A Candid Conversation with Coach Brian Jenkins

Coach Brian Jenkins speaks with reporters after his team's 26-16 victory in the Florida Classic

Bethune-Cookman University head coach Brian Jenkins just concluded his second season at the helm of the Wildcat football program.  The Wildcats followed up a remarkable 10-2 season in Jenkins’ first year with an 8-3 overall record and a 2nd place finish in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.  Through 23 games, Jenkins has won 18, compiling an impressive .783 winning percentage for the Daytona Beach, FL institution.  While wins and losses are important to every coach, Jenkins’ real testament has been in the way his players have performed off the field.  Since his arrival, graduation rates have improved and players have become a mainstay in the community, forging a strong relationship with the Daytona Beach, FL community and surrounding areas.

On Thursday,  HailWildcats.com contributor Bradford Gillens and I had the pleasure of speaking to Coach Jenkins via conference call on everything from his rating of the team’s performance this past season to his prediction of this year’s Liberty Bowl. (Jenkins is a 1993 graduate of U. of Cincinnati and the Bearcats take on Vanderbilt in this year’s game).

Questions and Answers:

Assess your team’s performance this season, what grade would you give and why?  How about yourself; assess your own coaching performance.  What grade would you give yourself and why.

“I would give us a B.  We started out OK…then got flat mid-way and got punched in the mouth.  Once we got punched in the mouth we finished strong and I really thought an injustice was done by not selecting us for the playoffs….but you know, sometimes God sends you things for you to learn for the future…(the snub) taught us that you can’t stumble and slip up.”

On his coaching grade…

“I would give myself a B or B-.  I think some things contributed to us going flat.  One of the #1 things I did after the (North Carolina) A&T game was evaluate myself and correct some things I was doing…then I went back and looked at the coaching staff, then we went to the kids. I think I did a decent job of not panicking and letting the floodgates open and as a result we were able to finish the season with six straight wins.”

This season, the offense employed more of a “ground and pound” attack with your stable of runningbacks, which was a stark contrast to the vaunted Speedway offense we saw last year.  Was that a philosophical change due to the departure of Danny Barrett and Mark Orlando and arrival of Rob Spence, or simply a result of you tailoring the offense to the strengths of your personnel?

“It was definitely tailored to the strength of our personnel.  It’s the same offense we ran last year with just a tweak here and there.  Every year I’ve been in this offense we’ve always had a decent running game.  It wasn’t a change in philosophy, it also goes to show people we can do both.  We can run the ball when needed and pass when needed.  So that should definitely help us going into year three.”

What happened with Jamarr Robinson?  He began the season in impressive fashion against Prairie View, but by mid-season was relegated to the #3 QB on the roster?  Why didn’t we see more of him the second half of the season?

“Well Jamarr got a serious injury that takes such a long time to recover from.  Every time we would put him back in the game to try to give him some reps he would re-injure himself.  He suffered from turf toe in both feet and as a result it reduced his role a little bit.  Luckily for us David (Blackwell) and Jackie (Wilson) were able to step up in his absence and play at a high level for us.”

Ryan Davis was selected as the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year following a stellar senior season but was probably over shadowed this preseason by other Wildcats.  What do you attribute to Davis having such a breakout year?

“Definitely his work ethic, attitude, knowing his role, accepting coaching; anything a star player would contain, he had it and did it.  I think he finally figured out his craft at the DE spot and he said “Hey I’m gonna give it everything I got so when I hang this Wildcat hat up, I’ll know I gave it my all.  I know he’ll tell you he would not have been able to play at that level if the other 10 guys on the defense weren’t performing at a high level as well.”

Talk about the play of Ryan Lewis and Reggie Sandilands.   What have they meant to this team since you’ve been here?

“Very solid, experienced players.  Very sound, even though people were not thinking their name were getting called a lot.  Those kids brought a lot to our team and conference, but both of those guys are really, really sound.  Just to show you how good of kids they are, one is graduating in December (Sandilands) and the other is on pace to graduate in May (Lewis).  You can’t say enough about guys like that.”

On how he feels about them…

“Very proud, because it allows me to know that the message me and the coaching staff are preaching is getting through to them.  It also lets me know that they take pride in being a part of the bloodline and vision Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune set forth during the inception of the university.  I told those guys, when your playing days are done, your names will fall amongst the likes of Larry Little because of the type of career had here and the type of men you have become.  When I look at the way they have responded on the field, in the classroom, and in the community it let’s me know that they really believe that there is something special about being a Cookman Man”

There hasn’t been a MEAC team advance past the first round in an FCS Playoff game since 1999.  Whereas you have an upstart program like Old Dominion who in 3 years has produced more playoff victories than every school in the MEAC except FAMU, SCSU and NC A&T.  What are your thoughts on what the conference can do to improve their chances of victory in the postseason?

“The first thing we have to do is get more than one team in.  Anytime you have a conference that’s putting four and five teams in the playoffs every year, they’re gonna have a chance at more victories.  I think the teams with the best records should be selected to the playoffs regardless of conference affiliation.”

On Old Dominion’s rise to power in such a short while:

“A school like ODU has progressed really fast, but again you have to look at their conference. They play in the CAA and that conference historically gets 4-5 teams in the playoffs every year.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t play with them.  A team from our conference (Hampton) took them to the wire in the beginning of the season (45-42 loss)….what we have to do is schedule teams like that through the year and beat those teams in the regular season, if we can do that we’ll see things take a turn for the better for the MEAC.”

