Bryant University’s James Perry is no stranger to getting his team to play football in a very fast and exciting way. Anyone who watched the Bulldogs play this fall saw exactly that. While it’s not a like-for-like comparison, that same exciting brand of football will be on display this Sunday in Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.
In an exclusive interview, one of New England’s brightest new collegiate coaches sat down with me at Full Press Patriots to discuss ‘the Big Game’, Bryant, and the regional ties that bind the Patriots and the Bulldogs.
Perry and the Bulldogs: A Great Match
In Perry’s first year at the helm, Bryant University earned a winning record for the first time since 2014. They finished with a record of 6-5 overall and 4-2 in NEC play. The Bulldogs closed the season with four-straight victories for the first time in Division 1 program history. In addition to numerous Northeast Conference accolades, the team boasted two Phil Steel FCS All-Americans: junior linebacker Thomas Costigan and redshirt sophomore return specialist Jean Constant.
Bryant finished with a record of 6-5 overall and 4-2 in NEC play closed the season with four-straight victories for the first time in Division 1 program history.
While the Patriots are generally considered the toast of the New England football landscape, Perry is a definitely a worthy source of regional pride. As a quarterback at Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) Perry led the Bears to the 1999 Ivy League Championship. He finished the season with 3,255 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. Perry was named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award and was the recipient of both the Bulger Lowe Award as the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Year in New England and the New England Football Writers Gold Helmet of the Year. He was a three-time First Team All-Ivy League pick and earned the 1999 Ivy League Player of the Year.
An outstanding quarterback during his playing days, Perry has instilled an offensive mentality of “Fast and Physical” football to each of his coaching stops. He led Princeton to Ivy League titles in 2013 and 2016, as offensive coordinator. He coached three All-Ivy League quarterbacks over the past four seasons. His leadership helped guide the Tigers into one of the program’s most impressive offensive eras.
During our conversation, Perry made it clear that his approach to the game, as well as his program, have been influenced by the defending NFL Super Bowl Champions.
As a collegiate football coach in New England, its hard not to be aware of the Patriots and their impact on the region. Without revealing any specifics, have some elements of the Patriots coaching style filtered down into the system you employ at Bryant? If so, how much of an influence it had?
Perry: Absolutely. But not just on the field. I find myself taking a page out of their recruiting manual. The Patriots do a great job of getting guys who are valuable, or particularly valuable to them, that the other guys don’t see. Collegiate recruiting can sometimes be a follow-the-leader like procedure. They use recruiting rankings to recruit “stars.’ However, the Patriots have shown that they trust their own evaluations and will recruit players based on their value to their system.
Therefore, we are trying to utilize the Patriots approach in our recruiting…treating it as the Patriots approach the draft, as well as free agency. The big name is not as important as the impact they can make in our system.
Josh McDaniels is known to exhibit an aggressive, up-tempo offensive style at times. You employ a similar system at Bryant and did previously at Princeton. Do you believe that he will use that same strategy against the Eagles on Sunday?
Perry: He will, but not exclusively. Using tempo allows you to give your quarterback more time to both see and control the game. The Patriots are masterful at doing that. While we (Bryant) play consistently with a fast-tempo style, the Patriots change tempo frequently. When the Pats are in high-tempo mode, they have the best to ever play the game deciphering the defense under center. They will almost certainly put Brady in a position where he can get to the line of scrimmage and quickly see what the Eagles will try to throw at him. Anytime you can see Brady work in that type of that environment, it’s fun to watch and I’m definitely looking forward to watching him on Sunday.
Coach (Bill) Belichick has always been game-plan specific. However, it feels like he often knows that his opponents tend to ‘over-think’ themselves, thus making costly mistakes. As an opposing coach, how do you guard against doing just that?
Perry: Coach Belichick is famous for taking away an opponent’s number one option. that will often lead to teams making mistakes. Simply put, If a QB has his primary option taken off the table, he is more likely to turn the ball over. On Sunday (Eagles quarterback)Nick Foles’ play will ultimately be a major indicator on effectively Bill was able to take away his comfort zone. It will be interesting to see. In our program, we will spend the next two months evaluating our league opponents and the ways in which they attacked us. Hopefully, we will learn some valuable lessons., and use them to our advantage next year.
Tom Brady does not have a whole lot of weaknesses. However, one way to affect him is to apply pressure up the middle. Fletcher Cox will be key to making that happen for the Eagles. If the Eagles choose to leave their tackles one-on-one with the edge rushers and send help to Cox, they will single up some guys on the edge. As a coach known for his offensive prowess, how would you look to take advantage of that, knowing the weapons the Patriots have on offense?
Perry: In the college game, if pressure is applied up-the-middle, teams will usually change the pocket. That’s what our team would do. That is not common in the NFL and certainly not common with the Patriots. Therefore, they will address pressure up the middle by developing a blocking schematic to prevent it and allow Tom to sit in the pocket. On the Patriots side, you will not see ‘play-action boot’ (or play action bootleg)…however you might, you might see Foles’ in some ‘play action boot. But, that is obviously not Brady’s style.
The Patriots are very good at game-planning ways to get the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly. If the Patriots can establish this early on, then the Eagles’ attempts at applying pressure up the middle will be diminished as the game wears on. That is what Brady does better than anyone.
It is funny to say that I have some tools in the kit that the Patriots don’t have (to change the pocket), but it is true in this case. However, the ways that they are able to make quick decisions….they have the best ever. To win, the Eagles must try to take that away as best they can.
Lastly, as you head toward the 2018 season, what were some of the highlights of 2017? How do you plan on using those to build a successful 2018?
Perry: Our team will definitely look to build on winning the last four games of last season. In part, that was a reflection of how well the kids did with learning a new system and approaching the game of football with a new a level of fitness. As the season wore on, we became a stronger and more fit team.
Moving forward, the challenge for 2018 is to find a way play even faster. How can we use this winter to become more fit, faster athletes as we approach the Spring? That will be our focus.
I am very fortunate to be at a school that provides me with all the tools to become the best program in the FCS. Winning the last four was definitely a step in the right direction. Hopefully, we will take that next step toward making the national tournament, and what I hope will be a run for a national championship
You can follow Coach James Perry on Twitter @BryantHCPerry and the Bryant University Bulldogs at @BryantUFootball.
You can also find all things Bryant University Football and Athletics at www.bryantbulldogs.com
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He Covers the New England Patriots and the AFC East. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC