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Roster formation starts now for ASU

by Mitchell Gladstone | November 29, 2022 at 3:34 a.m.

JONESBORO -- It wasn't just a matter of what Arkansas State Coach Butch Jones had to say Saturday night from the Red Wolves' team meeting room.

After 13 seasons as a head coach, Jones is a master of speaking in platitudes and generalities. He's got phrases that are mainstays of weekly and postgame news conferences.

Much of what the 54-year-old Jones detailed about the future of ASU football was but a reprise of a nearly seven-minute soliloquy from Tuesday.

Except for one line.

"We will do a full examination and evaluation of everyone in our program, and then we will invite the individuals that we feel deserve to be invited back to be a part as we build this football family."

Invited.

Jones never minced words when it came to roster depth during his first two years in Jonesboro. He constantly lamented that the Red Wolves lacked both the quantity and quality to compete at a level that meets both his standards and those of the ASU program.

The notion of not inviting players back for 2023 doesn't necessarily suggest that Jones believes the Red Wolves are at that level yet. He mentioned Saturday night that he expects to sign "a lot of players" when the early period opens in late December.

It does imply that there are a number of players already at ASU with whom Jones believes can move forward.

In Year 3 of his past tenures at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Tennessee, Jones has won a combined 29 games. If Jones were to win nine next season with the Red Wolves, that would be a minor miracle -- yet his words indicate that doubling ASU's 2022 total and reaching a bowl game isn't out of the question.

The first step in the Red Wolves' future is beginning to sort out the roster. No current players have announced their intention to transfer, but the portal will open Monday and remain that way for 45 days.

High school prospects and junior college transfers can sign starting Dec. 21, and ASU currently sits second among Sun Belt Conference schools, per 247Sports' class rankings.

Only when the holidays hit will Jones consider changes to his staff.

"This program also needs consistency and continuity," Jones said Saturday night. "Everyone wants to have an opinion on play-calling and this and that, but there's one thing that doesn't lie, and that's the clicker when you put it on. I have to take all the emotion out and look at, 'Okay, I am the caretaker of Arkansas State football. Where do we need to go? How can we be better?

"[We live] in a world of 'just make changes to make changes' -- because it makes you feel good. We have good football coaches here. We have good people and it's all about winning."

Jones received a one-year contract extension last summer and is aligned with Athletic Director Jeff Purinton.

Defensive coordinator Rob Harley's unit improved from second-to-last in the nation to 90th in total defense. And the Red Wolves ranked 49th in first-half scoring defense (12.4 points) versus 131st in second halves (21.6) -- a product of depth issues, not necessarily coaching.

If there's a change to be made, it's most likely at offensive coordinator. Keith Heckendorf has been in the role for four seasons, with ASU's points per game dropping each year -- from 36.5 in 2019 to 25.0 this season.

"Three wins is unacceptable," Jones said Saturday.

Last week, Jones explained that he wanted the challenge of taking on a program that required a full rebuild. He still wants to look up and see the finished product, and at no time over the last two years has he, in his words, regretted the decision to come to Jonesboro.

If this next season is as critical for the Red Wolves as Jones claims, time would be of the essence.

Print Headline: Roster formation starts now for ASU

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