Chris Slater: To start out, can I get your previous coaching experience
Mike Kellar: I started out coaching - I think - in ‘94, in Fairmont State. I was there eight seasons. After eight seasons, I got a chance to go to Northern Michigan University, in the [GLAC] conference. I was there for two seasons - the Offensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks Coach, all that stuff. Then I got a chance to go to California, PA. The last five years I was there. Then, this is my first season here at Concord.
MK: I’d been a coordinator, I’d been coaching 15 years - 14 of which, basically I’d been calling the plays - and working with quarterbacks, receivers, and getting to run the offense and I felt that it was time for me, the next step in my career was to be a coach. There were a lot of head coaching jobs that were open. I was attracted to Concord because I thought it had the possibility of winning. I thought that with the right administration and the right traditions and all that, that it could be a place that could turn into a winner. I thought, geographically, it was in a good place for recruiting the Southern kids. Plus, I think that the southern part of West Virginia is some of the best football in the state. So, I just think a lot of things about Concord.
CS: What were some of your first impressions, first of this area in general - Athens, Princeton, that area - and then, also of the football program
MK: Well, I’m a native of West Virginia. I was born in raised in Shinnston, West Virginia, which is basically off 79 there between Clarksburg and Bridgeport. So, I was very familiar with West Virginia and the ways of West Virginia. You know, I felt right at home, right away. I loved my time at Cal, which right off of Pittsburgh, and the people there were great, but West Virginia - it’s a different feel, it’s more what I was used to.
My general impressions of the program were really not to make any. I tried to come in with a clear mind and not really judge what had been going on or think about what I wanted to do, just put my own fingerprints on the program and implement our weight-lifting program, our ways of recruiting, our ways of going about getting kids disciplined. I didn’t really care - and I told the kids this - I really wasn’t concerned about what their record was in the past had been, or what bad things or good things had happened in the past. We wanted to start fresh and try to build the program the way that me and my staff thought a program should be built.
CS: When you became coach, I want to ask you, what were some of the changes you made to the program, and also some of the things you kept the same.
MK: Well, I wasn’t really too sure what we did in the past to tell you what changes we made. When I became coach, our number-one priority - it was really two pronged. Our number-one priority was with the kids here, implement our weight, our strength conditioning program to improve, basically the player development of what we already had here. That was our first priority with the kids here in house. Off campus, the number one priority was to recruit a higher-quality of student athlete. Go out and get the best players that fit into the Concord system. They had to fit into what we like to do on offense, defense, kicking game, as well as some of the demands we’re going to make on them academically as well. As far as what they did that we kept, I’m really not sure. One thing I told my kids was that I wasn’t going to change things for the sake of change. If I felt that it needed changed, I would. If I felt that something was working or was good I would keep it as-is. But, I really didn’t investigate it enough to really see - I didn’t ask the players what they did in the past or any of the former coaches what they had done. We just tried to come in and start fresh.
CS: How are your practices structured?
MK: We try to make everything in practice as “game like” as possible. All of our drills, basically what we do is we always end with some sort of team segment or “11 on 11” segment, whether it’s a situational two-man or four-man drill or whether it’s a red-zone scrimmage or if it’s all third downs, we try to finish with some sort of situational deal. What we do at the beginning of that practice is try to fit the means to the end of the practice. So in other words, we’ll start - say with like - a couple different route combinations or third and seven-to-ten or “third-down day” where at the beginning of practice we’ll work the individual route, the individual drops, the individual protection schemes, defensively the individual coverage schemes we need to do, and those down distances. And, you know, somewhere in the middle we’ll just go one part of the team and so maybe just the skill guys or maybe just the linemen and we’ll work it and then at the end we’ll come together as a team and work those same deals. So, I try to have an objective to each practice, and we try to hit that objective.
Now, the one thing we probably spend a little bit more time than most people, is we spend a lot of time on our kicking game. We spend, you know, close to a fourth of our practice, maybe a little more, maybe even as much as a third on certain days on working nothing but the kicking game. We feel that the most important aspect of your team is the defense, the second most important is your kicking game, and the least important of the three is offense. You know, offensively, if you just come out and take of the ball and take advantage of what the defense gives you, you don’t have to be as dynamic there as you do in some of the other faces.
CS: How often do you have practices? Every day?
MK: Well, during camp you have them every day. Now, what we do during the school year is Monday is basically a film and walk-through day, Tuesday is a heavy third-down day, Wednesday’s heavy goal line/red zone day, Thursday we’re big - we hit all situations. We sort of “mock game” it.
CS: Thursday’s your biggest day?
