James Rosenbury Speaks Success into Lives of Macalester Scots – Loudly!
One game into the Macalester College football season, Head Coach Tony Jennison is still trying to figure out what his 2015 team is about. Will they be able to run the ball as effectively as last season? Will they have the defenders to step up and replace key members from last season that graduated? With the offensive line be as strong, and is his group of talented quarterbacks ready to make a name for themselves and step out of the shadow of Samson Bialostok? These are all questions that may take three or four games for him to be able to have an adequate handle on, as he and his talented coaching staff try to examine the success that players are having in their new roles.
While Coach Jennison may be continually evaluating his talent level, one position where he has already made an incredibly sound decision, and is instantly reaping major benefits for the team this season, is the hiring of James Rosenbury as a full-time coach on the staff, specifically in charge of handling the Scots’ special teams and running back corps.
Coming off the most successful season in Macalester Scots history the team needed one more full-time coach, and they wanted it to be a person who could take their special teams to a whole different level. The school was inundated with applications as over 150 candidates sought to become the newest addition to the Macalester coaching staff. For Coach Jennison and his coaching group, Rosenbury was the clear choice.
“There were a lot of amazing candidates, but he just was head-and-shoulders above the rest,” Coach Jennison recalls of the decision. “It wasn’t just that he was the perfect choice for the coaching staff. The players thought he was the perfect choice. The administration thought he was the perfect choice. He was just the perfect person to fit in here at Macalester.”
The guy who describes himself as “the loudest voice on the field” certainly had the credentials to fit into the high-academic standards of Macalester College. A graduate of Case Western, Rosenbury had starred on the football field for the prestigious college, gaining over 1,700 yards in his career, and was named to All-University Athletic Association honors two times. He then went on to the University of Redlands where he earned his master’s degree.
The last two seasons he returned to his alma mater where he filled the same position he now has at Macalester. In those two seasons, he helped to produce three first-team All-University Athletic Association running backs and one honorable mention as All-Presidents’ Athletic Conference running back. His two years at Case Western gave him ten total seasons coaching, including stints at Redlands, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and fellow Midwest Conference team Grinnell College.
Clearly Coach Rosenbury had all the qualifications that made him the ideal choice to be the new addition for the Scots, but he is still humbled by the selection, and believes that Macalester College is the right fit for him.
“I am a little shy to be honest, so it is a little humbling to think that a school like this and people like this saw me as a great fit for them. I’m very happy, very grateful, and this is a place where I can see myself for a very long time. I enjoy the students, I enjoy the staff, and I just enjoy the general sense of community that Macalester has, that other places I have been at didn’t necessarily have.”
While honored by the choice, Coach Rosenbury openly admits that the new position came with some added pressure. He was looking to fit into a staff that had been together for nearly six seasons, and wanted to make sure that he didn’t disrupt that cohesiveness, while also being able to leave his mark.
“I felt some pressure, because I knew that this was a cohesive group, a great group that had done it with just three full-time coaches. They had won a conference championship, so my big thing was that I did not want to ruin the dynamic that they had built here, and what I told them in my interview is that you guys have obviously done some great things here, and I don’t want to change how you guys do things. I just want to help improve upon it. That was my goal, to improve upon what they had already done, what they had built.”
Making improvements is exactly what the club wanted the new coach to do. They had success on special teams last season, but wanted to take their success to a whole new level. They not only wanted someone who was ready to outfox his opponents, but who was prepared to get his players to buy into his schemes and his philosophy.
“Special teams is great because you can really do some different things. You can show some people some things that maybe they haven’t seen before and it allows me to put my stamp on things. I think I am pretty aggressive when it comes to special teams. I like to really get after it, I like to challenge other coaches, other teams, show them things they haven’t seen before, and I really like to challenge our guys.”
For many coaches, special teams is not first on their list of coaching positions they wish to fill. Because so many offensive and defensive coordinators move on to become head coaches, those are the glamor positions, but to Coach Rosenbury there is no part of the team he would rather be coaching. He not only loves instructing his players on the finer points of special teams, but loves the chess match he gets to engage in each week with his counterpart on the other sideline.
“In special teams you have all these different positions that do these different things; it’s kind of like a clock and you got to figure out how to make it all work. Part of it is putting the right guys in the right places, and the other part of it is seeing the weaknesses in the other team, and then moving those pieces around to fit where those weaknesses exist and then exploiting them.”
In the opening week of his coaching career at Macalester College, Coach Rosenbury proved that he is prepared to be the Grand Master of the chess match that is special teams. His team blocked a field goal attempt early in the game and, with the club struggling and needing a spark, his special teams unit blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. It was quite a start that he credits his players for making happen.
“I think they’ve taken on some of my characteristics of being aggressive and believing in what we are doing, and I think that showed this past weekend when we were able to block a punt and we were able to block a field goal. So that was really good to see and really encouraging. They really executed well, and it is very satisfying to see them excited to make big plays that can help the team win.”
