Q: It has been a wild ride since the time you accepted the head Football coach position at ASU, until you actually set foot on campus. Can you share some of your on and off the job experiences?
A: We were here eight days in early December, and then we had to go back to Boise for two weeks to prepare for our bowl game with Boise State. That was just a weird time. Then we all get back here on January 3rd, and just all the rush of recruiting between then and February 5th was crazy. There was a lot of traveling in and out of town. That period of time just flew by. I'm the type person who likes to have everything under control, and you feel like you're not on top of it. Since the signing date (Feb. 5th) I feel that we got into more of a routine. That's the best thing of bringing seven coaches with you from Boise, and then bringing Tom Osborne whom I have worked with in Oregon. That part has been much better, since we're all on the same page and we know what to expect from each other.
Off the field you have 8-9 guys trying to close on houses here, sell there houses back in Boise, and bring down their families here. I am still living in a hotel without my family, as are other coaches here. The emotional swings you go through are tremendous. From 7:30AM to 6:00 PM everything is smooth. But those hours from 6:00Pm until you go to bed, your mind plays tricks on you. I am missing a soccer game or another activity of my kid. You miss the routine of speaking with your kids every day. Coach Osborne was telling me the other day that he was on the phone with his daughter; she was talking like he was going to be there that night to play with her. That's very hard on your emotions.
We have been having some cultivation events meeting with boosters. That has been great for me, because it gets me out. It also forces the action, because you're out there meeting people, instead of waiting for the action to happen, like going to a Basketball game and maybe run into someone there. It's great for me to go out and see some of our fans and boosters. We also get to see the players work out in the weight room, and get to see their work habits. We have seen some real positives there.
Q: You mention that during a recruiting visit to Tempe fifteen years ago, you looked at Sun Devil stadium, and said to yourself that one day I will coach there. How closely did you follow the ASU program throughout the years?
A: It was hard to follow ASU more than just reading the box score on Sunday. I just felt from recruiting in Tempe, that the potential at Arizona State is huge. It is a great tradition. A lot of schools say that they want to get there. Well, ASU has already been there. We have the facilities and the fans to do well. I'm just happy it's my turn coaching here, and I couldn't be happier.
Q: I'm sure there are a lot of differences between Arizona State and Boise State. Can you put your finger on what the most glairing difference is?
A: I think the one difference that stands out the most to me is the layers. There are a lot more layers that I have to go through here, than I did at Boise State. Just like any Pac-10 school, there are just a lot of layers of managers, assistant athletic directors, and just a lot more personnel. We had bear-bone operations in Boise. I'm not saying that it's good or bad. It's just different, and you have to learn the ropes and procedures on the issues. Some issues are easy to take care of, and on some you have red tape, policies, and procedures. In Boise, we walked through our back door onto the practice field. Here we have to tram down to the field.
Q: What was your first impression of the team when you arrived on campus?
A: Impressions are that they have been very eager and willing doing what we asked them to do. Sometimes when there's a change, you have to convert guys one at a time. We converted them faster than one at a time. When I say convert, it's not like we were converting them from bad to good. But just converting them to the way, which we believe, is the right way to do it, and I don't know if there's one right way to do it. Look at Lavell Edwards' style versus Steve Suprrier's style – they're different buy the both work. I'm not downgrading coach Bruce Snyder in any way, but the way he does things and I do things are different. You have to get everybody on the same page as soon as possible. I guess I pre-conceived in my mind that there was going to be a lot more resistance, and there hasn't been. The players have really bought into it fast, and worked very hard. There are always a couple of guys that you don't know if they're quite with the program. But what has jumped at me is how hard they work and how eager they are to learn.
Q: As far as an opinion on players' skills and abilities, I'm sure you formed some kind of opinion on that topic by watching game film from last year?
A: I tell you what, on that I have watched some game film. But every time I have taken a new job a coordinator or head coach, I try not to make too many judgments based on game film. The reason for that is that you don't know what they have been told. You don't know what a quarterback has been told to all weeks in meetings. So, if that quarterback goes out there and does what he was told to do, then he's doing a good job. It's not hard to see real good players jump right at you. You watch film and it doesn't take too long to figure out that Scott Peters is a great center, those are easy. Film can be important with players who didn't play full time. For example, you watch the Colorado St. game, and you can tell that Mike Williams is a pretty good running back. But you try not to make too many judgments, and I don't try to put too much stake in game film. But we do watch quite a bit of film.
Q: On letter of intent day, you commented on your recruiting class that you wish you could have done better. Given the short time you had to work with, as you alluded to before, don't you think you did a great job under the circumstances?
