Gene Chizik, Head Coach
Chizik: I'll start out . . . today will be our . . . obviously our fourth practice, the second time we've been able to go in any semblance of pads. The first two days we were out there with shorts and helmets, and it's been productive and the weather's permitted us to stay outside, with the exception of maybe today. But it's been a productive camp, and we're moving right along.
Q: Coach, how's Jamicah coming along? What will be the tougher transition for him, maybe, settling in to a new school, or adapting to a new system?
Chizik: I think everything, Andrew. J.J.'s got a lot to learn about . . . obviously our offense, and just really about the way everything's run here, and you know, it's a transition period that takes some time, but he doesn't have time, you know? And that's where it gets a little bit tricky, but he's learning a lot of offense right now, and he's learning the structure of what the program is right now. And that's two very difficult things to handle in a short period of time, but again, when you come from a junior college, you know, the clock's always ticking on you, so you've got to . . . you've got to step it up and get to the next level quick.
Q: How are Scales and Harris looking in that mix right now?
Chizik: Really nice. I think they're all coming along real well, they're all obviously having to relearn what they learned in the spring, but you know what I like about the group . . . they're very attentive, they're very excited to get started, and they want to compete, they want to have an opportunity to be the starting tailback here at Iowa State, and that's really exciting for me, there's a lot of competition going on out there.
Q: Coach, it's often said that first impressions are very important in any relationship. What's your first impression? You've seen this team in the spring, but you know, when you add in the JC's, what's your initial impression of the club as you start out the fall?
Chizik: Well, I think they're very excited to try to continue to learn, and I think they're hungry. I think they want to excel, they want to be better than they were last year. They want to be a contender-type football team in the Big 12. That's what they have appeared in the first three days of practice to want to do, and again, that's all you can ask right now, for them to be working like they're hungry, and working like football means a lot to them, and that this university and this football team means a lot to every individual, and that's really my first impression.
Q: Coach is this where you thought you would be as you kind of open the gate to get things going, are you about where you thought you would be starting out?
Chizik: I think so. I think that . . . you know, I can use the 200-year-old coach cliché and say we have a long way to go, which is true . . . but I think we are. I think we're about where we thought we would be. Obviously you always want to be further ahead than you are, but in terms of us sitting down as a coaching staff and saying, "Here's where we're at after three days." "Here's where we're at after four days." We're about where we thought we would be, which is obviously better than being behind where you thought you'd be. So, up to this point I think the carryover from the spring occurred about like we thought it would, so I think we're pretty much where we anticipated at this point.
Q: How's the adjustment been to your first fall practices as a head coach?
Chizik: Uh, it's really getting kind of a . . . a hang of spring practice, being a head coach of spring practice really helps, because . . . it's really a time management thing for me. Am I spending enough time with the defense, with the specialists, with the special teams, with the offense? It's been the same, it was a learning experience, it was a learning curve in the spring. But right now we're just in practice, so it's kind of like spring practice was, I think the next learning phase for me will be game day, and I don't know what that'll be like until I actually get in it. But practice so far has been pretty much like spring practice.
Q: Coach, the other day you stressed that this team will run the ball. You've mentioned J.J. and Jason. What's Cameron looking like out there?
Chizik: Cameron Bell's done a really nice job. Cameron's a 230-pound tailback and you're right, I did say that we're going to attempt, at all costs, to run the football. So Cameron, I think's done a nice job, as a young guy especially, just getting here and learning what's going on in the first two or three days. I think he's done a nice job; he had a nice practice yesterday, which was the first practice that we've had in any kind of pads.
Q: Quick follow-up . . . in the spring game we saw the ball thrown to the backs. How much are they going to be utilized as receivers and not just runners?
Chizik: I think that we ask a lot of our running backs. You know, it's kind of like any position; you can't be one-dimensional with that position. You have to be able to pass-protect, you have to be able to run the football, and then obviously you've got to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, because that's part of Coach McFarland's package, you know, of getting the balls, checking it down to the backs, if nothing else is open throwing some screens with the tailback, you know, just things that most offenses have. So they have to be able to be multi-dimensional; they can't just be able to do one thing.
Q: Coach, back to the first question about J.J. Bass . . . what is it about him specifically that makes him such a highly-touted guy and that has people so excited about what he could possibly do here?
