Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Adding Alford | by Pat

News broke yesterday that the newest addition to the Notre Dame coaching staff is former Louisville running backs coach Tony Alford. Alford will replace Mike Haywood, now the head coach at Miami University.

"I'm very happy to add Tony Alford to our staff," Weis said. "In talking with several sources at the college and NFL levels for suggestions the first name that came up was Tony's. He came highly recommended because of his tremendous reputation as both a running backs coach and as a recruiter and is a great addition to our program.
Before digging into Alford's resume for hints about what he will bring to the Fighting Irish, the fact that he was hired explicitly as a running backs coach seems to heavily point to the fact that Charlie Weis will resume/keep full-time play calling duties as the de facto offensive coordinator next fall.

As for Alford, rather than go over a litany of running back rushing stats from his former coaching stops -- stats that were impacted by numerous other variables -- I'll lead with the Cardinal reaction to Alford leaving Louisville. Here is Mike from Card Chronicle on Alford's job change.
In losing Alford, the Cardinal football program is not only losing one of the hardest working and highest energy guys it had, but perhaps its best recruiter.
Sounds good to me. Frankie V. goes a bit more in-depth on Alford's recruiting impact over on his UHND blog and it's definitely worth a read.

Another thing that I thought was a bit unique about Alford is that unlike many other assistant coaches who bounce around positions while working their way up the ladder, Alford, a former honorable mention All-America running back at Colorado State, has always and only been a running backs coach since he started wearing a whistle in 1995.

He started his career in Ohio at Mount Union and Kent State. His first boss, Mount Union's Larry Kehres, still has high praise for him.
"Tony Alford brought enthusiasm and discipline to our running backs when he coached them in 1995," Kehres said. "We have stayed in touch over the years and he is still coaching with the love of his players and the game in his heart. He will do a great job for coach (Charlie) Weis."
From the Buckeye State, Alford landed at Iowa State for four seasons. Rick Neuheisel then hired him away to be the running backs coach at Washington. But after only one year away, Iowa State coach Dan McCarney hired Alford back as his running backs coach by giving him a raise and also naming him assistant head coach. Alford also helped out on special teams, working with the kickoff return units.

After McCarney was fired, Alford found work in Louisville, where he has worked for the past two seasons. This past year he helped redshirt freshman Victor Anderson crack the 1,000 yard mark and earn Freshman All-America honors.

There usually isn't too much written about running backs coaches in general, so there aren't a whole lot of articles about Alford at his former coaching stops. His gives a little insight into his practice philosophy on this Coaching clinic DVD. (Scroll down to see the sample video)

There is also an article from 2001 about Alford's impact on the Washington running back corp and his focus as a coach.
Hurst starts his final season as a Husky learning a new set of drills and demands from his new coach. Alford's system centers around ball security with a lot of game-oriented drills.

Whenever there is a fumble in practice, the whole running backs unit pays the price in drills. When the ball popped out of sophomore Matthias Wilson's hands during Tuesday's practice, Alford was all over it. All seven healthy backs stayed behind to get down on the ground and perform rigorous balancing techniques while moving up and down the field. The "punishment" drills force the players to hold the ball with both hands all the time. Hurst approves.

"Anytime the ball comes out, the whole group has to do one of those, no matter who did it," Hurst said. "Honestly, I am wondering why [the coaches] haven't done it before. It's very tiring, so you'll get it in your head that you will not commit a fumble because you don't want to do that drill."

Under Alford last year, the Iowa State running backs had zero fumbles all season while ranking 17th in the nation in rushing. It was all part of an amazing Iowa State turnaround that saw the Cyclones go from a 4-7 team in 1999 to 9-3 and an Insight.com Bowl victory in 2000.

"I think that you get what you're stressing and I've always been a guy who has stressed ball security," Alford said. "I'm proud to say that I'm not the one taking any hits. I'm not going to get tackled one time, and it's really the guys out there who are the ones taking it to heart. Those guys have to understand that they're carrying the entire program under their arms at any given time."
That's one heck of a quote there at the end on the importance of not fumbling. The players must have bought in because ISU running backs lost a total of 13 fumbles in the 8 years Alford coached there. As a point of comparison, ND backs lost 12 fumbles the past two seasons.

But it will take more that ball security to turn around the ND ground game. Alford certainly has his work cut out for him, despite a lot of natural talent on the roster and a deep depth chart. After hearing of "four horses running downhill" and "pounding it", ND fans are eagerly awaiting that long promised dependable rushing attack. Along with big contributions from new OL coach Frank Verducci and the head guy himself, hopefully Alford will help make Notre Dame more than a one dimensional offense.