BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Brian Wright was unexpectedly thrust into coaching in 1994, when a leg injury ended his playing career.
He made the best of that situation.
He’s determined to make the best of another unplanned move now.
One day after Carl Pelini sent Florida Atlantic’s program into a tailspin by acknowledging to school officials that he used an illegal drug and tendering his resignation, Wright ran the reeling Owls through practice for the first time since agreeing to be the interim head coach.
“I’ve been prepared for a long time for this opportunity,” Wright said Thursday at a post-practice press conference, with his family looking on. “Didn’t quite think it would be under these circumstances.”
Wright spoke for about 20 minutes, the emotions and strain of the situation very clear to see. His voice cracked a couple of times, he vowed to do right by the Owls’ senior class, and he adamantly insisted that he had no knowledge of Pelini or now-former defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis — who also resigned as part of the scandal — doing any drugs.
Maybe most telling, he began his remarks by saying “our thoughts and our prayers” are with his former colleagues and their families.
“This is what I do for a living. This is what I was called to do,” Wright said. “And I’ve been through adversities and I’ve been through difficulties before. And this is going to be a very difficult one. But there’s a reason that I am here. There’s a reason the rest of this coaching staff is here. There’s a reason these seniors are here at this moment. It’s to get through this. It’s to get Florida Atlantic football and write a positive story at the end of the season.”
At 2-6, the Owls hardly seem like a bowl-bound team. But if FAU finds a way to get past Tulane (6-2, 4-0 Conference USA) on Saturday, the Owls’ postseason chances would look a whole lot better.
After this week, FAU’s three remaining opponents are Southern Miss, New Mexico State and FIU. The current combined record of those schools: 2-20.
“If you have hope, then you have something to play for. And we have hope, still,” Wright said. “So our guys understand that. We have a very resilient, tough group of young men.”
Players were not made available for comment Thursday. FAU plans to make its four captains available to discuss the Pelini matter after Saturday’s game as part of their postgame media responsibilities.
“We’re trying to keep everything as close to similar for our players as possible,” FAU spokeswoman Katrina McCormack said.
On the field, football practice looked like football practice.
Wright, who will continue calling plays as offensive coordinator, was doing a little bit of everything. He played some defensive back and defensive line in one drill with the quarterbacks, showed off his arm in another and led the post-practice huddle that elicited both applause and cheers.
His future is uncertain, though he “absolutely” wants to be considered a candidate for the job on a permanent basis. And the saga is not yet over, since FAU may still pursue a $500,000 repayment from Pelini because he technically resigned and was not terminated. But Wright merely wants the players and remaining staff locked in on football.
“It’s easy to lead,” Wright said, “when it’s easy.”