"There are no shortage of irons in the fire over these last couple of weeks. There have been so many things, obviously, I have had some opportunities to have interactions with the team here. I've had three team meetings. The first was the day of the press conference and then two subsequent ones. Just talking about finishing the semester and how important the academics are, making sure to make a major push, talking about the holiday vacation time, talked a little bit about recruiting with the current players – shared a little bit of my views and goals in recruiting and how important their interactions with the recruits that were coming prior to Christmas and in January.
"The lion's share of the time has been spent recruiting. Getting out and getting to know high school coaches and players within the state of North Carolina. I had a great opportunity last week to go down to the Shrine Bowl and meet a lot of the coaches there. Went to the banquet that they had on Thursday night and then a luncheon on Friday. It gave me an opportunity to see some players we're currently recruiting and some that we'll shortly be recruiting. The other thing it allowed me to do was talk to some of the alumni in the area there in Spartanburg. It was very well attended by the Rams Club people there. And then I had a chance to go down to Independence [High School] and meet Tommy Knotts and watch them practice prior to their state championship game … very good football program, very well coached – so that was a unique treat to get a chance to see them and go to some of the other high schools. And as I said in the press conference, it will be vital for us this year and in years to come to make a concerted effort to recruit the state of North Carolina. There are a lot of talented athletes here and it's a very good level of high school football. I've been very impressed watching the state playoff games and some tapes I've watched on some of the players. You can tell the quality of coaching appears to be very good.
"The only shortcoming to recruiting in the state has been the state playoffs and the Shrine Bowl game because there was a period of 11 days where you can't do much. It gave me an opportunity to get outside the state and look at some other kids in areas around the country. I think that was very productive – there's been a very positive reaction to the coaching staff here that we are fielding calls from places that probably weren't on the radar and some athletes that weren't on the radar here. And how we will go about deciding whether or not they are viable recruits is getting transcripts in, getting tape in, talking a look and building relationships to find out more about them.
"As of Sunday at 8 p.m., we've now moved into the Dead Period where we can't go into their place and they can't come – and we're restricted to one call per week. So it'll be a little bit of a lull and it takes a lot of pressure off of those kids and allows them to focus on the holidays. Come January we will amp it up considerably, getting out and the first area we'll hit is Carolina.
"Then the other part of it has been assembling the coaching staff. We've hired some guys … to me, putting the coaching staff together is one of the most important tasks as a head coach. There are so many things going into who is going to be on the staff because these guys have got to be extensions of this University. There are so many great things – that's one of the things I've fallen in love with so far, how many good things there are about this University when you start making presentations in the [recruit's] homes. The guys that you put on the staff, those guys become extensions of the University, the head coach and the program. So I am making sure that I take my time, that the guys that are going to be here will be guys that the players will fall in love with – as mentors, coaches – as is the case with the guys we have hired: Charlie Williams, Steve Hagen and John Blake. The guys that we've hired so far and the ones we will hire, bring a unique perspective and add some real dynamics to the staff. They've coached in bowl games, they've been coordinators and they'll give us the ability to really build a strong staff. We will continue to build on that in the coming weeks.
"And there have been the things the athletic department needs. I've spent some time meeting with Rams Club executives, I spent some time this morning with the directors of admissions getting prepared for the Letters of Intent in February and just familiarizing myself with the University and how it works. And then the Athletic Director and the Chancellor and some special people they have asked that I interact with – some Board of Trustees and some of the other people that play a huge role in supporting the University financially as well as just their support of the program.
"So there hasn't been a shortage of things to do. We don't have nearly enough hours in the day to get it all done done, but we're working on it. We've got a long ways to go – a lot of things we have to do to bring the program along. On the whole, things couldn't have gone better so far. We're getting great responses from kids, their families and coaches and I think it'll continue to get better as we're able to get out there more often. It's kind of like jumping in in the middle of the race. So much of recruiting is developing relationships and a lot of those relationships a lot of times are one-year or 18-month [processes] … so it takes a while to develop that relationship with them. It'll eventually happen and it'll be very positive when it does happen."
There are still assistant coaches that remain here from the previous staff – do you plan to keep them?
"I don't want a rush to judgement. I think getting an opportunity to work with people, getting to know them … putting a staff together is so important that the chemistry is right. You look for what everybody can bring to a staff – What are their credentials? What is their background? What is their expertise? How are they as a recruiter? How are they in interacting with the players? How important are academics to them? That's why it may take 3-4 more weeks. I just want to make sure that when we do finalize it, we get it right."
Do you have any idea how many more players you'll add to the recruiting class that the previous staff assembled?
"That's what's been going on for me the last three weeks. There have been some kids who were not on the active recruiting list at Carolina that for one reason or another didn't fit a particular scheme or system or style of play that we're resurrecting some of those kids. We looked at some tape and thought ‘We're missing the boat, this is a heck of a football player and he's got good grades.' So right now the recruiting list is expanding as we look for the best players, kids that deserve to be Tar Heels."
How much of your time with recruiting has been shoring up previous verbal commitments as opposed to getting new ones?
"That was the biggest part of the first week. The first week was either texting – which I'm atrocious at, but getting better – and phone calls and actually going to the schools. And there's some of that that still needs to be done and would have gotten done if it weren't for state playoff games. I only get one opportunity to make a home visit. And I don't want to go to the school to develop a relationship with the coach and the kid when I can't get into the home to visit with the parents at the same time. So some of those have been put back to the first week of January. It's a feeling out on both people's sides. It's not just myself and our coaching staff, it's also how they feel about me, how they feel about the change and once they listen to what I think the program can be and will be, are they still as excited to be a part of it as they were before?"
Do you find the players are nervous, in that they're dealing with an unfamiliar staff to determine their playing time?