MK: Tuesday and Wednesday are our heaviest lifting days. Thursday - as the week goes on - we kind of taper it down a little bit. Thursday is sort of a lighter day. And, then, Fridays are a really light day. We just watch tape and go out there in shorts and run another mock game, so we know what we’re doing situationally.
CS: You finally got your first win - well, you just got your first win, they finally got their first win...
MK: Yeah, yeah [chuckles]
CS: Was their a lot of pressure on you guys to get this win?
MK: I didn’t feel it. You know, I mean, this is gonna sound kind of “cliché,” “coach speak,” but I just think that you gotta go out each day and try to improve. I didn’t any more pressure on that Saturday than I did the following Wednesday. I just feel like you just need to go out and improve. I just felt like we needed to play in the games to get the kids at another level. I thought we got about as much out of preparing - you know, you can only do so much “spring ball” and “fall ball” in camp before you have to get better for games and prepare for games. That’s what the program’s at now, we need to see how kids are going to play when the lights are turned on. And, that’s the next evaluation process in our program, to see how we react as a staff during games, to see how we react as a team during games.
CS: To kind of play Devil’s Advocate here, I’ve been kind of hearing some people say this was an easy win for you guys, that you were playing on a high school field…
CS: How do you respond to that?
MK: Well, they were the team that was on our schedule. Do I think that they were a good program? No. I didn’t think they were going in and they were an average team at best. But, I mean, it’s not like we were the USC Trojans coming into this game either...
[Assistant coach sticks his head into the office and says - “Put that in the paper, 'USC Trojans'"]
MK: Everyone told me, “Well, this team’s a bad team,” and I’m like well, we won one game in two years, how good of a team did we have? Obviously, we played well - we won going away, it probably looks like an easy win. But, I don’t think we’re at the stage in our program where we have easy wins. If we didn’t prepare and do things right, that game would have been a lot closer than it was.
CS: Who are some of your bigger challenges this season?
MK: You know, I think it’s a very good league. Right now, I think one of our big challenges is Lenoir Rhyne, because they’re who’s next. We try to preach it to the team, that you take the game in front of you. You know, Lenoir Rhyne is the best team we’re going to play this week. When you get into the league, I think Charleston, Glenville, and West Liberty are all great teams. They were picked, the top three teams in the league. Seton Hill went to the playoffs a year ago, I don’t know how they’re not considered a big challenge.
I think, as a player and coach, if you look at it - the whole picture, the whole schedule - all at once it gets overwhelming. I think it’s too hard to look at it like that. I think you just have to prepare for who the next team is. I know we play Lenoir Rhyne this week and we’re gonna have to go out and play near-perfect football to beat them. We’ll have to be sharp at the defensive fade, special teams is gonna have to be sharp, and offense will have to play well. If we do that, we have a chance. If we don’t play what we’re capable of, then they’re all tough challenges.
CS: What would be a successful season for you, in terms of your goals and what you set out to accomplish?
MK: You know, we didn’t put a numerical value on it. We didn’t come out and say, “We’ve got to win X amount of games.” I just think that if the kids buy in and believe what we are doing and we get better each day, then the wins will come. It’s the means to the end. The winning is a byproduct of practice, in a certain way. Of going to class, of going to study hall and doing things the right way, and going to the weight room and lifting. The winning’s a byproduct of that. If we keep doing those things right each day, the wins seem to come. If you start saying, “Okay, three wins, or seven wins, or 10 wins, that’s a successful season,” I think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
CS: I want to ask about your offense and defense, who are some of your star players?
MK: You know, it really all starts up front. Brandon [last name] is our starting center, the leader of our “front five.” Steven Clark is probably our most polished, accomplished offensive lineman at this point in time. Dennis Cole and Bryan [last name] in the backfield - they’re good, they’re flexible. They can go out in the slot and catch a pass, they can run the ball very well, they block well for each other. Those are two very good players. Rasheed Baker is a very good player at tight end, we like him a lot. Thomas Mays, who was just named our “Player of the Game,” he had three catches for, I think, 152 yards and a touchdown. You’d need to look it up, but it was something like that. So, he’s a good player for us. And, Zach Grossi, he had a very good game, throwing for 294 yards and four touchdowns in his first game as a starter in college. I think he can play a lot better than that, so I think those are pretty much our top guys right now. Brian Roof does a nice job for us up front. We’re starting Mitch Harrison - a true freshman - at left tackle. A very good football player. Ryan Haskins has totally changed his body and he’s starting at guard for us. So, you know, we don’t have the depth that I’d like to have on either side of the ball, but right now, those guys are making plays for us.
