Via the Big Ten.
An Interview With:
MICHIGAN COACH RICH RODRIGUEZ
THE MODERATOR: Next up is Rich Rodriguez.
COACH RODRIGUEZ: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for coming. I'm excited to be here. There's probably no one more excited in the country to start coaching football than I am. So it's good we start in a week really excited about this year's team.
The last two years have, there have been quite a lot of experiences, a lot of drama, so to speak. But I think our guys have stayed focus. It's fun to be around them, watching them grow up, see our young guys get some experience, take their lumps a little bit.
And I think there's a lot of hungry football players up in Ann Arbor, and I think they're as excited as I am to get going. We have some questions, certainly, on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, we know we've got to play a lot better. I think we'll be a little bit deeper. We'll have more guys I think ready to play. Our numbers are really down last year, and I think that hurt us a little bit. And so we went into the season particularly the later part of the year we weren't as deep and did not play be able to play as many guys as we like.
Offensively, we should be better up front. Lot more experience on the offensive line than we had the last two years. Last year playing the two freshmen quarterbacks at times we were productive, but other times we weren't. And that's to be expected. But those guys should be better.
And I think overall, from a football team, we'll have a little bit more experience, as we mentioned. We have a lot of guys coming back. But for us the key is to be able to execute better. Certainly play better defensively and answer some of the questions we have on both sides of the ball on special teams.
I am really proud of our staff and our players for staying focused through all the things that have been going on. As I said, there's been quite a lot of things going on for two years and at times the two years have gone past. And at times it seemed like forever. But nonetheless I think we've been able to stay focused and get some things accomplished the way we wanted in building our program.
So with that, I would open it up for questions and go from there.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. With Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson coming back, are either of them the clear leader for the starting position? Or do you know what's going on at quarterback at the beginning of the season?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: I was taking an informal poll for how long the quarterback question would come up. Didn't take long. Thanks for asking.
Really it's a wide open competition. It was in spring. Certainly Tate and Denard both got a lot of experience last year as true freshmen. Tate was enrolled early, so he had a little more experience in the offense with spring practice. Also get a challenge from Devin Gardner, who is a freshman enrolled early, was able to go through spring practice.
I'll be able to tell who retained what from practice and how they progressed. I thought Denard Robinson took some big steps in the spring, which is to be expected, because it was his first spring. He's gotten better as far as learning what we want to do offensively.
I think that competition is going to be healthy. I've said it several times: Our goal is to have at least two guys at every position that we feel we can win with. I think we can have that at quarterback. If we can have three, if Devin can progress and give us a third guy, be able to compete and feel confident with that position, will put us in a good spot.
It's wide open. I hope it's answered who will be the starter or the two guys by the first game, but it may take a couple games before someone clearly separates themselves, if they do.
Q. Coach, there was a little bit of uncertainty towards the end of the season at linebacker. There was a lot of shuffling in and out of the lineup. We saw different looks during spring practice. What should Michigan look for at the linebacking position and how has Coach (Greg) Robinson taking over the linebacking position as a full time coach changed our outlook for the season?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: I'm excited about Greg Robinson taking over the linebackers. I think he probably prefers that position since he's coached that the majority of his career, whether it's in college or the NFL.
I think we'll have more competition there than we've had. That's been one of the keys. I know it sounds like coach speak to you all. But it has been one of our keys, is try to develop competition at every position. And we frankly have not had enough of that on either side of the ball.
But at linebacker I think we will. Jonas Mouton is a senior. I think he's primed to have a good year. Craig Roh, who played last year as a true freshman as an outside linebacker at 220 pounds I think he's probably closer to 240 or 250 now, and he should be more prepared, more experienced. Obi Ezeh has a lot of experience there. And then we have Kevin Leach who has played a lot of linebacker. I'm probably going to miss some guys, flip it over.
