Q&A with Coach Bill Miller

With only a handful of returning starters, and a new leader at the helm, one can expect the ASU defense to take on a different look in 2005. Or will it? In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, we sat down with ASU's new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach and discussed his defensive philosophy and overall impressions during his first couple of months in Sun Devil country.

Devils Digest: Coach, with just two months on the job, you went from wrapping up the recruiting season, to evaluating the 2004 season, and getting prepared for spring practice. Suffice to say that there has not been much time to relax until now…

Bill Miller: "It's been great. Staff wise, we have a great bunch of guys. I've really been impressed with the players. They know how to work hard. I make most of my judgment on the defensive players, but the whole team has a great work ethic and is motivated. I think they're really excited after having the season that they had and the bowl game win. They're hungry in terms of going to the next level, and getting this to where we all want it to be."

DD: Thus far, what stands out to you about the university, the overall environment, and other things that have an impact on the success of a football program?

BM: "One of the keys to winning is obviously having the athletes. I always believed that Arizona State, as a university, and the area that we're in, that we can attract that top athlete. I think from a recruiting standpoint, we can get the great players. I think they'll realize that we can develop them once they do get here. I think we have already proven that. The old saying that it's ‘not the X's and O's – it's the Jimmy's and Joe's' and that's the truth. ASU has had great history and great athletes, and we have to continue to recruit them."

"The weather and the facilities here are the obvious things. We're talking about the indoor facility, upgrading the stadium…Gene Smith is always moving forward. I've been here just two months, and I already have seen him make major plans and put those into action. That's impressive. If you're not moving forward, you're moving backwards, and we're definitely moving forward."

DD: You've been primarily coaching in the Midwest and the East Coast. Not many coaches would make the jump you did to the West Coast, because they want to stay in their comfort zone. Was there any apprehension coming to a unfamiliar area of the country?

BM: "No there wasn't. I really love it out here. Not only the environment, but also the whole attitude too, particularly in the Pac-10. I look at the Pac-10 as another great conference in the country. I've coached in the Big-8, which is now the Big 12, Big Ten, and the Southeast conference, and the Pac-10 is a great conference as well. You look at USC, Cal, Washington, UCLA, …It's a great league, and I'm really looking forward to those challenges."

DD: What challenges do you think the Pac 10 will bring that may be different from the other leagues in which you've coached in?

BM: "From the outside, people on the East Coast see the Pac-10 as wide open offenses, spread out and throwing all over the place. But that's not really the case. If you look at the most successful programs in the Pac-10 can really run the football. I'm old school and that's where you start your defensive mentality – stopping the run. It's about toughness and getting back the ball from the offense. The Pac-10 is no different than any of those other conferences."

DD: How much of a feel can you get from watching ASU's defense on film from last season or will you really not get a true feel until spring practice?

BM: "We've already looked at all the cut-ups from a year ago, and went through some self scout, if you will, about what was really good for us and what wasn't very effective. We're gonna have good wrinkles, but what we're gonna try to do is build on what's already established here. Brent Guy is one of my former players, and someone I even coached with. He was cut from the same cloth that I was, in terms of a 4-3 defense. So, the things they have been doing here – I've been associated with for a long time. Now, we're gonna try to build on that schematically and pressure wise, and hopefully make it better – that's the goal."

DD: This may the question on everybody's mind, what style of defense wills you bring to the table and how much will it differ than Brent Guy's style?

BM: "We may do some more and different pressure things, we may build a little more from a coverage standpoint. We were in the middle of the Pac-10 in most defensive categories. I'm not a big stat guy – the bottom line stat is wins and losses. However, they are certain things that equate to winning and one of them is run defense and another is points given up. Those areas I want to improve on. I want to eliminate some of the big plays we gave up, even though we didn't give up a lot of those this past year. We want to be able to force the opponent into bad plays. There's a variety of ways to do it, and most of them are athletically related."

DD: There was much debate during Brent Guy's tenure whether the 4-2-5 or the traditional 4-3-4 was better suited for the ASU personnel. Do you believe good personnel can be successful in any kind of scheme or do schemes make a huge difference in a defense's performance?

BM: "I've done this for 28 years, and the scheme deal is overrated. We've lost some awful good players, so we have holes to fill. But it's the fellows – believe me. The most important thing is that those guys play hard, and that they believe in what they're doing. That's where the coaching part comes in. The schematics of it are way overrated."

DD: When it comes to defensive tackles, do you prefer the massive, run plugging linemen or the smaller guys and quicker athletes? And as far as cornerbacks go, does your scheme put them on an island more often than not?

BM: "We want guys who can run on defense, and they come in all shapes and sizes. We're always gonna try to update our speed. The corners, they'll be times that they'll be on an island. That's one thing where you ask guys athletically, to do the things they can physically do. If you ask them to do something they can't do physically, that's not the kid's fault – it's my fault. That's what spring football is for – finding out what we can do."

DD: Will most of the positions be open for all competition because you're the new defensive coordinator or will you heavily rely on the input of your assistants who were all here in 2004?

BM: "We've got three great coaches on defense that have coached for a long time too, and I want their input. They way I look at it; those guys are equally involve as far as input and ideas. That's the only way I know how to do it. The nice thing about a new guy coming in is that it can be a complete new lease on life for the players. I've met with every player individually. They know where I'm coming from, and I know a little about them background wise and what they want out of the program. These guys are motivated, are very willing to learn, and wanting to expand on they have already done."

DD: During those individual meetings, are you starting to get a good feel for the guys that can be the potential leaders of the defense?

BM: "You rely on the staff to tell you who your leaders and starters are. When you watch film it becomes pretty obvious who the starters are. But no one here has a job that's guaranteed. We're gonna start players based on where we think they should be, and what they've done in the past. When the fur starts flying, we're gonna put the best 11 guys out there."

DD: Many point to the camaraderie as being one of the biggest factors in the 2004 season success. So far, have you experienced that genuine ‘team feeling' amongst the staff and players on defense?

BM: "Very much so. That's a key to every great program I've been around. The chemistry is much more important than a lot of that other stuff. Guys that are unselfish and get along are important. We also have a very unselfish staff that works together very well. I'm very impressed with what Dirk (Koetter) has assembled here. When you talk about what is a successful program – that (camaraderie) may be the premiere thing. You have to get everybody going in the same and right direction."

DD: What can you tell us about the linebackers signed in the 2005 class Beau Manutai and Chad Lindsey?

BM: "Beau is here and I'm really impressed with his work ethic. He's very eager to learn and I think he's out off to a great start. Beau will play Mike (middle linebacker). Chad will play outside linebacker. He's s smaller, faster guy. He just broke his elbow in a basketball game, but he'll be fine in four weeks. I'm very excited about both of them. We have four seniors at linebacker that had a chance to play and do good things. So these younger guys have to step it up and be in a position to play."

DD: Since this will be your first practice time with the team, what will be your personal goals for the linebackers, as well as for the defense as a whole?

BM: "Improve our run defense, and make it difficult on our opponents to run on us. We want to learn what our packages are with some of the new staff we'll install. That's a primary goal. We want to continue to build on our persona and attitude. We want to have that tough mentality when we step on the field. We want a little bit of an attitude – that's how you play defense. I think Brent did a great job of getting that started here, but you have to play with a little bit of swagger."

Special thanks to Big E SunDvl and KK Devil for helping prepare the questions.

Photo courtesy of ASU's Media Relations

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