McCarney: When you come out of successful seasons, it always makes for a great out-of-season. I think we've had a real good out-of-season, but for different reasons. I don't see anybody around here that doesn't have a lot of urgency with what we're doing. We don't like last year and are not proud of it. We know we've brought a lot of honor and respect back to this program and had a temporary setback last year, and let's get back to where we've been.
Our expectations are to be a heck of a lot better than we were last year. That's as honest as I can be. That was no fun, frustrating and disappointing. It's up to us as a coaching staff to go back through all last season and critique, evaluate and go through all of the problems. Was it personnel? Was it injuries? Was it schedule? Was it coaching? Was it adjustments?
We needed to get to the bottom of it and move on as fast as we can, because the season was over a long time ago. We've moved on and we're not going to get out here talking about 2003 every day, but I don't spend a lot of time talking to the kids right now about it.
But as a staff we've been after it and digging into it. We could only have seven coaches on the road, and for the ones that were in it wasn't all recruiting, it was going back through last season. When you have three new coaches, two full-time and grad assistant Shawn Coughlin, then we've got a lot of work to do just to get ourselves ready and on the same page.
It's going to be a big challenge for us again this season. Our first three non-conference teams won 30 games, and I don't know many teams in the country playing a non-conference schedule that won 30 games last year. Northern Iowa, Iowa and Northern Illinois all won 10 games, so we've got our work cut out for us before we even get into the league. But I feel good about it, and I don't feel like we're behind on anything right now even though there's been transition on staff. We're in real good shape getting ready to go.
CN: Go into the transition period on the coaching staff, and how the new coaches have gotten acclimated to their new surroundings.
McCarney: I like where we are right now. We want to have everything finalized and ready right before spring break, because I want to get my players and coaches out of here for a break before we get going. Defensively, we're back intact.
Offensively, with the three new guys we have to get into it and dig right in. Where are we going to go? What are we going to do? How much is going to be carry over, and how much is going to be new? I don't want to give a scouting report to Northern Iowa and Iowa, but there will be some differences. Yet, there's some things we have been successful with that you don't just throw out because we got our tails kicked last year.
CN: Do you have any personnel changes or injuries to report as you prepare for spring ball?
McCarney: I like our preparation, and I think our out-of-season workouts have gone well. The only one we know won't be with us in the spring is Jimmy Morris, a linebacker that's had real slow recovery from knee surgery. He's had a lot of problems and it's not gone the way we wanted it to. The rest of those guys should all be ready. If he continues to have problems for months and months, (a medical redshirt) is a consideration. He wants to play and we want him to, but we thought he'd be ready for spring ball and he's not going to be.
CN: What are some challenges and question that need to be answered between now and the spring game?
McCarney: There are a lot of them. We really took a hit at wide receiver and defensive back. Those two positions really got hit hard with graduation of seniors, so we're real young in both those spots. That's especially the case at wide receiver. There isn't much experience. There's talent with Jon Davis, Milan Moses, Todd Blythe, and Todd Miller has been a return guy and played a little receiver, but there's hardly any experience overall.
In the secondary, Ellis Hobbs should be one of the better DBs we've had since we've been here. He did a lot of good things last year, and should be the example for that secondary every day. Steve Paris has played some. But we've got some more experiments going this spring on defense than we would in two-a-days.
We're going to take a look at Tyson Smith and Jamar Buchanan at WILL linebacker. We're going to take a look at Nik Moser at strong safety. We're going to move Shawn Morehead to rush end. He's been an outside linebacker, but is up to 232 pounds and we think he has a chance.
Offensively, there hasn't been a lot of movement as far as where guys go. The addition of Jason Scales is great. We've got a number of redshirts coming off – basically 18 guys that we held last year, whether they were redshirt freshmen or greyshirts. We've got to put those kids on the fast track to see if and when they can help us for next year's team.
