Rodriguez Outlines Offseason Plan (Part 1)

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez met with the media yesterday to reflect upon his first season in Ann Arbor. In part one of the transcript the Wolverines headman discusses further roster attrition, recruiting, evaluating his coaching staff, and more. (Part 1 of 2)

Coach Rodriguez opening statement:  "You can tell it's been a tough year huh? We got to feed you to have you come out here. (Laughter)"

Question:  What did you guys do yesterday?

Coach Rodriguez:  "We had a dinner and then we had a team meeting.  First thing we did was talk to the seniors about making sure they make sure they finish their responsibilities of graduating, some are graduating in December, some in May and then remind them about our annual football bust, which is December 4th, which is an exciting thing.  We talked about a few other things.  Thanked for them helping lay the foundation even though it has been a tough season and so on and then excused the seniors.  Then after the seniors left we went further along the lines of talking to the team about their responsibilities particularly academically.  Some of the disappointments for the seasons, some of the progress that was being made and hadn't shown up yet and then some of the things that we have got to work on.  There is going to have to be a new group of leaders.  I wanted to make sure that everybody that was in the program was totally in.  There are levels of buying in.  We wanted to make sure that there is 100% bought in totally and talk about that a little bit.  Then excused them to go after that.  We won't meet again until next Sunday at 7 o'clock after the break."

Question:  When you talked last week about there is going to be some attrition; how does that work; do you sit with each guy individually?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Well for some individually, I'll meet with several of the players and then they'll meet with some of the positions coaches.  A lot of the coaches are on the road recruiting.  I don't know how much we'll have.  I mean naturally there is going to be some, but I don't think that it's exclusive to us.  It is probably a lot of programs in America that guys may feel (they'll) get a chance to play more or think the system is better for them on another team or decide to make a move.  I mean we'll have some, maybe not a whole lot but more than anything I just want to make sure that everybody that is with us is 100% committed to Michigan first.  I told the team that it's okay to have individual goals, whether it is to get so many sacks or catch so many passes or to be All-American; there is nothing wrong with that as long as they don't become more important than the team goals and that you play for Michigan first and foremost.  I think most of our guys are, but I won't be completely satisfied until it is 100% that are and that's our goal."

Question:  Is there anybody that was not at the meeting that was on the roster at the end of the year?

Coach Rodriguez:  "A couple of guys were excused.  They had some emergencies.  But everybody that I think would be there was there.  Now there is an underclassman that was not there that may be graduating and before I say his, I want to talk to him first.  He wasn't at the meeting, but he could graduate this year, so he may be finished.  He's not listed as part of the 15 seniors."

Question:  Is Artis Chambers still with the team?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No, Artis left last week."

Question:  Anybody else?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No, well you mention (Jason) Kates and (Zion) Babb.  It's amusing when you say like Kates played a minor role; he did at practice, he didn't play in games.  Those three are no longer on the team."

Question:  Getting back to what you were saying earlier about 100% buying in; did you see or hear what Brandon Minor said on Saturday and how do you react to that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No, should I have?"

Question:  He was…

Coach Rodriguez:  "Is there more drama coming (laughter)."

Question:  He said that not everybody bought in   He also said that some guys didn't believe in themselves and some guys weren't trying hard?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah, I don't know about the trying hard part.  I think again, you can judge that by watching it.  The one thing I do believe, I don't think anybody laid down on us, as far as they're making their effort and all.  Now there's different levels of how hard you play and I think part of that is that they maybe think they played as hard as they can and what us as coaches think they're playing hard is a different level.  That's part of coaching to try to get them all to that certain passionate level of playing hard.  As far as buying in, I think a majority of them have but there is a handful that still maybe question things themselves, maybe their confidence, their role or how they contribute.  I think that is typical everywhere in a transition year, but it wasn't as much as maybe I thought.  But again, until it's 100% then you don't really know what you have and Brandon is a guy that has.  Brandon is a guy that played with great passion and completely bought in and I think that is why he had some of the success that he had.   We'll have everybody, as we move forward will be guys that play for Michigan first and foremost and believe in this program and this university and if not then they won't be playing for Michigan.  It's as simple as that."

