What’s your general philosophy, as a coach, as to what the roles of your defensive linemen (three-technique, rush tackle) are?
In a perfect world, they’re interchangeable. That’s where we gravitated to last year. In previous years, we tried to flip the defensive linemen, just because of the athleticism of the people that were playing those positions. It’s never the way I coached it at Miami, in Dallas or never the way we intended to coach it here. One particular individual, Cam Thomas, was better as an interior nose tackle type of a guy, while some of the other guys, Marvin Austin and Aleric Mullins, were better as three-technique. In a perfect world, you get interchangeable. Ideally, whether you’ve got Russell Maryland or Cortez Kennedy, you don’t have to have to flip them with the strength because people just drive you crazy flipping your tackles back and forth. You’d just rather move one from six inches this way to six inches that way and they get tired of all the shifts and the motions.
Considering all the expectations following the defense this year, how prepared do you think they are to play and attain some of those expectations?
I expect them to improve. If there are any kids on our defense that think they are absolutely the very best that they can be, they’re kidding themselves. There’s room for every one of them to be a better football player.
What attracted you to the Chick-Fil-A game against LSU? And can you talk about the difficulties of staying on top, particularly in the ACC?
Let’s take the second question first. Someone told me today that seven teams got a first place vote. There must be some depth and respect for a significant number of teams in the ACC. It’s not like one team or two teams got 95 percent of the vote, somebody actually thinks that someone else is actually decent. The Chick-Fil-A game, when we were first approached about that, it was one of those things that you thought about and said ‘OK, what could this potentially do for our football program?’ The things I know about football players - they like playing with good players, they like playing against other good players. It’s an opportunity to gain some momentum and galvanize your program and maybe get a little bit of a spotlight to focus and say ‘Hey, look, we’re out there trying to challenge and find out.’ LSU has won two national championships in the last 10 years.
From my own personal experiences, two particular related types of things, when we were in Dallas and we were trying to win those Super Bowls, we went 1-15. As we were trying to dig out from under that 1-15 season, you’re saying ‘What do we need to do as a program and organization to win a Super Bowl?’ The Washington Redskins, who were in our division, had won three and the New York Giants had won two. Focusing on who is winning national championships and who is winning Super Bowls, gives you a chance. When I was at Miami, we were offered an opportunity to play against Ohio State. Here was a Big 10 program with a tremendous reputation and a lot of high-profile athletes, and a chance to go to New York City and we said there’s probably no downside to that. We approached the same thing with LSU. They are a great football team. That’s program been on a role for 10, 11, 12 years and we’re coming out of year three. This will give us a chance to measure and find out if we’re making some strides.
Can you recall another time in your college career, when you had the entire back seven , linebackers and secondary, returning?
Off the top of my head, I don’t. There were periods of time at Miami where usually a kid was a starter for about two years…
What kind of impact do you think [Robert] Quinn can make, given that he’s probably going to be double-teamed a lot this year?
The productivity of any defense lineman is going to be predicated on his supporting cast. If you have one great defensive lineman and the other three guys are really bad, he’s probably not going to have a very good year. But if they focus too much on one particular guy… going back again to the Dallas Cowboys days, there were a lot of teams that said ‘We’re going to shut out Charles Hayley. He is not going to take this game over.’ Until the Leon Letts and the Russell Marylands started playing so good that they couldn’t do that. It’s not good enough to have just four, you need, actually, about eight or nine guys.
Talking about the LSU game, what could it do for the ACC, which hasn’t been in the conversation for the national championship in recent years?
Well, it’s week one. It would get a tremendous amount of attention, but the strength of this conference and it’s perception around the country is certainly not going to be just built on one particular game. It’s going to be built collectively on bowl games, other teams in the league playing other non-conference opponents. It’s not just necessarily about the SEC, it’s playing Big Ten teams, Pac-10 teams and Big 12 teams. Every time you play outside your conference, as a conference, you get a chance to kind of make a statement about the people in your conference.
How would you describe your relationship with Paul Dee?
I guess OK, I don’t know. Last time I saw him he was the athletic director at Miami, two years ago before they hired the new athletic director. I think cordial, good.
How was your working relationship when you both were there?
Would you say that you ended on good terms?
I don’t know, ask Paul Dee. As far as I’m concerned, it ended unfortunately the way that it ended. There are probably regrets on both sides.
