Question: Did you see the California high school team that is running the two quarterbacks behind center at the same time offensive system?
Coach Rodriguez: “I had seen that, but we tinkered with that a few years ago, doing some stuff. There is a lot of creative minds out there. I think the game is still evolving as far as people thinking outside the box and it will affect all levels. You know the slowest level to change is the pros. I think even on that level over the next few years, you will see it start to evolve and some coaches doing some unconventional things.”
Question: What would we see?
Coach Rodriguez: “If I knew, I would never say. It aint like I got some great secrets or anything, but if we come up with something that is a pretty unique idea, we are going to try and see if it will work in practice first before we throw it out in a game before everybody. One thing about our staff, in particular this year, we may have to be pretty creative at times, particularly offensively. What that means is yet to be determined.”
Question: The focus seems to be offense, offense, offense, but are people sleeping on the defense? Talent wise where does this defense ranks compared to everybody else that you have ever coached?
Coach Rodriguez: “I don’t know yet. I have a little bit of a feel but until we get through camp, until we play a game, how will our defense be. I don’t know. Watching them last year, at times they played very well but at other times we didn’t play well defensively. So our key is to get all of our guys that are coming back and have played to make them better, to get them better and then try and have a few more guys that can play and develop. I think we have more guys that have an opportunity to actually play on defense than maybe we do on offense. We have more depth, but how they play is yet to be determined. I know their attitude has been terrific. I think they are excited about what are defensive coaches are doing with them.”
Question: What have you learned from this short time that you have been here so far, normally the spring practice is about the team in general?
Coach Rodriguez: “There are a lot of guys that is playing going to have a chance to play for the first time, which makes you nervous from an experience standpoint, but also I think they are pretty hungry to prove themselves. I talk to them all the time. You should always feel the need to prove yourself. The best athletes try to prove themselves on every play. So hopefully they will keep that attitude.”
Question: How is the overall attitude from being at a program like Michigan, “Leaders and Best” that whole thing, where as at West Virginia everybody always kind of said you have to have that kind of attitude that nobody believes in us…?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah the kind of chip on your shoulder, the underdog type of role. I think our players kind of a feel a little bit of chip on their shoulders, underdog role now, because everybody is writing them off. It is yet to be seen. Again, I want guys that think, hey I got to come out here and prove that I can play. Because we got a lot of proving to do. I think that is the case every year, no matter where you are at.”
Question: Your freshmen took classes when they came. Do you see that as a good thing?
Coach Rodriguez: “Oh no question. As far as an orientation into what it is going to be like to be a college student athlete, I think it is absolutely critical, and I think it is playing out that way as well. I think the guys are getting the feel for what it is like to be a student at Michigan, in some regards, also an athlete, even though they haven't practiced and are doing their workouts and they are getting the homesickness out of the way, we hope. So by about the time that August gets here and practice starts they have a little bit of a feel, okay been there done that. Certainly by the time classes start in September, they will know their way around campus and to me that is a big deal.”
Question: Have they talked to you about playbooks or anything yet?
Coach Rodriguez: “No. We can't do a whole lot there. I know they have gotten with some of the upperclassmen and asked them some football things in trying to learn the system a little bit. They will still be way behind come August, but the way that the NCAA rules sets up camp and all that with just the first five days being one a day, you are going to have a lot of mental time to try and teach them and then hopefully those guys will be quick learners, some of them.”
Question: Did you favor the early signing period?
Coach Rodriguez: “I do. I would like to have something in mid December. If guys want to sign and get it over it, do it around the third week of December, if they don’t and are not sure, wait until February. I felt that way for the last couple of years. Some of my colleagues think that way and some don’t. I think it is personal preference, but I would like to have one early.”
Question: Is there any burden with having more pressure leading up to that December?
Coach Rodriguez: “There is now. Everybody is trying to get guys to commit in the summer. So the recruiting calendar, you see more probably early commitments now than there has ever been, but I don’t know if that is necessarily a bad thing. I just think that it can get a little bit overboard when you got a freshman or sophomore in high school that is getting offered and making a commitment and heck he hasn’t even started a full season or he hadn’t gotten to see any campuses. That is the thing you hope the guys that make a decision have at least had the opportunity to visit other campuses and coaches and talk to them and the coaches that are recruiting him get a chance to know him as well. You are seeing more and more of those unofficial visits now than ever before.”
Question: Joe (Paterno) wasn’t in favor just because of getting ready for games…
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah that is exactly right and it has a lot of merit to that argument. They are visiting now, so whether you are moving the signing date up or not, there is still a lot of them are going to make their decision while visiting in the fall. I just think that sometimes it would eliminate some of the hard feelings that guys changing their mind in late January and all of a sudden you have dropped other guys and that is where people get upset. It has happened to me, it happened to a lot of people.”
Question: Rich as a realistic, have you plotted the time table for (contending for the title)?
