CHIZIK: I guess I'll start with kind of an opening statement. We've obviously been practicing now, we've had three days of practice here in the spring. We've had two practices in helmets, helmets and shorts, we've had one practice in full pads. As a coaching staff right now, we're very pleased with just the enthusiasm. As you would imagine it's new and it's different, so there's a lot of enthusiasm with our football team, which is basically what we expected. We're looking really for . . . a few good men. That's what we're looking for, plain and simple. What we tell our football team is that every day we've got to see a definitive difference in terms of you individually as a player, meaning that every day there ought to be some difference in each player in terms of getting better. We're challenging each one of them every day, to do something better than he did the day before, and then collectively as a football team we feel like that will spread into our offense and our defense and our special teams, but it's hard to tell a lot of things right now, it's still very early. But again we think the intensity level is where we need it to be, we feel like the tempo of practice is where we need it to be. They've just done a great job of buying into what we're asking them to do, which is very pleasing. Everything is a work in progress right now; we're a long way away from being ready to play, as you might imagine, but that's par for the course probably anywhere in the country right now. But what we are really excited about, again, is the attitude, the positive environment, the willingness to learn of our football team, and so all of those things, the effort, all those things, they play a big role it what we're looking for. So, you know, again, everybody's going to want to know about who's making progress, where, it's really going to hard for us to point out individuals that have stood out in three days, two of them being in shorts, much more than others, but again, as a whole, and we look at the whole, as a whole we're very pleased with where we're at, you know, three days into it.
Q: Is that more important than judging individual positions now, is maybe just getting everybody on the same page and trying to get everything moving in the same direction?
CHIZIK: Well, I think so. You know, it's a funny game. You sit there and you say that it's a team game, but it really boils down to every individual doing exactly what you're asking him to do. But yeah, when you start right now, I mean, the first day their heads are spinning because they're wondering, "What is practice going to be like, what is the tempo, what are the expectations of my position coach and the coordinator and the head coach?" And there's a lot of things happening, there's a lot of moving parts out there is really what it boils down to, there's a lot of moving parts. But yes, it's got to be like synchronized swimming out there, if you've ever watched synchronized swimming, those hands are going up at the right time and the legs are going up . . . and we say that to them, because it is, it's a lot of moving parts but it's got to be one part. So they're learning what our expectations are of them, every day we go out there. Now you've got to remember, the last time we went out there was in pads, so here was another new day for them, you know, they have another new day. "What do they want from us on this day?" So again, going back to that, I think we're very pleased with their understanding what it is that we want from them, and that's where we're at with that.
Q: Gene, obviously a lot of guys know where they're situated, guys who have been playing here before, but don't players, when you bring a new coach in, feel like they have a fresh start? Like for example, maybe they didn't get a chance to play much under the previous regime, but they kind of come in going like, "Hey, maybe with a new head coach I've got a shot to really impress him and get in the line."
CHIZIK: I think so, I really do. You know one of the things that we have said since the first day that we've been together as a coaching staff to our players is that nobody is exempt from competition. The bottom line is that every position is open. So the first question everybody wants to say, "Is Bret Meyer's position open?" And so I said every position is open. Bret Meyer has to win a position, everybody on our football team has to win a position. Now you would think with experience and some things that they've got in their corner, that they would be the one to be able to do that, but nobody's exempt from that. And I think for the guys that have not played, it's a new outlook, it's a new hope. For the guys that have played, maybe they're thinking a little bit differently, like, "Boy, I've gotta go out there and earn this again." Which, that's what you want. But what the players will find out at Iowa State year in and year out is the word ‘inheritance' is not in my vocabulary. We don't inherit positions. Now there's places we have to start, because you've got to start with somebody as a starter, but we don't inherit positions here because we've got to win them every year. That's called competition. That means that if we go out and we recruit somebody, and they're at the level of play that we hope they are, then at some point they ought to have a chance to come in here and beat out the guy in front of them, and it would really be a shame if you brought guys in and recruited them and said, "Look, you can come in but you have absolutely no chance of playing until that guy graduates, and he's a freshman." So that doesn't give me very much hope, so we feel like as the years go on right now, that's the deal. Every year I gotta win my job. Now there will be a definitive starter at some point, to start off, but that doesn't mean that's the way it will end.
Q: Coach, how do you view special teams in the sense . . . how many regular starters will be on special teams contributing on cover teams and such, or will you use it more as a proving ground for many young players?
