Publisher's Note: The following is the first of a two-part Q&A the CN staff did recently with ISU football coach Dan McCarney for our upcoming 2003 football preview issue of Cyclone Nation Magazine. Part two will be posted tomorrow. For more information about how you can subscribe to Cyclone Nation, please click on the following link:https://secure.theinsiders.com/a.z?s=171&p=6
CN: Let's start with some general comments about your team heading into the 2003 season?
McCarney: We're proud of all the recent accomplishments in recent years and have built on those things. We reflect back on them. The actual goals for the season won't be set until the end of two-a-days, because that's when I find out who our quarterback is going to be as well as see the new kids and get a feel for our team chemistry and togetherness.
There's so much character in the program right now and that's why I have so much faith and trust in these kids that we're going to have a good year, despite this brutal schedule again.
We've definitely improved in some things and have to continue that and stay on track towards those things. We've shown that we can be a real disciplined team and were the least-penalized team in the league last year. We were great through a bunch of the games last year from a turnover-ratio standpoint and then we struggled in some games against some great defenses turning it over. We've got to get back to where we were for much of last season when we were up there in the conference. Defensively, we need to pick up where we left off.
We're in the midst of finalizing our preparation and scouting reports for the first five or six opponents. We're finalizing our schedule for two-a-days, which is much different this year. The rules are different. They all come in at the same time and we go five days of singles. There are no two-a-day practices two days in a row anymore.
CN: The Big 12 office didn't do you any favors with the schedule again, did they?
McCarney: Everybody talks about us getting the big ones at home. Well, there's going to be five bowl teams here and four of them finished in the top 10 last year. Then you talk about the road games and people act like we're going to some junior college somewhere.
We're going to Northern Illinois, which won eight games and took Wisconsin to the last minute last year. How many teams have gone into Nebraska and won the last 50 years? Everybody in the world is talking about how improved Missouri's going to be. Texas Tech went to a bowl game and doesn't lose many in Lubbock. Kansas will be much improved. We've got a lot of real tough games.
But I've got a lot of faith in these kids. We've got great character in the program. That's why you hardly ever read anything but good things about this program off the field. We'll have a coaching staff where all the full-time coaches return. Last year at this time, every coach on the offense had different responsibilities.
CN: Despite beating Iowa five seasons in a row and going to three consecutive bowl games, the program still suffers from a lack of respect nationally. Given the caliber of teams on the schedule this year, your team can get that very easily with a few big wins. Is this season a vital one from that perspective?
McCarney: To me it's a fantastic, golden opportunity. Despite the low expectations from the outside we have different expectations from the inside. Everybody in the world knows about Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State and Colorado, and after last year everybody in the world knows about Iowa. Hopefully we'll have a lot of the nation's attention in those games.
A lot of the guys on this team have played in those kinds of games. We're 14-5 at home in our last 19 games. It's not where we want to be yet, but we're still better than a 75 percent winning percentage. It's getting harder for teams to come in here and beat us.
CN: Getting to a bowl game last fall was a huge success for a team with your brutal road schedule. It may be too early to talk specific goals right now, but how can success be measured with another tough Big 12 slate in 2003? How about competing for a Big 12 North title?
McCarney: We have finished third in the North three years in a row now. We finished ahead of Colorado one year, Nebraska another and Kansas State the other. It's very tangible evidence we're improving the program and doing some good things. The winning seasons and bowl games are really important.
But we want to start making that move. We want to go out and take care of business at home, making it a real hard place for teams to come in here and beat you. Make it a situation where you really have a legitimate chance to win, then go on the road and steal some. We've been able to get some pretty fantastic road victories around here in recent years, not as many as I'd like but we've had some big ones.
With the group we have right now, I'm going to lean on them real strong. Frankly, that senior class reminds me of the one that led us to nine victories and our bowl championship. There are a whole bunch of fifth-year seniors, including every one of those seven captains. They have had a lot to do with the success of this program. How do you think Jordan Carstens will respond to 1-7 in the conference and 4-8 overall predictions? What about Lane Danielsen, Jack Whitver and Bob Montgomery? Those guys know how to win.
CN: What questions still need to be answered during fall practice?
McCarney: Obviously we've got to find out who the quarterback's going to be. From a personnel standpoint, that's the number one decision we've got to make in camp. We get 29 practices to get that done. Waye Terry has started throwing the ball. His surgery went great and the doctors said it's been a great recovery. Waye feels real good and is throwing. The race is really on. I think we probably would have had a little better feel had Waye not gotten hurt on where we were. Waye was really coming on and improving immensely when he hurt his thumb.
We don't know who the starter is and we're not playing games with anybody on the outside. We hope the decision we make at camp is the one that's going to last all year long because we don't want to get into juggling quarterbacks and moving them around.
Most of the other starting positions are in pretty good shape. They all know where they stand and I don't sugarcoat any of that. How many of those young guys can step in and contribute? I don't think very many of them. The two that have the best chance – Aaron Brant and James Wright – are already here. They have made their mark and will help this team right away.
CN: What is the preferred timeframe for naming a starting quarterback?
McCarney: We'll do a mock game either seven or eight days before the UNI game. It will be a night game. By then I hope we've got our starter because by then we're done scrimmaging and it's all just gameplan stuff. By then we really don't want to be making many decisions unless somebody comes out here and goes haywire mentally.
CN: You got a good glimpse of Austin Flynn, who's the most highly-recruited quarterback to come to ISU in quite some time, in the spring. Considering the difficult schedule ahead can he as a redshirt freshman handle all of the responsibilities?
McCarney: I think he's going to be in the thick of the race and has a lot of ability. He's definitely our fastest quarterback, has a good arm and is very mobile. It's going to come down to who can lead, who can move the chains and who's not going to make repeated mistakes.
CN: Are you surprised Cris Love did not come in and take control of the competition in the spring considering his decided edge in experience?
McCarney: I didn't think he'd blow the other two away. Part of that is not because I'm real disappointed in Cris, but I've seen the two other kids. Those are the two best scout-team quarterbacks we've had in the program since I've been here. The defensive staff will tell you the same thing. So that didn't surprise me at all. But I'm sure Cris would have liked to pull away and really had a big margin over the two guys. That didn't happen. But he's still going in as our number one and it's his to hang onto.
CN: Regardless of who the starter is, do you have confidence you can win with any of the three?
McCarney: I would really be disappointed if our starting quarterback isn't going to be a darn good one and we can't have good success offensively and build on the things we did last year. I like our system and we have a veteran coaching staff coming back. We've got a pretty veteran offense coming back, too.Part Two of CN's exclusive interview with Coach McCarney will be posted tomorrow.