Q&A with Coach Dirk Koetter Part I

2005 was a season of relative success, but also one of unfulfilled potential. In part one of this exclusive Devils Digest interview, the Sun Devils' head football coach discusses last season's campaign, and touches on several issues regarding the upcoming spring practice.

DevilsDigest: Coach, 2005 was a year that featured a prolific offense, a struggling defense, and a mixed bag of goods at special teams. How do you view last season?

Dirk Koetter: "Anytime, whether you win them all or lose them all, that season is over. All you can really do is learn your lessons and move forward. Anything we talk about today in a rehash mode – lots of positive stuff, some negatives, and bottom line we're a 7-5 football team, which ended on a high note with wins over U of A and Rutgers."

There was certainly disappointment along the way. We're all disappointed in the LSU and USC games, two marquee opponents that we played well enough to possibly win the game but we don't. We lose those two heartbreakers, and after USC for whatever reason, we don't play like ourselves against Oregon and Stanford, we lose Sam Keller, and you're going ‘are we gonna win any more games this year?' The teams in the Pac-10 are so evenly matched, that potentially we could not have won any."

"I'm real proud of the way our staff and players hung together and fought back. Some of that is Rudy Carpenter coming in a backup role and doing the job he does down the stretch going 4-1 and having us in every single game."

"Our special teams take a beating, but three out of our four special teams were outstanding. For the first time in ASU's history, both our return teams are in the top 10 in the country. No one ever talks about that. Three out the four special teams – top three in the conference. Our punting game was atrocious and no one feels worse about that I do, but you have to remember that having a bad play on a punt is no different than an interception on offense or a defensive back getting the ball thrown over his head – they're all bad plays. You're not trying to get those, but when you do, you look at the reasons, examine them, try to work through them and move on."

"At this point in the off-season, with four new assistant coaches, two new GA's (graduate assistants), there has been a lot of change inside ASU football. So now is the time to talk about 2006."

DD: What aspects of team last year surprised you in a good and bad way?

DK: "I don't think I'm easy to surprise good or bad, because as a coach you have to plan for the worse and expect the best. If you don't expect the best your players won't play well, but you also have to plan for the worse. The worse case scenario is ‘what if your starting quarterback got hurt?' We had the worst case scenario when Sam got hurt, and going back to last spring people were doubting Rudy. Privately as a coaching staff we knew Rudy had it, although it wasn't showing up in the scrimmages. One thing that was a surprise to me were the number of injuries on the O-Line and the resiliency of that group under coach Myers. Having nine different guys start and a tenth guy, in walk-on Paul Fanaika, have to come in and save us in the Washington game…I would say that was a pleasant surprise. Terry Richardson and the return teams - to have two return teams in the top 10 in the country…I would say all those were surprises."

DD: At 145 yards per game, the running attack was probably the best it has ever been in recent years. Do you feel that with everything you have coming back, plus the new additions and new coach, that this aspect of the offense is destined to even greater heights in 2006?

DK: "I think it definitely has the potential for that. The new coach aside, and I'm very excited about coach Wrenn, but the returning running backs, the O-Line, the addition of bigger backs like Ryan Torain and two exciting freshmen in Rodney Glass and Dimitri Nance, and in my opinion the best blocking tight end anywhere in Zach Miller. He gets ton of credit for his acrobatic catches, but when you watch cut-ups you see what a tremendous blocker he is. So, there's reason to be optimistic to where our running backs are going."

"You look at the other side of it, the passing game, and you have two great quarterbacks, a really talented group of tight ends, multi-dimensional players in Jamaal Lewis and Rudy Burgess. The big question in the passing game will be – how are we going to replace those three senior wide receivers?"

DD: There will be several interesting position battles in spring practice. Which ones are you practically looking forward to?

DK: "I wouldn't say one more than any other. I'm sure a lot of our fans are gonna focus on what's going on at quarterback. I think that offensively, if I had to pick one that I will watch closely, it's wide receiver. We have only one proven guy in Terry Richardson. We have four young guys on scholarship, Brandon Smith, Mike Jones, Chris McGaha and Nate Kimbrough. Jamaal Lewis - we're gonna get him in the mix at ‘X' at Derek Hagan's spot. Rudy Burgess will circle back into the mix."

"Defensively, it would be cornerback. We have two returning players in Chad Green and Littrele Jones. Two redshirt freshmen in Grant Crunkleton and Travis Smith. Two JC guys in Justin Tryon who has looked great in the off-season and Chris Blaoney who has been inconsistent in the off-season. We're gonna allow Rudy Burgess to get in the mix at corner, and that was actually my idea. Rudy talked to me before, as a lot of players do, about being a two-way player. Even though we brought two junior college players at corner, we have to create competition at that position."

"I know what Rudy can do on offense and he knows our system. We were thinking about having him primarily at wide receiver in the spring. But when you look at how we have a chance to improve our team the most, I want to get Rudy in the mix to see if he can be a guy that can be a starting corner and make our team better. If two guys can beat him out, well we know he can come over and be a major contributor on offense. The deal I made with Rudy is that even if he's a starter at corner, I will still have a role for him on offense."

DD: Going into spring practice, is there one position that you feel is the most underrated or has the biggest upside?

DK: "I would say that running back, because Shawn DeWitty and Preston Jones will really push Keegan Herring in the spring, even without Rudy Burgess. I think those three guys in the fall, Torain, Glass and Nance will make the tailback an exciting position for us."

"One position that's really intriguing to us, and we won't get all the answers in spring ball is defensive end. You have two really key guys in the mix in Loren Howard and Tranell Morant, and then there's Kyle Caldwell – in those three you have potentially three difference makers, and then you have your steady guys – Will Kofe, Kellen Mills, Dexter Davis. We won't get all the answers in spring because of health, but this position has a lot of upside."

DD: You mentioned in the past that you're not a proponent of the two-quarterback system. With two successful quarterbacks on the team, how will you work out the repetition distribution in the spring and would your stance against the two-quarterback system may be now open-ended and subject to change as the season goes on?

DK: "Almost any policy you have on your football program is open-ended, with the caveat of what gives our team the best chance to win. One thing that can be debated until we're blue in the face, is what gives your team the best chance to win. A player doesn't lose his spot on the depth chart because of injury. Sam was the starter, and not only was Sam playing great, he played great against great teams. Rudy came in, played great, and didn't play against the same caliber teams as Sam. From an experience standpoint, they're almost identical. We always share reps pretty equally in the spring, and anyone that comes to practice will see Sam and Rudy getting almost identical reps. I don't foresee us being a two-quarterback team down the road, but I will never close the door to anything."

Special thanks to Big E, KK Devils and Aaron Sloan who assisted with the questions for this interview.

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