Rodriguez Expects Noticeable Improvement

After addressing the entire media throng at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon this afternoon, Michigan headman Rich Rodriguez stepped into the hallway to go more in-depth with the Maize & Blue beat writers. He discussed team camaraderie, strength & conditioning gains, facility upgrades, and much much more.

Question:  Can you talk a bit about how you guys have gotten real close together?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I sense that.  I think probably start going through workouts together.  Most athletes will tell you, if they suffer together through workouts and training and all that that has a tendency to bring people together.  The military does that and football does that probably better than anybody.  Just talking to our guys and talking to the strength coaches, I really like the attitude of the team right now.  Again, I'll tell you more starting August 9th, I'm pretty excited about it."

Question:  Along those lines, Brandon Minor was quoted as saying the other day as saying last year some players were blowing some stuff off with the coaches, really weren't so much into it…

Coach Rodriguez:  "Brandon talks too much (laughter).  I don't know.  I want to defend last year's guys a little bit, some of those guys.  They didn't buck the system and all that.  Here is the difference I was telling everybody between last year in summer's workouts and this year when talking to Mike Barwis.  Last year they did it…they were probably doing it because we were telling them to do and Mike Barwis was telling them.  This year they did it because they know they need to and want to.  There is a difference.  When you come with a smile to your face before workout and after workout.  You always have a smile on your face afterwards.  Now, I think the kids are really enjoying coming over and maybe understand more why they are doing these things.  Why are we running this drill?  Why are we running practice like this?  Why do we have to do this?  I think when you understand it more.  The kids aren't any different now than they were 20 years ago, they'll still do the work.  Last year, you tell a kid hey run through that wall.  He'll do it and then ask questions.  Now they'll say okay I will but why?  So I think you have to explain yourself more now and that's us as coaches.  We have to do a good job of communicating.  I feel good where they are at."

Question:  Did any of that embarrassment or humiliation of last year that they are reacting that it didn't work the other way kind of thing?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Certainly, I think it helps in the standpoint that our guys should be hungry.  We talk quite a bit about that.  Everybody gets humbled at some point.  I've been humbled plenty of times.  As players, we all got humbled, but I think we got humbled pretty quick last year – we lost the first game to Utah.  I think being hungry is more important.  Are you hungry to prove yourself and not have a sense entitlement?  I think we've talked quite a bit about not having a sense of entitlement.  It's good to have pride but when the pride becomes too much or when you have too much of a kind of sense of entitlement then you are going to humbled pretty quick and in a sense I think that maybe that happened to us."

Question:  The first thing you said up there (at the podium) was ‘bright lights'…What did you mean by that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I was just trying to get started off on something a little light (laughter).  It's funny because some of my friends, some of my closest friends have asked me the difference between coaching 110,000 as opposed to 65,000 when at West Virginia and to be honest with you, not much.  Other than the stands are a little bit closer to them.  I wear those two headset things, so I don't hear anything that anybody is yelling anyways.  The fortunate thing about Michigan is that we have a national name brand and you want to use that.  That's probably…outside of that helping you in recruiting and helping you maybe getting that program status quicker, you still got to put the same kind of work in.  You still got to do the same kind of things that you would anywhere else, whether it is division I or division II or what have you to build a program the right way.  So the name will only care you so far.  I knew that coming in, but I think it was probably a hard lesson, another thing to us that said listen, the formula is the same no matter where you go.  You got to get the right players and develop them no matter where you are at."

Question:  So you weren't necessarily talking about the pressure?

Coach Rodriguez:  "The pressure and I understand it too.  People say, hey he had pressure.  Listen there is…maybe because I've doing this for a while and all that and maybe because of the times were in, you talk about pressure, you're talking about a family of five that if somebody loses their job and all his retirement and what is he going to do next just to feed his family and keep his house that's pressure.  I had pressure before, the first whatever seven or eight years of my coaching career it was one year contracts.  You're paying month by month, I'm getting paid a whole lot of money now.  The pressure is what you put on yourself.  I felt as much pressure before coaching at West Virginia than I did here.  People think I'm silly when I say I felt pressure coaching at Glenville State, I did because I felt pressure to have success to try to move up.  I think that it is all relative.  I feel the pressure in preparing, not in the game.  Game time is there, it is too late to get ready.  I feel the pressure in preparing and that's why I feel that you have got to have the right people with you – players, coaches and staff members.  I really do, I'm not just giving you coach-speak, I really feel I got the right people with me.  All the staff members, some of them are already there, some I hired and then the players.  I think that is going to keep getting better.  We've had two recruiting classes.  The first one, we had about a month to recruit and we made some mistakes.  I think the second recruiting class was a little bit better and I think the third may even top that one."

Question:  Rich when you look at the team, there is some eligibility issues, have those sorted themselves out yet?  Is everyone in?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah, but we still have a couple of weeks of summer school."