Question:  Did you see anything during the course of the season that would in anyway change your recruiting between now and signing day in terms of emphasis on a position or anything like that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No, but that's a good question.  Probably what we thought coming into the season, what we lacked as far as what we needed in recruiting, we identified before the season started and some of the games probably highlighted that.  We got to be more athletic.  We got to recruit faster.  We obviously got to get more explosive on our skill positions offensively in all of them.  We've got to have quality competition at each position and that's obvious.  You got to have two or three guys at each position.  So if a guy gets hurt or a guy's not playing as well then somebody else can take that spot and when you create that type of competition, you get better every day not just every game.  We're not at that point.  Now we will be.  This next class will create that.  The class after that will create that to where we'll get an injury or two or a misfortune or two is not going to really affect your executions offensively or defensively."

Question:  What is it like for you looking at the calendar the rest of '08, knowing that you've got more time to figure out what to do without a bowl game?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah well it's disappointing.  You have a little bit more time I guess to get on the road recruiting.  I'm used to being in bowls, but its also going to be a long eight months.  I've been fortunate a head coach for 16 years now and we got eight championships in those, so half the time we were winning championships and now were not even going to bowl games.  So we're frustrating and disappointed, but we're as determined as ever I think as coaches, at least I am to make sure that this is going to happen again, but it's not going to be solved over night.  I've said that several times.  We've got a lot of work to do.  I feel good about our team, our chemistry, I think will be good.  I think each day we grow together.  The players understand what's expected of them.  The coaches understand that and I'm in the middle of getting to spend two days since the season is over, I'm in the middle of evaluating everything and I told the team that – everything we're doing.  I do that anyways, but I said that after the game.  Whatever I got to do to make sure and we got to do to make sure that we are having success on Saturday as well as Sunday through Friday, we are going to do."

Question:  At what point do you have to make a decision on the staff?  Is the staff going to stay the same?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah, I'm going to evaluate everything.  Again, it's way too early for me to jump to anything.  I got to sit back and look at everything.  I kind of have a vision on what we want to go or how we want to go forward with, scheme wise, chemistry wise, program wise.  Player wise we can address in recruiting and as John mentioned we're doing that.  We're excited how that's going.  I think our players can sense it too.   Even though we didn't play well in the last game, we didn't play well all year consistently; I think the players can see that when the plan is completely in place with all the right pieces, we're going to be pretty special."

Question:  Some of the defensive players said after the game there was confusion about some of the personnel changes that had to go on and that kind of thing, did you realize…?

Coach Rodriguez:  "There was a little bit.  No I hadn't because the staff again some of the coaches left right after the game to go recruiting.  I will talk to them about it and again I can see some of it on film.  We had a couple of personal things but for the most part all year when we subbed and we did different personnel packages, we did a pretty good job of that.  Some of the big plays happened in that game, which hurt us – big plays hurt us all year.  Some of the big plays were against just a base defense.  We were lined up the right spot and all that, we just didn't fit right or didn't make the play.  Again, I'm going to evaluate the whole body of work and everything we're doing and see where we need to go."

Question:  What do you envision for this staff and scheme, would you consider hiring a special teams coach next year since there was problems?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No.  I will make that clear.  I don't think that…you can hire Knute Rockne and he's not going to make sure that the guy catches the ball on the kick off return or punt.  To me that has nothing to do…coaching wise we have to obviously coach so they don't drop it and work on it.  Our guys worked extremely hard at it.  Sometimes it is a concentration issue and sometimes it's a little bit of technique.  I've never had that many drops…we had more drops and fumbles on kick returns and punt returns than I think on my entire career combined in one season.  We tried everybody, but we'll try even more.  No, (hiring) a special teams coach is not the answer to that, I don't think."

Question:  You had 20 guys that were freshman or redshirt freshman play this year, looking at next year especially on the defensive side, you're going to lose a lot of players on that side; the guys that didn't, it seems like on defense you didn't play a lot of you guys, Mike Martin and Boubacar Cissoko; how many of those redshirt freshman do you anticipate playing for jobs next year?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I think there is going to be in the next year or two, I don't know if it's going to be as many as 20, but there are going to be a lot more.  Now three or four years from there won't be as many freshman that come in, their will be a handful each year, but if you are recruiting the right way and developing the right way, you're playing fourth and fifth and third year guys more than you are playing first and second year guys.  This year we played a lot of first year guys, next year a lot of first year guys will probably play as well.  There was a handful of freshman that were redshirted this year defensively (that) obviously will have an opportunity to contribute and are going to have to because of the seniors we graduated and then offensively all the guys are back.  We're going to get to the point I think…one of our goals this year, which we did not do as well as I like was play more people, especially defensively.  We wanted to play more people and the guys simply weren't ready or have to get in there, but we'll get to the point where we can play more than just 11 or 12 or 13 guys defensively.  I like to play 20 or 21 defensively and I think in the next couple of years we'll be able to do that."

