With 11 wins, a victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and a Western Athletic Conference championship, it was just three months ago that Aggie fans were celebrating the most successful football season in school history.
Since then, Utah State football has seen numerous changes with the graduation of 16 seniors, the hiring of a new head football coach and four new assistants, and the addition of 24 new players with its latest signing class.
Matt Wells, who has spent the past two years on staff at Utah State, including serving as offensive coordinator during USU’s historic run in 2012, was hired on Dec. 20 to lead the Aggie football program as it transitions into the Mountain West Conference, while at the same time trying to build off and maintain the high level of play USU has achieved over the past two years.
Talk about your first two months on the job and what that has been like:
“It’s been quite the transition. We’re crazy busy, but it’s been good. The biggest thing I wanted to do right out of the gate was settle our players and get them headed in the right direction, then hire a staff and recruit. All three of those things were accomplished. Hiring the right staff with the right chemistry and the right expertise was very important to me.”
How was the hiring process and what do you expect from this group of coaches?
“It was a combination of guys that I’ve known for quite some time in the coaching profession and guys with certain recruiting expertise that we wanted to blend in with the four coaches we retained. Most of all, I wanted every coach I hired to have two things: No. 1, a passion for the players and for making them better young men on a daily basis and throughout their career, and No. 2, what was their niche and expertise from a coaching standpoint. I think it’s all blended well.
“I just want to see the ability to work together, to plan and motivate our players, and give them an edge in techniques and fundamentals. I want to see the things that will take a good player and make him great and an average player to make him good. I think it’s individual improvement, and then it’s team improvement and chemistry that you’re looking for in spring ball.”
Talk about winter conditioning and the players' work ethic thus far:
“The winter conditioning workouts have gone well. The players have been really internally energized to motivate their teammates and to improve. Our strength coach, (Dave Scholz), says that a lot of our numbers have improved. I think they’ve gotten bigger and stronger. The biggest thing is to continue to develop the chemistry and the leadership. We lost some leaders from last year, so different players have to step up now to fill different roles.”
Who are you seeing or hoping to see step up to fill those leadership roles?
“Some of them are back. Time will tell. Their performance will be able to help some of the leaders we want to step up, step up. The saying I always say is ‘Earn the right to be heard.’ There are some guys around here who have earned that right and we all know who they are. When they speak, players listen. Then there are guys on the team who haven’t done that yet who will. They’re going to get that opportunity and they need to step up and earn that right to become that leader.”
How does coming off the best season in school history and winning a bowl game affect the team and the players’ motivation?
“It serves two-fold. First, it serves as a motivation that we’ve been there and we’ve done it. We gained confidence through the outcomes. The second thing I think it does is it provides motivation for me to allow them to understand that last year’s accomplishments doesn’t give them anything this year. You don’t get credit. You don’t all of a sudden walk off the bus at Utah and get up 7-0 because you won 11 games and finished in the top 20 in the country. That means absolutely nothing. Respect the past and we’re proud of our accomplishments and where we’re at, but yet that doesn’t give us anything for this upcoming year. It provides us with plenty of motivation.”
What are you looking forward to the most this spring?
“Just to get back out there with the guys and watch them compete. I’m excited to watch the young kids, especially the ones that redshirted, grow up and get opportunities to see if they can compete and where they’re at. I’m excited to see older guys take one fundamental and improve it to make them a better player, add to their skill set and individual ability to be a great player. Just the little things, and just going through it for the first time as a head coach, being able to mesh both sides of the ball together at the end of spring and come out healthy.”
What are your expectations of the team during spring practice?
“Every day they walk into this building they worry about the only two things they can control — their attitude and their effort. As long as they have a great attitude and walk into meetings and onto the practice field right, they give great effort in the meeting rooms and on the field, I think those are my expectations. Then I know they’ll improve.”
Is there an area that you are really going to focus in on during spring practice that needs to improve?
“I think there are some areas we need to identify as far as the back end on defense and with the skill guys on offense to who’s going to fill some of those holes.”
Is there an area that you are really confident in knowing you can count on that group day in and day out?
“I look at the play of the linebackers. I look at the play of the offensive line. I look at the play of the quarterback. I’ve seen over the past two years, really consistent play on Saturdays. I feel good about who’s coming back in the kicking game. Those guys have been there and done that and we will have great competition in that area.”
Are fans going to see a lot of changes on offense/defense/special teams with new coordinators involved?
“For the common fan, there won’t be a lot of drastic changes. For the fan that understands a whole lot more, you’ll see some personal touches with the new coordinators. That will be a little bit different, but drastically, no. We’re still going to play no-huddle, up-tempo in the offense and quarterback run game. We’re going to be aggressive and throw the ball down the field. Defensively, we’ll operate out of the 3-4 and be multiple and aggressive and have a lot of zone and man pressure packages. You’ll see different personalities coaching because there are new guys, and with that comes some new blood and some new juice. I think fans will be excited with how we perform.”
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.