The Wildcat football team is continuing on the path of building a foundation for the future this offseason, with the acquisition of two new coordinators to the coaching staff.
NMU hired defensive coordinator and secondary coach Randy Awrey.
Dan Mettlach, who was on the coaching staff last season as a part-time assistant, was also promoted to full-time status.
“The biggest thing that we looked at with hiring both is that they’re good coaches,” said head coach Bernie Anderson. “They’re good with the players, they’re knowledgeable of the game and have a desire to be here.”
Awrey, a U.P. native and NMU graduate and player on the 1975 national championship football team, was brought on as defensive coordinator after spending the last eight seasons as head coach of conference-foe Saginaw Valley State University. During Awrey’s tenure at SVSU, he accumulated a 76-27 record for the Cardinals, leaving as their all time winningest coach.
“It is exciting to be back,” said Awrey. “I loved it when I was here, and obviously, being from the U.P., I love the U.P. When the opportunity came to come back and do this, it was just perfect timing for my life.”
Awrey was a four-year starter for the Wildcats at running back, and is a member of the NMU Hall of Fame. He also received game MVP honors after NMU’s 1975 National Championship.
“He brings back an alumnus of the national championship team here, he brings 18 years of head coaching experience, he brings back great knowledge of the defensive side of the ball and is experienced with players,” Anderson said of Awrey. “All of it is going to make us a better team.”
Before his coaching stretch at Saginaw Valley, Awrey spent seasons coaching in Wisconsin, New York and Kentucky as well as a graduate assistant for NMU from 1980-’81 and assistant on Michigan Tech’s staff.
Of all of his coaching changes, Awrey feels that coming back to NMU has been his most comfortable move yet.
“Coming back and working with the coaches and the players themselves – this is a breath of fresh air,” Awrey said.
Establishing and developing the defense will be the biggest task Awrey faces this spring. The defense, which improved as the season progressed last year, was ranked 10th in scoring defense while ranked 11th in total defense out of 13 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) teams. Awrey’s Saginaw team was ranked third in total defense.
“Obviously there is a lot of work to be done. We’ve got to get better, there’s a lot more of the pieces to the puzzle now that people might think,” Awrey said. “Now all we have to do is piece it all together.”
Newly hired quarterbacks and receivers coach, Dan Mettlach, will need little transition time to get accustomed to NMU, as he spent last season as an assistant quarterbacks coach on the NMU staff. Mettlach steps into the full-time position after only two years experience in the coaching realm.
Mettlach played four seasons for Michigan Tech before becoming a graduate assistant and following his head coach, Anderson, to NMU.
“Coach Anderson gave me a great opportunity last year to come here,” Mettlach said. “Some coaches left this year and we made some adjustments to where I could get this position. He helped me out by giving me a full-time job.”
While at Tech, Mettlach led the Huskies to a first place tie in his senior year with a 9-2 record, while also being named the GLIAC player of the year. As a senior, Tech’s offense under the helm of Mettlach, ranked in the top 10 nationally for scoring, rushing and total offense.
As far as the NMU offense goes, the quarterback situation remains up in the air for next season. This spring, Mettlach is put to the test of finding and building the Wildcats’ next field general. The quarterback race between senior Vincent Church, junior Ben Hempel and red-shirt freshmen Matt Blanchard and Carter Kopach, will be one of the most important areas to be addressed, as a leader needs to be found before fall.
“Once we get the quarterback established with who it’s going to be obviously being in that position you’re going to be the leader on the field,” Mettlach said. “But right now, we’re getting a lot of leadership from guys people didn’t expect it to come from, which is a good thing.”
Mettlach, a local of Gwinn, grew up around coaching; his grandfather coached at Crystal Falls High School and his father at Gwinn High School. Anderson said that Mettlach has the natural abilities to be a coach.
“We’re fortunate to have the people of their ability,” Anderson said. “One with great experience and one whose family has been in coaching – his grandfather coached, his father coached. [Mettlach’s] just right out of the coaching realm and he has a great feel for it.”