Kevin McGiven considers Utah State a very special place.
So when given the opportunity to return to the Aggies as their new offensive coordinator, McGiven couldn’t pass up on the chance.
McGiven previously worked at USU in 2009 as the team’s quarterbacks coach. Following that season, he went to Memphis for two years, then spent the 2011 campaign at Montana State.
In his only season with the Bobcats, McGiven helped Montana State capture its third straight Big Sky Conference title.
McGiven, despite being in the midst of the busy recruiting season, recently sat down with The Herald Journal to discuss his vision for USU’s offense, among other things.
HJ: After you left USU following the 2009 season, did you ever imagine you’d be back here?
McGiven: Utah State was a special place, I really enjoyed my time that I spent here in 2009. I left here for some other reasons, but I’m really glad to be back. I really do think it’s a special place and I was fully on board with what was being implemented here. It’s kind of exciting to see some of that stuff, some of that vision, really kind of become a reality. It’s kind of neat to be back and seeing some of that, from my perspective having been here in 2009.
HJ: In your opinion, what makes USU a special place?
McGiven: One of the things, just from the administration standpoint with president (Stan L.) Albrecht and (director of athletics) Scott Barnes, a lot of places talk about facilities improvements and things like that. Here, you’ve been able to see it first hand and a lot of that, I think, is the community embracing the vision, and boosters and alumni, and things like that obviously helping the cause because you can’t do it without them. But, you’ve seen a lot of those things come to fruition like this building (the Laub Complex) being put in place not too long, the new strength and conditioning center going up, the new turf in the indoor facility. You’re constantly seeing progress to make it better to give us the resources to succeed.
The other thing is the type of player here. It’s the type of player that I believe in and I know when coach (Gary) Andersen was here, his philosophy was embracing the missionary program, recruiting the state of Utah and the Polynesian culture. I have a strong belief in those kids. The kids from the state of Utah, the LDS kids and Polynesian kids, end up giving you a hard-working group, a group with a chip on their shoulder and a group that really wants to be better and wants to take on the coaching. It was very similar to the recruiting philosophy in Montana when I was at Montana State. We really focused hard on the state of Montana. We didn’t have a heavy Polynesian base or missionary program, but just the type of player that is really fun to coach. You’re not always going to be the most skilled team, but you’re definitely going to be a tough team and a disciplined team, and that’s what will win you a lot of football games.
HJ: Considering the success you had at Montana State in 2012, was it tough to leave?
McGiven: It was a little bit tough emotionally. Obviously, working for a school going into the Mountain West in an FBS program is definitely a step up the ladder and that part of it is not a hard decision to make. But definitely, there’s an emotional draw there. I wasn’t there very long, but it’s amazing how quickly you get tied to that place because they have as much support as probably any school in the FCS. They just have unbelievable support, an unbelievable fan base, and like I said, the kids there are just a really good, hard-working group of kids and work for a really good head coach there in Rob Ash, who is really considerate of his assistant coaches. He tried to take care of us, so there were aspects that were definitely hard to leave.
HJ: As the new offensive coordinator at USU, what is your vision for the Aggie offense?
McGiven: Really just continue to improve it, cater to the strengths of the personnel. It’s an offensive philosophy that I believe in. When I was here in 2009 and kind of helped Dave Baldwin put it in place, it was primarily his terminology, but we worked hard (and made a few changes). There were some tweaks we made to what he had done in the past and some things we called a little bit differently. Coach (Matt) Wells has really kind of maintained that terminology, the verbiage, and the whole philosophy that surrounded the offense from his time with coach Baldwin at New Mexico.
So, kind of the multiple aspects of the offense, the different personnel, the different formations — kind of a spread multiple attack — the system has had success with the dual-threat quarterback most of the time, so we’re going to continue to recruit that type of quarterback for the system to maintain the motion aspects of the offense, and the aggressive nature of the offense, as well — take some shots down field in the pass game and staying balanced, trying to be explosive. Since that time, it’s really been kind of a top-tier offense. Pretty much every year you’re looking at a top-20, top-25 offense and that’s hard to maintain. So really, the key is to recruit good personnel to the system and try to maintain it. We need to try to keep it at the top and keep it performing at a high level and hopefully just keep getting better and better.
HJ: You’ve obviously coached good quarterbacks in the past, including former Aggie Diondre Borel. But what are your first thoughts and impressions about Chuckie Keeton?
McGiven: The common denominator with all of them to me is their competitive nature and their willingness to learn and grow. The kid I had last year, DeNarius McGhee, had a little bit different body type than Chuckie. He’s not quite as long, a little more compact, but similar athletically. But just how driven he was when I first got there, how driven he was to learn the system and just eager to meet with me and talk with me, and his willingness to prepare and watch film on the opponent. He was constantly trying to better his game and that’s kind of what I see at this point from Chuckie, is that same type of work ethic, same type of competitive nature, same type of willingness to learn and grow. He’s a very intelligent player, as well.
Coach Wells uses this reference all the time, “Yeah, I told him something like a month ago and then all of a sudden it shows up in a game and he just remembers that stuff.” I think he’s got some innate ability as far as that stuff goes. But, it’s a lot more than just their athleticism and their ability. All of them have been extremely driven to succeed and that really makes it a lot easier on me as a quarterback coach when you’re not having to fight the battle, “You’ve got to prepare better, you’ve got to work harder,” all those kind of things. All those guys have never had that problem.
HJ: What concerns you the most about the offense moving forward?
McGiven: There are some skill positions that need to be answered. I think you’re always going to go in every season and offensively, the biggest two ingredients are always going to be your offense line and your quarterback. When you have those two ingredients nailed down pretty well going in, it makes you feel a little bit more secure. But, there is definitely some supplementing that we have to do as far as the skill positions and there are some guys that we’ve got to bring up to speed.
We’ve got a couple of receivers back that have been pretty solid for them with Travis Reynolds and Travis Van Leeuwen. I know they have the little slot receiver, (Bruce) “JoJo” Natson. He’s got some abilities as a slot doing some different things. But that’s been a recruiting focus — getting some of the speed to replace a Chuck Jacobs and getting a polished receiver to replace Matt Austin. We’re definitely trying to replace those guys through this recruiting process and then we’ve got to develop some of the guys that are in the program.
As we get better and better, hopefully we can always recruit better and better. But at the same time, there’s always going to be a huge developmental aspect to our program. Every year guys move on and we’ve just got to do a great job as coaches to be able to develop the next group of guys and get them ready to go. To me, that’s a key ingredient to maintaining success as a program and not just having one or two years of it and then going back into a slump, which is the development that takes place so that when guys move on, the next group is ready to go.
Tight end-wise, D.J. Tialavea is coming back and Keegan (Andersen). They’ll be really solid for us and do a really good job there. Then we’ve got Robert Marshall and Joe Hill (returning at running back). Neither of those guys were here when I was here, but they have ability, as well. I was going through a run cut-up the other day and there’s a whole bunch of Kerwynn Williams on there, but there’s a whole bunch of Joe Hill, too. ... That’s another thing we’re looking at hard in recruiting. We had a couple of guys up here on visits and we’re competing against some good schools for them.
... There is some development that needs to take place, but I do think we have key ingredients in place that are crucial. We have an experienced quarterback coming back that was all-WAC and a bunch of guys up front that did a really, really good job.