Sean Lynch: Smooth opening day to Casey's tenure

August 7, 2010 

Anyone who doesn't believe the universe has a way of evening things out just needs to examine Bob Casey's story a little closer.

The newly named Merced College head football coach was among the candidates that tossed their names into a hat a little over a year and a half ago when Tony Lewis announced he'd be stepping down.

After 11 consecutive years without a winning record, the feeling around MC was that the school wanted some fresh blood.

A nationwide search was opened up and a number of talented applicants made their pitch.

The field was eventually whittled down to a group of five finalists that were granted interviews.

Casey wasn't among them.

Despite his five years of coaching service with the Blue Devils, the then offensive coordinator wasn't even afforded a meeting.

While Casey had every right to feel outraged by the slight, he handled the situation with tremendous poise.

Mark Kaanapu was eventually named the fourth head coach in Blue Devil history, and despite receiving a demotion to offensive line coach, Casey and the rest of the MC staff did everything in their power to make Coach K's transition into the program a smooth one.

My, how things have changed.

A year later, Kaanapu has jumped ship for a Division I assistant opportunity at Portland State and Casey has been thrust into the job he coveted all along.

Make no mistake, however.

Casey isn't a consolation prize.

Kaanapu was handed the job because of his resume.

He had years of head coaching experience, a rolodex full of recruiting contacts around the nation, experience with rebuilding a program and a plan.

So much for the best laid plans.

In Casey, the Blue Devils gain a head coach with a vast football knowledge that already has the respect of his players, knows the program and possesses deep roots in the community.

Not to mention the fact that he's hungry to seize his moment in what could be just a one-year audition.

"I'm very excited for this opportunity," Casey said as his era officially kicked off with conditioning classes on Thursday.

"The timing doesn't give us much opportunity to change things, so we'll be sticking with the schemes we'd already set up.

"There's a lot of talent out here and this team has a good chance of having some real success this season."

Perhaps the most telling thing about Casey's first day was how inauspicious it was.

It looked like any other MC practice from over the years.

There was no disorganization.

No confusion from the players about what was expected of them.

No uncertainty from the first-time head coach.

Casey was a rock. As he will be for the entire season.

The perfect person to step in under difficult circumstances.

"I haven't really gotten a feel from the players one way or another about Mark leaving," Casey said. "The truth is that the timing isn't as bad as it looks.

"Because we're so close to the start of the season, the players have to get ready.

"We've got a lot of work to do and the players don't really have time to think about it one way or another."

If there was much fallout from Kaanapu's departure, it wasn't evident on Thursday.

More than 100 athletes turned out with the hopes of returning the Blue Devils to glory.

With a large group of returners that saw significant playing time as freshmen and a big class of talented incoming freshmen, optimism was certainly high.

Success, however, won't be a given for Casey with a gauntlet of a nonconference schedule.

But if he and his team can continue to grow from those experiences, the Blue Devils certainly appear to have the pieces in place to make a run at the school's first conference title since 1997.

Casey's not prepared to look that far down the road. Not just yet.

"We open the season at home against San Joaquin Delta in Sept. 11," Casey said. "Right now getting ourselves ready for that game is the focus.

"We have potential. Hopefully we'll be able to take advantage of it."

The exact same thing could be said for Casey himself.

The universe has evened the score. It'll be fun to see what Casey can do with it.

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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