With seniors ending their eligibility all over the defensive line, there’s a possibility the Cal Poly football team could change its defensive philosophy next season, Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said.
A move to the Big Sky Conference and further tweaks to the offense aside, that could be the extent of the major changes on the horizon.
Coming off a co-championship season in the final year of the Great West football conference, there are no indications that athletic director Don Oberhelman is angling to deny Walsh a contract extension.
“I like what I’ve seen out of our football team,” said Oberhelman, who was hired from San Diego State to take over as athletic director last spring. “I like the character of our football team. They don’t quit. They don’t back down. They’re the type of people we need to have associated with us, and Tim is a big part of why.”
When he was hired to replace Rich Ellerson in 2009, Walsh was given a four-year contract by former A.D. Alison Cone — one that has since been extended by one season to run through 2013.
Including this year’s 6-5 overall record, Walsh has gone 17-16 in three years. A team that returned only one starting skill player on offense went 4-7 in 2009. Potential playoff runs in each of the past two seasons were both ended with unexpected losses to Horseshoe Trophy rival UC Davis.
Walsh labeled this past season a win short of great after having accomplished the team’s primary goal of a conference championship. The Mustangs fell short of goal No. 2: The playoffs. And Walsh said his biggest disappointment is being 0-3 against the Aggies.
Oberhelman said he hopes to meet one on one with Walsh to talk about his contract before Christmas. The coach said it’s important to make a statement about the stability of the program to both assistant coaches and recruits.
“In fairness to the program, too, I think (an extension) would be smart with the fact that we’re going into the Big Sky,” Walsh said. “I think it gives some stability, shows you’re happy with the progress that we’re making.”
The program is chugging toward a crucial signing period for recruiting.
Ten Cal Poly defensive linemen were seniors, including six who received regular playing time.
That is a big number of contributors to replace in one season, and though Walsh said returning starter Sullivan Grosz and backups Andy Alcaraz, Nick Leyden and Chris Lawrence would make a formidable front, the Mustangs need signees who can play right away.
That’s a tough task to ask of true freshman, and it’s a reason Cal Poly could sign more junior college or Division I transfers this season.
“It’s tough for us to find those guys that are going to be what we want them to be,” Walsh said. “That’s why that’s probably going to be an area with transfers. Most freshmen are going to need to develop their technique, quickness, their size and probably their speed.”
If the Mustangs can’t secure the type of depth they hope for on the defensive line, Walsh said coaches have already been discussing the possibility of changing the defensive scheme to a three-man front to better fit the personnel.
He doesn’t want to resort to such a major change. The defense has featured a four-man front since Walsh’s staff converted it from Ellerson’s three-lineman flex defensive scheme in 2009. Walsh said he will recruit to the 4-3 scheme and see how verbal commitments stack up in mid-December before implementing any changes.
Walsh will also have to find replacements for Mark Rodgers and David Mahr, two senior slotbacks who began and ended the season as starters.
Former Big Sky Newcomer of the Year and Northern Arizona transfer Deonte Williams will be going into his senior season, and Kristaan Ivory got some experience as a true freshman this past season, but there will also be opportunities for lesser-known players or incoming freshmen to make an impact running the ball.
Ellerson’s final recruiting class — highlighted by quarterback Andre Broadous — will be entering its fifth-year senior season next year.
After that, the team will be populated by Walsh recruits.
There will also be a little more room for error on the path to the playoffs with the move to the Big Sky, which could annually send three or more teams to the postseason.
With no automatic berth to the 20-team FCS bracket awarded to the Great West champion, Cal Poly was charged with independently scheduling seven nonconference games per season while trying to secure the necessary seven Division I victories recommended for an at-large berth.
With at least one non-qualifying victory over a Division II team and at least one loss to an FBS opponent annually since 2005, an emotional emphasis has to be put on every other game.
“Where I am, year three, wining a championship, I’m really proud of our players and how they competed and how they played with the odds,” Walsh said.