Question:  True freshmen, I mean.

Coach Rodriguez:  "I think every freshman that we've signed, 22 of them, I think every one of them is cleared.  The only one that is not on campus now is Jeremy Gallon and he just got cleared, I want to say a week or so ago, so we should all be in good shape."

Question:  Do you feel that you are on track, whatever that means?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I do, but I guess until it shows with wins that it is still going to be questions maybe.  I certainly feel internally what I see every day that we are on track. That is kind of like, geez how can you say that after one season, just from judging what I see in spring practice and what I hear from the strength coaches and recruiting and all that.  Until we have…I understand that is a bottom line business, until we have it in terms of wins and losses and that type of success, people will always question it.  I wish there was more patience, but I don't have much myself, so I hope it shows up pretty soon."

Question:  Would say seven and five and a bowl game this year, would that be a success?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I knew somebody was going to ask this question, give me a flat number.  If we're not in a bowl game, we are all going to be ticked.  If we are not competing better in every game, we're all going to be upset.  I'm talking about all.  I know the fans, but certainly for us.  We think we should be a whole lot better in a whole lot of areas even though we lost a lot of guys on defense.  I wouldn't want our guys…the only thing that I talk to them about is that we expect to compete for championships.  Now are we good enough to win a Big Ten Championship?  There is a whole lot of things that got to happen for us.  That's our first goal every year is to compete for that and there is a lot of things that got to happen for us and a lot of bad things happen to someone else.  If we are at least not competing for it and being more competitive in certain situations than I don't think we've made the progress we wanted to."

Question:  I know you are concerned about the kids that are here, but that (Kurt) Wermers has made I think a startling comment where he said bringing in a different kind of crowd or something like that; did that shock you?

Coach Rodriguez:  "You can talk to our players.  I think our players really like each other and who they are playing with.  They do a great job of recruiting.  In fact, most coaches will tell you, when they have kids come on campus they give them player-host and they'll talk to current players, do you want this guy and all that.   Our players have been our best recruiters in the past 17 months, has been our current players.  They do a great job.  I like how they're coming together."

Question:  Has there been any injuries in summer condition or surgeries or anything; incoming freshman surgeries or anything like that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Fitzgerald Toussaint had a little procedure done from a nagging high school injury, but he'll be ready by camp.  Outside of that, we should have everybody, with the surgeries that we had with the guys that missed in the spring are all good."

Question:  How is the stadium coming along; what does it look like?

Coach Rodriguez:  "It's beautiful.  I've not taken a tour.  I was actually going to take a tour the other day.  I've seen it from the outside.  I think most of the brick and glass is up.  It is on scheduled to be finished by June 1st and Scott Draper could probably tell you the exact details.  The new indoor building is going to be turned over to us in a week.  That looks great.  I know our players are really excited about the locker room.  We got a brand new locker room.  The difference is that we had…I don't know if you all know, but we had kind of two lockers.  We had the freshman in one and upper classman in another and we wanted them all in the same locker room.  So they devised a way and made it bigger.  So now we got everybody in a new locker room.  So they got a new player's lounge with that.  The facility from a functionality standpoint our facilities will be second to none."

Question:  Did you want it to be not too fancy?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah.  We had talked about that.  We could get too country clubbish.  You know this is football.  We didn't get all the bells and whistles but it is really nice and it was something that I'm very fortunate that those projects are getting done."

Question:  What has Barwis told you about how Denard (Robinson) has done the first few weeks?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Really excited.  Now I've seen Denard, the times I've been in the office and he will pop by and say hello.  I always worry about the freshman; you all know they come in early about getting homesick.  You'd rather they get it out of the way in June, July then August.  So I worry about that especially with him, a long way from home, but he has a smile on his face, he's working out.  Mike's confirmed, he said he's fast, which I figured.  I haven't seen him obviously or anything like that.  I'll have to wait until practice starts to see how quickly he will pick up the system and how he throws, but just judging from what he did last year and talking to the strength coaches, he's already running, doing the conditioning and all that, within two weeks he was making all the runs and doing all that stuff that some of the guys that have been here a year and a half.  I really like that freshman class.  In talking to our academic folks, we did quite a bit series of orientation to get them used to being a college student, what life is like in Ann Arbor, what life is like away from home and they've done a great job of adapting already, so I'm pretty excited about that."

Question:  How raw is he as a passer?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I think any freshman.  Even Tate (Forcier), Tate may have been more polished because Tate and his dad have been training him since he was about five or six to be a quarterback.  I think all them freshman are really raw because everything they are learning from a scheme standpoint and all that is going to be new.  They're going to be competitive.  It is going to be fun to watch.  I'm sincere, when you see Nick Sheridan, Nick looks like a different guy.  He's faster and in talking to Barwis, he's running better than he ever has been.  He's in his second year in the system.  So it is going to be fun.  We have got to have better play there.  We have no chance…no team will have a chance to have success if you don't get solid play out of your quarterback.  More than anything, we're better if we just don't turn the ball over.  We'll win more games just by taking care of the ball and that's all positions."

