Aside from the hard working folks at Turner Construction, few people have had a better view of the renovation of Nippert Stadium than Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville.
His seventh floor office at the Lindner Center offers a perfect vantage point to observe the $86 million project, highlighted by the four-story addition of luxury boxes, suites, and premium seating that Tuberville can see as he looks across the playing field.
“The stadium is totally transformed,” said Tuberville. “Everybody thinks that we’re just putting in a few seats for suites and a press box, but we’re pretty much re-doing the entire stadium. Our Board of Trustees and President Ono decided to put in a lot of restrooms, concession stands, and re-do the seats in the stadium and I think it’s really going to be nice. I’ve been excited watching this thing go up.”
He’ll be even more excited when his Bearcats move back in.
After playing last season at Paul Brown Stadium – AKA “Nippert on the Banks” – UC opens the 2015 season at home against Alabama A & M on September 5th at 7 pm. Tuberville expects the renovated stadium to provide a huge home field advantage.
“It’s very closed-in and the noise is going to be deafening,” he told me. “With the height of the new structure and the buildings on each end of the stadium, I think it’s going to be really difficult for the visiting team to be able to hear and that’s what it’s all about.”
After going 9-4 in each of Tuberville’s two seasons at Cincinnati and sharing the American Athletic Conference title last year, the Bearcats figure to contend for the league crown again in 2015.
On offense, Gunner Kiel returns for his second year as starting quarterback, along with his top seven receiving targets and three of the Bearcats’ top four running backs.
“It’s a very hard offense to stop,” said Tuberville. “I talked to Virginia Tech’s defensive coordinator Bud Foster – who is probably one of the better ones in the country – after our bowl game and he said he was pulling his hair out trying to find ways to stop the run, stop the short passing game, and stop the deep ball threats that we have. We have a lot of options.”
Defensively, Cincinnati hopes to continue the progress that it made last season. After allowing an average of 40.8 points in their first five games last year, the Bearcats only surrendered an average of 18.8 in their final eight games.
“We’re starting to get better personnel, more depth, more speed, and better athletic ability on defense,” Tuberville told me. “Any time that you follow an offensive head coach which I have done at most places – Terry Bowden at Auburn, Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and Butch Jones here – those guys always lean toward the offensive side of the ball in recruiting. It never fails. So we’re having to put together the defense. We’ve taken some junior college players and have been able to hold our heads above water, but now we starting to move up some of the high school players that we’ve signed as they’ve started to get experience. We’re working on our depth and we’re also working on the speed of our defense. We’re not there yet. Is this going to be the year? I think we’re going to be better, but it’s a growing process knowing that we pretty much had to start from scratch in recruiting.”
Recruiting is Tuberville’s number one off-season priority, but he has had the opportunity for some rest and relaxation since the end of spring practice including a round of golf with the hottest player in the world.
“I had an opportunity to play golf with Jordan Spieth just a couple of weeks after he won The Masters,” said Tuberville. “What a great kid. He just turned 21-years-old and he’s not an overbearing personality or player, but he hits the ball down the middle. He knows where his ball is going – that’s a little bit different from you or me most of the time. That was a lot of fun.”
Tuberville also attended his first hockey game – Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals between Tampa Bay and Chicago.
“To be there in person and watch the contact – I’ve been on the sidelines for many years in football and my gosh, those hockey guys have tremendous collisions into the wall and each other,” said Tuberville. “They’re very quick and athletic and I really enjoyed it. It made me a hockey fan.”
I’m sure that the United Center in Chicago must have been rocking that night for playoff hockey.
I suspect we’ll be saying the same thing about Nippert Stadium when the Bearcats come home in early September.
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