You mentioned learning from the mistakes you made when you started out at Southern Miss. What do you have in mind that you’ve learned from that?
Wow. I make mistakes every day. I’d have to get a list… one thing I do is every single day I make notes on the day. The good things that happened, the bad things that happened and I keep those. I’m kind of a pack rat. I’m able to go back… I’m big on learning from my mistakes, but not only on my mistakes, but learning from the mistakes of other.
Hopefully I can be a better football coach. I think each and every day I try to become a better head coach. And that’s by taking those mistakes, learning from them and saying ‘Okay, we did this, we didn’t like the outcome of it, this is what we thought about it.’ We do a lot of evaluation of everything in our program, every day. Whether we have a junior day and then the next day we come in and evaluate the junior day. How do we make it better, what went wrong, what do we not like? The next year, we’re going to have a junior day we pull out the notes on junior day and say we’re going to do this, this and this and hopefully we keep refining that thing to where we get things pretty good.
You had an idea of establishing a program; you did it this way last time. This way you want to do it differently this time because some things didn’t work.
Some things don’t fit; you’ve got different personalities on your team. You’ve got different circumstances why I’m here compared to why I was there. As a coach, you have to figure those things out. What does this team need that this team didn’t need? Or what does this team not need that that team needed.
It’s the same thing when you’re getting ready to give a pre-game speech. You’re not going to pick one out of a book and give a pre-game speech. You have to have the pulse of the team; you have to know what’s going on amongst your guys. You have to know who needs to be motivated, who doesn’t. Who needs you to push them, who doesn’t? You have to find out what button each guy needs to push. It’s an ever-evolving thing.
How far back do your notes go that you’ve been taking? The daily notes.
Since I was head coach at Southern Miss. I did it as an offensive coordinator before that. But for the whole program, that’s when I started.
And you keep them at the office and review old stuff?
I’m not going to tell you where I keep them (laughs). No, I keep them in my computer.
Everybody’s saying all the right things, but you haven’t played a game. As far as the players are concerned with the sanctions and everything, there’s likely to be some adversity as the season goes on. Are you prepared for and how do you deal with keeping guys motivated and keeping them with their eyes on the prize, even though that prize might not be a bowl game?
It’s not that it’s likely there’s going to be adversity. We’re going to have adversity. We’re going to have adversity the first day of camp, we’re going to have adversity the third day of camp… we’re going to have it in each and every game that we play. This is now, what 26 years of college football; I’ve never been through a game that you don’t have adversity. So, it’s preparing your guys for facing adversity.
That starts back in the off-season with your winter conditioning and how hard you push your guys. You’re preparing them each and every day. Then making them understand, guys ‘Why do you dread adversity?’ Why dread it? Why do we dread it? Why does our society dread adversity? It’s what brings out the best in you. When your backs against the wall … that’s what brings out the best in you. I’m teaching them each and every day, adversity is going to hit, it’s coming, it’s around the corner.
So, when it does, look it in the eye, grab it by the throat, choke it, and just move on… let’s go.
I know the circumstances are apples and oranges. But given what Penn State got, do you kind of feel like you’re pretty fortunate… ?
Before anything happened with Penn State I felt fortunate.
Why? Because I’m at the University of North Carolina.
Okay – but you lose five scholarships a year for three years…
I’m at the University of North Carolina – that outweighs everything, that really does. I’m at a great school, with a great staff, with great kids, with an opportunity to be able to recruit great players, we have great facilities, we have great support, I mean it’s all there and I work for Bubba Cunningham. It’s all there, so yeah, I feel very fortunate no matter what happens.
How difficult would be to compete without 40 scholarships?
I’m big on roster management. I don’t know… that makes it tough. I don’t even know where I would start. Where I know where I’d start… I’d work the plan the same way I’ve worked it now, but those are huge numbers. It’s not just now, it’s the future. It’s not what’s going to happen in these four years, it’s what’s going to be four years from then. You’re talking eight years and how long is it going to take to recover?