Chizik: I'm not sure. What does have people so excited about him?
Q: Well, was he the number-one JuCo running back in California, was that it?
Chizik: Don't always believe everything you read. But I think he's a good running back. I can't tell you how good he's going to be until we get all the way into this thing right now, and so he's just like every other guy on the roster. He's a guy that's trying to learn the offense and contribute to our football team. I don't think J.J. Bass is any different than anybody else, no matter what the ratings were, because ratings are always never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem in my opinion. But J.J. is working very hard to do what everybody else on our team is doing; that's trying to find a spot on the roster.
Q: Coach you mentioned . . . you touched on spring ball and how that helped you as a head coach. For all of us, everything's new, new coach, new players, new guys coming in. Is that the case with the football team itself? Did you guys get some of that out of the way during spring training, at spring camp, and now are you more familiar with each other?
Chizik: I think so . . . You know, the first five, six days of practice in the spring are certainly a feeling-out period for each other. I think we've kind of gotten past all that now. I think now it's more . . . you know what we expect. You know, when they come in in the morning and they go to the weight room, before they come to our meetings, they know what to expect. When they come to our meetings, they know what to expect. When they get out on the field with us, they know what we expect. So I think a lot of that kind of gray area, or that learning curve, that's gone. I think we're focused more now on learning the X and O's. They pretty much . . . they have a good feel for us. I think they have a good feel for their position coaches, which is the most important thing, and then they have a good feel for my . . . as well as our assistant coaches'. . . expectations, and I think that‘s been developed over seven months, and so I think that's gone. I think that now it's . . . let's get better at football.
Q: How much of a transition . . . is the playbook for these guys to learn? Are they throwing everything out, or is it similar for them, or . . .?
Chizik: No, it's not similar. It's actually a lot different, and the thing is, you know, football can only be sliced and diced so many ways. I mean, you know you have this kind of defense or this kind of offense. I think the challenge comes when you are trying to learn new languages and there's new communications, and so obviously there's only so many things, like I said, you can do in football, so there is some carryover with what they've done before, but the fact of the matter is there's new stuff that they haven't done before, there's different stuff that they haven't done before, and all of the language has changed, so I think when you kind of throw that all together, it makes a . . . it's a tall order for these guys in a short period of time to able to grasp it, and they're working day and night to do it, and I've got to give them a lot of credit, because they've been very attentive, we're staying up here until late at night, and they're doing what we ask them to do.
Q: How different is the terminology . . . we'll think about Bret and Todd . . . how different is the terminology as far as an offensive lineman, going to the cohesiveness of trying to replace four guys?
Chizik: Absolutely, yeah, it's huge. I mean, everything's new. Steps are new, plays are new, language is new, techniques are new. That's probably . . . and to the naked eye nobody knows this . . . but from the coaching profession, the offensive line can be the most complicated out there, just by the nature of what defenses can do to you, so there's got to be a lot of language and communication process that goes on between them to get things done. And so, that's a huge part of being an offensive lineman, and that's a lot of work, especially when you're trying to develop young ones and new ones. That's hard; Coach McFarland has his hands full now, I can tell you.
Q: [Question unintelligible]
Chizik: Oh, absolutely. As a matter of fact, not only can it. . . it will. As a coaching staff we look at it and we say whatever we see in game one, we can't be seeing that in game eleven, and we can't be seeing that in game twelve, or game one to game three, or game one to game two or whatever. It's got to be a continuous growth process, as it is every day in practice. But still, when it comes to the game itself, there's got to be growth during the season and it's got to be huge. And I'm not so sure that they don't really start to grow until maybe a third of the way through the season . . . to try to get them to the point that you want them to be. Hopefully it would be before that, but if it's a third to halfway through the season right now, I mean, I can understand that. That's what happens.
Q: How much more of a challenge is it for the junior college kids that are coming in to learn that terminology and then to get acclimated to play at a Division I level?
Chizik: Well . . . we're fortunate because most of our junior college offensive linemen have already been here, so they've had spring. But the rest of the junior college kids . . . it's a challenge. It's a challenge for them to learn the defensive terms, learn the offensive terms. It's just challenging for them all the way around if they haven't been here in the spring. However, different positions have opportunities, because of the nature of the position, to play a little bit faster than, let's say an offensive lineman does, in a lot of ways. And that's why you'll see so many offensive linemen get redshirted, because it's hard for them to play as true freshmen. So it's a difficult challenge for all the junior college guys, but certain positions will be easier to work themselves into than others.
