Ernie McCook, the new head coach of the Rams, is excited to take over for former Shepherd head football coach Monte Cater after spending the past 18 seasons as an assistant coach to Cater on the Shepherd football staff. (Anthony Bracken/The Picket).

McCook: Practice the key to football success

For the past 31 seasons, Monte Cater has been manning the sidelines as Shepherd University’s head football coach. With Cater’s retirement in January, this role will now be filled by Ernie McCook, who has been an assistant coach for the Shepherd Rams football team for the past 18 seasons.  

McCook sat down with The Picket to describe his coaching philosophy, where he sees the program heading, who the new starting quarterback will be, and other pressing topics about the Shepherd football team. 

When Mr. Chauncey Winbush, the vice president for athletics, asked you to take over as the head coach, what was going through your head? Was it a feeling of happiness, but then also sadness that a close friend was retiring? 

It was bittersweet. There’s no question about it. Having worked closely with Coach Cater and the friendship that I’ve developed with him over the years, seeing him retire and kind of getting out of coaching, I was sad to see that happen, but then the opportunity then was created for myself to be able to step into this role. That’s something that I’m embracing and it’s been a really cool deal. It’s been a life-long goal of mine to have this opportunity and I’m glad that I have it here at Shepherd University.  

What is the most exciting part about this new job for you? What gets you up in the morning highly motivated to come out and do a good job? 

A lot of things, I mean every aspect of this job, every aspect of being a football coach. I was once told, “Find a job you enjoy, [and] you’ll never work a day in your life,” and I really feel like I’ve always enjoyed my job as a football coach and I’ve never really felt that I’ve gone to work. I love seeing our players develop. I love seeing the camaraderie of the team. I love being around our coaches, our players, the people in this athletic department, the friendships, the relationships that you build in this position I think are just really awesome, and that part is pretty important to me. I love seeing guys progress. I love seeing guys get better. I love seeing guys have success. That’s what gets you going, when you see guys successful in the classroom, successful on the playing field, and really happy socially. Those are all things that really kind of excite you.  

What kind of advice do you give your players to help them focus in the classroom as well as on the football field? 

That’s something, we grab a hold of that as a football staff and we identify players that need assistance in any area that it might be in their life, and we’re there to support them with that. We have some basic tools that we share with them to help each individual, but we look at each player independently. We don’t just paint a broad brush [and say], “Hey, this is the football player, this is what you need to do.” Everybody has different things that motivate them. Everybody has different things that kind of get them going, so we try and find, “What is the best way to motivate each individual,” and then, once we motivate them, that’s our goal, motivate them for success.  

McCook will strive to continue the Rams’ winning traditions and capture another Mountain East Conference Championship in the 2018 season, just as the Rams did last season by defeating Charleston on Senior Day. (Jason Fischetti/The Picket).

In terms of the offense next season, obviously you’ll have a new quarterback under center with senior quarterback Connor Jessop graduating. Do you anticipate keeping the offensive scheme relatively the same or do you have a favorite for the quarterback position? 

We’ll keep a lot of the stuff very consistent with what we’ve been doing over the years. We will probably make sure that – and it’s like we do with any position, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line – we ask them what they can accomplish, what they can excel at. We’re not going to ask them to do something they can’t. 

Quarterback-wise, as fast as that person develops, I think is going to really depend on how much we give him in our offense, what he does in our offense. I feel confident that we’ll have good players around him so that person will be able to develop. 

[I’m] really excited about our tight ends that we have in the game. Our wide receivers are outstanding. We’ve got a good core of strong offensive lineman coming back offensively, and we’ve got some tailbacks that have gotten some really consistent reps over the last several years. I like the guys that we’ve recruited at all of these positions, so I really think that, granted, we did lose a lot of great players. We’re going to have some new guys in some key spots, but I think we’ll have a nice plan in place so they can execute and be successful.  

Senior quarterback Connor Jessop (9) will be one of the key players that McCook will have to find a replacement for in the 2018 season. Jessop passed for 3,532 yards and threw 40 touchdown passes last season to go along with 428 rushing yards and six touchdown runs. (/The Picket).

Is there a favorite in your mind right now for the quarterback position for the upcoming 2018 season, or do you think that it’s just a decision that’s just too far away to make right now? 

It’s too far away, I mean competition, we want to create competition at that position. Whoever is playing quarterback will be the person that has earned that position, and that’s how we’ve done it forever.  

What are some of the position groups that you see as having the greatest competition for playing time? 

Well I think two guys like Ryan Feiss and Wanya Allen, two guys that [are] really established in the receiving core. D.J. Cornish I think is really established as a tight end. Our center and two guards and the guys around them have really gotten a lot of starts and a lot of playing time. The running backs have been consistent. I think defensively, we’re going to have new guys at the defensive end spots. We’ll have new guys at the tackle spots, so the edge part of football is going to be something that we’ll have to pay attention to, [having] edge setters on both sides of the football. We’ve got some young guys at inside linebacker that got some good playing time that we think are going to be able to step in at that spot. [We’re] Really excited at the development of Ponce DeLeon, Shane Wilkins, and the two corners, DeJuan Neal and Chris Jones, Raughn Carter.  

Everybody will have to compete and we’re going to create as much competition as we go through winter conditioning and spring practice [and] summer camp, so the guys will have worked hard, trained hard and prepared for the season opener. 

With all of the seniors on both sides of the ball that won’t be back here next season, how do you fill the void that they had on the program? 

Well, I don’t know that we’ll replace any of them. We’ve graduated a lot of really good players over the last two to three seasons, but that’s happened here before [when] we’ve had great runs as a program and we’ve really just been able to find the right kid, the right player to come in and take over where the other players left off. I think developing our players, both in the weight room, [and] developing our players on the football field. Our spring practice is going to be huge. [I] believe in reps, repetition is the mother of all learning. I believe in our coaching staff. Our coaching staff is going to do a great job. And preparing our players, and it’s just them getting the experience to be able to play at a high level.   

Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at  

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