A: (laughs) I would hope that our coaches and our staff would always be their harshest critics. That may or may not be true. On signing day, every coach in America will get up and say that his class will put his team into the Rose Bowl or whatever. Reality is that when you have a coaching change, and both the outgoing and the incoming coaches have bowl game to coach, your recruiting class won't be what it should be if you were recruiting those guys for a whole year. I'm very proud of the players we got. They will be good Football players. We good a lot of speed. We got the best players in Arizona. But is this the best class we'll ever recruit? No. I'm not downgrading the players we signed, but we lost several players at the end. Those players told us what we didn't want to hear saying this school recruited me for a whole year; you have been recruiting me for three weeks. That hurts. You still want those guys because they can help your program. I just prefer to be honest on the subject. I don't think it's being hard on yourself, it's just reality. You have to tell it as it is.
Q: You mentioned that you're a coach who likes to be in control and have a normal routine. I couldn't help noticing, after meeting all the coaches, that some of them may not be the disciplinarians that you are, but rather a motivator and outspoken coach. Would it be fair to say that your favor an approach which is a golden path between a disciplinarian style of coaching, and an outspoken motivating style?
A: I'm not a rah-rah guy. We do have some coaches on the staff that are, and you need a good mixture of that. I think deep down all players want discipline, but they always want coaches show that they care about them. You can show that you care about them with or without being an outspoken coach. I think each coach has to coach his personality. I would never ask anybody to coach my style, because I may not be able to coach their style. Someone on our coaching staff will appeal to almost all our kids. You have 105 kids on the team, and not all of them will respond to discipline and not all of them will respond to rah-rah. I think you have to have a mixture, but I think it has to be based on discipline. Discipline does win in the long run.
Q: It was quite evident right now that the Defense is ahead of the offense. Is this attributed to the learning curve and injuries on offense or rather to a great defensive unit?
A: The spring game wasn't really that indicative of the overall offensive play during practice, but nevertheless the defense was better during the final scrimmage. I hear the popular answers as to why this happens, the defense is always ahead of the offense, offense had to learn a new system, etc. Those theories may be true, but I don't like to make up excuses. Let's just face it; the defense is playing better than the offense right now. I have been through many spring practices where the offense was ahead of the defense. You just can't read too much into these things. All we need to do is to improve on offense. The goal of spring practice is not for the offense to beat up on the defense, but rather to see how your players perform under pressure. To see how our quarterbacks function with a blitzing defense with somewhat of a sizeable crowd watching is far more valuable than how many yards they pass for. Is it frustrating that the offense didn't play that well? Sure it is. But the price tag on the experience that all three of our quarterbacks came back with is invaluable. I'm not worried who's ahead, the defense of the offense.
Q: Who are the players who stand out in your eyes?
A: On defense, Terrell Suggs is everything as advertised and more. You can see on tape that he's a great player, but he also loves to play. Not all great players love to play. He's has fun out there every day, and I love that a lot. Kurt Wallin consistently dominated play. Solomon Bates impressed me. I've been hearing all the talk about his weight gain and how he doesn't lift weights that well, but the guy is a Football player. You can tell why he started on a Pac-10 defense his first two years. The biggest surprise on defense was redshirt freshman Riccardo Stewart. For a player that didn't play last year, and was recruited as wide receiver, he was spectacular at safety. No matter what drill we ran, he showed up. He was making big plays everyday, even on special teams. When you play well in practice, that usual transpires onto the games.
On offense, with our offense line very banged up several guys had to move around positions. Two guys we're really fired up about are Regis Crawford, and Drew Hodgdon. Both of them are competing for a starting spot, and at the same both of them had to play more than one position while learning a new system. The future of those guys is extremely bright. Delvon Flowers erased any doubt about his durability. I was impressed that he never took a rep off, and always wanted more. I think that not only is his confidence back, but at times I felt that he was trying to do too much, and make every run a spectacular one. He can hurt us at times if he does that, but he was the first one to step up and admit he was trying too hard. We have three great tailbacks in Flowers, Tom Pace, and Mike Williams. The wide receivers as a group, I'm very happy with them. Donnie O'neal started spring practice slow, but finished strong. Shaun McDonald had a great start and finish, had a little down spot in the middle of practice. The most consistent receiver was Ryan Dennard. We are 5-6 deep at this position.
Q: Coming into this job you had certain expectations of the team. If you look at certain characteristics of the team, what aspect surprised you, and on the flip side what about the team was an unpleasant surprise?
