ORONO, Maine — You’ll excuse Liam Coen if he’s more than a little excited about becoming the offensive coordinator for the University of Maine football team.
He grew up playing quarterback for his father, Tim, who coached at La Salle Academy in Providence, Rhode Island. It wasn’t exactly a QB’s dream scenario, as the Rams ran the run-oriented wing-T.
It’s an offense whose origins can be traced back to 1949-1950, with coach Dave Nelson at UMaine.
“I probably threw the ball like 10-12 times a game at the max,” said Coen, who got his chance to air the ball out during a stellar career at the University of Massachusetts from 2005-2008.
He still holds most Minutemen career passing records, including yards (11,031), passing efficiency (152.92), completion percentage (.639) and touchdowns (90).
Coen, 30, has begun implementing a new offensive scheme for first-year head coach Joe Harasymiak’s team. It will bear no resemblance to his wing-T roots, though the Black Bears won’t throw the ball around willy-nilly.
“We want to be multiple with our personnel and our formations and try not to be stagnant and let the defense align to us easily,” Coen said.
“We want to constantly attack the defense. We want to dictate the pace of play both using tempo and scheme,” he added.
Coen explained that UMaine plans to develop an offensive identity that will include a hard-hitting run game and a passing attack capable of striking quickly.
“We want to be physical on the interior and explosive on the exterior,” he said.
The Black Bears struggled offensively last season under former associate head coach and offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin. UMaine ranked 107th among 123 Football Championship Subdivision teams in scoring (14.9 points per game) and was 105th in rushing (115.4 yards per game), 102nd in passing yards per completion (10.65) and 95th in total offense (321.7 ypg).
“I think we need an offense that’s good with managing the football, able to run the football, [throw the] play-action pass, be more explosive,” said Harasymiak, who praised Coen’s teaching skills and his enthusiasm for implementing a new system.
“He’s a hungry coach,” Harasymiak said. “This is his chance to coordinate for the first time, which was extremely important for me to have, because you want someone that’s going to work hard and that’s him.”
Since arriving in Orono on Feb. 1, Coen has been studying UMaine’s offensive players. He observed them during workouts but also spent many hours reviewing 2015 game film and practice video.
“I watched every game probably three times each,” Coen said.
This spring, he has been evaluating the players as they implement elements of his new offense.
“They’re tough kids, love the game of football and want to be coached and want to be successful,” Coen said.
He stressed that it’s a clean slate for all the players, whether they have been regular starters or seldom-used backups.
“If you’re going to help our offense and help our team win, you’re going to play,” Coen said.
UMaine returns two veteran quarterbacks in senior Dan Collins and junior Drew Belcher, along with redshirt freshman Jack Walsh. That spot is up for grabs.
“Their will to improve and do the right things has been impressive,” said Coen, whose aim is to develop an offensive plan that fits the present personnel but will be adaptable to future additions.
UMaine won’t be afraid to throw in some wrinkles here and there, whether it is an end-around, a throw-back, a jet sweep or other plays by which they can get their best players involved.
“It’s more so creating mismatches and getting your athletes the ball in space,” Coen said.
Harasymiak called it a fresh start.
Coen wants to instill a mentality among the receivers that they expect to make big plays after catching the ball.
“That’s a big point of emphasis for us this spring is to be special with the ball,” Coen said. “Don’t just catch a hitch and be happy to catch a hitch; catch a hitch and score.”
Coen cut his coaching teeth with stints at UMass (2014-2015), Brown (2010, 2012-2013) and Rhode Island (2011). He said the most prominent influence on his coaching philosophy is his father.
“He had an unbelievable way about him,” Coen said. “He did not need to cus or be negative toward the kids. It was always a positive, calming influence so when he did need to make a point, the kids understood that it was a coaching point and not an attack.”
And while UMaine won’t line up in the old wing-T, subtle elements of the system remain.
“Everybody in the country runs the true, old ‘buck sweep,’” Coen said. “It’s just unrecognizable because it’s from the shotgun [formation].”
UMaine is gearing up for the annual Jeff Cole Scrimmage, which will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 7, at Alfond Stadium.