Q: Coach, in the spring, one of the big storylines was, "No matter what you did in the past, you've got to earn your job." Is is safe to say at this point, or I'll ask you at this point are there certain guys that you can now say, you know, "Bret Meyer‘s our quarterback, game one."
Chizik: You know . . . I probably could, if I wanted to. But right now I don't want to. But, you know, it's still open and there are so many question marks out there. I mean, there are so many question marks. And there's so many guys that are right there neck-and-neck, with what they're doing. Obviously the guys that have played a lot of football have a step up, because they've been there and done that and they've done it on game day. But no, I still stick to my guns on that, I still say that all the positions are open, and come our first football game, then we'll close them. We'll know who the guy is. I don't know who that is right now, though.
Q: For some of the guys that have been here for a while, like Todd Blythe and Bret Meyer, guys who played under Coach McCarney for a number of years . . . how important is it for you to establish that relationship with them?
Chizik: Well, I'll answer that a couple of ways. First, it's very important. But I won't stop at the Bret Meyers and Todd Blythes. It's very important for us to establish relationships with our entire football team. Obviously, the leaders are very critical, and they've been here for a long time . . . but you know what? These guys love football. It doesn't matter who coaches, I mean, it really doesn't. Guys are resilient and they've moved on and it's our job right now to make sure that we have a relationship and a communication process and a trust to go ahead and move forward as a team . . . team being players, coaches, trainers, managers, anybody that puts one of these shirts on on our sideline on Saturday, we've got to all be on the same page. So I think it's important for me to have that relationship with our football team, and I think it's very important that the coaches that they're with day-in and day-out build those relationships. I can't have the same relationship with a linebacker as Coach Bolt does. If I do, and mine's better, then they don't have a very good relationship. Because he's with them every single day. And personally, when I was an assistant, it was my job to make sure that my relationship with my players was as good as it could get, you know, and it doesn't mean they'd all come over to my house and eat every night, but it means that when it was time to produce and when things were on the line right now, I knew they were playing not only for their teammates, they were playing for me as well. That meant a lot to me, and that's what it means to my assistants, too.
Q: Coach, are there things you've seen out of Bret so far that you maybe like about him as far as really running the offense, or . . .
Chizik: You know, Bret's been really sharp in camp so far. I've got to give him a lot of credit. Seems like, you come from spring and you think there's going to be two or three days of dusting off the rust, and . . . was really impressed with him two days ago, thought he was throwing the ball well, thought he was on target, thought he was confident, thought he was poised. Again, we are making it a priority for our quarterbacks to get rid of the football. I mean, negative plays right now are not being tolerated by our coaching staff in practice, and I think Bret right now has soaked up the offense very well. Obviously we have 26 more days to practice it, and we need all that and more, but I'm pleased with where Bret is; I think he's throwing them real well.
Q: Coach, in the beginning of spring ball you stressed the defensive line , that that's where it's going to begin. One, are you seeing the depth developing that you want? And two, how are Lyle, Tate and Weir meshing into the unit?
Chizik: I'm really proud of the way our defensive line is working right now. I really am. Obviously they're a question mark going into the season. We won't know what they're like until they start playing against somebody else. But they're working really hard to become what we're trying to make them. The junior college guys are like any other position; they're out there just . . . their heads are swimming a little bit right now, they're a little confused with things. But that's all part of the maturation process and it'll get better day by day. For a defensive player to be productive . . . when they stop thinking and they're able to then react, use their ability and let it take over, they become better players. And none of those three are at that point yet. They're all three swimming. They're all three . . . there's a thousand things going through their head, but that won't necessarily be the case a week from now. So when the learning process slows down and their athletic ability takes over, then they'll have a chance to really help our football team, I believe.
Q: Back to the changing dynamic of your relationship with your players from position coach to head coach, would you say that's one thing that has been a downside to being a head coach?
