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Copyright 2013 The Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.
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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
November 1, 2013 Friday
894 words
Wright takes reins, consoles 'hurt' team
By Hal Habib Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Brian Wright, freshly named interim football coach at Florida Atlantic University, talked Thursday about how he has prepared for a head coaching role for a long time.

Athletic Director Pat Chun admitted that months ago, he was sizing up the Owls' assistant coaches in case an emergency such as illness ever arose requiring a fill-in for head coach Carl Pelini.

Braced as both men tried to be, neither was adequately prepared for the storm that struck Wednesday, when Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis were forced to resign after Chun confronted them this week with evidence that they had used illegal drugs at a party.

Wright's voice began to crack as he described meeting with players Wednesday and Thursday to help them deal with their shock while also somehow trying to prepare the 2-6 Owls for their homecoming game at 5 p.m. Saturday against Tulane.

"There's a lot of young people hurt," Wright said of the first meeting to explain the coaching change. "A lot of young people upset. There was a lot of blank stares, a lot of tears, a lot of guys looking to the ground. A lot of players and a lot of us didn't know quite what to think, it happened so fast.

"We always tell the guys if it was easy, everybody would be playing the game here. But it's not easy. We've battled adversity before and we will survive this adversity."

The school said it would not make players available for comment until after the game.

The school in general and football program in particular have endured a wave of recent controversies, including the naming of its football stadium for a private prison firm. Negative publicity eventually caused that stadium naming-rights deal to be canceled but kept FAU in the news for reasons the school would rather avoid.

In an effort to perform damage control, FAU's remaining football coaches spent Wednesday evening contacting every committed recruit. Wright said the players all said they were not changing their mind, but Glades Central running back Jerry Jones said he's thinking things over.

"I want to talk to my family to find out what I should do," Jones said in a text. "But at this very moment, it's still FAU for me."

Jones added that he has built good relationships with FAU's assistants and had spoken to Pelini only "once or twice" throughout the recruiting process.

Rival schools undoubtedly will use the upheaval against FAU.

"You have to overcome negative recruiting all the time," Wright said. "Obviously we have a few more hurdles -- and the hurdle might be a little bit higher at times."

Wright, 41, who has no head-coaching experience, remains offensive coordinator . Linebacker coach Jovon Dewitt, a defensive coordinator at Northern Iowa, assumes that role for the Owls. And recruiting coordinator Armando Murillo will coach the defensive backs.

Wright arrived at FAU as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in 2012 after holding the same titles at Montana State from 2009-11. Originally from Goldsboro, N.C., he played receiver at the College of Wooster (Ohio) and also coached at Youngstown State.

Wright hopes to be a candidate for the permanent position and Chun said Wright "absolutely" would be considered even though he has no head-coaching experience.

Chun said he asked himself, "If something did happen -- if the head coach was sick for a game -- what would I do? And early on, I kind of identified Brian would be the person I would have the most trust in."

Despite the Owls' record, a strong finish might not be far-fetched. FAU is a four-point favorite over Tulane, and its remaining games are against Southern Miss, New Mexico State and FIU, who are a combined 2-20. A four-game winning streak would make the Owls eligible for a bowl.

"We have hope, still," Wright said. "Our guys understand that."

Wright and Chun said they're convinced no other coaches, athletes or staffers were involved with drugs.

ESPN reported the drug was marijuana. Chun would only confirm it was an "illegal" drug and that he had no photos, but "facts" to confront Pelini, whose contract did not require drug testing. Chun added he takes a zero-tolerance policy on drugs.

"We understand our responsibility as an athletic department is to develop leaders, citizens and parents for tomorrow," Chun said. "So that's why this is a huge deal. I told someone this morning if he was 8-0 and hypothetically, if it was just one time, the same result would have happened."

Chun said he involved police to help remove Pelini and Rekstis and their belongings from the athletic complex out of uncertainty of their reactions. Chun said he had to confiscate university property such as cellphones and iPads to assist in his investigation and also reacquired university-leased vehicles the coaches drove. Police agreed to give the two men rides home, Chun said.

"It was all friendly," Chun said. "I don't want it to sound like they were a threat to anybody. It was very emotional conversations, as you can imagine. They were respectful."

Wright began his news conference by saying his "thoughts and prayers" went out to Pelini and Rekstis.

"You work that long with somebody side by side, you have concern for them and their families," Wright said.

Palm Beach Post staff writer Anthony Chiang contributed to this story. Twitter: @gunnerhal

saturday's game

Tulane at FAU, 5 p.m.

At Video report on new FAU coach Brian Wright.

November 1, 2013

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