One of the biggest challenges that Coach Rosenbury is forced to deal with each week is the same one that coaches at all levels all across America have to face. Offense and defense gets a majority of the attention during practice, so the Macalester coach is forced to try to get his players on track with very little time to practice his game plans. It also means he has to be a master negotiator.
“We have a head coach here who really understands how important it (special teams) is, and really puts an emphasis on it. I feel like it is the job of every special team’s coordinator to say, ‘Coach can I get five minutes extra here,” or “can I get 15 more minutes here?’ It’s challenging, but you just have to make the most of what you have.”
Making the most of what he has is what makes James Rosenbury such a special coach. The coach has taken his experiences, the lessons he has learned from other coaches and players, and has blended it all together to quickly establish himself as a leader and instructor that the Scots players respect and listen to. His attention to detail took some time for his players to embrace, especially the running backs, but his ability to properly gauge the personality of each of his players and to, then, be able to reach them on their own level is part of what has made him such a perfect choice for the Scots.
“Not every running back is going to respond the same way to your coaching, so you have to tweak it a little bit and see what fits them best and how to get through to them best. Some guys you can stand in front of them and instruct them face-to-face, other guys need you to put your arm around them and explain to them that this is what we are doing. It’s different things for different guys.”
To understand what made each player tick, Coach Rosenbury took time to get to know each of the running backs and the special teams’ players. He needed to know how to reach them and how to understand to get through to each one. “Part of it was that I took some time in the spring to sit down with them and get to know them a little more. We hung out and talked and I got to know them and they got to know me and that was a big part of it.”
This wasn’t something he wanted just so he could coach them better. He has a lot of respect for his players, and getting to know them meant a lot to him personally as well as professionally. There is great admiration for his players from the coach and that is clear in the way that he talks about them. “These are amazing young men, and it is an honor to work with them. To know each of them on an individual basis is really something special.”
While admiring his players, he is not afraid to express his displeasure with them when they fail to absorb his message. To Coach Rosenbury, success lies in the millions of little things that a person does successfully, whether it is making a 47 degree cut instead of a 45 degree one, or striding one-half each more before making a move. The results speak for themselves, but getting them to buy into it wasn’t necessarily easy at first.
“They won a championship last season and had a guy rush for nearly 1300 yards. Sometimes that can be hard for a player to see that they can go even higher, and that has meant that I have had to push them and get on them to pay attention to those little details. Fortunately, these are the kind of kids that really look deeply into those kinds of things, and when you can show them evidence they will really buy into what we are trying to do here.”
One of the most special aspects of this coordinator is that he understands that his demanding voice and aggressive style need to be tempered at times. While these players love football, they also attend one of the most rigorous academic institutions in the country, with their demands in the classroom far exceeding their demands as football players. As a guy who attended a high achieving school himself, Coach Rosenbury understands that sometimes he needs to pull his foot off the gas and give his players a little room to breathe.
“My coaching style is to be very demanding, and I think that’s ok with guys like this, to be more demanding, but you also to have to know when to pull back, because there have been days where they had a tough organic chemistry class, or a test or two, and so you have to know when to pull back. As the school year has gotten underway I have tried to pull back more, coach less and let them do more, because I think these guys are at their best when they are not thinking and they are just doing. They already know what to do; I just want them to go and do it.”
Coach James Rosenbury has one thing he asks his players to do. He wants them to not settle for where they are at, but to be willing to ask more from themselves. He is tough on them and pushes them, because he wants them to see that there is another level they can get out of themselves. However, his desire is that they would see that they have another level and that they would be willing to push themselves to reach that point.
“My big thing is that it is ok to demand more of yourself. It is ok to work a little harder, to do one more rep, one more set on the bench. Work for an extra 10 minutes on some homework. These guys are special young men and they can demand more of themselves on the football field, in the classroom, and in life.”
If the Macalester College football team is looking for a role model on how to demand more of oneself and to succeed in doing so, they need look no further than their new special team’s coach. James Rosenbury has challenged himself in his own life to strive to reach that next level. Once there, he developed a new goal as his focus, and this has helped him rise to become an integral part of the coaching staff at Macalester College.
The Macalester College football team is going to be a work in progress through the first few weeks of the season, especially on offense. As the new quarterbacks work to gain confidence in themselves and the defense builds greater cohesiveness and unity, the Scots can benefit from the fact that each week their special teams units are going to make a big play.
More than that, the players on this team are hearing another voice on how amazing can be when they leave Macalester College to enter the world. It is a voice they have come to respect, and they are being inspired by the voice of James Rosenbury to see that, as brilliant as they are, there is room for even greater heights. What those heights will be is mind boggling to say the least, but one thing that is sure – the voice delivering that message is going to be loud, it’s going to be demanding and, most of all, it’s going to be sincere. That’s what makes that voice all the more special.
By Robert Pannier