Getting to Know: New Defensive Coordinator Mike Archer
Mike Archer remembers the first time he saw NC State play football. The Wolfpack’s new defensive coordinator grew up in State College, Pa., where he frequently was a ball boy at Penn State home football games.
So on the afternoon of Nov. 11, 1967, Archer was an 11-year-old kid watching the third-ranked Wolfpack come into Beaver Stadium to face second-year coach Joe Paterno and his Nittany Lions. It might be the most important football game in NC State history.
Coach Earle Edwards’ Wolfpack – led by ACC Player of the Year Jim Donnan at quarterback, All-America field goal kicker Gerald Warren and a pair of All-Americas on the famed “White Shoes Defense,” tackle Dennis Byrd and defensive back Freddie Combs – had the highest ranking in school history. More importantly, they were poised to assume the No. 1 ranking in the polls, since the two teams in front of them had either lost or tied in earlier games.
But the Wolfpack’s chance to win its first football national championship ended in the final seconds of the game when fullback Tony Barchuk was stopped at the goal line on fourth down. The Pack lost 13-8 that day, and 14-6 the next week at Clemson, a loss that cost Edwards’ team its sixth ACC Championship.
“That’s one of the games I remember the most from all the ones I was at as a kid,” said Archer. “I was just so impressed with the way they played.”
Archer went on to play defensive back and punter at Miami. He started his assistant coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, and was a full-time assistant there from 1979-83, helping the Hurricanes win the 1983 national championship.
In 1988, he became the nation’s youngest head coach when he was elevated to that position at LSU and guided the Tigers to the 1988 Southeastern Conference Championship. He coached with new NC State coach Tom O’Brien in 1991 and ’92 at Virginia under George Welsh and spent seven years working for former NC State linebacker Bill Cowher as the linebackers coach for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
After spending the last four years at Kentucky, and helping the Wildcats win their first bowl game in 22 years, Archer is excited about the challenge of taking over NC State’s highly successful defensive unit, which has finished in the top 10 in total defense three of the last five years.
Archer, 53, sat down with GoPack.com managing editor Tim Peeler to talk about his early impressions of NC State, his plans for a defensive scheme and his thoughts on a new and improved ACC.
GoPack.com: What has impressed you most during your month at NC State?
Archer: My initial impressions are about the physical facilities. I came here before [when I] was coaching at Virginia. When I was working in the NFL I used to work players out all the time in the Weisiger-Brown Building on campus. But I hadn’t been here in eight or nine years before January. When I saw the Murphy Center and what they have done to Carter-Finley Stadium, I knew they had obviously made a commitment to win. That was impressive to me. Then, after I talked to Coach O’Brien and found out that the administration and the players and everything has pointed in one direction: towards being very good and winning championships.
GoPack.com: How did Coach O’Brien convince you of that?
Archer: Tom talked to me about when they played here with Boston College, because he hadn’t been here in a while either, what the atmosphere was like. Having coached in the SEC, the one thing that stands out there is going to places like Florida and Georgia and Tennessee. Coach O’Brien told me that he had taken teams to State College and to Michigan Stadium. He said when Boston College played here that Saturday night that the atmosphere was just electric.
GoPack.com: So it was easy to believe that you could be successful at NC State?
Archer: Everything is in place. You can win the ACC Championship here. You can win a national championship here. I look at what Jim Grobe did over at Wake Forest. They had a plan. Obie [Coach O’Brien] has a plan. In a one-game scenario, you have a chance. So I didn’t come here just to take another job. In this business, you go someplace to try to better yourself and reach new goals. We were able to reach a goal at Kentucky that hadn’t been done in 22 years, which is to win a bowl game. It was a tough job, one of the toughest jobs I have ever been involved in. That’s not a knock on them, that’s just the way it is in the SEC. I felt this was a better opportunity with the resources we have here, the commitment by the school and most importantly the players.
GoPack: You knew Coach O’Brien at Virginia. What did you learn about him there?
Archer: I trust Tom and “trust” is a big word for me. I know what his beliefs are and I know what he stands for. I think it is very important in intercollegiate sports today to give young people direction. Young kids today want discipline, but you have to give it to them. You have to point them in the right direction. And he will do that for them.
GoPack.com: NC State has built a national reputation over the last few years with its defense, finishing in the top 10 in total defense three times in the last five years and having a handful of defensive players taken in the first round of the NFL draft. What are your expectations for your defense here at NC State?
Archer: I don’t think the expectations change at all. I know in 2005, they had three guys taken in the first round of the NFL draft. The tradition of defense has been established here. We have to continue to carry it on and try to make it better. Maybe we don’t have the players who have already gone to the NFL, but we have some very good players. When you something that is in front of you, like what that defense created and was able to do, then we have goals that we can try to reach. So we want to try to be better than those other defenses. Our expectations won’t change. Will we meet that goal of having as good players? We are going to try to develop them, yes, into players of that caliber.
GoPack.com: Can you talk a little about the style of defense you will play?
Archer: That’s really undecided. I ran a 3-4 defense most of my career when I was an assistant at Miami, when I was an assistant at LSU and when I was a head coach at LSU. When I went to Virginia, when I was with Coach O’Brien, I coached with Rick Lantz and I learned the 4-3 defense. When I went to Kentucky the first time, I brought the principles of the 4-3. When I went to the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Coach Cowher, we were a 3-4 team. I thought I knew a lot of football, having been a head coach and a coordinator, but when I went there with Coach Cowher and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, I didn’t know as much as I thought. It was a great experience being around those great minds. Most of my experience has been with the 3-4, just because I have coached it longer than anything else. I think you have to adapt to your personnel. You can’t just say we are going to run a 3-4 if you have 4-3 personnel. It isn’t fair to the players. I have been around our players, I’ve watched film from last year and I think right now with the recruiting that has gone on has been based on the 4-3. So our base defense will be in some sort of 4-3 configuration. What it will be, as far as over or under, remains to be seen as we head into spring practice.
GoPack.com: You have been around the ACC before. What is different about it now that it has 12 teams, including your alma mater, in it?
Archer: Obviously, it’s a lot better when you bring Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College into the mix. When I was at LSU in the SEC, we played Carolina and NC State and some other good football teams from the ACC. The league has really gotten balanced. I think it is comparable to the SEC. Someone asked me the difference in the ACC and the SEC and it’s really not fair for me to say that right now, because recently I have only coached against Clemson in the Music City Bowl.
GoPack.com: What have you learned about the support at NC State so far?
Archer: I don’t think there is any question that just in the month I have been here that people I have met, all they talk about is football, football, football. They say they can’t wait for the season to start and they talk about how season tickets have all been sold out for about seven years. When you look out your office and see the empty stadium, you can only imagine what it is going to look like next year in early September when Central Florida comes in here. That’s exciting. I am excited. I know our players are. They have been very receptive to what we are trying to do.
GoPack.com: What did you know about NC State before you got here?
Archer: I hadn’t been back here in probably eight or nine years. But my son, Jeff, who played football and baseball at Kentucky, had been here about two years ago. His roommate in college was from Charlotte and they happened to come over here for spring football, and all my son could talk about was that statue of the wolves outside the Murphy Center. I had no idea what he was talking about until Joe Pate pulled us up in front of the building in January and I saw it. It is impressive.You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.