Rich Rod's Roundtable (Part 3)

In part three of Rich Rodriguez's sit down with the media at the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon Michigan's headman discusses Elliott Mealer, Dave Molk, Jason Forcier ... and much, much more.

Question: How about (Kevin Koger's) buddy from Wyomissing, the offensive lineman?

Coach Rodriguez: "Elliot Mealer?"

Question: Right, whose brother had the terrible accident and all; that kid is kind of going through a lot.

Coach Rodriguez: "You talk about a terrific story. That's a story if everybody knew it would certainly touch his heart. Here is a guy who went through such a tragedy, losing his father and his girlfriend and his brother getting paralyzed in the accident, and he himself having an injury that basically forced him to redshirt and cost him a year. Now he is completely recovered. He went through all the rehab. He has all the strength back. Just really excited, he has an opportunity to help us play. He is going to be in the two deep and just a terrific young man to be around. He's had a positive influence not only on me, but I think everybody on our football team."

Question: You talk a lot about wanting and needing character guys and it kind of seems like has showed that and he hasn't played yet.

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah and we have a lot of them. Every coach is like your own personal kids, you are going to be biased towards them. We've got great kids, we really do. There are some great kids that were already there that we inherited. And there are some great kids in the last couple of recruiting classes. I've been fortunate to be around a lot of them, but I really like our guys. If anybody who spends time around our players, I think would say the same thing."

Question: These three guys that you've brought with you have all mentioned one way or another, the character building that they've gone through when there has been adversity and all and not expecting it, expecting it to be all negative, but they said there is a positive to that and it is the character, toughness and adversity has taught them; is that something that you can say it to them but once they experience it, it is….?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah, and just like leadership. You can try to force leadership on somebody but you would rather it develop naturally -- that is the ideal way. Because sometimes when you try to force it, it doesn't stick; and what we try to do is try to help them enhance it in ways they don't know, and hopefully a seed will develop and takes off. That's what is going on. When you suffer together and you go through something like that, you can go a couple of different ways. We tried to make sure that it was going the right way and I think it has."

Question: How do you kind of assess the quarterback position in this league right now; do you except it to be improved?

Coach Rodriguez: "I didn't even realize that. The top six or seven quarterbacks in our league in passing efficiency are returning; that to me is a key to the league having a very successful year. If you look around and somebody did stats, when you have your top quarterbacks in the league returning that league is going to be pretty good. I know everybody talks about the Big 12; they got some great quarterbacks returning … and in the SEC, starting with (Tim) Tebow. I think our league and our nonconference profile or success will be better this year because of that stat alone."

Question: Is that an area where maybe the Big Ten has struggled a little bit?

Coach Rodriguez: "I don't know. I can only speak from last year. There were a lot of first time quarterbacks starting, but I do believe it makes a huge difference. It is a team game, but there is one guy -- it's pretty obvious that in the team sports the quarterback has an awful lot of influence, just like a pitcher in baseball."

Question: Has it become even more? I know people always said it was a quarterback's game, but if you look at the Heisman winners and Tebow and some of the Big 12 guys; has it become even more of a quarterback's game in the last 10 years?

Coach Rodriguez: "I think some of the different things on offense that they are asking the quarterback to do. Whether it is the spread offense and running the ball or doing different things, they have become more of a focal point than ever. I think for our offense it certainly is. We like to say that we are not going to live and die with the quarterback, but offensively, he has to at least be able to manage the game and take care of the football and execute the system for us to have a chance. If he can have some sound execution, maybe not great play but solid play there and you are good in other areas, you'll be alright. If you get great play out of your quarterback, you're always going to be alright."

Question: If you can keep keeping defenses in space where you are forcing them to make one on one tackles; is that a big advantage for your offense?

Coach Rodriguez: "This whole thing about catching up to this and catching up…it is all about execution. They said the same thing about West Coast offenses and pro style offenses, if you execute better than the other team and you've got better players than them, you are going to win 100% of the time. It doesn't matter what system you run. It is just that sometimes people, because of the so-called spread … there are so many variations of the spread that is new and different, it is going to be an easy mark. They are not winning because of the spread. It ain't the spread, it is the execution of it. Now if we couldn't execute that and we could execute another system better, I would do the other system, but I don't know the other system. So we are going to try the spread."

