Have you been able to regain your focus for the bowl?
“Yeah, I think so. We’ve have five or six very spirited practices, and they haven’t been clumped together so much that the kids have gotten tired. We kind of have a philosophy with bowl practices that we’re not going to practice real long anyway, so yeah, I think they’re pretty good that way.”
You’ve talked about quarterbacks taking a year or so to be comfortable with your system. Was that last game with Denard as close as it’s going to get before next season?
“Yeah. He’s getting there. The last game -- the last couple games, really Illinois to a degree, too, other than a turnover or two … but yeah, I think he’s catching on. He’s doing pretty much what every quarterback I’ve had in the first year has done. He started a little slow. Again, I said this before, is our passing game is so different from what they’ve done. There were going to be pains because there always is. He’s starting to absorb the concepts and be able to understand what we want, and it’s showing up at the end more than it did earlier.”
Is there something specific you’re looking at with Denard in terms of development going into the bowl game?
“Same stuff as always. Fundamentals. Fundamentals and basic understanding of route structure, timing the routes, it’s always the same, and it’s always a work in progress in the first year, but we’re further -- much further now than we were when we started.”
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Based on prior experiences, what strides are you expecting him to make from here to the start of next season?
“Just the basic overall understanding of the offense. I know that’s general but that's what it is. I could go through every nuance, but that’s basically it, whether it be footwork, whether it be timing, whether it be understanding read progressions. All those things. But like I said it’s so different now than when we first started. When he gets a chance in the offseason, puts his little 7-on-7 drills together with the rest of the guys … and then get into spring football. By the time we hit next fall, I think he’ll hit the ground running pretty good. He’ll be very comfortable under center.”
You’ve talked about striving to reach the balance between what you prefer and Denard’s skills. Are you comfortable with where the offense is at now?
“We’re always trying to get better. I mean, we’re never satisfied, but we’re happy with progress, and I think we made progress. If we take a step backwards, coaches will always complain, but of late, and again the last two games and really the Illinois game -- and he didn’t play the whole game there, Devin did -- there were some real signs of understanding of what we want to do.”
How would you describe Fitz’s running style?
“Fitz reminds me -- we were talking about this the other day -- there was a guy at SC a few years ago, a guy named Charles White, I don’t know if you guys remember Charles White.”
“But Fitz runs a lot like Charles White. If you put the jersey on him you’d hardly be able to tell the difference. He probably doesn’t know who Charles White is. But that’s what I was thinking. He’s a slasher-type runner. Has demonstrated some really good stop-and-go ability in space. He beats some guys in the open field, and he does a really good job of finishing runs, because he’s a tough guy. He can carry the ball 20-plus times because he is a tough guy.”
As he’s gain confidence, have you seen him change at all off the field?
“Not much. Fitz is pretty much the same all the time, but you can tell he has a little more swagger. He’s excited that now he feels like he’s making a significant contribution, and with that comes a certain amount of confidence, but I don’t think he takes himself too seriously.”
There were questions about Fitz’s vision earlier in the season -- have you seen improvement?
“Yeah, and I had those [questions]. Immeasurably, okay. If there’s one part of his game that has made a quantum leap from when we got here in the spring, it’s that. And that’s playing. That’s knowing where your help’s coming from on all the blocking, showing the patience to let things develop and then reaccelerating to bust it into the open field -- running through there maybe 80% just to make sure it’s there, and then reaccelerating back up to 100%. He has made so much progress. When we first got here, a lot of the running game was different, just like it was different in the passing game for Denard. And he was running into people … but he doesn’t do that much anymore, and that’s because he’s carried the ball more, and he knows basically where his help is coming from up front.”
Is this the biggest accommodation to personnel in such a short time that you’ve had to do in your career?
“Yeah. Yeah. Yes. Without question.”
And did you seek advice from outside sources at all?
“Always. Always. We are constantly trying to professionally enrich ourselves with regard to the development of our offense, our defense, and everything. Our ego’s on the shelf. If we think somebody can help us, I’ll make a call here and a call there for somebody who’s done something more than I’ve done it. I get calls from people all the time asking me how we do things, but I’ve got people that are running some spread, good friends of mine, that know a lot of the nuances. So yeah, we’re going to do whatever it takes to get it taught. We’re not going to think we know it all and keep us from doing the best job of teaching the players.”
Your name is out there for Florida’s OC position. Are you interested in that at all?
“No. This is Michigan Fergodsake -- the noble words of someone we all know and love. Next question.”
Did you enjoy the challenge of fitting the pieces together with this offense?
“Yeah! Yeah. You know what’s funny about that, initially change can be met with resistance. We’re all like that. That’s human nature … It’s not different in any profession. The best thing to do, I’ve learned, is to close your mouth and open your mind. If you can do that, you can develop yourself as a football coach and as a football team. It keeps you on your toes and you kind of embrace something new. Again, if you have an open mind. ”
Are there ways you can minimize resistance when you introduce change?
