“How’s it goin’? Lousy out there, eh? It’s that fall football weather. I love it.”
You’ve got to be pretty pleased with where things are right now with this defense.
“You know, it’s been a good seven weeks. Going through some learning curves and not everything’s perfect. You kind of ride the wave. You know, we had three bad plays last week. [mimics shooting self in neck] Bmmf. Not a good thing. You don’t want to give up any.
“We didn’t do a good job fitting up one of the runs on the long zone, and we let #5 out. Obviously two pass plays. They got Ben Gedeon matched up with #11, who’s a very good player. So whoever arranged that matchup for us is an idiot. It happens to be me. We’re hoping—it’s one of those scenarios where you’re in one of your zone blitzes and you’re anticipating getting there; through protection they did a good job getting it picked up a little bit. And then obviously I’d have liked to see us play that ball a little better in the endzone, but it is what it is and we move on.
“Again, nobody’s perfect. We’ve got some work to do. Helpful we brought a bunch of guys. But at the same time, I thought they did a good job of saying on third down, let’s get into vacant and get the ball out. But at the end of the day, they threw the ball 15 times, we had one sack and seven quarterback knockdowns, and six of ‘em weren’t very friendly so it takes its toll and it impacts the completion percentage for sure. Once again, we got off the field on third down about as well as you can.”
You mentioned letting #5 out. You had a #5 that chased him down. Can you talk about the effort on that kind of play?
“Yeah, you know, and it’s funny. It’s a great pickup by you. We talked about it yesterday in our defensive meeting. Sometimes those kinds of things happen, and when they do, you’ve got to go run ‘em down and start all over again, and we were able to get that done and then get off the field with no points. So, huge play by our #5. And again, he’s coming from the backside, so that’s all effort and energy right there to get there, but it’s a great point.
“We were in a five-man pressure, and like I tell them, if we give up something in a five-man pressure, guess what? The next play I guarantee you will be a five-man pressure, so you might as well just get used to that because we’re not going to back off. We’re not going to go, ‘Oh, that didn’t work!’ We’re just not going to do that.
“Great job on his part. I thought he played really well during the course of the game. We bounced him around pretty good positionally and he just continues to—it’s like I said the last time, we ask him to do a lot. Just proud of the way he’s been able to handle concepts. Obviously he’s doing a lot of jobs on a lot of sides of the ball, so it’s pretty interesting.”
[After THE JUMP: …about 20 years ago I used to say, ‘Will you just be a guy!’ As times have gotten modern…]
Have teams adjusted to him at the midway point?
“Yeah, I think they are. We’ve been able to get him clean on blitzes in each and every game going into the last game, and I think they finally said, ‘Hey, wherever he is, slide the protection over there’ which is, hey, that’s a good move on their part. But the wheels will turn and we’ll see what we can do to continue to move on and freshen up the package and go from there.”
We talked to your players about their relationship with you and the admiration they have for you. Talk about that side of things. Talk about building the relationships with these guys in your first year here.
“This is an unbelievable group of guys. You know, to get their attention and get them to buy in has been I wouldn’t say an easy task, but easier than anticipated, I’ll say that. You know, obviously have great respect for the guys that coached in front of me in previous years.
“So, it’s just another way to go about doing it. I told them a story. Back when I worked for Tom [?] at Yale, one of the things he told me, he said, ‘Hey, those players aren’t chess pieces. They’re human beings, and they want to have a relationship with you, so if you want them to play hard for you, develop relationships. Those are the things that are important.’ And, uh, I took that to heart. The most important thing you do is get those guys to understand that we’re all in it together, we’re all human beings, we all care about one another, and that’s good times and in bad. You know, it’s easy to do when you’re, I guess, 7-0. Tough to do when you’re on the off-side of that coin, but you just gotta remember it because it’s a really important piece.”
What goes into the Dude of the Week?
[chuckles] “I don’t know, maybe I should bring it back. It’s funny, when I left BC, some of the BC people said, ‘Ohhhh, he’s stealing our Dude of the Week.’ Wait a minute! That was my Dude of the Week. I let you borrow it!”
What are the origins of the Dude?
“It’s actually—if you go back and ask some of the players, about 20 years ago I used to say, ‘Will you just be a guy!’ As times have gotten modern, more modern—”
You saw The Big Lebowski…
“It went from Guy to Dude. Now if you’re a Guy you’re here [holds hand flat at about the middle of his stomach], which is good, being a Guy is good, but if you’re a Dude you’re up here [holds hand over head].
