Chizik opening statement:A lot of work in progress going on, but, you know, we're learning practice tempos; it gets sloppy out there at times just simply because it's a new offense, a new defense, new special teams. But really encouraged with the attitude, really encouraging with the pace, and just a great learning environment right now. And I think they're learning it, they're really taking it personal . . . as a personal challenge to learn what's going on, and that's a good sign.
Q: I kind of listened to you talk to the team at the end of practice the other day, and you had a good line, "We ain't getting' there but we're gonna get there." Talk about going through the team a little bit and what you mean when you say that.
CHIZIK: It's just like I said…it's a work in progress and everything you do is a building block onto the next day. And really, that's what we say. You know, we try to find something to get better at every day. If I'm an offensive lineman it may be your hands are inside, if it's a DB it may be your technique and pad level, but everything is about building on the next step to get better and that's everybody at every position. And nobody can be happy with what they did today; they've got to find something they can improve on the next day. So that's what I mean by, "We're not there, but we're working in that direction."
Q: Do you feel the guys are responding, just to the newness of it all? I know transitions can be . . .
CHIZIK: I do. I really do, and transitions can be different, and hairy . . . but really pleased with the way they've handled the transition of how we practice, what we're calling things, the language, you know, really pleased with what is important to them right now, and what is important is that they're all trying to do what they can individually to help this team and that's important to me.
Q: You always kinda hear this, is the defense a little ahead of the offense at this point?
CHIZIK: I wouldn't say that. Today was a good day for both; we all had our moments. You're going to look at the defense and say, "Boy, we got a lot of work." And you're going to look at the offense and you're going to say, "Boy, we got a lot of work." Then you're going to turn around and you're gonna say, "Well, that's pretty good on defense" or "That's pretty good on offense." And don't forget to throw in the special teams. We spend a lot of time on special teams and Coach Boulware is our special teams coordinator and we're spending a lot of time on those areas, too, because the game is broken down into thirds, so everything is a new learning curve for them and they're all doing a good job at trying to learn it.
Q: Now with someone in a situation like you have Bret and Todd, is it easier for them to make an adjustment, or because they've been here three years, is it tougher for them whereas as maybe some guys coming in new with a clean slate?
CHIZIK: That is a great question, because I don't know the answer to it, I really don't. Some people feel like old habits that are in place for a long time are hard to break, if they're needed to be broken, and then some people feel like the experience of them being out there lets them change gears faster. I don't know, and I think somewhat it's probably dependent upon the individual. But they're both doing a nice job, they're both adjusting to everything, they know that they have a long way to go to be the football player we want them to be. But they've all played in a lot of games, they've got a lot of experience, and that's huge. And so we can always build on that, because they've been in the big game.
Q: Guys like that, maybe just a little bit, when you talk about every position being wide open for competition, are they maybe feeding off that a little, too?
CHIZIK: I hope they are, because they're not exempt from that statement. They're really not. And so everybody's going to have to win a position. There's . . . 11 on offense, 11 on defense, and then anybody that wants to join in on our special forces units, you know, those are open as well, so nobody's really exempt from that.
Q: Talk about just kind of the language and how the . . . the mantras have changed in a sense with the new regime . . . I think another thing you said the other day was, "Championships are a way of life." Talk about when you say these things, what does it mean? You know what I mean, the messages you're trying to convey and the tempo you're trying to set.
CHIZIK: You know, I can't compare anything to the past or the present; that wouldn't be fair . . . I only know what we're trying to instill in our football team and that's a championship mentality, a championship mentality all the time. And it doesn't stop when you leave the football field, it's what you do in the weight room, how you carry yourself off the field, it's what you do in the classroom, it's how you act, you know, when no one's watching, and it becomes a way of life. When you walk out of here right now, you either become a different guy, or you stay the same guy, but we're trying to get these guys to understand that you become a champion because that's the way you think, that's the way you act, that's the way you learn. Everything's about being a champion and it becomes a way of life, and you've got to think differently, because a lot of people use that term loosely and it's really overused. But you've got to think like it, all the time in everything you do.
Q: Those are the guiding principles of Gene Chizik?
CHIZIK: Well . . . I just know that I've been around enough championships to know that it's the way you think, and it's how you prepare and it's the things you do to become a champion. And you know, championships are really hard, they are really, really hard to get. Because you can be so close and so far, and I think it really boils down to being a way of life and how you think. And that's what I'm trying to impart on them from the way I see it. That may be different than the way you see it, or you see it, but I'm trying to impart that the way I see it because I feel like I've been around enough ones to have an idea of what it's supposed to be like.
Q: Is there someone you call, I don't know if it's a mentor or somebody, but you've had a successful career as an assistant; is there somebody you call as you go through spring here and chat just to shoot the breeze, or just to talk and say . . . ?
