MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University first-year head football coach Chris Ostrowsky has plenty to accomplish on the field in the next four weeks as the Wildcats begin a battle for the starting quarterback position, reintegrate an injured feature back into the offense and install a new defensive scheme.
The 2012 spring season isn't all about the players, however. Ostrowsky must also bring together a new coaching staff that features four new faces and new roles and responsibilities for the four other coaches that returned from 2011.
"It's everything in terms of us finding a solid trust base where we really trust each other and really admire each other," Ostrowsky said about the coaching staff. "I think if you can trust each other and admire each other, you have a great situation. Everyday it gets easier for us and I'm just excited to see us grow."
New Northern Michigan University defensive coordinator Brian Newberry speaks to the defense during Tuesday’s spring practice at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
New NMU defensive line coach and strength and conditioning coordinator Joe Coniglio works with the linemen during Tuesday’s practice. Coniglio and Newberry are two of four newly hired assistant coaches by first-year head coach Chris Ostrowsky. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
New Northern Michigan University wide receivers coach Marcus Knight, left, works with sophomore wide out Christian Marble-King on Tuesday during a spring practice at the Superior Dome. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Filling out a coaching staff was the last step this offseason for Ostrowsky - who was promoted in November from offensive coordinator after head coach Bernie Anderson's contract was not renewed for a seventh season - after scouting, recruiting and signing 26 players to National Letters of intent for the 2012 season.
Brian Newberry was brought in from Sewanee to coordinate the defense and coach the linebackers; Marcus Knight was hired from Valparaiso University as the recruiting coordinator and receiving coach; Joe Coniglio comes in from Kent State University as the strength and conditioning coordinator and defensive line coach; and John Russell was hired just recently as the assistant defensive back coach after playing for Bobby Petrino at Louisville.
Ostrowsky also shuffled his returning coaches around and added responsibilities to their titles with Joe Ballard being promoted to assistant head coach and defensive backs coach, Rob Boss becoming the offensive line coach and running game coordinator, Rob Erwin moving to quarterbacks coach and Brian Mitz remaining as running backs coach.
Two graduating seniors from the 2011 squad - defensive lineman Matt Forward and offensive lineman Nathan Linsmeier or Menominee - will serve as student volunteers as well.
"We were patient and we had a plan early," Ostrowsky said. "We talked about that plan and really wanted to create a blue print and follow it all the way through. We did that.
"The staff is structured strong and it's structured to last. As we get through the growing pains of spring football, I'm excited to see how good we can be."
Newberry has the most work to do among the new coaches this spring, installing a new defense than that of the departed Randy Awrey, who resigned as defensive coordinator in the 24 hours that separated the parting of ways with Bernie Anderson and promotion of Ostrowsky.
Newberry's defense will features multiple fronts, but is a base 4-3 scheme - four down defensive linemen, three linebackers - and like Ostrowsky's philosophy on offense it will be up-tempo.
"We're basing out of a four down (linemen look), but there's a lot of 3-4 principles," said Newberry, who worked with Ostrowsky previously at Washington and Lee University from 2002-04.
"I have a 3-4 background. We'll do some three down (linemen) stuff. We'll do multiple fronts and a lot of that depends on the personnel you give us. If you are going to be in four or five receiver sets, we're going to be in three down (linemen) and then we have our nickel and dime packages."
Knight, who was a national championship receiver at Michigan before going on to play in the Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders, is charged with improving a young and talented receiving corp that at times failed to live up to its potential last season.
While Knight's knowledge and experience at the highest levels of pro and college football are valuable, it's Knight's ability to teach the fundamentals - such as the ability to get off the line against press and soft coverages - is what excites Ostrowsky about his hire.
"We have to run routes better than they defend," Knight said. "We have to catch the ball when we are in one-on-one situations. That's basically what I'm brought in here for, to make sure the technique of these kids is where they need to be.
"They want to be the best they can possibly be and that's exactly what I'm looking for. We have a lot of potential here and now its about grooming and letting them learn themselves. That's what it's about for me."
The unsung hire for Ostrowsky may just be Coniglio not for what he will bring on the field, but off the field in the weight room.
Coniglio was not only an honorable mention All-MAC defensive lineman for Miami University, but a strength and conditioning all-American for the RedHawks as well.
He'll be charged with providing the team with a structured strength and conditioning program that coincides each day with what the team does in practice, Ostrowsky said.
"Everyday its indicative of what our goal of the day is," Ostrowsky said. "It's matching what our practice regime is. So if it's a hard day physically in practice, it's a light day in the weight room. If it's a light day in practice, it's a hard day in the weight room as opposed to its just a program. That was a necessary evil to run a program on a high level."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.