Q&A with football coach Sean Lewis

Sean Lewis addresses the audience at his first press conference as Kent State football coach Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. Lewis, 31, is the youngest head football coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Cameron Hoover

Kent State head football coach Sean Lewis recently sat down with KentWired Tuesday, Feb. 6 to discuss recruiting, his staff and excitement over the upcoming season.

KentWired: It’s your first season as a head coach at a program that’s been pretty rough over the past few years (14-45 in previous coach Paul Haynes’ five years with the Flashes). How important was it for you to get off to a good start in recruiting and show the Mid-American Conference that you mean business?

Sean Lewis: Recruiting is the lifeblood of your program. As I’ve alluded to in my opening press conference, this is a players’ game, and to win football games. You need good players. All the schemes in the world don’t matter if you don’t have the Jimmies and the Joes to execute them. It wasn’t so much important to put the league on notice or anything like that, but just that for our family, players, team and our community at Kent State to know that we’re going to go out, and we’re going to recruit. We’re going to compete in recruiting, and we’re going to get really good players because of that.

KW: I saw on 247sports.com that Kent State went from the 12th-ranked recruiting class in the MAC to the fifth in a few weeks. What do you think you’re selling that’s making these players want to come here?

SL: I’m selling the university. I’m selling our staff, who has done a tremendous job. When I say the staff, not only the football staff — our director of football operations, Adam Young, our director of player personnel, Steve Schrum, but also the maintenance people who paint these offices and put these graphics up. We’re selling the people of Kent State University and the vision that we have and where we’re going to go in the future. We’ve been fortunate that families who share the same beliefs we have and have the same ambitions we have, have decided to join our Kent State family.

KW: What sort of player are you looking for, both on and off the field?

SL: Off the field, it’s a young man who wants to grow as a person, who has a thirst for knowledge, knows the value that a Kent State degree will bring him and the doors that that will open. We look for a kid who’s mature, that is willing to grow. As a football player, we’re looking for guys who are hungry to be developed, guys that are asking more questions than believing they have the answers already. We look for kids who have a passion for the game of football, who loves going to practice just as much as he does a game day. Then there’s some specific measurables that are unique to what we do on both offense and defense in terms of height, weight, speed, length, those sorts of things.

KW: For a few weeks, it seemed like multiple recruits a day were tweeting their intentions to come to Kent. How are you adjusting to how fast it’s all going?

SL: I knew it was going to be fast because of the time frame of everything, when I was hired. I enjoy tempo. I enjoy going fast, obviously, so that’s not a big deal. That has been not as big of a transition sitting in the head coach’s chair versus sitting in a coordinator’s chair. A lot of the conversations are the same. You’re selling people, because people are what wins championships. The support of our athletic director (Joel Nielsen) and president (Beverly Warren), who are very active on recruiting weekends, has made a huge difference.

KW: Like you’ve said, you want to play fast. A lot of those games are going to be won and lost in the trenches. How have you been recruiting the offensive and defensive lines?

SL: That is where the games are won. Everyone knows about the headliners who get the numbers and the guys who get the flash, so to speak. But the guys who play those positions and understand the trench life, if you will, are generally unselfish individuals, and they don’t look for a whole lot of fanfare. They’re good salt-of-the-earth people, and you can sit down and have a good, frank conversation with them to explain the opportunity here for them in all phases of their life. We’ve got some really good players in this class that will help us win the battle at the line of scrimmage.

KW: You’re a more offensive-minded guy, so a lot of concerns I’ve heard are that the defense might not be as good. How have you recruited on that side of the ball?

SL: I’m a football guy, first and foremost, that happened to coach and happened to play on the offensive side of the ball. That being said, I’m looking for football players, and we’re not going to compromise one unit, whether it be offense, defense or special teams. We’ll be great in all three phases, and we’ll have the same standards and expectations of all of them. So our fanbase does not need to worry about that.

KW: You’ve been traveling all over the country getting recruits from California, Florida and other places. How important is it for you to hit all those regions instead of just staying local?

SL: It’s been a unique circumstance this year. Because of when I was hired, the majority of prospective 2018 recruits were already signed, so this class will be unique compared to other classes going forward because we had to go where the players that were available were. We went to find the players that matched our profile, and we went a little further than we’ll probably go in the future. Recruiting starts at home, first and foremost, but because of the high caliber of coaches and players that are in this area, a lot of those young men signed Dec. 20 and weren’t available to us. We needed to put a recruiting class together, so we had to go where those players are. In the future, we’ll start at home, and there will be a ripple effect from Kent, Ohio, outward, and the majority of our class will be within a six-hour driving radius.

KW: One of the guys who has really created a lot of buzz is (quarterback) Woody Barrett. What can you tell me about him?

SL: It’s a big get, because he’s one of the people who believed enough on one of our first official visit weekends to jump in. I know it’s created quite a buzz because of his high school rankings and where he went to high school (rated four stars coming out of West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Florida). A lot of that stuff refers to a phrase we talk about with our guys: “It doesn’t matter. Get better.” All that stuff and all those accolades really doesn’t matter, and Woody needs to get better along with the rest of our team. We’re excited about Woody, but we’re excited about the full roster and what everyone can add.

KW: Shifting from recruiting to staff, what kind of football minds were you looking to bring to Kent with you?

SL: The best in the country, and we were able to do that.

KW: Tom Kaufman, the defensive coordinator, is going to have a tough job. Playing fast, his defense is going to be on the field a lot. What can you tell me about him that made you want to bring him in?

SL: He’s a guy that I trust. He’s a guy who has incredibly high standards. The misconception that just because you play fast means your defense is going to compromise is something that he doesn’t believe in and something I don’t believe in. It’s a challenge he wanted to take on. With the trust of being with him for five out of the last six years (at Bowling Green in 2014-15 and Eastern Illinois in 2012-13) and working together, I know the type of man he is, and I know the type of role model he’s going to be for our players. It was a no-brainer for me.

KW: How much have you worked with offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder to mold the offense into that FlashFAST mentality you’ve been talking about?

SL: Again, his history is overlapped with mine. We’ve worked together for four out of the last six years, so he’s comfortable playing fast, playing at tempo. I have a great level of respect and trust with him because of the number of games we’ve coached and the number of championships we’ve won together. Three out of those four years together, we won conference championships. He’s a good one to have.

KW: A question for the fans: With the staff and the recruits you’ve brought in, how fast do you think we’re going to start seeing results?

SL: I think it’s as fast as we’re able to tie consecutive days together of having championship habits. That’s as fast as we will win.

KW: Last question: How excited are you to get the season going?

SL: I’m excited to get to National Signing Day (Feb. 7). I’m excited to get to a team run Thursday, (Feb. 8). Much beyond that, I don’t want to rush the season because there’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then that I’m excited about the work. Work works, and I enjoy working.

Cameron Hoover is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].