“Yeah, just keep an open mind. That’s how you minimize the resistance. Because the knee-jerk is to stay in your comfort zone, but when you take a look at all the components and say, okay now really, is Denard anything like Ryan Lindley? I see really no similarities, okay? Very few, if any. He’s not, okay. So if he’s not, what do we have to do to accommodate those skills yet not completely bastardize what we want to do with our offense. And that’s a delicate balance, and I mentioned that a few weeks back.”
Earlier in the season you mentioned that you don’t really take any of the players’ input for which plays to run --
“I was being a little sarcastic, too. That’s not completely true.”
What kind of input do you get from them?
“Again, players play, coaches coach, fans watch, writers write -- if you know your role, usually it works out. When somebody tries to do somebody else’s role, usually someone will get offended, but in football, because they are doing it, we’re asking them questions at times what we feel they can do best or ask Denard, ‘What plays do you like the best?’ From that perspective, yeah, we do take some input from the players. You have to do that. And the more experience they get, the more they undrestand what you’re trying to do, the more they get a vote. It’s always going to be somewhat of a dictatorship a little bit. It’s always going to be that way because that’s just the nature of coaching -- I hate to put it that way. But it’s a benevolent dictatorship. We’re not so closeminded that we can’t listen to what might be best for the kids.”
Has that mentality changed over the course of your career?
“Oh yeah. Yeah. But again, players have to understand before they start throwing input for what they want, they better know what we want, because that’s really the starting point. It’s like building a house. You can’t have 55 guys getting a vote on how to put the foundation down. You’re going to have a lousy foundation. Once you get to the point where everybody’s on the same page -- and more of this next year, second and third year when the kids have been in the system -- it’s amazing what you can do. We’re still kind of in a starter-set mode here. A little bit. Now we’ve gotten a little farther along than that. The last few games we’ve gotten more into the intricacies, particularly in the passing game. But as we do it more, like I said, you go through the summer and you go through all those things, once the kids understand your system and they possess the skills, it’s limitless what you can do. And that’s when it’s really fun to coach, when you can go out there and say okay. You’re not coaching every little thing, like where do you line up. They already know where to line up. You’re coaching more nuance.”
Having been here almost a year, how much of your offense have you put in?
“We’re still a ways off. We have a long way to go now, guys. This was a beautiful season in terms of 10-2 and all that. The kids did a great job. We have not arrived. We have a lot more to put in and a lot more to refine. That which was already in, we have to get a lot better at. I think even Greg would tell you that. Danny on special teams would tell you that. And I know Brady would say that because that’s what Brady says all the time.”
Now that you’ve had time to reflect on the season, is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
“You know, it’s ever-evolving offensively. I think I said this at the beginning. You don’t really know your team totally until you’ve played a couple games. So if you said, ‘Okay, I wish I would have done more of this late than I did, should have more of this earlier that we did late,’ there’s probably a few things, but from an overall structural standpoint, not much. Not really much. Every time you lose a game is when you start second-guessing yourself, because believe me, as much as the fans want to second-guess the offensive coordinator, in my mind I’m always taking educated second guesses and saying, ‘Okay, look at the tape. Was this the best way to approach this?’ I do that all the time. Win, lose or draw I do that, but when you lose because it has more impact. After every game, but particularly the games you don’t win. You say, ‘Well, doggone it, we lost, and we lost for a reason.’ And it’s not all the players’ fault. This is a team effort, and the coaches have to take responsibility for losing, the players have to take responsibility for losing, and the only way we’re going to get better is if we figure out or at least try and figure out what we can improve on.”
How much did Denard’s injury affect him?
“I don’t know. That’s a much better question for him. I don’t really know. I know the kid shows up and is pretty much the same every time. He’s not a moody guy. He’s got only one mood, and it’s bouncing off the walls.”
Which of the younger players stood out to you in the early bowl practices?
“Oh it’s been fun because we’ve got chances to see a few guys, guys like Chris Bryant, Jack Miller, Russ Bellomy, you know. Give Russ a few chances to show what he can do. Jerald Robinson, you know. Some of the other ones, too, but those guys have stood out, not just in those practices but on scout teams and such.”
What’s the future of the 2-QB formation?
“I’m never giving that away. That’s in the vault.”
Are you happy with how you were able to use it this season?
“Well we averaged eight point -- [Looked at the chart the other day] just to see what’s our total offense (per play) in our two quarterbacks, and it was over eight yards, so it’s been productive. I know there’s plays that aren’t as good, but then there’s some big chunks in there that were good. So you know, that’s something we’ll use, we won’t use, we’ll use, we won’t use. A lot of it will depend on the game plan and who we’re playing.”
Are there a lot more variations of what you can do with it?
“Oh yeah. I mean, with 11 players, you can put 11 players anywhere you want as long as they’re lined up with seven men on the line of scrimmage.”
What kind of challenges did the lack of depth on the offensive line present you?
“Practice more than anything -- that’s the challenge. Getting through it and making sure nobody gets hurt so you can play in a game, and knowing that your margin for error isn’t great. Now we’re in the process of fixing that with our recruiting and such, but you’re holding your breath every time somebody falls on the ground. That’s the biggest challenge, because once the game hits, you have to play. You can’t worry about that stuff.”
