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Tuesday, April 18, 2006 | Here is how the transition usually plays out when a new head coach arrives to take over a college athletic program.
He tells players and fans the new system and attitude he brings to town will fix the problems of the past. The media trumpets the new beginning. Players considered loyal to the old coach – or even a relative – who don’t fit the program are strongly encouraged to transfer if they want to see the field again.
By tearing down the old way, the new guy generates excitement about his way.
But here is how it’s playing out under Chuck Long since he arrived as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator to take over San Diego State’s football program from Tom Craft, who was fired at the end of a 5-7 season in 2005.
Long retained Thom Kaumeyer, who was Craft’s defensive coordinator and closest confidante in the business, as his secondary coach.
He retained LeCharls McDaniel, a veteran coach with NFL playing and coaching experience, as his receivers coach.
He retained Brian Stark, an assistant with strong knowledge of SDSU’s recruiting turf, as his football operations director.
He even kept sophomore quarterback Kevin Craft, son of the fired coach, in the mix competing for the starting job.
“In talking to Coach Long when I interviewed for the job, he thought Coach Craft was a good coach and had a good staff,” Kaumeyer said. “He obviously had his own guys in mind that he wanted to bring in, but he was complimentary of the job we had done.”
Kaumeyer said he is comfortable working under assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Bob Elliott, although it will take some getting used to not making the defensive calls. He discussed the unique blend of the old and the new under Long following the final scrimmage of spring football drills Saturday at Torrey Pines High.
If you don’t appreciate how unusual this is, Cam Cameron, the Chargers’ offensive coordinator, could tell you how it usually works when a new coach is hired. When Cameron was fired as Indiana’s head coach following the 2001 season, he received a phone call from his old coach at Indiana, Lee Corso.
Corso advised him to get out of town, quickly. He told him he and his family didn’t need to hear the hype about the new coach and the underlying message that the old coach didn’t know what he was doing.
Cameron took Corso’s advice and relocated to North Carolina, where he lived as a kid. Coincidentally, it wasn’t long before he interviewed with Marty Schottenheimer, who also had a home in North Carolina, and Cameron was hired to join Schottenheimer’s staff with the Chargers in 2002.
Clearly, Long isn’t tearing down the old coach in private team meetings or in the media.
“Coach Long is not that type of a guy,” Kaumeyer said. “I respect that he doesn’t talk (negatively) about what the other staff did. He says, ‘Here’s where we’re at, we’re doing it this way and we’re going to move on from here.’ The players understand that and respect that and that’s why they’re excited to play for him.”
Kaumeyer, who hopes to someday become a head coach, views this as an opportunity to continue to learn the profession under Long and a veteran coordinator such as Elliott.
“Some people look at it as a being demoted, but the way I look at it is this gives me a chance to continue to help the kids we brought in here to have a chance to win,” Kaumeyer said. “I want San Diego State to win. That’s the thing about growing up here – we always wanted San Diego State to be a powerhouse.”
Kaumeyer is a link to San Diego State’s past, even though he didn’t play for the Aztecs, because he understands its history. He went to games as a kid in Encinitas and listened on the radio as Mark Halda, a quarterback from down the road at Torrey Pines, played for SDSU.
Kaumeyer’s playing days took him from San Dieguito High to Palomar College, where he played for Craft. The Aztecs didn’t offer him a scholarship, so he went to Oregon and then to the NFL as a safety and later an assistant with the Atlanta Falcons.
Long talks about running the ball more and Long and Ellliott talk about playing a more physical defense. If Long can balance the offense and strengthen the defense with the deft touch he’s used to balance the old and new coaches at San Diego State, he might soon be booking the Aztecs for their first bowl game since 1998.
“It’s all about the kids and what Coach Long and Coach Elliott are striving for,” Kaumeyer said. “If we have success, there is plenty of credit to go around. If we work hard and the kids go to a bowl game, that’s what we’re here for.”
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at