Question:  What recruits are you expecting to enroll and practice in the spring?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Can't say.  Can't say the names."

Question:  Do you know how many?

Coach Rodriguez:  "We're expecting anywhere possibly from seven to eight guys to enroll early, which has kind of become a common practice in college football.  Guys are graduating early, taking summer classes or whatever and enrolling in a school early so they can go through spring practice, which in a sense gives them an extra semester or a leg up on everybody else.  I've never had that many but its pretty exciting.  Those guys will have an opportunity to learn the system, get in the weight program.  I think that is one reason why Daryl Stonum was ahead of some of the freshman because Daryl was enrolled early last spring and it helped him tremendously.  These seven or eight guys that we got coming in, in January, the same will be true for them."

Question:  How for about for a quarterback in particular; how much does that help?

Coach Rodriguez:  "At every position it's going to help, but the position that you have to learn the most at is probably O-line and quarterback, quarterback in particular.  That would be a big plus for them, not only the 15 practices but the fact that they can throw on their own with the wide outs and the running backs in the spring semester will be critical."

Question:  The true freshman lineman that were here this year that didn't play; who are the guys that impressed you?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Patrick Omameh was traveling and we almost played him as a true freshman this year and probably was close to ready physically.  Then Ricky Barnum was another true freshman that traveled some and then Rocko Khoury traveled some.  So those three true freshmen almost were ready to play this year and they all got redshirted. So thankful to that.  That freshman O-line class that we signed this past year I think is going to be pretty good.  You still got Kurt Wermers and Dann O'Neill in that class, along with Eliot Mealer.  So we got six guys in that class…all of them got redshirted, but all of them I think are going to be pretty good players."

Question:  What is the situation with numbers, because if you lose players off the roster does that change the recruiting numbers that you can take and sign?

Coach Rodriguez:  "We only had 15 seniors, 13 on scholarship.  Now we had put some of the walk on, on scholarship, those were one year deals for a lot of them and you have some attrition as we mentioned.  So I don't know the exact number that was signed, but it will be somewhere between probably 20 and 23, something like that."

Question:  You've been asked this question for the last several weeks, but now that the season is over where are you with your quarterbacks with the guys that you have now, like how they played and where you see them when spring starts?

Coach Rodriguez:  "You got Nick (Sheridan) who is a competitor; he's a tough guy, he battled.  I thought he did some good things and some other things as a first year player he made some mistakes, same as Steve Threet.  All of these guys are playing for the first time and they really tried hard.  Now they're going to have to compete.  They're going to have to compete with everybody else that comes in and that is the same as every position.  Justin Feagin played a little bit of quarterback, but he'll be moved back to slot receiver, which we think is his position in our system and then we'll see what happened with a couple of guys we signed.  It's a wide open competition.  It's going to be exciting but at the same time, I think when we create quality competition are team gets better."

Question:  Is Steve or Nick ahead of the other?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Naw, it's wide open.  It's wide open at every position.  I'm going to tell you the same every year.  It's wide open at every position.  Now the guy that's a returning starter that's very good, if he lets a young guy come beat him out maybe that's his fault or that young guy is really talented.  I can't stress that enough – there is no guarantee's that this guy is automatically a starter, you come back.  That's not how I like doing things.  You got to earn it every day.  The way you play you may have the starting job on Monday but not on Tuesday.  That's the kind of atmosphere that we want and I think the guys understand that.  If Brandon Graham comes back and is playing hard and doing all he is supposed to do, would it be hard for someone to beat him out; sure he is a very talented guy.  But Brandon is so competitive.  Hey he's probably not going to let that happen.  It's going to be wide open and it should be."

Question:  Have you talked to Brandon Graham about his status; have you talked to him about his future?

Coach Rodriguez:  "The other coaches have."

