Gary Barnett: First of all, all of us are glad to be here. We're glad to be back. These are always anxious and exciting times for a football coach to meet his new team. There's hope in the air for everybody. There's 116 teams sitting down and deciding how to win the national championship. We're no different.
We return a pretty veteran team even though we're extremely young. But we've had a great summer.
Greg Finnegan and his staff have done an unbelievable job getting our guys ready. We had our fitness test and we did an outstanding job as a team on that. We look like a football team. I think we're the kind of the team that if coaches were to go around and look at, they'd be impressed with the way we appear physically.
We're obviously a team that's been toughened up over the last six months. We've gone through a lot of adversity, probably more adversity than any college football team's gone through. We've already faced more adversity than a lot of teams maybe face in a season.
So this is a team that's pretty tough-minded. We have 12 seniors on our football team. They've done an outstanding job of leading during the offseason. I think they've done an outstanding job of bringing our young guys along.
We opened camp and yesterday was our first practice. We had great energy and enthusiasm. We had good execution for the first day. We've got some things – we've got a new secondary coach. That's one thing that is going to be closely watched as we go through camp by me and by our defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz.
We have a philosophy change back there. We need to make sure that this camp, we utilize all the days possible to get that where we need it to be.
We have made a scheme change (on defense). How drastic it is is probably dependent upon how knowledgeable you really are about football. It's not a drastic change from our standpoint, but it is a change.
I think we're simpler. I think we're older. A year ago we played a lot of freshmen. We suffered those growing pains with them. Now we're an experienced team.
We have lost some guys off the defense, some transfers. That creates some challenges for us. We're trying to find out who's going to replace a young man in the secondary, who's going to replace a young man on the defensive line. I think our players will look at it as an opportunity for them – a chance for somebody else to step up and get a chance to play. I think our coaches have taken it that way as well.
Offensively, we return Joel Klatt who last year had a great start and a great opening year in his career. He's older; he's mature and he's like a coach out there for us. He's just been tremendous. I don't think there's any question that Joel will be a captain on our team.
So having your starting quarterback back makes you sleep a lot better at night.
We have a number of running backs returning. Bobby Purify returns after getting a hardship year. I think our running game should be the strong point of our offense. That's what we see.
We have a number of backs that all have experience from last year and who are ready to step up if we have an issue and play a lot. I think our offensive line from last year is greatly improved. We went through last year with a line we had to piecemeal as the year went on.
We sort of went through the growing pains last year with young players, and now I think we're ready for things to come to fruition a little bit.
Our special teams, I think we're going to have one of the better kickers in the country. I think Mason Crosby is going to be on schedule to break all of our records here at Colorado. I think we have a tough young punter in John Torp. And with the chance that Jeremy (Bloom) could return for us obviously gets our return game a bolster there. He's one of the most exciting players in college football at that position. As well as our receiver corps because we lost a number of good receivers.
we don't know who's going to play (at receiver). Ron Monteilh is the only experienced guy who returns. I think he's the only one who's caught a pass for us other than Jeremy. But if we get Ron and Jeremy back then we've got two guys that have started and played a lot for us. And then we have a number of young receivers that are just kind of waiting in the wings.
The tight end position, I think we're as good as anybody. We've got depth and experience.
So we're tremendously excited at this point in time. I know that this is an excited coaching staff, and excited group of players, and an excited program. We're looking forward to the four weeks getting ready to play our first game here in Boulder against CSU.
Question: What does if mean to have Purify back?
GB: Bobby Purify is a heckuva football player. He was voted a captain last year. That tells you a lot, a young man who's had a great career so far and he's respected enough to be voted a captain as a junior. To have him back, you obviously get great leadership and talent and experience. So having two guys in your backfield who were probably our leaders a year ago back, with Joel and Bobby, I think it speaks to what I was saying earlier: we have a chance to be a really good running football team.
Q: How is the offensive line shaping up?
GB: We are excited about our offensive line. We're about 295 all the way across and very athletic. We're experienced there. Brian Daniels started as a true freshman a year ago. Sam Wilder moved over there; we didn't even move him this time of year last year – we hadn't moved him yet. Now he's played a whole year and he's 300 pounds. We think we're very athletic. We've got a lot of guys who've played a lot. They're much improved, they're bodies have improved, they're much stronger.
We have a great attitude there. I think we're going to be very good in the offensive line.
Q: Can you compare the experience of the past six months to being on the football field this week?
