MARK FERRANTE knew this head-coaching thing was bound to feel different. He just wasn't sure exactly how, or by how much. But when Villanova's first new football coach since 1985 took his team on the field Sunday for the first of 15 spring practices, he finally could tell.
The fit looked good on him. And why not? He'd only waited an entire professional life for this moment.
"I had the whistle," Ferrante smiled Thursday in his new office of the program's new football building named in honor of his predecessor, Andy Talley, the man he'd worked for the last three decades. "There's going to be things, as you're transitioning through it, that you've never done before. Some of it was not totally foreign. Coach has been preparing me, building towards this. But I'm not him. Once you're into it there's always going to be adjustments. All of us just have to figure it out as we go along . . .
"I'm not uncomfortable."
And of course his mentor still has a different office right down the hall. Not that it's an issue.
"There's certain things that add stress that coach dealt with and we were shielded from," Ferrante said. "I walked out there that first day not knowing what to expect, really. We had our third practice today and I'm still feeling my way of what am I going to do during these two hours. What would I say, what can I do, where can I get involved? It used to be that the offensive linemen were my guys. Now they're all my guys.
"I'm sure there's going to be some things I say where I may sound like coach, because we've been together that long. He built this thing. The formula is in place. That's not going to change. But I have to be myself, do what I think needs to be done. I've always tried to be a coach who interracted with everybody. I can do a lot more crossing the line now. I've gone out of my way to talk to the defensive players. I wasn't always able to do that before. I just pop my head in here and there."
He's going to be his own man. But the connection with Talley will always be there. How can it not? It would have really been different if he'd gotten this opportunity at some other place. But this is where he always wanted it to happen. It's why he stayed for so long, when he maybe didn't have to. And now he merely has to follow a legend. Of course Ray Priore did that at Penn and has two Ivy League titles in as many years to show for it. So we'll see. Talley's last decade was his best. If nothing else, Ferrante gets all that. And he hardly appears fazed by it.
"There's been a lot of people who've come up to me, or when I've been introduced to them, and go, 'Oh, you're the new head coach,' " Ferrante said. "The comment from some people, as you would imagine, has been you have tough shoes to fill. And (university president) Father Peter (Donohue), he and I were having a converstation, wherever we were at the time, and someone said that to me. And he heard it. So he told me, 'I have one piece of advice for you. You don't have shoes to fill. Walk in your own shoes.' That was my plan anyway."
Ferrante's had to deal with a bunch of turnover on his staff during the winter, which is very un-Villanova like. But stuff happens. So a lot of assistants have different roles, which the guy in charge actually views as a positive development.
"For us, it was like monumental at the time," said Ferrante. "But it's kind of like a fresh start for everyone. There's only two guys that haven't changed (positions). And now we're back to football. The spring is slowed down. You don't practice every day. There's more attention to detail, trying to bring kids along. In August you're full-speed ahead, trying to get ready for the first game. I think you can get a lot more done now, because you're not so accelerated. This is where you build your depth.
"When I'm on the field I'm just bouncing around, observing everything. Coach Talley was a CEO-type leader, you know what I mean? My field of involvement will be more. I want things to do. Run some drills with the special teams, run the scout team. I'm not just going to stand around."
Then there's the relationships with his players and coaches, which logic suggests can never be quite the same. It's all part of the process.
"That's evolving, I think," Ferrante said. "From their perspective, they can still come talk to me. But I think they also realize that if something's going to come down, it's going to be in this office. I'm going to be the heavy. Again, coach has brought me into some of those things (in the past), if he was having a certain conversation with them. I've sat in on some of those.
"A couple of the players did yell out, 'Oh, look at coach, he's the big guy now,' as they were running onto the field. A couple of guys, not at the same time, have come in to say something to me. And jokingly, my response to them was, 'Would you have walked in here and given that to coach Talley? No.' But they knew I wasn't serious.
"In our first full staff meeting, I let them know how I would like the staff meeting to be run. So there was some changes there, yes, with certain things. And there have been other small items as we've gone about this . . .
"But they're my guys," he continued. "I hired those guys. And the ones who were already here, we've been part of this for so long. I think they know where I'm coming from."
The thing he still isn't used to is the way the clock moves.
"For me, it's about how fast the days have gone," Ferrante conceded. "I look at my phone and it's like 4 o'clock and I'm like, 'Holy cow, where did the day go?' I don't feel like I did much, even though I did a, b, c and d. And I still have to keep going."
Because it's his whistle.