Recently, John and I were able to chat with Art Briles. Art is a busy man, as I'm sure you know, so catching up with him was a matter of timing, but well worth the wait. Enjoy.
JS - How much of your philosophies in coaching are affected by your having played under Bill Yeoman?
AB – I tell you what, I've been asked that a bunch. There have been three people who have influenced my philosophy on coaching, my father is the first. What I got from him is my work ethic, a burning desire to succeed and a no excuse type of attitude. Coach Yeoman is another with his Veer offense, which we are based out of we just don't do it with the pitch back. As a player, I used to watch film with Coach Yeoman late in the evening after everyone else had left for the day. I was learning how to evaluate personnel and coming to learn how important the intelligence phase of the game is, knowing your opponents tendencies in order to better understand their game so that you could anticipate what they would do under a certain set of circumstances. Another man who greatly influenced me was, W.T. Stapler, who coached in Conroe for years. I started coaching with him in Sweetwater in 1990. He was a man who knew how to bring a team together, how to handle people as well as a dynamic football coach.
JS - Where do you see the Houston Cougars in the rebuilding process of the football program?
AB – We've gotten started, but we certainly are a long way from finishing the task. We want to get to 100 percent as a program schematically, coaching with talent, effort and attitude. I think that there is a lot of growth in front of us. We want to do as lot better and we are going to do a lot better. We are going to be a tougher team to contend with in '04 than we were in '03. We are going to be a better, tougher, more schematically diverse team than last year. Our schedule will be tough, look at the first six games with OU and Miami mixed in there with two Thursday/Saturday games, it is brutal. In conference we have Memphis then turn around the next Thursday and go at Southern Miss and then onto TCU.
DD – Coach, I want to go back a bit and discuss your memories of our first SWC season in 1976.
AB – I remember a few things, well, first of all going into that conference there was an anticipation level. What I liked about it was the door wasn't really opened, we had we had to knock and we were not real sure if it would be answered. I like feeling left out, I do. When we hire coaches here I don't want silk sheets, I want no sheets, I want people who have worked hard to get where they are and appreciate it a little more. Same way with the players, I want tough, strong-minded, physical football players who have a purpose. I think that UH coming into that conference where no one really wanted us, well, I think it bonded our team together. That is the feeling that I want to get back here now, where we are not only representing our university, we are representing the city of Houston. If we take care of our business, the city will get behind us. Here in Houston, we are representing more people than a lot of state universities. We have the potential to have a tremendous fan base. In order for this to happen we have to do a great job on and off the field.
Getting back to '76, there were two or three really exciting games. Beating Texas A&M at Rice Stadium, that was a huge win, of course going to Baylor and winning for our first SWC game was big as well. The A&M game at that time was the largest crowd to see a college game in the Southwest, then going to UT beating that record and the Longhorns 30-0 was big, that was a fun day. Going to Texas Tech and beating them there, which wasn't easy with Rodney Alison at QB. That season was a fun experience with a great group of guys. I made a lot of life long friends. We never discuss the past now, it is these players time and that is what we are concerned with now. Those were some glory days and we want some more.
JS - How does your offense differ from the Run & Shoot of the late 80's?
AB – You know, I'm not that familiar with the Run & Shoot. The difference that I see and any naked eye can see is that the Run & Shoot basically is a two or three formation set, it is predominately 80 percent throw and 20 percent run. It is a quick timing route adjustment scheme, so that is the Run & Shoot from me watching film and on television. Our offense is more multiple with power, we like to make the defense adjust, keep them very uncomfortable, to throw the ball well enough to keep people loose, keep them off of us and respect us. If we have to get tough, we want to be able make a yard and a half, two and a half when we need it, that's the difference. If we want to pound the ball, we are going to do it, we'll throw in a little option for fun as well.
DD - Tell us what you are looking for in an offensive lineman, it appears that we might be looking for height.
