March 14, 2012

BYU Staff Decides to Shake Things Up

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Corey Gunderson (above) was a huge part of BYU's run to a national title last spring, but he struggled during the Cougars' California trip. His spot was up for grabs in Matt Schneck's new "adjustment" concept, but the senior got the message. "We get back to practice and Corey Gunderson is saying, 'There's no way I'm going to be losing my spot,'" said Schneck.
© Cecil Copeland

Matt Schneck would best be described as measured. The BYU coach never seems to get too high or too low regardless of the score or outcome. Whether it was at the conclusion of his tumultuous first season when the Cougars stumbled to a 12-6 record and were bounced in the MCLA quarterfinals, or after receiving the national championship trophy last spring, Schneck was as even-keeled as ever.

Upon BYU's return from their five-game trip to California, the Cougars were 6-1, ranked in the top five and Schneck still used his emotionless tone when talking about the trek. But the content of his message made it clear that an edge had crept into his, and his staff's, handling of the program.

"When we looked at how we played in our first six games, I would call it adequate, at best," said Schneck. "We've been able to come away with some good wins, but at the same time, the way we have started the season is not the way we ended the fall. We took a close look at what some of those missing ingredients were or some of the things we felt like we needed to adjust and we started to make those changes over the last couple of weeks."

The end of the California trip coincided with a 17-day break between games, so it was a natural time to reevaluate the state of the team. One of the biggest concerns was the ability of BYU, which has a massive number of veteran players returning from the '11 title team, to keep their focus from start to finish.

While he conceded it might have been part of the mental fatigue that comes when you play six games in 12 days, it became apparent to Schneck that there was a certain lack of concentration before the Cal Poly game, which the Cougars ended up losing 10-9 after falling behind big early in the contest.

"I saw it before that game started and it concerned me," Schneck said. "But at that point it was a little too late to make any type of adjustments."

The term "adjustments" is Schneck code for shaking up the line-up. In the wake of the West Coast swing, and in particular the Cal Poly game, Schneck and his staff decided to post a daily depth chart next to the practice plan as both a motivator for the players at the top of the list and those at the bottom looking for their time on the field.

"We told them that it is a living, breathing document and they should understand where they are today may not be where they are tomorrow," Schneck said. "Every day we get an opportunity to briefly sit down as coaches and see if we want to change anything; move somebody up or down or move people to new positions."

As the coaching staff expected, many of the players weren't pleased.

BYU is a veteran group by traditional standards, but a majority of the players have also gone on two-year missions. Ted Ferrin, for example, played on the 2007 national championship team as a freshman, was the leading scorer on last year's team and will be a senior this spring. Those players are in their mid-20s and have been to all corners of the globe, so having their cage rattled isn't always appreciated.

"They are not shy by any means, and they let us know how they feel about things," Schneck said of his upperclassmen. "We take their opinions into serious consideration, but you reach a point where you have to start playing with their comfort levels."

Posting the depth chart had the intended impact on Corey Gunderson. The talented senior attackman started every game last year was second on the team in goals (40), but there was something missing now. Easy passes were being dropped, open goals were being missed.

"They were things that he has been so consistent with over the years, and it was matter of saying, 'If he's not performing, we're going to have to make some changes.' But a couple of things happened. We get back to practice and Corey Gunderson is saying, 'There's no way I'm going to be losing my spot.' All of a sudden you start to see him dial it back in, just something that hadn't been there for the first part of the season.

"He ends up having probably the best practice he had all year long. He was extremely consistent. The adjustment we were going to make in that situation didn't need to happen, but we had another situation where we moved people around. We're starting to see some of the chemistry return."

While it worked with Gunderson, this move is not without peril. Tweaking a team coming off a national championship because of a slow start to the season appears, from a distance, to be a knee-jerk decision.

It's not like the Cougars are searching for their first win or pushing their way out of huge slump. They lost one game. By a goal. On the road. Schneck understands this, but he also knows his team and what it will take to win another national championship.

"Some people might look at it as an overreaction," Schneck said. "A one-goal loss to a great team like Cal Poly? What are you overreacting about?

"Competition is always a good thing. We are fortunate that we have a big squad and we have a lot of young talent to choose from. We have all of our veteran guys who are out there, but we wanted to find guys from the younger group who will push some of those veteran guys in order to demonstrate that putting forth the effort – and getting the playing time because of it – is good for everybody."

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