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New coaches add intrigue in PSAC West | TribLIVE.com
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New coaches add intrigue in PSAC West

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Slippery Rock athletics
Slippery Rock coach Shawn Lutz, a longtime assistant, takes over for George Mihalik, who retired in December after 197 victories in 28 seasons.
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Cal (Pa.) athletics
Cal (Pa.) coach Gary Dunn takes over for Mike Kellar, who left for Lenoir-Rhyne.
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Shamar Greene, Slippery Rock football 2016
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Clarion wide receiver Matt Lehman.

Shamar Greene didn’t play directly under Shawn Lutz in his first three seasons at Slippery Rock, but he wasn’t exactly oblivious to the former defensive coordinator’s presence.

“He screams a lot,” said Greene, a junior running back from West Mifflin. “Being a D-coordinator, you’d be on the field sometimes and you’d hear him yelling from the booth.”

Greene expects to get a more up-close-and-personal experience with Lutz this season. The longtime Slippery Rock assistant took over as head coach after George Mihalik retired in December with 197 victories in 28 seasons.

“It’s going to be different having (Lutz) on the sideline and having that energy,” Greene said. “It’s going to be exciting. Coach Mihalik was reserved a little bit, but when he was mad, he was mad. He didn’t play no games, definitely with the refs. He’s going to be missed: We loved Coach Mihalik, and his legacy will live forever here at Slippery Rock, but Coach Lutz is going to build a new legacy.”

Of the offseason changes in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s West Division, perhaps none stands out as the ones at the top. Three of the eight schools in the division hired new coaches.

In addition to Lutz taking over for Mihalik, Cal (Pa.) hired Gary Dunn after Mike Kellar left for Lenoir-Rhyne, while Edinboro replaced 10-year coach Scott Browning with Ball State assistant Justin Lustig.

The result is a different-looking division.

“(Mercyhurst’s Marty) Schaetzle and (IUP’s Curt) Cignetti are the longest-tenured guys in the West right now, which is a little bit crazy,” Lutz said.

The impact of a new coach may be abstract. In Lutz’s case, he doesn’t expect to change much from Mihalik’s tenure: This marks his 20th season at Slippery Rock, and he was Mihalik’s defensive coordinator and right-hand man for the past eight.

Then again, even improved intangibles can have a positive effect.

“I definitely think it’s a new energy,” Cal offensive lineman Taylor Nikithser said of Dunn, a former Vulcans player. “We were used to how Coach Kellar ran things, and Coach Dunn came in and really changed the idea of how we practice and how we play. (Dunn) knows what’s expected here. He knows everything about Cal football, about Cal U. He’s the best person to put out there because he’s been here, he’s done it.”

Like Cal, Clarion hired alumnus Chris Weible to lead its program in 2015. The Golden Eagles improved from two wins to seven in his first season.

“New coaches in the league always scare me because you’ve never coached against them before,” Weible said. “You don’t know what they do; you don’t know what they’re bringing to the table or what they’re capable of. All you know is where they’ve been. Me seeing it and doing it, it’s easy to turn around a program if you do it the right way.”

Weible said his biggest challenge was getting the team to accept a new regime, cutting ties with players who didn’t put in work.

“I just think change for young guys is hard any time,” Dunn said. “When I was a player, we had a coaching change after my sophomore year, and it was hard on the players. I think it’s been great. I think our guys have bought into us.”

Lutz recognizes a challenge of his own: maintaining the success of Mihalik, who led Slippery Rock to its third consecutive PSAC West championship and an NCAA quarterfinal bid last season.

“Coach Mihalik’s a legend. He’s like a Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant at Alabama, even a Nick Saban, and we’ve got to maintain the commitment to excellence and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Lutz said. “I’m just blessed to be a head football coach. Slippery Rock’s a great university, and we’ve got great players. I’m just trying to get that first win.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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