UND FOOTBALL: A Q&A with new UND football coach Bubba Schweigert
ND wrapped up its spring football season last week, one that certainly ended with more questions than answers.
But that’s to be expected, considering the program is going through an overhaul as new coach Bubba Schweigert is laying the template for future North Dakota teams.
When UND opens its 2014 season at San Jose State on Aug. 28, the North Dakota football team will look considerably different than the one the concluded spring drills with the annual Green-White game at the Alerus Center.
It’s expected that 30 new players will be on hand for the opening of fall camp on July 31. Also gone will be UND’s pass-happy offense of the past two seasons. Instead, a more traditional run-oriented offense will be on the field, supplemented by UND’s traditional 3-4 defense — which has been a staple of North Dakota football since Schweigert helped install the linebacker-friendly alignment during his 15 years as an assistant at Memorial Stadium.
The 2014 season certainly will be different. UND will take an inexperienced team into its third season of Big Sky Conference play.
And UND’s first two seasons as a Big Sky program didn’t go all that well, as North Dakota finished 5-11 in league play.
So, how will UND’s third season go in the Big Sky?
Schweigert, a North Dakota-raised football player and coach who returned to UND after an absence of 10 seasons, sat down with the Herald last week to discuss the state of the program.
Q. When UND decided to find a new coach, did the opening immediately pique your interest considering you had spent 15 years here as an assistant?
A. “I always felt if the job ever did open, I’d be interested in coming back to my home state. I was here 15 years as an assistant. And I was dug in here. I was close to family and friends. But I wanted to be a head coach at some point. So when I went to Minnesota-Duluth (2004), I felt that was a good move for me at that time. Going to Duluth got me out of my comfort zone a bit and proved that you grow when you do that. I was comfortable at Duluth but when coach (Dale) Lennon gave me the chance to go to Southern Illinois (2008), I thought it would be good to go do something different in a different area of the country and challenge myself at the Division I level.
Q. As a native of Zeeland, N.D., how important is it for you to coach at the flagship university of your home state?
A. I look at this job as more than coaching UND football. I look at this job as promoting football in our state and region. It’s important that we do that. If you look at programs around the country, they have an effect on their region and their state. I sure want North Dakota football to have a positive effect on the game of football and also athletics in our state and region. And we plan to visit all the schools and football coaches in the state. We have about 95 schools that play football in all divisions of the state. I just want to get out there, see those guys and reconnect. It’s fun. And it’s an important part of what we want to do here at UND.
Q. With graduation and a handful of players deciding to transfer out of the program after the coaching change, your numbers for spring ball were fairly low, making for challenging spring practices. What’s your assessment of the program after last week’s Green-White game?
A. We’re a program that has a lot of potential. I tell everybody we have a wonderful university that we can recruit to. We have a football program with a proud tradition and alumni base. That’s important when you want to build a Division I FCS program in an area where football is important. But we have some things we have to do. But, there aren’t many programs in the country that have a national championship they can talk about, whether it’s at a different level or not. Also, there aren’t many programs that have the facilities we have or the facility (indoor practice facility) we have planned. Those are important factors as we move forward.
Q. Fan is short for fanatic. And, perhaps it’s an unfair question, but there is a lot of speculation out there as to how many games UND will win next season. Do have any expectations as to the wins and losses in 2014?
A. To be fair to our program, we never want to put a timeline on how we’re going to build this. Therefore, we’ll stick to the day-by-day approach that we’ve been using for a long, long time. We want to get better at something every day. We want to be the best we can be with the personnel we have at this time. I’m not concerned with wins and losses. Right now, the things I’m concerned about are: Do we know our offense? Do we know our defense? And what kind of effort are we going to put forth when we play on Saturdays. The effort you put forth is a learned behavior. It starts with how we finish drills in winter conditioning. How are we going to study film? How do we practice? The big thing we stressed is that we want a positive learning environment at all times. Hard work can be fun if you have a positive environment.
Q. Outside of wins and losses, perhaps the second-most question you face concerns North Dakota State, now the unquestioned king of Division I FCS. UND and NDSU haven’t played since 2003. Do you want to renew the UND-NDSU rivalry?
A. I get a lot of feedback on that from supporters, alumni, fans, high school coaches. Personally, it was such a fun thing to be part of. The game was such a big part of the region. For years, it was the biggest sports day in our state. I really believe that. To get back to that would be something special. There was no other experience like it during my years at UND.
Q. Is the possibility of a UND-NDSU game on the radar?
A. It’s in administrative hands at this time. There have been some discussions in the past. That’s all I know. But it’s important to our fans and alumni base. It’s a question that gets asked a lot.
Q. Since you left, UND became a much different looking team, one that was pass-oriented the past few seasons. Were you surprised how much the last staff changed UND football since your first stint at UND?
A. It’s what they felt they needed to do to be successful. And they had a very talented receiving corps. The young quarterbacks handled that situation really well. It’s just the choice they made and how they wanted to play. We’re going to do it a little differently than what was done in the past. We’ll see where that goes. You have to have a belief and a philosophy that you establish and you have to stick to it. A golf course has a signature hole. And, as a football team, you have to have a signature play. This is our mentality on how we’re going to play. It shouldn’t take fans long to see what type of football team you have when they come to watch you play.
Q. How different will your team look when fall camp opens?
A. We hope to bring in 30 new scholarship players. We still have scholarships available. We’re looking to improve the personnel on our team. We have some preferred walk-ons that will join our team. Our team will look a lot different when we start fall came than what it looked like at the end of the spring season. But I like our team right now; it’s responding to expectations; our guys are responding to accountability and responsibilities. There is a real hunger in our guys. I was really happy with the progress we made the last week of the spring season. Offensively, we played with more confidence and played faster than we had throughout the spring. Defensively, our guys worked hard to learn. And our communication is getting to where it needs to be to play good defense.
Q. Obviously, UND won’t be picked high in the preseason Big Sky polls, considering the coaching change and new players coming in. What’s your philosophy heading into the summer and fall camp?
A. I’ll coach anybody that puts forth great effort and has the desire to do his best. I’ll live with that.
Nelson reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1268, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1268 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.