CHIZIK: I call Mack Brown. I do. He's won a national championship, he's won a Big 12 Championship, and he's one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game. I don't know if there's anybody out there that's won ten games a year for the last nine or ten years in a row, and you never see a huge swing. So, I rely a lot on Mack and he's my friend, I consider him to be a mentor, he's all about class and integrity. So everything that I believe in right now, he certainly is. So if there was a guy, I would say he'd be the one that I'd lean on right now, even though it's kind of odd because we're in the same league, but, you know, that's the way it goes.
Q: Can you talk about your running back position for a second . . . where does it stand right now and what was the decision with Jason Harris, to bring him back?
CHIZIK: We feel like we need some options at tailback. You know Jason Scales has had a career that's been up and down simply because of injuries . . . speaking about past history. We just felt like we needed guys in there to try out for the position. And so you've got a young guy, Josh Johnson, that's young and hadn't played. You've got Jason Harris, who has played the position a little bit and then got moved. So we're trying to put some people in there because we have to able to run the football, just plain and simple we have to be able to run the football, and so we want options. We want to make sure when J.J. Bass gets in here that we've got a definitive guy that he's going to have to beat out. Then we want to have a definitive third and we've got to be able to play with those tailbacks in there, so that's why we do it.
Q: Everybody healthy, staying healthy and everything?
CHIZIK: Great shape. Great shape.
Q: How's Austen Arnaud taking to the position?
CHIZIK: Good. Same thing, it's a learning process for him and he's throwing the ball well at times. At times he's not, but he's kind of catching on to things and the new language. You can kind of throw him in the boat with everybody else and his head may be spinning a little bit. But you know, understanding things, maybe in the classroom but then when you get out there things start moving fast, so when the game slows down for him, he'll get better and better.
Q: Is he in that vein of . . . with every position open? Is there a chance for him to beat out Bret?
CHIZIK: If he's better than Bret in our opinion by the time we start game one, then he plays, and it's that simple. So like I said, nobody's exempt from that.
Q: One of the positions you've got the most experience at is in your receivers. How has the competition been there so far?
CHIZIK: Really good. I think the receivers are competing right now. We've got to work on consistency, we've got to work on consistency in routes, consistency in catching the football. I don't ever like to look up and see a guy on and drop a football. We're college athletes, we're college wideouts, that should never happen. There ought to be a 100% completion rate, and we're putting pressure on them to do that, and we're not taking dropped balls lightly, we're not taking . . . the way they run their routes, their splits. We're being hard on them. But they're competing with each other, because again, they know that the jobs are wide open.
Q: You talked about the need to have a good running game. Talk about how the offensive line's coming along.
CHIZIK: We'll know more after today. Obviously the first two days were a lot of individual drills and things of that nature, but I'll know more after today when I see the film, but it was a good practice today. I didn't think we were as physical anywhere on offensive line or defensive line, in terms of where we need to be, but it's the first day and the spirit was good and the attitude was good and that's a great start for that.
Later…CN caught up with Coach Chizik for a one-on-one…
CN: Coach, just a couple of questions . . . first of all, in terms of getting a chance to actually see these guys . . . you saw them on tape, actually. But what's your first impression of the roster that you've inherited here?
CHIZIK: You know, I just feel like they're great kids and they work hard, and it's just going to be a matter of them learning a lot of new things, and they're willing to do that and they're willing to work hard and that's a great beginning.
CN: Now, in terms of your senior leadership, I know you said every position's open, but how is your senior leadership? How are some of the guys who've played, how are they responding to your program and are they beginning to demonstrate the leadership you need on the field?
CHIZIK: We're looking for more. It's got to be contagious, and you have to earn the right. You know, leadership is not a position, it's an action, and . . . you can't appoint those. They've got to earn it. And so as time goes, when people have demonstrated that they've earned that right, we'll get more leaders, but obviously right now we need more than we've got.
CN: Talking to your coaching staff, it's obvious that you didn't come in here to rebuild; these guys are looking to win now. Talk about that and talk about how you communicate that to your players.
GC: It's simple, I don't know how many games we'll win or we're going to lose, but you know we're preparing to win every game. I never go into a game thinking I'm going to lose; I never go into a season thinking I'm going to lose. So we're just going to work every day. We're going to take it day by day, we're going to get better at something every day, and we're going to do the same thing in the fall. And we're going to take it practice by practice and game by game, and we're never going to look ahead, and we're just going to try to develop a football team that's sound, that plays hard, that's physical and doesn't quit.
CN: Last question, Coach . . . you've got 12 more practices; what is it that you hope to accomplish coming out of spring? What's the two or three things that are really important coming out of spring, and then how do you prepare for the integration of those JUCOs that . . . at signing day you said you're looking for them to come in and contribute. Guys like Wallace Franklin, you know, guys like Allen Bell.
CHIZIK: Well, we're trying to get it two-deep in there and solidify that, so that we can bring those junior college guys in and have definitive people that they have to beat out, because this is all about competition. So we're going to try to . . . for the rest of spring to develop a solid two-deep that understands what we're trying to do and the tempo we're trying to do it, and then those junior college players that we signed are going to have to come in and definitively beat somebody out to get that job.