There Shouldn’t Be Any Shortage of Glee From This Offense
BY JAY GREENBERG
Sean Gleeson has had ample experience along the way–under center and under the tutelage of James Perry–to become an offensive coordinator at age 32. If he needs any more input, plenty more will be volunteered from the stands.
Practically every alum or fan is an offensive coordinator in his own mind. The job requires not only organization, but also intuition and a thick skin, perhaps an additional layer being required in this case. Perry, who in January became the head coach at Bryant University, coordinated Princeton to Ivy League points and yardage records with the innovative use of two and three quarterbacks in the game at the same time.
These are big shoes for Gleeson to fill. That said, there have been tougher beginner situations too. Any play caller–in his first or 50th year–would happily take his chances in the red zone even with Johnny Lovett running barefoot.
“This group is obviously one that anyone would want to coach, right?” said Gleeson.
Gleeson has earned the right to hit the ground running with the returning Charlie Volker, the fastest back in the Ivies; an experienced offensive line that keyed the most points and yards in the league in 2016, and with multiple quarterbacks pitching the ball over, around, and through bewildered defenses.
“This started in 2012, when had three quarterbacks like Quinn (Epperly), Connor (Michelsen) and Kedric (Bostic),” said Gleeson. “James put them on the field and let them go. But if it is three running backs or three wideouts, we’ll do the same thing. Who are your best players? Get them on the field. What can you come up with to suit their strengths?”
Opposing defensive coordinators will have to continue to name their poison as Gleeson makes his own name for himself. This isn’t his first rodeo as an offensive coordinator.
“I called the plays at Delbarton School and at Fairleigh Dickinson (under head coach Brian Surace, Bob’s brother),” said Gleeson. “In one of my four years at Fairleigh, we set records for points and yards.
“If you have that experience, you are in position to see what is right and wrong with the offense plus, playing quarterback, you are always building experience. The position of quarterback is not that different from the position of the coordinator; that will give me a leg up. And I feel like four years at Princeton under James Perry is the greatest fire alarm you can have.
“My first game (in 2012), he was in the booth calling plays because of a bad back and I was down on the field at Lehigh, listening to his play calls. We had a third-and-long and he ran a running play–DiAndre Atwater for 15 yards and a first down. It was way out of the box of what I was expecting and it put me on alert: This guy had seen something in this formation and had enough gumption to hand the ball off.
“It shocked me a little bit and taught me that at any moment to use your full complement of plays. Don’t be shy to run something that might work, like the double reverse to Roman Wilson in the overtime at Harvard (in 2012).
“James had a an uncanny ability to manage the offense in his own head. You see people on TV all the time with those big call sheets and a lot of red tape but he was very involved in the movement and energy while also keeping everything in his head. When you are not robotic, looking down at a sheet, it’s like you are in the huddle with your finger on the pulse. But he had the added quality of remembering a lot of what we were doing without being dependent on looking at the sheet, important when we are running a no-huddle.
“I’ll have a sheet but know what we are wanting to do, making sure we keep everybody on the attack and the defense on its heals. It would be hard to duplicate some of the multi-quarterback things that he came up with but we’ll put our own spin on it. I played quarterback for him (at Williams). So we are of the same brand makeup, just not totally the same.
“[Princeton] has always been a group effort; everything we’ve done were with contributions from all the [offensive coaches]. We still have much of our staff intact. I’m sure you will see more innovation, with our own personal spin.”
Indeed, Bob Surace didn’t promote another Perry, rather the first Sean Gleeson.
“He has had a lot of experiences and will be his own person,” said the head coach.
Added Surace: “As for James, at a meeting, you could see the steam coming from his head as he thought of something that maybe I had never seen before, even if it was just adding a flip to a play we had already run, James was out-of-the-box creative, whereas Sean is highly organized.
“In college, and in the NFL (with Cincinnati), I have been around high-quality offensive coordinators where every [detail] was in line. Sean takes it to a different degree, the most organized I ever have been around. I have felt he has been ready for this since he has been here.
“He has a high standard of expectation and is relentless in making players achieve that standard. There is no letup. He might be a little more emotional in a meeting than on the field, although I think he can get after it there as well. I got to see that this year [as Gleeson served as special teams coordinator]. Some of the best Friday-to-Sunday speeches were ones he gave.”
A tall guy with a tall order has been shaped by more parts success than failure. The odd setback, however, is good for the soul.
“I have been in the ebbs and flows as a coach at Fairleigh–where we won one game one year, and two another–and as a player. After winning the (No. 1 quarterback) job halfway though my junior year, the other guy took over.
“I was in a more limited role yet still ended up increasing my production and led the league in passer rating. I won an award for the player who sacrificed for the betterment of the team.
“Not having the most ideal playing career was the seed that probably got me into coaching. It puts you in position to mentor kids when things aren’t good for them. And it drives me today, feeling I have to prove myself all the time.”
“Prior to putting pads on, some of the most important things we can measure are effort and assignments,” said Surace as spring drills continue. “Our coaches and players understand the purpose of finishing every play and it is showing in the science we now utilize to quantify finish, such as workload, total sprints and total distance. Through [four] practices, we have had the least amount of ‘controllable’ error on both sides of the football since I have been here. The challenge will be take one more step improving in the next nine practices.