Coach Koetter's 2003 Recap Part I

Recently, DevilsDigest sat down for an exclusive one-on-one with the ASU head football coach. In the first part of our interview, we discussed last season's performance, the lessons learned from it, and whether Coach Koetter's involvement in the various team's phases will change in 2004.

DevilsDigest: You talked right after the season as to what transpired in 2003. Now that you had some more time to digest it, how would you assess last season?

Dirk Koetter: "We underachieved. Plain and simple. We had very high expectations put on us from the outside. Starting with the fact that we lost our two biggest playmakers, one on each side of the ball, in Terrell Suggs and Shaun McDonald…the guys that we were kind of counting on to replace them, not that it was even fair for those guys, because they're not a bunch of guys out there capable of replacing them…but the guys on the paper, on the depth chart, that you're counting on replacing didn't come through for one reason or another. That forced other guys to step into different roles…"

"It was disappointing. All you can do at this point is learn and move on. When you're in our shoes, it doesn't do any good to dwell on it. You dwell on the things you learn, things that you will change and do different. We're re-hashing it right now watching film, but that's more from a schematic standpoint and personnel evaluation standpoint."

DD: When you look back at last year, what did you learn from 2003?

DK: "We're still a young team, as evidenced by the number of seniors that we had who were actually contributing in the games. It was only 7-8 guys, and we'll have 12 next year. I don't ever say it as an excuse – you can win with young guys. But that's just a fact."

"Along with that, we're a team that lacks leadership from the inside. So, when things don't go as planned it makes it a little easier to go in the tank, than to fight through it. That's something we have to do a lot better in. We have to have a more competitive, tougher football team."

"Anything I say in relationship to 2003, the bottom line is me. I don't like putting blame on people, because ultimately the blame is on me, and I have to take that."

DD: Two bright spots in 2003 were the offensive line and the running backs. Do you share that opinion, and what was the reason for the turnaround from 2002?

DK: "As a group our offensive line played the best than any other position on the field. Being able to get Regis Crawford back inside where he belonged made us strong up the middle. We had experience there with Drew Hodgdon, Tim Fa'aita, and Tony Aguilar. Another thing was the emergence of Grayling Love at right tackle. He goes from being a guy that we put at right tackle just to compete, trying to get the best five on the field…and he parlays that into being second team Pac-10, along with Regis."

"We had competition at left tackle. Everyone, including us (coaches), penciled in Chaz White who played a lot the year before. But the fact that Andrew Cranahan makes it very tough, and really plays better than Chaz as the season goes on…I think a combination of all these things enabled the group to play better."

"The running back position I think played OK. Of course with Mike Karney you have a solid player that will always do his best. I said going in that tailback was our deepest position. I also said that if I had to do it all over again, I would probably force the issue with those younger guys. That's a hard thing as a coach. You have a senior in Mike Williams, that has given his all to the program, but maybe isn't as good a runner, in our offense anyway, as some of those other guys."

"In that tailback position, Loren Wade breaks the freshman rushing record. Hakim Hill has a great game at Oregon State. Randy Hill shows signs. Cornell Canidate, when called upon, did fine. All of those guys, for us to get better as a team, have to be more consistent. If you look at the great backs, not only are they consistent, but they're durable. In our league (Oregon State's) Stephen Jackson didn't miss any games in the last two years. Loren can't do anything about it when he gets a concussion, but durability is durability. Durability for Loren, consistency for Hakim, Randy Hill had some injuries…those guys all need to be more consistent and become better finishers. I like the talent at that position a lot."

DD: When you look at the wide receivers' performance, the loss of Shaun McDonald was obviously monumental. What other factors do you think contributed to the performance of this position as a group in 2003?

DK: "The home run threat that Shaun brought to us, nobody really developed into that spot. In fact, when it's all said and done, our biggest playmaker turns out to be Derek Hagan. A lot of Derek's plays were ‘catch and run', where he turned medium range passes into big plays because of his running ability. That's something that Derek did a really nice job of."

"Instead of Shaun with 87 catches the year before, you end up with Derek and Skyler Fulton in the 60's plus range. They both played very solid for us. Skyler was the jack-of-all-trades. Derek is on pace to be the best receiver in ASU's history. What happened though, the guy that we were counting on to become our big play guy didn't come through like we thought. Matt Miller, who's a guy that might fit into that mold, hurts his hamstring at Camp T. His is a game of speed, and when he can't run that sets him back. He did show flashes of being that guy as the season wore on, but he didn't get to a fast start because of the injury."

"Terry Richardson, another guy who I think has that ability…he's a young guy that was a redshirt freshman last year. Every player learns in a different speed. I still think that Terry will be a great player in this league. It pretty much evolved to a two-man deal, and those two guys (Hagan and Fulton) played fine."

DD: When you take an honest snapshot of the team right now, do you feel that there are more problems lying on the defense than the offense?

DK: "Sure. On offense, as far as major contributors you lose those guys in the middle of the offensive line. Skyler Fulton and Mike Karney. Defensively, we have a lot of guys back from an unproven unit. We lose the two defensive tackles and Jason Shivers. Our defense is much maligned, but in the first half of the season it gave us chances, at Iowa and Oregon State, to get off to a much better start. As the season wore on, against Cal and Stanford, the defense didn't play as well."

DD: Do you feel that you need to take a different degree of involvement in regards to the defense?

DK: "I think I need to get involved with our whole team more. That's something I will make a conscious effort to do. It's not that I've changed what I think. You can be successful any way. They're coaches doing it all different ways. I think you have to say ‘what does my team/program need the most right now?' And right now, I need to be more involved in more aspects of our game. That's not to say that I know more about this or know more about that. That doesn't mean I'll be calling the defense. But just because I'm the head coach, I need to be more involved in all three phases."

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