COACHES CORNER: Robb Akey, Part II

This is the second of a TWO PART GoVandals.net exclusive interview with Vandal football head coach ROBB AKEY. GVN sat down with Robb the day spring drills began and discussed all aspects of the 2008 Vandal football team. In this interview Coach Akey provides his insights on the APR rebuilding process (from past coaching changes), academics, his coaching staff, and the team's 'buy in.'

Larry Johnson: This is always a difficult subject, but is there anybody that's quit the team, or left the team? I know Jayson Bird has officially retired.

Robb Akey: "Jayson retired, which is unfortunate. There are a few guys that were on the practice squad who have moved on for one reason or another, but no other defections."


LJ: Any academic casualties that you can talk about?

RA: [knocking on his wood desk] "Not yet. At this point in time, no. We're trying to pay real close attention to that. This year – sitting here today – go 365 days back in time, and it was night and day. Look at the top of my desk. This all relates to football [waves his hand over 75% of the desk]. Last year all this football and academic stuff had police reports over the top of it. We kind of came in, and there was something that we were dealing with in that fashion. So, that's gotten an awful lot better for us. The same thing holds true with the academics.

Now, we still need to be better academically. But last year going into spring ball, I think there were five or seven guys that didn't start the spring practice – didn't get to practice. Academically [this year] they all have an opportunity to go out and practice. Now, there are some of them that need some work. For the time they get to spend on the football field, they're going to give us a little extra study time on top of what they're already doing for study time anyway. I'm not going to put those guys out on the table, but it's better and it's a more realistic situation. Right now it's getting managed into being more of what we want it to be.

Can we have a more consistent set of grades? Yes. A little higher GPA? Yes. The number one thing is getting those things better and making sure we don't have anybody go 0-for-2 in the APR rating (meaning a student-athlete has failed academically AND left the institution). Again [knocking on the desk], that's a work-in-progress, but it's getting better. We had no 0-for-2's coming from the fall, where there were the 13 from last year that we paid for [in lost scholarships]. That's what cost us the scholarships the semester prior to that. That's a scoreboard that we are winning on [now], and it's getting better in that fashion. That's maybe a scoreboard that people can look at and say, ‘Hey, okay, well this is getting better."'


LJ: At your last news conference, at the LOI news conference, you mentioned that you were really going to campaign for stuff in the APR rules, but right now – today – where does Idaho stand on any APR scholarship losses or penalties? What's the status?

RA: "Well, they [the NCAA] initially took nine [scholarships] away from us this year, and three initials (meaning 3 more scholarships for the next recruiting class – February 2009 class – also were taken away). We were informed [just before spring camp began] that they're going to give us one scholarship back, which puts us at eight scholarships they've taken away. We lost all three initials. So, that's going to drop us. Instead of being at 85 we'll be at 77 scholarships next fall because we got rid of people that you wouldn't want your son lining up next to; that didn't help us get better. That's what I think is wrong. Do I understand the rule? Yes. I don't think this is what the rule was intended to be. I think they're looking at the rule, and there's a lot of things that they say, but the fact of the matter is it's been appealed and we only got one back. Like I said before, we went into it understanding "Hey, there's nine gone." I'm going about it that way. If we get anything back, great. That doesn't mean I think it's right, but the NCAA isn't going to always do what's right. They're not going to listen to Robb Akey [and our situation]. We've just got to go out, and we've got to deal with it.

I want all these guys to graduate when they come here."


LJ: Well the core of the issue is: What is the true intent?

RA: "Exactly."


LJ: Are you intending to improve a program, or are you intending to get rid of guys, or are you intending to get rid of guys by convenience…

RA: "And all you've got to do is be around it and you know why."


LJ: Right.

RA: "I didn't mean to jump onto that tangent, but with just getting that information [right before spring camp began] – it does apply to our academics. Our academics – guys are going to be out there practicing. If grades start to fall, I'm going to pull ‘em off the practice field. If they can do both, and the ones that are close are going to get extra study time so they get the privilege of playing football, that's awesome. Eventually we won't have to be discussing these things, but I can't afford for us to have one 0-for-2, because every 0-for-2 is going to cost us a scholarship, and we can't afford that. We have to fix this APR rating. Everybody is watching us on this, and I completely understand that. I stand there and look at that football team every day, and I want to make sure that I help them achieve their goals; so we are doing an awful lot to help them. We're evaluating the way that we're going about doing it, too, because maybe some of the things we did in the fall we thought were good enough – maybe they're not – because we didn't have everybody go 2-for-2. Some of those guys didn't get good enough grades. Well, I expect them all to get good enough grades; so we're adjusting on the fly just like we do our offense, or our defense, or our game plans. We'll relax when it gets to where it's supposed to be, and it's not there yet."


LJ: Now grey-shirt personnel – have you got some grey-shirts that have entered in January and this will be their first time to sit down and actually work out with the team - attend a practice? Let's go through who your grey-shirts are.

BILAL LIGGINS
6-2, 280, Grayshirt Freshman
RA: "Well, Kenny Patton on the defensive side and Bilal Liggins on the offensive side."