CHIZIK:Uh, first of all, special teams we see exactly like offense or defense, so again, there's no exemptions from special teams. You'll see Todd Blythe covering punts this year. I mean, that's who we're gonna be. If Todd Blythe is one of our best guys covering punts, he'll cover punts. And so, with our special teams, those are units right now that we absolutely cannot sacrifice play. We've gotta put our best players in those positions now, okay? The best players are sometimes backups that they relish that role and that role is what they do and they know that's who they are, and that's how they contribute to our team. Therefore, they're the best at that position because that's what they do. When you've played 70 plays on defense and a lot of your starting defensive players are special teams guys, then you know you've got to really look at after play 70, are they better than John Smith over here who hasn't played but 8 special teams plays, so again, we won't sacrifice anything for what we want on special teams, we're going to put our best players out there, but is it a proving ground for some guys? Sure it is. Absolutely. If I'm a guy that . . . I'm not a starter and the depth charts have been developed and I'm not a starter, then boy, you're gonna have to kill me to keep me off these special teams now. That's the way they need to see it. So it's a little of both, to answer your question.
Q: How's the offensive line coming along?
CHIZIK: You know, it's a work in progress. I mean, you're going to hear me say that a lot; that's kind of a blanket statement for our whole football team, but certainly for our offensive line. A great thing about them is their attitude has been tremendous . . . a lot of stuff going on down there, a lot of moving parts. Again, you know, we feel like that'll be the focal point of what everybody wants to know, but we're not going to put pressure on them, we're just going to say, "Look, you've gotta get out there and here's what you've gotta do, you've gotta get out there and you've gotta play the game the way it's supposed to be played. You're no different than the linebackers and the quarterbacks." Everybody's got a role. They're coming along fine for three days, it's hard to tell. If you ask me that later down the road, I'll have some better, more definitive ideas, but they're in the boat with everybody else right now; they're a work in progress.
Q: Are there certain areas of attention that you looked at going into this? I think you mentioned the offensive line and special teams, but any other areas?
CHIZIK: Sure there are a lot of areas. You can take linebacker, okay, you can take linebacker right now and there's depth issues at linebacker. You know, we're trying to develop a two-deep everywhere, you know in this day and age you've got to develop a two-deep, and bottom line is, you know, we're going to get a group of starters, but in this day and age if you're a defensive lineman or you're a linebacker, boy it's hard to play every snap and on all the special teams that we're demanding them to play, so there's a lot of positions we're looking at, you know what about depth at wide receiver? What about finding a tailback? You know, there's all kinds of issues in there at every position, but the bottom line is when the smoke clears, we've got to try to find our best 15 players on offense, and our best 15 players on defense first, and then you work to your best 22. And so at the end of the day we want our best 22, that's two-deep, on each side. But as it would be right now, we're trying to find our best 11, then our best 15, then our best 22, and from that point, we'll go from there.
Q: Coach, what have your first impressions been of Austen Arnaud?
CHIZIK: Austen's done a real nice job for us. He's really trying to pick up the offense, got a strong arm. Some of the mechanics of his throws and some things, Coach Petersen's really working on with him, just on some timing issues with routes. There's a lot of things, you know, with a quarterback; a lot of times we think he just drops back and wings it, you know what I mean, and there's so much more involved with that, with footwork and throwing motion and what he's looking at when he sets his feet, and the timing of the throws. There's all kinds of issues in there, and he's really, really . . . really trying to work extra at doing the little things because he's very talented, I think everyone's pretty aware of that, he's very talented, and he's just got some developmental things that I think Coach Petersen will continue to work with him, and he'll get better as time goes, but right now we're pleased.
Q: How did you come to know Coach Bolt, and McFarland, and how did you know that they were the guys you wanted to hire?
CHIZIK: I came to know them 20 years ago. We were together at Clemson, with Danny Ford, on an ACC championship football team, back in 1988, and have continued to obviously keep in touch one way or the other through the years. Coach Bolt and I have done defensive things together over the last probably ten years; Coach Bolt used to be an offensive guy and then at Troy State they moved him to defensive coordinator about eight or nine years ago, and that's when he came to me to talk defense. And so we kind of inserted at Troy what we had done in the past, and then every year was kind of a work with each other type situation, two or three times a year, where we would clinic, ourselves and other coaches and kind of develop the same mentality and philosophically the same beliefs. Coach McFarland and I have been together, I don't even know how many times now, five different schools, four different schools . . . we just follow each other, everywhere we go. And obviously, Coach McFarland was a head coach before he was the offensive coordinator at Iowa State and those are hard jobs to give up; there's only a few of them. But we've always talked about being together and doing it right, and he was ready to jump onboard. I'm lucky.
Q: Gene, there's been a lot made about the players, having big changes . . . For you, how has this spring so far changed, from being a coordinator to being the guy in charge of everything?
