As Lehigh’s football team prepares for the 150th rivalry game against Lafayette College on Saturday, The Brown and White‘s Peter Gormley sat down with Mountain Hawks coach Andy Coen, who is in his ninth season at the helm of the team.
Q: What does it mean to be Lehigh’s head coach for the 150th Rivalry game at Yankee Stadium?
A: It’s very, very humbling, to be a head coach for really any Le-Laf game…but just the magnitude of this game, and just how important it is to obviously both teams, but also the alumni and so many other people. I’m thrilled to have the honor to do it, but it’s a very humbling thing.
Q: What are you telling the team to stay focused on the game itself instead of everything surrounding it?
A: It’s a challenge without a doubt. Every year we go through. This year it’s probably a harder struggle because of all the things that are surrounding the 150th, but the most important thing is, the players have to understand the game starts at 3:30 on Saturday. It doesn’t start on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday. You really have to control their emotions the best you possibly can. You want them to be emotional at 3:30 on Saturday, and not any time prior to that, and that’s a challenge for some guys. I think I rely a lot on our seniors who have been through three games prior to help us out with that.
Q: How much would it mean to you to send the seniors out with a victory?
A: This past weekend was emotional for us because it was our last game in Goodman Stadium, and unfortunately we hadn’t won a game (at home) prior to Saturday, but that was a big lift for the kids to get something off their shoulder. Now they get to turn to the big game. We had a really good run. We had won five in a row and then lost last year (to Lafayette), so now our seniors will have the opportunity, if we can get this one done, to be 3-1 in the rivalry. The guys who play football here, they always measure themselves on “What was your record against Lafayette?” So our guys now want to really make sure they get the win so that they can be 3-1. Either way, win, loss, at the end of the game it’s an emotional thing for those guys because its the last time they will be playing football and that’s a big thing.
Q: With so many great young contributors on the team, how are those seniors effective in leading these players?
A: I think they do a great job. We talk to the seniors a lot about it during training camp. My philosophy is that it’s the senior’s team and they need to set the right example for all of our younger players. So the success that you see our younger players having right now, I think is a byproduct of following the lead that other good people have set forward for them.
Q: Looking at the great one-two punch in Nick Shafnisky and Troy Pelletier, how important have they been this season and what do you think their impact has to be in order to pull out the victory?
A: If we going to win the game on Saturday, their impact is going to be very large in this game. Nick had an opportunity to play last year in this game. Matt McHale was injured, and Nick stepped up and struggled. It was a very big stage for him, and we had a championship opportunity on the line. The development that Nick has made from August until now has been really light years. Especially these past three weeks or so, the light has really gone on for him. So, his impact as a quarterback: He’ll have the ball every time it’s snapped. We place a lot of trust in him. What’s good is that we have someone like Troy who we can get the ball to, and we also have another good group of weapons in Josh Parris, Rich Sodeke, and several other guys so that Nick doesn’t have to do everything but himself.
Q: Besides the impact of those two guys, what is the key to victory this Saturday?
A: Well, the key for us, and we haven’t been able to do this all year, but it is to finally play a complete football game. For a while there on Saturday against Colgate, we were up 30-13, going into the forth quarter and I said, “Boy, this is finally going to be our complete game” and then we had a couple breakdowns in coverages and they (Colgate) got right back into the game. So, the focus that we need to have this week really needs to be, without a doubt, the best we’ve had, both in our preparation and then when we are playing in the game. That’s a challenge, to keep focus because the game is just so emotional, particularly early on in the first six or seven minutes, you kind of got to survive the emotion of that. We were not able to do that a year ago, so that’s going to be a big point of emphasis this year.