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New Warhawks Coach Bullish on Staff
When Kevin Bullis took over the reigns of the UW-W Whitewater football program on January 30th, his first order of business was to seek out guys he was going to go to battle with this fall. While that included athletes (the recruiting process was in the latter stages), first and foremost he needed coaches. Four assistant coaches from last year’s staff left with Lance Leipold to continue their coaching careers with the University at Buffalo. While Bullis and the coaches who stayed behind kept the program moving forward in the interim, they needed help. Bullis’ new job greeted him with four coaching vacancies on his staff, including both coordinator positions.
So how did he go about filling the staff? First, he wanted some of the hires to have a history with UW-W. “I’m a history guy. I originally went to school to be a history teacher. So to me, it’s very important to identify with your history because it gives you a foundation. Brent Allen (Offensive Line Coach) was part of those years with Bob Berezowitz. He was part of those first two teams who played in the national championship game. He was a huge part of that ‘getting to the Stagg Bowl.’ Brent typlifies that. The work ethic, the commitment. He wasn’t the biggest offensive lineman. But the type of work ethic he has, to have that piece is so important. Jace Rindahl (Run Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach) continues that. Jace was a junior in ’07, our first championship year. He was a senior in ’08, my first year here. And then to bring Nelson Edmonds in, Nelson has been a part of the program for an extremely long time."
But Bullis wasn’t content to keep things completely in-house. He also values the idea of bringing in people from the outside to keep the program growing and progressing. “I think you need a nice mix of that. That’s what (Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach) Rob Erickson and Craig Smith (Offensive Coordinator/Recruiting Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach) brought. And the great thing is that Brent and Jace have both been out in different situations and have brought back to us what they have learned." As Bullis prepared his list, he would have been happy to get the top candidate for two of the four coaching positions. He got the top candidate for all four.
“I will give Amy Edmonds great credit here,” Bullis said. “The Head Coach position was posted in December. At that time, we had three positions open including both coordinator positions. So Amy posted all those positions before we even hired a head coach because we have to go through that month period when the jobs are posted. Because of that, when I was hired, I was really able to proceed forward and get staff in. The reason that was so important is because we had spring football in April. It was really important that we had an opportunity for the staff to get together, learn about each other, develop a game plan going into spring football so we were organized.”
Bullis who emphasizes relationships in coaching his athletes said spring was invaluable because it gave the coaches and players a chance to become familiar with each other. “A football team is like a family. So now you adopt four people into your family, people in leadership roles. Having them together for spring ball was huge. It established a foundation for what we are doing this fall.”
By all accounts, the coaching staff this year has great energy and great chemistry. They are keenly aware they haven’t won a game yet, but they believe in one another and they believe in the players. “Having this type of talent really helps.” Erickson said with a smile. The season begins on September 12th against Belhaven University in Jackson, MS. The Warhawks’ first home game is September 19th against Finlandia University.
How Do You Follow a Lance Leipold?
During UW-W’s Media Day press conference, first year head coach Kevin Bullis was asked whether he was surprised his predecessor, Lance Leipold, was able to land a legitimate D-I coaching job.
“By no means,” Bullis responded. “To say he is deserving is an understatement. Lance is an amazing coach. It was really an honor to serve under him. Lance and I have known each other since 1990 when we were young guys working football camps. Lance has done all the right things to prepare himself. Pure had work, he has been around great people, he is a student of the game. So, no, it doesn’t surprise me. It would have surprised me if he wouldn’t (have gotten a D-I job), let’s put it that way.”
What kind of pressure does Bullis feel following Leipold, who was 109-6 with six national championships in eight seasons as the Warhawks’ head coach? “That’s a great question because it is something I had to ask myself last December. Lance offered me a chance to go to Bufffalo and it was tough to turn him down. But the reason I turned it down is that Division-III is where I’ve always envisioned myself. I have a passion for the mission of Division-III.
“So when I made the decision to not go with him, the first question I asked myself (when considering the Whitewater job) was ‘Wow, how do you fill Lance’s shoes.’ But then within minutes I remembered, ‘Wait a second, that was never our perspective.’ Our perspective was never to go and win national championships. Let’s put it this way, we didn’t go into the first meeting of the season and say, ‘We are going to go win the national championship. We never said that. The national championship was a by-product of of what we focused on. To me, we didn’t concentrate on national championships. We didn’t focus on WIAC championships. What we did concentrate on is getting better every day. When we met with the team last Thursday, that was the conversation. I said to the team, ‘Guys, our goal this year is to win the WIAC conference championship. That is our big picture goal. It will be the last time we talk about it. Because from here on out, what are we going to talk about? Getting better for that next practice. What are we doing now to get better for that next practice? Each person individually, whether it be coaches, trainers, equipment people, or players. That is our focus. And to me, looking at it in that manner, takes the pressure off. For someone to come in who had not been part of this program and not known that, that could have been insurmountable pressure.”
At this point, relatively early in fall camp, Coach Bullis does not have the look or sound of a man who is feeling pressure. While the games and resulting win-loss record always ups the ante for a coach, Bullis will likely benefit from his habit of not worrying about what he can’t control. “Pressure is all about what you put on yourself,” Bullis noted.
Will UW-W Offense be Run Dominated in 2015?
All of the factors seem in place for the 2015 edition of the UW-Whitewater football team to become a ground and pound, run the ball first type offense.
Excellent offensive line? Check.
Excellent and deep at running back? Check.
Loss of previous starting quarterback? Check.
Heavy losses from previous wide receiver corps? Check.
A defense expected to be good enough to win close, low scoring games? Check.