Could you talk a little bit about your offensive line? You have what appears to be the most athletic group since you came and certainly you have some depth that you haven’t had at times.
It’s all inexperienced though, that’s the one frightening thing about this offensive line. Alan Pelc, right now, is probably our best offensive lineman; he’s the most versatile Conceivably, he could start at all five positions. Jonathan Cooper we feel really confident about. Mike Ingersoll probably is the most dramatically improved player on the offensive line last year. From week 1 to week 12, he got better and better and better every single week. A former tight end, he’s got good feet. The one thing that he didn’t have last year that we’re hoping that he’s got now is a little bit more upper body strength. He’s a significantly stronger kid than he was a year ago. He’s probably 310 pounds now. Carl Gaskins, as much as we love him and have high expectations for him, that’s all fine and on paper he looks good, but he’s never been in a game. He’s never started and not gone in and played any real significant playing time. We need him to mature, progress, to stay healthy so that he can get better. If he can stay healthy, week 1 he’ll be good, week 2 he’ll be better and by the middle of the season he’ll probably be playing pretty good. James Hurst gives us another potential guy, Brennan Williams gives us another potential guy. Travis Bond, when we inserted him into the lineup at the end of the season, stuck another true freshman in there, not only did we get a little more talented but we got bigger. He’s a 325-pound kid at 6-7, has got pretty good athletic ability. We’re starting to get seven, eight, nine guys that have a possibility to be ACC quality types of offensive linemen.
T.J. said that [James] Hurst could hold his own against [Robert] Quinn in the spring…
It didn’t happen. He didn’t hold his own, nobody did.
How much does that help him get better though? Because he won’t see anybody better.
I think that’s a statement that’s true about all of our offensive linemen. Going against our defensive linemen, in every place that I’ve ever coached, it’s been an enormous benefit that if you’ve got really good defensive linemen it really challenges your offensive linemen to get good – they gain an awful lot of confidence. If they can go out there and have reasonably good success, block them some of the time and every week they get better, then eventually they start to become stalemates where the defense doesn’t dominate. They go out there and Travis Bond, instead of blocking Marvin Austin one out of every 10, he’s blocking him six out of every 10. It helps your defensive line if your offensive line is better, more physical and stronger.
How about a healthy Zack Pianalto? How critical is that for the offense?
For the scheme of offense that we play, it’s very important. You need somebody that has a chance to control the linebackers and somebody that has a chance to control the safeties. If you have an interior, core-passing attack, it just doesn’t revolve around Zack. It also revolves around who’s the other guy, whether it’s the running back or the other H-back. But those two guys that can kind of help get people out of playing certain coverages on your wide receivers. In a perfect world, I’d love to see our tight end position catch 80 balls, where one of them catches 50 and the other catches 30, the H-back guy…
You were picked fourth in your own division, what’s a realistic expectation for this season?
You know I don’t know. Joe, I would love to be able to give you a great answer. But how healthy are we going to stay? How is the offensive line going to come together during the course of the season? If we do stay healthy, you’re going to see a football team that’s going to get better week after week after week. By the middle of the season, towards the end of the season, you’re going to see a pretty good football team.
Let’s be honest, you won a lot of games at Miami. You didn’t come back to the college game to go 8-5…
We weren’t trying to go 8-5 last year.
You can’t be happy with that…
Given where we started, I’m thrilled to death that we were able to get to be 8-5 with what we started with in 2007.
Given that those guys all came back this year, do you feel like there is more pressure for a nine- or 10-win season this year?
Yeah, I think the possibility certainly exists. Stay healthy, get better, quarterback improve, play better and we’ll have a better chance to have a season better than eight wins.
Is there anything that Robert Quinn has done, during spring ball, that’s shown he can be even better this year?
The one significant difference that I see in Robert today, than I did a year ago in spring practice, is that he kind of started to take the approach that he really kind of wanted to dominate every drill. To the point where basically in the spring game, we were about to have to just to tell him to take a knee. He could’ve literally taken over and dominated that game, because we divided the teams up and tried to put the best guy against him. If he had wanted to do, he probably could have had a sack on every play just about.
Is he potentially as good as you’ve had?
Absolutely, no question about. I think he has the potential the next two seasons to be as good as we’ve ever coached.