GB: Being on the football field is a lot more fun. As a coach, the two and a half hours on the field is when you get to deal with your players. We've been away from our players for the most part since spring ball. Me, I've been away further than that. So just to be able to get back on the field with them and be able to do what you love and do best, it's why you do it. There can't be anything better than this.
Q: Will there be an adjustment period for the players or coaches to opening practices to the public?
GB: I would hope not. I don't think so. We told the players that it was going to be that way. As coaches we talked about it. We're not making any adjustments. The only thing we're doing different is that we've moved the offense down closer to where everybody can see them.
When everybody would come in before, the offense was on the other end where they couldn't see them. It made the defensive guys made. Obviously, they thought the fans were there to see them. But we brought Joel Klatt and Jeremy Bloom closer to everybody. That's about the only thing we've changed.
Q: With players leaving and others coming back, same with coaches, what does this do to continuity?
GB: You don't worry about it. You just do the best job that you can. You've got to go out and create continuity – that's the way that you coach. But you certainly don't spend any time worrying about that. You try to do your thing, try to make sure your coaches are on the same page.
It's going to take a while, especially in the secondary because we have a new secondary coach. He doesn't know everybody's name yet. None of our secondary guys have played for this coach because he wasn't here in the spring. That's the biggest challenge that Coach Bray has. And they've both got to be patient with each other.
Everywhere else we've got continuity. That's the only area that doesn't, and we just have to let it come to fruition. I think patience is the key word.
Q: What prompted you to make a change in the defensive scheme? Was it some weakness you saw?
GB: The change in scheme had more to do with a change of coordinators. I didn't change schemes and then go find someone to coach that scheme. Mike Hankwitz and I had worked together a long time in the past. My first year back here I actually offered Mike the job and thought he might come take it then.
So the timing was just perfect for Mike and I to get together again. My intent was to change the leadership more than anything else. I offered Mike the position and Mike accepted. If he had said we're going to run the same scheme, that would've been fine with me.
Q: How will the fan in the stands see a difference on defense?
GB: I don't think the fans will see a whole lot of difference – where people line up and those sort of things. There may be a third linebacker on the line of scrimmage or lined up between the tight ends at times. But I don't think you're going to notice a whole lot of difference, truthfully, in the way things look.
Q: J.J. Billingsley has the most experience of the defensive backs. How do you expect him to adjust to that role?
GB: J.J.'s got to be our leader over there. Someone has to take responsibility for that group, and J.J. would be the guy. You really want players to assume responsibility for themselves. And if everybody does what they're supposed to do, there's no need for leadership, or for the leader to do something for them that they were supposed to do in the first place. I think you take that approach.
We're not trying to put that kind of pressure on J.J. We're looking at it as if all four guys or five guys that are involved play in and play out are taking responsibility for themselves and not having to be led. If we have leadership there, then that's even better.
Q: How unified or together is this team compared to year's past?
GB: This team comes in on a mission. I've been head coach on one other team that was on a mission. This team comes in on a mission. Most of the others have to discover or decide what their mission is during camp or as the season unfolds. This one already knows what it wants to do and how it wants to be perceived. It makes your discussions at night, it makes the things that you want them to grow into or attach themselves to, it makes them easier.
Q: What was the other team on a mission coming in?
GB: The 1995 Rose Bowl team in Chicago.
Q: Does this team remind you of the 2001 Big 12 title team, in that there weren't a lot of expectations for it?
GB: Almost more like the 2002 team that played for the championship. We had an overhaul on the line and nobody knew who was going to play there. We didn't have many ballyhooed players.
Either one of those two teams are a good analogy. We came out of nowhere in 2001. In 2002 we were predicted to win the North. Maybe 2001 would be a better comparison because nobody had any expectations. I don't read preseason magazines, but I did read one and I didn't see one (Buff) picked in the all-Big 12 offense or defense all the way down through the third team. So, obviously, we would be a surprise to everyone else if we are the team I think we are.
Q: How much do you read into the preseason polls?
GB: We don't read anything into the preseason polls. Literally nothing. We haven't taken time to address it with our team. I don't think it's an issue.
Q: Each offseason you evaluate how you coach, but with more time this offseason have you changed more how you approach coaching?
GB: Hopefully the time off, I took advantage of that. I visited a couple places and watched practice and got some ideas. But generally every year we sort of sit down and decide what is it we need to change? How can we get better? We subscribe to the idea of continuous improvement. It's sort of a normal process for us.
I know that any time I go on a plane and I've got two or three hours to think I write things down. The staff is always concerned when I come back because I have all these ideas of what I want to change. I had a lot of time on planes and a lot of time off, so I had a lot of things written down.
