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CURBSTONERS Conatser hearing criticism of play



Published: Tue, May 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Ken Conatser is special teams coach at Ohio State.

By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

BOARDMAN -- During his 15 years as assistant football coach at Youngstown State, Ken Conatser heard the grumbling when something went wrong.

Now that he serves on Jim Tressel's staff at Ohio State, nothing has changed.

Conatser discovered that following the Buckeyes' Scarlet and Gray Game on Saturday at Columbus Crew Stadium.

Scarlet's 22-21 victory was aided by Gray's special-teams blunders that had Conatser, the special teams coordinator, scratching his head.

Comparison: "My team looked like Humpty Dumpty," said Conatser, guest of the Curbstone Coaches during their luncheon Monday at Lockwood House.

"We dropped two punts and we had two bad snaps," he said. "[The critics] were howling. They wanted a piece of me."

Voice-mail messages told him there were other players capable of snapping a football correctly. The voices, accented by the use of several four-letter words, questioned if he was indeed the special teams' leader.

"There were some people who thought we didn't do a very good job of preparing the young people," Conatser said. "They thought we should have better people in place."

The comments are not exactly the type Conatser wants to hear in the spring, but they reveal the intense scrutiny and pressure the program is under in Columbus.

Conatser has faith in his players. He knows they are "a lot better than what they showed." In fact, they had been excellent in drills leading up to the spring game, he said.

"Twenty two thousand," said Conatser, referring to the number of fans who attended Saturday's game. "Multiply that by 4 1/2 [for actual games], and I hope we don't play 4 1/2 times worse."

Past duties: While at Youngstown State, Conatser served in a variety of capacities, including offensive and defensive coordinator, special teams coach, offensive line coach, linebackers coach and assistant head coach.

A native of Cincinnati, Conatser, 60, said he was about to retire after the 2000 season.

"Just get through recruiting, and we'll talk about it then," Tressel told him.

When Tressel was hired to replace John Cooper at Ohio State, he asked Conatser to join his staff as special teams coordinator and defensive ends coach.

The competitive juices flowed -- as did a more lucrative contract -- and Conatser said yes.

Conatser still wears the 1993 national championship ring that he won at Youngstown State, because it is an example of the impact a group of players can have on a team.

"In that year, our special units were the key to our success," he said. "The special teams was the glue."

Those are the visions Conatser has taken with him to Ohio State, and he isn't ready to allow any spring-game miscues to blur them.




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