Coach moves on following ‘Albany Horror’

By John Bassetti

YOUNGSTOWN — You’ve heard of the Amityville Horror that, supposedly, took place in downstate New York State.

And you’ve probably heard of the Albany Horror that took place in upper New York State last Saturday.

“I’ve lost by more points but never felt worse, only because of all the interceptions,” coach Chris MacKeown said of the Mahoning Valley Thunder’s 62-28 loss to the Firebirds a week ago.

“I never saw anything like it. It was an anomaly. There were all sorts of records set — individual interception records, team interception records for a single game. It was something that I’ve never seen happen and probably will never happen again.”

It was a nightmare.

MacKeown is trying to put the 11 interceptions behind and the release of quarterback Davon Vinson is closure, to some extent, even though rookie Brad Roach was picked off three times and Jermaine Moye once on a halfback pass.

“We’re going with Brad, but we’re trying to find somebody else, too, who, obviously, will compete for the starting job and backup,” MacKeown said.

The coach, now 0-3 since taking over May 26, blamed a young secondary, too, for some of the ills in Albany.

“They got better as the game went on but they blew some coverages early that gave Albany some easy scores,” MacKeown said of new players Ryan Greiser and Pat Wells. Greiser played college ball as recently as last fall for Liberty University.

“We have the people here that we can win with, it’s just getting Brad [Roach] and getting our defensive backs the experience and time they need to form a chemistry,” said MacKeown, who acknowledged that time is short for the Thunder.

“In my three weeks here, if this were the start of the season, we would just be getting through with training camp and this would be our first game. But the point is that we only have five games left and we have to get it all put together as quickly as possible.”

The coach emphasized that the Thunder has the personnel to win and said that the defense, as a whole, played well enough for the team to win.

“It was the offense — the quarterbacks and the receivers, who didn’t play well enough for us to win,” said MacKeown. “Our quarterbacks didn’t give us a chance. Brad is doing a much better job of throwing on time on our basic stuff,” said the coach, who revealed that he’ll tweak the offense for the Wolves, whom he expects to play almost all man coverage.

“Every week, we have a different game play depending on what the [opposing] team is doing and last week we didn’t execute our game plan at all.”

Did MacKeown anticipate the severity of the challenges he’s faced in his brief stint so far?

“The thing I’m most disappointed in is not being able to limit the number of turnovers. My teams have usually done a good job taking care of the football and I’ve brought everything I’ve done in the past to this team, trying to eliminate mistakes.

“So far, it hasn’t worked. I knew it would be a challenge, but the thing that never dawned on me was just how quickly one game goes into another and how quickly you have to get new players in, teach them the system and hope they can get it right.”

Some of the personnel changes made since MacKeown’s arrival have not been talent-based as much as attitude-based.

“We have to make sure we have guys who still have a winning attitude. When they’ve lost nine, 10 in a row, having a winning attitude can be tough to maintain. Whether they can play or not, I need to get somebody who believes we can win, even though it might be a rookie. We’ll never sacrifice the talent level, because there are plenty of talented guys out there willing to play, but we need to get the winning mentality back.”

MacKeown said he harbors no ill-will for those who have been released.

“Those guys we cut might be successful someplace else and I hope they are. But, for us right now, it’s not only changing our scheme and system and trying to get guys to focus on taking care of the football, but making sure we have a winning attitude in our lockerroom and on the field.”

Again, MacKeown, a forthright individual, stated that Mahoning Valley’s defense played well enough to win in Albany, but not the offense.

“It was the guys I coach on offense that didn’t [execute]. So, the blame falls directly on me.”