On December 12th, 2012, Montana State University Head Footall Coach Rob Ash sat down with KTVM's Jess Antonio for an exclusive interview. Below is the transcript of the disscussion.
Jess Antonio: I'm honored to be joined by none other then head football coach of MSU Rob Ash, coach, thanks for being here first of all.
Rob Ash: It's nice Jess, it's fun to be able to do a little something different.
JA: So before we really talk about the season, let's talk a little bit about the players as people, not just players. You watch these guys grow from freshmen when they first get on campus until the moment they graduate. Tell me what its like to watch that progression of them growing as people, not just as football players.
RA: Well we get the guys out in the community a lot as you know. Last year we did 800 hours of community service and so we get a chance to see them interact with everybody from little elementary school kids in their reading programs at their schools to birthday parties to senior citizens in hospitals. And I think that's a great experience for these guys. They're healthy, they have all the adulation but they're interacting with people who don't have as many gifts maybe or abilities. And so that's a good learning experience for them and I can see them grow as they do that throughout their careers.
JA: It seems like they're great model citizens for the MSU football program, absolutely.
RA: They are and you know we really appreciate the support we get from the community and so we want to give back to the community. The guys love the fans we have at our games and people who buy the tickets and the boosters of course who support and every time we have a chance to say thank you whether its signing an autograph on a little baby's jersey or shaking hands with the fans after the game or the students who support us so well, we want to make sure we tell the community how much we appreciate the support.
JA: So as the football season has ended you guys have gotten better pretty much every year since you've been here and one thing that you've said through the whole year that I've really listened to is take the next step. What is it that this team needs to do to take the next step and try to get to that FCS championship?
RA: Well there's awfully good teams at this level and when you get to the final eight teams in the nation, which we've gotten to the last two years, they're big, strong, fast players. And so what we've got to do is we've got to get in the weight room, our off-season training is already going on an optional workout this week during final exams, and we'll start in earnest in January, and we've got to get bigger and stronger. Particularly in the trenches and so there will be a lot of focus on weight room for us initially here.
JA: And one other thing we talked about before is that when the season ends, it doesn't really end for you guys, you guys just keep going. Tell me a little bit about how early you guys started with planning for next year and what that entails.
RA: Well it might surprise some people. We played that game on Friday night and lost and so on Saturday at one o'clock in the afternoon we had a staff meeting to talk about recruiting. We bought plane tickets, we sent seven coaches on the road on Sunday to go recruiting. On Monday morning I met with both my coordinators and the strength coach and we evaluated every single returning player in terms of their strength numbers and their scholarship abilities and their playing time and what they needed to do to improve. And then I started a week of player interviews so this week I'm interviewing all 85 returning players one-on-one to convey my wishes for them and my expectations for them as we go into the next year, so it didn't take long, we're already planning for next year.
JA: You have a lot of great senior leaders on this team, we got Jody Owens, Caleb Schreibeis, the list could go on and on. Losing a group like that must be tough for your team, the winngest senior class in program history. How do you replace a group of guys like that?
RA: Hopefully they've been good leaders and they've been able to pass on their examples of what they've learned to the guys underneath them. And you know what always happens, I'm always sad when the seniors leave because they've invested, in our case since we recruit high school guys, we've had them in our program for four to five years and they've become real close, personal friends like a family member to us. And so when they leave it's very sad. But there's always somebody that's next in line that has been waiting for his chance and it's always exciting to see that guy get that opportunity, go in spring ball, try to emulate what he saw the senior that was ahead of him, usually ends up playing pretty well.
JA: And speaking of seniors, next year we have a pretty impressive list of guys who will be seniors. We've got DeNarius [McGhee], we got guys like Cody Kirk. Maybe you can talk a little bit about some guys that might come up out of nowhere that some fans might not know about. Is there anybody that might not be on fans radars right now that they should maybe look out for coming up in spring ball and next year?
RA: Yeah, that's an interesting question. I think really where we'll start is with Na'a Moeakiola. And that's a hard name to pronounce, but you better get used to it because Na'a played all this year of course at mike linebacker, but was overshadowed by Jody Owens with all the accolades that Jody got. I think Na'a Moeakiola could be the player of the year in the Big Sky Conference next year, he could be a first team all-american. He is going to be a senior, so although he's not really and up and coming out of nowhere guy, but he's going to come out of Jody's shadow. So on the defensive side would be him. You know on the offensive side I think it has to be Shawn Johnson, and I think that's probably no surprise. Shawn is an electrifying player, mostly on returns and just some specialty plays this year but he'll be running that tailback, number two behind Cody Kirk, but he'll get a lot of snaps and I think he'll make some big plays and really splash onto the scene in a big way.
JA: Coach, as far as what you can take away from this season, I'm sure you're learning all the time just as your players are, your staff is probably learning all the time. What are some things you can take away from this season that you can say you know we learned from this and we're going to use this for next year to improve?
RA: You know, early in the season we had terrible problems with the turnover margin, we had too many giveaways and not enough takeaways and it really kept some games close that probably shouldn't have been close and it cost us the Eastern Washington game which was a huge loss in our season looking back on it. So I think the lesson got learned this year about ball security and about how important takeaways are. When the season was over we ended up with a plus five turnover margin from the season, which is pretty good. But early on we were way behind. I think the other area is special teams. We really worked hard this year on special teams, got a lot of guys some playing time in there that are going to come back next year. Some of those guys are going to move up and play on defense or offense, but we got the idea across to our team how important special teams are and we're going to try and build on that.
JA: We can't not talk about the future without talking about incoming Cats a little bit. I know there's not a whole lot you can say but what can you tell the fans about this recruiting class, what you can talk about?
RA: Well I'll tell you right now we're living up to our promise we made in 2007 when we got here which was we're going to recruit the state of Montana first. We have several commitments in this years class that are really good players, we're not allowed to name names at this point in time, but I can tell you we're going to do well in the state and there's a lot of good talent in the state. And then we have coaches out all over the place now in California, Texas, Washington, Las Vegas, Minnesota, trying to find some people to compliment those Montana guys. And it's going to be a difficult situation in this respect, good/bad problem because because we have had so much success and we've got so much interest on the part of guys that want to come now and be Bobcats that it's really difficult to pare the list down. At every position we've got three of four guys that are really good, but maybe we only have one scholarship, so there's going to be some tough decisions in recruiting.
JA: Well can't talk about that being too horrible of a problem, it's always a good thing and now it's a national reach which is very exciting.
RA: It is, we're starting to get people calling us from all over the country that are interested in our program. And you know, one thing that happens, we're recruiting now to our academic programs as well as football because of the reputation that Montana State has as such a great school: engineering and a lot of the science areas and the effort that our admissions office has done for out of state recruiting, there's a lot of interest in the school generally and then when that person also happens to be a football player it's a double positive and we're getting some good inquiries from out of state.
JA: And you know I just read a tweet from [Offensive Line] Coach McEndoo who kind of said you guys are looking for student-athletes who embody everything you just said, so it should be a very exciting year. And Coach, again I thank you for being here, thanks so much and we'll look forward to another great season from the Bobcat Football Team.
RA: Well I've enjoyed it very much, thanks for letting me come on the show.