But you talk them through, see what's best, see what applies to you and where you need to get better. You don't change for change's sake, you change because it's the right thing to do. And I think we've taken that approach this year in a number of things. But I don't know that it's any more than what we've normally done.
Q: Who scares you when you look at the Big 12 North?
GB: No one scares me. I think that respect is probably the best word. You have to respect Nebraska's tradition, they're pride and their players. You have to respect Brad Smith and the job Missouri's done and the way they've slowly put their program in a position to compete for the Big 12 North. The number of players they have returning, that draws a lot of respect from us. Kansas State, you just respect the program they have and when you look at what they do and how they do it. You respect their ability to play with everybody the way they have over the past 10 years.
I think you have to throw us into that situation, when you talk about the top teams in the North. You've got to throw Colorado in there. And Iowa State, Dan McCarney, you always respect what he does. Kansas, they were in a bowl game last year. You don't get scared, but you certainly respect them.
Q: The first game against CSU is a huge game. If you could do things over again, would you consider a lesser opponent for the first game so you could ease into the schedule?
GB: It's that way every year. And every year we have this discussion. The CSU game, one of the purposes it serves is it gets everybody in Colorado excited for college football. I think the game should be played, whether it's the first game or the second game, I don't know if it makes that much difference. But in many ways it's ideal to play it the first game, for both teams.
I don't know what Sonny thinks, we haven't chatted about this, but there's sort of a rivalry week at the end of the season. Oregon plays Oregon State, Washington plays Washington State. There's probably a reason behind that. And I imagine if we looked hard enough we'd find a reason. But it's always going to be the first game so you don't even consider what the alternatives might be.
Q: You've struggled in season openers; is it a relief to get that game in Boulder rather than Denver?
GB: Our players really like playing at Invesco. I think our fans want it in Boulder. I don't know that having them here will make any difference because of the fact that (our players) enjoy playing down there. But down there it's 50-50 (fans). Here hopefully it won't be that way. Now, that part, I really like and I hope it plays into our advantage.
GB: I don't know that you know that until you play them. We don't predict and look at teams the way maybe that you would. We recruit against those guys and we know the kind of players they have; we know the coaches and the good job that each one of them does. But until you get in and see what teams are doing for this year you never know what you've got. In 2001 who would've guessed that nobody would want to play us. So I don't know yet.
Q: Is there an update on Josh Hunt?
GB: There is no update on Josh Hunt. There's no new information.
Q: Have you had to make any changes in the way you speak to recruits and their parents because of the recruiting changes?
GB: We've had two senior camps, and a junior day. I wasn't here for the junior day, but the two senior camps, I've had a chance to talk to the parents. Anymore the rules forbid you from recruiting during those senior camps. So you can't stand up there and tell them what's good about this place. All you can do is stand up and be yourself and have your coaches be themselves, and coach.
I got an email from a parent that was at the last camp, and they said, ‘We really had trepidations about coming to Colorado and seeing what it was like. But you blew us away. The way everybody treated us, the way everybody responded to each other and acted, the way everybody carried themselves was totally exemplary. And they wanted to thank us for that. So strategies for those sorts of things? No, we're just going to be ourselves. We've been ourselves since we got here in 1999 through all that's happened. We've been up front and we've treated everybody that way. That's not going to change because it's the right way to do it.
Strategies for recruiting this fall with the different sort of challenges that we have – we're very competitive people. We're going to find a way to make our recruiting process as competitive if not more so than what everybody else does out there. We're still working on it, we haven't put all the pieces together yet. We haven't put it all into a plan, but we talk about it every day. This wheel hasn't been invented. We are inventing this wheel, and so we're going to take our time and be very creative with it, and be very, very good at what we do.
Q: What does the move of Paul Creighton to fullback do for you?
GB: He can line up at tight end, he can line up at fullback, we can cause some issues with the defense with him there. Paul's 250 pounds and he's really a good player. It gives us depth at the fullback spot and enables us to take Lawrence (Vickers) and play him at the tailback spot. It just gives us a lot of flexibility.
We've got probably more depth at fullback than we've had in a number of years.
Q: You mentioned this team is on a mission. What is that mission?
GB: This team's on a mission to restore confidence in our program, to the people out there who have supported us, and to the people out there who have doubted us a little bit. It's on a mission to show what they're really about.
Q: Do you like the new rules proposed by the NCAA – the 5th year rule and doing away with "celebrity" treatment of recruits?
