CoogFans would like to welcome Defensive Coordinator Ron Harris. Coach, the fans are REALLY excited about the 2004 season and are anxiously awaiting the Rice game on Sept 5th. Cougar fans are aware of the young guns Coach Briles has assembled on offense; however, as we all know defense is what wins championships. Since the Cougar defense will greatly determine the success of our season we wanted to take this opportunity to get your thoughts after completing your second spring as head of the Cougar defense.
JM - Coach, tell all the CoogFans your overall experience in football and the path traveled to becoming the Cougar Defensive Coordinator.
RH - This season begins my 24th year in coaching; nine years at the high school level, two years at the junior college level, four years as a graduate assistant, eight years at the D1 level and one year as a DII head coach. Just prior to coming to UH, I was coaching the defensive line at Texas Tech.
JM - Please describe your responsibilities and the preparation involved with developing a defensive gameplan during a game week.
RH - I am responsible for the organization, preparation and performance of the defensive unit of our football team. Developing a game plan each week is very involved and takes a tremendous effort on the part of of our staff, week in and week out. Initially, our graduate assistant coaches will breakdown the films of our opponent that we will analyze that week. Next, our video staff under Grant Greene, will create copies of game tapes and cut-ups of our opponent that each coach needs to prepare. Each coach on our staff has specific things they are assigned to look at or breakdown to assist in game planning. On Monday afternoon and evening we will gather to share our observations and ideas and develop a preliminary ready list for the week. Areas that we analyze for each opponent are: personnel groupings, down and distance, field position, special situations, special plays approach when ahead/behind, are initial drives scripted, audibles, route conversions vs. specific coverages, blitz beaters, etc. From this material we look at ourselves, our system, what we do that can both attack and defend our opponent.
JM - Will you please detail for our fans gameday for the defensive staff? Are you on the field or in the press box?
RH - Gameday this fall you will find me in the pressbox along with John Loudermilk and Lane Tobola, Coaches Giles, Aranda, Odum and McGaughey will be on the field so that they can better coach their players in a hands-on manner. In addition, each coach has duties related to game and sideline management. For example, two of our coaches signal in our calls (one live and one dummy), another is responsible for personnel. While our offense is on the field we gather at a bench to review the previous series make any corrections necessary and review any key points to the execution of our plan. At half time we meet first as a staff to discuss the first half of play and determine what adjustments are needed to our plan; from there we meet as an entire defense to talk about those adjustments and our plan for the second half; from this brief meeting we break to individual coaches so they can cover the specific things detailed to their position, at this point Coach Briles will address the entire team before leaving the dressing room.
JM - Coach, what are the BIGGEST differences you see in the Cougar defense from the first Spring compared to where we are after your second spring?
RH - There are three things that are very evident right now as compared to a year ago:
1) Thanks to the efforts of our players and Coach Slaughter we are stronger, quicker and faster than we were a year ago at this time.
2) We are a much more intelligent defense in terms of knowing not just what our assignment is, but also why we must execute it as assigned.
3) More stability in our personnel; last year we had 11 scholarship players that were part of our spring that were not with us in the fall.
JM - How are the defensive players who were injured during the Spring doing and what is there prognosis for next season?
RH - The only injuries sustained in the Spring that will carry over into the Fall are Jonathan Fantroy (acl surgery) and Lance Kargyl (shoulder) Lance Everson is back lifting and eating; Travis Griffith, Tristen Robertson and Wade Koehl are all 100%.
JM - As the defensive line coach at Texas Tech you coached some young men that went on to the NFL. Defense starts with a strong defensive line. The Coogs have had a VERY young and undersized line the past couple of years. Please give your overview of the defensive line. In particular, the size of our DTs and pass rush ability of our DEs.
