This August, Occidental’s football team hired a new head coach after previous coach, Doug Semones, retired. Rob Cushman, entering his 39th year in the profession, emphasizes these philosophies as the habits of a champion: doing things the right way, staying committed to the task at hand and sticking with the fundamentals.
Cushman first heard about the available coaching position in late July and expressed interest in returning to the West Coast from his previous home in the Midwest. Born in Oregon, Cushman coached in Northern California during the early part of his career before coaching for some schools in the Midwest, eventually landing at the University of Minnesota Morris in Morris, Minn.
After a short but impressionable trip, Cushman accepted the offer and moved out to Los Angeles Aug. 9. The Tigers’ first practice was Aug. 15.
Quarterback Josh Greaves (sophomore) recalls his first encounter with coach Cushman.
“He came in and he was preaching about success and winning the first day … it was always like, ‘no, we’re gonna win a championship,'” Greaves said.
Greaves chuckled about Cushman’s emphasis on tackling, explaining that even quarterbacks take part in the tackling drills.
“The first thing we do in practice is tackle bags as a team for about 15 minutes,” wide receiver Ian Bonde (senior) said.
In that same initial meeting, Cushman also made an effort to open up to his new team and begin creating the bond that would inevitably grow between himself and the players.
“He opened up to us really quickly which was nice, and he really tried to be transparent and tell us why he came and what he was doing,” Bonde said.
While Cushman took steps to establish an early connection, he also dealt with many other challenges when coming to Occidental. One of the most intimidating tasks was to establish a team strategy with limited time.
“There were some factors that were going to make it a challenge and I knew that. But it’s okay. That’s the way it is. The thing is, these guys are learning lessons about attitude and hanging in there and perseverance and commitment … all coaches talk about it but this is really happening and we’ve got to practice it,” Cushman said.
Another challenge for Cushman and his team is the small roster size they have.
Greaves confirmed that in addition to the team losing 15 seniors last year due to graduation, about 25 players either quit the team or transferred to a different school, taking 40 players total from the squad. While 21 first years joined the team, the Tigers are still low in numbers. Greaves took a positive spin on the challenges he and his teammates faced.
“It’s a small roster so everyone is getting reps, which is a big thing. We have 21 freshmen on our team, and they’re all getting an opportunity. Last week, we had 13 freshmen start. Coming in, all the positions were open,” Greaves said.
Greaves further praised the team leadership assisting Cushman in helping the team in light of their small numbers.
“We had good leadership. We have five seniors and all of them are doing a good job of leading,” Greaves said.
With the help of these seniors, Cushman led Occidental to their season opener in Tacoma, Wash. against the University of Puget Sound, his alma mater. The game turned out to be very different than what the 61–6 final reflected.
“It was the closest, biggest loss I’ve ever been a part of,” Bonde said.
The Tigers’ defense held the Loggers to seven points throughout most of the first half, until a last-second Hail Mary put Puget Sound up by 14. Occidental’s offense struggled, not able to produce any points until late in the game and unable to produce any sort of sizable drive. The offense spending less time on the field forced the defense to take on a large workload, thus opening the door for Puget Sound to continuously score against the tired Occidental defense. Cushman took many lessons from the game.
“I’m optimistic. You keep grinding and you keep going … We saw things in a live situation and now know what things we need to adjust and correct. Some in execution and some in scheme,” Cushman said.
Ultimately, Cushman’s mission at Occidental is not solely to help the team win games or score touchdowns. He wants to create a culture where football players can develop friendships that go beyond football, and can enjoy the process they go through together. Cushman hopes to cultivate relationships that will outlast Occidental and even football. There are more pressing matters that Cushman must face first and foremost, one of them being having enough players to field a team.
The Occidental football team forfeited Saturday’s game against the University of Pacific. The Occidental Athletic Department made the decision based on the low number of players on Occidental’s current roster due to players transferring, quitting or getting injured. The team goes into their bye week 0-2, with their first SCIAC matchup coming against the University of Redlands Sept. 30.