For those who have been around a little while, Lawrence Taylor was like that, at times he was just on another level and unblockable. Can Quinn be like that?
He potentially could be that. I coached a kid named Danny Stubbs that had 19 sacks in one season in 1985. But he also had the benefit of playing with Jerome Brown and a bunch of other guys that were great players. They were so infatuated with not making sure that Jerome Brown and Russell Maryland and those guys took over the game that he feasted on everybody else. He was a holy terror coming off the edge. He was one of the best nickel/speed pass rush type of guys that you could ever imagine in college football. I think he had 30 something sacks in his collegiate career. Robert, like anybody else – someone brought up the questions up a little ago - how good can he be? How’s good is the supporting cast? How is good is Tydreke Powell? How good is Quinton Coples? How good is Michael McAdoo? How good are all the rest of the guys? If they are capable of playing at a high level, all that’s going to do is help Robert play and have a more productive year.
He said yesterday that he wants 27 sacks and the Heisman…
God bless him, I hope he gets it.
One of the people on the Knight Commissions said that they felt that within 10 to 15 years only 25 or 30 colleges would be able to afford to play football. Are you concerned that the cost is getting to the point that it’s going to be prohibitive for teams to compete?
Really? I don’t know, you’ve caught me off guard because I’ve never heard that statistic being thrown out there. I don’t’ think that will be the case. Do I think that there is the potential that the landscape of college football is going to change over the next 10 to 15 years? I think that’s a definite possibility, that there may be only 85 or 90 playing at the Division I classification. That’s all just speculation.
Is it any different not having Bobby Bowden here?
Yeah, it’s a little odd. You just come to associate that anytime you see someone from Florida State, that it’s going to be Bobby Bowden. He was an outstanding coach for a long, long period of time and won a tremendous amount of games. He became an icon. It’ll be like one of these days, Joe Paterno won’t be at Penn State and it will be a little bit strange to see that.
What are the biggest changes in recruiting since you’ve been back?
The early commitments, part of it, are dramatically different. Kids not willing to wait until official visits in December and January before they make decisions. All the emphasis on all these all-star camps and combines, none of that stuff ever existed 10, 12, or 15 years ago or it was just starting to exist. The networking of people that know who’s out there and where kids are. Now people know who the hot list of top 10 kids in Montana. Fifteen years ago people couldn’t find Montana on a US map, now they know who the players are. There’s a lot of competition for players. There was a period of time – but I think the economy has changed this a little bit -- in 2007 there was a more willingness on kids to travel further and go further away from home. But now with the economy it’s a little bit different. Guys are now willing to move, maybe not necessarily go to a school 10 miles away, but it needs to be probably within 250 or 300 miles. Where used to a D.J. Williams or a Kenny Dorsey would leave California and come to Miami in a heartbeat, because parents could jump on a plane and go round trip on Southwest and be back for $165. Now you can’t go to the grocery store for $165.
Do you see a common denominator between the top recruiters, the Mack Brown, the Saban, the Urban Meyer, other than they all win big. In terms of closing the deal on recruits, do you see common denominators?
No, a lot of it has to do with the institution that you represent. What’s the past history and tradition? What are the facilities? If there was one major change in college football over the last 20 years it’s the growth of stadium expansion, of weight rooms and media rooms. Used to be, nobody really ever cared, there wasn’t really an arms race to say who has the best facilities. When we started our stadium expansion a couple years ago, they had done a survey and like 60 of the Division I football playing schools had done some type of renovation to their stadium in the previous five years. If you’re not careful, you look around and all of a sudden what you think is a fairly good situation – all of a sudden you find out, you’ve got the worst facilities in your conference.
You’ve shown quite a bit of willingness to find roles for true freshman. I know it’s not training camp yet, but do you kind of see some of those guys who will play on this year’s squad?
Absolutely, I think we’ll probably have 10 of this year’s freshman probably that will have some kind of a role on this football team. Whether it’s playing on special teams or playing in nickel packages. This year we had six freshmen that came in to school at mid-term. Those six have done just a great job. They worked hard in the spring, they had a chance to go through spring practice. They’ve have a great summer because they’ve been here for a while. Some of the guys that came in the summer time, guys like Giovanni Bernard, will have an opportunity to get a real close look at running back. Some of those guys in the secondary will have an opportunity to get a closer look.
Check back tomorrow for Part III ...