Stump Mitchell spoke quickly and forcefully. He delivered his points with passion and energy. Tuesday afternoon, as usual, the man was pumped.
And preseason camp at Southern University hadn’t even started yet.
“I can’t wait to get going,” Mitchell said. “I made the decision to come here and coach at Southern, and it’s a lovely deal. It’s a great day to be here.”
Forgive the Jaguars’ second-year coach for being a little fired up, because, well, that’s who he is. Whether he’s speaking, coaching or eating lunch, Mitchell usually comes with an extra-large helping of intensity.
Of course, at this time last summer, he was excited, too. Very excited. He infamously declared that his first team at SU had a chance to go undefeated.
Eleven games later, Mitchell had a 2-9 record and a plate full of crow.
In fact, for much of the past 12 months, it’s been tough on The Bluff.
That 2-9 record was the worst in school history. The NCAA, citing Southern’s low scores in the Academic Progress Rate, docked the team nine scholarships, reduced practice time and hit the team with a one-year postseason ban.
And just for fun, Southwestern Athletic Conference presidents and chancellors added to the penalty, voting to keep the SU football team out of its championship game.
Of course, it might not matter. Last month, pollsters picked Southern to finish last in the Western Division.
Preseason camp is here now. Players will check in and receive their equipment Wednesday afternoon, and Thursday brings the first day of practice. With that, Mitchell said he believes it’s high time for a makeover.
“Everything is about changing the perception from what it was to what we want it be,” Mitchell said. “It’s our responsibility to have Southern talked about in a different light. The more a football team wins, the more enrollment goes up. It’s our job to remind people that Southern is a great place to be.”
For the record, Mitchell said he won’t apologize for last year’s 12-0 prediction. He said he truly believed Southern had enough talent to win.
“What I couldn’t measure was the amount of discipline our young men had, or didn’t have,” he said. “The guys we have now ... I believe they have that understanding of what we have to do. And (this year), we definitely have more depth.”
Mitchell said he expects 95 players to report for camp Wednesday - including some who lost scholarships because of the NCAA penalties, but chose to keep playing for Southern anyway.
“That’s part of what’s different now,” he said. “We have young men who match the intensity and love for Southern that our die-hard fans have.”
Of course, other changes are afoot.
On the eve of camp, Mitchell confirmed he has dismissed secondary coach Otis Flowers and replaced him with Donnie Henderson, a veteran NFL assistant with an long résumé.?
Mitchell didn’t say exactly why he fired Flowers, adding only that he has to “evaluate everything” in his program.
“We’re all accountable, and I’m accountable for us going 2-9. That cannot be tolerated,” he said. “It won’t be tolerated by the president and the chancellor, or the fans. If we all don’t do the job, somebody else will end up doing it for us.”
Flowers’ secondary, though hampered by injuries, gave up 25 touchdown passes last season, more than any other unit in the SWAC.
As for Henderson, he spent 16 years as a college assistant and 10 more years with five NFL teams, including stops as defensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
He spent last season as the Arizona Cardinals’ secondary coach. The Cardinals finished 12th in the NFC against the pass last season, and the team chose not to retain Henderson, but he had success elsewhere.
Henderson was the Ravens’ secondary coach in 2000, when they crushed the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. Later, as a coordinator with the Jets in 2004, his unit finished seventh in the NFL in total defense and second in points allowed.
“He’s got a lot of experience, and the secondary has been in the tops in terms of leading the NFL,” Mitchell said. “Our guys have to understand we have a guy who’s been where some of them are talented enough to go.”