Q&A with Coach Bill Miller

After a dismal 2005 season, there was nowhere for the ASU defense to go but up. However, no one expected a near 180 degree sharp turnaround. As they prepare to go up against a challenging Hawaii offense, Devils Digest sat down with the Sun Devils' Defensive Coordinator and LB's coach to discuss the 2006 campaign and the upcoming bowl game.

Devils Digest: It was a given that the defense would have a better season in 2006. But did you ever expect such a dramatic improvement?

Bill Miller: "You always have expectations and you hope you meet them. But I'm really proud of them for what they did. They really had resolve and were committed to getting better. They really worked their tail ends off. The thing I'm most proud of those guys is…everybody talks about the stats and right now we're number one in the Pac-10 in total defense. I'm not a stat guy. That's neat, but it's all about winning ball games. The neatest thing for me is that we did all this without anybody on the first or second All Pac-10 teams. It's gratifying for us as coaches, because we always preach a team concept and that's a tremendous illustration of that. "

"One of my friends told me that after the Arizona game, when the reporters talked to the defensive players, the defensive line complimented the linebackers, the linebackers complemented the secondary, and the secondary complemented the defensive line. I said ‘Holy Cow, maybe we finally got through to them on being unselfish.' I know it sounds very corny, but I real proud of them for doing that."

Devils Digest: Can you point your finger to one or two key reasons that contributed to this performance?

Bill Miller: "It's all in their attitude. They had the right mental frame of mind and good work ethic. We understand a little better what we're doing. Our front four played much better last year; there was a lot more discipline. Another reason is our coaching staff. They did a tremendous job. Grady Stretz with the defensive line, Dan Fidler with the safeties and Al Simmons with the cornerbacks. People don't realize how hard those coaches work. They sacrificed so much being surrogate parents to their players, while taking away time from their own family. I was really impressed with those coaches."

DD: Speaking of the front four, the player that led that group was defensive end Kyle Caldwell. Was it really just his health that helped him play so much better than 2005, or were there other contributors?

BM: "I think Kyle just overcame a lot of things. Mentally he preformed so much better. He fought through pain better that he did in previous years. He just made up his mind to battle through everything."

DD: At other defensive end you had redshirt freshman Dexter Davis. Looks like he did an admirable job for such an inexperienced player…

BM: "He really did a heck of a job. He's a big effort player and has a good motor. When you're undersized and probably a little deficient strength wise like he is right now – you have to work hard all the time and he really did. I'm not gonna say I was surprised by his play, but he certainly exceeded our expectations with the plays he made. Coach Stretz did a great job developing him. We rotated a lot of guys on the defensive line, and that helped Dexter and everyone else."

DD: Can you talk about the play of both defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Michael Marquardt?

BM: "Michael brought a lot of maturity. He's a self-disciplined guy who brought a lot of maturity to the front. With him, Jordan, David Smith and Will Kofe…they did an unbelievable job."

DD: Let's talk about your position group. A lot of new faces at linebacker, but that didn't stop them from having a pretty good year…

BM: "Those young guys did a heck of a job. Beau Manutai, as far as being the leader of the group…he leads by example, and is another disciplined, tough, hard-nosed guy. He did a great job at the MIKE (middle linebacker) and I don't know if a lot of people appreciate the job he did. The other senior, and he came out of nowhere, was Derron Ware. If you asked me a year ago if that guy could play linebacker – I would say no way. He exceeded every expectation we had from of him. I think he saw that this is it – he's a senior. We tell guys that you come in as freshmen and you blink you're already a senior. When it's your last year, it's sometimes a wake-up call."

DD: Can you talk about the three freshmen linebackers and their contributions this season?

BM: "Mike Nixon is another example of an unselfish player. We played him at all the positions and he knew them all. Unbelievable maturity in everything he brings to the table. He understands exactly what we're trying to do out there. You have Travis Goethel…that guy is gonna be something else. Those guys and Gerald Munns played all year. Those freshmen really stepped up and really did some great things for us."

DD: One things that wasn't a surprise on defense, was the play of safeties Josh Barrett and Zach Catanese, who had high expectations coming into this season…

BM: "They really delivered and played extremely well. We had another true freshman in Ryan McFoy. We played so much nickel (when McFoy was inserted) and he really helped us as a freshman. Not too many freshmen start and play at high level. He did that and that was very special. We had four true freshmen and one redshirt freshman on defense. Not too many teams have that."

DD: How would you evaluate the job the cornerbacks did?

"Sometimes I put them in real tough situations, and not give them enough chances to have success. But I think Justin Tryon and Chris Baloney did an admirable job and that's a tough place to play. They're (the cornerbacks) on an island and everyone is looking at you. They got exposed a little bit, but they did a good job coming back. We didn't give much for Al to work with, and he did an unbelievable job there."

DD: Speaking or cornerbacks, that group will be heavily tested by Hawaii and their top-ranked offense in the bowl game. What do you see from Hawaii on film?

BM: "It's a wide-open offense. They have a good quarterback and wide receivers. They have a big back and a very athletic offensive line. I think they punted 16 times all year. They'll be a challenge for our guys and we have our work cut out for us because they're extremely explosive. "

DD: The Hawaii bowl game will be the last for you and your staff at ASU. What does the future hold for you?

BM: "That's a great question and I wish I had a great answer for it. I hate to admit this, but I've been through this before. It sickens you and it's unfortunate. I have mixed emotions about this."

DD: Would you be open to the possibility of coming back to ASU in the same role?

BM: "Never say never. I've never been in this situation. It just depends on who they bring in."

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