Coach Rodriguez: “Not really, and I don’t want to put a time frame on it, sooner rather than later, but as I mentioned earlier, we want to have our guys to have a sense of urgency to compete successfully right away. Our goal every year is to compete for a Big Ten championship. I don’t want to wait and say okay, next year’s team or 2010, our goal this year is to compete for a championship. Our goal this year is to compete for a championship. Are we going to be talented enough, experienced enough, lucky enough and all that, I don’t know, but that is our mindset going in. I am sure that every other coach in this league will tell you the same thing.”
Question: Is the historic expectations of Michigan fans a consideration in your decision?
Coach Rodriguez: “The expectations of fans is not daunting at all. I left a place where going to any bowl seven or eight years ago was okay to where when we didn’t play for the national championship, the sky was falling. So I am not worried about expecting to win. I want to deserve to win. I want our players to understand the difference.”
Question: Mike was talking about apostles, can you talk about that. Is that something that you had elsewhere?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah we had that at West Virginia.”
Question: Did someone sign up for it, do you appoint them or what?
Coach Rodriguez: “No the players pick them. The players pick their peers on who they feel should be their leaders in each class and then I get with them and meet with them on occasions. We talk about everything, sometimes it is football related and sometimes it is not. They are not going to make decisions, but they will certainly get a chance; they are not the only ones that can every say come and talk to Coach Rod. They all can come and talk to me. The players, they are kind of the guys that we need to be an extension of the staff, in the locker room, keeping guys focused. If they have ideas or something that might be able to help the team or help the program then we will talk about it.”
Question: There was a lot of talk yesterday about how many schools in the conference were running the spread, obviously you did that at West Virginia, but when you were at Tulane, you had an offense that was a little bit different, do you feel sometimes that there is a knock. People say well they run this particular system, but obviously you don’t have all the personal that you want to run that system?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah we have been pigeonholed on what we did the last three to four years, as opposed to what we did 10 years ago in the system. As I mentioned earlier, we have to have enough flexibility, which we think that we do in our offense to go a couple of different ways with the spread. I have said this for many years. If you see one spread it is not like seeing another spread. It is not like a wishbone or a wing T or a West Coast, they are all kind of similar. In a spread, you can go a lot of different ways. From Florida to what they do in a spread, to what we do in a spread, to what Joe and Purdue does in the spread, they are all a little bit different.”
Question: Rich how anxious are you just to get the football season started for Michigan, given the transition?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah all the drama and all that stuff. It is not like I have been thinking every day about oh respond to this or respond to that. Since the day I took the job my focus has been on Michigan football. The other stuff has taken away some free time but other than it is not like all of a sudden I am free and unburdened and can move on and start doing my job. I mean I have been doing this since I was hired.”
Question: I guess what I mean is that you are a football coach, everything you have been judged on since December and when you got the job to now is not really football. Are you itching to kind of…?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah I am. That has been the hardest part is again, I quit reading the things and all that because the attack on your reputation and all that is like, geez where did this come from. What did I do? I changed jobs that is all I did. I changed jobs. A lot of stuff out there that was BS and yeah I am anxious just to coach ball and maybe people will judge you on that, on your results. It is fun. I love practice time. I love working with the guys and sitting in meetings with the coaches and talking about schemes and trying to put things together. I mean that is what we got into it for is to teach and coach and to compete. You’re right, come August 3rd that is all your focus was on.”
Question: What did John Beilein tell you? Did you use him as a resource, not just about taking the job but in kind of just easing that transition?
Coach Rodriguez: “I didn’t get a chance. We actually missed each other in that brief time that I was talking about taking the job, but I have talked to him several times afterwards and John and I have known each other obviously for a long time, and we talked about some differences between the schools, some things that he had been at Michigan a year ahead of me. So things that he saw that were issues or something that I needed to be aware of and all that. John has been terrific. He is a good friend. I think he is one of the best coaches in America, but really it hasn’t been just John, but really all the coaches have reached out. One of the first guys I met was Red (Berenson), the hockey coach. I had a great meeting with him. They have been terrific. All the coaches and really have opened their arms up to my whole staff, all of the new guys anyway, help teach us what is Michigan. I am still learning my first year, but I will have it figured out eventually.”
Question: Obviously your rivalry with Ohio State is big. Can you talk about your rivalry with Michigan State and whether there is a rivalry?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah there is and we are unique in that we have three I guess for our fans, three huge rivalries, Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame. To me, we take it even a step further. I always think that your rivalries are your league games, your Big Ten games because that is your goal every year is to try and win a conference championship and those games have added importance, there is no question about it. The fact that Michigan State is instate, just up the road a little bit and there is a lot of intensity there, yeah that adds to the rivalry. I don’t have a countdown to any particular game other than the first one or the next one and that is the way I have always been.”
Question: Not just on the field but also in recruiting, it is obviously….?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah you recruit against guys, battle against them in recruiting and all that, but it is not like Michigan State is recruiting them, so we got to recruit them and I am sure they say the same thing, because Michigan is recruiting them, we got to recruit them. I think everybody picks their own guys.”
Question: The operative word I guess for what you have gone through the last six months is distractions. There is going to be a piece on the troubles in the Penn State program on Outside the Lines on ESPN on Sunday. There is a lot of speculation on whether Joe will be back next year or not necessarily by his decision. The thing is that off the field distractions are not unique to any program are they?