One guy I want to mention here that's here the next couple of days is Mark Moundros, our starting fullback. Came to me in spring and said, Coach, I'd like to try middle linebacker. I said, Mark, wouldn't make much sense for me to move my starting fullback over to a linebacker position during his senior year. He said, I just think I can bring something to the defense.
And he has. From spring practice I noticed not only him learning the defense and adding a kind of a physical presence, but just his leadership. I think his leadership is going to be invaluable for us.
So Mark is going to go compete for a middle linebacker spot, and judging from what happened in the spring, he's going to be right in the mix.
So we're going to have more guys there. Kenny Demens has got some experience last year. He's going to be a little older. So I think there's going to be five or six guys that we can count on.
I don't know if it's going to sort itself out like the quarterbacks. It may be a couple of games, but I think we can play more people.
Q. This spring Cam Gordon by all accounts had a really strong spring. From what you've heard, reports you've heard, has anyone had a really good summer?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: Well, I don't know much about what's going on in the summer. But from talking to some of the players and some of the guys I had the seniors over at my house this past week. We've got a small senior class, which a lot of times is a concern because you want a lot if you have a big senior class, a lot of leads, you feel good.
But our small senior class of 15, 16 guys I think are a great group. They understand what it's like to be at Michigan. They're hungry. They're going to do a great job at leadership.
Talking to those guys they really feel excited about what went on this summer. I thought they did a great job of leadership. They thought some of the guys you mentioned like Cam really prepared themselves well.
And I think that they're ready to go. Again, talking to our guys at the end of spring, they were hungry. Nobody likes what's going on in our program the last couple of years as far as wins and losses.
As strange as it may sound, I think we've gotten closer because of that. And all the stuff that's happened I think has drawn our staff closer, drawn our players closer, and I think they'll be ready to go.
Cam Gordon is another guy we moved from receiver to defensive back in the spring, and we thought he was one of our better performers on our whole team in spring practice.
Q. I don't know how much interaction you have with the fans, but when you do, what has their message been to you?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: Hey, Coach, when are we going to win more? Really, our fans have been terrific. You know, we have high expectations of Michigan. Rightfully so we should.
But since the day we've gotten on campus, they've been overwhelmingly positive. And there's always going to be some negativity, particularly when you don't win. But that comes with the deal. Comes with the profession. I think you understand it. Nobody wants to win more than the coaches and players.
But our fans have been absolutely phenomenal. We've had again, to have 110,000 every home game and the support we have when we go out and talk to different alumni groups has been fantastic. And we've got the new big house that's making its debut on September 4th with luxury seats and suites, and sales have been going very well.
We're fortunate to be at a place where they're very passionate about football, and our fans are very passionate about it. And you want to coach at a place like that.
We've got great fans, and I hope we can reward them with more wins and better football. And I think that's coming.
Q. I'd like to get your thoughts on the potential for the Big Ten championship game, and given the rivalry with Ohio State, have you had thoughts about whether you'd like them in the same division or opposite divisions with Michigan?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: I think that there's probably a lot of talk going on. Nobody really in the league office has asked for my opinion yet. I don't expect them to. Because I think they know what they're doing. In fact, I know they do.
I think it's exciting to have a championship game potentially. I think Jim Delany and the athletic directors and presidents of Big Ten schools will be able to keep that balance of keeping your traditional rivalries, yet still be able to have something new and exciting in the Big Ten conference.
From a player's standpoint, from a coach's standpoint, most of them will probably tell you they like playing, the idea of playing, a championship game. There's pros and cons. I think you look at certain leagues maybe say it's harder to get to a national championship game if you have the championship game at the end.
Our league is so strong and I think the reputation of our league will continue to get better and better particularly with the addition of Nebraska. We're in a very, very good spot.
