[image via Maize & Blue News]
[Ed. A—Thanks to Orion Sang and The Michigan Daily crew for passing along audio]
This is kind of interesting for us.
Just last year we were on the other side—
“Oh, that’s right, on the other—”
How’s it been for you?
“Uh, this has been just a great opportunity and coach Harbaugh has been a guy that obviously I’ve followed for a long time, and the opportunity to come and learn from him and kind of see how someone else kind of does it and puts it together, it’s really been a lot of fun.”
Can you take us through how he contacted you, and how long did it take you to jump on this offer?
“Well, kind of, maybe, I don’t know if he got the wrong number and I answered. You know, I don’t really know how it came about but we got a phone call and was obviously very excited to come and, if nothing else, just getting an opportunity to kind of stand in the background and see how something’s operated, and that’s what’s been really good. He extended the offer and I was really excited about that. My wife and I are really excited about being in Ann Arbor.”
Taking over the wide receiver group, what was the first thing you wanted to teach this group of wide receivers?
“Well, I think there obviously is a lot of talent there, and good, young talent. The thing I really enjoy is being in that room with them. They’re really good people, good young men.
“For us, one of the focus areas has been ability to, number one, get open, especially against all the press coverage that you see. They’ve really worked on honing their skills and trying to do what we’re trying to teach them to do, and yet we’ve got a long ways to go, but at the same time it’s really a fun group of guys and it’s great to be around them.”
[After THE JUMP: Curr Dogg, SEC speed, and how the basketball team could fuel the WR group’s success]
Did you remember much about them from that game last year?
“Yeah, and we knew a little bit about obviously the personnel and we knew the talent that was there. Obviously Tarik [Black] got us on a big one and we knew a lot about Donovan [Peoples-Jones] going into it. And, you know with—it’s great, we even had Grant Perry back today. He was able to go through some drills, but yeah, they’re definitely some good players. Really like the way Tarik is attacking it as well. Just like to say they’ve been very attentive and fun to work with.”
With so many—or, a few new faces on the offensive side, how much have you been able to shape the offense?
“Like I said, I came in to learn and learn what Pep’s teaching and help in any way I can.”
But certainly you’re contributing, you’re offering some—
“I hope I am.” [laughs]
What kind of things did you bring to the table?
“You know, more than anything I think just trying to understand what and how and then maybe over the years of doing this maybe there’s a thing or two that maybe can help our guys play fast. But like I said, not reinventing it. It’s an offense that’s here and I’m just trying to learn it.”
Were you looking for an opportunity to watch someone else drive the ship after doing it for a while yourself?
“I mean, just any opportunity from that standpoint. You learn how much you miss it when you’re away from it, and I was away from it for a time. And more than anything, the camaraderie of the staff and more than that, being able to be around the players and affect their lives in a positive way.”
You’ve crossed paths with Jim before. Anything surprise you about how he was running things?
“You know, I really obviously studied him from afar but never been on the inside of it. There’s a lot of things that I’ll take with me if ever given the opportunity again that we’ve learned from him, and then I just look forward to continually learning.”
What are the pieces that stand out?
“I think probably his approach really with the team itself, how he interacts with that. How he handles some of the outside things that go on, and he does a great job with that. And I think his preparation is something that’s really good.”
In the past Jim has had a fairly all-hands-on-deck approach to calling plays and running the offense and stuff like that. Is that different this year with Pep sort of running the show?
“Yeah, he’s kind of running it and like I said, we’re just here to help him.”
With the wide receivers, where have you seen improvement so far? What still needs to be improved between now and September 1st?
“You know, what I’ve seen is I think their approach to being aggressive. Took a lot from our basketball team from the standpoint of going up and getting rebounds, man. That ball, when it’s in the air, you know, getting it off the glass in a hurry, getting it [inaudible], making sure that when we do get the opportunity down the field, the things that are referred to as 50/50 balls, we’ve got to come up with those and give our offense an opportunity to change field position.”
Is anyone in particular winning that battle for 50/50 balls?
