Josh Conklin trying to keep Terriers at Mike Ayers' level

Josh Conklin trying to keep Terriers at Mike Ayers' level

August 1st, 2018 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

WOFFORD

2017 record: 10-3 (7-1 in SoCon; lost 42-10 to North Dakota State in FCS quarterfinals)

Season opener: Sept. 1 vs. The Citadel

Date against UTC: Oct. 6 in Chattanooga, 3 p.m.

Preseason ranking (coaches/media): 2/3

Josh Conklin pulled up again in Spartanburg, South Carolina, this time as the new football coach of Wofford College, and took inventory of the town.

He was quick to look at the improvements that had taken place in the downtown area. He made sure to pinpoint a few places where he really likes to eat, primarily Mexican food such as Mezcal ("It's really authentic") and Willy Taco ("Really good").

His purpose for being back in Spartanburg in a work capacity for the first time since 2009 was to take over the Terriers program. Mike Ayers, who coached 30 seasons and won 218 games, retired after the 2017 season. Conklin, most recently the defensive coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh, became the new Wofford coach on Jan. 2.

He had been the Terriers' defensive backs coach from 2007 to 2009 before stops at The Citadel, Tennessee and Florida International, so he's somewhat familiar with the layout of the land.

Only now, he's the one making the decisions and following a legend.

"As I was going through the steps in the coaching profession, I had the opportunity to work for some really good guys, good human beings," Conklin said by phone recently. "I also had the opportunity to work with some guys that are not great. There were things I learned from both (types), but Coach Ayers was the guy that if I could emulate somebody in terms of confidence, in terms of character, in terms of toughness and what he was as a football coach, he was a guy I would always try to take things from.

"His DNA is something that's in me as well, so the transition has been easy for the guys because there's a lot of the same type of rules, same type of standards. The expectations are still there, but on the other side of that, I'm not Coach Ayers, I'm never going to be Coach Ayers, I don't want to be Coach Ayers. I want to be who I am, and I'm going to coach with that personality."

Part of who Conklin ultimately will be is a coach who adjusts the option offense the Terriers have run for decades, although it doesn't sound like he'll be opening it up too much. Wofford hasn't thrown 20 passes in a game for 10 seasons, but the new leader would like to see the Terriers eventually get to "20-25 attempts" a game.

"We're going to incorporate some run-pass option on offense," Conklin said. "When you look at how people have defended us offensively, you have to be able to throw the ball a little more vertically and relieve some pressure off the run game."

That may take a year or two, though, due to the offensive personnel he inherited, although it's a talented group. Joe Newman, who takes over for Brandon Goodson as the Terriers' full-time quarterback, has played in 16 games and had 125 yards and a touchdown in the 2016 playoff loss to Youngstown State. Preseason All-America fullback Andre Stoddard rushed for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, and defensive lineman Miles Brown is a first-team preseason All-American. He missed most of the spring but was a third-team All-American in 2017.

Brown leads a defense that returns six starters.

So there won't be massive scheme changes with the new leader. He realizes it's not needed.

"To be here for those three years, it's a special place in terms of how it's built, how it's structured," Conklin said of Wofford. "Coach Ayers did such a tremendous job building a culture, and that's really what carries the place — what carries the wins for sure. The challenge for me is to try to make it better, which is hard to do because they've performed at such a high level for so long. When you look at the roster, there are some really good players, some players I would have played with at Pitt, and that's not an exaggeration.

"It's exciting. We can get them coached up and continue to believe in what we're doing. We're going to try some different things but maintain the same things as far as who we are as a program."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.