Of course several more, ummm, veteran coaching cohorts will point out that it is a lot easier for the ‘pup' of this staff. Not only is Townsend still a relatively young 37 (birthday on September 8) but he's only a couple years removed from a NFL playing career. So the cornerbacks coach is in just about as good a shape as some Bulldog players, much less his fellow coaches.
At the same time the relative youth as a coach—he's had two seasons, both in the NFL—on a sideline and this is his first college job, is not proving any problem for him or Mississippi State's defensive secondary. Townsend has brought a fresh energy to the staff, as well as an outlook that dovetails nicely with a young group of cornerbacks for 2013. That shows through in this post-practice interview with Townsend, done Saturday.
Are you and the players more comfortable with each other since spring? "You know, it's just getting to know each other, being around them a lot more, better understanding of the playbook. Not just the technique but being able to explain the ins and outs of the defense. And we know each other. I kind of know how to push their buttons and I know their likes and dislikes and just try to keep them motivated daily."
You have good competition with the ones and twos? "Well, that's the thing. I talk to guys a lot about being complete players. A lot of them have goals on playing at the next level and that's what it is all about. Competition brings the best out of everybody and I talk to them daily. I tell them I don't know who the starter is, we'll find that out come the first game. That's how they are approaching it."
Is there carry-over from spring for Justin Cox? "His talent is there. He's getting in the playbook, you know that's always the toughest part about coming to a new system. Is playing fast and not thinking. Now he's getting to the point where he doesn't have to think so much just about the call, but he's actually able to let his athletic ability come out and show. That's the thing I'm seeing right now because when we just do one-on-one you see how athletic he is because he's not thinking. Now when he really gets into the playbook he's going to be that much more of a better player."
How valuable now are guys like Love, Jiles, Calhoun who have played? "Oh it's huge. Not even that, it kind of shows they set the tone for the group because they've been here. They've seen how Slay and Banks worked and they know that's what it takes to be a great player. Because they had that example in front of them. So when you have guys that have the same mindset as the coach it makes easier to give it to the younger guys, and that's what they do."
How much does competition improve when guys know jobs are open? "I was brought up playing football, nobody has a job. You know, every day you have to go out and prove yourself. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-now business and that's the mindset you have to have to be a good player. Because when you become complacent that's when the next guy passes you. So I want them to always have that hunger, always have that ability to want to compete. That's when they'll be their best player."
You're the first guy getting out here, sometimes you beat the players? "I try to. You know, lead by example, that's one thing I do believe in. You have to lead by example, it's not always about talking. When you go out there and lead by example others follow. That's the thing I believe in."
What is your policy on playing freshmen, they're not supposed to know what they're doing? "No, they're not. But I will say I started my second game as a freshman, so the same thing goes for them. Get in the playbook, learn what you're supposed to do, get out here and compete and at the end of the day we'll see what happens."
It seems they make their mistakes full-speed? "Oh, that's with anybody. Effort out-plays anything. Effort is the first thing you have to do. Because even yesterday we talked about what you can control; you can always control your effort."
Are you setting field and boundary corners at this point? "No, we're going to play. We're going to play. With all the up-tempo stuff that field and boundary stuff is out of the book. Because a lot of times you get in trouble running around looking for the field, looking for the boundary, them snapping the ball. Nowadays you'd better be able to play both sides of the ball."
You've had some linebackers in corner drills? "We have some circuits that we do. And we teach a lot of technique so no matter what we call if you know the technique you can execute the defense. If you know a certain technique we can call whatever defense we want and plug you in and you can play, everybody knows what to do."
As a pro player you sat in on linebacker and line meetings, what are you doing in that regard as a coach? "That's how you become good. In the NFL if you want to last you better know a lot. So for me I took it upon myself to know where I could cheat and where I couldn't cheat. So if I knew what the linebackers were thinking, what the d-line was thinking, I knew how I could be a better a player. Now it's helping me be a better coach because I know what those guys are thinking."