Q&A With Coach Tom Nordquist

The Sun Devils' running backs coach doesn't dispute the lack of production that plagued his group last season, but does see much brighter days in 2003. In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, coach Nordquist talks about those matters, his responsibilities as recruiting coordinator, and other various topics.

DevilsDigest: Coach, how would you evaluate the 2002 season from a running backs perspective?

Tom Nordquist: "A lot of running backs got to play last year, but obviously the production wasn't up to par in terms of what we like. That's not pointing the finger at anybody, but just something that we focused on this spring so we can improve our running game."

DD: When you talk about the problems that the running game had last year, can you pinpoint it to a few specific factors?

TN: "We've looked at the film and evaluated it. I know I need to do a better job in making sure they understand where the hole should open, where they need to hit it…like any coach I take full responsibility for it. We have to do a better job. I don't point the finger at anybody. They'll be a reflection of my coaching, and I have to do a better job of helping them understand it and execute it. It will happen."

DD: For good or for bad, last season there wasn't one dominating and consistent running back all season long. How do you view this?

TN: "We'd love to have one guy who would be the workhorse so to speak. But until we have that guy, we'll have to go by the running back by committee. We're still in the same boat right now – there hasn't been a guy that has stepped up and taking off."

DD: When people talk about the Dirk Koetter offense, they mainly mention the big passing plays than the running ones. However, for every offense to be successful there needs to be a balance between the two. Do you think that in this offense the pass actually sets up the run?

TN: "I've been with Coach Koetter six years and I know what he wants he wants to get done. We haven't had that running success year, but the bottom line is that we won games. The year before we had a 1,000-yard rusher but we were 4-7. Do we want to lead the league in rushing or do we want to win the Pac-10 championship passing the ball?…when the running game is gonna click we gonna go with it. I've been on teams where we had great success running the football, so we're not setting up the run with the pass. We don't try to do one thing over the other. We're a balanced offense, but when you can't run the ball you have to throw it. It just looks like we're strictly throwing the ball down the field."

DD: Going into this past spring practice, what were your goals for the running back group and did you feel that they were accomplished?

TN: "You always want to come out of spring having a depth chart for fall camp. As running backs we wanted to understand our reads better, when to make our cuts, how to attack the ball down hill…we have some young guys in the group and for them it was just learning everything from scratch. You have a guy like Mike Williams who has been in this offense for three years, and knows to run it with his eyes blindfolded."

DD: Spring practice featured the two redshirt running backs, Loren Wade and Randy Hill, and each of them had a solid showing. Is that what you expected from them coming off their play on the scout team, or did they surprise you in some way?

TN: "Scout team – you put some stock in it but not a lot. Let's face it; the guys you face on the scout team aren't the same guys you'll face on Saturdays. However, relatively speaking, they're young guys and they did a great job. I think what I was most pleased with is their progress in term of understanding the offense and what it takes. I knew they weren't afraid to stick their nose in there and compete, that's never the question. With a young guy, you wonder if he understands protections, rather than is the run going to the right or the left. Almost every running back can figure that one out…but when you have all your different protections, reads, and executing that's what's hard. But those guys probably progressed more than anyone I've seen at this position. I'm very pleased with these guys, and if they can stay healthy they'll play this year. That's for sure."

DD: Speaking of Williams, at the beginning of last season everyone seemed to think he would be the #1 running back. He struggled through the season, but ended the year being in that starting spot. What's your take on the year he had?

TN: "We know what we get with Mike. That guy is as durable and reliable as they come. He knows the offense quite better than anybody, and he's a great special teams player. It was just a point in the season where we had to make a change at the tailback position, and go with a guy we felt that was running the ball more effectively at the time. Those are decisions that Coach Koetter and I talk about, and not just a snap of the finger because it affects everybody. Mike is a great character guy. He understood and wanted to know what he had to do better. He kept on improving and doing great things towards the later part of the season. That being said, he was the #1 guy so to speak in the spring, and will be the #1 guy going into the fall. But we also understand that we have a lot of talent at running back. There may not be a clear cut # 1 guy. It may be a number of guys again getting an equal number of reps. That's yet to be determined."

DD: Another accomplished senior in your group is fullback Mike Karney. Can you speak of his importance to the running back core?

TN: "There's no better fullback out there. You can't ask for more out of a guy. He absolutely loves the game; he's one of our top 11 players we want out there on the field. He's never wanted to be a vocal leader. He's admitted to that, and I understand. He does lead by example, and I appreciate that and let him go to work."

DD: Aside from being the running backs coach, you also have the recruiting coordinator responsibility. For those that aren't quite familiar with this role, can you tell us what it entails?

TN: "I coordinate when coaches go out and do their evaluations, recruiting visits. I set up the planning for the guys that are going to trip here. One thing that our staff does, and I'm fortunate to be a part of it - we all take pride in recruiting and work hard at it. We don't throw a bunch of responsibilities at one person. I have the title and the added responsibility, but every coach here takes an active role. I set up the game plan and the procedures that we follow, but once that's in place our staff rolls out like a machine."

"I'm also in charge of recruiting in-state, especially in the Phoenix area. I've been recruiting this area for ten seasons, and that's how I met Coach Koetter. So, I have a lot of knowledge of the state and connections down here. I'm one of the coaches who actually enjoys recruiting, and all aspects of it."

DD: As a recruiting coordinator, do you find more or less obstacles now than you did a few years ago?

TN: "The Internet. They want to print up everything we do. It's getting worse. It's not getting better. When you're at the so-called lower levels like Boise State you're not on the Internet. Recruiting is recruiting. You have to find the best players possible. You just go out and evaluate the best players period. That will never change."

DD: Was there any reason aside from pure numbers that a running back wasn't signed in this last recruiting class?

TN: "We want to sign X number of players each year at every position. You have an ideal number of guys you want to have on scholarship at each position. Our team right now, without losing anybody (at running back) has that ideal number. If we did get one - great. If we didn't, it totally doesn't affect us. As you lose guys you want to fill needs. The O-line for example was a priority, but running back wasn't."

DD: Looking at spring practice all the four main running backs played well each in their own right, and Hakim Hill is coming back for Camp Tontozona. I'm sure as the group's coach, it's never a bad thing to have such a great stable of running backs…

TN: "Every coach loves to have quality depth, and I have it. We'll see how it shakes out. Each guy has different strengths. Some guys played in a lot of games and some haven't played in any. But it when it gets to game time, those things don't matter. We'll see what happens."

DD: Going into 2003, what are your thoughts as they relate to the running backs group?

TN: "We do have five quality players. It's hard to play all five if everyone stays healthy. You have one ball, and you want to run X number of times in a game. My challenge going into Camp Tontozona is for them focusing wanting to be the number one guy and leaving the friendships aside. It's time to be the man and set yourself apart. They realize the difference between number one and number five is really thin. Every little thing is gonna count, and I think they understand that. But we haven't arrived to that time yet, and we'll see if they really grasped it. I'm fortunate that they are good friends with each other and they see what's at stake. They support one another whomever that guy may be. But I still think that any football player that a competitor wants to be the man deep down inside. We'll see who will rise to the occasion."

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