Meet New Rutgers CB Coach Henry Baker In-Depth Conversation

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Henry Baker is back home, and the new Rutgers cornerbacks coach discussed his new in-state job and the future of the position under coach Chris Ash's leadership. From recruiting to philosophy, get to know the newest Rutgers position coach.

Q: What do you see from the cornerbacks?

A: “The athleticism that we possess right now, we've got some guys that are really long and athletic and fast. The style of play that we have here in terms of playing at the line of scrimmage and stuff like that, I think it lends well to what the guys do best. Their athletic ability, their attributes, I think it leans well to those types of things. I've been really impressed with what I've seen so far. Guys attacked everything that we've done so far and they're just going to get better the more and more we sit there and hone on the fundamentals and things like that.”

Q: What drew you to Rutgers?

A: “A couple of things, one I'm from the state of New Jersey. The opportunity to come home and basically coach in front of a lot of people who invested in me when I was a student athlete coming out of East Side High School. A lot of people who were invested in my career, coaches who were mentors to me and things like that. The opportunity to be able to come back home, that drew me first and foremost. Then, you have to look at conference like the Big Ten – one of, if not the, most competitive conference in the country. As a coach, being able to accept that challenge of being able to coach guys in this conference and see how they perform and see how they do, it's a test as a coach to see. … That was part of the challenge and that was the thing I was up for. I wanted to accept. And the allure of being able to come home was the other.”

Q: What are you goals in trying to teach and take the cornerbacks to the next level?

A: “Everything is just a process. Right now, the thing that I'm trying to hammer home is the mentality, the mentality of how you go about your business, how you go to work every single day and how you prepare. I think the athletic ability that I've talked about before, eventually that will take over but the things that we're really trying to hammer now is the intangibles. It's the mindset of how to come to work, the mindset of how we play. We press. We're going to be combative. We're going to sit there and be competitive. You've got to have a certain mindset. I talk to the guys all the time. It's been something that I've talked to just about every corner that I've ever coached. You've got to be able to shine when the lights are brightest, especially at that position. Everything that you do is magnified. There's a spotlight on you. It takes a certain type of mentality to be able to go out there and do that. Right now, that's what we're talking about. It's all between. It's all about what's in your head right now. Guys have been receptive to everything. It's a process, but it's a process that I think we'll get the best out of them.”

Q: What's the approach to press coverage for your cornerbacks?

A: “I think that's what was part of the attraction, at least for myself when talking to coach [Chris] Ash during the interview process. A lot of what he wants to be able to do at that position aligns with what I've always done. I'm an aggressive person by nature. I want to put as much pressure on the wide receivers and the quarterbacks in terms of being able to make the perfect pass. I don't believe in just giving quarterbacks easy-access throws and allowing receivers to get easy-access releases off the line of scrimmage. I thought what he wanted to do kind of fit my background and basically what I did as a player and ultimately what I've always believed in as a coach. I think those two things will gel well.”

Q: Did anything jump out to you when you looked at the tape from last season?

A: “Each guy has their own different skill set. I think each of them brings their own sets of talent. You look at a guy like Isaiah [Wharton] and he's just a patient guy at the line of scrimmage, very very skilled, very smart. Look at a guy like Blessuan [Austin] and Damon [Hayes] where those guys are really long and really athletic. You look at those three guys and what they were able to do a year ago, and they were all really young. They're just going to get better. The potential for growth is there and that was one of the things that jumped out to me. These guys are still babies at the position. Attack that process of a certain mentality. How to approach and how to prepare and then learning the position and being able play situational football. Those are all of the things based on what they already have. As they get older, it's just going to make them better players.”

Q: Did Rutgers recruit you way back when?

