Rich Rod Big Ten Transcript (Part 6)

Part 6 of Rich Rodriguez's chat with the media at the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. Another long one, Wolverine fans: Big Ten rivalries, Big Ten coaches, the spread of the spread, team seniors, team leaders … lots more.

Question: Joe Tiller said that when he first came in the league as a rookie coach, he kind of sat in the back of the room and listened to Hayden Fry and those guys talk about the gentleman's agreement in recruiting and things like that, he kept his mouth shut. How would you respond to that if somebody said to you once a guy is committed, back off? Would you say something or would you just sit there?

Coach Rodriguez: "Well there is no agreement and we discussed that. If I was a first year head coach, I would sit in the back of the room too. We didn't have a back of the room, we just had a round table. If I agree strongly or disagree strongly, I am going to say it. We talked about it, we brought it up front and it was all laid out on the table and it was not a big deal. It was made a big deal, but it wasn't a big deal. We laughed about it."

Question: Jim Tressel said that you guys chit chat, kind of throw things back and forth a little bit. Have you known him for a while?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah I have known Jim, really since his Youngstown State days and again, we have gone on some…his wife and my wife and I have been on apparel trips put together, and we are on the AFCA board together, coach's board together. So, yeah we have known each other for quite some time."

Question: Does that it make it kind of different now that you are in this rivalry where everyone expects you to hate each other?

Coach Rodriguez: "I think that is human nature that people want to pit each other against each other. I know there is an intensity in the rivalry and that is okay. Are we going to sit around and trade ideas, no. If we weren't playing each other we would probably. We play each other every year, in a pretty big game. So we are not going to trade philosophies or ideas or anything like that."

Question: Personally you guys still banter back and forth?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah we talk a little bit. More family things, how everything is going, a lot of small talk stuff. We get so busy that we are not like texting each other. We are not doing that."

Question: Can you talk a little about Joe Paterno. You remember him back in the day….?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah back when I played in the earlier ‘80s. My wife has got a picture in a cheerleading uniform giving JoePa a hug."

Question: What was your impression of him back then when that rivalry was…?

Coach Rodriguez: "He was a veteran coach back then. Just one of the best in the game. He was an icon in the sport and has continued to remain so for 20 some years since I have known him. It was always a thrill to play against his teams, to play up there. It was always a great atmosphere in Happy Valley to play that. To do it for as long as he had and successful as they have; he and Bobby Bowden both, I don't think those records will ever be broken. You know everyone says never say never, I don't know 370 some wins that he and Coach Bowden have. I don't know if anybody will ever come close to approaching that.

Question: Is that because things have changed in the game?

Coach Rodriguez: "Things have changed a little bit. I don't want to say the scrutiny, but there are more things involved in being a coach at this level and all that. Just to stay at one place and do what he has done. You can sit around and sometimes Coach Paterno…people will say he is going on about this thing, but there is an awful lot of wisdom in Joe Paterno. I like to sit around and what I miss is, we didn't go on that trip together that we always spend that week. You just sit around the pool and listen to him talk for a couple of hours and you can learn an awful lot. I miss that because he is one of the best of all time, no question."

Question: Were you on that West Virginia team that beat Penn State?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah in '84. It was my senior year. I got a start, and that was a new thing for me, getting a start. That was the first time we had beaten them in 27 years and so a lot of people made a big deal out of it. I said, well I didn't start those other 26 years (laughter). I actually had an interception in that game, but I can remember it like yesterday, but it was more like I fair caught a punt, the ball was kind of straight up, I caught, stumbled right down, looked like a total non-athlete."

Question: Is it on Youtube?

Coach Rodriguez: "Is it on youtube, no gosh, thankfully. It is kind of embarrassing. I had a big thick neck roll, but we won the game and the fans stormed the field. Yeah we didn't have a whole lot of success against them when we were playing them."

Question: Terrance (Taylor) has said that it took him a while to come around; are you pleased that he finally did?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah, I saw Terrance the other day and he looked great. He was actually kind of skipping through the weight room (laughing) that is a big body moving around a little bit. I think he is probably in the best shape of his career, and we are going to continue to work him, because Terrance is a talented guy. Our goal for Terrance is for him to be as good on third down as he is on first down, you know, when he is fresh. Even though we have enough guys that we can roll in and out, he may have to play seven, eight or nine plays in a row. I think Terrance is seeing that now and hopefully we will see that in camp that his conditioning level will be better than it has ever been."

Question: On why so many teams are using the spread.