LJ: Are they the only two?

RA: "Those are the two that we grey-shirted last year, and the new body would be the junior college transfer, Virdell Larkins, we brought in. All three of those kids posted very good numbers, I thought, in the weight room. You look at, you know, Kenny Patton. Everybody who's come in contact with him outside of our program came to me with positive comments about the kid. I watched what he did in the weight room. It was great. I'm anxious to see him out on the field. That tells me about his character and physically he's doing good things.

Bilal Liggins, that grey-shirt…Boy, that paid great dividends. He's what, 30 or 40 pounds heavier than he was when we signed him? That's exactly the reason that we grey-shirted him, and that's paid off. His strength is getting better. Now let's find out how does that work out there on the football field? Both those kids are chomping at the bit. They haven't had a chance to play football since the fall of '06. Tonight [the first night of spring drills] is a big night for them, and Virdell obviously the chance to get to do it away from the junior college… in here… and he's fighting to try to win an open spot. I think those are three great kids."


LJ: On to the coaching staff… you retained your entire staff since the off season. Is that correct?

RA: "Yeah it is. We've got one graduate assistant who won't be with us, but the entire full-time staff and those guys are all back, and I think that's a great thing. I think that helps this football program. I think the fact that they're going to get to run this offense, this defense, the special teams over again… that they can go back and work on the base again. They've got the same guys teaching them their position again. That's going to do wonders for us."


Idaho's 2007 coaching staff remains intact, including Defensive Coordinator Mark Criner.
LJ: And the relationship between the players and these coaches...

RA: "Yeah. We've got a family now that's going out there instead of a group of people. And, I am excited about that. They know what coach Akey is going to expect. I know how they're going to respond. We're working on a certain response that we want and we're all working towards that same goal. That's a great thing."


LJ: Now the coaches really mean that they want buy-in from the players and they want buy-in from critical people that are leaders on the team. How would you describe the buy-in process since coming to Idaho?

RA: "I think we're all on the same page right now, I really do. I think a number of them wondered what we were heading towards at this time a year ago. There were a number of them that were in the way. I think those guys got out of the way. A lot of those kids came in, I told you before [in a previous GoVandals.net interview], and they thanked us for helping make things better here. I look at what one of our recruits said at the end of one of our recruiting weekends this year. I had a young man I was talking to on his way out, and I always ask them a couple of the same questions: "What was the best part about the weekend? What stood out?" Well, we were talking and he said: ‘You know, the guys here.' He liked the family atmosphere, the way people got along with each other. Different races all did things together. Players with coaches; coaches with players. He liked the environment, what had been created – the family atmosphere.

They were working hard and these things were kind of… Well, I said: ‘They are having fun too, aren't they?' He said, ‘Oh, yeah, coach. They like playing for you guys.'

You know it… they're having fun and they like it. But, they [the recruits] also said, ‘Don't cross the line because you [Coach Akey] mean business.' And I thought…if he could be here for 48 hours and that's the message that this football team has communicated to him, why that's perfect. So when you ask me have they bought in? Yeah, I think we're all on the same page. I really do…and I think we're all working at it together. I don't think it's the coaches putting on the players or vice-versa. I really do think we're working on it together. We're gaining good ground."


LJ: There's a lot of good aspects about the schedule this fall as well.

RA: "Awesome, I think."


LJ: There is some travel. You go to Hawaii, you go to La. Tech, but there are a lot of good things about the schedule.

RA: "You look at the fact that we're playing one BCS conference school and that's great. Then we're going to come home. Of our non-conference games – one BCS conference school, and that's Arizona. We open up down there and get that one out of the way. We come back and play three schools… two are from similar conferences to us with San Diego State in the Mountain West and Western Michigan in the MAC. Both are going to be good games. One here is on ESPN. The other is down in San Diego. And then an in-state game with Idaho State that's here at our place, which should be a good thing for us. But, all four of those are very competitive games to help us prepare for the WAC conference schedule.

The first WAC game [at Utah State] is on the road, but that doesn't play out all that bad. We're home, away, home, away [to start the season], and that's a pretty good thing. You hit a little tough window there after we come back home when you take Louisiana Tech and Fresno… both on the road, back-to-back. But, then we also have the opportunity to spend damn near a month at home [in November] before the rivalry game [Boise State] and before we go to Hawaii. So, I think that's awesome. The fact that we don't have a game the weekend following Hawaii [the season finale is at UH] – we don't have to worry about getting back here and getting bodies feeling good, and getting prepared to take on a new opponent the next week. A lot of what hurts people, in my opinion, is the game after Hawaii when you have to play that thing on the road. Well, hopefully, the game after Hawaii is going to be our bowl game, which will be several weeks later. So, I like very much the way that's set up."


LJ: Which game will be on ESPN?

RA: "The Western Michigan game...it's my understanding. It is supposed to be on ESPN [as of] right now, and then the rest of them we're going to have be successful to make them want us. Right now, I don't think we have any of them on there."


LJ: Well thank you very much for the time, and good luck this season.

RA: "Thanks for being here."





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