I know that there are a lot of people who would like to ask an awful lot of questions about the NCAA review. As I have redundantly said throughout the course of today, there’s just no way that I can comment right now. The NCAA has said that one of the fastest ways to get this process to happen as quickly as possible is for as few things to have to comment in the newspaper. So they’ve asked us not to talk, so unfortunately I’m not going to be able to answer a lot of those questions. I’ll try to talk about our team, the players on our team and some of things that we’re trying to do during the course of training camp…
How about the uncertainty of who’s going to be there and who might not be there?
That’s the other thing that falls into the same category. Speculative questions, right now, are very difficult. … Who knows? I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t tell you what the future holds.
Do you have a policy, if we got to the week of a game and there’s an NCAA investigation going on but they haven’t said anything, do you have a policy about holding guys out that are in a situation like that?
Again, all of that is just dealing with hypotheticals. Give me a specific fact, tell me exactly what happened and I’ll be able to tell you. I’ve gone through similar types of situations at the University of Miami, this is not the first situation where I’ve seen similar types of things. There have been other things around the country that you can see how things have unfolded and you just try to make the best decision when given the facts that you’re going to be given.
Is this something that you feel like will be dealt with one way or the other before the season starts or is this something that could linger on into the season?
Again, it’s one of those speculative questions. I do know this, I think our institution has done absolutely everything they can from a compliance standpoint. We’ve cooperated with the NCAA. The feedback that we got from them was the more cooperative, the more help that you can provide, the faster that these things move along. I don’t know how it’s progressing at any of the other institutions around the country and how those things – whether we’re the first and somebody else is going to be the 10th - I can’t tell you.
Is there any possible solution you have so that you and other schools aren’t in the same situation next year and the year after?
That’s been a hot topic question today. I don’t think that there’s any one, single group that can solve this problem. I don’t think the NCAA can, I don’t think that institutions can. I think it’s going to take a cooperative effort out of a lot of people. There’s got to be a certain element of help that you can get from the NFL. You can get a certain amount of help from the player’s association. You can get a certain amount of help from the actual agents themselves, policing themselves. There are a lot of very good agents. I think there are some people who have a tremendous amount of credibility. They have character, they have the best interest of the kid involved and they would never try to put a kid in a situation. And we’re not even talking about those kinds of people. Agents themselves could certainly do some of it – institutions, compliance people, coaches, players, parents – there are a lot of people who need to be co-opted into making this. I don’t think that this is something that just manifested itself in the last 60 days. It’s probably a byproduct of things that potentially might have been going on for the better part of the last, at least 2003, as in the case of the one case that’s already been adjudicated.
Are you in contact with the NCAA at all or are you just sitting there waiting?
No. It’s not our role. Right now, the ball is certainly in their court. They’ve done their role, we’ve done our role. Now, we just wait until further notice.
When they tell you it can move fast, have they said how fast it could move then?
Coach, you’re meticulous in your preparation and meetings with underclassmen when you give them information about going to the NFL. What did you tell them when you knew in December that they would have this opportunity to have contact with agents? What was your advice to them?
One of the things we’ve tried to do as an institution is we’ve tried to be extraordinarily proactive with all of our kids, multiple times throughout the course of the season. Here are the things – our compliance people meet with them, coaches meet with them, we talk about things and we bring in outside entities to talk to our players to try and educate them to the best of our ability. We’ll continue to do that. We’re currently looking, are there ways that we can do this even better? Are there outside agencies and people that we could co-op and get them to come in and help with the presentations. It’s something that will be under review and we’ll try and see if there is a way that we can make it better.
How did you avoid some of these issues in the past?
Some of the things - with your football team - you deal with the anticipation of the unexpected. I can’t tell you today what the weather is going to be like for any of our games. Are we going to play in a driving rain storm, is there going to be sleet, is there going to be bad weather? Are we going to get bad officiating calls? I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is that we talk to our players – that when something presents itself in the face of adversity, how are you going to react to it, how are you going to handle it? Who’s going to get hurt? Last year, we had any number of – I think we had like 13 players that missed two games or more throughout the course of the season. We didn’t know that before the season started. You have to talk about, OK, somebody has to step up and somebody has to fill the role if this guy gets hurt. The same could be true in any situation.
Are you confident that your players that have spoken with the NCAA have been honest with them?
Again, the only thing that I will tell you, the only instruction that we gave the players was ‘Tell the truth.’ That’s the only smart, rational instruction that you can tell anybody: just tell the truth.
What is a realistic expectation of a coach’s role in this situation? What do you feel is your responsible to these players?