A: The most positive surprise about the team, how much the players bought into our system, and how consistently hard they worked every single day, whether it be in the weight room or during spring practice. Their attitude has been spectacular and I really didn't expect it. It wasn't that I heard negative things before I came here, it's just that every time there's change there are certain players that don't buy into it. Our buying rate is the upper 90 percent.
From a negative standpoint, the biggest surprise is that as a group we don't always enjoy the moment and enjoy each other. We need to that a little bit better. That's a trait that sets aside Terell Suggs from most of the other players; the guy enjoys it out there everyday. We have too many guys that look at Football as a chore rather than the best time of their lives. You can never replace the enjoyment of college Football, and we have to cherish that. That's part of my job to make sure that the team as a whole enjoys these times.
Q: Towards the end of spring practice your most experienced cornerback, Machtier Clay, quit the team. How much of an impact does this have on the team?
A: There's no right or wrong answer to this. He was the most experienced player at his position, and he gave us a good effort for the practices he attended during the spring. His issues aren't academic or related to the law. He had a lot of issues within himself, and after talking to him several times he could never verbalized to me what was bothering him. I still don't know what demons Machtier has. Whenever you have a player quitting that's a serious matter, because you have other players out there that have to pay the price. I did give Machtier an avenue to come back to the team, but he chose not to go in that direction. I have any hard feelings towards. He made the decision that Arizona State wasn't the right place at the right time for him. Our philosophy, and I don't mean to be cold about this, is that we coach the players that are here. When you this many people involved in a program, it isn't going to be hunky dory all the time for every guy.
Q: Tight end was an area of concern going into spring practice. At this point does it remain that way?
A: It's still an area of concern. We only have two scholarship players at this position; Mike Pinkard has played well in the past as a run blocker, and improved as a receiver. He's a talented guy, who needs to play with more confidence. The other player Frank Maddox missed a lot of spring practice due to a hamstring injury, so that has been disappointing. It really slowed his growth at this position. He may be what we're looking at this position, but with all the missed practice he's way behind right now. We're looking at incoming freshmen Lee Burghaff to come in and compete, just because of the numbers at tight end. So, the depth is a real concern here. There are a few different ways to skin this, and we'll have to come up with some answers. We thought about converting other players to this position. As far as a player that can help us short term and possibly long term, it's Terell Suggs. We know that Suggs is what we're looking for at defensive end. So it's hard to take a young player who's playing so well at his position, and tell him he has to play at a different one for a year. We're going to explore all the long-term answers first, and then possibly go with the short-term solution.
Q: A lot of emphasis has been put on special teams this year, with the hiring of assistant coach Tom Osborne. Are you pleased by what you saw from this unit?
A: Yes I was. We made a lot of strides here. We still have plenty to do, but there were a lot of highlights there. The scheme of special teams is overrated. You just need to put your best players there, which we do, and have good snappers, punters and kickers. Nick Murphy had an outstanding spring. We asked him to directionally punt which he has done well. There's no question on his leg strength. With our return guys Shaun McDonald and Justin Taplin, we'll be fine there. Coming into spring, everybody told us we had a snapping problem, but I didn't see it. They did a good job in short and long snapping. Now the kicking situation is another story. With Mike Barth being out some of the spring with his appendectomy surgery, we obviously didn't get to see him as much as we wanted. Greg Pieratt surprised me, and is possibly our best kick-off guy now, and between him, and Barth, and Brian Biang we'll find our kicker come camp Tontozona.
Q: After being the head Football coach at ASU for several months now, are you overall feeling more comfortable than you did back in December?
A: I wouldn't say I'm totally comfortable. The administration and the staff here have been great for us, but in any job that you're in comfort comes from knowing you're prepared, and that you can handle any situation that comes up. So, until you have been through a full season, I would never say that I'm comfortable. We're doing the things that are needed to build a program. It's just that sometimes the progress is slow, and you have to take it as it goes. So my comfort zone is low right now, but that's how it should be.
Q: What would you tell the fans that still may be sitting on the fence as far as their opinion of the team?
A: I would urge fans to buy season tickets, because home field advantage in the Pac-10 is huge. If anybody thinks that this advantage is overrated, then they never have been in a game at Eugene, Oregon where 45,000 fans pack the place each game. Those 45,000 fans make a big difference, so think how much of an advantage a packed Sun Devils stadium with 75,000 fans would make here. It has happen here before, and there's no reason why it can't happen again. The fans are always a part of a successful program. We will do our best part to play entertaining and winning Football.
Coach Koetter Q&A
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