GB: I especially like the fifth year rule. We've been trying to get that through for five or six years. Up until this year, we're the only sport (NCAA wide) that's been pushing for it. Women's basketball and men's basketball have now seen the advantages of it, so we've all sort of joined forces to demonstrate why it's a good thing. I'm totally for it because it doesn't cost you any money. And I think it's a tremendous advantage to the student athlete.
As far as the other stuff goes, I don't think there's any question that I'm totally in favor of that. Through the years we've tried to do the same things in our own way. We wanted the college experience here (for recruits) to be really as simple as the college experience is, and not do anything extreme or exorbitant.
Q: How would having Jeremy back change your dynamic on offense and special teams?
GB: First of all it puts a smile on all the coaches' faces. It just bolsters your excitement level. I mean you've got one of the better players at (punt returner) in college football. And on offense you don't have to worry about who's going to take the top off the defense. You know who it's going to be.
The other thing for Jeremy is that he's been our third receiver or fourth receiver. Now Jeremy comes in and he's in the game every play.
Q: Can you talk about the development of Daniel Jolly?
GB: Daniel Jolly is a young man who looks like a man. He had a lot of experience last year. He's one of those guys like Lawrence who can play fullback and tailback. He's got that kind of ability. He gives us flexibility and depth. And Daniel's just a wonderful young person.
Q: Bloom's never been a fulltime player. Can he do that? And who's the fastest player on the team?
GB: For him to be a fulltime player, he's a year older, he's got two years in this league. We hope he's an every down player. I think he's ready to be that; I think he wants to be that. He's going to have to get himself in football shape. And for us to have him on the field every snap – I wouldn't want to be defending the guy.
When we played Oklahoma a year ago, they said they were going to let Hackett and McCoy have their catches, but the guy they were going to defend was Bloom. If he got that kind of respect a year ago as a spot player, you can imagine what kind of respect he'll get being on the field every snap.
As for the second question: I think that he and (Terrance) Wheatley would have a heckuva race. And Hugh Charles, I think you line those three up, you could sell tickets. That'd be a heckuva race.
I don't know who's the fastest. The only thing I do know is that when Jeremy's got the ball, there ain't anybody who's caught him. Jeremy probably just has that competitive speed to him.
Q: With the lack of depth at receiver and the good depth at running back, will you run the ball more?
GB: I don't think we have a lack of depth at receiver. You come to practice and watch our receivers, you're going to see a lot of guys that are just ready to go. Blake Mackey, Tyler Littlehales, Stephone Robinson, Dusty Sprague. We've got some guys. We don't have a lack of depth there, we just don't know which one's going to start.
I think we're going to be in a position to balance ourselves pretty well. I think we're going to be the kind of effective running team we were in 2001 and 2002. And we'll have the chance to disperse the ball maybe a little bit better than we ever had. Our tight ends are as good as anybody's. We really don't have a hole on offense.0
Q: Do you see yourself using the tight ends in the way you did in 2001 with Daniel Graham?
GB: I don't think there's any question about it. I think Joel Klopfenstein is a bigtime player. And with Quinn Sypniewski back and Jesse Wallace, we really have three experienced guys. They all catch the ball well. We may be in a position to do what we want to do when we want to do it.
Q: Is it fair to call Joel Klatt one of the most underrated players in the Big 12?
GB: I don't know who's doing the rating. If you ask me, I don't know that there's a better quarterback in the Big 12 than Joel Klatt. There may be; we're going to find out. But he's a heckuva player. He knows our offense inside out; he takes our offense to another level and the players play better when he's in there. He's put on about 15 pounds. He doesn't look like a baseball player anymore, he looks like a football player. He knows what he's got to take in terms of punishment week in and week out and I think he's much more prepared to take it. He's got a great arm. The guy doesn't have a weakness.
Q: Last year your defense had trouble making key stops and it cost you some games. Is your defense going to be better?
GB: That's one of those things we're going to have to wait and see. I do know we're playing with experienced players this year. They've seen all those sort of things and I think we're more prepared to handle those situations. One is their age and maturity is better. And I think that simplifying our scheme a little bit is going to help us.
One of the things that's hard for a young football player is how hard it is to win a football game. They just don't understand it when they get to this level. And then when they've been here a year they understand it. Those guys benefited from experience and that education.
Q: Who from your team is going to surprise the Big 12?
GB: Um. Gosh, there are too many guys that I'm really high on to say who it's going to be. I think the guy that's least expected that has the chance to make the biggest jump is Mason Crosby.