Ole Miss’ Dan Werner talks about how his family is his top priority despite the day to day grind of being a coach in the Southeastern Conference
With Ole Miss offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dan Werner, family is more important to him than football. For a man who is trying to help turn the Rebels around from a team that won just two games in 2011, the focus always remains on his two children, Maya and Ian.
Werner returns to Ole Miss after spending the last three years at North Delta Academy where he led the Green Wave to back-to-back district titles and a 27-7 overall record. Werner never left Oxford after not being retained by former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and after the death of his wife, Kim, in 2009; Werner knew he needed to stay close to home and in an environment best suited for his children.
“It was everything that I needed in my life again for my family. I made the decision when I went there for however many years I’ve been coaching—27 or how many it had been—the most important thing to me was being the best coach I could be. Once all this happened in my personal life then it became how could I be the best parent I can be and going to North Delta allowed me to do that,” Werner said. “Not only was I able to spend more time with my kids and be there for them but I learned by being around my players. In college football you’re in the office all day. I see my players, but I don’t see what goes on in their life. You see them for a couple of hours and that’s about it.
At North Delta you have all the way up from Pre-K up to high school and I would deal with them on a daily basis and the little issues they go through. I learned from that and it made me a better parent.”
As much as Werner liked North Delta, he couldn’t pass up the chance to coach again at Ole Miss under Freeze, but the situation had to be right for his family.
“I loved it at North Delta. I had decided that I was going to stay there for the rest of my career and the only way I would have gotten back into college football was by being here at Ole Miss. I wanted to stay in Oxford. And it had to be with a coach who shared my view of family—it had to be a perfect fit. So when Hugh called me and said he had a shot at this my ears did sort of perk up because I was obviously interested,” Werner said. “I still wanted to talk with him and make sure that it was going to be a good fit for him and me.
That is always the case but with the family situation, it’s a little bit more intense scrutiny. Once we had a discussion and realized that we could work it out, then really it was a no-brainer.
“For a long time it was hard on him because he wanted somebody that could get out and recruit and do all the things that you have to do get this turned around. I can’t do as much as some of the younger guys can do so that was an issue,” Werner added. “The other thing on my side of it was the fact that at North Delta, the people took me in my time of need. They were like a family to me and it was a great situation for me and my kids. It was hard for me to leave that situation there.”
The three years at North Delta taught Freeze how to be a better coach as well and he has used that to his advantage so far at Ole Miss.
“It’s funny because of the way Coach Freeze is, he wants you to become more involved in players’ lives and help them grow as men. While I was at North Delta that was also my philosophy. There is a reason I’m here. First, I’m going to learn from them, from our parents, from our head master John Howell, who I’ve grown immensely close to. I’m going to learn from them, not so much about football, but I wanted to be able to help all the students because obviously I’ve been through quite a few things in however many years I’ve been around young people. I felt like that was something I was going to give them,” Werner said. “Most head coaches in college will sort of say that the kids are important to them but often they really aren’t.
With Hugh it’s not like that—he is concerned. It is a major thing. He wants us to make sure that they are a part of his life. He knows that we can help them and he talks about it everyday. Now that I’ve been used to it here for the last three years, it’s something I feel comfortable doing. When we start a meeting, it’s nothing to sit and talk, not about football, but about life or things that happen in life. Hopefully it will make them better young men and as it goes we’ll all bond because of it and become a better team now.”
Freeze has three children and is a family man first too, Werner said. He added that Ole Miss fans will realize that the man who was on the Ed Orgeron staff is a different person than the man who is leading the Rebels now.
“When you’re not a coordinator or a head coach or something, it sounds bad, but you don’t have a whole lot of say in what goes on. The former head coach’s philosophy, those didn’t click in that regard. Really, you didn’t see the true Hugh Freeze the last time I was here. He had to do what his boss wanted,” said Werner, adding most head coaches think families are a distraction from work.
Werner stayed close to Freeze after he left at Ole Miss and there is a strong bond dating back to the death of his wife.
“Just to show you the type of guy Hugh is, the day my wife passed away, a couple of hours later he was at my door, he and Grant Heard. They took a couple of days off to come and be with me. He came that day and was there with whatever I needed. He is obviously a spiritual guy and he helped in that regard,” Werner said. “We had always talked that year football-wise. He would call and ask what about this and I want to try this what do you think about so and so? How did we game plan for this? We always bounced ideas back and forth, not only when he was at Lambuth, but when he was at Arkansas State. We had stayed in touch.”
The amount of time Werner spends taking care of his family has been praised by some, but he doesn’t think he’s doing anything out of the ordinary.
“People say that but it’s just something that you do. I’ve had people act like I’m going above and beyond the call of duty but, that is your call of duty. They’re your family. That’s what is most important to me and that’s why I took the job in the first place and when this job came open, I was a little leery of it because of the rigors of recruiting and all that we do it makes it tough. That’s why Hugh and I went back and forth for about a month before we made a decision to go ahead and do the deal,” Werner said. “I knew that Hugh was the type where if I couldn’t get a sitter for that day that the kids could come up here and sit around while I was in meetings. We talked several times on the phone but I came up here and talked with him and just sort of hash it out about how this would work. One time we were in a meeting and his kids came in and made a little noise – it didn’t faze him a bit and that just showed me his philosophy is the kids are a part of it. We said we were going to be a family, let’s be a family and that made me feel a lot better knowing that my kids are allowed to come up here. I’ve worked for a lot of head coaches where they would frown on that. They think it would detract from the work that’s being done. I disagree with that and I always have disagreed with it.”
As for the new offense, Werner said he’s familiar with the spread going back to his days at Louisiana Tech.
“My years at Miami we were more run and play-action type team – for some reason people think that’s my only mentality. When I first went there, we were one-back, shotgun. They didn’t call it the spread back then. Back when I was the offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech, we did shotgun runs and people didn’t even know that they weren’t all the same play. They thought we were running a draw play every play but it wasn’t. It was the zone and the counter and the draw. Now everybody does that,” Werner said. “I’ve been a quarterbacks coach all these years and obviously I love to throw the ball. The things that he and I did here the last time we were together are probably 90 percent the same. It’s the same routes, we just spread it out more,out of different formations and calling it more often. We would like to get between 90 and 100 plays a game if possible.”
The spread also gives the Rebels more options at the line of scrimmage on top of still allowing the team to be powerful at the point of attack, Werner said.
“We line up and run our power play exactly the same way we do with a tight end and two backs. It’s just now instead of the fullback being there to block the guy, he may be reading him. The blocking scheme is exactly the same. It’s not like because we’re running the spread we’re telling the guys they can be soft. We’re coaching the exact same way as when you line up in two backs and smash people. The difference is we try to get some guys out of the box that they have to go cover down over these wide receivers,” Werner said. “If they don’t cover, then you throw it to them. In the spring game we had several times where the quarterbacks just lifted up and threw for a three to five yard gain. People think a pass is supposed to be a 20-yard gain but our philosophy is if they’re going to get everybody in the box, we’re going to throw. A lot of throws were runs called but if they don’t cover, we just take it and throw.” – MSM