On Wednesday evening, Central Michigan named Steve Stripling its interim coach through the GMAC Bowl after former coach Butch Jones took the head-coaching position at Cincinnati.
Stripling has only been with the Chippewas for a year, but already has the trust and respect of the coaches and players. Like any interim coach, he hopes to parlay the interim gig into a full-time job, but his first goal is winning the bowl game.
Stripling took a few minutes during his busy media schedule to talk about his new position.
Was it a surprise that you’d be the first one called upon or did you see that coming?
Steve Stripling: I think it was a surprise. Obviously, there were other qualified coaches on the staff and Dave Heeke, the athletic director, came to me and presented the opportunity. Obviously, it’s a great situation for any coach to be able to head up the team going to a bowl game, especially a team like this. We’ve got great senior leadership and it’s a great accomplishment. So, it was a surprise, but a great surprise.
Is it difficult because you’re new to the staff, relatively new anyway, and turning around and becoming the interim?
SS: You know when you spend a year with a football team, the long days and the long practices and those things, you get to know the players and they get to know you. I think the coaches and the players are comfortable with that and we’re going to lead by committee as a staff and we have a focus group with those 13 seniors that are very focused. So, I think when everybody is focused we’ll be able to have a great successful bowl season here.
What was your initial message to the team once it was your job to lead it to the GMAC?
SS: Well, the initial message is that life does this to you sometimes. It throws you a curveball. There are ups and downs and that your response to those curveballs is what’s important. So, if you respond in a positive and energetic fashion, that often leads to greater opportunities. So, that’s what we told them. We really have two goals: First of all, winning and experiencing this bowl game and the things we still want to accomplish; we want a bowl championship. And we also wasn’t to solidify our spot in the Top 25, which would be the first in school history.
You’ve coached for a long time, have you ever been in this situation before, and if you have how do players tend to respond?
SS: I have been through situations like this and I think probably every time it’s a little bit different. I think the unique part of this is that our staff will stay back and coach our bowl game, and their staff will stay [at Cincinnati] and coach their bowl game. I think it’s great for the continuity that that presents. So every case is a little bit different. I think this one is a situation where we’re now refocused and committed to having a great experience.
I think with so much on the line and with a lot of great seniors and a lot of guys who have made a difference not only at Central Michigan but in he MAC it’s probably easier to get these guys focused on the bowl game instead of dwelling on what happened with their coach.
SS: It is. And these kids are aware of all these things, Of course with the Internet they follow every little thing in sports out there and they understand this is not a unique situation. This happens across the country year in and year out.
Is this an audition for you?
SS: Well, obviously any coach would love to be at a great university like Central Michigan, and a great football program. Hopefully, they’ll take that into account. But really, the focus right now is on this football team and making sure these next three weeks are beneficial and positive and successful for them.
What about you personally? Obviously, you’ve got to think about your own interests and think about your next career opportunity if it’s not with Central Michigan. Have you talked to coach Jones and maybe a possible position at Cincinnati?
SS: I will talk to coach Jones. This is kind of a day-to-day venture right now to be honest. Coach Jones and I will visit at a later date. This is just a great opportunity for me. If it works out here, it’s been great. If not, it’s still a positive experience for me and I’m just focusing on making it a positive experience for the players.