By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Welcome to Five-a-Side - five questions, five answers. This is a Q&A feature with an influential person in the FCS, and will run at the beginning of each month.
We get started at the top with 2009 FCS championship-winning coach Andy Talley of Villanova. His 14-1 squad from a year ago, which beat Montana, 23-21, in the title game, will return a superbly talented team. However, the Wildcats are awaiting Matt Szczur's decision about returning for his senior season or signing with a major-league organization following the baseball draft June 7-9. The do-everything All-America is a wide receiver who also runs Villanova's version of the Wildcat and is a dangerous kick returner.
Talley has a 179-102-1 record through 25 seasons with Villanova. In 1997, he was the recipient of the Eddie Robinson Award, which honors the FCS Coach of the Year.
Let's kick off:
AT: You know, it really doesn't affect us a whole lot, just because when you play in the CAA, you have a bull's-eye on your back every week. It's just so difficult to win week-in and week-out in the league. So you're really prepared to come in with a pedigree. If you look at the teams coming back, Delaware has 18 starters back, JMU (James Madison) has a bunch of starters back, William & Mary has a bunch of starters back. Maine, I think, has like 17 starters back. You're playing nationally-ranked-caliber teams week-in and week-out.
TSN: But as the national champ, can you feel the perception of the program change?
AT: I always had a pretty high opinion of our program [laughs]. We've always been a team that's been pretty good and we've been one of the winningest teams in the CAA. I think when you win a national championship, there is more awareness of who you are. I know we had over 200 coaches come visit our spring practice this spring, whereas in the past we might have 25 guys. So, I think, yes, the perception nationally is greater.
TSN: You mentioned the spring. What questions did you answer this spring?
AT: I think we solidified the offensive line. The loss of Brandyn Harvey, he was one of the best receivers around, (but) I think we have enough talent there to overcome that loss. So I think we're pretty solid on offense. We do return eight starters on offense.
On defense, the (place) that we still have work to do is in the defensive line. (We're) pretty strong at linebacker and secondary, but we lost (defensive end) Tim Kukucka and (nose guard) Phil Matusz. And I'm concerned about being able to shore up that group because we have some young guys there and I think it's going to take us into the season before we get there."
TSN: With a veteran group and a national championship, do you have to change as a head coach?
During the game, I handle the kicking game decisions, and if a quarterback needs to come out or stay in or whatever.
Off the field and behind the scenes, I'm pretty much the same.
TSN: Matt Szczur will have his decision to make soon. How much changes if he doesn't return?
AT: A lot changes offensively. First of all, he would be our top receiver. That means we would have lost Brandyn Harvey and him. You would have lost (the player) who means everything to you on special teams, who means everything to you offensively both in the running game and in the receiving game. I just don't think you can fill that gap quickly. We've used Angelo Babbaro this spring in the Wildcat, just to kind of get a look, and I think he can do it. Matt Szczur is the same deal as Brian Westbrook, he's that kind of a player. You lose him, you lose a lot. Not to mention his leadership and everything else he brings to the table.