University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Tom Arth is still driven at times by a loss from his playing days.
As an 18-year-old freshman at John Carroll University in 1999, quarterback Arth was part of a 29-20 loss to Baldwin-Wallace. It was the Blue Streaks' second defeat that season, a few weeks after a 57-51, triple-overtime loss to top-ranked Mount Union.
After the Mount Union loss (Arth had 382 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the game), he told the local newspaper, "If we keep doing what we're supposed to do and win the rest of our games, we'll hopefully see them again in the playoffs."
The Baldwin-Wallace players took that personally, and after defeating the Blue Streaks, some of them pulled out newspapers with the Arth quote and threw them at the John Carroll team.
"I never let that go," he said this week.
The smile on the outside masks an intense fire within to win, but he doesn't let the fire erupt.
Arth typically paces the sideline calmly, trusting his assistant coaches' work with their respective position groups throughout the week. UTC linebackers coach Matthew Feeney, who was a senior captain on Arth's 2013 team at John Carroll, remembered that Arth had reason to be confident because of the work the team had put in.
"He was ready to go," Feeney recalled Friday. "He knew everybody was prepared because he knew the coaches had done a great job of preparing them. He had all the faith in the world in the players to go out and do their job.
"It's a similar feeling today. The guys are ready to go."
John Carroll won its first game under Arth 41-0 against a St. Norbert team that finished the season 8-3. And that Baldwin-Wallace team? The Blue Streaks won 27-7 in Arth's second game for the program's first road win in the series since 2001, when Arth was the quarterback.
UTC defensive backs coach Jonathan Cooley recalled a small level of adversity Arth had to endure before that game, as the coaches' shoes had not yet arrived.
"He had to wear dress shoes on the sideline," Cooley said.
But the Arth people see from Monday through Friday won't be much different from the head coach the FCS 12th-ranked Mocs will see today when they play No. 6 Jacksonville State at 6:30 p.m. EDT at Montgomery, Ala., on ESPN.
And the adversity is much more serious than shoes. No. 1 UTC quarterback Alejandro Bennifield will have to miss the first four games due to an NCAA academic issue. That moves sophomore Nick Tiano from Baylor School, who started his college career at Mississippi State, into the starting role with true freshman Cole Copeland from Bradley Central as the backup.
Of course, Arth and the team have been prepared, so Tiano and Bennifield split first-team reps through preseason camp just in case the latter's appeal to the NCAA was denied, which it was for the final time Thursday evening.
"We always embrace the process of how we do things and how we're developing guys," Cooley said. "The way we structure practice, it's always the next man up, so regardless of who is playing in the game, everybody needs to fall to their level of training and not rise to the level of competition, regardless of who is in the game.
"That's where everybody is prepared, from top to bottom."
The preparation aspect is something that's vastly different for the Mocs this season. On a weekly basis, the players are presented packets of information and scripts of what the team is going to do. During practice, they pay particular attention to the little things and go over the practice scripts. After a recent practice, the defensive staff wasn't pleased, so after Arth had called the team together to break practice, the defensive players had to start again.
"We've done so many things to prepare for this game," senior receiver Alphonso Stewart said. "But it's not just this game; it's an every-week thing. That's something that Coach Arth is adamant about: preparing for your opponent and knowing your opponent."
Arth and his staff have been preparing for this game since the summer started — not because it's Jacksonville State, not because it's on national television, but because it's the "next game." The way Arth talked to the players from day one, he quickly gained their respect to the point where there weren't any issues when the offensive and defensive schemes changed. They accepted the changes and went on.
"That's a major credit to our players here because I never felt them question for one second, 'What are we doing? Why are we doing this? Who is this guy and why is he changing this?'" Arth said. "They were excited and open to new ideas and a different way of doing things, which means a lot as a coach."
It's because of that desire to adapt and prepare that the Mocs feel good going into today.
"We talk a lot about preparation," senior safety Lucas Webb said. "You never rise to the level of your opponent; you fall to the level of your training, and that speaks volumes about how he cares about how we prepare for a game. And that's shown this week."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.