He’s done something that is hard to do. He took over for Craig Bohl, who got the program operating at a very high level and won three national championships. You don’t usually see a successor from the same staff — a lot of times you’ll see a drop-off because they don’t quite have what the mentor had. He’s done a great job continuing the success. They won two more national championships and now they’re back in the national championship game. That’s impressive.
What do you remember about the last time you were in North Dakota?
I got off the bus and it was negative 10. I don’t know what the windchill was. My breath almost froze the first time I sucked in a big breath, so I didn’t do much of anything outside. I got from the bus to the hotel as quickly as possible.
On game day, there’s I don’t know how many feet of snow on the ground. But we get there and their fans had a tailgate area set up where somehow they’ve connected all their tents. They’re covered and they have heaters in there. It was 70 degrees inside their tailgate area and you step right outside of it and it’s almost zero. I cannot put into words the kind of environment they have up there.
During a game, what makes you nervous?
About every play. I feel like I do a pretty good job of giving the opponent the proper respect and realizing that anybody can beat anybody. As a coach, that’s always your biggest fear. You never want to lose a game you should win.
Do you check your cellphone during games?
No. Usually the last communication I have on my cellphone is a couple of hours out from kickoff. I make sure my wife and two boys — Reid, 5, “who’s got one speed, full throttle,” and Owen, 9 — made it to the stadium. As soon as I know they’re there, I toss it in my bag or on my desk.
Rumor has it, you are known for passionate pregame speeches. Are you a yeller?
They usually get pretty fiery. Football is meant to be played with a tremendous amount of intensity.
That is something I had no clue about when I came to James Madison. It was my first game here and I was nervous because you come in here and preach what we’re going to become and build, but you’ve never seen your team play. We played lights-out in the opener, incredible. Every time we scored, people threw streamers from everywhere. It was raining streamers. They were going crazy.
It’s a tremendous, joyous tradition that conveys our loyal, enthusiastic support. If you come to a game at J.M.U., you see the streamers. It was a big deal last year in Frisco when our fans took over the stadium down there. It will be interesting to see what that ban on streamers does to the energy this year.
Who is your favorite N.F.L. team?
I am a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan.
For people watching one of your games for the first time, what would you suggest they look for?
We have a pretty special quarterback, Bryan Schor. He’s one you don’t get a chance to coach very often. He’s a winner and he finds a way to raise the level of the players around him. On the other side of the ball, the way our defense runs and attacks is pretty impressive to watch.
Credit Stephen Swofford/The Daily News-Record, via Associated Press
What is your recruiting niche at J.M.U., and what is the biggest recruiting challenge?
When people get here and see this place and see what we have to offer, they’re a little bit blown away. We have a lot of things that some of the bigger schools in the country have, yet we are an F.C.S. school.
Our biggest challenge is taking the right players. We go after a lot of players who are being recruited by Football Bowl Subdivision schools, and you have to be careful and realistic. Don’t spend your time and resources on a player you don’t have a chance to get.
If your team played Alabama, what would the score be?
I don’t know. The thing about Nick Saban is that his team is not going to overlook anybody. Not many F.C.S. teams have had much success against Alabama.
What fictional coach do you identify with?
You like the story of “Rudy” because they had a David versus Goliath setting where the underdog ends up winning. And then you have Boone and “Remember the Titans,” which is a great story about football being a common bond that unites individuals who have differences.
Is your job as a football coach to bring people together and help them get along despite differences the way Herman Boone had to?
In our locker room, there’s a lot of diversity: where people come from, family makeup, a lot of different races. If only society could emulate the way our guys treat and respect one another. We have a pretty hard line on treating people with respect. I grew up in locker rooms and I’ve coached a lot of different teams. I treat people the way I want to be treated and try to find the good in everybody. We are all human beings.
I was the head coach at The Citadel in downtown Charleston, S.C. In June in 2015, there was the shooting at the Emanuel Church. A man named Dylann Roof walked into that church and sat in a prayer meeting with a group and then pulled out a gun and killed nine church members. He declared himself to be a white supremacist and that he was trying to make a point.
Before that happened, I would’ve told you that racism in this nation was on a decline and working its way toward not being a part of the society. But the next morning I got my team together and we stayed inside because there was a security risk. He hadn’t been caught yet. I had a diverse football team. And we sat in there and talked about it — how there can still be an evil like this in our world. That’s not how I was raised. I just think that night and that day made you sick, but it also brought something right in your face. There are still people out there that view things this way, which is very disturbing.
I can’t control people in society. But I can control my two boys and how I’m going to raise them. And they’re raised around my team. They ride the bus with my team. They are at dinners. They are at practice. They get to know the players and I have a good bit of control over the way my players treat each other. And we can have an influence on people around us and hopefully change the future of our country by being a positive influence.
You recently signed a contract extension. Why did you decide to stay and not move up to an F.B.S. school?
I have been able to work at places that have been really, really good. I have had pretty good timing at those places as far as knowing when the right time was to take a job and when the right time was to leave. It just didn’t feel like it was the right time or the right opportunity. A lot of people would question that, but it has more to do with the support I feel here and the opportunities I have and what we’ve built here. I enjoy going to work every day.
How much money did you leave on the table by taking this job?
Not quite double, but close. It wasn’t long ago that I was a high school coach making very little. I was a head coach at a Division II school and thought it was the best job in the world. I have always been able to live comfortably and do the things I want to do. It was hard to turn down the money because I’ve never dreamed of making that kind of money. But I never thought I would have the salary that I have here, so I feel very fortunate.
Would it be worth it for James Madison to make the jump to the F.B.S.?
It’s something that has been debated a good bit. J.M.U.’s resources are on par with a lot of F.B.S. midmajors. It wouldn’t be a drastic overhaul. But you weigh that against the experiences we’ve had winning a national championship and playing for another one. If we transition, it certainly wouldn’t be in the near future. There’s a lot to be said for winning. Who knows if you’d ever have a chance to do that at the next level?
What do you do after a loss?
I’m not much fun after a loss. I can remember one particular loss at The Citadel. It was my first year there and we were playing a team that was highly ranked. I had taken over a losing program. We were about .500 and we were the heavy underdog to this team. We go out and we lead the entire ballgame and we are up 4 or 5 points with 45 seconds left. If we get a stop, the game is over and we have a huge upset. They ended up converting and scoring with a few seconds left.
Traditionally, I’d go out and see my wife, Amanda, and the boys. But after that game, I did my press conference and I found the equipment guy and said, ‘Take me to my house right now.’ My wife comes in about an hour later and I am sitting there with all the lights off in my recliner staring at the ceiling. And that was a regular-season game. There’s so much time invested that it’s excruciating to lose.
What do you do to celebrate a win?
I’ll go to the house and it will be full of family and friends. There’s usually 10 little kids running around all over the place. It’s a festive, happy environment.
How much longer are you prepping tonight?
Hopefully I’ll be out of here by 10 or so.