“You know, just like I said, right now as a group, I think we’ve touched on Tarik and Donovan. Oliver Martin I think has really stepped up and done some really great things. Moving forward, it’s great to get Grant back a little bit. Obviously Nico Collins has been doing a great job. He’s dinged up a little bit. I mean, it’s nothing earth-shatterig. He’s been held out a little bit. Looking forward to getting him back in that rotation as well as we kind of move forward.”
When you first stepped in, did you sense frustration in that receiver group with their output last year?
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t sense [that], no. I was trying to learn their names. [laughs] But no, I didn’t sense anything.”
We had a couple of defensive backs come in and mention Jake McCurry. You don’t always hear a lot about walk-ons.
“Oh yeah, Curr Dogg.”
Should we be reading into that?
“I tell ya, he’s a guy that’s stepped up. And Nate Schoenle has done some things. I mean, those guys, I just can’t tell you how proud I am of ‘em for how hard they come out and work.
“We really try to focus on paying attention to details and what are details? Those are the everyday things that you do in your life to help you be successful. And you know what, for the most part they’ve been trying to accomplish that and it’s great to see. And they’re fun to be around. I’ll say that again. It’s great to be back in that room and build the relationships and be a part of their lives.”
It’s only been a few months but how are you feeling about being able to just be a football coach as opposed to the CEO of a football team? Are you enjoying that?
“I mean, I’ve had great opportunities and the last opportunity was a great one. We made some wonderful friends and learned a lot. This is another opportunity for us to get a little bit better and there again, just being involved and helping some guys grow.”
You know firsthand about SEC speed. How does this compare? Is it a myth that the Big Ten, or for instance Michigan, doesn’t keep up with an SEC team’s speed?
“You know, I think each league is built differently because you build your teams to win your conference. And yeah, we’ve got some speed here and what Don and those guys have done on defense and the people that they’ve kind of brought in to what he does defensively, there’s a lot of overall team speed that’s really good here.
“And we’ve got some guys that can run pretty good on the outside as well, so, you know, it’s hard to say. You get in those matchups and it kind of proves one way or the other.”
What’s it like going up against a Don Brown defense?
“Every day’s an adventure. It’s actually, just for me personally, I was able to go against him when we were at Colorado State and he was at Boston College. Obviously a couple times recently, and the guy’s really good.
“And one of the great things kind of about this game is the chess match and your ability to stay up late and find a way to simplify it for your guys, and what his defense does is really force you to kind of really step back, number one, and make sure that you’re sound in everything that you do because if you’ve got an open gap, he’s going to find it.”
A lot of those young guys have talked about releases, getting off the ball—receivers, anyway—something last year they thought they maybe struggled with. How much have you emphasized that this spring and how much growth have you seen?
“You know, every day. As you build your teaching manual, I guess for lack of a better term, as wide receivers, a lot of people point to the ability just to catch the ball.
“Well, you aren’t going to catch it if you aren’t open, so the number one that we do and we start every practice with, we’ve had great work with our secondary in some individual release drills just trying to help our guys put some things in their toolbox to help them be successful, and I think it’s—so far, I’ve seen a lot of progress.”
I know it’s early but how would you evaluate the three quarterbacks your guys are working with?
“Well, you know, there’s a group working there that I think have been doing a good job, and more than anything, we’ve focused with that receiver group about, you know, let’s make them look good. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and that’s kind of been the point of emphasis.”
A couple of years ago ESPN asked a bunch of coaches for a one-word response to Jim Harbaugh to describe him. Yours was…you looked around in the answer. If we asked you that now—
Yeah. You sort of didn’t answer.
“Probably because I was like, well, [laughs], I don’t even know the guy.”
You know him now. What is your impression? You knew of him, obviously.
Had met him a couple of times.
“Uh, great ball coach.”
Ultimately, how can these wide receivers make the offense better?
“Well, you know, that’s a position that you have an opportunity to truly affect the game in a positive way. You can have an opportunity to change field position drastically with your play, and that’s what we’re hoping within the system that’s built to be able to go do.”
You enjoying this weather?
“Yeah, I’ll plead the fifth on that.”
It’s not usually like this.
“The ol’ ‘it’s not usually like this.’ I gotcha.”