a few turnovers. We’re pretty much a base defense inside the 20. We’ll play some nickel if they’re in long yardage situations and we’ve got a goal line package if were down in tight but basically we’re just trying to match up personnel. If they’re got some big guys out there we’ve got more big guys and if you’ve put out more skill guys then we’ll get more athleticism on the field.

“Special teams is where you can get beat quickest with a blocked punt or punt return. Paying attention to details on punt teams is critical whether it be protection, coverage lanes, techniques, get off time, snaps to the punter and how quickly he gets it off. Paying attention to all the nuances of the punt teams and doing it well on a daily basis are important.

“It’s been one of those years we’ve won as a team and that’s always special for a coach,” Grobe concluded proudly.


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