A Q&A With Assistant Coach Les Koenning

Les Koenning, one of the newest members of the Mississippi State football coaching staff, sat down with Gene's Page to talk about joining the MSU staff.

What is your connection to Dan Mullen?
Les Koenning - "When we were at Texas A&M we had played Utah while Dan was out there. The first year we beat them at College Station, then the second year they beat us at Utah. We were intrigued with what they were doing at Utah, although they were probably doing it with lessor athletes than we were used to competing against.

"When we came to Texas A&M there was a group of (colleges) who were kind of what you would now call spread guys. Ourselves, West Virginia, Northwestern, Oregon, Bowling Green, Wake Forest. We would all share ideas when we talked. So, what we did at Texas A&M is we started having a clinic at College Station where we would mainly have the spread people come. We would pay for their rooms and food and they paid for the transportation.

"We would gather a list of things that we wanted to talk about and I would get on the phone with Dan (Mullen) and talk about who we had coming in and what they were going to talk about. We all got on the phone and talked about what we wanted to do in the clinic. So, when we met, each coach would speak for an hour or so. Then, we had an open forum. Due to that, you really got in-depth on ideas and problem-solving.

"That was when we got to meet Dan for the first time.

"When (Urban Meyer and Dan) left Utah, they went to Florida and we actually visited Florida. We wanted to see how they were putting things in at Florida. Anytime you start getting involved in the spread there are a lot of little things that you need to know. There are different types of spread offenses. Texas Tech's is obviously different than West Virginia's but they both call it the spread offense. Because of that, you have to understand what your players can do and how you can adapt to that. That is the versatility of the spread offense."

How long have you been doing things with the spread offense?
"We first ran it at Alabama with Tyler Watts. And we had visited a great number of places and really researched it a great deal."

A lot of people think the spread offense requires a quarterback who can not only throw, but also has to be able to run well. Is that true, or can any quarterback run the spread?
"You taylor-make your spread offense in accordance to the ability of your quarterback. The spread is a broad term. When you really look at it, it allows you to utilize what your quarterback is good at. If he is good at throwing the football, you get him in the shotgun and protections where he can see the field and identify the blitz, so that it creates a better atmosphere to throw the football in. If the quarterback's ability includes being able to run the ball like (Florida's) Tebow, it allows him to be a mobile quarterback. So, the way you utilize it is determined by what your quarterback can do. You are going to be successful if you utilize the talents of your quarterbacks."

Do you have to have a certain type offensive lineman to be able to run the spread?
"You want them to be big and fast. Qualities that they need to have is they have to be able to pass-block, but they still have to be able to run-block, too."

Is it easier for a true freshman quarterback to come in and play early in the spread offense compared to other offenses? If so, why?
"Yes. You've seen all the no-huddle offenses in the spread. The reason why they are no-huddle is because you are trying to identify what play you want to run. (Due to the time factor) that signal can come from the sidelines. That allows it to become more of a execution offense instead of an offense that you are always having to change the plays in. Now, as the quarterback gets more experience, you put more responsibility on him."

The SEC is different than almost any other conference due to the speed of the athletes. Can a team that may not be as talented and fast as a Florida succeed running the spread?
"Sure it can. Look at Texas Tech in the Big 12. They have equalized some of the things in the Big 12 because they have guys who can throw and catch the football. What Tech has done is take their form of the spread because it is the best way for them to win. Florida is a different type of spread. They utilize their talents. That is the beauty of the spread - you figure out what your players can do and do that. Right now, we don't know what our players can do, but that is what we will learn in the spring."

Do you have an idea why Dan came to you when he started hiring assistant coaches?
"The first thing is we got along really well talking about the same ideas. When you have an interest in something that another person has an interest in it creates a common bond. The second thing is I really enjoy being around him. I like his passion, his thoughts, and that he is a guy who is interesting to talk to. When we had those clinics talking about the different areas of football there was a common bond between us that kind of threw us together."

Why did you want to come back to Mississippi State?
"One reason was the opportunity to coach with Dan. That was intriguing to me. Sometimes when you walk into a place you sometimes have to adapt to the other coaches philosophies. But being around the spread and understanding it, it is going to be easier to make that transition here. Plus, Starkville is a special place because my daughter was born here, and I really enjoyed it when I was here."

Was another factor that brought you back to Mississippi the fertile recruiting ground in the state?
"Yes it was. Having had the opportunity to recruit Mississippi before, I know there is a lot of talent here. And there are a lot of very good high school coaches. It's really going to be a pleasure to be back in this state."

You've been here before. What's it like to see all the changes that have been made since you have been gone?
"It's unreal to see all the changes in the facilities and how it has grown. I even got lost in Starkville. The first time I was here it wasn't a problem getting around. Mississippi State is a very special place to us. Not only did we have our daughter here, but Mississippi State is such a good place to send your kids to school."

Dan is going to have practices open to the public during the spring. Have you ever had that before? And, if so, what was it like?
"Yes, we have during certain times of the year. When we were at Alabama they had a large following over there and people came to practice."

But you may have 100 people on the sidelines telling you how you should run your offense (laugh).
"Yeah, but if it works I'm willing to listen (laugh). And if they have any eligibility they can let me know (laugh).

"It was really kind of neat at Alabama because they had some fans who would always come out. And there was one man who kept hollering, 'do what the coach says, do what the coach says.' If we had to discipline a kid for not going to class, another one would say, 'you need to role them more coach, you need to role them more.' The passion they have for college football in the south is unreal and is second to none."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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