Steve Fox has paid his dues.
The new McPherson College head football coach has been a longtime assistant and now he believes he’s ready to take the next step.
“This (being a head coach) is something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” said Fox, who this week was named as the Bulldogs’ new head coach after Pete Sterbick resigned after two seasons that produced a 9-11 record. “I just finished my 10th season as an assistant and along the way you think about things you’d do as a head coach. I put those in the back of my mind and stored them up for this moment.”
Fox, 41, has spent the past two years at Mac as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator. In 2012, the Bulldogs were 10th in the nation in total defense.
He was no stranger to the KCAC before his arrival in Mac. He spent 2006 at Tabor College under then-coach Robert Rubel and the Bluejays set their school record for least number of yards allowed on the ground with 86 per game.
At times this year the Mac defense was dominating. It blanked Graceland in Week 2 and gave up just one touchdown in each of the last two games, both 37-7 wins over arch-rival Bethany and Southwestern, respectively. Against nationally ranked Tabor College, the Bulldogs gave up 29 points, but 14 of those were on pick-sixes by the Bluejays’ defense.
Normally the first order of business for any coach is putting together a staff. But for Fox, that job has been lessened by the fact the assistants already on board are staying put, though he says some of the duties will be shuffled. Fox will continue to call the defense, while Justin Van Houten will assume the role of offensive coordinator. The remaining assistants will take on more responsibility, Fox said.
“I’ve sat down and had a long talk with each one of them,” Fox said. “They’re excited. Not only do we work well together, but we’re good friends. They’re each excited about getting a little more responsibility.”
There are 58 potential returnees for next season and Fox said he’s already taking steps to make sure that most of them return, though some are sure to leave as that’s just the nature of the business. Several players have told me they’re excited to have Fox as the head coach as he’s considered a players’ coach.
“Right now we’ve got to rally the team we have here,” said Fox, who should have an especially fine group of sophomores if they stay true to the program. “We want to make sure they know we love them and we’ll take good care of them and that good things are ahead. I’ve got a good relationship with these kids. That’s why I coach. We’re going to meet with each individual and see how it ends up.”
The Bulldogs’ offense, which Sterbick oversaw, finished with a flourish by averaging more than 400 yards a game the final three weeks as well as 37 points.
“We’re going to build on what coach Sterbick started,” Fox said. “He laid a good foundation. We’re probably going to emphasize a little more of the run game. We want to get a little stronger in that area.”
The Bulldogs lose sledgehammer running back Havelock Pomele and Scott Thibodeaux, but return Terrance Jones (who missed the last seven games with a knee injury) and Isaiah Franklin. Gerald Hardridge played all over and figures to be an offensive weapon.
Fox is hoping the Bulldogs can continue to be a force on defense. He does admit there are many holes to fill, especially at linebacker where graduation is wiping out much of the unit. The secondary clearly was the weakest area of the team, so upgrades must be made.
Fox and his staff already have made a dent in recruiting, but there’s still a long way to go.
“Linemen, you can never have enough of,” he said. “To me, that area is a key to being successful in this conference. Our secondary has been thin the last two years and that’s a top priority.”
Fox said he’s going to look at the jucos for immediate help while also tapping the high school ranks to build a base. He’s looking to his home state of Texas — he’s a native of football-crazy Odessa — because there are just so many players there that often get overlooked.
“My mentor coaches are down there and players I’ve coached in the past are now down there in the high schools,” he said. “They’re already emailing me about players they have. You’ll probably see a few more Texas faces on the roster because that’s the connections I have. I’m looking forward to going down there and see what happens.”
Fox said the goal is to bring in about 50 newcomers, as he wants to push the numbers back up to about 100, which is generally the benchmark for most KCAC schools.