"They shouldn't be … change is hard, it really is. And one whole meeting I had with the players was talking about one of the unique perspectives I think I bring. Unfortunately, I've been apart almost every time of a major restoration. Even as a head high school coach they were not very good, going to Oklahoma State where they weren't that good until Jimmy [Johnson] took the job, going through 1-15 with the Dallas Cowboys, going to Miami … so I've kind of seen this perspective from every angle from high school to college to NFL. I told the players that probably 90 percent of how fast you're able to turn a program around is in their corner. It's about them buying into the vision of the new coach. Players that are reluctant don't tend to be as successful as the guy who is on board … the quicker that everyone buys in, the faster it'll happen.
"If I was a player here right now I'd be extraordinarily excited because it's a fresh start … there is no pecking order. When they come back in January, everybody gets a fresh slate and can write their own history. For guys that were out of position or relegated to a minor role, you can write your own role. How big a role you play will be in your court. And we're going to provide you with a coaching staff that'll help you meet your dreams. We're going to have guys who are great teachers and great motivators."
Do you have an idea of the depth of this team and what positions you need to recruit for right away?
"In some respects, yes, but in most respects, no. The analogy I would use is that in the NFL you don't draft for need because you end up with players who can't play. I think you draft the best available and you recruit the best available. Even if you're a little short at some positions, you're not going to turn down the chance to get an impact, difference-maker player if you have to take two of them. But at the same time I'd like this incoming class to be balanced. I don't foresee a single position that we won't take some players at. What it does is it lends itself to the opportunity because of areas of concern on the team we've inherited that it may open some opportunities for some younger players to play earlier. But you make a big mistake if you load up in one area. … so I'd like to take a balanced recruiting class."
Did you get a chance to have a meeting with John Bunting?
"We did, it was one or two days after the press conference. We had lunch together and sat and talked. I do have a lot of respect for John. We just kind of got to know each other and I know it's a tender time for him, but the one message that I wanted for him is that he's a Tar Heel and he'll always be welcome here. I was part of a unique situation at Miami that you went through a period of time where it was like depending on who the coach was, the other former players always felt like they were kind of ostracized because they had a new coach every five years. You sense that as an assistant coach, so one of the things I wanted to do was we started a gigantic push to try and get the former players to come back in the spring time. We had a big barbecue for a scrimmage, we showed highlight films and talked about stuff. The first year we had 30-40 and the last year I was at Miami we had well over 250 guys that bridged the generations. John is a part of the history of this school and just because he's not the head coach doesn't mean he won't be welcomed here. Whenever that day comes, whenever he feels comfortable, he'll absolutely be welcomed here. As will players that played for Mack Brown or Carl Torbush, I really don't care. They laid it on the line to be great players here and I want them to feel welcome.
"We didn't talk at all about the [current] players. We just talked about the history and tradition of the school and the program. He was very complimentary about a lot of things about the program."
On the stadium expansion –
"That's an extraordinarily popular thing with the [recruits] that they come here and say ‘This is really cool and they're going to add to it?!' I know when I did the interview they had the drawings and plans to put the academic support center in the end zone and add to the stadium. All that's going to do is greatly enhance the institution."
On assistant John Blake's ability as an evaluator of talent, and how important is the evaluation of talent?
"It's very valuable. John does have a great reputation and all of the guys eventually on this staff are going to be good evaluators, because ultimately a coaching staff is your own personnel department. The first line of that is going out and seeing kids as sophomores and juniors, and building a picture of what this kid is and what you're looking for. Being in the NFL a couple of years really teaches you how to really, truly evaluate players, and what is the upside, and what can you realistically expect a kid to become? We took kids at Miami that not a lot of people recruited.
"Santana Moss was on absolutely zero recruiting lists coming out of high school. He didn't catch but like six passes his senior year in high school. They had a football team that was really run oriented, and all you saw him do was downfield block, downfield block. When they did try to throw deep to him, the quarterback couldn't get him the ball.
"You have to know the model. What are you trying to build? The prototype of what we're trying to build are the things I've been exposed to in every single area. If you go back to my background at Oklahoma State where we had great talented running backs… We recruited Thurman Thomas, and the season after that they recruited Barry Sanders. It's no mystery that 25 years later we could end up having Clinton Portis, Najeh Davenport and Edgerrin James, because of those threads that run through coaches. That's what we believed in. That's what we had with Alonzo Highsmith. That's what we had with Emmitt Smith. It's the same thing with Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow. The affinity I had for tight ends and H-backs at Miami was not just a magical thing that started to happen. We had it at Dallas with Jay Novacek, and I drafted Kellen at Cleveland.
"If you know what you're looking for… If you know the types of players that you want, now it's a matter of going out and finding those kids that fit that system – that type and style of defensive lineman that we're looking for. Kids that can convert from one position to another and will have great upside."
On seeking recruits with speed first -
"Speed everywhere. Speed at wide receivers. When I was at Miami, the guys we played with the whole time there were Andre Johnson, Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne. I want speed everyplace. I want kids that are playmakers, kids that are passionate playing football and kids that have football instinct. There are some kids who have what I call "football magic" – they just make plays. Good things tend to happen to these kids. There's the kid who's always there to get the sack.
"If you have sit there and watch tape, and I've got to watch four films to see a kid make two plays, we're on the wrong kid. I don't want to look at highlight tapes on players. If I take his 25 best plays over his junior and senior years and put them on a highlight tape, he'll look pretty good. Well how about the 80 plays where he didn't make the highlight tape? To me (a highlight tape) tweaks your interest, but that's just the tip of the evaluation process. Now let's go get the game tapes and see how this kid really plays. How much effort did he give? How much impact did he make in the outcome of that game. It doesn't have to be a skill position."