News bullets and other important items:
- Vincent Smith dressed for Nebraska but did not play because of a shoulder injury.
- Everything else is sort of general fluff on the rivalry.
“Our guys, I thought, played their best football game as a team on Saturday. In saying that, from the kicking game to offensively and defensively, I thought they all complemented each other well. We had a great day yesterday as far as putting that game to bed and moving forward. This is a special week because you play in the greatest rivalry there is in sport. When you get the chance to play in this game or coach in this game, it’s always a fun week. We’ve got a lot of work to do because we’re not where we need to be in any sense as far as the team that we envision ourselves to be and we expect to be.”
What does this senior class mean to you and this program, and how special will their legacy be if they do win on Saturday?
“Well, you know, the seniors are always out in the forefront. This is a group of guys who have been through a lot. They’ve hung together well and they’ve done a nice job of preparing weekly. Just not preparing themselves but preparing their teammates. They’ve got to keep that up and be consistent in what we do and how we prepare.”
Can you remember the first time you ever watched this game and said to yourself, “I want to be a part of that?”
“Wow. Uh. Boy. I can’t remember how old I was or anything, but my dad had a chance and played for Woody Hayes. Loved coach Hayes. You know, that game you were always watching. So I can’t tell you how old I was or anything else, but it’s always been a special significance, at 12 noon, that last Saturday in November or the Saturday before Thanksgiving -- you’re watching that football game.”
Why do you call them “Ohio” rather than “Ohio State”?
“Always. So whenever always is.”
(more after the jump)
Did you take any notes about Bo’s 1969 transition and beating Ohio State?
“You know, no. I think I probably was well educated before, being here for eight years, Bo still being with us. There’s a significance. The biggest thing is the respect that those two programs have had for each other for years. I can remember Bo always talking and Lloyd and Mo, the great respect. That’s what makes it such a great game -- because of how both will come in prepared, how both teams will play. It’s a hard-hitting, clean football game, and always has been. You can be the favorite and you can be the underdog, but none of that matters in this football game. It never does. It’s special because of the pridefulness that both teams have.”
Do you remember where you were the last time Michigan beat Ohio State in 2003, and how motivated is this program to end the losing streak?
“I have a problem remembering what I did yesterday, but I don’t know where I was. I was probably coaching a football game.”
You said you’ve called them “Ohio” forever.
“Always, I said. Not forever.”
Did calling Ohio State “Ohio” mess you up when you were coaching in the MAC and playing Ohio?
That’s seriously what you did? You just called them the Bobcats?
“You know, I had two nieces who went to school there.”
Last year Michigan was struggling and Ohio State was riding high. This year the roles are reversed. Can you comment on how quickly things change?
“Well I think it’s in life. Things change everyday. Babies are born, people die, things happen all the time. It’s just how things are. Our teams are different every year. We’ll be a different team next year than we are this year. Good or bad, I have no clue. But I just think there are things, and when you’re in athletics and the competitiveness, and the chemistry that’s part of successful teams, it just changes. Changes a lot, for one reason or another. The one thing I do know, though. This game is a game that’s played by people who care about their institutions. They care about the guys that are out there. They care about the guys who played before them. And they care about either school and the future. That’s what this game represents because of the respect.”
Would you say the season would be a disappointment if you lose to Ohio State, even though you’ve already won nine games?
“Well, look. Our goal was to win the Big Ten championship. Period. That’s an expectation. It’s an expectation at Michigan. We’ve got one more guaranteed opportunity, and we started with 12. This is the 12th one. We have to prepare like we have and play our best football.”
How did the idea of the countdown clocks arise?
“Uh, you know, you want to motivate your players on a daily basis. It’s just a reminder. It goes back to the great rivalry that this game is. There’s a clock for this great rivalry and for when we play Michigan State. Those two games have always held a significant in Michigan football history, and they will continue to.”
How do you keep emotions in check throughout the week and stay focused?
“You know, I can only judge from what I’ve seen to this point, and it seems like we’re a pretty grounded team right now. Hopefully we’ll do a good job as coaches of making sure that our guys worry about the things that matter, and that’s how you line up and compete on every play, and how you execute on every play. That’s our job, and the job of our seniors also.”
Would you still like to see that kind of chippiness in practice, though?
“I hope. I always like it. So if I like something, I like to see it.”
Is there a single moment or game from when you were an assistant here before that stands out in your mind?