On the MEAC’s perception among other conferences

“I don’t think college football respects our conference…if you look at the coaches we have in this conference, they’ve put together really good programs. Why college football doesn’t respect our conference is beyond me, I just don’t understand it.”

On FCS Playoffs being compared to BCS

“You know, I never understood what Boise State was feeling until this season when we were passed up for the playoffs.  This year you got two teams in that were 7-4…and neither of those teams beat teams that were at the top of their conference.  I think some things need to be re-evaluated or looked at.  We (MEAC) definitely need to have more than one team in the playoffs.”

Are you still upset about your team’s playoff snub?  How well do you believe your team would have matched up against this year’s playoff participants?

“I feel we would’ve matched up very strongly. No disrespect to any playoff teams, but we would’ve come away with some victories in the playoffs this season.  We were healthy unlike last year, we had some depth unlike last year, and we would’ve gone into this game with our best team to achieve victory.  I was really looking forward to having an opportunity to prove that we deserved to be in the playoff field.”

What are some of the immediate needs B-CU needs to address in order to get back to their championship form of 2010?

“Defensively we’re losing Ryan Davis, Ryan Lewis, and Reggie Sandilands.  We’re also losing Jean Fanor, who’s just as good as any safety in the conference.  So it’s definitely a task trying to replace those guys.  That’s kind of like all your stallions have run and won all the races they can run for you and you have to let them go free.”

Can you provide a general overview of your offseason calendar?

“Work, work, work, work, and more work.  First in the classroom, second in the community, and third in the weight room.  We do have a calendar because we’re very structured and detailed here…so we’ll evaluate ourselves very strongly going into spring practice.  Take it into spring and correct and recover.  Then we’ll get a chance to get in and evaluate some young talent.”

When does spring football begin?

“We never really have a set date.  Our guys have to earn the right to participate in spring football.   There are certain tests our guys have to go through in order to practice spring football.  I’ve been around coaching for a very long time.  Sometimes I think players lose sight of the fact that football is a privilege, not a right, therefore you need to work to get that gift and not take it lightly.  Our guys will forever be grateful and be humble for the opportunity to play football at the Great Bethune-Cookman University.”

Looks like your alma mater drew Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl.  Do you still follow the Bearcats on a weekly basis, and if you do, what is your prediction of the game?

“I follow as much as I can.  I don’t get back to support them as much as I’d like.  A good friend of mine and godfather of my son, Tim Banks, is the co-Defensive Coordinator there and I’m supporting what he’s doing.  The head coach (Butch Jones) has the program going in the right direction.  You don’t hear about the players getting arrested or doing foolish things.  That’s how you know he has them headed on the right path.  Coach Franklin is also doing a great job at Vanderbilt.”

Coach thank you for that long winded answer but you still never made a prediction.  Who are you going with in the game Cincinnati or Vanderbilt?

“(Laughs) I see you caught on to me there.  I thought by giving you a long answer where I talked good about both schools I would get out of having to choose one of them.  I’m going with the Bearcats to win and I know this is gonna come back to get me because I’m gonna see James (Franklin) at the coaches convention and I’m gonna have to buy dinner or something if that does happen.”

You created quite a buzz with those new helmets.  Did you have any idea that the fans would react so favorably to the head gear?  Who designed the helmets?  You now have 75 uniform combinations.  I’ve heard some call BCU the Oregon/Maryland of the HBCU world with all of the uniform combinations.  Who will decide which uniforms will be worn in each game next season?  Can we expect any new alterations to the uniforms and/or head gear next season?

“I told my wife that these helmets might be my tombstone if they don’t go right.  It kept the traditional colors, but brought some freshness and newness to the program…very happy it all worked out.  And I tell you what; it kind of gave us some juice as a team.  We brought out the first (maroon and gold) ones against Morgan St. (49-23) and we had a big win and the second set (black) we wore in the Florida Classic (26-16 over FAMU). 

There is still more (uniform changes) to come”

On the chief designer of the helmets

“I designed the helmets.”

On B-CU the Oregon/Maryland of the HBCU world with all of the uniform combinations…

“I’m starting to hear that and that’s OK with me.  Anything we can take from good programs and use for ourselves we’ll definitely take that.  I don’t think that’s a bad tag to have.”

On who will decide which uniform combinations will be worn in each game next season…

“We have a Leadership committee selected with a group of young men from every class.  They select the uniforms they want to wear.  In order for that selection to take place, they have to perform in the classroom and have no violations during the week.”

How rewarding was it for you to win your first Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida Classic this season?

“It was very rewarding.  Anytime you can beat a high caliber team like FAMU it’s very rewarding.  Especially knowing last year you had ‘em on the ropes and had ‘em staggered and they come back and got you.  It was also good for me to go up against a coaching legend such as Joe Taylor and I will always consider it to be a bright spot in my coaching career.”

Coach we’re 13 days away from your two year anniversary as the head coach of Bethune-Cookman.  What stands out as the thing you are most proud of accomplishing in that time period?

“The off the field success, man.  The culture change by our young men, graduation rate of our athletes…and they’re not just getting bachelor’s degrees they’re attaining master’s degrees as well.  Last year I had two graduates from the Master’s program, this year I have eight.  I tell the guys all the time as long as we take care of things off the field, everything on the field will fall into place.”

“I also want to thank you guys for all of the hard work that you do covering Bethune-Cookman University football.  You guys do a first class job with your sites and continue to put the word out about all of the good things we’re doing here, so thank you guys again.”

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