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Wolford looks for answers in Year 2

Published: Mon, October 10, 2011 @ 12:10 a.m.


Youngstown State running back #35 Jamaine Cook is tackled by South Dakota State defenders #44 Ross Shafrath, #46 Jake Steffen, #27 Je Ryan Butler, and #22 Anthony Wise.



When: Saturday; kickoff at 3 p.m.

Where: Saluki Stadium, Carbondale, Ill.

TV/Radio: WBCB (CW)/WKBN-AM 570

By Joe Scalzo



Ex-Youngstown State coach Jim Tressel may not have attended Saturday’s halftime ceremonies honoring the 1991 national championship team, but his presence was still felt.

Like his predecessor, Jon Heacock, Penguins coach Eric Wolford is learning what it’s like when you live in the shadow of Tressel’s success.

“There’s a standard around here,” Wolford said at the beginning of this year’s training camp. “You guys know what the standard is. I don’t shy away from it. I embrace it.

“We’re going to get back to the standard that’s acceptable around here.”

Since that is the standard Wolford embraced, that is the standard by which this year’s team must be measured. And after Saturday’s 35-28 loss to South Dakota State — YSU’s second straight in conference play and third overall — it’s clear the Penguins are nowhere close.

“We just haven’t arrived yet,” Wolford said. “It’s very difficult, as you guys can tell.

“I’ve coached a lot of football. I’ve been through a lot of hard times. Good and bad. And I can assure you that this is a difficult loss for myself, our players and our program.”

Tressel won two games in his first year in 1986, then won eight in 1987, beginning a run of 10 playoff appearances in 13 years. After Tressel left for Ohio State in 2001, Heacock made the playoffs just once in his nine seasons and was replaced by Wolford last season.

While last year’s 3-8 record could be attributed in part to the huge amount of roster turnover that occurred in Wolford’s first year, this year’s 2-3 start is more puzzling.

And more disappointing, said senior DT Andrew Johnson.

“It does because I feel like we’re a lot more talented,” said Johnson, one of four co-captains. “I think we have a lot more skills at different positions. I don’t feel like we should lose against any team in this conference. That’s not being arrogant or anything; that’s how I feel our talent level is.

“We’ve just got to show up.”

Considering the team’s youth and inexperience, particularly on defense, it’s clear that the coaches and players should have done more to temper expectations. (Several players even talked about wanting to win a national championship this year, when competing for a playoff spot seemed like a more reasonable goal.)

Making matters worse, YSU still has November road games against the two best teams in the conference: North Dakota State and Northern Iowa.

Last year’s team was marked not just by its close losses, but its ability to stay together and stay competitive even when it was clear that there was nothing to play for but pride. This year’s team needs to do the same.

That’s what makes Saturday’s road game against Southern Illinois so crucial, said junior RB Jamaine Cook.

“You know what happens when things are going downhill like this,” said Cook, another captain. “We’ve got to keep guys together. Because either we’re going to come together or we’re going to fall apart.”

Like last season, YSU’s most immediate concern is with its secondary. The Penguins have often looked helpless against spread offenses and allowed a redshirt freshman quarterback in his third start, South Dakota State’s Austin Sumner, to torch them for 345 yards and four touchdowns.

If you’re wondering how that happened, consider this: Youngstown State started three freshmen linebackers, two freshmen cornerbacks and two safeties, junior Sir Aaron Taylor and senior Scott Sentner, who were starting their first career games.

“We got to find some guys at the right spots somewhere,” Wolford said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it. But we’ve got to do something.”

In Saturday’s postgame press conference, Wolford said the coaches will make some depth chart changes this week. Ultimately, though, there’s not much they can do.

Wolford and his staff may eventually build YSU into a perennial playoff contender, but it’s clearly not going to happen this year.

“It’s a process,” Wolford said. “I’m very impatient, just like a lot of people. But I don’t think it’s going to be an overnight process.”


1jmagaratz(189 comments)posted 4 years, 8 months ago

Yes...following Coach Tressel is definitely difficult.

Part of Coach Wolford's problem though is that his arrival seemed to be oversold as the "second coming" and I, for one, feel that was damaging.

An analysis of former head Coach Heacock's record reveals a strong similarity to Coach Narduzzi's record. Both records, again to me, were respectable.

However, the mentality of "playoffs" or "loser" is unrealistic. People supporting YSU football need to get over it and accept the fact that YSU may not be competitive for the likes of the Missouri Valley Conference and seek affiliation with another one. If need be, consider dropping to Division II.

