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Football team goes on the offensive to fill vacated coordinator position

March 8, 2007

After the recent retirement of UWRF football defensive coordinator Kevin Bullis, River Falls has begun the search for his replacement. Bullis will not be replaced with another defensive coordinator, however, but rather with an offensive coordinator.

“I’m only losing one coach and that’s Coach Bullis,” head coach John O’Grady said. “He’s decided after 18 or 19 years of college coaching that he wants to spend more time with his family. Whenever I lose an offensive coordinator or a defensive coordinator I have a choice because I don’t have enough assistant coaches here. I have to evaluate the situation we’re in and look at what I think would be best for us and decide, ‘do I want to stick with a defensive coordinator or do I want to move to an offensive coordinator?’ and I’ve chosen to go the offensive route this time.”

Assistant Coach Andy Kotelnicki will likely be moved from the defensive side of the ball to the offensive side to work with the new offensive coordinator, because Kotelnicki’s heart is on the offense, O’Grady said. This move would push O’Grady to the defensive side of the ball, where O’Grady hasn’t been for years.

“I played defense in college and I played on some very good defensive teams,” O’Grady said. “I think I’m kind of a defensive guy at heart. I think that’s why I always like running the ball so much. It’s exciting to me. It’s a challenge now; it’s been a while since I coached defense. Offenses have evolved so much, you better know what you’re doing because people can really hurt you if you don’t.”

Junior defensive back Bruce Baillargeon, who finished second on the team in total tackles this past season with 84, said he is looking forward to O’Grady moving over to coach the defense in his senior season.

“I’m excited about it,” Baillargeon said. “He’s played so he should know. We’ve kind of wondered if he was going to have more of a say in the defense and I guess he will now.”

The only way O’Grady will get his opportunity to coach the defense is to hire an offensive coordinator because hiring a third full-time assistant coach is not something that is going to happen any time in the near future, Athletic Director Rick Bowen said.

“When Kevin Bullis decided voluntarily to step down, we looked at all the things we could do,” Bowen said. “The opportunity then to have John move over to [defense] and hire somebody who wants to be an offensive coordinator just seemed like a natural fit.”

This past season the Falcons switched to a zone offense, abandoning the wishbone offense that O’Grady ran for 17 straight years as head coach. The change to a more conventional offense opens the door for UWRF to hire an offensive coordinator, O’Grady said.

“It would have been very difficult to find a guy with enough wishbone experience who I could have entrusted with the offense because it’s such a unique offense,” O’Grady said. “Now that we’ve changed systems, there are more guys out there that I think know a little bit more about the existing offense that we’re running.”

With spring practices starting April 1, the Falcons hope to have an offensive coordinator hired in the very near future to work with the offense during this session, Bowen said. A Search and Screen Committee chaired by Crystal Lanning is already working hard to try and put forth qualified candidates in a timely manner.

“The Search and Screen Committee will recommend three or four names to me,” Bowen said. “Then I will make the decision after input from talking to the football coach and talking to the chancellor, and then we’ll make the recommendation to the chancellor.”

A member of the Search and Screen Committee himself, O’Grady said he is happy this change will be made.

“I think our offense for the last four of five years has underachieved and I think we need some new and fresh input,” O’Grady said. “I’m enjoying this because I haven’t studied the defensive side for quite some time.”

With the departure of Bullis, O’Grady is faced with the decision of whether or not to change the defense before next season.

“I’m leaning right now towards keeping the same defense, maybe simplifying it a little bit,” O’Grady said. “I don’t believe in being really complicated. I want players to know what they’re doing.”

Baillargeon said he hopes the team sticks with the same defense.

“It would help for everybody not to learn a whole new one, it’s always better that way,” Baillargeon said. “It’s a very fun defense. You can have a lot of smaller guys out there and a lot more speed.”

Regardless of who is brought in as the new offensive coordinator, and whether the team keeps the same defense, the ultimate goal for the Falcons will be to improve upon recent seasons. In the past four seasons, the football team has failed to win more than three games in a year.

“This is a team we need to have a winning record,” Baillargeon said. “We haven’t done very well [lately], so if we had a winning season, especially in conference, that’d be a good step forward for the program in general.”