Gibbs, Woods were on their way out, but a new coach and mentality convinced them to stay

By: Jake Shindel, Sports Editor

For a short period, the future of Towson Football seemed up in the air. The athletics department announced on Nov. 21 that it would not renew former long-time Head Coach Rob Ambrose’s contract. Following the announcement, two defensive anchors for Towson seemed to also be on their way out the door. 

On Dec. 1, Jesus Gibbs, a 2022 CAA Football Second Team Defense selection, entered his name into the transfer portal. Less than two weeks later, Mason Woods, a 2022 Hero Sports Freshman FCS All-American, entered his name into the transfer portal. It was the same day that Towson introduced new Head Coach Pete Shinnick.

Since then, Woods and Gibbs have taken their name out of the portal, and they both told The Towerlight they would return to Towson next season despite receiving offers from other schools. Third-year quarterback Nathan Kent also told The Towerlight that he plans to return to the team because of the new staff. Kent had previously entered his name into the transfer portal as well.

“I was just seeing what was out there, but once the new coaches were hired, they called me, I got to know them a little bit, and I wanted to feel it out, so I came back,” Woods said.

The new coaching staff did not return a single positional coach from last season. Shinnick’s pitch to get Woods and Gibbs to stay was that their decision to enter the portal was based on the old staff, and he simply asked for a chance. 

“I just told them to give us a chance and give what we do an opportunity and see if it fits what you want,” Shinnick said. “You’re making a decision based on what happened with a previous [coaching] staff. We’re all brand new; give us the opportunity to show what we’re doing and how we’re doing it so that you can see, ‘Does that fit your future.’”

The question convinced Gibbs to pull his name out of the transfer portal. It also helped that Shinnick told Gibbs the last time he had a player on the team like Gibbs, he recorded 14.5 sacks in one season. That figure nearly triples the career-high five sacks that Gibbs recorded in 2022.

“The decision behind it really was because my heart has been Towson at the end of the day,” Gibbs said. “I’m liking the coaches so far. I’m liking how they’re coaching. We’re doing a lot of stuff that I’ve never done before. So, I’m bought in.”

According to Gibbs, part of the new mentality that Shinnick has introduced to the players is more of a teamwork mentality, which wasn’t an emphasis of the old coaching staff. At the end of practice each day, the players go around and high-five each other.

“I feel like it’s valuable because we’re just building that bond for unity. We’re out here working, competing against each other. But at the end of the day, we’re still a family,” Woods said. “We’re trying to outwork each other, but we’re thanking each other for making each other better. Every rep is getting better against a guy, win or lose. I always thank the man I’m going up against.”

A significant part of Shinnick’s coaching philosophy is the concept of Arete, meaning excellence of any kind. This concept applies to players both on and off the field, as Shinnick wants to “help each player become a better husband, father, employer [and] employee.”

To help the players understand the meaning of Arete, Shinnick had them complete different tasks to earn Towson Football T-shirts that say Arete on them. One of the tasks was keeping the locker room clean for an extended period, something that was not focused on in the past. 

Another change from previous years came on the first day back from winter break when the players walked into the locker room to stacks of books on a table. Gibbs said he was surprised to see the books because it was something new for the team, but he has found it to be a good read.

“It’s called the Energy Book,” Gibbs said. “It’s actually a really good read, and I like the rules that are in it. Some of the stuff in there is already stuff I wanted to implement in my life for 2023 with the goals that I had. The book just added on to that.”

Spring practices looked much different for the players this year compared to last year. In addition to the high-fives after practice, Shinnick implemented a no-cussing policy for coaches and players, which Gibbs said aligned well with individual goals he set for himself at the beginning of the calendar year.  

“That’s something that I already wanted to implement in my personal life from 2022 and years before,” Gibbs said. “So hearing that, it was like, ‘Alright, some of the team’s goals and goals that coaches have for the team already align with my own personal goals. It was a lot easier for me to buy into that.” 

Shinnick said that while he’s never had a team be perfect with the policy, the team is doing well so far.

“I’ve never had a team that’s been perfect. The guys have done well. I think they liked the fact that they’re not getting cussed out as well; that’s the give and take of this thing,” Shinnick explained. “So part of it is, ‘Hey, we’re not going to let you cuss,’ but then at the same time, your coach can’t cuss you out, degrade you, belittle you, all the things that typically take place with profanity.”

The different rules and ideologies in place this year help the players better understand the Arete concept. Once the players could show they understood it, they received an Arete shirt. To the players, the shirts represent the big and little accomplishments of a winning team mentality. 

“We’re not going to get our goal of getting rings and all of that if we can’t do the little things,” Woods said.

While the team was wary of the changes at first, Gibbs said the team has come around to them, and it is a significant reason that he decided to return to Towson for his final year of eligibility.

“At first, a lot of the guys were like, ‘What, we’re grown men.’ I feel like me personally, I’m not really much of a cusser. It’s just not my thing,” Gibbs said. “That PG mentality just allows us to really enjoy football. With the PG mentality, I feel like I’m still a kid playing football. It just makes it fun. Really, we’re just a bunch of big kids having fun playing football. 

Jake Shindel has been a member of The Towerlight since the fall of 2020. He has served as a writer, associate editor, Editor-in-Chief, Sports Editor, and now Deputy Sports Editor. He has also held internships with The Daily Record and Baltimore Fishbowl, as well as PressBox Online, the Baltimore Blast, and Towson Sports Network.


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