RH - Coach Giles has done a fantastic job building the defensive line. There are eight to ten players there that can help us win in 2004!!! The DTs range in height from 6' (Kade Lane) to 6'3 (Gerard Richard) and weigh from 269 (Lane) to 330 (Marquay Love). Our average is 6'1" 301. Joe Clay and Eddie McCray have proven themselves to be effective pass rushers. Kendrick Goss had a very good spring and if his efforts transfer to the season this fall he will be a good pass rusher as well. The unknown is what Travis Griffith will bring to the table. He has all the athletic tools necessary to be a good pass rusher, we just need to develop him as fast as we can in fall camp. Matt Bentley is effective in rush games and making plays at the level of the QB.
JM - Coach, due to inexperience and injury the Coogs were VERY young at linebacker last year. True freshman, Wade Koehl was a very pleasant surprise. Please give an overview of our linebackers after the spring and a progress report on who may become our Middle Linebacker.
RH - Spring for our LBs proved invaluable. First, it showed how depth is still an issue; second, it both allowed and forced players to develop and show what they were capable of doing. Had Lance, Tristen or Wade stayed healthy all spring we might not have seen Jaime Green come on the way he did or get long looks at Andrew Reese, Ike Iheakwazu and Austin Griffith. As for the competition at Middle Linebacker that is still a three horse race that won't be decided until fall camp. All three will have a role and will contribute to our success. Coach Aranda's tireless efforts to prepare and improve each of these players is starting to show dividends. As earlier stated we are a much more intelligent defense this Spring and this group of linebackers is a big reason why. This group is also miles ahead of last year in terms of techniques specific to LB play. With that being said, we still need to continue to gain strength and body mass across the board.
JM - While the secondary was much maligned the second half of last year they showed GREAT potential against Michigan. Seems the secondary became tentative once Adelekan was lost for the season with his injury. With the graduation of Woodward and Cola a young secondary becomes younger. Since they are the LAST line of defense please give us an overview of where the secondary is after this Spring and which young players made the biggest improvement.
RH - I think your question illustrates two key points for not only the secondary but for the defense as a whole.
1) You have to play with confidence and with mental toughness.
2) You have to be consistent in your level of execution.
This is true for any player on the field but in the secondary any mistake can prove costly because as you say they are the LAST line of defense. We are stronger at corner because of the experience we return in Routt, Gaston, Sterling and Wilson and moving Roshawn Pope from safety. Our ability to cover is more than adequate but we must be more consistent in making plays when we are in position to do so. At safety Will Gulley is solid and Courtney Brooks definitely benefited from being at one position for the entire Spring. Our two young safeties; Marcus Ross and Rocky Schwartz both improved a great deal during the course of the Spring and will definitely bring a very physical presence to our secondary. Coach Odum and Coach McGaughey are determined to build on the positive things that these players have shown they can do and strive for the consistency we all need to be a successful unit.
JM - Coach, the spring is a time for some experimenting with position changes. Can you comment on how players such as Travis Griffith, Bryant Brown, and Matthew Bentley adapted to new positions?
RH - Matt played a lot of defensive end for us last fall so there really wasn't anything new to him this Spring. Travis was progressing nicely through the first four practices before the mcl strain ended his Spring. As I said earlier, he has all the tools to succeed. Bryant improved as the Spring went on but with his experience at LB he will probably return there in the fall.
JM - Recruiting for the 2005 class is about to start hot and heavy. If we sign approximately 12 to 13 defensive players, in GENERAL terms what is the position breakdown the defensive staff will look for in this next class?
RH - Ideally, we would like to sign five DL (four DEs and one DT), three LBs (one Mac and two OLB), four DBs (two CB and two Safeties). We currently have 14 seniors on the entire team so if you can get Coach Briles to give the defense 12-13 signees, I'll appreciate it (HA).
JM - Coach, the first two recruiting classes for Art Briles have been almost entirely HS players. We all agree it is BEST to build a program with quality freshman and redshirt them. However, with so many young players starting has there been any consideration to signing two or three quality JUCO defensive players in this next class to put the defense over the top?
