Q & A: Def. Coord. Scott Shafer

Coach Shafer covers all the bases: from expectations, to the coaches and players he is working with, to the type of defense he plans to put on the field.

Question: On your coaching staff you got a lot of strong personalities back there. Jay Hopson has been a defensive coordinator; Tony Gibson is a strong personality. How has that benefited you as a coordinator?

Scott Shafer: "It has been great, man. My dad always said try to hire people smarter than you. Luckily, I didn't have to hire them. So Coach Rod hired guys smarter than me and so now I can just sit in there and go around the room and say, hey, we got a bunch of smart guys, I will just try not to mess it up. There is a lot of truth to that. I've got excellent football coaches. Coach Hopson is doing an unbelievable with these young linebackers. You see progress being made every day. In the secondary, Coach Gibson: he has been around the different schemes. He understands the game inside and out. He has done a great job of bring those kids along as a group. He is really, really doing a great job with them, especially with the young kids. I see great progress over the last really week with the young kids. Coach Tall: he has been a veteran of the game. He is one of the brightest coaches I have been around. He does a great job making sure that the kids understand that schemes as well as making sure that they push themselves to new levels. We ran fifths after practice; five laps after practice yesterday after a pretty good long scrimmage, and one of our seniors, Terrance Taylor, who you all know about, who everybody has talked about with his off season conditioning. Coach said, ‘Alright seniors, you to have to run the last one'. You look over and Terrance Taylor is leading the way running the last one. The mental capacity of where the kids were compared to where they are today has drastically improved. Hopefully that will show up on the field the way we all want it to."

Question: Is that the kind of example you look for when you want somebody to take over as the leader of your defense … and maybe other players who are emerging like that?

Scott Shafer: "The question was with regards to leadership; the best leaders that you have been around are the silent leaders initially, in my opinion, and then everybody follows their actions as opposed to the guy that likes to talk and then not back it up with work … and that is the thing that I am most proud of with people like Terrance Taylor, Brandon Graham, Tim Jamison. Will Johnson has always been that steady leader, where it is not about talking about it, but it is about being about it. I think we are onto something really, really great here because the kids have bought in."

Question: How comfortable are the players are with the defense at this point.

Scott Shafer: "Guys are adjusting to the system very well. We probably got a third of the concepts in during spring ball, and now really all of our concepts are in. I would say over the course of the last five days you saw a reactionary play as opposed to thinking, memorization type learning situations. Now you see them stepping and reacting and flying around through their concepts as opposed to thinking on the run, which slows them all down. I think they have come a long way. We have two weeks to get to where we need to be and we will get there. "

Question: The last time we had a chance to talk to Coach Rod a couple of weeks ago, he talked about how the offense is coming along slower, so he is going to rely on his defense at the beginning part of the season; do you guys like that challenge, except that challenge?

Scott Shafer: "I try not to focus on things I can't control. We are just going to focus on getting better daily as a defense. Improvement will come if we focus on those things as opposed to what we are, what we aren't at different positions that don't affect us. We just need to try to get better every day and all those other things on the outside will take care of themselves."

Question: Do you like where you guys are right now?

Scott Shafer: "I think there has been good progress, but we are not where we need to be quite yet."

Question: How good can your defensive line be?

Scott Shafer: "I don't really know. I would be lying to you if I really knew. I think to some degree everything is overrated. I think sometimes people make it out to be that we got an NFL defensive line. Who knows? Only time will tell. I think there is good ability up there. It is all about the mindset and again daily improvement. So I think that it could be a real good defensive line. Can it be a great defensive line … only time will tell."

Question: How are the linebackers and safeties looking?

Scott Shafer: "There has been real good improvement at both safety and linebacker positions. Looking forward to continuing this week to see who is going to step up and about being different role players and different type of packages, but I have seen real improvement."

Question: Coach where did you learn defense? I mean where did you learn your trade?

Scott Shafer: "Everybody says a cliché that no one has an original idea in our business, and there is a lot of truth to that. I was an offensive player in college; I was a quarterback. So I always tried to learn from attacking defenses. So I think in a lot of respects, I initially learned my defensive football by watching and trying to attack … then in time there were great influences of Bill Mallory and Joe Novak. We always had an opportunity to visit or have people visit us, compare notes, steal ideas from everybody and put into our own system."

Question: Basically what do you want your defenses to do, other than prevent points?

Scott Shafer: "Our defense wants to be an attacking defense that reacts as opposed to read and react. So we want to bring the fight to them. We want to be a pressure oriented defense where needed. We want to create situations were after a first down snap, we have a second down snap of 7 or more yards. We want to create negative plays on first down. We want to attack the run game, both in our base defense and our pressure package defense. Put it in a nut shell: we want to stop the run. Force them to throw the football and create after we do those two things. Creating means create turnovers, create sacks, create more TFLs (tackle for loss) and then score points on defense."

Question: Has that been the toughest thing maybe to get your players to learn ¬ the whole idea about attacking first rather than reading first?

Scott Shafer: "It has been a little bit different, but all kids want to play defense that way. So it hasn't been that hard, no."