Just try to provide them with the best information that you possibly can .You treat them as though they’re your children. That if your child comes to you and says ‘Dad I got a question, can I ask you about this, what do you think about that? ‘All you can do is give them an opinion. You cannot tell them what exactly they should or shouldn’t do. There’s not one single coach that I’ve ever known that’s ever tried to get involved with picking agents for kids. You tell them hypothetical situations or situations that you know of that have happened in different places. You try to educate them the best you can and you try and help cooperate with your administration and compliance department. And hopefully they’ll continue to make better decisions.
How do you feel like the team as a whole has been reacting to having this hanging over them?
I think they’re excited about the football games, about getting started with the season on Aug. 6 – training camp gets started. I think guys are anxious just because the expectations of the season, team. We had a very good, productive spring practice. We’ve had a very good, productive summer conditioning. Guys are looking forward to getting started.
You talk about the expectations, the media here picked you fourth in the Coastal Division. How much do you think that has to do with all of the things that have been going on the last couple of weeks or just because it’s a tough division?
I would be the last person to ask. I would ask the people that voted.
Coach, you mentioned Miami. You’re reputation at Miami was pristine. It has to wound you then, that your reputation takes a hit, at least somewhat, by osmosis with this situation.
BD: You know what, all you can do Joe (Giglio of the N&O) is do the best you can with your players. We’ll start again in two weeks and we’ll start educating the kids about future ways to make good decisions on and off the field. The one thing that I can tell you is that there’s no single person, including everybody at this table, me included, that doesn’t make a mistake. People make mistakes. You learn from them – you use those mistakes to help educate the guys who haven’t made mistakes, the new incoming freshman - you love them and you keep moving on.
What did you see, from the start of the offseason all the way through what you know about happened in the summer, that’s different from the teams you’ve had at Carolina before. You’ve got a lot of guys with experience and older kids.
I think that for the first time, I think we’re getting a byproduct of some of the older kids having enough confidence in their own abilities to be able to share an awful lot of things with some of the younger kids. You’re getting a lot of the little nuances that really help a kid grow during the course of the spring. The older guys, some of these guys have played over 30 games. They have a tremendous amount of wealth of experience. They’re confident enough in their own abilities that now they can go and share some of that stuff with the other guys.
What made you decide to move Jonathan Cooper inside to center and how good can he be?
I think he can be outstanding. He’s got great lateral movement, he’s got really excellent upper-body strength and he can get to the second level. He’s got enough speed that linebackers can’t just run away from him. When we looked at him, he’s versatile enough because he’s started at guard – he can play either of the two guard positions. But ideally, physically suited, center is the perfect place for him. He’s a very bright and smart kid. It was baptism under fire last year with some of those guys at offensive center. When we lost Lowell Dyer, we lost a kid who had started for a couple of years, and understood the schemes and protections to identify where people were. I think, now, that Jonathan has gained some of that confidence that he’ll be able to play that position much better.
What is the dynamic between T.J. Yates and Bryn Renner? How do you see that competition shaking out?
I think T.J. took Bryn under his wing when Bryn was a true freshman. Brought him in, sat with him, watched film, talked to him about the offense, talked to him about the scheme, talked to him about the reads. Their relationship and the dynamics of that relationship are probably, ideally, the way you’d like it on your entire football team. I hope we have that kind of position competition where guys have to play extraordinarily well to keep their job. If we’re going to be very good, now or in the future, you’re going to have to have position competition. We didn’t have that to be honest with you. We almost had none of that in ’07, very little of it in ’08 and marginally some in ’09. … This is what I know - if T.J. Yates is the starting quarterback this season, he’s going to play real good because someone is pushing him to become an excellent player. You hope that you have that same kind of situation at all 22 positions.
What are you expecting from T.J. in terms of a rebound, because he had such a tough season last year?
Smarter, wiser decisions. I think taking the pressure off of himself a little bit of not feeling like you’ve got to be the guy that has to go out and win every single game. He’s had some spectacular performances for us. There are games that we wouldn’t have won had he not played the way that he played. The poise that he showed in the fourth quarter against UConn, on the road, against a very good defensive football team - if he didn’t play good, we’re going to get beat. The offensive line wasn’t playing good, nobody had made very many plays for him and he hadn’t played particular well. I think his leadership and his maturity showed up in the fourth quarter of that game and allowed him to play well. I don’t want to say - because I don’t think it’s an accurate statement - that any quarterback just goes out and manages the game. You’ve got to go out and make the plays that present themselves; you’ve got to make the plays that you’re capable of making. You’ve got to smartly and wisely distribute the ball and get it in the hands of the guys that can make plays for you.
How much is it going to help him to have a little bit more experience at the wide receiver position than last year?