“Well, you know, shoot. Yeah there’s some good and some bad. The ’97 game was obviously memorable because of, I think, the competitiveness of both teams. And then, I can’t remember the year -- going up there and Clarett made a great play late in the game to really secure the win for them.”
What does it mean that your team has put together its best performance this late in the season?
“Well I don’t know if it means anything until we see how they play this week. And how we prepare and how we go out there and play. We hope to get better every week. It’s part of what we believe in as a staff. We hope we get better everyday and improve from a fundamental side and technique to the demeanor that we want to play the games with. You can’t answer that question until probably about four o’clock on Saturday afternoon.”
Mark Huyge said you talk about the game everyday. Can you talk about the emphasis you’ve placed on this game throughout the season?
“We just talk about playing Ohio.”
On that first day, I asked you a question and you said, “This is Michigan.”
“You’re the one who asked that?”
“I was wondering who asked that. I couldn’t see so good.”
On that day, if I would have told you you’d be on the verge of 10 wins and playing for a potential BCS bowl game, would you have believed me?
“Oh I don’t know. Look, I don’t look too far into the future about anything besides handling the business at the time. I don’t know. I think the one thing is this senior class has been through an awful lot. Three head coaches, three assistant coaches as far as positionally, some of them four. The credit goes to them and how they have responded and how they’ve led. I’m proud of this class. I couldn’t tell you speculation about anything or hypotheticals. We’re just trying to get better everyday as a program.”
You were pounding the podium about beating Ohio. How much of it was planned in terms of how you wanted to set the tone, and how much of that just kind of came out?
“Well, believe me, if you remember, it wasn’t scripted. Somebody asked me a question. I answered a question.”
Sometimes transitions aren’t very smooth. How quickly did your team buy in and start getting your message?
“Uh, you know, I can’t tell you it was quick. We’ve done some things together from a trust standpoint throughout winter conditioning and that whole semester of spring ball and those things. I think that’s all part of it. I think our honesty, which sometimes is tough love and sometimes is kissing guys on the cheek when they do things right, has been a part of it. I just think they also as a group made a decision that they were going to stay together, and they were going to have a purpose and a purpose for Michigan.”
How important is this game to the seniors, some of whom have never beaten either Michigan State or Ohio State? Do you sense their legacy is on the line?
“I think, to be honest with you, I think some of them are probably putting a little too much on themselves than they need to. All you have to do is go out there and play for the guy next to you and play as hard as you can, and play with the greatest toughenss you have, and let it go. Win or lose, they’re going to go out and play hard -- both teams are. Because that’s the character of both these programs. That’s what makes the whole week exciting and makes it fun, because you know at 12:07 or whenever we kick off here, there’s going to be two teams on that field that are playing for the pride of their schools and the pride of what the tradition of those programs stand for. To me, that’s what makes it the greatest rivalry.”
Can you talk about Braxton Miller and the tough job it is to defend against him?
“It’s a tough job. I think, and I’ve gotten to watch I think five games now or four games, he’s impressive. He’s a Wayne High School guy -- they used to be in our league, the WOL, when I was in high school. He does a great job for them. The way he handles himself, I think how under pressure he’s played. I think he throws the ball, I think he has a great strong arm. I know his percentage isn’t what it will be or would like to be, but I think he’s done a tremendous job, and we’ve got our work cut out for us. And then when you put Herron in there, he’s a great back.”
What was the kind of reception you got when you first started recruiting in Ohio?
“Well, I’m fortunate enough that I’ve recruited that state at two different schools, and being from the state. There’s a lot of those high school coaches that I’ve spent a lot of time with, either from a recruiting standpoint, clinic standpoint, a lot of them have come up to our clinic for years during spring ball and talked a lot of football with them when I was here for eight years as a defensive line coach. And being from the dayton area, there’s a lot of guys I know from down there. I know the quality of football in that state and how it’s coached. It’s always been an important part of Michigan football are those guys who come up here to Ann Arbor.”
What kind of uphill battle did you have to face recruiting in Ohio because for a while Ohio State had a stranglehold on the state?
“I can’t answer if there was an uphill battle or not. We’re just going to be who we are and be honest with people and those kinds of things.”
How much of your philosophy was shaped by coaching or watching this game?
“Well I think it was shaped earlier than that, but this game yearly was I think on the Big Ten Network. This was before the season, they were showing some of the great classic Michigan-Ohio games. It was -- just how hard those guys played. They had that bad turf and everything else in their stadiums, but it was the physicalness that they played with, it was fun. It was football. They were running the ball, and then they were stopping the run.”
