Marist football’s offseason to this point has been an eventful one, with changes to the coaching staff and the roster. Here’s a recap of the key stories from this offseason with the annual spring game right around the corner.
New Offensive Coordinator
Earlier this offseason, Marist and former offensive coordinator Jake Dembow parted ways after Dembow had called the shots on offense for four seasons. This decision came on the heels of a third-to-last finish in offensive scoring in the PFL.
After much deliberation, head coach Jim Parady made the decision to hire Casey Tosches as the new offensive coordinator. Tosches has been with the program since 2018, serving as tight ends coach and running backs coach in his time with the Red Foxes.
Parady could have hired someone outside and completely unaffiliated with the program and did in fact consider all options during the hiring process.
“I wanted to open it up and see what was out there,” Parady said. “That’s how the process started, but in the end, the answer ended up sitting 30 feet from me.”
Going into this job search, Tosches knew that his familiarity with the current players would be the biggest advantage he had over any other candidate.
“With the way that I’m leading and how I’m directing the offense, it’s all about getting them to buy in,” Tosches said. “I know that they will buy in for me because those relationships have already been built.”
Tosches’ existing connections with the returning offensive players heading into next year certainly helped his candidacy, that much is clear. Yet with a number of other options on the table, how did Parady make the final decision?
“I’ve had a history with him of five years,” Parady said. “I’d seen him work and witnessed his work ethic first-hand over the course of the five years. I’ve listened to his ideas during that time, and I like the future direction that he’s going to take this offense, both building something new yet familiar to our current group of guys…he was the best candidate in terms of melding those things together.”
Parady knows there will be a transition period for Tosches to start since this will be his first offensive coordinator gig, but he expects Tosches to continue what he’s doing day-to-day.
“He doesn’t have to change his approach to anything,” Parady said. “He’s already demonstrated that he will put the work in and find answers for us going forward.”
One of the biggest answers the coaching staff is looking for, and the first order of business for Tosches, is to find a quarterback who has taken that “next step.” The team doesn’t want to have a carousel at quarterback like last year, so they will thoroughly evaluate all available options in hopes of solidifying a true number-one signal-caller next season.
The Transfer Portal
As detailed earlier in the offseason, a number of Marist football players entered the transfer portal at the conclusion of last season. Most notably, the program lost game-breaking safety Clayborne Fields III to UT-Chattanooga.
There were also some team leaders who entered the portal with the intention of leaving before deciding to withdraw from the portal and return to the Red Foxes. These players include linebackers Mike Arrington and Arthur Pinckney, as well as wide receiver Brett Landis.
In the case of Arrington, a captain of the team who is entering his sixth and final year of eligibility, he simply was looking for a place to play a higher level of football while he finished obtaining his master’s degree.
“I was exploring all options, but I decided to come back to Marist because I liked the quality of education I was receiving,” Arrington said. “I hate to say it, but I know that at this point I won’t have an NFL future, so I want to set myself up in this best position I possibly can be in when I eventually do enter the workforce.”
Entering the spring semester, Arrington was 60 percent done with his master’s degree, and by withdrawing from the portal, he plans to finish his college career as a Red Fox and obtain a degree with the Marist insignia.
The transfer portal has become a hot commodity in all NCAA-sanctioned sports over the past few years, and the Marist coaching staff is still familiarzing themselves with the system.
“For me, I want the best for them,” Parady said. “We want everybody to stay and have a great four years, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. It’s good to let them have those other opportunities if they think it’s something that finds them happiness.”
Parady historically hasn’t recruited from the portal because of his faith in the players he recruits, which he knows is unconventional. However, with the times shifting across college athletics, he realizes he must adapt to survive in the future landscape, so he and the program are working to see how to best handle and use the transfer portal.
This will surely be an ongoing story over the next few seasons.
Spring Ball Updates
Marist began its spring practice schedule on Mar. 22, setting forth the preparations required for the Red Foxes’ upcoming 11-game schedule, where they hope to perform better than their 4-7 record this past season.
Spring practices allow players to keep working on their craft and showcase to the coaching staff that they have elevated their game over the winter.
For Tosches, the new offensive coordinator, it’s a time where he can expand his relationships with players beyond the position groups he has worked with over the past few seasons.
The one thing that excites him the most heading into next season: depth.
“Every group has depth at each position,” said Tosches. “I think there’s different skill sets within each position group that is going to allow us to do some things to maximize guys’ abilities. No one’s a carbon copy of each or a one-trick pony, which is nice for some of the schemes that we want to run.”
Other than figuring out the quarterback position, Parady and Tosches expect the greatest position battle to be at offensive line, a group that has given Marist trouble in the past.
“Right now, we are trying to figure out who is going to be the best combination of five guys,” Tosches said. “Whether that means shifting from the outside to the interior or vice versa, we really want to find that combination that we can rely on.”
From the players’ perspective, it has been all about trying to inspire their teammates to work harder and prove their worth to the coaching staff.
Arrington is in his final spring camp, and while he isn’t looking for soliloquies just yet, he wants to impart his knowledge and leadership to the next generation of Marist athletes. He knows that for this team to get to the next step, they have to get past the 4-7 and 5-6 slump that the program has been in for a while.
“We need to get competitive in the [PFL],” Arrington said. “We need to claim one of the top spots in the PFL to move forward, and with the changes to the coaching staff, I think that we are moving in that direction. Next, we have to work to eliminate the minor mistakes that have killed us in games in the past.”
That last sentiment from Arrington has been a point of emphasis for the coaching staff this camp, and something that Tosches reiterated when talking about his goals for this camp.
Both Parady and Arrington raved about how well the young players have been performing this camp, and they hope their fresh perspective will provide a jolt of energy to the team.
Arrington even name-dropped one player to keep an eye on.
“Jackson Willette, he’s the king of winter,” Arrington said. “Kid probably put on 25 to 30 pounds, he was a QB in high school who is now playing tight end, and I think he will be a major contributor to our offense and Coach Tosches’s new system going into next season.”
Willette is a 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore from Morristown, New Jersey, and he will provide size to a tight end group that has been held down by Wyatt McMahon as of late. McMahon graduated with his master’s degree after this past season.
Keep in mind that Tosches was the tight ends coach for Marist from 2018-2021, so Arrington might be onto something with this one.
The Marist football spring camp will conclude on Friday, with the annual Spring Game at Tenney Stadium at 6 p.m. The game, as well as all remaining spring practices, are open to the public.
Edited by Luke Sassa and Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Jonathan Kinane