By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
That 0-11 record will be used as motivation by Joe Perri, the new offensive line coach at Bluefield College.
Perri, who arrived in Bluefield on Feb. 1 to replace the departed Mike Compton, has met with those Rams who were often outmanned last season, most of whom were freshmen playing against juniors and seniors.
“They are already getting an idea of how things are going to be and what I expect and what their expectations are from me and making them realize we are not going 0-11 again,” he said.
That isn’t just talk. Perri means it.
“You can sit here and say that all day, but making them realize that you are on a short leash,” Perri said. “If you give me a reason not to play you in terms of trouble or grades or quite simply not doing what I am coaching, you are not going to play, we will out-recruit you.”
Perri, literally, has big shoes to fill. He replaces Compton, a local football icon who was a success at every level of the game, but who left after two seasons to take a similar position at Fairmont State.
Bluefield College head coach Mike Gravier, who had already replaced departed defensive coordinator Stacey Hairston with former Marshall standout Will King, is excited about what Perri brings to what is the one more important positions on the field.
“He shows a lot of enthusiasm, he will have enthusiasm with his players, he will have it in recruiting and in everything he does,” Gravier said. “That is really what drew me to him is you can tell he is a hard worker.
“We can have the best running backs, quarterbacks and receivers in the country, but if we can’t protect them or make holes, nothing good is going to happen.”
A native of Michigan and the son of a football coach, Perri was part of the football program at the University of Pittsburgh, but injuries derailed his playing career.
“I was always hurt. When an opportunity came when I was competing, I just tended to blow something out or tear something, it was very frustrating,” Perri said. “As a guy who wasn’t very talented going into the situation, it was fight and claw every day.
“When things were going good they weren’t bad, but it was one of those deals and I am not ashamed of it. It is what it is.”
When it became clear that playing wasn’t going to happen, then-Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt made him a player-assistant coach on the offensive line.
“It was the hardest decision I ever had to make, but I knew I would never end up playing so I am going to start coaching,” Perri said. “That is how it began. It was a very tough thing to do, but that was my only choice at the time.”
When Perri graduated and was thinking law school, Wannstedt had other ideas.
“I was going to law school, but Dave flat out told me ‘You are not going to law school, you are going to coach,’” Perri said.
Thus, began a coaching career that has since included stops at successful community college programs in Kansas and Michigan, along with a stint as an assistant while pursuing his Masters at Western Michigan.
He spent last football season as a head coach in Denmark in Europe’s version of the NFL, something other college coaches have used as a springboard, including current Washington State mentor Mike Leach.
“It was very good, it really was. We were outmanned, we were a new team playing in the top tier division over there,” said Perri, who compared the professional game there with lower-tier Mid-American Conference football. His roster was comprised of many American college players who didn’t make it in the NFL.
“It was a good experience. We ended up winning three games, three games we shouldn’t have won so it was good to see that with our players I was playing with,” he added. “It was a good experience, but I am ready to focus on my trade and that is the offensive line for the time being.”
Perri, who was one of several candidates interviewed for the position, felt an immediate kinship with Gravier, who is also a native of Michigan and a proponent of hard-nosed, physical football.
“He is a Michigan guy and I thought it would be a great opportunity and looking at his background and his experience, he is an established head coach, there is no doubt about that,” Perri said. “I figured it would be a great opportunity to work with a guy like that and see what we can do at Bluefield and see what we can get accomplished.”
He understands the difficulties ahead. Bluefield, which had its first football season since 1941 last fall, and finished with an 0-11 record, plays in the Mid-South Conference, regarded as the toughest NAIA league in America.
“In my homework I have done we have got a big hill in front of us no doubt, but at the end of the day you are only as good as your offensive line because your offensive line is a reflection of your defense,” Perri said. “Every day you are going against each other. If we are soft up front, at the end of the day your defense is going to be soft.
“It is a big challenge and it is something I think everybody here is looking forward to.”
While the Bluefield College staff continues to recruit to bring in reinforcements, Perri plans to develop the players already on the team, which is what coaching is all about.
“It is a challenge and I view it as a fun challenge,” Perri said. “That is coaching. I am not looking for a quick fix, I am looking to develop and help mold these guys, not just on the football field, but in the classroom and make them realize they have got to get their education and they have to got to be upstanding individuals in the community and give back.
“At the end of the day that is what it is all about. Nobody really cares if you played football, it is what you can do with it, with the opportunity to play it and taking advantage of the contacts you can make and the impact you can make doing it.”
Perri has only been in Bluefield two weeks, but has compared it favorably to Pittsburgh. He was instantly struck by Mitchell Stadium and the huge weight-lifting facility that the school utilizes in a former grocery store on North Street.
“The facilities blew my mind when I walked in here, the weight room is phenomenal, the stadium is great and our equipment and our uniforms, all that stuff is top tier,” he said. “All the pieces are in play to get this thing going.
“It is a matter of hitting the recruiting trail hard and developing. That is the big thing is developing the players that you have…To me it is a challenge. This is going to be fun.
“I don’t want to tell you were are going to be great or anything, we may not be very good, but we are going to have fun at it, how about that.”
In addition to recruiting which doesn’t end on signing day for Bluefield as it does for the larger schools, Perri will be developing a plan, with an eye toward spring practice that will occur in April.
“We are going to get back to old school fundamentals. We are going to play very fast, we are going to play with speed, power and leverage, we are going to play fast and physical,” Perri said. “The goal is to unleash the guys and let them be playmakers.
“A hesitant offensive lineman is not an effective offensive lineman so at the end of the day if I can get the guys to play with technique that I want them to play with and get the guys to not think, just play, then that is what they can expect from me.”
As for the Bluefield supporters who want to see winning football, Perri expects to have an offensive line that will be worth watching when the 2013 season begins.
“If things go to plan, they will show up and hopefully they will see an offensive line that is very physical, nasty and at the end of the day, sets the tone for the games,” Perri said. “You are only as good as your offensive line. Hopefully if things go to plan and go to the way I see them going, people can show up and they will see five guys up front for 60 minutes…
“This is the only sport for 60 minutes you are allowed to legally hit somebody and get away with it. Our guys are going to take advantage of it.”
—Contact Brian Woodson