CHIZIK: Yeah, that a really interesting question. It's changed in the regard of now I really care about the offense. (Laughter) I say that tongue-in-cheek, I've always cared about the offense. But it's just more of an overall view now, it's . . . you know, when you're a coordinator and you really kind of have blinders on and you're looking at one side of the football, you don't really know exactly what's going on with the other side, or special teams, until you're actually going against them. And this has been a great experience for me just to be able to walk around and see, individually there's so many parts out there that you have to be tuned into, starting with the punters and the kickers. And I don't think I ever looked at a punter and a kicker unless we were trying to block something, you know what I mean, and so I look at it from a new perspective. Just a really neat . . . it's been really neat for me. I just feel really lucky, and it's been an eye-opening experience for me, and I'm learning every day, and will continue to do that. But really have enjoyed the change. I'm really trying to stay focused on the important things in a practice. You know, I let my coaches coach, I'm not going to micro-manage my coaches. I hired them because they're good football coaches and they know what they're doing. I'm trying to get the big picture, and the tempo, and the way we practice, and the things we're doing to get better as a team, and so in that regard it's change, because it's more of the overall and not so much of the, you know, put the blinders on and look at one segment.
Q: You talked a little before the first practice about wanting to establish a physical mentality for this football team, that you're going to be a physical team. After the first practice in pads, did you sense that there's a long way to go in that area or have the guys kind of embraced it and understand what you're trying to get across?
CHIZIK: Well, I . . . I hate to answer that with "We have a long way to go." I think our kids are mentally tough. I think that they're physically tough. I think that we're trying to instill in them a tempo that's all the time, regardless of the circumstances. But after one day, I would say that we have work to do, but again, I'm going to give these kids a lot of credit, I'm gonna give'em a lot of credit. They've been through a lot, with the change, they've done a lot since we've been here, and a lot. You just don't know. They've done a lot. The ones that are still here, I compliment them. I want them here, I love being around them. They're great kids. Coach Mac did a great job of recruiting great character guys. And my hat's off to them. But we are; we're going to work to be physical every day. There will be no backing off of that; I will be unbending in that, and it'll be physical every day; there will be fast-paced contact. And it's just got to become a way of life in everything they do, in the way they think.
Q: Coach, have you noticed anything . . .there can be a ‘hangover' when you have a rough season, going 1 and 7 in the Big 12. Have you noticed any kind of hangover or did they come into this with kind of a fresh outlook?
CHIZIK: Well again, I think it is. I think it's a fresh outlook. I think it's what we talked about earlier. New guys have new hope, old guys feel like they'd better work to maintain what they've got, and it's just new. It's like any of us; if we took a new job. You're going to be excited you first day you go in to that job, hopefully. And I feel like that's the way the players feel, and that's the way they've responded.
Q: Is there a position that is, I guess, most key with what kind of defense you've run, you've had in your career and what you want to run here? Is there somewhere . . . the defensive line, obviously, would be a focal point in your defense?
CHIZIK: Sure, talking about it from a defensive perspective? Exactly what you said, I think everything starts with the D-line. I think our defensive line right now . . .we have to develop a defensive line right now that can play in this league with a physical mentality and a high tempo and pace for a long time, for 12 games. And to me right now, if we've got defensive linemen sitting in the laps of our linebackers right now, we have no shot. So what I told the defense, funny you ask, yesterday I told the defensive line, because I go from meeting to meeting, I told the defensive line if we have no defensive line we have no defense, and it's that simple. And it goes back to developing two-deep. We've got to develop eight of those guys, minimum. Because . . . defensive line's different than offensive line. Because defensive line gets 600 pounds double-teaming them every snap, and the offensive line does the double-teaming. So everybody just sees it's one-on-one . . . it's never one-on-one, you know what I mean. Somebody on the defensive line's getting double-teamed. Well, you take a 280-pound defensive lineman and you double-team them 40 times a game right now with 600 pounds, that's different. So mentality-wise right now, we've got to get a defensive line that we know can hold those points of attack, can do it for a long period of time, and obviously have some depth in there, where one guy doesn't have . . . If our defensive line has to play 70 snaps a game each guy, by game 7 right now, we won't be very good. It's that simple. So we're always looking at number of plays played, how many defensive linemen we can play, and we'll have a plan every game, I mean, we'll have a plan . . . John Joe, we can't play him 70 plays down there against the offensive tackle and guard from Oklahoma right now, that combined weigh 680 pounds. We can't do it. So to answer your question . . . absolutely. Focal point . . . everything starts with the defensive line and then we move it back from there.
