Is it kind of amazing to see how far you guys have come with this program since the '99 game in Madison?
Yeah. I remember that one. It's a real tribute to our players. They've done a great job. I remember Bart Palmer was our starting nose tackle that day. I think Bart was about 230, a linebacker. They had men. Their offensive line was a group of men. Dayne wasn't bad either. They were at the top of the mountain in the Big Ten at that time. We were certainly at the bottom. It's nice to at least be able to get on the bus and know we have a fighting chance in this ballgame. I think that's pretty much been the case since late 2000. It's just a tribute to the hard work that our players have put in.
When you came back, was that a program that you emulated?
No question. I didn't follow college football real closely. One of the bad things about living in Baltimore, every Saturday when you had a little time to watch some college football, it was ACC football. With all due respect to Clemson and whomever they were playing, it didn't really capture my attention. I followed the Big Ten and watched what was going on, certainly at Iowa. And then I had an obvious interest in Wisconsin just because Barry and I worked together. I have great respect for Barry. He's a friend. To watch what he did in that 10-year span was extremely impressive. We got a taste of it our first year here in that last ballgame in '99. I have great respect for what they have done because to me they're a lot like Iowa. They're not the "glamour" school. They've just done it the right way.
Who has the flu the worst?
Geez. Right now? I don't know. Follett was really in bad shape, and Neubauer. We sent them home Saturday morning. We didn't see them Sunday. I think they're on their way back now. Gallery had it pretty good over the weekend. But he was here Sunday; running, throwing up, running. The guy is something else. Bob had it pretty good on Sunday. I haven't seen him today.
Are there any positions that are kind of staying free of it?
No. It's nondiscriminatory. It's everywhere. I'm serious. Everybody in the building is being medicated right now. We're trying to slow it down.
Has it been pretty scary?
I don't know. You feel badly when guys have fevers and are throwing up. I can promise you that those guys weren't having fun just by looking at them.
Have you felt any of it?
No. Not really. Knock on wood. We were marveling that (head trainer) Ed Crowley never misses anything. He had to leave(the game on Saturday). He felt that bad. John (Streif) felt bad. John is everywhere all of the time. There has got to be three John Streif's. This is nothing to laugh about. It really isn't. Although it's almost comical if you sat back and looked you'd say, "This can't be happening." But it is.
Do you see any changes with your staff (in the off season)?
I hope not. The reality of it is if the team has success...We've lost four coaches now in four years. And if we have success, chances are that some of our guys will be attractive to other people, possibly. My attitude has always been that if a guy has an opportunity for a better position, and he thinks it's in his best interest and his family's best interest, then I'm going to support him all of the way. That being said, selfishly, I hope nobody leaves. But if a guy has got an opportunity, that's part of the reward for doing a job well. We'll see what happens.
Do you have a list in your desk (of replacements)?
Yeah. My desk. My head. I always keep a list.
Is there any friction there with Jermelle and Fred?
Not to my knowledge. I think both of them are doing great. Fred found a way to help us the other day on the kick returns. He did a great job. He really gave us a spark there. That was real important. It got us off to a great start. Those guys are doing great. We'd like to get them loose, there's no question. But people we're playing have something to do with that too. They're really trying to take him out of the game right now.
Was that a one-time deal with Fred returning kicks?
No. As long as we can make it to Saturday with Fred, Jermelle and Marcus all being healthy, he'll be back there. I'd like to have both of them back there. If Jermelle were 100 percent, they'd both be back there Saturday. But we're not there yet.
Is there another Bob (Sanders) in the pipeline?
I wish. You never know. But that's going to be the job of some of our younger guys. And we have some guys that have added to our tempo here. But to me, this is the guy that set it for us three years ago against Wisconsin. He changed our demeanor as a defensive football team, just like he changed our special teams' demeanor.
What are some of the quotes from scouts on Robert (Gallery)?
There is no discussion. (Meaning that Gallery is a given)
How high to you see him being drafted?
Real high. I like his future. The other thing that you're getting with Robert, which is becoming more important with the salary cap, is you're investing in quality. Not only a great player, but you're investing in character and quality. You know what you're going to have. Those guys are rare. He's a guy that's going to be in your franchise for a long time. There's a lot of extra value in that, too.
