Change is coming

A season of change is ready to begin for Vikings football. After a dismal 2–9 season, Jerry Glanville and company are out and new head coach Nigel Burton and his clean-up crew are in.

A season of change is ready to begin for Vikings football. After a dismal 2–9 season, Jerry Glanville and company are out and new head coach Nigel Burton and his clean-up crew are in.

“The biggest thing we’re trying to do is just create a culture of winning. That is something we started on from the moment we walked in the door,” Burton says.

Burton will be facing a number of obstacles this season. There has been a complete overhaul on both offense and defense. Gone is the spread offense, conducive to big stats and big plays. Gone is the 3–4 defensive scheme that was former head coach Glanville’s bread and butter.

The spread will be replaced with the pistol offense, something Burton knows well from his time at Nevada. Bruce Barnum, former offensive coordinator at Cornell University, will handle the offensive duties.

“When [the pistol] is working, it buys a step on the defense. It slows them down one reaction step and that’s where the magic of it is—in the run game,” says Barnum. “We will be a heck of a lot more run-heavy than what they’ve had here in the past.”

Barnum also said that the pistol is a different look than anyone else in the Big Sky Conference gives. The Vikings will be a power-run team that can throw the ball. This will cause Big Sky opponents to prepare for the Viks in an entirely new way. Barnum said the new attitude on offense will be “here’s what we do—stop us,” which will give the team a much-needed swagger.

The switch to the 4–3 defense should be a big improvement over Glanville’s overly complicated defensive machinations. It will also allow players who are more suited to play tight end to switch from the linebacker position to offense. The reemergence of the tight end position is a boon from the pistol offense and will add further depth to the offense.

There are also challenges that have arisen that are beyond anyone’s control. PGE Park, the Vikings’ home on game day, is getting a facelift, displacing the team for a year. For the 2010 season, Hillsboro Stadium, which is 14 miles from campus, will have to do.

Making things more difficult, the Viks will play only four games at home, and two of their first three opponents compete in the prestigious Pac-10.

The roster also poses a problem for the restructured team. There wasn’t a single tailback on the roster, which is the key position in the backfield for the pistol offense. There is also a lack of experienced players. Almost 60 percent of the team’s members are freshmen or sophomores.

Burton has sought to overcome this deficit through signings. This year, he says, he signed more players from junior colleges than he plans on doing in any other year. He also feels that this will give the team a better academic background.

“I think we’re going to have to find a way to squeeze out every inch of production that we can out of our current team,” Burton says. “You’ve got to focus on what a young man can do, not what he can’t do.”

One of the ways that Burton plans to do this is to be a constant presence in his players’ lives. This includes weekly academic meetings and some member of the staff being present at every team function, big or small. “We’re a very hands-on crew in terms of our coaching staff. [The team] get[s] tired of seeing us,” he said.

Burton also wants the student body to buy into the winning attitude. It’s a main part of his agenda. He alludes to “tricks in [his] back pocket” to promote school spirit, which he will begin to preview this spring.

Commenting on his overall expectations for the team this year, Burton appears modest.

“I would say you can expect to see an exciting brand of football. I think you can expect to see a team that improves over the course of the year,” he said.

Spring training starts Monday, and continues every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1:35 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Stott Field.