McCarney: We've got to be a lot better, period end of story. We've got to be more effective, more productive and more physical. We've got to get back to where everybody knows we can run the football at Iowa State – our opponents, the players, coaches, and fans. You're not going to tear everybody up running the football with the schedule we play, but we went through a lot of seasons here where we knew we could run the football. We went into every game with confidence, and we've lost that edge. We need to get it back.
Cale Stubbe comes back with a lot of experience. Luke Vander Sanden is a heck of a player, but he's missed a lot more games than he's played in because of major injuries. That's a real concern. We've moved Aaron Brant out to right tackle, and Stubbe will move from right to left tackle. Then we've got to look at all those young guys in the offensive line. Seth Zehr will obviously be our starting center going into spring. Then we've got (Johannes) Egbers, (Bastian) Schober, (Tom) Schmeling, (Brandon) Cook, (John) Tjaden, and (Kory) Pence that we have to evaluate this spring.
CN: Any favorites to step into the starting role at left guard?
McCarney: We're going to put Schober and Egbers on the same line going into spring ball. We'll let those two battle it out. Schmeling started school full-time in January, so we've got him at center. Also, Chris O'Hollearn is almost 290 pounds and is a walk-on that has a chance. Cook lost some weight and needed to.
This is a real important time for all of these guys. They've got a new position coach, new coordinator, and there's a new sheriff in town on the offensive line leading that group. I'm real excited about him, but talking about it and preparing is only part of it. We've got to do it on the field. We need to get back to where we know that we can run the ball.
CN: What do you like about Coach Cotton's approach to the offensive line?
McCarney: All of these things: professionalism, maturity, knowledge, the way he carries himself, confidence without being arrogant, and great presence. We met years ago. It's kind of ironic. The first time I met him in person was at Cretin-Durham High School, where we just got (Scott) Stephenson. I was at Wisconsin recruiting Carl McCullough, and it came down to Wisconsin and Miami. He was the top kid in the state of Minnesota. Coach Cotton was at a small college and was in seeing a couple other kids.
He left a strong impression with me then, but I knew a lot about him when he was with Tony Samuel at New Mexico State. I really admired what they had done, resurrecting that program which was really down. He did a great job as a coordinator.
He's an excellent football coach. It's pretty good credibility with your players when you bring in a guy who coordinated and ran the offensive line of a team that won 10 games and were bowl champions. Their loss is our major gain, that's the way I look at it.
CN: You have to like his ability to produce solid rushing teams.
McCarney: No question, at New Mexico State and Nebraska. They were limited with some of the things they did offensively last year at Nebraska, and they did more things at New Mexico State offensively than at Nebraska, but that was because of personnel and not philosophy. But I really admired the job he's done and am excited to have him here.
CN: Is the overriding theme of this spring going to be this offensive line getting back to its physical play?
McCarney: I don't know that it was that way at every position last year, but when you look at the big picture and little picture, I don't think there's any question. If you're not physical at the offensive line you don't have a chance. Barney will make a big impact there. That's his style; that's his forte. The players have already nicknamed Butkus already, not only because he favors him but because of his temperament and approach. He's the guy you want walking down that dark alley with you. That's the way I like my offensive line coaches.
CN: Is his approach similar to Loney's?
McCarney: He and Steve have already spent time together since Barney took the job. Steve's a great resource for me, Barney and any of us. He's an excellent coach. He has a real impact on that. But Barney Cotton is going to be his own man, too, and we're not copying anybody. We'll be our own guys. I think it's a real good fit for us. The fit of a staff together is so important.
CN: Then you bring in a new quarterbacks coach in Todd Fitch. What does he bring to the program?
McCarney: It was no secret I was trying to bring Steve Loney back for the third time in my career at Iowa State, and I think a lot of people realize that. I love him. He's outstanding. He made a career decision to stay in the NFL, and I respect that. He's got a great reputation in the NFL like he did in college football. I wouldn't be surprised if he retires in the NFL. He really likes it now.