What about Bob?
Bob is a little more interesting because of the height. Some people are scared off. But it didn't hurt Mike Doss. Blaine Bishop was a great player when I was in the National Football League. I saw him play for six years. And that's who he reminds me of. I think the key for him is to get to the team that had the right system that would utilize the way he plays. His position is more situational. But he's going to make their special teams better. He's going to do some things immediately for them in a lot of areas that make a team better. You're drafting tempo there with him. He's a guy that's going to increase the tempo of your football team, which smart people are going to realize.
What do they think about Nate (Kaeding)?
It's hard to project where they go, but people have certainly taken...the thing that makes Nate so exceptional is he's a specialist, but yet, he's a leader. And he's demonstrated a great mental toughness, which is critical at that position. I don't pretend to know all of these guys. But when I see Vinatieri on TV, I'm guessing he's like Nate. I'm not a big fan of kickers. (laughter) I don't have my Top 5 up there on the board. But I like Vinatieri, just watching him from afar. I understand that he's from South Dakota. I think he was a championship wrestler in high school. I'm not surprised. He's doesn't care which way the wind blows. He just goes out and competes.
Has Erik Jensen had a good year?
I think so. The only frustrating part for Erik has been his injury situation. Erik has been a guy that has been tough, there every day. He's played through injuries. He's had his share of disappointments that way. He's a tough, hard-nosed guy. He's meant a lot for our football team. He's been a great, great contributor.
Your passing game looked much better. How much is that because Mo is back in there?
That helps. Everybody is getting a little bit more comfortable. And part of it too is the team's that we've been playing. Teams have been taking the run away from us a little bit. And Wisconsin is a good team at doing that. If you can't pass the ball well against them, you're going to be in trouble. They make it tough for you to run. It's a tricky preparation for us.
Have you talked about a tackle eligible play with Robert?
He hasn't said anything recently. He's too busy throwing up.
Can guys that are less than 100 percent healthy go more this week knowing they have next week off?
Oh yeah. There's nothing to hold back on now. It's that time of year where everybody is beat up. Everybody is a little tired and all of that stuff. But, what are you going to save it for? We have an official week off this time (next week). Some other guys in the past, I'm not sure they haven't taken a week off. (laughter) But we have an official week off this time. I'm sure both teams are going to lay it all out there Saturday.
Have you taken the bowl temperature at all of your team?
I haven't even talked to our guys about it. Nobody has really talked to me about it. I'm not really too concerned about it at this point. I'm sure the powers that be will get is where we belong. I know we can help ourselves. We should worry about what we should worry about. What happens, happens. There are no bad bowls. I know that.
Yes there is. (laughter)
OK. Let me say this, I've never been to a bad bowl. I've been to some that I've enjoyed more than others. But it's hard to get upset about going to a bowl game.
Do you have any thoughts on whether the BCS should take two Big Ten teams?
Not really. But you could probably make a pretty good argument for both of the teams playing this Saturday. And, to me, Purdue was not far off of that.
Will you go out recruiting next week?
Yeah. Next week is an evaluation period. We've only used, I think, one day. I'm not big on the in-season recruiting, other than when kids come here. We've had a lot of kids on our campus. This week, our staff will hit the road Sunday afternoon and get out for some evaluation days. We'll grab some transcripts and meet some people face to face. And then the following Sunday (Nov. 30), we'll be on the road actively recruiting.
Have you got your priorities figured out?
Yeah. I think we're pretty close to where we need to be. It's always a little bit different dynamic, but I think I have a pretty good idea where we are at.
Are you looking at junior college at all?
We may look at a player or two. We've identified one player at this point that we have an interest in. He was supposed to come in a couple of weeks ago, but his plane got iced out in Kansas of all places. But we're not looking too much in that direction. (NOTE: Kirk can not comment on recruits until they are signed, but the recruit that he was referring to is Walner Belleus from Dodge City Community College in Kansas)
How about players that have left here for junior colleges?
They're on our list. We're really taking everything in. We'll see where we're at.
So, those are not automatic?
There's nothing automatic, but we're certainly giving everybody strong consideration. That's for sure.