A lot. If you talk to Erik Highsmith, Jhay Boyd and some of those guys and even Greg Little for that matter – because it was really the first year that he was a full-time wide receiver – for the first time they found out that they didn’t know what they didn’t know. The three kids that had graduated the year before had basically been the starters for three seasons and nobody else had played. Erik Highsmith, now you talk to him in spring practice about this coverage, this leverage, this safety rotation, this stance, pre-snap read on a corner, he didn’t have a clue what we were telling him back in August and September in games. It was all just, go out and hope that God-given athletic ability allowed him to make some plays. He got better during the course of the season, but not as much as he’s probably gotten better in the last four months.
Can you talk a little bit more about Erik? Because T.J. told us that you’re going to use a lot of formations and motions and put him in different positions.
That’s one of the things that we’d like to try to be able to accomplish offensively. John Shoop and myself, some of the roots are rooted into Joe Gibbs and Bill Walsh. They were the first people to realize that personnel groupings and mismatching by moving guys around in formations worked to try to create better matchups. If you just break the huddle and stay in the same static formation 65 snaps during the course of a ballgame you’re a fool. By moving guys around and putting them in certain positions hopefully you can create those things. A tremendous amount of learning goes under a play and young kids couldn’t do that. Hopefully these guys can do it next year.
What is about him [Highsmith] that makes him one of the prime candidates?
He’s got excellent hands and good body position. You saw bits and glimpses of some of the things that he could do last year. There were some games that he made some really, really outstanding catches. Physically, his body has changed dramatically. When you come to Media Day, one of the things that’s going to impress you is that he’s about 25 pounds heavier than he was a year ago. Subsequently, besides being bigger, he’s going to be faster than he was a year ago just because of the offseason speed work that he did with our conditioning staff.
Ryan Houston didn’t practice in the spring. Do you anticipate him being there on Aug. 6?
Absolutely. Yup. No doubt about it.
What about Carl Gaskins and A.J. Blue. What are their statuses?
Carl is full go. He’s 100 percent. A.J. will be able to start on Aug. 6 doing some things. He’s already doing everything in our OTAs - in our offseason conditioning program. The time when he can actually get hit and take a hit will be kind of a week-to-week basis. We want to go out and find out if there is going to be any additional swelling with his knee. He’s made remarkable strides. He’s a kid that, silently within our program, every guy in our staff and our program is pulling for him. I don’t know that I’ve seen any kid work harder on a rehab program than what he’s done to try and get himself back healthy.
How’s Ryan Taylor going to fit in? What’s he going to do?
Two things that hurt a little bit of our entire team last year – the two most dynamic special teams players that we had were Ryan Taylor and Matt Merletti. They were the captains of our team. They were the most productive players in 2008 and we lost both of them for the season. So, certainly, getting them back from that standpoint provides leadership and significant contibutors. What we would like to see out of Ryan is, we want to see him play some at H-back and some maybe a little bit in the backfield. He’s got very good hands and he’s a tough kid. He’s a competitive kid. There will be some things that we’ll try to create to get him involved.
Is there anything lingering from last year (with his injury)?
No. It was a total dislocation of his entire kneecap and that put a lot of stress on his patella tendon. So it was one of those things where (the trainers said) you have a certain amount of inactivity, don’t do anything, we’re going to put you in a brace. Then when you get done we’re going to start rehab and therapy. Then when you get done with that we’re going to let you go to the practice (field) and see if you can run. Then you start to run half speed, three quarters, then full speed – then they say ‘Now let’s see you cut.’ So it wasn’t until the last weeks of the season that he was able to do some limited things. At that point the worst thing you could do is allow him to get hit in a scrimmage and blow his knee out.
A couple of your players have already pulled their Twitter pages down. Is that voluntary or do you have any kind of new rules about what you post or what you say or what you don’t?
We do seminars with our team as part of our life skills program. We talk about social media and social networking. As nice as some of it is, some of it certainly can be something that can definitely be a negative to individuals. When we get back as a team, we’re going to talk about it again. I haven’t had a chance to talk to them in months.
Do you think Twitter, Facebook and that kind of thing has become a new kind of NCAA investigative tool?
That’d be a great question to ask them. I don’t know, I don’t know what they think.
Is the agent temptation a constant whenever you have a bunch of good prospects in all your years of coaching or more so in recent years?
I know if you’re going 1-11 you probably don’t have many agent issues.
You’ve spoken of adversity. Is there a danger that something this big going on around your program, now, could derail everything?
No. I don’t think so. I think there are instances that happen and we will deal with these things. I think that we will be a better program because of them. I think we will learn some things about this world that’s out there, that maybe we were somewhat naïve or maybe not as educated or maybe didn’t know as much about. I think we will be a lot better football program because of it.
So you’re saying the start of August it’s out of their minds, it’s not an issue at all?
I can’t think for them. I can only tell you that that will be the emphasis, to focus on us. To focus on what we can do, to focus on trying to be as good as a football team and player as they can be for the next 29 days.
Check back tomorrow for Part II ...