They did. I was really recruited by them and by another school in this conference (Maryland). I went to the other school in this conference but this is a different place now. It's a different place from when I came out of high school in 94. I will say, when I did come on my visit I was surprised at everything that this university has to offer. Being an in-state guy, there's certain things that you hear about a place like Rutgers because it's so close to home. There's an allure about places that are far, far away. When I got here, to be honest, it was a really tough decision. That was a different time. I was more so a basketball player. I played football because it was just something to do before basketball season started. My decision had much more to do with the fact that I had family at that other school than it was about necessarily football. I wasn't a guy that was all in-tuned to what football was at that time.”

Q: How will you use your connections to the area in recruiting?

A: “It will help a lot. I spent a large of majority of my time down in that Maryland, D.C. area after school and working there and going back as a GA. I spent some time down in Florida, so that will be another area that I have. My wife is from there. I spent some time down there whether I was training as an athlete or coaching in those high schools. Home is home. I’ve always had connections with the coaches here. Where I’ve been and the relationships that I’ve built as a player and as a coach, I think all of those things are going to help. Recruiting is all about relationships and I’ve done a pretty good job in terms of being myself and being consistent with those guys. I think that will help us with those guys.”

Q: What did you take from your father in learning to be a coach?

A: “Everything. What my father did for over 40-plus years and the impact that he had on young men is really what drew me to this profession. I knew at some point I’d hang up the cleats and when I did that I knew I was going to sit there and pick up a whistle. He has been the ultimate influence over me in every aspect. Obviously being his son and then I played for him and having the opportunity to coach with him. Just the conversations about coaching in general. Those are still things that I hold very, very dear to me. Yes, it’s a game that we play, but I believe coaching is much more about the relationships and development of young men. That was something that my dad always did and something that I hold really, really dear to me. (I have) strong feelings about why you get into this profession. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the glory. It’s not about the fame or even your own name. It’s about can you take a young man from where he is and help him grow and develop to a point where he wants to be. A lot of that I got from my father.”

Q: Did you see the news about the Patterson (N.J.) East Side basketball program?

A: “I did.”

Q: Reaction?

A: “No. I mean, no. I don’t. No. No reaction whatsoever.”

Q: Did you ever coach with your dad?

A: “I did. The year that he retired he coached varsity, my brother coached junior varsity and I got a chance to coach freshman. That was another sport, but that was probably the most special time that I’ve had as a coach. All three generations there together. Just coaching and having a good time. That was his last year, so that year in particular was very, very special.”

Q: What had you heard about Rutgers from your connections to other coaches?

A: “I didn’t necessarily gather anybody’s perspective about what this place was. I wanted to come in with a fresh slate, a fresh mindset. The only impressions that I brought to the job were the ones that I had of being a guy from this own state. I just looked at it as an unbelievable opportunity. I didn’t look at anything from the past. My whole focus has been where we can go from this point. Coach Ash has come in here and done a great job. Obviously there is still some work to be done, but I’m all bought in. I believe in what he’s doing. I believe in what can be done here. Where we are and in this market, I believe there are a lot of great things on the horizon for this program.”

Q: What was it like getting hired so close to Signing Day?

A: “It was maybe a few days. I kind of hit the ground running. That’s expected at this level. My job was to dive in it and be as helpful as a I could. Just trying to find a niche for myself those last couple days, trying to build relationships and just trying to give some of those recruits some ease knowing there was somebody going to be in this position and trying to allow them to get to know me and ask whatever questions they had to put their minds at ease.”

Q: How to you feel about playing time for new players?

A: “I don’t want anybody to come here with the mentality of ‘Oh, I just want to redshirt.’ There is nothing more valuable than competition. The more guys who come here with the mindset of ‘I want to play,’ the better I think it is for everybody. I’ve never been a guy who’s like, ‘You won’t play until this guy is done.’ I am a firm believer that iron sharpens iron and the more competition you have in that room the better it is for that entire side of the ball and for that room. You have guys pushing each other and there’s opportunity for different packages and special teams. Guys need to come in here prepared and ready to compete and let the chips fall where they may.”


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