CS: Who are your assistant coaches?
MK: Bryan Hill is our Defensive Coordinator. He’s Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator, he does a great job for us. Garin Justice is our O. Line coach/Strength and Conditioning Coach. Chris Bowers is our Secondary Coach. And, he is our Recruiting Coordinator. Jason Woodland is our Wide Receiver Coach and our Special Teams Coordinator. Then you got - oh hell, let me think - Paul Price, coaches linebackers. Drew Toth - T-O-T-H - coaches the corners. David Starino coaches the running backs. And is in charge of our videos as well. Then, you got Mike Gravier - G-R-A-V-I-E-R - coaches our tight ends. That’s it.
CS: I was talking to a couple people about this and they wanted me to ask you this question - is there any sort of drug policy in place for the players?
MK: Yeah. Each kid, when I got here last Spring, they signed a contract with me, basically saying that if there was anything, if they were caught using drugs or caught with drugs, they would no longer be a part of this team. I would imagine Concord has a drug policy as well, but I would imagine it’s not as strict as ours. We’ve got a one-time deal and you can’t live in their dorm room and make sure what they’re doing and not doing. But, if we catch or hear of anything, then they’re done.
CS: I guess, to kind of wrap things up, the football program hasn’t really been one of the “prides” of Concord in recent years. What’s being done to try and improve school spirit?
MK: Well, we’re having a pep rally this Friday at noon on campus here, down in that little dip outside Subway [the valley]. You know, I mean, we’re trying to change the football facilities, we bought new uniforms. Concord’s made a commitment by hiring staff and it’s important to the administration at Concord that Concord has a winning football team. They’ve made an investment in our football program. I believe once we get our football program in place and we win some games, that that will bring the students pride back to Concord.
That’s one of the next things - phase wise - that we’ve got to get to, we’ve got to get some of the alums back on board, we’ve got to get the students here on board. It should be a prideful thing. Where I just came from at Cal, one of my GA’s from his freshman year, to the time they graduated, Cal lost like six games, so he had a lot of pride about his team. The students felt like they were going to go out and watch a good product and it made them feel better about where they went to school. I’m hoping that we can do the same thing here at Concord. It’s not going to be overnight, we’re not going to win them all this year. We’re gonna try, but on the same token - when a student comes to Concord and comes back to their high school and someone asks where they’re going to school, I don’t want them to say, “Concord” and be ashamed of their football team. I want them to say “Concord,” and be proud of their football team, you know, if that person went to a different school, he can say our team beat your team and it gives them a sense of fulfillment about their school that they’re at.
CS: Okay. That looks like about everything I have. Is there anything I haven’t mentioned that you’d like mentioned?
MK: I would like to see us do something in the paper recognizing our players of the week and our scout-team players of the week. If you could put a little something on there - our offensive player of the week was Thomas Mayo, our defensive player of the week was Duke Adu, our special teams player of the week was Ethan Perry. Our offensive scout player of the week was John Mason, our defensive scout player of the week was Chris Lawson…
CS: What’s “offensive scout”?
MK: Basically, it’s a kid who we’re gonna red-shirt who preps - he played the other team’s quarterback or the other team’s secondary guy. He preps - like Chris, he pretended he was Southern Virginia’s free safety all week [during practice].
CS: Oh, okay.
MK: So, he preps our defense or our offense. And, the special teams scout of the week was David Wiley - W-I-L-E-Y.
* * *
After that, nothing of huge interest was brought up. This interview will be turned into a story. I'll eventually go through this and pick out his best quotes and piece something together. It should be in the Sept. 9, 2009, issue of The Concordian.
I told him before the interview began about the column I did with the "Princeton Times" where I interviewed the Princeton High Coach each week, and he seemed to like that idea, as he told me to come back next week and interview him again. So, it looks like there's going to be a Concord version of my "Princeton Times" article from last year in this semester's paper.
There are a couple things I need to get some more information on. I need to get a team roster, because I didn't get a couple of the players last names, and I want to make sure I spelled them correctly. He didn't start spelling peoples names until after he started naming players and began naming his assistant coaches.
Coach Kellar seems like a cool guy. He was very laid back, but he also had an air of seriousness about him. He joked around a couple times during the interview, but never lost the tone of seriousness he had - he is very intent on turning this football team around.
Things are looking up for the football team. There's a pep rally this Friday at noon in the valley, outside Subway at Concord. Go, if you can make it. I guess I'll be there taking pictures for the paper.
Check out http://www.cumountainlions.com/ for more sports-related information. Also, don't forget to check out http://www.cunewspaper.com/ for this week's issue of The Concordian.