A new shade of purple

(Photo by Kate Turner)
(Photo by Kate Turner)

Four years ago, Laurier football supporters would have greeted Michael Faulds with anything but applause. But on Tuesday afternoon Faulds was the man of the hour as the former Western Mustangs star, was introduced as the new head coach and manager of football operations at Laurier.

This will be the first head coaching gig for the 29-year-old Faulds, who just four years ago was setting passing records for Western.

As a player, Faulds is one of the best to play quarterback in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) history, holding the all-time passing yardage record with 10,811 career yards. As a coach, he’s only been a part of three career CIS wins since taking over as offensive coordinator of the York Lions, a team that has gone 0-8, 1-7 and 2-6 in the past three years.

However, Faulds is credited with the dramatic improvement in the Lions’ offence going from 26th to 6th in the nation in yards per game between 2011 and 2012. Admittedly an inexperienced coach, Faulds didn’t shy away from questions about his age.

“The passport doesn’t lie; I am 29 years old,” he said. “I am a first-time head coach, I didn’t lie on my resume either… But in my 29 years, no one has been more entrenched in the sport of football than me.”

In taking over the Golden Hawks, Faulds steps into a potentially delicate situation. He will be replacing Gary Jeffries, who stepped down in November following the team’s 3-5 season, the worst in his ten-year span as head coach.

Jeffries gained a large following of supporters in his nearly 40 years with the program, but Faulds isn’t worried about following the well-entrenched coach.

“He has big shoes to fill. But I’m not trying to fill those shoes,” said Faulds. “Gary Jeffries has his own legacy just like every other coach that’s been a part of this great program. I’m trying to be coach Faulds.”

The hiring of Faulds also spells the end of Ryan Pyear’s 11-year tenure at Laurier. Pyear — who played at Laurier from 2001-05 and led the Hawks to their 2005 Vanier Cup win — took over as the team’s offensive coordinator almost immediately after graduating. On Tuesday, the WLU athletics department confirmed that Pyear was “no longer working with the program.”

Laurier’s offence struggled for much of Pyear’s time as offensive coordinator, hitting a low point in 2012. The team finished second-last in the entire country in points per game, averaging just 13.6, as rookie Travis Eman and veteran back-up Steve Fantham struggled behind an offensive line comprised almost exclusively of first- and second-year players.

So clearly, fixing the offence is priority number one for Faulds, who will take over offensive play calling duties.

“I’m going to install a new offence. My first meeting yesterday was with the whole team, afterwards I got the offence to stay behind and we’ve already planned our next meeting,” said the new coach.

“Obviously I don’t know the talent here yet. I have to see where the pieces lie… but the gist of it will be no huddle and fast paced.”

Faulds wasn’t the only one getting a new title Tuesday afternoon. Defensive coordinator Ron Vanmoerkerke, who has held that position since 2003, will add the role of associate head coach, which holds responsibilities in recruiting and staffing. Vanmoerkerke did throw his hat into the running for the vacant head coach position, however, he said he will have no problem working with Faulds, who essentially beat him out for the job.

“I trusted the university to come up with the best candidate available and I think they did,” said Vanmoerkerke. “Michael brings an immediate recognition, name recognition to the recruits. He has a proven track record with his success at York.”

Vanmoerkerke will continue to lead Laurier’s defence, which has consistently been among the best in Ontario under his tutelage.

He will also serve to take some pressure of the Hawks’ first-time head coach.

“There are many questions that I’m going to ask,” said Faulds. “I’m going to need another voice and another set of ears that I can ask those to and Ron and I are going to be able to do that.”

Several players attended Tuesday’s press conference, and for the most part, they seemed excited by having Faulds as head coach.

“It’s awesome,” said wide receiver Alex Anthony of the hiring. “It’s sad to see Coach Jeff go but I think change is good and bringing in a young mind like Michael Faulds is good for the program.”

He may be a young coach, but Faulds is not shying away from lofty goals.

“There’s been winning here and recently in 2005 and it’s like since then, the light’s been slightly dimming,” he said. “It’s my job to bring back that excitement and bring back that light.”

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