It's been a hectic first couple of weeks of spring drills, but the team appears to be responding favorably to the new coaching staff, their approach, and their philosophies. The team is being held to a high academic standard under the first-year head coach, and players are getting the job done (of the seven players being held out of spring drills to focus on academics, George Fa'avae, Brian Flowers and Andre Harris have made it back for camp).
Below we talk with coach Akey to learn more about his approach to the game, his plans for Idaho, and his thoughts about the schedule.
Coach Akey addresses the team after a recent practice.
LJ: Now you've been at Idaho for a few months.
RA: "Yes I have."
LJ: What was your first impression with the school and the department.
RA: "I love it here. In that respect it's been absolutely awesome. I'm getting my feet on the ground a little bit. We've been able to be in town, on campus, working with the guys; so that has helped us become more at home. The people here have been fantastic. The Vandal Nation has been fantastic. We went around the state and did the tour. People had open arms. They've got passion. All those things; I was fired up about that. There were people out here who are hungry for something to get built here. We're obviously hungry to do that. I think the players, they're responding to what we're asking them to do. I saw growth take place during the course of the winter with the weight room and the running, the way that they conducted things. Learning how to compete better, finish better, finding out how hard they're capable of working. They're still not there yet. They're still finding those things out, but at least now we're going to do it playing football. We're finding out what we have here, what kind of depth and talent that we've got to work with at this point in time. We're finding out a little bit more in that respect. Obviously we're finding out more about how they're going to respond to us and our coaching. Gives us a first chance really to get to do it. You can lift all the weights and run all the sprints you want to in the world, but you've got to play the game. We're in the process of finding that out right now and getting things more solidified.
You come to college to get your degree, and that means you go to class and take care of those grades. We're getting some work done in regards to getting that done right now. Playing football is a great benefit that you get by being here. They're understanding that when you take care of that, they get to go play football. It's just a new way – a new line I guess – of expectation. It doesn't mean that anybody else has been bad, it just means that I think a change continually happens. The kids did what they needed to do; so we're trying to make it clear to them that, ‘Hey, this is the way we're gonna do things', and there is meaning in the words there. I think that that's getting backed up a little bit, too."
RA: "I told them I completely understood that. I told them this is what we want to do, and I explained to them that I'm aware of what they've been doing here. This coaching staff, everything that we're doing - and as we see responses to what we're asking of them or things that just take place - I think we try to understand that that's part of the [situation]. We've paid attention to that. Some kids were honest enough to say ‘Coach, I like what you're saying, but we've heard that before.' They need to see if I say we're going to do something, they need to see it backed up, and I think that they're seeing that that is the case. When we give them expectations, then if those expectations aren't met there is a penalty for it. If you're going to do things wrong, you're not going to be a part of things here. They've seen that that has happened [here now], too. I don't want to focus on that, but they do see that we're not going to tolerate this. We want things done right. I think paying attention to it, communicating with them, listening to them...they're starting to understand us a little bit better."
LJ: What kind of offense do you plan to run?
RA: "It will be predominantly a single back type offense that can hopefully be multi-formation and personnel-group so that we have the ability to run the ball and use the play action game. [We want to] be able to drop back and throw the ball, whether it's the quick three-step or the five-step passing game, and then have answers for people that are going to try to blitz us with screen games and that kinda deal. So to try to help that, part of the run game is going to involve some option play as well. How much of that? We're finding that out right now, but it needs to be a part of what we do. I think that we've worked a lot at that, finding out how much we can do with the option. Now we're getting settled in on some of the other things that we want to do with this offense, and a lot of that is going to be determined by the type of personnel we have. If we have multiple tight ends, you're going to see more multiple tight end stuff. If we get some wide outs to start making some plays, then you'll see the 11 and 10 personnel things. I would like to hope that we'd be able to do both. We need a running back. Who's going to be the back that can create the big play? That's kinda what we're looking for. Deonte Jackson's had some nice runs in the practices as of late. Jayson Bird's a different style runner, but he's done some good things here before. I think we can use both those guys. We need to find out what other guys can do. Hopefully I would expect to have Brian Flowers back. I expect to have him back on the field this Friday so we'll have him for the second half of spring ball and see how he handles those things and what he can do. Maybe even Andre Harris." [Editor's note: Both Flowers and Harris returned to practice Friday afternoon]
LJ: Please describe the defensive scheme that you're going to install here.
