LEBANON — The first objective facing McKendree University football coach Mike Babcock following his hiring in December was the task of putting together his coaching staff. Despite being a first-time head coach, Babcock knew the type of staff he wanted to put together, and looked at it from a unique perspective.
"Football is like a puzzle," said Babcock. "In putting together this first staff, I felt that we needed different types of pieces (coaches) to fit different openings. Not everything can be a square that fits into a round hole. I needed to find something that was a little bit circle, a little bit triangle, and that was the approach we took. I needed guys that had certain types of experience, knowledge of different offensive and defensive styles, and those who had experience recruiting in certain areas. I tried to get the best coaches that I possibly could to McKendree in order to build this staff and program, and I think we've done just that."
Among the list of Babcock's first hires was Steve Barrows, a veteran coach at nearly every level of college football who has built a strong base in the Midwest. Barrows, who will serve as the Bearcats' defensive coordinator, spent the 2012 season as the offensive coordinator at the College of Mount St. Joseph, an NCAA Division III program in Cincinnati. Prior to that, Barrows was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.
Barrows also has experience as a defensive coordinator at NCAA FCS members Indiana State University (2007) and Charleston Southern University (2003-06). From 1999-2002, Barrows was the head coach at Anderson University, an NCAA Division III school northeast of Indianapolis.
"The great thing about Steve is that he bring a wealth of experience, and on both sides of the ball," said Babcock. "Defense is his specialty, and he has been a defensive coordinator at every level of college football. He's been in the Midwest for a long time, which will be a plus for us as this area is our recruiting base. Steve bring a sense of camaraderie and experience to our defense. Our guys have taken to him right away and have responded to his style and philosophy."
The 2013 football coaching unit will have one familiar face -- as well as a familiar name -- as Trent Poelker returns for his 16th year as a member of the Bearcat football staff. Poelker, who is the son of Carl Poelker, the Bearcats' longtime head coach who retired last fall after a 17-year stint at McKendree, will serve as the team's offensive coordinator for the second consecutive year. Poelker took the offensive reins last year after spending the previous decade as the defensive coordinator at McKendree.
Babcock wanted to have some continuity from the previous staff, and feels that Poelker has helped bridge the old and new staffs well.
"Trent has been a great help from the first day I set foot on this campus," said Babcock. "We wanted to have some kind of retainer from the previous staff, and Trent has really helped make things flow well. He has provided us some insight to the returning players and has really been an integral part of this transition. He has done a great job of assimilating to the new era of McKendree football. I couldn't be more pleased with what Trent has brought to the table."
Coming down from northern Illinois after spending the 2012 season as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Rockford College in Antoine Manning. In a little less than 10 years of collegiate coaching, Manning has built an impressive resume, which includes a two-year stay at Lincoln University and stops at Ohio Northern University, Midland University and South Dakota State University.
Manning, a native of Miami, Fla., who wrapped up his collegiate playing days at Western Illinois University in the early 2000s, will serve as the Bearcats' defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
"Antoine brings a bunch of experience into our program," said Babcock. "He played at Western Illinois, and he's coached at Rockford and Lincoln, so he knows the states of Illinois and Missouri very well. That experience has helped him as he provides leadership in the role of recruiting coordinator. He's one of those guys where it doesn't matter if it's six in the morning or midnight, he is going to spend the time necessary to get the job done. I really like his approach to coaching, and his defensive backs have really taken ahold of his philosophy. He pushes them and gets the most out of them."
Rounding out the list of full-time assistant coaches for the McKendree football program is Sam Sewell. The son of former NFL running back Sam Sewell rejoins Babcock in Lebanon after spending the last two seasons as the tight ends coach and assistant special teams coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo. In those two years, the ThunderWolves posted 23 wins and back-to-back league championships in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. In his short time at CSU-Pueblo, Sewell helped coach an NCAA Division II All-American as well as an All-Region honoree.
Prior to his coaching days, Sewell played four years as a wide receiver and tight end at the University of Northern Colorado. He will coach the Bearcats' running backs and also the special teams unit.
"Sam is a very detail-oriented guy," said Babcock. "He's a young coach but has been at a (NCAA) Division I school, and coached at a successful Division II program. That helps him bring a different perspective. Sam is one of those young coaches who was ready for his first opportunity at a full-time position, and I think he's going to make the most of this one. The players that he is coaching here have quickly respected him...they really like him Sam is another guy who has hit the ground running and has become a key member of our staff."
Babcock feels that one of the collective strengths of the assistant coaching staff at McKendree is its geographic diversity.
"You look at this group and it only consists of four guys, but they have all gained coaching experience in a wide variety of geographic locations," said Babcock. "Steve is a long-time Midwest guy, but has also coached in the south. Trent knows the recruiting base here very well, and Antoine the same. Antoine also has coached throughout the Midwest as well as the in the Plains and spent some time down south. Sam has been primarily in the Rockies, but has quickly gained knowledge of the programs and players here in the Midwest. That only makes us stronger as we begin this new era."
The McKendree University football team will officially kick off the Mike Babcock era Sept. 7 when the Bearcats play host to Tiffin University at Leemon Field. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m.