Ragland returns to talented QB room - as coach
Former RedHawk was part of MU rebuild
By MIKE SMITH
When Gus Ragland signed on as an assistant coach for Miami University football in February, he knew he was returning to a much different program than he first joined as a freshman player back in 2014.
Miami had failed to win a game in 2013, and head coach Don Treadwell was replaced by Chuck Martin, who recently acknowledged he inherited one of the weakest teams in Division I football.
Especially in the days before quick transfers, quick fixes were . . .
. . . few and far between. Moreover, Martin was determined to build a strong base, and that would take time.
For coaches and potential players, it was easy to see the upcoming seasons would be long on work and short on rewards -- at least in terms of wins.
Given that he lived/played relatively close to Oxford, Moeller High School quarterback Gus Ragland was well aware of MU's situation. Nontheless, he decided to sign on with Miami and become part of the solution. Looking back Saturday after finishing spring practice, the RedHawks new quarterbacks coach recalled Martin was a key factor in his 2014 decision.
"The conversations I had with him drew me here," Ragland said. "I felt like I really related to him. I felt like we were on the same page with what we believed in (and) our mindsets. He's competitive. I knew right away I wanted to play for him."
Former Notre Dame quarterback Andrew Hendrix first arrived at Miami in 2014, joining Martin, who Miami hired out of ND. Although Hendrix tossed 23 touchdown passes, he was sacked 43 times. Former MU basketball player Quinten Rollins earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors, but it was just stage one of the RedHawks rebuild and they managed just two wins.
Billy Bahl and Drew Kummer were behind center for most of 2015. They combined for 15 passing TDs and 19 picks while being sacked 27 times. Miami registered three wins.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," Ragland said. "I think we're really process-oriented, so we didn't get caught up in some of the results, especially early on. Sooner or later, you look up and the thing is kind of turning around.
Indeed, Ragland finally became the primary signal-caller in 2016 and responded by completing 64.2 percent of his passes, with 17 touchdowns and just one interception. Miami won six games, qualifying for a bowl game. The RedHawks nearly notched a win there, falling to SEC foe Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg bowl 17-16 after MSU blocked a late MU field goal attempt.
"It's even sweeter ... when you've got guys that come into a bad situation and turn it around. That's the best feeling ever," Ragland said.
Miami slipped to 5-7 overall, (4-4 MAC) in 2017. Although it qualified for a bowl with six victories in Ragland's final season (2018), MU did not get a bowl invite.
According to Ragland, he started thinking about a coaching career during that senior campaign (2018), and his former position coach provided some early experience.
He "gave me lots of opportunities -- to get up on the board ... to get in front of the room ... to script some of our summer workouts. That's where I kind of knew that I loved it (and) that I enjoyed it. I thought, 'Hey, maybe I can do this someday.'"
That "someday" came quickly. He noted Martin, a former Notre Dame offensive coordinator, helped him get a position on the Irish staff. Ragland then spent four seasons as an offensive analyist -- first under Brian Kelly and later under Marcus Freeman -- before joining the RedHawks.
The Miami move is a homecoming on multiple levels. Not only is he returning to his alma mater, he is now even closer to friends and family.
"I'm single, and I'm on my own," he said. "I've got a sister in Cincinnati and a sister in Columbus and family in Cincinnati, so I'm close to them. ... I get to be around them whenever I want. It's a perfect location."
While the Miami offense has definitely "evolved" since his playing days, Ragland said his fellow coaches have been helpful in his transition, and "a lot of the terminology is the same."
He also noted he comes at a time when the quarterback room has several talented players. Martin, in fact, recently called it one of his best quarterback groups in 31 years of coaching.
Heading the unit is Brett Gabbert, who won All-MAC Third Team honors in 2021 but missed much of last year with injuries. "He brings a ton of experience," Ragland said. "He processes information really well. He can make every throw on the field, and he's really accurate."
Sophomore Aveon Smith was forced into action as a freshman. "He started nine games last year ... beat a Big 10 team ... and won some 'must win' games."
Joining those two is University of Colorado transfer Maddox Kopp. Rivals had listed him as No. 23 pro-style quarterback in his high school class and No. 69 player from Texas. After redshirting at Houston, he went to Colorado but transferred out shortly after Deion Sanders took over as head coach. That allowed him time to study MU's offense, and Martin indicated Kopp has made significant strides from January through spring practice.
Together, they give Miami -- and Ragland -- a variety of tools.
"We're really multiple (and) we've got different skill sets with all these guys," Ragland said. "You can put any of them out there and run the same plays. Yet you can (also) run plays that are unique to their (individual) skill set."
Fortunately, Miami's overall roster is much different now than when Ragland first came to Oxford. Reaching/winning bowl games and competing for MAC championships have become realistic goals. Reaching those heights, however, involves much the same process that Ragland applied as a player.
"Everything is in our preparation," he said. "We know (there are) things that we have to get better at. ... We're just going to worry about what our quarterback has to do to put us in a position to win games."
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Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.