“My son was telling me about Dymonte Thomas. He’s a Dude. He certainly played very well last week. I really was happy with his performance last week. I thought he was around the ball all day, and his leadership ability—and you talk about him and Delano Hill taking on a ton of responsibility in terms of getting us line up and functional to this point, it’s really…and a lot of offenses have been bouncing around, trying to get into unbalanced and get us unsettled early. I think those guys have done a nice job, because we struggled early. I’m trying to remember the game…UCF, early? Yeah. We’ve been fairly settled now for several weeks in a row as the game begins. I think their teammates have kind of been able to get adjusted and get settled into the game because of their communication on the back end.”
The guys aren’t chess pieces, but you seem like a guy who enjoys the chess-match part of it--
“Oh, I didn’t say I didn’t like it!”
Do you have to compartmentalize those two sides of things?
“No, I think obviously when you’re in the meeting room and you’re watching tape and doing all those things, I don’t know exactly what you mean by compartmentalize, but boy, everything’s about trying to get your guys in the best position possible to make plays or in some cases put them in the least line of chance for negative success or negative success. You want your guys to have a chance to be successful, so that’s where the chess match is.
“But once you get in the meeting room, you know, we’re in there a long time. Better be able to laugh a little bit, talk about life a little bit, talk about each other and share in one another’s company. That’s really important, now. Like I told you, relationships are all there is in this game.”
One thing that Wilton said yesterday is that the worst month of his life was facing your defense in camp. Is that kind of what you want to instill in your defense, to have opposing offenses and quarterbacks fear them?
“Well, we certainly want to challenge them, that’s for sure. It’s not supposed to be easy. If it’s easy for the, it’s gonna be tough for us. If it’s easy for us and we can make it tough on them, that’s really the avenue that we want to take. You know, he’s being very nice. That young man’s played extremely well. He kind of poked his head in and said he’s going to grow a mustache. Not sure it’s going to be better than mine, though. I think he’s played tremendously well and done a great job of reading our football team, and I’m really happy for him. “
Prior to last year, Michigan State had dominated this series defensively in recent seasons. Do you sense an extra resolve this week from your guys in that regard?
“Well, I can tell it’s Michigan State week. I know that. Obviously my first experience, so I’m kind of going feeding off my guys. We’re going to prepare exactly the same way we prepare each and every week because the reality is if I tell you it’s Michigan State week and all of a sudden we’re going to buckle down in the staff room, then what have we been doing for seven weeks? That’s just not happening. It’s the same for us in terms of the preparation. I get a sense from our guys that it’s a little bit more important. There’s no question about it. That would be a lie if I said it wasn’t.”
How much have you enjoyed this job and how long could you see yourself being here?
“That’s a good question. The enjoyment level is up here [holds hand high again]. I work for a great boss. He’s given me a great opportunity. I work with a great defensive staff. Great players, beautiful area, great town. Really loving Ann Arbor. How long? I don’t know. Do I look old?”
Do you have ambitions to maybe be a head coach again?
“Uh, I don’t think beyond what I’m doing. You know, there’s no question about it. Let’s just say this: if this ended up being it for me, I’d be more than happy. The one thing I won’t do, though, is—you know, talking to some of the guys that I’ve been friendly with in the profession—and unfortunately I’m on the other side of whatever you want to call it—they all say you’ll know. When I hit it, that’s the end of it. I’m not cheating anybody. So when it gets to that point, we’ll move on and that’s it, because I won’t cheat the game and more importantly won’t cheat the players that are in the game. You got an energy level, you got expertise, you gotta be willing to research in the offseaon, you gotta be willing to take chances, do those things. If you can’t do that you get out, but how long? I don’t know. I’m having a blast and my health is good, so life is good.”
You said working with the players has been easier than you thought. Is that a function of the guys mostly being older? You’ve got a pretty veteran group.
“You know, that’s funny. It almost is like we’re coaching two defenses. You know what’s amazing? That’s a great, great point. If you look at our first defense, some days I come in and I go ‘Damn, you guys are pretty good,’ but our second group, looking at it, it’s all young guys—I mean really young guys. They’re like off the charts going this way [mimics hitting an inflection point and juts his hand into the air], shooom. You know, obviously the Rutgers game, it is what it is, but those guys played half the game and a bunch of those guys played last week. it’s interesting because I think our young guys are off the charts, and one of the things we decided to do is give the second team half the reps so you’re not—we’re trying to keep our first unit fresh, conceptually sharp, but we’re trying to bring that second unit along because you’re going to blink your eyes and that second unit’s going to be the first unit. We’re trying to be conscious in that area as we move forward.”
When did you make that change?
“Gradually after…it wasn’t UCF. Yeah, Colorado. After Colorado we started giving even reps, and part of that—I mean, when you practice football, it’s not easy. It’s just not. So, you’re trying to keep your guys fresh, keep them conceptually sharp, teach them the gameplan, don’t cheat them in that respect, and divide the reps so that everybody’s learning because you’re going to need them all by the end of this thing. So that’s been the plan. Whether we do or don’t is inconsequential. Get ‘em all ready.”