Q: Gene, winning is an attitude. Now, the last two places you've been have been championship places, Auburn and Texas. Iowa State's had some success, but it hasn't had that type of success. How can you teach them, because again I'm sure that when you went into the year at Texas, they didn't think they could win, they knew they could win. And that's part of what you have to establish here, isn't it?
CHIZIK: Sure. It is, and the only way I can answer that is that you gotta do it, I mean just gotta do it. We can sit here and we can tell our offense and tell our defense and tell our special teams right now, we can tell them all we want that we gotta be able to come back and win, you gotta have the attitude . . . but until they do it, until they're down by two touchdowns and there's six minutes left in the game and we come back and win one, or we develop a winning tradition here that is so consistent week in and week out that we walk out on the field and just feel like unless we major league mess something up, we'll win. That doesn't come until you do it. It is an attitude, I agree with that. It's something that we talk about daily, it's something that we're instilling in practice with different things that we do, but until our football team does it, and does it more than once, it doesn't become a way of life in my opinion. That doesn't mean it's right, just the way I feel, so when our football team walks out on the field right now, and we go down two touchdowns or three touchdowns, does their body language change, because that'll tell you right quick, that'll tell you what they think of themselves, or what they think of our football team. Does their body language change? Do they really feel like they can come back? That's what championship teams do. They feel like no matter what the circumstances are right now, we have a chance to come back and win it. And again, I think to be able to have that mentality and really it be right and really be real, you've just gotta do it.
Q: Coach Sheppard has talked about the ability to teach speed, I know that's something that you've said is vital . . . speed, explosiveness. From day one of the strength and conditioning programming to the third day of practice when they put on pads, where has the speed . . . has there been progress in terms of individual speed, individual explosiveness, individual quickness?
CHIZIK: You know, that's hard to tell, simply because we didn't time them, you know, we worked them out for basically five weeks. I know they're in really good shape. We've tested them in terms of getting stronger and being more explosive. In that regard I would say that we've definitely seen a lot of gains. In terms of raw out-and-out speed, I don't know that we can really measure that, we haven't really tested them in that regard, but I will say that we're pleased with where our team is physically right now in terms of being in shape and being as explosive as they can be at this point in time. One thing we're doing that might be a little bit different is that we're still lifting them three times a week during spring practice, and they've gotta get three lifts in and what we told them is, "Spring practice is not a license for you to stay the same in the weight room. It's not a license for you to stay the same." So we're lifting them, and we expect when we test them in explosive exercises at the end of spring football right now, they should have increased some more. If they don't we're going to be very disappointed in that.
Q: Now, in talking to a former player, and I'll say that I was always a huge Coach Mac fan because he graduated players, and that to me was the most important thing, but in talking to a former player who also was a huge Coach Mac fan, he said that they really didn't buy into the science of conditioning. How much of the conditioning program . . . in talking to Coach Sheppard, he talked about everything from yoga to boxing to pilates . . .how much of the preparation going into spring practice has been unique to the players from where they were under Coach Mac and Coach Getty?
CHIZIK: It's really hard for me to answer that, simply because I'm not aware of all the things that were going on before, but we just have a philosophy that we're going to live by and all the things that you mentioned are part of that philosophy. And I can't speak intelligently about what happened before, and the way they trained and some different things. Is it different? I'm sure that it is, just because we're different people. I don't know that I could accurately address that at all, but we feel like philosophically we're all on the same page with explosion and speed and power and things of that nature.
Q: Last question, in terms of . . . in speaking with Alvin Bowen on Saturday, he's convinced that Iowa State's going to win the Big 12 championship and you could see that these guys have bought in to the program. Do you think that's because of what's happened in terms of the regimentation, or is that because of the credentials coming into the program, or a combination?
CHIZIK: The credentials of . . .
Q: I mean, you've won. Everybody you've brought in have been proven winners. Are the guys buying into this because of the résumés or are they buying into it because of the day-to-day experiences from. . . as Bret said, he got up at 4:30 that first morning, and it was an eye-opener.
CHIZIK: I hope that they don't buy into anything because of résumés, you know, you develop trust and beliefs and understanding over time, by doing things over and over again, and seeing results. I don't know what Alvin said, I don't know what his thoughts were, it excites me that he feels that way, because that's the heart of a winner. I don't know the reasons why he feels that way. It makes me feel good if indeed he feels that way, truly. But I think those beliefs and those things happen over time, and again it's buying into what we're trying to convince them makes champions. So there's something along the way, he'd probably give you a better answer than me, but I don't know the answer but I'm excited that he feels that way.