RH - Yes, we are anticipating adding two or three JC defenders in this class.
JM - With the semester ending shortly, please describe what our defensive players do during the summer to prepare for the season. We know offensively the players can get together on their own and run pass patterns and do a lot of seven-on-seven stuff. What can the defensive players do to maintain their edge during the long hot Summer?
RH – Coach Slaughter and his staff have a very structured and well-designed workout to make certain we report in August in optimum condition. In addition to that each position group has some specific everyday drills they will do. These drills will incorporate both execution of physical techniques and recognition of fundamental keys for their position. This Summer, we also have our players breaking down game film of our opponents to both study those offenses and to keep their minds active in thinking about football and our defense.
JM - Coach, without giving specifics is there a chance that the defense could add a player or two via transfer or signing this Summer?
RH - We are still looking at the possibility of having a couple of additions to our roster by the start of school in August.
JM - How did the Hawaii Bowl experience help you prepare for your second season as our Defensive Coordinator?
RH - First, let me start off by saying that the Hawaii Bowl experience was tremendous and gave everyone in the program a taste of what success can bring. As for the game itself it was thrilling and exciting to be a part of. Analyzing it from a performance standpoint, I believe that game was very indicative of our season as a whole. We are capable of playing well, we need to make plays when we are in position to do so, we must stop opponents from converting on third down situations and no matter how well you play, one explosive play or big play can negate everything else you have done.
JM - What is your outlook for the 2004 CUSA title chase and your prognosis for a Bowl Game?
RH - Right now, the game against Rice is what we have to focus on, there are a lot of teams that have high expectations for next season. The conference race should be very exciting. As for our own bowl outlook, all we can do is worry about what we can control, prepare ourselves each week to win and expect to win. What the players have done this off-season and will do during the summer will help them earn those expectations. There are probably no less than nine C-USA teams that believe they have a shot at one of the conferences five bowl bids.
JM - Coach, tell us how it is working with Coach Briles and the defensive staff here at the University of Houston.
RH - It is a privilege to be a member of Coach Briles' staff. He is a proven winner that does things the right way and treats people with honesty and respect. He is the total package in terms of a great x/o guy, tremendous motivator and the ability to relate to everyone on a personal level. The other coaches on our staff are all people UH can be proud of. They all share in Coach Briles' vision of what UH can become again. They all have tremendous knowledge and passion for the game. They care about these players as people first and players second.
JM - Coach, having come to UH from Texas Tech, please give us your thoughts about the calibre of USA offenses versus Big XXII offenses?
RH - I've been asked that question a few times and what I believe is that the front line players on offense are as good as any we would have faced in the Big 12. The major difference I've noticed is the depth of talent may not be as great in C-USA. There are outstanding coaches and different schemes and philosophies that make this conference as exciting as any in the country.
JM - What would you like to tell all CoogFans as we head into our second season of the Art Briles era?
RH - Personally, I would like to thank everyone for their passion and support. We are working hard to improve and bring a defense to this program that will make all Cougar fans proud. I know we have to play much more consistently on defense in order to win championships. There is a lot that could be said but they are mere words. The proof will be in the performance on the field this fall. There are no excuses just a burning committed desire to both work to win and refuse to lose.
JM - Coach, in parting, tell everyone about your family. At the football banquet, I sat next to you, your wife and your little baby.
RH - My wife, Missy and I will be celebrating our 2nd anniversary this July. She is a native of Lubbock and a Texas Tech grad. Our daughter, Amy was born on September 25th right before the East Carolina Game. She made the trip to Hawaii and has already been offered by Coach Curl!!!
All CoogFans want to thank you for spending a little time with us before you hit the recruiting trail. We look forward to seeing the defense show continued improvement under your direction and earn back the MADDOG mentality we enjoyed when Coach Briles played here.
Thank You Coach Harris.