The recruiting cycle is viewed by many coaches as an 18-month stretch leading up to Signing Day. With your late addition to this staff, how were you able to help leading up to last Wednesday?
“Well, just to solidify what North Carolina football is about and who the person will be that is coaching the young men. I didn’t deal with anybody except the guys that are defensive linemen, so it was just an opportunity to touch base with them and let them know my philosophy and the things they can expect and what I’m going to expect from them.”
What’s your initial take on this defensive line class?
“It’s a solid class, No. 1. I tried to recruit a couple of those guys when I was at Illinois, so I was familiar with them. But I got a chance to watch their tape and I think we got a good class. It’s a lot of young talent; guys that can run. You’ve got a plugger in [Greg] Webb, which is what we need. You’ve got some speed guys. You’ve got the Bart kid, Mikey, and then Nazair [Jones] and Dajaun [Drennon]. I think we got a good nucleus of guys.”
You mentioned sharing your coaching philosophy with the recruits. What is your philosophy?
“First of all, we’re going to be fundamentally sound. We’re going to play with great technique and play with passion. We’re going to be responsible for our gaps and do those types of things. We’re not going to freelance and play the kind of football that some people allow their guys to play. When you see us play, we’re going to come off the football with flat backs and use great technique and run like heck to the football.”
What will be your approach with the players? Have you had a team meeting yet?
“I haven’t had an official meeting. I’ve kind of met them in passing and a few of them have come up to the office. But it’s going to be a no-nonsense approach. It’s going to be a professional approach. There’s an expectation that you’re going to do things the right way. You’re going to do them the Carolina way. You’re going to go to class. You’re going to treat women with respect. You’re going to do the things that young men should do – the right way.”
With this being a new group for you, will you approach spring practice differently to account for that?
“I coach the way I coach. I don’t do anything different. I’ve been doing this for a while. I’m going to try to find out what their strengths and weaknesses are prior to us getting to spring practice so I can have an idea of what I want to help those guys with. The big thing is we’re going to come off the football. I want to see the guys come off with great pad level and be physical and be tough. I’m going to go to fundamentals. I think the spring time is a great time for fundamentals. We’re going to hit the sleds and we’re going to do some pounding and we’re going to learn how to play the game in the trenches. That’s where we’re going to start.”
You have experience with associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning and defensive coordinator Dan Disch from your time at Illinois. What stands out about them that made this job attractive?
“Well, No. 1, they’re good people. Good family men and good football coaches. When you’re in this profession, you spend so much time with the people and coaches that you work with that you want to be around the right types of people and guys that you enjoy being around. They’re class guys. And, second of all, we’ve had a lot of success together. We did some good things and had some good defenses and developed some good football players, so I thought it was a good fit.”
Koenning has put up strong defensive numbers at all of his stops. What about him and how he calls games is so effective?
“First of all, he does a great job of planning and preparing, but I think his ability to make game adjustments. And he sees the game different than a lot of people do. I know I can’t see it the way he does. He knows everything that’s going on on the field on a given play. It’s just a knack that he has to be able to do that.”
How would you describe Disch?
“Disch is an excellent teacher. He brings a couple of different philosophies to the table. So there’s the philosophy that he had with the previous staff and then with what Vic has done, so it’s kind of been a combination and he’s been able to bounce ideas, good and bad - that worked and didn’t work - and just be a catalyst for the defense.”
You spent six years with current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. What did you learn from your time working with him?
“Brian’s got a great formula for winning championships. I learned about winning. He used to always say, ‘You can’t start winning until you stop losing.’ And that [spoke] to a lot of things, from the weight room to academics to social life and all of those types of things. You’ve got to win in every area of your life before you can begin to win championships. That’s one of the things that’s really carried over with me.”
You’ve been coaching for 26 years and have been around a lot of solid coaches. What impressed you about Larry Fedora?
“No. 1, you know he’s a great offensive coach. Everywhere he’s been the numbers speak for themselves. He’s put a lot of points on the board. I think he’s a dynamic guy. When you speak to him and when you listen to him talk with other people, he comes across with a lot of confidence. It’s just that leadership ability that some people have and some don’t, and I think he’s a dynamic leader.”