Q&A with Coach Dirk Koetter Part II

In the second and last part of this exclusive DevilsDigest feature, Koetter discusses the running back by committee concept, whether the intensity of the Arizona rivalry has risen over the past year, and the team reversing the trend of playing below expectations.

DevilsDigest: In the past you said that you weren't a big believer in the running back by committee approach, but you obviously do what's needed under the circumstances. Do you believe right now the team is heading towards that approach and can it be successful using that concept?

Dirk Koetter: "It would appear at this particular time that we're heading that way, and you're right I don't particularly care for that. Every team is what it is. It's not like we don't have enough tailbacks on scholarships, it just looks like it's heading in that way (running back by committee). Can we be successful with that approach? My answer to that is it worked out pretty well last year. Granted, we weren't 12-0, but we were tailback by committee last year. Are we're gonna turn into the greatest rushing team in the world overnight? Probably not. But the object of the game isn't to see who rushes for the most yards, it's who has more points."

DD: Shifting gears to defense, Bill Miller arrived here with lofty accolades. But is the benefit of him coming here more rooted in the fact that the defense is now enjoying a new and fresh approach that can really elevate this group to the next level?

DK: "I haven't thought of it in those terms. Coach Guy switching us form the 4-2-5 to 4-3 certainly had an impact on our success last season. I thought he and the defensive coaches did a real nice job last year. I thought our effort and game plan were awesome in the Sun Bowl. Bill just brings a different set of experiences. They (Guy and Miller) both started out in the same base 4-3 package, but any coach is gonna add his own spin. The main thing people will notice a difference in is the coverage schemes. We still play the 4-3 defense, everybody in America runs basically the same blitzes – if they were two great blitzes out there everyone would run the same ones. It's in coverage, where there's a lot of philosophical differences among defensive coaches."

"Bill is going to bring us more coverage options than last year. I personally like the way the package fits together, because I know what gives offenses problems. At the same time, I know that all the scheme in the world doesn't matter if you can't execute the scheme."

DD: You mentioned the U of A loss as the lowest point of the season. Since Mike Stoops has been coaching in Tucson, along with the rhetoric coming from there, do you feel that the rivalry between both schools has been taken to a whole new level as far as its intensity?

DK: "Since I've been the coach at Arizona State we're 2-2 in the rivalry game. It's our goal to be 4-0, so 2-2 isn't good enough. The ASU – U of A game goes way beyond and is much bigger than Dirk Koetter and Mike Stoops. I think people at times; because we are the two head coaches, try to put us in the front of that battle a lot. I want to beat U of A worse than any other team on our schedule. The thing that most people don't realize is that because we play them at the end of our schedule, I don't lay awake every single night figuring out how to beat U of A because so many things are going to change between now and the time we play them. I think it's a tremendous college football rivalry, and it's a game that we want to win more than others."

DD: In light of all the injuries that kept players out in the spring, do you foresee any changes in the team's off-season conditioning program?

DK: "Joe Kenn and his staff are always looking for ways to improve our off-season conditioning program, and give our guys the best change to get bigger, faster, and stronger. But none of the injuries we had have resulted from the off-season program. Randy Hill and Brandon Rodd both tore their knee in a non-contact game type injury. Most of our shoulder injuries are a result of our guys being physical and hitting people."

"You're always balancing your off-season conditioning program. Part of that program is also rehab for those guys that are injured. So to answer your question, nothing will be changed because of injuries."

DD: It seems that there's a trend, and this goes back many years, that when high expectations are put on this team, they sometimes fall short – and vice versa. The last two years are an example of that. Is that something you find yourself thinking about in the off-season and perhaps addressing with the leadership group?

DK: "In recent history that has happen and no one can deny it. The flip side of that is that some of the guys weren't here for that. This is the 2005 team we're talking about now. The 2005 team really shouldn't have anything they do based on what the 2003 team did. Even though it's going to be brought up, and you always have your experiences to draw on. I think our players that were part of that (2003 season) - it has been addressed with that group. We remember last time when we were in this situation, what happened and why it happened. So, I can't say that it hasn't been addressed and we haven't thought about it. Even though it's something that is in the background, our first approach would be as we get into Camp T to have the 2005 team to stand as the 2005 team."

DD: College football is really starting to evolve and perhaps catch up with the new century. The NCAA approved a 12th game, instant replay is being experimented with, and an extra BCS game will be played in the next few years. What are your thoughts in general about the direction college football is going in?

DK: "Even though I'm a fairly young guy, I consider myself a traditionalist. I think there's always room to make things better, but I also think that sometimes things are tweaked for not necessarily the right reason. When things are tweaked other issues will arise as a result of that, which initially weren't thought about. For example, I think they're tinkering with the rules too much – that's my own opinion. We all get surveys and get a chance to vote on things, and I vote that way. I think football has been fine for over 100 years, and sometimes the committee that makes these rules changes get a little carried away. I don't think that everything should be based on what's best for TV, and I understand that the TV money helps pay some of the bills."

"I'm not in favor of instant replay. I think it takes away the human element out. I acknowledge that officials make mistakes, but overall they do a pretty darn good job. Some of the greatest games that people talk about everyday…it has to do with a certain call. Pretty soon we'll have robots out there officiating the game."

"The 12th game that you mentioned – I understand we need revenue, and a 12th game will help with revenue for all sports, not just football. But with that said, people in general don't understand how tough it is to play with 85 scholarships, and then you have injuries and guys you're trying to redshirt. So as a result, one thing the American Football Coaches Association is really pushing for is that if we add this 12th game, let's go to a five years to play five (format). When you think about it, all these freshmen come in and you redshirt them because in September they're not ready to help your team. But by November, there are guys you would love to stick out there on the kickoff team or punt return team, and the only reason you're not putting them in there is because you're trying to save their year. It's one of those rules that makes so much sense."

"There's also, and this is an important point, surveys out there that demonstrate that players do their best academically when they're playing, and their worst academically when they're redshirting. So, academically studies show that it would be better to let the guys have five years of eligibility."

"You asked about the additional BCS game – it seems to me that with revenue issues like adding the 12th game, we ought to be able to figure out a system that may include a playoff, where we can crown a true college football champion. The argument out there that college football players miss too much class is ridiculous. Our guys miss no class compared to other sports. I played I-AA, and I-AA figured out how to do it. A playoff would be fantastic. I understand that the bowls have done a great job over the yeas, and I'm not against the bowls. But again, we're tweaking the system, trying to make it better, which they have, but it seems to be that the ultimate answer is just sitting right out there and it is so simple and they're coming up with a bunch of excuses why not to do it."

DD: The last four years brought two winning seasons and two losing seasons, and the future is looking bright. Do you feel that the program is currently at a crossroads?

DK: "I don't think we're at a crossroads – that wouldn't be my choice of verbiage. I think when you come in you're trying to build a program for the long haul in mind, and that's what we're doing. Building a program isn't always just wins and losses; they are other concerns in there, academics being one of the major ones. As a coach you're never satisfied. The only team that is satisfied with last season is USC because they are national champs, and maybe Auburn because they were undefeated and they still wish they got a crack at USC."

"So you never satisfied at where you at, but I wouldn't use the term crossroads. I feel like our program, is doing the things it needs to do to be successful and sustain success over the long haul."

Author's Note: A big thanks goes out to Big E Sundvl and KK Devil who helped prepare the questions in this two-part interview.

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