But the first thing he recommended to me before he made the decision to stay was that had he come back he would want Todd Fitch as his quarterback coach. I've known about Todd, Tony Alford and Steve Loney worked with him at Colorado State. When you have people that you really trust and they talk about a guy, it gives me pretty good insight into them. I was real excited about him, and spent a lot of time with him in Orlando. He's been with Don Nehlen and Earle Bruce.
I did talk to Lou Holtz about him, in which could have been some unusual circumstances that he let him go at South Carolina. Yet he couldn't say enough good things about him. The question you want to say about that is if you're saying all these great things as a person, coach and recruiter, then why do you let him go? He said there were circumstances involved that led him to let a bunch of coaches go.
CN: How is Coach Fitch's approach different than, say, the past two quarterbacks you've had in Ames, Steve Brickey and Phil Meyer?
McCarney: I don't know about an approach, but there's no doubt he's a good teacher. We're out doing workouts in the morning without a football. You can still do some drills, but can't throw the ball. But he's real thorough. He's been a coordinator when Connecticut was at its best. They set school scoring records with him as a coordinator and quarterback coach. There's no doubt he's a good teacher and has done a real good job of knowing our players in the short time he's been here.
You talk about the offensive line, but I'm also not satisfied a bit with the performance of our quarterbacks in 2003. With the exception of Waye Terry, they're all back this season. We're starting with a fresh clean slate because of a new coach coming in and because of a performance none of us were proud of last season at quarterback. When you talk about having a wide open situation, it's about as good as it gets.
I don't like doing it again, and this is where we were last year at this time, but that's exactly where we are. We need to be a lot more effective, productive and consistent. The musical chairs of 2003 are hopefully over permanently. I don't like coaching that way and it's the first time I've had to do that. But hopefully we'll get back to knowing who our starter is.
CN: What gives you hope that could be the case, and you settle on one guy?
McCarney: A number of things. Austin Flynn now has a bunch of starts under his belt as a redshirt freshman. He made a lot of mistakes, but did some good things. Cris Love is real motivated and determined to be the guy as a senior. Bret Meyer probably has as much talent, with the exception of Seneca Wallace, as any quarterback we've brought in since we've been here. We've got Nate Mechaelsen who just started here in January, and Kyle Van Winkle is trying to earn his spurs at Iowa State. It's going to be a competitive situation.
Meyer is the guy who's caught everybody's eye, but can he call audibles, run the offense, overcome adversity and make plays after he gets blindsided from the backside. We'll sure find out.
With more scrimmage opportunities in the spring than we'll have in the fall, I hope we can make a decision this spring. But if it takes more evaluation because Todd's the new coach and they're that close from a competitive standpoint, fine. But I'd rather get it done, name our starter, see if he can hold onto it through two-a-days, then get ready for September 4th. The heat is on, the competition's running, and I feel better about that whole scenario and situation than I did last year at this time.
CN: How much is the quarterback position going to come down to who inspires confidence in their teammates and leadership?
McCarney: A lot of it. It doesn't always have to be the highest completion average, who threw the most touchdown passes over the spring versus the most interceptions. But who elevates the play of those around him, who is the best leader, who has the best intangibles, and who steps in that huddle and really has the trust and belief of those kids and coaches?
CN: Flynn came out and won the starting job last year, but was behind a bandaged up offensive line and got really beat up. Now, a lot of talk has been on Meyer. What is the psyche of Flynn heading into this spring?
McCarney: I think it's good. I've talked to him a number of times since we got off the road recruiting and have seen him at workouts. He's doing a real good job. He should carry himself with a lot more confidence than he did last year at this time, because he has a lot of experience, starts and has been out there on national TV. He's been through some real tough situations that at this time last year we had no idea how he'd play or react.
If it had been a real good year and inconsistent performance from Austin, there could be more scars left from last season. But when we had a disappointing season overall and there wasn't one person responsible for that (it's different). We didn't get it done as a coaching staff and team, and with that thought in mind I think he feels good about competing like crazy.
(Editor's Note: Check out part two of our CN the Magazine Sneak Peak with Dan McCarney tomorrow on CycloneNation.com)