Jamie Newberg – What do you think of Florida so far?
Mike Locksley – It's everything I expected it to be and maybe even a little more. Before coming I always thought Florida would be one of the top three jobs in the country I would be interested in, especially being at Maryland and my home. Florida could lure me away. Spring ball was fun, especially with the type of athletes we have here. The fan support that UF gets is incredible and the notoriety of just being at Florida is special. Now I just want to recruit great players and put that Gator on their chest. It's everything I dreamed it would be.
JN – What's been the most impressive thing you have seen or learned about Coach (Ron) Zook?
ML – He is such a relentless person and so competitive. That's in everyday life and it will make him a great head coach and it makes him a great recruiter. He never lets up. He is going to find a way… he motivates that players and the coaches. He bleeds that blue and orange. After going out with him this spring, and seeing him work on the road as a recruiter, seeing how he handles all the Gator club functions and seeing how he handles spring practice, how he runs the team, tempo for practice, he has shown me that he is everything I have heard about him.
JN – You got to coach some pretty special backs at Maryland (Lamont Jordan, Bruce Perry). What do you think of the running backs at UF right now?
ML – I tell you I was real surprised. At Maryland, I would just have one of these guys or one or two of these guys at a time. To come and walk in the door with four guys as talented as Lamont (Jordan) and Bruce (Perry), who I had at Maryland, these guys are as talented as those guys were. I walked in the door here and there are four guys just sitting there… right behind each other and are very competitive. They all do certain things very well. I am very impressed with the guys we have here and I think the strength of our unit is depth.
JN – What do they do best?
ML – First thing that comes to mind when I think of Ran (Carthon) is that he is a pretty complete back. He reminds me a little of Lamont (Jordan) in the respect he is a great receiver and open field runner. He does a pretty good job in pass protection that I think can play all three downs for you. Usually you have guys that are either great runners or short yardage runners but come third down you have to take them out of the game. But Ran has proven he is a receiver out of the backfield or a receiver split out. He is the most complete of the four. Deshawn's (Wynn) biggest asset is his balance. He has tremendous balance. On his first hit he is able to maintain his running posture. He has shown a good burst and acceleration through the hole. He is also a pretty good receiver. Those are his two best traits. Ciatrick (Fason) is a slashing type runner and is probably the most explosive of all the running backs. He is a slasher that will stretch and cut defenders… a pretty strong runner that is very competitive. Jimtavis (Walker) I think can people miss in the open field. He is a pretty good receiver. So Jimtavis is a make you miss type of guy, Ciatrick is a slash and cut kind of guy, Deshawn is a powerful and explosive guy that can make people miss and has shown he can out run people, and Ran is the complete package right now. But that's what you expect from an older guy.
JN – Where does Willie Greene stand?
ML – I have not had time to evaluate Willie when he has been healthy but I do know this, having recruited him out of high school, when he was healthy and ready to go, he was a powerful runner, a guy that did a great job at short yardage situations. He was similar to DeShawn coming out of high school. We just have to get him healthy.
JN – The offensive line may be the strength of this team and you have to break in new quarterback regardless. How important is it to get that running game going?
ML - That will make things a lot easier on our young quarterbacks until they find their groove. Having a running game of which I experienced at Maryland, especially with having two different quarterbacks the last two years that I was there, it always helps when you are struggling in that area of having a young quarterback. It takes pressure off of then to control the ball and make some plays in the running game. I think Coach Zuanbrecher will have those young guys ready but it will benefit us to be able to run the ball a little more than we have and it will make life a lot easier under center. It opens up the deep passing game when you can establish that rushing attack. It brings up those safeties a little closer. Play-action will feed off of that and they are usually more high percentage.
JN – What was it like being under Ralph Friedgen? He is one of the best in the business.
ML – It was a great experience for me as a young coach. Just to be with him two years… I learned so much offensive football… how we prepared and how you should prepare… the way he breaks down opponents and all the little things… I just tried to soak in as much as I could. It was a great and beneficial experience to me. I also have to give some credit to Charlie Taft (offensive coordinator). Charlie brought some things to the table that helped expand some of the things that Ralph brought. Charlie called every play in every game but Ralph was in every single offensive meeting and new what we were doing. It was a system he brought with him. For a young coach to work with Ralph Friedgen, I was privileged and honored.
JN – What's it been like to work with Coach Zaunbrecher so far?
ML – I tell you what, Ed knows his system and that's half the battle as an offensive coordinator is understanding the chess match that goes along with your system. Very similar to Ralph, your system has to fit your players and he has done an outstanding job of adjusting. You have not seen everything in his system. He knows the problems and the answers, just going through spring and what we do throwing the ball is very similar to Ralph, we approach and break down every small part of the offense.
JN – Lets turn to recruiting. Have you had a chance to sit down and watch (on film) the incoming class of the Gators?
ML – I saw a lot of these guys I guess from a recruiting standpoint when I was at Maryland. I have seen most live or on tape, especially the kids from Florida. We took a look at Andre Caldwell, recruited Julian (Riley), Dingle, and a bunch of others. I am really looking forward to seeing them all in August.
JN – How good is this Florida staff recruiting wise, led by Coach Zook?
ML – It always starts at the top and that's what I have learned as a young coach. Recruiting is something we do everyday here. It's the lifeline of what we do. The old saying is ‘it's not the X's and O's but the Jimmy and Joes.' Coach Zook really realizes that. The best thing we have is diversity. I am not talking about ethnicity either. We have some older coaches that have been around and some young blood and middle of the road guys. It is a tremendous blend and we are a blue collar staff. What you see is what you get. I think in this day and ages of recruiting, parents and kids appreciate that because you are not getting the fluff job. We have a great university to sell and that is half the battle. Just being able to go out and reel in some great players. There have been three new hires, myself, Coach (Charlie) Strong and Coach Bill Miller, to go along with the other six guys that were already here. I am very impressed with this staff as recruiters and coaches and I wouldn't take anything away from this staff as coaches either. Very rarely do you find a staff with depth. Some staffs have one, two or three guys that do half the recruiting. Others staffs have a few guys that do all the coaching. I think here, they all do a good job at both.
JN – What is your own personal recruiting philosophy?
ML – When I get down to crunch time in recruiting, I want it to be so hard for that kid to tell me no that he's ducking me and not taking my calls. When you get to really know a kid and recruit him through the whole cycle, you can make it hard so they can't tell you no and that's half the battle. Recruiting starts with relationships and based on honesty and having a great product to sell here with football and academics, that itself makes it so much easier. But if they can trust you and feel comfortable around you I think in the end that will come into play when they make the decision. You have to have that comfort level. You can't have everything. There will be other schools with bigger stadiums or better locker rooms. The people are the most important thing in the recruiting process. That's why they had success last season.
JN – What are Florida's needs this season in recruiting?
ML – I think definitely we are going to need help up front. It always starts on the offensive and defensive lines that we build around. We need to sign some OLs and some big guys on the defensive front. Linebacker will be a big need and we will have to replace some guys at receiver. We will lose five to six DBs off this team too so we will have to sign us some defensive backs.