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Photo by Beth Wade
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Southwestern University head football coach
In February 2012, Joe Austin was named Southwestern University’s first head football coach in more than 62 years.
During his sophomore year at St. Ambrose University, Austin broke his back, ending his college football playing career. He began working as a student coach and later as a graduate assistant before taking a job as an offensive assistant coach at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn., for four seasons. He later became the offensive coordinator at Augsburg College and then became head coach at the University of Dubuque and held the same position at Hanover College.
Austin has a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a master’s degree in organizational management.
How do you build a program from the ground up?
A lot of my time has actually been meeting with every group on campus talking about the things that have to happen. I’ve talked with food service, housing—all the different things when you are adding a football program. You’ve got to develop the staff and recruit players, purchase equipment and reach out into the community.
Southwestern did a good job bringing me in early enough so we could get off to a good start.
One of the first things I did was get the guys that I was bringing from my staff at Hanover here. In December, we hired three more coaches … and that allowed us to phase in different things. We’ve recruited a small group of kids that are here now. There are 13 football players on campus now that practiced this year.
Once I got here, it’s been about an 18- to 19-month process to be able to play a football game. If you look at the games just as an event, these are going to be the largest events that Southwestern has.
How are you dealing with recruiting players? How many do you plan to have?
We will bring in probably 65 more this fall to get our roster going. That will put us roughly three deep at each position, and that’s kind of where you need to be to get things started. We don’t want to—both as a football program and as a school—bring in all 120 [players] at one time because you aren’t going to be able to retain all 120 if they are all in the same class. We’ll phase in our team. We’ll probably be [at] 75–80 next fall, then about 100 our second year and then 110–120 hopefully for our third year, and that’s where we will be. Our roster, unless something changes in our strategy at this school, 110–120 is where we want to be. Some schools will bring in 225 players each year and then half want to leave at Christmas time. That’s not what Southwestern wants to be. Football will be a big boost to our enrollment, but it’s not going to be to the detriment of our retention and our academics.
We’re trying to identify groups of really good academic students who are also good athletes each year.
How do you balance academics and athletics?
It starts by bringing in good students first. Our students get in on their own merits; they’re Southwestern students first.
We can have smart football players. We are not the stereotypical dumb jocks that people think of. We do a lot of life-skill coaching and do a lot of time management [coaching]. Everyone has 24 hours per day—eight for sleep, eight for school and eight for whatever you want. Our guys are going to take that eight hours whatever-you-want-to-do time and give it to football. So they are going to sacrifice social time and some video game time and things because they want to be a part of football, but that doesn’t need to take away from what they do academically.
For our guys who can come in and manage their time, athletics can help them focus their time. Some students have told me that they do better academically during the fall season when they are really busy because they have to manage their time. In the spring, they almost have too much free time.
There’s no inherent conflict between being a student athlete and being a good student. There is plenty of time in the day as long as they are putting eight hours into their academics like it’s a job, then those students do really well.
What are you looking forward to most about the upcoming season?
Getting it going. It was a weird fall for me—the first time that I haven’t had football games. It was good at the time because to a certain extent it was refreshing to be able to step back and watch games on TV and have a little less stress throughout the week when it comes to game prep. When it comes down to it, though, that’s what you thrive on as a coach. Every day things become more of a reality. Every day we have more players, and I can start to picture these guys playing for us. Every day our facilities [that are under construction] look more like [actual] facilities. Every day you get a little more anxious to want to get it going. It’s going to be a long, difficult season. We’re going to be coaching a team that’s all first-time [college] football players. We probably won’t have a single player that’s played a single play in a college football game, and I don’t mind that. We’ve been in that position before at Hanover. The first team I put on the field was almost all freshmen. Just to get there and get through the process is good. I’m enjoying the process, but I’ve been here 13 months and we haven’t played a football game yet.
Right now, what I’m looking forward to most is just getting into it.