Over the last 17 years, Rod Reed got his feet wet as a coach, bouncing around as an assistant at five different schools.
So as he enters his first season as a head coach with Tennessee State, Reed definitely will be adjusting to calling the shots. But he won’t be learning a new program. He’s spent the last seven years at TSU as the defensive coordinator, and he played for the Tigers from 1984-88.
That familiarity with the program, Reed said, will help him transition to head coach.
“It helps knowing the personnel,” he said. “You know some of the ins and outs of the university. You get some things done faster than maybe a new guy would.”
Reed takes over for James Webster, who resigned after five seasons and a 4-7 record in 2009. During that season, and in recent years, Reed said the team struggled to find consistency. He pointed out that it was a rare feat when the Tigers won consecutive games — they did it once last year.
“We have played up-and-down football,” he said.
What he wants to instill in his program, right now, is consistency across the board — on the football field, in the weight room and in the classroom. He also wants them to finish football games; TSU lost four games by less than seven points last year.
He cited a lack of team unity as a big part of the consistency issues he aims to fix. He called it “my-opy,” saying there were too many individuals and not enough team players.
There are new leaders emerging among the players, such as offensive lineman Alex Davis and junior linebacker Rico Council, who was second on the team in tackles last year.
“He has shown great leadership,” Reed said of Council. “He has been leading by example.”
The defense appears to be the strength again this year for the Tigers, who were third in the Ohio Valley Conference in total defense last year, allowing 308.6 yards per game. That unit will be led by senior back Eugene Clifford and junior lineman Donte’e Nicholls, both of whom were named to the All-OVC preseason team.
The offense managed an average of just 14 points a game last fall. And while there are still question marks before the first game — the starting quarterback, for one — Reed is confident in his group to put up more points than last year.
Senior Dominic Grooms takes over at quarterback for Calvin McNairl, who moves to wide receiver after leading the team in rushing (628 yards) in 2009. Grooms started three games last year when McNairl was injured and threw for just 279 yards, with four interceptions and no touchdowns.
While Grooms is atop the depth chart at the moment, Reed hasn’t named him the starting quarterback. Senior Jeremy Perry and freshman Michael German might also be in the mix.
“This is a quarterback competition,” said Reed, who has a little more than two weeks to decide who he will put out on the field in the season-opening John Merritt Classic against Alabama A&M on Sept. 4 at LP Field.
The Tigers were picked to finish fifth in the conference this season in the coaches’ preseason poll and earned one first-place vote.
Asked about that prediction, Reed said, “If the game was played on paper, I would buy into it,” adding that Jacksonville State and defending conference champ Eastern Illinois were both deserving of the top two spots in the poll.
But Reed doesn’t see this merely as a rebuilding year for TSU.
“I have high expectations for this football team,” he said. “I am not going to make a win-loss prediction … [But] I like our chances versus anybody. We aren’t going to back down.”