Question: You won nine games your second year at West Virginia, do you see similarities in progress between that team and this one?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah I do. I think it happened naturally. It wasn't like we modeled, lets win three games at Michigan -- nobody wanted to do that, are you kidding me. There are a lot of similarities in the standpoint of our experience returning in the second year, especially offensively. The more familiarity of how the program is going to run, from the offseason program, weight lifting, conditioning, practice and all that. The players feel comfortable on what we want to do and more than anything else probably, coaches know what they have. Everybody asks, ‘What did you learn your first year about Michigan?' I learned what we've got. I learned what their strengths and weaknesses are. What we have to work on and all that. That's the biggest thing. Until you play a game, you don't know. That's the biggest thing."

Question: Barwis is telling these guys that they are the best conditioned group he's had; (Mark) Ortmann said he said the same thing last year; do you believe it more this year?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah I believe what Mark was saying. I believe Mike too, even though Mike is the eternal optimist. I think Mike will say that every year. I trust our strength and conditioning staff with everything they're doing. I think Mike Barwis is the best in the country. Mike is excited, genuinely as excited that I've ever seen him. Our guys look good. Just seeing them physically, they can't wait to get going. I think that is going to pay off. We haven't reached the ceiling yet. This is just the start. It is still a work in progress, but I certainly like what I see so far."

Question: Jason Forcier: anything on him whether he is going to be on the team?

Coach Rodriguez: "We're still working on that. I think that is the only thing I can say right now. We are still working on his situation. Hopefully, we will know more in a week or so."

Question: You mentioned Denard (Robinson) yesterday. Stevie Brown said that he can really throw the football; did you know that going in?

Coach Rodriguez: "Oh yeah. We thought he was overlooked a little bit as a quarterback. Everybody saw him as an athlete, but we watched him on film and said, "Man this guy can throw!" When our coaches visited him while he was practicing they got to see him live in practice throwing the ball and I think it was Coach Magee or Coach Smith said, "Hey coach this guy can play quarterback. He can throw." We went after him hard. He wanted to compete. He is a great young man. I can't wait to see what he can do."

QQuestion: Coach people talk about defenses catching up with the spread offense; is the spread going to eventually going to run its course or is it going to be up the coaches to develop…?

Coach Rodriguez: "We talked about it earlier. To me it is kind of funny. They talk about catching up to the spread…the last time I checked Florida won a national championship, Oklahoma scored 50 some points a game, Texas was scoring 40 some points a game and Texas Tech; all four of those schools all ran different types of spreads. What Florida is running and Oklahoma is running is a little different from each other. When they talk about that, you get the right players, you execute, no matter what you do, you are going to be all right."

Question: Is it just a matter of coaches remaining creative and open to doing different things?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah I think that is the case no matter what system. The traditional I-formation, guys with the so-called pro style, they've adapted. You look at the NFL. The NFL is probably the slowest to change, but they are starting to change too. Everybody says that the NFL doesn't do it. Go watch the NFL just about every second and long and third and long, they are spread out in the shotgun. I think that is just kind of the popular thing to do. As coaches, we've got to run what we know and we have the answers too. For the 100th time, it is about getting the right players to execute, no matter what system you have, you'll be alright."

Question: Talk about what you like about this freshman class, after just getting to know them a little bit, their personalities?

Coach Rodriguez: "I think they are very, very competitive. I think they are going to be a great fit for Michigan, because they understand the challenges that they are going to face. They are a very athletic group. I think we got guys that can play a couple of different positions. The first recruiting class was okay. We only had a month to recruit them and then you make some mistakes every year anyway. I feel even better about the second class because we had a little bit more time to research, to find out what we needed and try to fit that. I think every year after that, the classes should have that type of mentality."

Question: How did your summer trip back to West Virginia go?

Coach Rodriguez: "It was good. We are still working on our house. My wife Rita went back to work on a few things. I didn't go out too much. I just was hanging out with the kids. I went out a couple of times to a restaurant and to a golf course and the people couldn't have been friendlier. They were really terrific. I think sometimes and I probably played into that a little bit…that is a great group of people. There is still going to be half the people who are going to be ticked and they will always be ticked, but that is always going to be the case, but really they've treated us really well."

