Coach Koetter's 2003 Recap Part II

In this second and last installment of DevilsDigest's exclusive interview with the ASU head football coach, Dirk Koetter discusses the expectations of last year and this upcoming one. Other topics include key position battles in spring practice, quarterback Andrew Walter's prospects in 2004, the new two tight set, and the team's goals as they enter spring practice next month.

DevilsDigest: The expectations of this team for 2004 are likely to be lower than the ones for 2003. Do you view this as a positive or a negative?

Dirk Koetter: "Expectations that are put by us on the outside – they are what they are. Last year, we were picked very high, and the expectations, whether they're realistic or not, are not the main point. The point is what the team does. You go back two years ago, we had low expectations and we exceeded them. Last year, we had high expectations and didn't handle it well. It doesn't matter if outside expectations are right or wrong. You shouldn't be influenced by that. You should be influenced by what you do on the field, and the things you can control. The fact that expectations, especially by the media, will be low next year for our team, I don't view that as a positive or negative. We have certain things that we have to do better. It doesn't matter what anyone else says. We have to do those things better, or we not gonna win any games."

DD: The reason we mention the impact of expectations, is that the fact, and you eluded to this in the past, that players spend only a certain amount of hours in the ICA building, and once they leave this building they're subjected to all kind of outside influences which include expectations…

DK: "I mentioned that because that's reality. You look at any teenager, and they're influenced by outside forces. That dictates fashion, what cars they drive, what music they listen to…and if you think it doesn't affect a college football team, you're sadly mistaken."

"It can also happen on the other end, where teams that really aren't as good as they're playing – play better. When you're not playing up to expectations, it tends to snowball and things seem worse than they really are. A great example of that is the UCLA game. That was the pivotal game of our season. That was anybody's game to win, and our defense actually plays very well in that game. They gave up one huge run – an 86-yard run. Offensively, Andrew (Walter) is hurt; Sam (Keller) is playing. Sam gets us down in scoring position right before the half. We get a great turnover. We have a running play for Loren (Wade), it's wide open, and he may score on that play, and the ball pops out of his hands. Two plays changed that whole game around, and we didn't recover well from that game at all. So like I said, when things aren't going well they seem to be worse than they really are. We're still not that far out."

DD: Going into spring practice, what position battles are you anxious to see unfold?

DK: "You can look at every position our team, other than defensive tackle, and we have guys that started. For younger guys that were redshirts or haven't played as much, some of those guys have their work cut out for them. Because we lost both of our defensive tackles, and we don't have great depth there, that would be a key position. I'm anxious to watch our cornerbacks. That position underachieved the most on an underachieving team."

DD: What position changes can we expect for spring practice?

DK: "I'm going to hold those a little bit longer, and (reveal them) closer to spring. We're still in the process of making some of those changes. They're still players we're talking to about certain things. In this time between when recruiting ends and spring ball starts, that's when all the changes that we've been thinking about making…you go back and look at film and try and plug those in and see if that's really what you want to do, and if it's the right thing."

DD: When you look at Andrew Walter's progression the last three years, along with the offensive weapons around him, is it fair to expect him to elevate his level of play even higher in 2004?

DK: "I think it's not only fair to expect, but I think I'd be very surprised if Andrew didn't. That's the reason he stayed here instead of going to the NFL. He had to make a difficult decision along with his family, because he was getting pressure from the outside of people telling him where he'll be selected in the draft. For any player that's flirting with that first or second round draft status, unless you've been in that situation no one really knows how he would really react. The NFL told Andrew that he could get picked as high as the second round. The last pick in the second round last year made over a million dollars in signing bonus."

"The day he announced (staying at ASU) he said that not only did he want to improve what happened with the team, which is key, he wants to get better. As we're going through the tapes now, they're some obvious things that we'll emphasis and work on. When people talk about Andrew, he was a Heisman candidate coming in, and his home run threat was taken away. We did protect him better, but he played the second half of the season on as severely injured lower leg. I'm a big Andrew Walter, and he'll have a big senior year."

DD: With this being Andrew's last year, will you be more apt when feasible, to pull Andrew out and groom his backups for the future?

DK: "I don't think any coach looks at it that way. I think in that week in that game, you're trying to win. If the game is decided one way or another – sure. It's great to look to the future. But at no point, do you ever say that you're worried about the future at the expense of the game. You don't think about this position more than any other position that has a starting senior."

DD: During the signing day press conference, you declared the upcoming change in the offense to a two tight end set. Will we see more of that in Camp T with the arrival of two more tight ends that will bolster the depth?

DK: "No, we will start with it right in the spring. In essence, we're not gonna list anyone as a fullback anymore. That position doesn't exist. It doesn't mean that's forever, but the guys that were playing that position will be dispersed through out."

"When you say you're gonna have a two tight end offense, that doesn't necessarily mean you're always gonna have two in-line tight end blockers. Sometimes that tight end will play as a fullback, sometimes he'll play as an in-line tight end, and sometimes he'll play as a third wide receiver. If you look at the guys that are playing tight end now, plus the two new tight ends we'll have…obviously Jamaal Lewis has different strengths as Aaron Austin or Lee Burghgraef or Kellen Mils that has a tight end body but played fullback. That's the trick in the two tight end set. You can still have multiple two tight end groups to take advantage of what guys do the best."

DD: The attitude of the team in the off-season can probably be best gauged by their workouts. From what you see there, what's you're gut feeling as to the mental state of this team as they come into spring practice?

DK: "It's good. We have a hard working football team. Anybody that comes out there and watches our team lift and run…you're not gonna say that they're a bunch of slackers out there. That's not the issue. They have a good attitude. Do we have to be tougher in tough situations? Yes. Do we have to be competitive and more combative in those situations? Yes. Those are the things that are a lot harder to practice than your running, lifting, and skills."

"We have a team that is skilled enough and fast enough. The question is are we tough enough and competitive enough. The answer to that last year was no."

DD: Are the toughness and competitiveness your main goals to accomplish this year? What other goals do you have for 2004?

DK: "Our goals are to win football games. I can break that down to a million subplots…one thing that I will do different this year, is that by the end of the summer I'm going to form a players leadership group. This group will have 24 players. They will represent all classes and all positions, and they will actually form the goals that we will verbalize. Right now, my main focus will be on competitiveness and toughness, and making sure that the guys we put on the field - that's their top priority."

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