McCray: Trust is key
New coaches come to expect difficult transitions when taking over programs for the first time.
New Gardner-Webb head football coach Carroll McCray is no different.
McCray — a GWU alum — was called back to his alma mater to take the reigns of the Runnin' Bulldogs after the late-year resignation of Ron Dickerson.
Now, as GWU looks to its season opener Saturday night at home against Furman, McCray knows there is still work to be done to ease players into a new system, new methodologies and, more importantly, a new coach.
"It takes a little time getting to know the men you are going to go to war with," McCray said Tuesday. "It does take time to earn that trust and we haven't gone to war yet, but we are going to on Saturday."
Upon taking the helm, McCray's first task was learning his team through spring practice. He said there were some rough patches early on but the last 10 days have seen improvement.
"We have come back over that time and improved with some consistency," McCray said. "We're just hoping it will pay off."
It isn't that the Runnin' Bulldog cupboard was bare when McCray came on board.
He will have the benefit of having redshirt junior quarterback Lucas Beatty back after a strong 2012 campaign that saw him lead the league in passing yards, completing 215-of-334 passing for 2,483 yards with 12 touchdowns.
Redshirt junior transfer Kenny Cook also returns at wide receiver. Cook, a transfer from Garden City (Kan.) Community College had 666 yards receiving in his first season. JJ Hubbard and Juanne Blount come back in the backfield.
Despite that, there are still concerns on the offensive side of the ball for McCray especially replacing three offensive linemen.
"We're still going through some growing pains offensively," McCray said. "Defensively, we are probably a bit ahead of our offense.
"Our depth is a real issue. We have some drop off from the guys that start the game to the guys that come off the bench … We are little more mature and thick in some areas but it still is a concern with a long season ahead."
Even with a host of experience, it doesn't change the fact that there are differences when eyeing a Gardner-Webb practice under McCray's tenure. That includes a change in the overall atmosphere in Boiling Springs.
"I thought we gained a lot of ground in the spring," McCray said. "It's been a continual process and everything has been new from practice to getting ready for a game.
"We are trying to maximize our efforts. We have had guys come out and have great efforts but we are taking more of a team approach and we want to grow that culture."
Come Saturday, there will be several unknowns — for McCray and the coaching staff as well as the players.
"We are going to have to play some young guys and you never know how they will react," McCray said. "That is the one thing that really keeps me awake at night."