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Fire And Nice

Aug. 13, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Georgia Tech’s offensive linemen will never have to guess or look at film to know what kind of day they’ve had in practice.

All they have to do is look at the face of co-offensive line coach Todd Spencer.

Spencer will never be known for his poker face and that’s a big part of what makes him so successful with his players. They’ll always know what he’s thinking — for better or for worse.

“You don’t want to see the disappointment in him when he knows either he hasn’t done his hardest because of you or you haven’t done your hardest,” said sophomore tackle Phil Smith. “You don’t want to see that disappointment in him. When you see the disappointment in him you know you, yourself, should be disappointed. You don’t want that.”

“He doesn’t correct you so much by yelling at you but it’s the fear of disappointing him that motivates you to be better,” agreed All-ACC senior center Sean Bedford. “Coach Spence is a very special coach. He’s one of those guys who motivates you to be a better player because you know he’s going out there and giving it his all as a coach every day.

“He likes to preach that our effort needs to be relentless, that we always have to strive to be better and that’s a real easy example to follow because he sets that every day.”

Spencer has been setting that example every day since embarking on his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Oregon back in 1984.

“It all starts with trust and honesty. I think that’s what kids want,” said the Beaverton, Ore., native and graduate of Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash. “They want to trust you and believe in you and trust that you’re honest with them and they can count on you.”

The offensive linemen know then can count on Spencer for an honest day’s work illustrated by his unique high-energy approach.

“My favorite part of the day is going to practice and, as we say, ‘being out on the grass,'” Spencer said. “Coaching on the grass and getting out on the field and just pouring that investment into it. You make such an investment, you’re so emotionally invested from the work during the week. You pour your heart and soul into it.”

Head coach Paul Johnson had Spencer on his staff at Navy and knew he was someone he wanted on his staff when he came to Tech.

“He’s an individual. He marches to the beat of his own drummer but he does a great job,” said Johnson. “He flies around, coaches hard, is a really good recruiter. We’re glad he’s on our staff. I think his players love him.”

You won’t get any argument from them.

“He’s a great guy,” said Smith, who saw first-hand just how effective Spencer is as a recruiter. “Coach Spencer was the first coach to contact me from the new staff when they first came in here in 2008. He and (then) coach [Brian] Jean-Marie (who is now at Louisville). He’s full of sayings that get me motivated, keep my head focused on the right thing.”

While saying the right things is nice — two such examples are “Character is built in the crucible of adversity,” a favorite of Bedford, and “High standards cannot survive low expectations,” both of which were recited by Smith — sometimes an actual demonstration is better and Spencer isn’t afraid to literally get “on the grass.”

Johnson admits occasionally getting get caught up in watching his coach get after it.

“In practice sometimes, I like to watch him because he’s flying around everywhere,” he said. “But that’s just Todd.”

Todd being Todd provides an energy that his unit admits it can’t help but feed off.

“It’s the dog days of August right now. It’s so hot and you’re so tired every single day,” said Bedford. “But to see Coach come out and have that intensity and that fire and that passion that he has, it makes you realize that this is your chance to get better for the day and you need to seize that opportunity.”

“He probably has the highest most positive energy of any coach I’ve ever had,” added junior tackle Nick Claytor. “It’s like,’Wow, man, If I can have that much energy when I get that age and I’m coaching and I’ve been doing it that long, then Ill be half the man he is.’

Spencer’s passion for the game and for his players doesn’t end when practice, games, or even the season does. Claytor recalled receiving text messages from his coach while recovering from back surgery.

“He’s just checking on you,” he said. “You know, you’re in your hospital bed and you’re waiting for your friends to text you. You don’t get any texts from your buddies but Coach Spencer is always there for us.”

“I can say for a fact that he truly cares about each and every one of us,” agreed Bedford. “Coach Spencer is more invested in what he does than just about any person I have ever met. He just loves to coach and he loves to see improvement.”

He especially loves seeing it at the end of the day on film.

“It’s like a portrait of work as a coach when you see things, when you see guys develop and start to do things right,” he said. “There’s a tremendous joy in seeing kids improve and fundamentally improve and improve their leverage and technique and see it comes to fruition. That is unbelievably rewarding.”

The players have learned to enjoy watching film as well, but for a different reason — to see their coach’s performance.

“Watching him on tape is hilarious. He’s a blast,” said Bedford. “But I think that’s him and we wouldn’t want him any other way.”

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