I really don't have a preference on how they split up divisions, but I do know this, and I think everybody that follows our programs and Ohio State and Michigan State and some of our rivalries will want to keep those together, and I'm sure the Big Ten will put all thoughts into doing that, and I would be I don't know when it's going to happen. And Jim probably can explain that to you, and we're excited doing that. That's a year down the road. I'm not worried about next week; I'm worried about today and tomorrow, and move on.
Q. Speaking of your rivalry game with Ohio State, you've struggled so far in your first two years with it but it was much closer to last year. Do you feel any more pressure on you and your team to perform better in the game this year?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: You know, I think the pressure this is probably an answer you see from a lot of coaches. Coaches say it's pressure you put on yourself, but that's really the truth. No outside pressure can be more than what the coaches put on themselves. I feel pressure just to get better every day in practice. I don't know if the rivalry games you feel any added pressure other than we just need to play better.
And I don't know if you can think that far ahead. For us, as far as going into that game, we need to win it. More so now because we lost the last two. I think we go into every season, we need to win that game. And that's I think that's kind of something that we always feel.
I think we'll always feel that in Michigan and feel it at Ohio State. Certainly Michigan and Michigan State will always feel that. But for myself and our staff, we just know we've got to get better. And when we get better, we'll compete better and we'll win those games when we deserve to win those games.
Last year in particular, the Ohio State game we didn't deserve to win it. We turned the ball over too much. That's why they won.
Q. I'm wondering I don't think I understood your response completely to that question about the rivalry game. Do you want to keep playing Ohio State in that regular season finale?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: Sure, I think we need to keep playing them. And that rivalry may be the greatest rivalry in sports. And I think that will be understood. I think again, I'm just giving my opinion. I think the Big Ten, everybody in the Big Ten office understands rivalries. They understand this. And they'll be able to figure it out where the rivalries can stay together yet you're still competing for a conference championship.
So everybody that follows our program, and probably the same that follows the Ohio State program, wants to keep that rivalry going, expects to keep that rivalry going. And when it's played, I don't know if that's as important as that you play every year. But that's probably what will happen.
I'm just excited about getting ready for camp this year. I'm not putting too much thought into that because I won't have any say so.
Q. Last year you talked about reviewing and getting better as a staff. When you looked back at last year's Michigan State game, the decision to go for the tie and not to go for the win at the end, is that something that you would have looked at? Or is that something that you would think about doing differently again?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: Oh, no, I there's a lot of things that you go back and maybe wish you had a do over. That one I can definitively say we'd go for the overtime every time.
And I've been in a few overtime games before and I've always done it the same way: Kick the extra point when you could, and when you have to go for two, go for two.
That game, at the time we had a chance to tie them, I thought, boy, we're fortunate to have a break and get this thing into overtime. I felt good going into it. Then we had the turnover and didn't stop them. I regretted a lot of things, but not that one.
Q. Can you talk about the state of your secondary right now? I know Troy (Woolfolk’s) here this weekend. Especially after with Demar Dorsey not enrolling, could you talk about where you guys are at with that and developing more young players?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: We're concerned about the guys in the secondary. As you mentioned, Troy had a great spring, great year. Jordan Kovacs we thought played very effectively as a walk on. Back as well. Got some experience. Mike Williams got some experience in the secondary.
We mentioned Cam Gordon, who has not played yet. So always a little hesitant to anoint someone as, hey, this guy's going to be a player until they actually do it in games. But we feel really good about Cam Gordon his role in the secondary.
The guy that probably gave us more confidence in the secondary is J.T. Floyd. He's been in the program just a couple of years. He played a little bit last year for the first time, got some experience. But he had a tremendous spring and he's the guy that we really need to continue to progress. If J.T. Floyd can progress at the other corner, he and Troy will be pretty solid over there.
And the safety position, it's kind of wide open. That's the one position where we may have a few freshmen, true freshmen, have an opportunity to contribute. And that's a little scary to say that.
But we really feel confident in the guys we signed that they're smart guys, they're tough guys. If they can learn quickly in camp, they may be able to help us in the secondary.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.