Robert Morris head coach building program the old school, NFL way

FARGO — There’s a lot of history in Robert Morris University, starting with the namesake of the school. He’s one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, among other ventures.
The football program is not shy about tapping into history, either. The head coach, John Banaszak, was part of the famed “Steel Curtain” defensive line that led the Pittsburgh Steelers to multiple Super Bowl titles in the 1970s. Banaszak has three rings.
“The toughest part of my day is deciding which ring to wear,” he quipped.
Building the Colonials’ program is not easy, either. But Banaszak is using a formula that he played, lived and is now coaching: Have a good defense, run the ball and control the line of scrimmage.
With a maximum allowable 45 scholarships in the Division I FCS Northeast Conference, there is not much room for error. The FCS as a whole has a maximum of 63 full rides.
“In my first three years as head coach, we lost 16 scholarship players for a variety of reasons,” Banaszak said. “But we’ve had two good recruiting classes in a row and that’s the base of our football team right now. I look at the North Dakota State depth chart and they have one sophomore starter. I don’t have that right now.”
He’s not even close. The Colonials will start four true freshmen and one redshirt freshman on the offensive line. The offense has one senior starter in tight end Reggie Green. But that doesn’t mean the youngsters didn’t earn their wings.
Banaszak said the four true freshmen beat out returning players.
“My coaching staff did a great job recruiting them,” he said. “It makes us a better football team.”
They were better in the opener in a 13-10 win over the University of Dayton and they were better last week with a 23-0 win over Virginia Military Institute. The Colonials hung in with Youngstown State through three quarters before succumbing 30-0.
Banaszak scheduled the Bison game two years ago because he wanted a barometer for his program in the scope of the FCS.
“We got a call from North Dakota State a couple of years ago and I said I’m not afraid to go up there,” he said. “We’re playing Youngstown State and North Dakota State in the same year, you’re talking about the sixth- and second-best teams in the country. We stood toe-to-toe with Youngstown State and we’re coming up there to play. Hopefully we can make some plays and do the things coaches teach players and we’ll find out where we are as a program. For me, this is a program game.”
It will be Banaszak’s third trip to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. He was an assistant coach when NDSU won 43-17 in the first round of the 2010 FCS playoffs and 52-0 in the 2012 season opener.
“We know what to expect when we get there,” he said. “That’s something that a lot of teams that go up there don’t understand what that place is all about, other than the Missouri Valley guys. It’s a very unique place.”