But there are two reasons Coach Kevin Bullis and his staff are not designing a run dominated offense for the 2015 season:
1. They don’t want to.
2. They don’t have to.
Coach Kevin Bullis was asked directly whether the Warhawks would emphasize the run more in 2015 given the personnel changes from last year. His answer was an emphatic no.
“Chris is a very bright, very athletic quarterback. Coach (Offensive Coordinator Craig) Smith’s system is very similar to what Andy Kotelnicki did in the sense that we are not going to be predictable. We are not going to be a predictable offense,” Bullis emphasized.
“Now you have to run the ball well and we feel confident with that. But we feel confident with the pass game. I spent my career as a defensive coach and if you are a one dimensional offense, that is fun to play football against. That is predictable and makes it easy. But when you have that ability to be balanced as an offense, that is a problem for a defense. And that’s the thing with Coach Smith. He is going to be constantly looking to get that balance and not being predictable.”
Nelson’s athleticism adds to the unpredictability.
Coach Bullis talked about how Nelson may prove a bit different than last year’s starter, All-American Matt Behrendt. "Chris is a guy who can move around and scare people. Are we going to be running the triple option wishbone? No we are not. But in the sense that if everyone is covered up and he has a big hole in front of him and he can get some easy yards, I’m sure he won’t be afraid to take them. I remember Blanchard wasn’t afraid to take them." Back in 2011, starting quarterback Matt Blanchard provided plenty of unpredictability as he ended up being the National Champions’ second leading rusher with a net of 452 yards rushing.
Wide receiver and co-captain Joe Worth expressed his confidence in Nelson. "He's my roommate so we've been throwing all summer. Every day. I think he is ready for this year. He has been the back up for two years, so he knows this offense like the back of his hand. He is a confident guy and he is athletic and a playmaker."
Will the Wide Receivers be able to make up for the loss of Jake Kumerow and Justin Howard?
"You don't replace a Jake Kumerow. We won't have a Jake Kumerow 2.0. And we can say the same thing about Justin Howard. Justin Howard was a great receiver. If we didn't have Jake, we would all be talking the same way about Justin. We lost two great players. We have to replace them as a group. We are really happy with what we have seen with this group. The wide receiver group is the position that has improved the most," according to Bullis.
Worth is excited about the wide receivers this year. "I think we have a good core group of guys. We have Conor Simpson, a transfer from Washington State. He has a good four years in front of him. And we have guys who have played quite a bit. We have me, Marcus Hudson, Ryan Storto. We have some guys who have gotten on the field. Also, Adam Korpela is a real good athlete. He is going to have a good career, too. We have a good freshman class with a lot of good athletes, too. We just have to keep working their techniques, releases, catching, and how to run routes. We have a very promising future at the wide receiver spot."
Tight ends’ contributions will add to the unpredictability.
Bullis believes the tight end position will be very strong in 2015 in spite of the loss of stalwart Derric Junakin. Coach Bullis talked about a couple of players who have improved greatly since 2014. “Brent Campbell has really taken to the forefront in that. We are excited about Brent taking more snaps. He is very big, very athletic, a very good blocker, and he’s really improved his ability to catch the ball. The other tight end we feel really good about it Tony Gumina. You will see them both on the field together at times. Tony is one who can play fullback and also get up there and play tight end. Tony is extremely fast and definitely has the ability to go up there and get the ball. It’s been a couple of years since we have had two tight ends where we feel good enough about them that we could put them out there on the field together and that’s exciting.”
Run game will be part of the balance, too.
The quest for balance is definitely not a case of Bullis not appreciating the strength UW-W has in the offensive backfield. “We do (have great strength at running back). “Jordan Ratliffe. Dennis Moore. Goodness gracious. Nick Patterson? Wow. I almost feel selfish. That’s quite a crew and we are really excited about them. We are find ways to try to utilize them better. You have to find ways to utilize that type of talent.”
It all starts with O-line.
All five of the Warhawks’ starting offensive linemen return in 2015. Tony Koepnick (RT) Eli Slonaker (RG), Spencer Shier (C), Conner Peters (LG), and Johnny Wiederholt (LT) will be joined by previous starter Lucas Skibba, who missed all of last year due to an injury. “We continue to be impressed with this group,” Bullis said.
And the first year head coach seems very pleased with the offensive side of the ball early in camp. " By no means are we where we need to be, but for practice number five, we are really pleased with where we are at.”
2015 Warhawk Football Captains
Joe Worth Ryan Winske
2015 Co-Captain 2015 Co-Captain
Connor Peters Zach Franz
2015 Co-Captain 2015 Co-Captain
Brief Summary of Position Groups on Eve of Camp
Don't Miss out on the Action!
INTERVIEW WITH DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROB ERICKSON
In Case You Missed It:
*NEW FEATURE* WFDC Will be scouring the web so you don't have to! On an ongoing basis, we will be posting links to web articles, news stories, and videos about Warhawk football. We will find the current stuff, occasionally pull up some fun historical stuff, and even include some interesting WIAC and National stuff. You will want to check the "In Case You Missed It" page often! CLICK HERE
Interview with Offensive Coordinator Craig Smith: Click Here
A very special THANK YOU to Chris Gehant for making the Warhawkfootball.com photo galleries possible! Chris took literally thousands of pictures throughout the season and gave full permission for Warhawkfootball.com to use them. He makes his entire gallery available to any Warahwk players or parents who would like access to them. Any Warhawk players or parents can private message me at my Twitter address Warhawkfootball.com@warhawkfbdotcom to access Chris' entire season gallery.