Question: Do you have an idea?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I think he's planning on coming back and he should."

Question:  You said that you were evaluating everything, historically how aggressive have you been with your coaching staff if you see issues there; have you changed staffs?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah.  I have.  I'm not overly aggressive.  Sometimes coaches move on their own.  I've been very fortunate that a lot of coaches have been very loyal to me and that is probably showing on my staff.  All the coaches on my staff obviously could have had jobs elsewhere or stayed where they were at.  They're terrific; they've been great.  I think it's easy to point fingers.  Obviously the major responsibility falls on me when we don't have a good season.  So I'm evaluating myself as well.  I've not sat down with any of the coaches or anything like that yet.  Again it's just two days since the last game."

Question:  Can you talk about the status of Terrence Robinson and Corey Zirbel?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Now Terrence is a guy that would have played this year and because of his knee he wasn't able to.  So he will be healthy and he will be a big plus, both at the slot position where Tay Odoms is at and also returning kicks.  He's another guy that would have been in there.  Corey Zirbel, I believe will not be able to play.  His injury is so severe that I don't think Corey is going to be able to play any more.  We've talked to him and we want him back, if he gets a medical, back as a student assistant coach, which he kind of did at the end of the year and he was terrific.  He was down there working on the scout team.  So we think that Corey is going to be back as kind of like a student assistant coach helping us out."

Question:  Is there any guys that are having off season surgery coming up?

Coach Rodriguez:  "No.  I talked to Paul Schmidt yesterday.  Steve Schilling's knee, I think is just a matter of a few weeks healing it.  It's not an ACL requiring surgery or anything like that.  I think it's an MCL – it's a sprain.  He doesn't need surgery.  Nobody else that I'm aware of at this point, which is a good thing."

Question:  Coach you've talked about not wanting to change regardless of where you're at and yet you've said sometimes said that maybe you talked too much or created drama or people…

Coach Rodriguez:  "Have I created it or have you all created it?"

Question:  That's what I'm saying that words have been twisted; do you see yourself maybe changing and not being as forthcoming or is that going to be hard?

Coach Rodriguez:  "That's a good point.  What do you all think?  Do you want me to be?  The upside to that is that I don't say as much; I say you, it's not you, but people can't twist as much.  The downside is that then all of a sudden it becomes your all opinions so you write more about what you think and maybe that's an upside, I don't know.  I think coaches are becoming more reserved simply because they're not sure.  It could be nine out of 10 people get it right and one person writes it wrong and then that one person who wrote it wrong, it gets blown out of proportion.  I've always tried to always be honest with you.  Bruce, Dave and I have talked about that, be up front and honest.  We can't tell you everything.  There are things…I think you all appreciate that have to stay in house, have to stay within the staff and the program and are better left not being said publically, but I try to give you as much of an honest opinion on things as I can.  If someone makes more drama out of it, it's unfortunate but that's the time we leave in.  That is one lesson I learned.  There was a big deal made out of little mouse doo-doo.  I was think, ‘Geez, you got to be kidding me; we're making a big deal out of that when there is bigger issues at stake'.  At least they're interest.  Like my wife said, ‘She said when things are going great and all that, they'll make a big deal out of the little things that are great too' and I said, ‘That's a good point'.  I guess looking at the sunny side of it."

Question:  Are you just looking for an off season of little drama?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yes sir, exactly.  Nothing on that ESPN ticker.  No statements on he said/she said.  No drama on lawsuits and accusations.  I mean it was absolutely ridiculous.  You all know, you've all been here for the last 10 months.  I've n ever seen nothing like it.  You can have a clash, you can have consultants talk to you and you can do all that, but what prepares you for something when something just throws something out there is completely untrue that is not even being close to being factual and you have to respond to it – you can't.  You're in the profession, you're all in the media, for me to respond to everything is just crazy.  That's the way we are today.  It almost felt like I was running for office.  God bless the politicians, why they would do it.  They have a greater service for our country than anybody can realize what they go through.  As coaches, we're in the public life, so we have to realize that.  It's a big boy world.  I understand that.  I've been here a little bit.  It does make you I guess want to be a little more reserved at times and that's not my personality, I want to be open and honest and transparent is the proper word.  I will continue to be that.  Doesn't mean that I won't get ticked off when somebody writes something that aint true, but that's what happens."

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