SELU’s Head Coach Ron Roberts is fresh off an 11-3 season that saw the Lions reach the FCS semifinals for the first time in school history and earned him AFCA Coach of the Year Honors. He recently sat down with Mike Kuchar of XandOLabs.com to talk about the process it takes to build a program.
By Mike Kuchar - @mikekkuchar
Senior Research Manager
Editor's Note: SELU’s head coach Ron Roberts is fresh off an 11-3 season that saw the Lions reach the FCS semifinals for the first time in school history and earned him AFCA Coach of the Year Honors. He recently sat down with Mike Kuchar of XandOLabs.com to talk about the process it takes to build a program.
Interview With Ron Roberts
MK: You’ve come from many different schools before landing at Southeastern Louisiana. As a coach looking to find the next opportunity, what are some things he should look for?
RR: The number one thing is the people. They have a vision of where they want to go. As a football coach, you have to educate them. Administrators say they want to win, but they have no clue how to do it. They say it’s important t them. If you’re going to win, you have to expect everyone to know how to do their job- from the secretary, to the janitor to the trainer, academic coordinator, and weight room coach. If you’re going to win consistently and on a large scale it’s not just about having the players. You can’t win without good players, but there are a lot of programs out there with good players that don’t win on a consistent basis- it’s like a roller coaster up and down. The toughest thing for people in this world to figure out is when they have to look at themselves and say ‘I need to change. It’s me.’ How do I help this program? Those things are better off done in an interview than after you get the job.
MK: What potential did you see at SELU that made you want to take the job (The Lions had five wins in two years prior to Robert’s arrival).
RR: First off, the recruiting base is huge. There are players all around. Was it better in the situation I was sitting in? I said that we could sell it a lot easier than where I was sitting. Nothing else is really important. People can talk all they want about facilities but that’s not it. It’s the people your surround yourself with.
MK: The players you inherited didn’t have that, so what did you do to instill that mental toughness in them?
RR: That is a process. You have to keep correcting them to do things right. We didn’t see much accountability in the players. I don’t think a lot of kids or coaches understand what giving your best means. You have to show them what that means. If you show them how they can get what they want, they will buy in. We are a player driven program. We’re strict, but everything we do is for the players. You have to give them a voice. A lot of our first meetings were me asking kids, “what’s wrong with this place?” What are some things you just hate? I asked them there are people around here that are not helping you get where you need to be and I want to know about it. I don’t care if it’s the trainer, academics, weights, professional on campus, etc. I need to know what problems are right away. My first semester on campus, we had 8-10 kids that didn’t pass and we had to get rid of them. My first meeting with some of these kids was to tell him he’s ineligible and he’s done. I’ve never even met them before. We had kids missing study hall and missing weights. You miss one time, we’ll talk about your position on the football team. If you’re missing because of a death, I better get the first phone call. It needs to be you on the deathbed, if its not you than we have a problem.
MK: What’s one thing you did on offense this season that made a difference?
RR: We ran the football (reference rushing stats). Now we’ll dress it up and all that stuff, but we still about controlling the clock and winning the time of possession. People can say all they want- football is about running the football and stopping the run. You have to be able to wear a defensive down. We ran inside zone as our best play.
MK: What’s one thing you did on defense this season that made a difference?
RR: Number one thing is working the fundamentals daily. We talk about striking the ball with leverage, getting in the nap of someone’s neck (as a defensive lineman) playing with leverage that stuff doesn’t change. We got a lot better at taking on blocks and getting off. We do block destruction weekly in the form of circuits and by individual position groups. Some position groups may need more so we will do it more. We do it every day. We talk about “taking two” playing a primary and secondary gap.
MK: What is the most important trait a successful head coach must have?
RR: You have to be able to look at things differently. You have to be able to look at kids and coaches and see what they can be. You have to be able to see the potential in everyone. It’s a character trait that people have, but you can train yourself to do that. It wasn’t the same thing ten years ago. You go from that young bull in a china shop. The older I get, the more I tell myself to be calm. How can I get the most out of this thing? You need to have a vision for people, players, your program and everything.
MK: What is something you can share about your recruiting methodology?
RR: We go three-part evaluation: athletic ability, character and academics. We’re looking for guys with all three. He’s got to have at least two out of the three or I’m not talking to him. He could be a great player, but if he’s got bad grades and bad character we don’t take the risk. If he is a good athlete with good character but he struggles in the classroom, I can deal with it. If he’s a shady character but has good grade and is a good athlete we will work with him. He has to have at least two of the three. But anytime you’re trying to turn a program around, you’re going to have to take some chances on kids. He may not have a home life. Even those kids know the difference from right or wrong. Do I think I can help this kid? The biggest thing I assess is whether or not his high school coach will vogue for him. If the high school coach doesn’t go to bat for him, I don’t touch him.
MK: What piece of advice would you give to coaches in trying to climb the coaching ladder?
RR: It’s all about people. You have to build relationships. I never did that when I was young. Guys are going to hire people that they know about or have worked for someone that you know. Even today with this social media, you’re exposed. Every flaw is exposed for everyone to see it. Those guys need to have your back on staff.
MK: Thanks for your time and your continually support for the website, Coach.
RR: I truly enjoy all you do. So much of coaching is research and you are able to take most of the legwork out of that equation by doing it for us.
What You're Missing:
Join XandOLabs.com exclusive Insiders program and gain full access to the entire interview with Ron Roberts including:
- The process he uses when hiring assistant coaches.
- How he’s able to identify offensive triggers in “look” tempo and the various indicators offenses will use to check plays.
- His twitter and social media policy with his coaching staff.
- What he did in his weight room that may surprise you.
- The most important lesson he learned in coaching and how he learned it the hard way.