You can read all about Allen Rudolph’s coaching history on his bio sheet, but it’s not until you’re talking to him face-to-face that the southernness of the man comes through.
It’s there in the colorful sayings, and the accent — richly dipped from a lifetime spent in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas.
It comes through immediately when you ask how a 24-year offensive line coach ends up at Ohio University despite not one single previous connection with the existing coaching staff.
“Honestly, the good Lord called me here,” Rudolph said.
“It manifested itself because I needed a job, but I had no idea where that was going to be,” he continued. “I didn’t know anybody here. I was praying a lot.
“So there’s no doubt that it was His plan for me to be here. With the way it all worked out…it’s a pretty neat deal.”
Ohio, and 15th-year head coach Frank Solich, needed an offensive line coach after losing a valuable assistant for a second straight year to a better paying gig out west. Rudolph need a job after huge staff shakeup at Arkansas State, where he had done good work over the previous three years.
The two sides found each other. And Rudolph, so far, is tickled by the prospect. He gets to work with a coaching staff that is as experienced as any he’s been around. His position group comes complete with returning players and a culture in place that seems to coincide with his own attitude.
Sure, Rudolph is going to be teaching his Bobcats. He’s also going to be taking notes too.
“There’s some hard-line things that I don’t think there’s any wiggle room on. And this is the way we’re going to do it because, by God, that’s the way we’re going to do it,” he said.
“But then there’s some things, you look at and it’s a better way to do it, and there’s some really smart guys doing it. It would be prudent, and pretty shallow to not look real hard at somebody who has been doing it well and with success, and not learn from them.”
At Ohio, Rudolph will inherit a position group that has become the driving force for the two best offensive seasons in program history. After each of those record-setting seasons (2017-18), however, Ohio has lost its offensive line coach to another FBS program.
There’s an expectation now, a culture, for how the Bobcats’ offensive line is supposed to get things done. Rudolph wouldn’t have it any other way. He doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel with Ohio, but there is a standard to meet and maintain.
“I want us to feel that pressure because that’s what we’re supposed to be this year,” he said. “That’s who we’re supposed to be every year.”
Ohio will have a seasoned first five. Senior Austen Pleasants has moved from right tackle — where he started 20 straight games — to left tackle. Senior Steven Hayes won the job at center during the last half of 2018 and returns there. Junior Brett Kitrell (left guard) started the first six games of last season at center before injury. Junior Hagen Meservy (right guard) started every game as a true freshman two years ago. Senior right tackle Marques Grimes is the only projected starter without previous starting experience, and he’s a fifth-year player with meaningful reps last fall.
The Bobcats lost three all-conference linemen to graduation. But it hasn’t changed the expectations up front.
“I don’t think we’re worried about that,” Pleasants said. “Our thing is ‘No Limits.’ We lost some guys, but guys are going to step up. That’s just how the game is.”
And Rudolph is going to make sure the Bobcats play with the same edge they showed over the previous two seasons. His recent track record suggest he’ll up to the challenge.
At Arkansas State, Rudolph helped the Red Wolves finish in the top 20 in the nation in total offense in each of the two previous seasons. He coached six all-conference players over a three-year span. Arkansas State had 23 wins and three bowl appearances over the last three seasons.
The Red Wolves were a pass-first offense, but heavily utilized run-pass options throughout the offense. It means they were firing off the ball more often than not. Arkansas State was sixth in all of FBS last season in stuff rate, the percentage of non-sack runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Rudolph’s message this spring has been one of familiarity for the Bobcats. Be physical, be tough and attack.
“Great mentality. He wants us to be hard workers and be the toughest people on the field,” Pleasants said. “I’m all about it, I love it.
“It’s nice he’s got some of that Mississippi twang to it too.”
Rudolph, a native of Jackson County, Mississippi, has seen the Bobcats’ game film. He knows Ohio has a good thing going up front. He’s not going to gum it up by changing everything.
“Those guys have done a great job for several years. There’s some things I look at that I’ve done and I’m like ‘Crap, that’s a little bit better,’” Rudolph said. “There’s 15 guys in that meeting room that know this offense and the calls that are made.
“I’m the new guy. One guy can learn it much easier than 15 guys can learn a bunch of new stuff.”
Rudolph’s career began as a player, then coach, at Nicholls State in the early 90s. He was a two-time captain, and three year starter at center. From there, he hopped around region, with stops at Louisiana-Monroe and Samford among a half-dozen others.
The only time he worked as far north as Athens, Ohio was a three-year stint with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL from 2013-15. The Ti-Cats played in the Grey Cup in two of those three years.
So many times when landing somewhere new, Rudolph said instilling a culture takes precedent. He has no complaints about that at Peden Stadium.
“They come to work every day. They’re going to play,” he said.
“I don’t care if they spot the ball in a Wal-Mart parking lot, we’re going to freaking go. That’s the group of guys that’s in that room.”
Rudolph had never met Solich prior to joining the staff, but echoed a lot of the veteran head coach’s thoughts when describing the benefits of a physical style of football. That brand of football isn’t going anywhere, he said.
During practice, he’s fiery, loud and demonstrative. He corrects, he cajoles, he instructs and he listens. But there’s one lesson above all others that needs to be remembered.
“I don’t want to be reactive. I want to be proactive. I want an offensive line that is going to be proactive,” Rudolph said. “I want us to be the hammer, not the nail.
“It’s better to punch than be punched.”