Georgia State football coach Trent Miles says he coaches somewhat like his dad, who taught his son to swim by throwing him in the deep end of the pool and saying, “Come on.”
Miles’ approach in his first season in charge of the Panthers has been a bit more detailed than that first cannonball and dog paddle. So, if things are going swimmingly, what should fans expect when their team takes on Samford at 7 p.m. Friday in the Georgia Dome?
He lists three things: a team that plays with passion and discipline and can execute the game plan.
“Of course I expect to win,” he said, “but there’s a way to get to that goal.”
That may not seem different than what any coach expects, but remember that the Panthers have had trouble with all three the past two seasons, running up a 4-18 record.
Miles has worked on all three points by forcing the players to pay attention to detail. He roams practices shouting instructions during every drill. When a player doesn’t do what he wants, or does something that is obviously stupid — such as knocking another player’s helmet off during a scuffle, which would be a penalty during a game — he is sent to the showers.
Cornerback Brent McClendon said when Miles tells the players to put their fingers on the line, he means exactly on the line and not one inch over or behind. Miles has made the players wait to start sprints until everyone was precisely on the line. McClendon said the previous coaching staff also was detail-oriented, but Miles is “intense about it.”
The message is getting across.
In a separate interview, freshman running back Kyler Neal is asked for three things that fans can expect to see Friday. His answer was very similar to Miles’.
“Hard working, will try to be disciplined — coach is always on us about the little things — and have a lot of energy,” he said.
Miles is detail-oriented — down to the music that is played during practices — because of his experience as a coach.
His Indiana State team opened at Eastern Michigan in Miles’ first game as a head coach in 2008. He brought 19 freshmen to the game. They arrived two hours early. As they were getting dressed, Miles realized that some of the first-year players didn’t know how to put their belts into their pants.
“I thought ‘Uh, oh,’” he said. “If I’m in here trying to show them how to dress and get ready, I have an idea what might happen.”
Indiana State lost 52-0, but Miles added another item to his checklist.
So, Georgia State has twice practiced in their uniforms. The first-year players know how to put their belts on.
“I’ve learned that one,” he said.
There’s one more detail that Miles wants to see, but unlike putting on a belt it will be hard to quantify: the team’s talent level.
Most of the players on Georgia State’s roster were recruited to play for an FCS program. Facing the Bulldogs should be a good gauge of what to expect for the rest of the season, which includes two other games against FCS opponents, seven games against Sun Belt opponents and games against Alabama and West Virginia.
Miles conceded that passion, discipline and an ability to execute don’t depend upon talent.
That first Indiana State team played with passion, he said, but they didn’t have the talent to compete. Eventually, the Sycamores turned into a winning program because of better talent and better attention to detail.
Tarris Batiste, who transferred from Indiana State to Georgia State, is used to Miles’ focus. He said it took some of Georgia State’s players by surprise, and they came to him to find out what made Miles tick.
“It’s always the little things with coach Miles,” he said. “He wants to be disciplined with every little thing. It makes us a better team.”