RA: "Well, it's going to be an attack oriented 4-3 defense as our base. How much we attack and the style of our attack is going to be dependent upon how well we're able to cover and what kind of blitzes we have. The Okie or the 3-4 package, 30 front type stuff, is going to be part of what we do. How much will be dependent upon what kind of defensive line play we get. We've had to do that a little bit more as of late. Last Friday we had seven defensive linemen at practice; so that instituted a little quicker selection of the Okie package which is fine. We've got to find out how much of that we need to do. If these defensive tackles are here and eligible and playing well, it can be just a little bit by choice. If those guys don't make it academically or aren't performing well, then this might be what we have to do. You can marry the two together very well. I've been able to do that before, coach Criner's been able to do that before. They've got a nice package put together with it made that simple; so we will be able to do both. We're honestly finding out a lot about this football team across the board. It's easy to run both of them. It's just a matter of how much of which we need to do, and the same thing on offense. What can we settle in on, how broad can that base be, and then be able to go from there. It's a work in progress."
LJ: Yesterday I watched practice and I saw a lot of emphasis, a new emphasis, on special teams. That was exactly what you promised would occur at the news conference when you were hired. Can you describe what your philosophy on special teams is going be, what you're going to install on special teams?
RA: "I want to be able to attack in that phase of the game as well. I want to make sure of two things. One, I want to make sure that we're sound and good. You can make a difference in the special teams quicker than you can the other two phases of the game. You can also get hurt that way; so we're making sure that the base is going to be strong and they understand what they're doing, find out what kind of weapons do we have. I think that's another avenue that you can be aggressive in trying to change the momentum of the football game, and that's what I want this to accomplish for us. We've started every single practice…the first meeting that we had with the players was a special teams meeting. The first thing we did in practice was special teams. It's part of every practice that we've had, and we've been able to work on different phases of it. We're still bringing some other phases to the board with it. We've worked a lot on the punt team and the punt protection, because that's the most important. We will continue to build that. The punt return team has started to get some work; now we need to get a little bit more done with blocking punts, and then we'll start the second half of spring practice getting the kickoff and kickoff return team put together."
LJ: This fall you're going to open with USC on the road.
RA: "Yes we are."
LJ: That's going to be a much talked about game for obvious reasons. It's almost a David vs. Goliath scenario, and obviously there are positive and negative aspects of the game. But you also have to get your team prepared for that game and get them to buy into what you intend to plan for the game, and buy into that plan. Beyond that, how do you feel about the game and everything around it? It was scheduled two coaches ago, and now here we are. Your first game as a head coach will be at USC. What are your thoughts on that?
LJ: What are your thoughts about the rest of the schedule?
RA: "We've got six games in the Dome, and seven games we don't have to leave the Palouse for; so in that respect I think that's a fantastic deal, and I like having Hawaii here and not having to go over there. I think that's a great thing. Starting conference play at home I think is a great thing. Having the Boise game on rivalry weekend I think is a great thing. There are a lot of things I'm excited about, but our attention is going to have be paid to one opponent at a time. Right now, unfortunately, our opponent is ourselves, and what I mean by that is our conduct and things like that. We need to have everybody out there on the field. We need to win the academic game, and we need to win the behavior game. We're getting that cleaned up - I hope - right now, as well as learning how to do the things that we're going to do. But then we're going to put all our focus on being as prepared as we can to go down there and beat USC. After that game we'll look at what we did well, what we need to improve upon, and how that applies to our next opponent, and that's the way we're going to go through this whole deal. We don't have the luxury to look past anybody."
LJ: Any kidding or any discussion about how you're going to face the old boss [Bill Doba, head coach at Washington State]?
RA: "We talk about it quite a bit. Doba was just over this weekend. We still talk a lot on the phone. He's been over to the house a couple of times. We're probably going to do some fishing together here sometime too; so yeah, we talk about it a lot. We give each other a hard time about it. It'll be a different deal."
LJ: Yeah, the first time you square off it'll be interesting, but it'll draw a lot of attention, too, and in the Palouse it'll get the fans involved.
RA: "I hope that will be a great thing. It will be a great Palouse event."
LJ: That game always draws a lot of people and a lot of interest, and it seems to be a lot of fun, and the whole community gets involved I think. Rival or not the community gets involved; so it will be interesting to see how you and Coach Doba talk about that game.
RA: "We'll still be friends."
LJ: I'm sure you kid each other from time to time…
RA: "Oh, that we do. That we do. We give each other a hard time. I told him if he won't blitz us we won't throw the ball every time. Yeah, we give him a hard time about stuff like that. That will be a fun day. That will be a fun day."
LJ: Well, thank you for the time.
RA: "Hey, you've got it!"