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DALLAS (AP) — The blaring music mixes with the sound of pads popping as offensive and defensive players go head-to-head on the SMU practice field.
Those are some of the very noticeable changes already for the Mustangs without playing a game since the unexpected resignation of coach June Jones only two games into his seventh season.
"A lot more tempo to practice," running back Kevin Pope said. "The tempo has picked up a lot, and a bunch of competition between the offense and defense."
Interim Mustangs coach Tom Mason may not be a big fan of the musical selections — he doesn't hear any country songs — but he wants players to have a say in what happens while he tries to put his own stamp on the team that was outscored 88-6 in losing its first two games.
"You've got to give the players some ownership of the team," said Mason, also the defensive coordinator. "That's what they wanted, so we're going to give it a try. So far, it's OK. My head hurts."
From the music, not the football and the much more physical practices.
"With 30-something years in football, that part is easy," Mason said. "It's kind of the administrative stuff that I wasn't prepared for, like putting together a different practice plan, depth charts, dealing with the offense. I haven't done that for a long time. ... It's just a matter to getting it the way I want it right now. "
Jones resigned Sept. 8, two days after SMU's only touchdown of the season was a 33-yard pass on the final play of a 43-6 loss at North Texas. SMU lost its opener 45-0 at seventh-ranked Baylor.
That timing of Jones' departure gave the Mustangs some time to adjust without a game last week. They play their home opener Saturday against sixth-ranked Texas A&M (3-0).
"It's just a big adjustment period. But at the same time, I think we're handling it well," senior linebacker Stephon Sanders said. "We're all on the same page as far as adjusting to it. ... I just respect that we don't have a bunch of individuals right now just going their separate ways."
Jones was the coach with a "Run and Shoot" offense who led SMU to four consecutive bowl games before a 5-7 record last season. Before their first bowl under Jones in 2009, his second season, the Mustangs had a 25-year postseason drought that included the 1987 and 1988 seasons when the program was shut down after getting the NCAA's only so-called death penalty.
Mason has been on the defensive side throughout a career that began coaching linebackers at Eastern Washington in 1981, and came with Jones to SMU in 2008.
With no time for wholesale changes, Mason has tabbed two offensive assistants as co-coordinators and brought in a long-time offensive line coach since there is only one junior and no seniors listed for first- and second-team line. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kolney Cassel is making his first start in place of injured Neal Burcham.
"I've got to take what the 'Run and Shoot' is and try to get it into to something that works for me. That's really not my personality," said Mason, who wants to run the ball more.
After Texas A&M, the Mustangs have a home game against rival TCU before getting into American Athletic Conference play.
"We've got a conference championship left to play for, we've got a bowl game still out there, and this team is capable of doing it if we can get together," Mason said. "We can get better every week and by time we get into conference, we may be a decent football team."
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