Coach Rodriguez: "I think that it is just the game is evolved a little bit. You see it, defenses have become so fast and athletic that if you can remove a couple of guys just by formation away from the play at least it gives you a better chance of having a positive play. Because now those guys are so fast that you get them all in there, sometimes it is hard to sustain that block or whatever. I don't want to and I have said this several times. The spread isn't the only way to have success, you can have it doing it a lot of different ways. Power football teams, West Coast, I just run a spread because that is what I know. That is what I have done for 17 or 18 years and that is what we will continue to do. Different versions of it fit our personal, but to sit there and say ‘learn the West Coast'. You got to run what you know and that is what we will do."

Question: On if the spread is spreading down to the high school level:

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah it is. Really it has kind of exploded on the high school level and you are seeing more guys, spread type quarterbacks, more guys that maybe wouldn't have played football that were basketball players or something that are coming out because they like the spread offense. I saw an explosion of that when I coached in Louisiana at Tulane in those high schools. I saw it in South Carolina, saw it some in West Virginia. I think it was just a sign of the times. High school coaches are like the rest of us. What can I do to help us win games and sometimes the spread gives them an edge. I don't know."

Question: More on Joe Tiller's snake-oil comment?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah we addressed that. It was maybe some frustration. We talked about that at the Big Ten meetings, got a laugh about it and moved on."

Question: Joe Paterno was about two years old the last time that a Michigan coach lost his first game against Ohio State, were you aware of that? The last six coaches have all won their first game in the rivalry.

Coach Rodriguez: "Did they? I hadn't researched the issue."

Question: I didn't either, somebody mentioned it.

Coach Rodriguez: "I can see where people bring that up."

Question: Nobody has brought it up to you?

Coach Rodriguez: "This will be my first one. Whatever happened in the past … did you ever see the movie Lion King? Monkey said to the lion; what does he say Angelique? Monkey wacks the lion, lion says what did you do that for … it doesn't matter it is in the past. Doesn't matter, it is in the past. Whatever happened 20 years ago isn't going to help us get a first down today."

Question: Do you feel that it is important to maybe keep that winning streak alive against Penn State?

Coach Rodriguez: "I had nothing to do with the nine; how many in a row?"

Question: Nine games back to '97.

Coach Rodriguez: "I had nothing to do with any of them. I wish I had. The streaks and all that kind of stuff. I am just trying to win with this year's team and each game that we play. I guess I should have more of a historic perspective or responsibility. Certainly we have it as far as trying to uphold the tradition of the consecutive winning seasons and bowl games and that is important. But if you think about that and not the process you are going to lose focus. That is the bigger picture and that is always in the back of your mind. I am worried about the small picture right now."

Question: You mentioned a unique thing at Michigan yesterday: about how you got the rivalries with Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State; is it kind of tricky for a head coach to navigate, which one to build up more than another?

Coach Rodriguez: "I don't build any of them up more. I mean Ohio State is probably the one that you hear the most about because of the history of it, but like I said, I don't have a countdown clock to any game other than the next one and the next one for us is Utah. What happens if you play that rivalry game earlier and that is your whole big game and it doesn't go well, what is next or if it goes really well, everything else is a let down. To me they all count as one … well some folks will say those three count as one and a half. I don't know, I know they are really important and I am not going to diminish them all, but again, I am worried about the next one right now."

Question: Coaches have kind of been flocking to South Florida because they think they have solved you. Is it more of a case where you guys didn't play well against them or did they scheme well?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah they had a good scheme. They played better than we played. We made a lot of mistakes. We had a lot of turnovers in the last couple of games that we had played against them. There are no do-overs. You can't do it over again. I am sure that coaches are pretty diligent studying on who has what success and we got to make sure that we prepare for that or have an idea that you are doing that as well."

Question: Do you think Steven Threet can make plays with his feet, maybe not running the ball but moving out of the pocket?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah, he is a better athlete than maybe what is perceived. He can run a little bit. He is not a big stiff guy. He can move around a little bit. He made some nice plays with his feet in the spring, but we will see."

Question: Were you ever surprised by the scope of Michigan football or the attention paid to it?

Coach Rodriguez: "Not really. I think it is kind of what I expected. I am probably surprised by the attention paid to stuff that probably is not that important, as I said earlier … geez that is not really a big deal and that is something that probably should not be front page headlines if you got both sides of the story.

Question: Do you think that is about you or do you think it is about the program?

