What are your thoughts on the new playoff system?
“I don’t really know. I think it’s exciting for college football. That’s the main thing. Throughout the offseason, people are talking about college football and whether you should have a playoff or stay with the BCS system. I really liked the BCS system the way it was, but it’s not going to be that way. There’s going to be change. I’m just glad to know what it is so that we know what we’re shooting for.”
North Carolina has lost five in a row to N.C. State. I just want to know if you’re going to take the Wolfpack serious.
“You know, Don, that’s the first time I’ve heard that. I didn’t realize that’s what has happened the last five years. I’m real excited to be a part of this rivalry. It’s a great rivalry. I think all rivalries are tremendous; that’s what makes college football what it is. I know we’re 99 days away, so we’ll see what happens.”
How much will the North Carolina playbook change this year?
“That’s still hard to say. We’ve only had 15 practices and we’re still trying to figure out who the players are and where they need to be and where they are going to fit into the offense. At this point, I would say coming out of spring, we’ve got about half of the playbook in, but we’ve got enough offense in to go through a season. That’s still to be determined and that will happen during fall camp. We’ll figure all of those things out and hopefully they’ll overcome the coaching and we’ll have a little success.”
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your team?
“I’m really excited about our guys’ attitudes with the change. They’ve totally bought in. They’re excited about what’s going on. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, both on the field and off, so I’m excited about that. They’re working as hard as we want them to work. They’re excited about trying to change the culture at Carolina and the things that we want to accomplish now, so that has been a nice surprise and a really good situation.
“The concerns for me are just depth across the board. I don’t feel like we have enough depth at any one position. You’re not going to go through a season without injuries, so I’m worried about that. I’m really worried about everything, to be honest with you. That really keeps me awake at night. There’s not a whole lot you can do about it but prepare those other guys and hopefully somebody will step up each and every time that happens. But I’m excited just to find out what we’re made of and what we’ve got when the bullets start flying and adversity happens, what this team is going to be and who we’re going to become.”
What has been the best moment for you as a coach?
“For me, it would have to be – I was an assistant at Oklahoma State and we had a young man by the name of Artrell Woods from Bryan, Texas about this time of year had an accident in the weight room and broke his back and was paralyzed completely. To see him, when they told him he wasn’t going to ever be able to walk again, to see him go back on the field two years later and catch a pass was probably the greatest moment I’ve ever had in sports and to know that he’s having a productive life at this time is pretty cool.”
How do you keep the team motivated this season knowing you cannot go to a bowl game?
“We talked about it immediately when it happened. We talked about it as a team, we met, we talked about what the issues were and what was going to happen and laid it out there for them and told them they had a choice. They could choose to either cash it in or we could choose to win football games and they’ve all bought in, including all the seniors. The seniors are probably more excited about the season that anybody.
"No one has really talked about the bowl situation other than that first meeting. I said let’s get it out on the table and let everybody say what they want to say and obviously they were upset, but you play the game for so much more than going to a bowl. There’s a lot of bowls out there. There aren’t a lot of great bowl sites, but these kids play to win. They play for that interlocking N.C. on the side of their helmets or on their chests. They want to make their fans proud and they’re competitors and they’ll go out and they’ll compete each and every day, I promise you that.”
Listen to Audio (4:44)
On his first Pigskin Preview experience:
“I was trying to find out - who is Al Pacino? Yeah, you get some crazy questions up there, but it was a lot of fun and I think it’s a great venue so I look forward to doing it next year.”
You said you’re loving the attitude of your team so far and you’re interested to see how they respond once the bullets start flying. Are those one in the same?
“I do like their attitude. The way they have bought in to what we’re preaching and what we’re going to do and how we’re changing the culture at Carolina, so I do like that, but you never really know until you have adversity. How’s your team going to respond to adversity? We talk about looking it in the eye, grabbing it by the throat and chocking it everyday when it comes. It’s coming. I mean it’s coming. We’re either in some type of situation right now or we just got out of one or there’s one coming around the corner, but I’ve never been through a game that we haven’t faced adversity, so why blink? Just get going and go.”