Question: Now that you have been able to assess the talent that you have, does it match what you thought, is it more or less?

Scott Shafer: "You never know until you get into a season and play against an opponent. This is my fourth job in five years and I have never known. The one thing I have known is that you never know until you get into your first game."

Question: What about things like speed and stuff like that, can you tell things like that yet?

Scott Shafer: "I think there are some areas that have been around that have more speed and other areas that maybe were lacking a little bit. Again though, really, I would be guessing until we watch that Utah game and see where we are really at."

Question: Talk about the defense and potential there?

Scott Shafer: "Potential gets you fired. We've got to play our butt off. We got to work above our ability level every day. Focus not on what people are saying on the outside, but what the video tape looks like after every practice. If we do that, we will get better and by the end of the season, maybe we will have a defensive line that lives up those expectations."

Question: What have you seen out of Utah so far in scouting that has really caught your eye and you really want to focus on stopping?

Scott Shafer: "Utah is a great offense. They have a ton of returning starters, a ton of returning players that have played a lot of football. Their quarterbacks are athletic. They can both throw and run it. Their offensive line for the most part has played together for two and three years. They always have excellent skill. They have two junior college transfer kids coming in that can really run. I have been hearing about them on tape. Their scheme is excellent. They know how to try and isolate you in space, and their coaching staff does a great job; not only schematically but fundamentally, putting their kids in position to make plays. So we are going to have our hands full. Utah is a very good offense. In fact, I think, I believe it is seven years in a row that they have won a bowl game. So they are 7-0 in bowls their last seven games, if I am not mistaken. They are not afraid to come into Michigan and play. We are going to get a feisty, well coached, offensive unit when we go up against Utah."

Question: You have obviously been a lot of places recently and you have seen a lot of systems and a lot of opponents, not just on the field but overall … is this like the future; I mean the way Rich does things? It seems like a lot of things he does are progressive and innovative.

Scott Shafer: "Yeah, Rich thinks outside the box. He is always trying to be ahead of the curve. So I would say yes, say he is definitely in front of the curve."

Question: I mean are their times when you have to step back and say, I hadn't thought that way before and you've got to kind of change your way of thinking to fit in?

Scott Shafer: "Not so much that. Because we have always tried to be the same way on defense everywhere we have been. To me it is great to be working for somebody who has kind of the same mindset of ‘Hey, where are we, where do we want to be, how can we get there quicker by doing some things differently" … and that is exciting to me. As a new staff member working for coach, yes, I need to react to the situations and see how coach wants things and then do a better job meeting those expectations the next day. Any time where you are in a situation where you are learning from a new head coach; it is partly watching and then reacting a little bit. So you get it looking the way he wants it to look at that next practice."

Question: He told us that he hired you because of your aggressive style and that is his trademark. He says that he has been pretty hands off with you, is that part of the appeal of the job as well working for him?

Scott Shafer: "I don't know. I have worked for so many great coaches. Some of them were more hands on than others. It is what every boss wants. He wants to come in and talk about this or that, or change something. We will change it and make it look right. So far it has been great, but we haven't gone to war yet. There are going to be situations where we have got to adjust to the element as a coaching staff and as players as well. That is the reality of the business: whatever coach wants. You just go in that direction as hard as you can to make it look the way we want it to look."

Question: In terms of changes and aggressiveness and stuff; it seems like this defense has a lot of expectations on it; maybe it is just a comparison to the offense. Do you enjoy that? Do you feed that to the players: that you are expected to live up to this?

Scott Shafer: "Having expectations are outside factors that we can't control. The only expectations that I will live by are the expectations of each play for himself and for his position group. Each coach for himself and his defensive group. Then the whole defense together having expectations that we create on the inside as opposed to expectations that would be created from the outside in. Because we can't control what everyone is thinking about or saying about where we should or shouldn't be, and whether it is a positive or negative from the outside; the second that you get into trouble is the second that you start listening to outside sources. So we won't do that; we will focus on one another and where we are at and leave the newspapers for after the season."

Question: Some of your teams had big numbers in terms of sacks and turnovers and things in recent years. Do you measure the production by the numbers or by what you see more on film when talking to your team?

Scott Shafer: "It still comes down to blocking, tackling, and not letting the offense score more points than our offense does. That is simplistic. Stats? stats are for losers. The only stats that count are wins and losses. When Michigan wins, when we win another championship at the end of the year and at the end of the decrease, they are going to remember that team for being a championship team, not for leading the country in sacks, or interceptions, or points scored or points against. So really, I think stats are overrated. Yeah you like them, but you've got to be careful patting yourself on the back for having great stats. Because once you start doing that, you are not focused in just what you said: fundamentals, the ability to play the game within the framework of the scheme, and that sort of thing."

Question: So you don't even use it really as a measuring stick?

Scott Shafer: "Oh every coach does. You look at it and say how many TFLs? What is our third down percentage? How many sacks? How many interceptions? How many pass breakups? Yeah you use it as a measuring stick, but you also have to be careful that you are not focused in those things than the big picture."


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