Coach Rodriguez: "Oh I just think that is a sign of the times. I think it is the way it is. Everybody wants the scoop on something and then they jump the gun on things, but again, I am not begrudging anybody or anything like that. I hope everybody would see that we are pretty open and if you got an issue about it, call Dave (Ablauf), call me or get a hold of somebody, and we can talk about it. If somebody wants to write about it that is fine. I think, like I said, everything is more public now and sometimes it is a bad thing, but sometimes it is not. The interest in our game is never higher. For our fans and for people that follow college football, I think it is neat to have so much interest and everything whether it is print, radio, TV, internet, or whatever. I think there is tremendous interest in the game. So as a coach you've got to understand it. You've got to say, okay, that has helped our game in a lot of regards too."

Question: Kind of along those lines though, when you have had a moment to catch your breath, do you ever think, I am the head coach of Michigan and it is pretty amazing?

Coach Rodriguez: "It is funny that you said that, because my wife said that the other day. She said you know what, you are the head coach of the Michigan. I said, really (laughter). I really hadn't taken that moment and maybe I should. I didn't take that moment when I was at West Virginia: hey you are the head coach at West Virginia. I think it gets so busy in the process. I don't think that it is a bad thing to reflect. I just think, I don't know, maybe it is me too who's process oriented to think about that. I think it would be more about it at the end of your career a little bit more. It is exciting when you think about it, but I guess I worry too much about other stuff."

Question: You had that meeting with former players in February; how has the relationship been since then. Have they (come to see you) or contacted you?

Coach Rodriguez: "Quite a bit, I have contacted some over the mail, I have talked to some over the phone. We are going to continue to do that every spring. It is not just going to be the one spring shot. Every spring we will have the former players back. I saw a lot of them back at Brian Griese and (Steve) Hutch's golf thing; it was great to see them. I saw quite a few of them working out, training in the weight room with Mike and them. I had a lot of fun with that, seeing those guys. I told them, I want them to feel welcome to come back and visit the hallways and I can't have a sideline pass for all of them, I can't do that, but at the same time there is a tremendous amount of pride if you have played at Michigan and I will never do anything to diminish that. They also understand that, hey there are new guys and you got to give them a chance and I think they have."

Question: How much of a selling point is the facilities going to be for your recruiting, a new practice facility?

Coach Rodriguez: "I think it really is and I have said this several times. The perception coming from the outside is that Michigan has the biggest and best of everything. In a lot of regards we probably do, but you want the perception and reality to be the same. Not that you have to have the best of this and that, but you want it to be in the same ballpark conversation. When the stadium is done, when the new indoor practice field is done, when the locker room is redone, we will have all that. Fortunately our administration understands that and most of that was underway before I came onboard. So it wasn't like all of a sudden it was my idea. We have changed a few things, the weight room and some other stuff, but most of that they already had the foresight to see into it. To me it is a recruiting pitch that we are committed to doing everything for our student athletes that we can."

Question: Morgan Trent seems like a natural leader, do you see that of him?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah, I think so. I think he is a guy that the guys trust in talking to, he is very open; and the same way with Mike (Massey). Our senior class is not big, but I really like from what I have seen from them as far as the guys that have some leadership qualities, that are hungry to prove themselves, that want to go out there and have their best year … and every coach will tell you that one of the keys to your success will be your senior class, how they play first and foremost and how they lead and what their attitude is. So far from what I have seen from them is that it has been really terrific. Again, the test is going to come up in August in camp, and during the season, when you hit some adversity … that is when you are going to get tested. It is easy right now. Everybody is undefeated, but from what I have seen so far…I am going to have a couple special dinners with just my seniors coming up here in August. I will get their idea or opinion on it as well. I want all my seniors to have their best year and most enjoyable year and hopefully they will do that."

Question: You talked about some offensive lineman, some freshmen maybe having to contribute in the two deep. Are they physically ready, some of these guys?

Coach Rodriguez: "I don't know. Some of them are not quite as big as they are going to be in a year or two, but simply because of numbers in counting the two deep, 10 guys, there are automatically a couple that are going to be written in there. I think part of it is how quickly they can learn, not just scheme, but fundamentals. Our freshman, they all have pretty good fundamentals. I mean they were coached, the guys we signed, but there are still some different things technique-wise because of our scheme that they've got to learn, and until Coach Frey gets with them, starting August 4th … then we will know how quickly they can progress, but there are a couple of them that are going to have to be ready in a hurry … and we will see who that is."

Question: Carson Butler had a little trouble in his past history at Michigan, but Tim Jamison had said that Carson Butler is a guy that he thought he had taken on a leadership role.

Coach Rodriguez: "A little bit. I have been proud of him. Again, they all still got to prove it in times of adversity, but Carson – Mike has said that he has been out front in a lot of drills with the conditioning that he has been doing and he is excited about it. He has been coming by the office and seeing the coaches. He can be a big key for us because he is such a good athlete that he may be a key to some of things that we do on offense."

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