12/29/2011 6:23 PM
In this edition of Beyond the Wall, we sat down with 2011 NFL Network Assistant Coach of the Year, Matthew Sauk. Sauk enters his second season as the Offensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach of the Utah Blaze after guiding the Blaze to a league-high 301.2 passing yards per game in 2011. The Blaze also finished third in scoring offense, total offense and pass efficiency under Sauk last season.
The Utah State product began his Arena Football career as a backup quarterback to Andy Kelly with the Nashville Kats in 2000. Eight years later, he began his coaching career with the Spokane Shock, where he served as the team’s Quarterbacks and Receivers coach. In 2010, as the team’s Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, the Shock went 13-3 and finished third in scoring offense en route to an ArenaBowl championship. Throughout his career, Sauk has developed quarterbacks such as Nick Davila, Kyle Rowley and Tommy Grady. We caught up with the Coach to see what it takes to build a championship-caliber offense.
Editor: Coach, thanks for joining us! In your first season with the Blaze, you were named Assistant Coach of the Year by the NFL Network. What did that mean to you?
Matthew Sauk: It means that we recruited well. To be honest, at the end of the day, there are some players that play. I think the system itself does play a role, but if you don’t recruit good players then it does not matter what system is in place. For me, it was an honor to be recognized as a staff. We turned things around for the Blaze and it gave us a chance to make the playoffs.
ED: Do you have aspirations of being a Head Coach one day?
MS: Without a doubt I would like to be a Head Coach. I’ve told Coach James many times if an opportunity came, I would go for it. That happened this past summer with the Spokane Shock. I do want to be a Head Coach one day, but I’m not sure if that will happen. It would be great if it was with Utah, and if not hopefully another team.
ED: From the sidelines, fans are able to see your intensity and passion for the Arena game. How would you describe your coaching style?
MS: Very intense. I do not accept incompletions and I will be your face. I’m not like 2010, which may be attributed to a different staff around me. I am very vocal and demanding.
ED: As a coach, you helped develop quarterbacks such as Nick Davila, Kyle Rowley and Tommy Grady. How have these players had so much passing success under you?
MS: Good players surround them. When I look at Nick Davila, he had good receivers. The biggest thing I teach is to minimize turnovers. Receivers also need to be in the right spot at the right time. We are a five-step and throw type of offense. If receivers are late or early for routes, that is unacceptable. This is taught early on in our camps – respecting the routes, respecting the catch and delivering the ball on time.
ED: What’s one key factor to being a successful quarterback in the AFL?
MS: Without a doubt, minimizing turnovers. We go into the season with a goal of 11 interceptions or fewer. Tommy Grady was right around 11 before he got hurt and he would have ended the season with 11-to-13. For me, the biggest thing is not turning the ball over.
ED: Having previous experience as an af2 player, how has this helped you as a coach?
MS: I like to think it helps me see things from the players’ perspectives, knowing that I have been through similar situations.
ED: Is Arena Football experience a “must” in order to be a successful coach?
MS: I don’t know if it is, but if you are going straight to the coordinator role, it is. If you start off as an assistant for receivers, it allows you to learn the game.
ED: You set records at Utah State and in the af2. What are most memorable?
MS: I don’t ever really think about that stuff anymore, but I would say making it to the ArenaCup in 2005. That was the most fun I ever had playing football. It was a special team and everyone had fun.
ED: What was it like playing behind Andy Kelly in Nashville?
MS: That was the best learning experience I had coming into the League. Watching him make certain throws helped me out tremendously for when I played in the af2 the following year. I knew how to make those throws already. I hope the af2 comes back one day because it helps develop quarterbacks and gives them the opportunity to learn the game.
ED: What was the most important lesson you learned that year?
MS: As a quarterback, mistakes are going to be made and it’s all how you bounce back that matters most. Stay calm and do not let emotions get in the way.
ED: Favorite football role model growing up?
MS: I have a couple. Jim Harbaugh and Drew Bledsoe. I loved the way Drew threw the ball and the fiery attitude of Harbaugh. I could watch those two guys 24/7 with a smile on my face.
ED: What can we expect from the Utah Blaze in 2012?
MS: More road wins. Utah was 7-2 at home and 2-7 on the road. Consistency will be key for next season. Our talent this next year is in having more depth than last. Expect us to make playoffs in the 2012 Season.
ED: Thank you for joining us today and good luck this season in Utah!