SAN DIEGO — Al Luginbill does not officially take over as the 13th football coach in San Diego State history until Wednesday, but already he is hard at work putting together a plan for the Aztecs.
Since it was announced Monday that he would succeed Denny Stolz, Luginbill has met with SDSU players and coaches, worked to assemble his coaching staff and prepared for the transition that will become complete after the team banquet Tuesday night.
The appointment marks Luginbill's return to coaching after serving nearly 3 years as an associate athletic director at SDSU. Luginbill, 42, previously was as an assistant at Wyoming and Arizona State, including 3 seasons as defensive coordinator. His only previous head coaching job was at Pasadena City College, where he led the Lancers an 11-1 record in 1977.
Luginbill took some time out from his schedule of appointments Thursday to discuss his early plans for SDSU, his philosophy of football and the reasons why he has decided to return to coaching.
An edited version of the conversation:
Question: What have these first few days since the announcement of your appointment been like?
Answer: I've been working until 2 or 3 in the morning. But what has become very apparent to me is, being removed from the profession for a couple of years, you forget where you are, and that is San Diego. What a tremendous asset that is when you start getting calls from people who want to work here. I mean awesome people calling with unbelievable credentials, proven credentials. Yet it is important for me to know an individual's complete background. What I do with my first staff will be the most important decision I will make during my whole time that I am here. I am taking my time. I am not rushing into anything, and I have no set agenda.
Q: What are you looking at in assembling a staff of assistant coaches?
A: I want good people who are success-driven, who can recruit.
Q: Why is recruiting a priority over other qualifications?
A: They wouldn't be successful in coaching if they couldn't teach, so I expect that. Recruiting is like shaving: you have to do it every day. You have to do it 365 days a year. I want people who like to recruit because we are selling San Diego; we are selling ourselves; we are selling the program. I ask each one of them point blank: "You are on a year-to-year basis. Can you accept the fact that the major part of your evaluation is based on your ability to bring in outstanding student-athletes at San Diego State? Do you have any problem with that?" Everybody says no, but I can tell from the rest of the interview if that is a priority with them. Some head coaches say you have to have a blend. There are coaches out there who are great X and O coaches that are also great recruiters and great motivators. Those are the three qualities that I want. A lot of head coaches say you can't find that in an individual. I disagree with that.
Q: What qualities do you look for in your players to make a successful football program?
A: We look for toughness and speed. What does toughness mean? Will they compete hard on every down? Football is a violent sport. People hit you. What does toughness mean outside of football? Will they go to class? Do they show up on time for meetings? If I inherit that type of individual, then I don't have to teach it. On the physical side, we've got to have size. A big fast, tough athlete, 9 times out of 10, will beat a little, fast, tough athlete. That's pretty simple. So I want to get as many big, fast tough athletes as we can.
Q: What are your views on academic requirements from your players?
A: Every student athlete that is highly recruited out of high school feels he can to play professional football. Less than 1% of the players in college football reach that goal. I still want them to have that goal. There is nothing wrong with that. But along with that, I want them to be realistic. I want them to have something to fall back on; that's a degree.
Q: You have been an assistant coach in both the Western Athletic Conference while at Wyoming and in the Pacific 10 while at Arizona State. Those are the two conferences San Diego State competes in and most closely against. Will your background at those schools serve you well here?