Can you talk a little about Sylvester (Williams)?
What a great kid. He was fat and overweight when I got there. He was 330 pounds and he was making a decision whether he was going to come out or stay in. We talked and he said ‘You know what coach, I’m staying. I want to be a part of this next year.’ Ok, you need to lose 30 pounds.’ ‘Ok, no problem. ‘
You know how many times I’ve heard that in talking to players. You know what? You talk to Sly right now and he is 300 pounds. There’s something about the kid, when he tells you he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it. There are a lot of kids that don’t do it that way. ‘If this is what you feel like coach I need to be to be better, you think I need to be at 300, then I’m going to be at 300.’ And then he carved it off.
He worked hard and has done it. If a recruit is going to come on campus, we want Sly to be with him, because of his personality, because of how much he loves the University, because of what he stands for. He’s going to do things the right way, I think the sky is the limit for Sly, I really do.
He’s got great “get off.” He’s got great strength and he’s got a motor. That’s what you’re looking for in defensive lineman - Does he have a motor? Does he play hard? - and Sly plays hard.
What kind of blessing is it putting in a new offense to have a kid who’s such a student of the game as Bryn Renner, to run it?
Huge. And you’re right he’s a student of the game. He really works hard at the game and he wants to be really good. I’m always looking for a quarterback that has a will to win. He’s got this tremendous will to win and be successful. You have to find out, when the bullets start flying and adversity strikes, how is he going to handle himself? That’s important – especially at that position.
He’s kind of wired similar to you isn’t he?
Very much so and that scares me.
Does that help in the wavelength between you two that you’re the same kind of personality?
I don’t know, I’ll tell you at the end of the season.
Looking at the updated roster, six offensive lineman lost weight in the offseason. Was that a focus?
I appreciate you telling me that, I didn’t know that. But, yeah, we have profiles at each position that we need to be successful and most of those guys were overweight. We told them what they needed to be. Our strength coach Lou Hernandez and Mary Ellen (Bingham), our nutritionist, went to work on them and have done a good job with him. I’m really looking forward to weighing in on Aug. 2 and seeing where they’re all at.
It looks like Sam Smiley really came on in the spring. Can you talk about his development?
He really did. Sam’s got a chance to be a good player, but he’s young. It doesn’t matter how talented a guy is - when he’s young, he’s going to make mistakes. You have to learn to live with those mistakes and you hope those mistakes don’t get you beat. And they can keep learning from them and eventually whittle them down so they don’t have them. We understand that he’s going to make some, but he made a lot of progress this spring.
How well do you know Al Golden and did you give him any advice in dealing with his situation?
I met him a few years ago out in Phoenix and got a chance to spend a little time with him there. I really like Al a lot, he does a great job with his program. He did a heck of a job up there at Temple and I know he’ll do a great job at Miami.
I haven’t offered any advice, he hasn’t asked. If he asked, I’d be happy to tell him what I’ve learned. I think that’s one of the great things about this sport, most of us know each other and if you’re willing to ask somebody they’re usually going to tell you. I haven’t ever come across a coach that I’ve asked … back when I was at So. Miss and we had the three guys get shot, I called Randy Edsall, never met him in my life.
He had had the stabbing the year before, he was very open… and it was right on with everything the way it worked. I felt very fortunate that I was a college football coach, I could call another coach that had experienced something like that and he gave me answers. Nobody trains you for that, you don’t go to school for some of the things that happened. To be a good football coach, you have to study good football coaches. You have to learn from their mistakes and from the mistakes of others.
What would you tell Al if he did come to you?
First thing I’d say is you’ve got to be positive, which Al already is. You can’t look backwards and you can’t ‘what if’ everything. You can’t worry about it. ‘This is what it is… what’s our plan and let’s work forward from that point on,’ that’s what I’d tell them.
Check back tomorrow for Part V…