AB – Honestly, the first thing that we are looking for is a good character kid with good feet. We are not really that tied up on height like a lot of people are, we just happened to land a few guys who are tall and wanted to come to school here. We got the kid from Van Vleck, who is 6'5", the German kid, who is 6'8", the kid from Jasper, a great player at 6'3", another great one from Klein Collins at 6'2" and another very good one from Friendswood at 6'1". Our philosophy might change as we go, but right now, what we want is big, strong physical players with good footwork. The heavier they are with those attributes the better. We are not trying to put weight on players, we are trying to make them strong. The guys we have will be mobile and they will be active. We might not be the heaviest line in the nation like last season, but the wind won't knock us over. We will probably average around 303.
JS – Well, you knew that this one had to come sooner or later. What are your plans of strengthening the defense for the up coming season?
AB – You know, on any side of the ball or on special teams we as a team need to be more alert to situations and better our knowledge of the game. Through experience and coaching I know we will be more in tune this season. In long yardage situations, I know we will be much better, we took some long yardage blows last season and I know we will be much better, that is a number one emphasis for us. Awareness is key and we will be better in that aspect. We have great players who have a lot of pride, they will be much improved. We lost Farouk in the Tulane game and that hurt us a lot, he was a key loss that changed our defense. A little story on Farouk, when I got here I didn't watch any ‘02 tape, I wanted a clean slate. One day Farouk wasn't working as hard as I wanted him to so I jumped on him a little bit. Well, after a few days of spring work I went back and told him I was sorry, that if I had known what a player he was I might have thrown him a towel and said here wipe the sweat of your brow big guy. Farouk is a very explosive player and has a real nose for the ball. We have really good depth now and will be much better.
JS - After playing .500 ball in C-USA your first season, give our fans some of your thoughts about the conference.
AB – I think that C-USA is a very good conference, a really tough football conference. You have some schools with long-standing traditions and enough geographic diversity too see some different styles of football. These different styles help you to grow as a coach and a team, I appreciate that part of it. We have a strong league, much better than most think, not even close. I knew this because I keep up with football. We saw it first hand at Tech right here in Houston a couple of years ago. What most people do not understand is that there are a lot of good players out there, they are everywhere and any team can only bring in 20-25 a year, it tends to balance things out. With our non-conference and our conference schedule we will have the opportunity to show people how good this league is and make them very proud to be Cougar fans.
DD – Coach, I would like to touch on recruiting, in particular your apparent like and use of early offers.
AB - We offered two sophomores last year, our philosophy is that if we spot a good athlete early we are going to get after him. We are going after the best players out there, the guys who fit what we are looking for. If you want these guys you have to go get them because everyone else will as well. If these kids have four offers in April and then we come in on them in June it is often too late. You have to get in early and fight if you want to have a chance. You also have to be intelligent about how you do this and always have a back-up plan, it is a fine line that you have to walk, but we are willing to walk it.
DD – Continuing on recruiting, tell us about recruiting for the offensive and defensive lines.
AB – We will take four to five on each side of the ball in most years. We are going to recruit an athlete, then make him stronger and better, this goes across the board. We are going to work them, mold them and build them, then when they are 22-23 they are going to be much better than they were at 18. We want to redshirt all of these players in order to do this process. We really feel good about this recruiting class even though it didn't have the so-called star power, but we know that we have some great individuals to work with.
DD – One last question from me. Did you feel that the Kevin Kolb to Vincent Marshall play with time running out in Hawaii was going to work out like it did?
AB – Well, with any play you just never know, but we saw some tendencies in their defense and we had not shown that play much during the season so we felt pretty good about it. Kevin made a good throw and Vincent made an incredible play out of it. That was exciting for everyone.
JS – Coach, do you have anything that you want to say to all the CoogFans out there?
AB – We as a staff feel a very strong allegiance to our fans, we are doing this for the thrill of competition, the thrill of victory and the goodness that comes from working hard, but also for all our fans, the people who care about the University of Houston.
Coach, we thank you for your time and as always it was a pleasure to get your insight on Houston Cougar football.