Everybody knows about the losing streak. How much does that hang over your psyche?
“To be honest with you, I haven’t talked about that at all with our team, and I probably won’t. We’ve got educated young men. They’re here at a great university, and I think me telling them that would probably insult them and their intelligence.”
We didn’t see Vincent Smith on Saturday, but he was dressed. Was he banged up?
“Yeah, his shoulder’s banged up a little bit, but he could have played to a point. Hop did a nice job in there in some pass protection stuff, which Stephen, I think, is really coming on in a lot of different areas. So it was one of those decisions, third-quarterish, that [was] let’s just sit him.”
How well do you know Luke Fickell, and how much empathy do you have for his situation?
“Well, it’s always tough. Luke is a guy who I have a lot of respect for. When we were at Ball State we went up and talked defense with him and Heacock and all those guys. They were always very open and really good people.”
Do you get excited to play against another defensive-minded coach?
“The one thing -- Luke’s not playing and neither am I. That has nothing to do with it, to be honest with you. Neither one of us is playing. It’s preparing our kids to play the best.”
You said it doesn’t matter who’s favored or not favored in this game. How big is momentum?
“I think it’s just like every game. You have to take care of the football. You can’t give the football to the opponent. The ball security, the decisions that you make, reducing the number of big plays, your field position that you gain or lose in the special teams. I mean, to me, it’s all that kind of stuff.”
A lot has been said about the improvement of the defense. What do you see that the defense is doing better than when you took over?
“Well, number one, there’s four coaches over there who are doing a great job of teaching. There are seniors, like Martin and Van Bergen and Woolfolk and JB Fitzgerald, that have done a tremendous job of understanding you start with the fundamentals, you start with the technique, you start with the discipline that you’re going to play, each one of those things with your eyes, and then the ability to get 11 hats to the ball. The demeanor that they’re going to play with that way.”
You have only one game film for DeVier Posey.
“Like you said, there’s some good receivers in this league that have done a nice job, and there are some good receivers that we’ve played, and he’s right up there with those guys. Really it comes down to, and you can study all you want, but it really comes down to how you actually play especialy in the back end with the discipline of your eyes and alignments and your feet.”
Despite your success so far, much of the season is defined by this game. How do you handle that kind of pressure?
“Be consistent. Be consistent with how you’ve coached all year long. I think that’s one thing we’ve always tried to do. Win on a Saturday or lose on a Saturday. We do the same things, we practice the same, we have the same expectations in practice and their film study and their preparation. You know, I may look at this different -- this is fun! I mean, are you kidding me? Our kids -- this has got to be fun. It’s hard work and it should be because nothing you do that comes easy -- it’s hard. It’s fun for them.”
Do you think your players will find it fun?
“I hope so. That’s a good question for them. But -- it’s fun!”
You talk about coaching consistently. Do you get more intense this week?
“We’ve been intense pretty much all year in how we practice. I know one thing from being here before for eight years: you didn’t have to do a whole lot of coaching this week. You didn’t have to do a whole lot of butt-chewing and getting a guy to run to the ball or getting a guy to take on a blocker. Not this week.”
Are you angry at all about the seven-game losing streak and being outscored 120-24 the last three seasons?
“That’s not very good.”
No it’s not.
“No. I agree with you.”
“That’s not very good.”
You said that!
“But you agreed!”
For you, as a coach and as someone who’s been invested in the program for so long, does that make you angry?
“For me to be angry about it doesn’t do anybody any good. It is what it is. It’s, I think, 21-29 (Ed: ?). There’s a lot of guys who’ve played here in this program and there’s a lot of guys who will play on Saturday that we have to make sure we’re giving them every opportunity to play their best football as coaches. So my emotional state doesn’t help anybody. And I’m in a very good emotional state right now.”
Did you bring up the BCS as all to your players?
“No. No. It’s not important. Number one, we don’t make any decisions, and secondly, it’s not important. What’s important is what we do today when they come in to look at some film on the opponent, and then how we practice Tuesday, how we practice Wednesday and Thursday, and how our meetings go on Friday night and how we walkthrough Saturday morning. Those are the things that are important. We have nothing to do with -- we don’t make the decisions. We have 12 guaranteed opportunities. We have to finish, and that’s what this game is. It’s a finishing game.”
Do you change up the practice schedule at all this week?
“Yeah, because of Thanksgiving. We’re going to go in the morning on Thursday. We’ve got Thanksgiving dinner, about 500 people, because parents are coming in and all that. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”