Coach Rodriguez: “No they’re not. Players have to understand and coaches do, I mean we live in such a public arena now and instant information with all the things that are out there, internet and all that. Our guys certainly are in the glass house. Every program is in a glass house. Everybody says players are getting in more trouble now. I am not sure that is the case. I just think that it is more public now than it was 30-40 years ago. I don’t think the kids are any worse kids than they were 30-35 years ago, but they are kids and they make mistakes and it becomes more public. That is not to excuse inappropriateness behavior. It is just saying that is the day and age we live in and your players and your coaches all have to understand that. I know this, I don’t think there has ever been a higher attendance ratio, ratings ratio, interest in college football than there is right now, so something is going okay.”
Question: On how Darryl Stonum has progressed relative to the other players.
Coach Rodriguez: “I think he is five months ahead of them, because he got there five months ahead of them. A lot of guys are doing that, are getting enrolled early because of that reason, gives them a better opportunity. I think Daryl Stonum’s chances of playing are better now because he enrolled early, but we never force a guy or tell a guy that he has to do that. Certainly I want them to enjoy their senior year as well as they can. If they chose to come out early and want to come out early, we want them there and that would be a great thing.”
Question: How long have you used the apostles?
Coach Rodriguez: “Since I was at West Virginia, and I had a version when I was at Glenville, a little small school Glenville State. I have always had a group of leaders that I have let the players pick, and we have a lot of fun with it. Sometimes it is as simple as picking the pregame music that kind of thing. So it is not like we are making major decisions. They are not going to say ‘alright coach, we are going to run the wishbone this week’. Like I said, they are making suggestions, not decisions.”
Question: There is only one Jesus Christ though.
Coach Rodriguez: “No I am not, and it is not in biblical nature. The definition of an apostle is one that leads a new way. So I am not looking for them to be, change the world. That is a description of it and I thought it fit what they do. I don’t want anyone to take it the wrong way.”
Question: Is that a fixed number of players that you use every year, does that flux in terms of how many apostles?
Coach Rodriguez: “Yeah they pick the guys. It could be anywhere from 10 to 20.”
Question: Is it too cliché to talk about the leaders, the vocal leaders, leadership this, leadership that. I mean how important can be to have guys from each class that are kind of looked at by their teammates…?
Coach Rodriguez: “I think that it is important. I don’t want to think that it is overrated because every coach wants it, but at the same time, I don’t think that you can force it. I think it has got to happen naturally. We don’t try to force leadership, we may teach them or give them a few tips to help in that regard, but I want them trained. I want all the players trained. I don’t want them to just to say okay, I need you 12 players to teach these guys how to play. I want them all to learn how to play. That is our jobs as coaches. I don’t need the leadership as much during practice. I mean that is what coaches are there for. I need leadership more when the coaches aren’t around. In the locker room, around campus, that is where I need the leadership. When we are around, the coaches that is our job.
Question: What is one question that you definitely want to get answered about your team as you go into camp? Is there one burning question right now? I know there is a bunch, but is there one more than anything?
Coach Rodriguez: “I think more than anything for them from what I have seen and in the spring and what I have heard what they did this summer is for them to maintain that hungry attitude to prove themselves, and I think it is a little easier from use in the standpoint that a lot of guys haven't played before and they are getting a chance and people are writing them off. That is the thing I am anxious to see through the whole camp. We will have at the beginning of camp, everybody in America does, will we have it at the end of camp that is what I am anxious to see.”
Question: Are you adopting a little bit of an us against the world mentality? These guys, Michigan hasn’t been recruiting the dregs, you know what I mean, you got some talent.
Coach Rodriguez: “No question. We got talented players. We just got a lot of guys that haven't played. We lost a lot of guys, a lot of veterans, a lot of experience. There are players everywhere. We have got good players. Lloyd (Carr) and his staff did a great job in recruiting and these kids, it is not like they haven't been coached or been training, they have been. This year is the most difficult year, because they are learning some different terminology. Not just scheme wise, but we may call a drill one way and that they did the same drill called another way. So there is a huge learning curve this year that won't be there in the future. As far as conceding anything and all that, we are not going to. We like winning too much to try and not win them all right now.”
Question: Did you watch video getting ready for this year. Is there one thing that is different, more than anything else that is different about the Big Ten compared to the Big East?
Coach Rodriguez: “No and we mentioned it earlier. Everybody wants to say it is different in the Big Ten. When you are coaching division one over the number of years, you see every style and every version that you could be and all leagues are pretty similar in that regard. There is a wide variety in our league, just as there is a wide variety in the Big East. I don’t see any particular major difference comparing that.”
Question: On how many walk-ons there are on the rosterCoach Rodriguez: “Decided not to play. You know we brought a lot of walk-ons on and some of them were a spring tryout and some of them were invited to try out again come September. You can only have 105 at the beginning of camp. The only scholarship player that is not on the team that was there is (Marques) Slocum, and he didn’t do what was necessary to remain on the team.”