Fowler, Paladins Look to Build Upon 2011
By Russell V.
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Spring practice is barely a week old, but the Paladins have impressed their head coach thus far.
It is safe to say that Bruce Fowler’s first 15 months at his alma mater have gone well.
Sure, the Paladins’ overall record may have only improved by one game – from 5-6 to 6-5 – but their conference record jumped to 5-3, good for third in the SoCon. If not for two consecutive losses to end the season, Furman would have likely made it to the playoffs, thanks to their strong record and victories over Wofford and Appalachian State.
Not bad for someone who had never been a head coach before.
“As a first time head coach after being an assistant coach for a long time, I think it’s been probably as easy as it could be from a personal standpoint just because I’m so familiar with Furman, having gone to school here and then having been a long time assistant coach here,” said Fowler, who graduated from the school in 1981. “So that part of the transition – (getting) back to the city and finding a place for myself and my family – was pretty easy. The coaching part, I think, it’s been something every day (that) I’ve enjoyed and just been trying to do things the best we can each and every day and for our program, put ourselves in position to win games.”
The long-time assistant coach now faces the tough, unforgiving realm of expectations, as things seem to be on the up and up for the Paladins. 2012 will obviously bring about new challenges for Fowler, who is already doing his best to prepare for whatever may come his way.
“As a head coach, you have some different responsibilities (than) you have as an assistant coach,” he said. “It might not be directly related to things that happen day-in and day-out on the field, but more off the field things. That was a learning curve for me, as far as budgeting my time for things; just learning to manage my time and putting priorities in order and doing the things you need to do to be effective at this job."
“I think we have a very good staff and I think that that’s been very helpful in helping me do my job better,” he continued. “It’s the people around me on a daily basis and I’ve gotten an awful lot of support from our administration, so hopefully I’ll continue to get better at my job.”
That will be a huge key for Furman this year, as they have lost a lot of talent from their 2011 squad. Gone are quarterback Chris Forcier, lineman Ryan Lee, linebacker Kadarron Anderson and cornerback Ryan Steed – arguably the four best players on the team.
It is a problem no coach wishes to have, but all inevitably face.
"Everybody’s faced with replacing players every year and we lost some really good players – the ones you mentioned, Sederrick Cunningham, Tyler Maples, some guys who were really good players and had been here and we just had a chance to work with them for one year, but they did an unbelievable job,” Fowler said. “I thought they were the key to our team, just from a leadership standpoint. To have the seniors respond to a coaching change is often how the team goes and they were phenomenal. Hopefully, our younger players learn from their example. They were good players."
“But everyone’s in the case (where) they’re gonna have to have guys who step in, and you do that by preparation and the way you work in the offseason program – and we’re off to a good start there," he stated. "That’s how you replace people – you prepare well and you gain confidence by doing that.”
The biggest pressure this offseason falls upon senior quarterback Dakota Derrick, who replaces the nation’s leader in passing efficiency, the aforementioned Chris Forcier. Derrick did see some playing time in 2011, highlighted by his 85 total yard, one touchdown performance against eventual conference champion Georgia Southern.
“He’s off to a good start,” Fowler said. “Dakota Derrick has been impressive the first four days out there. Travis Eman, Gary Scott and Drew Parker are the three guys behind him, so they’re getting their first action, since Dakota played some last year.”
The lack of experience behind Derrick makes his improvement all the more important. Fortunately, he will have the one of the nation’s top tight ends returning in Colin Anderson, who caught 40 balls for 696 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Another player Fowler highlighted was the appropriately-named offensive lineman Dakota Dozier, who will be the new anchor of the O-line following Lee’s graduation.
“I think our starting point overall is a little bit different because we’ve got a year under our belt, so not everything’s brand new,” Fowler said. “Everybody’s much more comfortable with the personalities, the terminologies, the scheme, how we set up drills and all those things. That puts you ahead.”
Defense will be a bigger challenge though, after losing two of Furman better defenders in recent memory in Anderson and Steed. So how does Fowler plan on fixing that problem?
“We lost two of our leaders in Ryan Steed and Kadarron Anderson,” he said. “We’ve got some guys coming back who are going to have to step into that role: Mitch McGrath, a linebacker; Josh Lynn, a defensive end. (They are) our two guys that are senior starters. (Safety) Nathan Wade is another senior starter, so developing that leadership in the spring is key for us.”
Spring practice is barely a week old, but the Paladins have impressed their coach thus far. It is just the first of many steps for this team as they try to reach the promised land: the playoffs. Fortunately for them, last year gave them a great launching point.
“We’re going to continue to build on some of the positive things we did, Fowler said. “I think some of the players did a great job last year. We got consistently good effort as we went through the season and the guys got more confident with what we were doing. Obviously, when you bring in a new coaching staff, you’re going to have new schemes, new personalities, new communication, new terminology and all those things. But I think the thing that will carry through in year two is improvement on the things we didn’t do well."
“We prepare very well and it’s such a cliché thing we say all that time, that we want to get better day-to-day and all that, but we really emphasze that like everybody does. My expectation is we improve, and our expectation is if we can take care of that, then the results generally take care of themselves. We try to set the expectation of trying to improve our first game, September 1st against Samford. That’s the one we want to set our sights on right now, but we’ve got a lot of room for improvement. So our expectation and my expectation for this team is for us to make some improvement from where we were last year.”