By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
New Montana State University-Northern head football coach Mark Samson will be the first to admit he can't do everything himself. No head coach at any college football program can.
However, hiring assistant coaches isn't something to be taken lightly. There's an old adage that many head coaches subscribe to: "You're only as good as your assistant coaches."
With that in mind and winter conditioning looming, Samson has filled out his coaching staff for the upcoming 2004 season with a few new faces, while bringing back a few familiar ones as well.
"I'm very excited," Samson said. "I really feel like we have a good staff with people that are on the same page with what we want. They know what needs to be done and how much it's going to take."
One of the key new faces on the Northern staff will be defensive coordinator Rick Wells, who coached with Samson at Carroll College in the late 80's and early 90's.
Most recently, Wells was at Diamond High School in Anchorage, Alaska. But he has vast college coaching experience. Besides his 14-year stint at Carroll, Wells coached defensive line at Texas A&I-Kingsville and was defensive coordinator Jamestown College.
"He's a very knowledgeable coach," Samson said. "He's been around the state hundreds of times. He knows the coaches and the league."
Besides heading up the defense and coaching defensive backs, Wells has already been intricate in some of the administrative duties dealing with players' financial aid.
"When he was at Carroll, Rick dealt with all the financial aid and scholarships," Samson said. "He is very familiar with that stuff. It's something that has already helped out tremendously."
Joining Wells on the defensive side of the ball will be defensive line coach Ryan Gatch. A Colstrip native, Gatch coached at NCAA Division II Chadron State this past season. Before that, he coached at Dickinson State University, where he also played for the Blue Hawks.
"Ryan sent me his resume and called me the day after I got the job," Samson said. "We talked a long time. He really has a lot of knowledge of football. He also understands how college athletic programs should be run. He's going to be a very good college coach."
Joining Wells and Gatch will be former Lights' free safety L.D. Matthews, who will coach linebackers. Matthews led the Frontier Conference with 141 tackles this past season while tying for the lead in interceptions (4) and pass break ups (13).
"L.D. is going to be a graduate assistant," Samson said. "He obviously understands how the game is supposed to be played and what it takes to be successful on the field."
Samson said he also plans to add another defensive grad assistant in the fall.
On the offensive side of the ball, Samson will handle the offensive coordinator and quarterback coaching duties.
He will return incumbent receivers coach Scott Leeds. Samson is very familiar with Leeds, having been his offensive coordinator when both were at Carroll College. That familiarity was very important in retaining Leeds for this season.
"For me to keep Scotty was a no-brainer," Samson said. "I know what kind of person he is, having coached him at Carroll. I know how he approaches the game. When he was playing, he always gave 110 percent and that's how he approaches coaching. I would have very disappointed if he wouldn't have been able to coach this year."
Also returning from last year's staff is Ed Lund, who served as running backs coach last season. Lund will shift positions and take over the offensive line coaching duties. Although it's a change, Samson believes Lund can more than handle it.
"Ed came highly recommended," Samson said. "I put him in a new position, but I'm not going to throw him to the wolves. The offensive line is very important part of being successful. What has impressed me is his willingness to learn and his willingness to work. He asks a lot of questions to make sure he understands exactly what I want."
Rounding out the offensive staff will be grad assistant Mike Lee, who will head up the running backs and tight ends.
Lee coached at Rocky Mountain College last season and came to Northern looking to finish up his master's degree. Besides Rocky, Lee also coached in Plentywood and at Billings Central and has been coaching either football, baseball, basketball or track for the past 14 years.
"Mike is going to help us out in all aspects of the program," Samson said. "He is very hardworking and has been doing a good job of putting together our summer camps. Like any grad assistant, he will have a multitude of assignments."
Samson met with the players last week and said that around 70 players showed up for the mandatory meeting. With his staff in place, he will start winter conditioning practices on Monday. He said that Gatch will head the weight-training program, while he'll oversee the plyometric agility and running program. But every coach will be involved at some level.
"Everyone's going to have some role in our conditioning," Samson said.
As for spring practices, Samson is planning to start on March 22 and end on April 17, that is, weather permitting.
"It depends on the weather," Samson said. "I don't want to stretch it out too long. There is so much learning going on that if we learn something in the classroom, we want to practice it on the field the next day. We want them to retain the information."
As for the players' attitudes, Samson likes what he has seen so far.
"Their response has been really positive," he said. "I think they're pretty anxious to get out there and start working. Our goal is very simple: It's to make them better football players."