ALBANY — For the second straight offseason, Albany State has landed a quarterback coach with an impressive resume and Division I coaching experience.
ASU announced the hiring of Brian Von Bergen as its newest QB coach on Thursday, filling the void left by Willie Totten, who left his post with the Rams after one season to take an assistant coaching job at Alabama A&M.
Like Totten — a former head coach and legendary receiver at Mississippi Valley State — did last summer, Von Bergen brings plenty of experience to the Rams.
“I feel very fortunate to be at Albany State,” said Von Bergen, who was the passing game coordinator and wide receiver coach for Division I Montana State the past five seasons and helped turn the Bobcats into one of the top offensive teams in the Big Sky Conference. “Ultimately I feel like I’m on a championship team and feel very blessed to work with these guys.”
Von Bergen then rattled off nearly the entire ASU coaching staff, admiring the amount of time they have spent with the program.
“I couldn’t believe the amount of experience and time some of these guys have logged at Albany State,” he said. “These guys are all Albany State guys, and they love it here. And it’s easy to be a part of that. I feel like they let me into their circle, and I can’t wait to help them win some games.”
Prior to coaching at MSU, Von Bergen was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for 10 years at Miami (Ohio) University, where he was part of three Mid-American Conference championship teams. He began his coaching career in 1996 as a running back coach at Southern Illinois and also spent time at Northwestern University from 1997-99 as a recruiting coordinator.
While at Miami, Von Bergen was instrumental in the recruiting and development of future NFL quarterback and Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger.
He said on Friday that ASU quarterback Frank Rivers has many of the same skills as Roethlisberger.
“My job is to get Frank to have his best season yet,” Von Bergen said. “Physically, Frank wasn’t throwing it at a high enough (completion) percentage. You have to look at why. … The little bit I have seen on tape, he has all the accuracy and physical tools. When I see him play, he reminds me of some of the guys we have had that play in the NFL. He has the stature and the arm strength. And I think he has the accuracy when he sets his feet.
“(Offensive Coordinator) Steve Smith is developing an NFL kind of guy with what they are doing scheme-wise. Frank needs to have a great season at Albany State before he can do anything else, but what is super exciting is that he has the tools to make all the throws. I think he has the hunger as well.”
Last season under Totten, Albany State was third in the SIAC in passing at 210.9 yards per game. Rivers, who transferred to ASU from Grambling State last summer, finished second in the conference with 18 touchdowns and 1,898 passing yards. He also threw just six interceptions and finished with an efficiency rating of 133.5.
ASU head coach Mike White said he expects Rivers, who was recently named the 2014 SIAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and Von Bergen to work well together.
“Frank is a student of the game, and coach Von Bergen seems to be a guy who can talk football all day and night,” White said. “I think that from talking with (Von Bergen), he will do a good job helping us throw the ball and helping us in the passing game period.”
Von Bergen said he was looking for an opportunity to specifically coach quarterbacks after spending the last two decades working alongside quarterback coaches.
“I had been in the room with Ben (Roethlisberger) for four years, but I always wanted that opportunity to coach quarterbacks,” Von Bergen said. “I have been a career wide receiver guy and passing game coordinator, and I feel lucky to have this opportunity at Albany State.”
White said at the recent SIAC Media Day that he expects his offense to have an even better year than in 2013 when the Rams rode Rivers late in the year to a season-ending, five-game winning streak and an SIAC championship.
Part of that expected success comes with the return of Smith, who rejoined the Rams’ coaching staff last summer after spending two years at Division I Tennessee State and in the NFL as an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith, who had immense success in his first tenure with the Rams from 2009-11, played under Von Bergen at Southern Illinois, and the two have remained close over the years.
“I moved him to fullback, and that was our bond as a player and a coach,” Von Bergen said. “We had mutual respect and stayed in touch.”
Eight starters return on the offensive side of the ball for the Rams, including top receiver and Camilla native Jessie Atkins, who was second in the SIAC in receiving last season with 47 catches for 646 yards and eight touchdowns.
“You have eight starters coming back offensively and with our quarterback back, I do think we can be better (than last year),” White said at SIAC Media Day two weeks ago. “I did not think last year we peaked like we should have going down the stretch. We didn’t run the offense like I thought we should have down the stretch.
“This year if we can stay injury free I think we can get off to a better start.”
Albany State opens its season Sept. 6 at Valdosta State. The Rams’ first home game will be Sept. 27 against Miles College in a rematch of last season’s SIAC championship game.