How much more time will you have to devote to the fundamentals of trying to teach your system in summer camp compared to a couple years from now when the kids are used to it?
“We’ll still be teaching the fundamentals of the system. We do that every day. The four years I was at Southern Miss, we were teaching it at the bowl game the last game of the year. That will never change. We’re constantly teaching and constantly learning and adding and tweaking according to the skills that our kids have.”
What is a realistic expectation for the first game against Elon considering you’ve only had 15 practices and then summer camp for the team to be smooth and be able to execute?
“ I expect it. I don’t know if it’s realistic or not, but I expect it and it better happen.”
How settled in is your family in Chapel Hill and how are they enjoying the new surroundings?
“Well, actually my oldest daughter is 17 years old and she would like to graduate from her high school where she’s at, so my wife and three girls are going to stay there in Hattiesburg so they can graduate and my two youngest daughters that are 10 and 14, after my daughter graduates and goes on to college, then they’ll all be moving out.”
Is there anything that has caught you by surprise since you’ve been here?
“How many North Carolina football fans there are and how many of them want to see North Carolina football be successful.”
You said there are a lot of good bowls, but not a lot good bowl sites. We don’t normally hear coaches answer honestly that way.
“Well I’m pretty honest, so I’m going to tell you what I think and sometimes I may put my foot in my mouth, because I’ll tell you the truth and maybe not what you want to hear.”
How hard is it for a program to go through a situation like you did with Artrell Woods at Oklahoma State and Duke currently is with Blair Holliday?
“Not only that experience, but I also talked with David [Cutlcliffe] about - I had three young men shot two years ago at Southern Miss and one paralyzed and I just told David, I don’t know what it is, but something good will come out of this situation. I hope it is with that young man, if not, for us, it was our football team. [We] became a much more mature team, a much closer team. The team chemistry was incredible on that team and that’s why we won a conference championship this last year. I firmly believe that. There will be something good that comes out of that situation.”
Have you received feedback from strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez on summer workouts and, if so, have you been pleased with the results?
“We’re not allowed to get feedback from our strength coaches about what happens during the summer, so that’s kind of a funny situation, but I know Lou feels very good about what our guys have done this summer.”
What has the reception been in recruiting considering all that has surrounded the program recently?
“It’s been great, especially in the state of North Carolina, which we’ve made a huge emphasis. Our staff spoke yesterday and today. We were the only staff that spoke at the high school coaches’ clinic and so that was great to be able to be there in front of all them. For them to see us, what our personalities were, the way we’re going to coach, our philosophy and to make them feel good. I told them I want them to be proud of the University of North Carolina. I want them to represent this state well across the entire country and to do that we’ve got to have players, the great players, from the state of North Carolina so that our kids can overcome our coaching.”
What's your assessment of Bryn Renner following spring practice?
“He’s got everything that he needs to be a successful quarterback and everything he needs to be able to lead this team to success. He really does and now we got to do a great job of molding the things around him and taking advantage of all his skills. He can make every throw on the field, he can run, he’s intelligent. We’ve got to make sure he takes care of the football. If he takes care of the football, we’ll win.”
How well do you know N.C. State head coach Tom O’Brien?
“I don’t know him that well. I’ve never coached with Tom and I’ve never coached against Tom either so I don’t know him that well. We’ve met on one other occasion before I ever came to the conference and that was just a kind of a greeting and that was it, so I don’t know him at all.”
What do you think the rivalry dynamic with N.C. State will be like?
“I hope it’ll be like any other rivalry I’ve been involved in. It’s pretty ferocious, the fans get into it and that’s what makes college football what it is. It’s the rivalries that you have and I think that’s one of the bad things that’s happening in college football right now. When you have a team that leaves from Texas and goes over here and never plays their rival again. The regional rivalries is what makes college football the greatest sport in the world and I’m excited about getting involved in this rivalry.”