Chizik: You know, I won't say a downside. It's been a little different, you know, I don't have the contact with a group of 15 guys every day, where we're in a room together for an hour, hour-and-a-half, two hours, whatever it is. I don't want to say it's a downside of being head coach, but it‘s all a part of it. Now instead of having a group of 15, you have a group of 105, and then obviously that's hard to have that kind of relationship with 105 people. But I wouldn't say it's a downside, but I do miss that to a degree.
Q: Do you still find yourself gravitating a little bit to the defense?
Chizik: No. No, I really don't. I really feel like I'm trying to look at everything and spend the time with every phase. Coach Bolt . . . I have absolute 100% confidence in, and we're all on the same page with communication. So I don't . . . when I watch film and I watch what's going on right now, I really try to watch it all, I really try to see it all. I'm in every meeting on our football team at some point, during the week, during the day. I'll go in the offensive line, I'll go into the wide receivers, I'll go into the tight ends, I'll go into running backs and I'll go into linebackers. I'm in all their meetings, because I want to make sure that the communication process right now is there, the attention span is there, I want to make sure that we have an attentive football team. So I'm in all the meetings and I'm really trying to stay on top of our whole football team and what's going on.
Q: Coach, do you get overwhelmed at all with everything that you and your coaching staff has to get done in the next 3 ½ weeks?
Chizik: No, I'm overwhelmed with the football part of it. There's a lot of other things that kind of go on peripherally that nobody sees that . . . those are the things where you've really got to manage your time well, that will sometimes become a little distracting. But this is football season, so I can't let some of the outside things that really, at the end of the day, don't really matter, but you've got to handle. I'm trying to make sure that I'm spending my time where I need to spend my time. And that, again, is a little distracting, but you've always got to stay focused on what the most important thing is, so that's been a little bit of a challenge.
Q: Austen Arnaud, is he your number two right now looking at quarterback? You talk about Bret coming along, but obviously if something happens to Bret, you'd need to look to the next level. What about Austen Arnaud?
Chizik: Right, and I would say he's number two, Larry. I'd say that he's right up in there. And we're working him; he works with the ones some, he'll work with the twos some. Austen's a talented guy. I think again that Austen is loaded with ability, and I think Austen needs to focus more on every play, every day, concentrating on what he needs to do to become a better quarterback. I think he really cares a lot. I think he wants to be really good. But I think what comes with being a young guy sometimes is a little bit of immaturity . . . is understanding what it takes, day-in and day-out, to be great at the position. I love his poise, I love his demeanor. When he makes a mistake in practice it never phases him, no matter how hard we jump on him about it . . . He goes to the next play, and I think as a quarterback you have to have a short memory. Good or bad, you have to go to the next play. So I think he's got a really great innate ability to be able to do that and just kind of let everything roll off his back and I think that's big.
Q: Coming full circle now, how does it feel adjusting, not only to your first head coaching job, but now living in a completely different environment?
Chizik: You mean like a 60-degree summer day like today?
Chizik: Um . . . it's been awesome. I just . . . I look around every day and I'm just living a dream. I mean, I really mean that now. I'm living a dream. I said it the other night when I went to speak at a function. I wake up every morning and . . . can you imagine getting up every morning and you are just . . . you're breaking the speed limit to go to work. I mean, really now . . . I go home at night and I've got my kids up here with me during the daytime so I can spend time with my family and my wife and see them during the day. I coach this football team, we live in a great place. I'm living a dream. The area . . . living here has been awesome, the summer has been phenomenal. Some of the weather has been phenomenal . . . see there's a trade-off now. There's a trade-off . . . summer, winter, summer, winter . . . there's a trade-off. But, great summers . . . great summers. So it's been fun.
Q: Coach, Bibbs had a nice interception in practice a couple days ago, and looked even impressive on film. Give us your impression of him and is he working in with the ones yet?
Chizik: Uh, Bibbs is working along in there. Again, he falls into the category of a lot of moving parts, you know, he's just trying to get it, and he's really done a nice job . . . another young man who really cares. Let me just say this about our whole junior college group that we brought in. Number one, they're all here. That's one question that . . . everyone made it. Everyone's here. I'm really impressed with their attitude of wanting to do things right and to want to contribute. And their attitudes have all been great and that's huge. And they're all here and they're all just melding right in with the team. So, I'm proud of them.