Question:  Has Mike given you an update on how the offensive line has taken a jump forward?

Coach Rodriguez:  "He's talked to us about that and they've talked to us.  Their strength aspect as far as of what they were lifting and benching or power cleaning last year compared to this year is night and day.  That's to be expected, not that we're…even though I think Mike Barwis is the best in the country by far, not that we're doing anything earth shattering or new, just that their young.  You take a 17 or 18-year-old kid and you take him from a good high school program, no matter how good it is and you take him to a college program to lift, their going to make great gains.  Our guys have, our freshman especially.  We'll be a lot stronger team and whether that translates to more victories, I would think so, but we'll see."

Question:  Rich the SEC has this deal with ESPN, a team is going to get like 17 million dollars a year; do you guys talk about that as coaches and what kind of disadvantage that might put you in?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Naw.  I think we have probably…jumped out the gate on everybody with the Big Ten Network.  We are still going to get our coverage on ABC and ESPN, but the Big Ten Network, I think has given us a leg up on all the competition.  We were the first out of the gate with that and it continues to expand as it will.  ESPN, obviously that network has meant a lot to a lot of leagues, not just SEC.  It's meant a lot to the Big East.  I think it helped save the Big East sort of speak.  I think it continues to be a factor for everybody in college football.  I think it has been terrific.  Nowadays, I was telling people, why players are going everywhere now, it's because of the spread of the networks.  You know 20 years ago, it might have only been Michigan and Ohio State on TV five or six times, now everybody is on TV all the time."

Question:  So the fact that ESPN is now linked, in business with the SEC…

Coach Rodriguez:  "If they had a vote in the top 25, I'd really get nervous.  They can have influence, but it is still going to be settled on the field.  So I don't think as far as determining where recruits go to and all that…I don't think, again, I'm saying it because I know some of the folks up there.  They're not going to slant their bias because of a TV contract with a particular league, I don't think.  Now the Big Ten Network, I hope will slant it towards the Big Ten. I would expect that fully, but outside of that, a national network, I wouldn't expect it to."

Question:  Wisconsin and Illinois are playing games in December this year.  You guys still got an open date next year and dates in the future.  Will you consider that after the Ohio State game?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I would think not.  Again, I'm not going to mess with tradition (laughter).  I think we would always end with Ohio State.  The biggest difference next year, from what I understand is that we have an open date, we will end a week later.  So we will have an opportunity to have an open date during the season and play, I don't know maybe you all can tell me, I don't know if we've ever played Ohio State before Thanksgiving?  I think now it'll be on Thanksgiving weekend or following Thanksgiving.  So that in a sense the way the calendar year falls, we'll have an opportunity to have an open date during the season, which is key.  I don't think any coach will tell you that I like playing 12 straight with no open dates, particularly with younger guys and being worried about injuries.  That's where we are at and we will go with it."

Question:  Are you guys close to filling that open date yet; the opener?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yes – close.  Until we have a contract in hand.  You are talking about the opener for '10?"

Question:  Yeah.

Coach Rodriguez:  "We are looking at a BCS school home and home."

Question:  Coach, question about the secondary, you mentioned that there is going to be a lot of freshmen coming in and redshirt freshmen; talk to us about the competition in the safety position specifically.

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yeah there is some nervousness there because of the safety position.  We moved Stevie Brow, who is here to a kind of hybrid safety/linebacker to that leaves two safety positions open and whether it is a freshman or a veteran.  We moved Troy Woolfolk, which I thought was a good move from corner to safety and he wound up being our best safety in the spring.  So that was a good move.  He is a physical player.  The other safety position, we still got some inexperience there, but I think we'll be okay.  We got some different things scheme wise where they are not always going to be under the pressure to hold half the field or a third of the field by themselves."

Question:  What is your biggest concern going into practice?

Coach Rodriguez:  "I think the biggest thing that you worry about.  We have more depth at some positions, maybe at running back and more on the offensive line than we've had, but we have some positions where we really don't have a lot of depth and there is quite a big dropoff and that's the thing that you worry about.  You have got to practice to get them ready.  So as a coach in college, you don't have any exhibition games or preseason games, so we got to bang a little bit to get them ready and you're going good on good.  Every time after scrimmage, you hope you execute well and you keep your fingers cross that your key guys don't get hurt.  Eventually we'll have enough depth where one guys go down, another guys goes in and you'll be okay.  We are not at that point right now."

Question:  Rich real quick, you dismissed a player over the weekend, could you discuss some of the circumstances?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Violation of team rules."

Question:  That's all you got to say about that?

Coach Rodriguez:  "Yep that's it."   

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