For USD Head Football Coach Dale Lindsey, it’s team first
In the weeks leading up to the kickoff for the season opener against Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, the trailer that serves as headquarters for USD football is abuzz with activity … and well past its maximum occupancy. Coaches pass in and out of its narrow confines in a steady stream; their conversations focused on game film, practice schedules and player workout regiments.
In the trailer’s back office, USD Head Football Coach Dale Lindsey settles into his desk chair, folds his hands contemplatively and offers a typically frank assessment of his work environs: “Is it cramped in here? Sure. Does it matter to anyone, including myself? Hell no. We’ve got a job to do, and that’s to win football games.”
It’s clear this group has been well coached on how to maximize their efficiency, which comes as no surprise considering who’s calling the shots. For the better part of 40 years, Lindsey has been bringing his no-nonsense approach to the locker rooms of college and professional football programs across the country, and success has followed. In a day and age when many of the top collegiate coaches spend more time politicking in front of cameras than diagramming plays, the 70-year-old Lindsey considers himself a throwback to an era when coaches … well, coached.
“I’m not one of those guys that’s going to go around shaking hands and playing the game; shoot, I don’t even know what that game is,” he says. “I’m a football coach, pure and simple. It’s what I love. It’s what I do. End of story.”
His passion for the game was kindled during his childhood years in Kentucky, where, after a distinguished high school football career, he went on to become a star linebacker for Western Kentucky University’s undefeated 1963 team. His No. 44 jersey is one of only four numbers to be retired since WKU began fielding a football program in 1908.
But Lindsey’s never been one to celebrate individual accomplishments, especially his own: “That was a great team that committed to each other. I made a few plays here and there, but lots of other guys did too.”
During his NFL playing days with the Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints, Lindsey’s on-field tenacity was matched only by his work ethic off of it. He’d come in on off days to watch hours upon hours of game tape, and often knew his teammates’ assignments better than they did.
“One of the most important components of team success in any sport is accountability,” Lindsey says. “As a player, that’s what I focused on, and part of executing your responsibilities on the field is knowing what your teammates are doing. Everyone has to be on the same page, or it’s gonna be a long day.”
After 35 years as an assistant coach at both the college and NFL levels, Lindsey landed his first head coaching job at USD, where he served as the Toreros’ defensive coordinator last season. Not surprisingly, his expectations for this year are sky-high.
“What do I expect? I expect us to three-peat as (Pioneer Football League) champs,” he offers, matter-of-factly. From there, it’s all about winning the FCS Championship.”
For the first time in its 21-year history, the Pioneer Football League (PFL) champion automatically qualifies for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Given their recent success and strong core of returning starters, the Toreros are strong candidates to bring home another PFL crown.
The 2012 team finished on a six-game winning streak, closing an 8-3 season. Fourteen starters return, and while all will play a pivotal role in Lindsey’s team-first approach, the buck stops with Mason Mills, who has begun his fourth season as the Toreros’ starting quarterback.
“Mason is our quarterback, our leader. You can’t be successful without good quarterback play, and Mason fits the bill,” Lindsey says. “The only stat that really matters to him is in the win column, and if our quarterback can show that kind of selflessness, then good things are bound to happen.”
Defensively, USD’s late-season six-game winning streak coincided with its ability to stop teams from scoring. In their first five games of the 2012-13 season, the Toreros gave up nearly 30 points a game to opposing offenses. But then Lindsey began to work his magic, and during the final six games, that number went down to a paltry 10.6 points.
“Once we started to connect the dots with Coach Lindsey’s defensive scheme, everything really started to click,” says returning defensive end and preseason FCS All-American Blake Oliaro.
From the moment Lindsey was named head coach last December, his top priority was to establish a culture where team comes first. In fact, he and his coaching staff circulated a questionnaire among the players that asked them to list their personal goals for the coming season. The responses brought a smile to Lindsey’s normally stoic countenance.
“They all mentioned winning a team championship, and to get a great education. That’s just the kind of program we want to run here.”