“I’ll tell you this, “we’re not gonna get beat up. Our kids are big Midwestern boys, they’re tough. They won’t get beat up.”
If life were a cartoon, the Oregon football team would take the field at Autzen Stadium on August 30th to face the South Dakota Coyotes with roadrunners on their uniforms rather than ducks.
Unfortunately for the visitors, this one’s likely to end like all those Warner Brothers animated classics — with a “beep-beep” and a puff of dust, leaving the bemused coyote grasping nothing but air.
No, the outcome of this one is hardly in doubt. But I thought it might be fun to get the coyote’s perspective. South Dakota’s gracious head coach, Joe Glenn, was kind enough to give me a call the other day and fill me in.
Coach Glenn appears to be a genuinely nice guy. He sounds exactly like what he is — a Nebraska boy, Midwestern through and through, with a ready laugh and a refreshingly candid perspective on his job, and life generally.
Fridays find him down at the local pub, listening to swing music pumped out by “some old hippies.” A South Dakota alum, he went back to Vermillion, a town of 10,000 tucked into corn and bean country just north of a bend in the mighty Missouri River – an hour from Sioux City and light years from Eugene – in 2012 to help rebuild the program. He seems a man comfortable in his own skin, a football guy through and through, a man with a solid sense of perspective.
Glenn has been around a couple of ‘coaching’ blocks, in the process carving out a career that includes two NCAA Division II national championships at Northern Colorado (1996, 1997), and an NCAA Division I-AA championship at Montana (2001). In short, he knows a thing or two about winning football games.
When I asked him recently how he intends to bring the sort of success he enjoyed at Northern Colorado and Montana to South Dakota, he responded, “It’s going to take time. We have to recruit. Identify the recruits we want, get ’em to campus, get ’em to buy in, get ’em to work hard, on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom. Get a couple of the right guys and you can turn the corner.
“When we went to Division I a couple of years ago, we knew we weren’t the destination lots of Midwestern players they were looking for. But we feel if we can get ’em here, we’ve got a chance. SDU’s the state’s flagship school, the medical, business, and law schools are all here. We’ve got some really nice facilities, the campus has a sort of Ivy League feel to it. The Dakota Dome was built in the ’70s, but it still works just fine.”
The Coyotes (that’s pronounced “Kai-yotes” as opposed to “Kai-yotees,” by the way) have a ways to go. They finished 1-10 in Glenn’s first year behind the helm, and are coming off last year’s 4-8 season that saw them finish seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference.
When we talked about his coaching style, Glenn underscored the need for flexibility.
“I don’t think you can take the same approach with you wherever you go,” he explained. “You have to see where you can fit the players you can get, you have to be flexible. I’m not a defensive-minded or offensive-minded coach. I’m not a throw-it-all-the-time, or run-it-all-the-time sort of guy. Balance is important. You gotta be able to do both, one makes the other better. If they load the box, take it outside. If they place seven men in there, run it inside and make an ugly four.”
When our conversation turned to that coyote vs. the roadrunner scenario, Coach Glenn chuckled, then said, “Our kids will never have another experience like going into Eugene and playing the Ducks in their careers. Playing on the road against what might be the best team in the country. What are they, ranked No. 4 right now? We’re going to make it the best experience we can. We have to give it everything we’ve got. Then we’ll come home a better team.”
Luckily for Glenn and the Coyotes, things get a whole lot easier the next week, when tiny William Penn visits the Dakota Dome.
“We had an empty slot there, three months ago,” said Glenn. “It was play William Penn or play nobody.”
A statement that made me think about the Ducks’ first two games — South Dakota followed by the mighty Michigan State Spartans. Could there possibly be two teams with larger strength of schedule chasms for those first two tilts than Oregon’s and South Dakota’s?
After we chatted a bit more about how loud and raucous it can get at field level at Autzen, Glenn finished our conversation with a little shot of confidence.
“I’ll tell you this,” he said, “we’re not gonna get beat up. Our kids are big Midwestern boys, they’re tough. They won’t get beat up.”
Ah, but are they quick enough to catch a roadrunner? Guess we’ll see on August 30th.
Feature image courtesy Warner Bros.