Can you talk about how Schofield filled in?
“He did a very nice job and got better all the time and we asked a lot of him, because we asked him to play tackle and play guard. He hasn’t arrived by any means, but Mike has been a willing participant. He’s a pretty consistent entity.”
Is he a more natural tackle or guard?
“Both. I mean, he can play both. He’s tall enough to play tackle. He’s got enough range. But he played guard because he runs well. He was a hurdler in high school if you can believe that. So he can run on the sweeps. You guys see it. We do a lot of stuff with those guys on sweeps and screens and stuff like that. Him and David Molk and Pat, they all kind of fit the mold.”
What’s the biggest concern when you take five weeks off between games?
“Just make sure your timing’s right. That’s the biggest problem with bowl games, I think. All the ones that I’ve coached in. Particularly in your passing game -- making sure your passing game stays sharp. Throwing catch every day. Doesn’t have to be a million balls, just have to know there’s that much time between games you don’t lose your timing. That’s huge.”
Have you shifted practices more to focus on Virginia Tech yet?
“To some degree, but today was really heavy into that.”
What have you seen from them defensively on tape?
“This is my second go-around with them. 2005 when I was at Auburn we played them in the Sugar Bowl, ironically enough. His defense is very similar. He’s changed some things, but still very similar. They’re a sic’em type defense. By that I mean they come after you. They come after you and try to force the issue. Very athletic, run well. They’re rated high in every area of defense. Bud Foster’s always done an excellent job. They know their system. They’ve been in this system defensively [since 1995]. That’s a long time to be running what is in essence the same defense. He’s like we are. He’s changed bits and pieces of his defense as he’s gone on, but those kids know it. And they know how to play it. That’s a nice situation to be in. Like I said, defensively he can do a lot of stuff because he’s got the kind of kids that have been in his system.”
What did you see from the Clemson game tape that Clemson was able to do against them?
“Well they got on the perimeter a few times. They got in the open field on them, and Clemson’s got some pretty athletic kids. With anybody if you can get some athletes in space, you have a good chance for success. So that and Clemson just played good. They really did. Virginia Tech was [ranked] what, third? Fourth? They’re a good team. A lot of people question them being in the BCS. I don’t question it. They should be in the BCS. That’s a good football team. They got beat twice by the same team. Nobody else beat them. This team deserves more respect. I promise you they have it here. They’re a good team, well coached, and they’re going to give us all we want. Hopefully not more than we want.”
What does a healthy Odoms bring to the table?
“A couple touchdowns. You know the thing about that kid, I feel bad in a way for Tae-O because he got hurt. We have a lot of his type of receivers. Slot receivers, shorter kids, and he was behind, not just physically but learning our offense. Jeff Hecklinski and I talked, we said, ‘We have to get this kid involved,’ but he was so far behind mentally and physically too because he hadn’t done anything. Jeff just kept spoon-feeding him. We were going to put him in at one point in time, and I got nervous, I said, ‘I’m not sure he knows what to do there, and I don’t want to get him killed or somebody else killed, so wait until he’s solid.’ And as he’s gotten more solid, we just played him more, and you see the result. He’s going to make a big play a game, now. And the kicking game, he’s brought that to the table. He’s a good little football player. And like Jeremy Gallon, he plays bigger than he is. He does. He’s fast, and I like fast guys. I’m funny that way.”
You were able to bring most of your offensive staff with you from SDSU, but Fred Jackson was retained from the previous staff. What was that dynamic like and how long was the adjustment period?
“Well Fred’s been coaching here since aught six, and has coached our style of offense more than he’s coached the spread, but Fred was a perfect addition if you think about it now, because he knew what they did here before, and he knew some of the strengths and weaknesses of the players that were here, and the strengths and weaknesses of some of the schemes that were here. So with him coming in he was really the perfect guy to keep. We had the people coming in who knew our system, Freddie had run something so similar to what we did there, so he hit the ground running in that way -- he can coach it all -- and he gave some input for the things I just alluded to.”
What have you seen from Drew Dileo this year?
“Drew is a -- you guys follow baseball?”
[Ed-S: Oh god don't go there]
[Ed-S: He's gonna go there]
“Do you know who David Eckstein is?”
[Ed-S: He went there]
“I’m a Giants fan, so I hate David Eckstein. But he is such a good baseball player. Drew is that kind of football player. He’s going to get a lot of hits. He’s probably not going to hit many over the fence, but he’s going to get a lot of hits. And when he’s asked to do something, it gets done, whether it’s catching an option route, whether it’s catching a corner route, whether it’s faking a field goal, whether it’s -- he’s a guy that in so many ways you can count on him to do exactly what you coach him to do. Believe me, from my perspective and from everybody who’s involved with coaching Drew, we appreciate that. He’s an inside receiver and if used properly can be a really productive player. He’s done some good things for us and in the kicking game.”