My sympathy to the current coaching staff that must function with a crowd of ignorant "wannabe coaches" who have no particular record of achievement themselves.

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2YtownSports(306 comments)posted 4 years, 8 months ago

I remember before Coach Tressel's arrival talk of dropping football to Division II or Division III and using the money saved to build the basketball program. Can't do that anymore. The only option is to do the FCS non-scholarship route like Butler, Valparaiso, Robert Morris, etc. I don't recommend that, but it is the only other viable option.
I believe Coach Wolford can and will turn the program around. I had hoped we'd see more progress this year, but I believe Coach Wolford is driven to achieve the kind of results Coach Tressel produced. He's shown his ability to recruit. The test will be if he can do what Coach Tressel did which was to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, i.e., get players to produce more as a unit than they can from their individual performances.

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3LeoFibanacci(19 comments)posted 4 years, 8 months ago

What a bunch of BS above. It's been 20 years since JT was coach, I suppose the shadow is a bit less than under Heacock. Mr Dynamic, Wolford was sold to the faithful only because he was an Ursuline grad with zero head coaching experience. These are now his kids and they aren't performing to expectations. Either he's a bad coach or a bad recruiter or both.

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4carago11(44 comments)posted 4 years, 8 months ago

Wolford is being paid $250K to bring a playoff team to YSU. This is unacceptable. Heacock was making $125K and could not get any assistants. They rolled out the red carpet for Wolford and these are the results?? He had no head coaching experience, he is not well liked by many, and is not a winner. If he continues like this for the rest of this season, I recommend that he be fired and replaced with a man with head coaching experience that can win and turn this program around!

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5piak(508 comments)posted 4 years, 8 months ago

Every posting on this topic makes a lot of sense and brings up valid points.

If Coach Wolford is being paid twice what Jon Heacock was, then it seems like we should be getting our money's worth.

Saturday's game against South Dakota gave me the impression our team was either poorly coached or our coaching staff hadn't really boned up on the Jackrabbits' capabilities. A Company Commander I had once observed to us that "once you cross the LD, the 5 Paragraph Field Order is up for grabs. The enemy is playing by their own plan of action and are looking to upset ours". Maybe the same applies here. Sometimes the D or the O has to react to the opponents plans. If our team is dominant, sure, we can force them to play our game. I still felt that we were playing catchup in making adjustments. Either that, or our players need more seasoning.

Me, I'd let him coach this year and next. Then, if we're not possessors of a respectable record and not competitive in a game, it's time for a new talent search.

It isn't easy to be a head coach and not everyone can do the job. That's why they pay decent money to the guy.

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6woolyd(579 comments)posted 4 years, 8 months ago

C'mon people this is only his second year and the freshman class really is only his first recruiting class. All SDSU did was throw quick slants underneath the safeties all game. First off the linebackers werent falling back to cover the area, second the corners were staying with the receivers, and the safeties never made the tackle that needed to be made. Therefore it was lack of execution by the players which is either a sign of inexperience, lack of talent or both. This will take time and better recruiting classes which will occur soon. Get over the Tressell era its over and he isnt here. Hell he wouldnt even show up for the 1991 20TH Anniversary celebration of our 1st National Title. Also the fans are to blame maybe you should show up support the Guins, get loud and not worry about the next Buckeye game like most of you do. Show these kids and this university some support and for God sake wear Penguins gear to the game. We are YSU not OSU and thats s good thing because this program is in better shape then the one down south.

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7jmagaratz(189 comments)posted 4 years, 8 months ago

note to arod....

I agree--JT is on the way back.

He will accept $1 a year for coaching and be given lifetime employment until he decides to retire.

Big (behind the scenes) YSU $$$bags will buy out the current coaching staff and pick up the tab for the new JT coaching staff with no assistant earning less than $300K plus or $1 more than the YSU President whichever is greater.

The Penguin Club will convert all seating in the west stand to chairback seats and charge $750 apiece for them.....means mucho $$$$ for athletics....basketball (both programs will flourish) with added $$$

And the dream goes on and on and on.....

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8carago11(44 comments)posted 4 years, 8 months ago

@woolyd I dont care about Tressel. I care about YSU bringing a winning tradition back and Wolford is being paid $250K a year along with his staff being paid big bucks to do that and they are not. How many years should he have?? He promised change and its the middle of his second season and that has not happened. He has had talented kids quit the team because of his coaching style that is not working! I dont hear the players saying they love their coach. This staff was all created through political connections as are some of the players. You pick the best and play the best and YSU is missing that!

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