Question: How do you go from where you guys were to the #1 defense in the country that you want to be?
Frank Clark: “That’s pretty easy, the same way Auburn goes from 3-7 to competing for the National Championship. If a team can go from 3-7 an compete for a National Championship, then a team can go from where we were on defense to the #1 defense in the country.
Question: You’ve got mostly the same guys, except for Peppers is the only one that will play as a young guy.
Frank Clark: “We got all the same guys and that’s the best thing about it. You’ve got guys who don’t know, should know the ins and outs of playing on a college Saturday. A lot of guys struggle playing on Saturday their freshman year because they’re not used to the speed of the game, not used to the broadcasting, their nerves. Once they get used to that, then everything is fine.”
Question: Is there something intangible that has to click in for a team to take that next step?
Frank Clark: “Of course. There is no team where you can actually have a team, and you got guys on the team where, I don’t like that group of guys, I don’t like this guy over here. You can’t have your receiver not liking your quarterback. You can’t have a quarterback not liking a receiver. I tell our quarterbacks and receivers all the time, even though they’re on offense and I’m a defensive guy, I tell them you all have to be the best of friends, off and on the field. Because when it comes time, you’ve got to trust this guy is going to make the catch and you’ve got to be able to trust this guy that he is going to make the throw.”
Question: Something that Greg Mattison told me a couple weeks ago is that if Frank Clark plays the way Frank Clark should, I should only be subbing him out a couple of times a games. Last year, you guys subbed out every three plays or every five plays. He said that he wants his best players on the field.
Frank Clark: “Exactly and that’s the one thing that we tried to establish this year. Well not we, but that is one thing that the coaches have established, is the fact that the best players are going to be on the field as much as they can handle. If a player needs to be on the field for ten straight plays and he can handle that, then he can and he needs to be on the field. That’s the type of guy I am. It’s not about taking all the reps, it is about if I am healthy and in enough shape to be on the field as long as I possibly can be, I want to be on the field because I know I can make those plays.”
Question: How many plays do you think you can be on the field in a row?
Frank Clark: “Right now? I’m in great shape. I could play ten straight plays without catching my breath or nothing.”
Question: You talked about at the end of last season, after the bowl game, you guys lost the fight to be a family. Why did that happen and why is that not going to happen this year?
Frank Clark: “That happened when you have a lot of disagreement in your team. You’ve got a lot of players fighting for leadership roles, those are things that are going to happen. That happens to every team. You can’t have all these leaders on one team or all these guys who proclaim themselves as leaders and they are not actually going to be leaders of the team. What we’re going to this year to change that is that we’re not really focusing on who is going to lead the team, or who is going to be the best leader on the team. It wasn’t that, it was which group of guys or which level of guys is going to lead the team. How many people want to lead the team, whether you are a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, you have the capability of doing this. So who wants to, that’s more or less what we focused on.”
Question: Do you feel there were some guys last year that thought they were leaders and maybe hadn’t earned it. That guys have to earn it more?
Frank Clark: “Of course. It is not even earning being a leader. It is about just showing the characteristics of being a leader. Everything you do on and off the field. If you’re a leader you don’t have to prove anything because everyone is going to see you working hard on the field. Everyone is going to see you working hard in practice. Everyone is going to see you in film studies. These guys that you seeing doing the right things of a leader, the leadership qualities. These are guys that you’re going to reach out and bring somebody else with you. I’m going to bring a Lawrence Marshall, a freshman defensive end, and go come on let’s go watch film. You need to get better. You need to have the playbook down pat by camp. These things I was doing the night before I came here. Just telling Lawrence, come on man let’s go watch film, or pull up the IPad and watching film, watching plays.”
Question: That’s being a leader as opposed to yelling at a guy because he did something wrong. Is that happening?
Frank Clark: “If you’re yelling at a guy, there is no point in yelling at him.”
Question: Do you feel that sort of stuff went on last year?
Frank Clark: “Of course, these are things that go on in every program. Yelling at another grown man is not going to get you very far. You’ve got to have a certain level of respect for that individual. If you respect that individual enough and he respects you enough, it is not going to be any yelling or disagreeing going on.”
Question: Does this team respect each other more than last year?
Frank Clark: “I think we really do. I think everyone respects our coaches and the people who are coaching us and people that are your brother beside you. I feel like they respect them a lot more actually.”
Question: Why do you think this group is different from that perspective?
Frank Clark: “You can feel it in the atmosphere. You can feel it in the locker room. It is not a group of guys sitting over here….when having a team dinner, it is not a group of guys, as our weight room calls it. He said, ‘let’s make Oreos baby.’ So you sitting there and you walk out, it is not about a black and white thing at the end of the day. It is just unknowingly doing something that you haven’t really thought about. So when you come out and see a group of guys sitting over here before we go into the weight room, he’ll say the group of guys sitting over here. When our coach say, let’s make Oreos, everybody knows what that means. You might as well combine and switch it up a little bit, here, here, here. Fill in the gaps and then we go about like that.”
Question: Sometimes it is defensive guys hanging out with defensive guys, so the Oreo is blending the offense and defense too?
Frank Clark: “Exactly. That’s what I mean.”
Question: What changed? Something happened that made you guys do that more this year?
Frank Clark: “When you go 7-6 and I forgot the year before. When you lose that many games two years in a row, you start to sit down and think, something has got to change around here. That’s basically this change that we had to make or at least one of them. It is about building that family atmosphere. We’ve done a lot of leadership things, a lot of team bonding things just to bring us together closer as a team and it has really helped.”
For much more from Clark including the players responsible for giving the defense its “swag”, press play below.