Question: Did you come back from that trip with more of a sense that that is over…?

Coach Rodriguez: "Moving forward, yeah I did. A little bit of everybody is ready to move forward. I wasn't out too much, but I think it has been a year and a half since I left. I think everybody would move forward. I think as time goes on and everybody continues to move forward that'll be a chapter in the past. We tried not to short change them when we left. I think we tried to do everything we could to build the program in seven years and did a good job for it. They did great for me too. It was a two way thing. It was a terrific place to coach."

Question: How about now after a year and a half at Michigan and your family there, is everything comfortable?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. We moved pretty quick. They moved last February, got the kids in schools and all that, but the people have been really open here. People say how happen are you? My happiness is related to winning. If we're winning, I'm happy anyways; if we're losing I'm going to be unhappy anyways. For coming off a bad as season as we had, I guess I'm as happy as I can be with the season that we had. You can see where we are having success, winning and doing well; how great this place is going to be. The people have been great. They've been great to me and they've been great to my family and to my assistant coaches. It is a wonderful place to coach."

Question: Given the connection that winning has with your happiness and all, how much more anxious does that make you for the first game to get here?

Coach Rodriguez: "Real anxious. Not only for that, but then you don't have answer no more questions about last year. As soon as you play one game, that last year is last year."

Question: I am going to ask you about a local player; David Molk.

Coach Rodriguez: "I am really excited about David. He started last year for the first time as a redshirt freshman. By the end of the year, we thought he was playing as well as any lineman that we have. He has had a great offseason. He is already one of the strongest offensive linemen that I've had. He is a tough guy. I think he is going to be an outstanding player for us."

Question: Throughout the course of your career, you've had a tendency the second year to (improve significantly). Do you see the potential for that this year?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. I think so. I still won't know because we have some inexperience at some positions and we don't have the depth at a lot of positions that you need to have; but the attitude is the first start towards getting things right in terms of a winning standpoint, and I think that part is there. Check back with me in August."

Question: Do you feel pretty good in terms of kind of switching around things and bring in more speed players?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah that was a point of emphasis. We thought after our first spring that we had to get faster as a team. We got exposed in some games because we weren't fast enough, but we have addressed that in recruiting, but that usually takes a couple of years until your team reflects that as a group. We don't want a bunch of little small guys. We want big guys that are fast, but I think we are working towards that end."

Question: Do you feel, getting back to Molk, is he kind of the prototype offensive lineman that you want?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. You like for them all to be 6'5", 310 pounds, but if you are going to be a little bit undersized from a height standpoint, you need to be like him, where he is extremely strong, very athletic. He is an intense guy. Yeah, he's got all the physical attributes that we would want particularly for a center. The other part too, I think David will give us great leadership up front. Last year, he wasn't going to be as vocal because it was his first time playing, but I think this year he will be."

Question: I wanted to ask about Joe Paterno; this is his 60th year.

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah is that amazing."

Question: Do college coaches even consider that a viable option any more?

Coach Rodriguez: "Oh no, I don't…I just spoke to most of my colleagues and they still marvel at JoePa and Bobby Bowden. I said it before, I don't think that it will ever happen again. I don't envision anybody…even a job that is a little bit different than maybe … I know it is different than it was 20 years ago when I was a first year head coach at a small school. It's a little different, but they are paying coaches pretty good, so you don't have to coach that long (laughing). I know it is a labor of love. If you do it for the money, you are not going to do it very long. At the same time, it is remarkable the longevity that he and Bobby Bowden have had, particularly at one school. It is something that every coach that you ask and you say here is a lifetime contract, you can coach 60 years and don't have to worry about it, you'd do it. Nowadays you got to earn that every year and that is a tough deal."

Question: What are the forces that prevent coaches from lasting?

Coach Rodriguez: "I think sometimes a lot of schools just get tired of them after a while. You coach somewhere eight to 10 years; they are like let's get us something different, unless you are winning national championships every other year. You will set the bar so high that if you have a little dip, a couple of years where you win eight or nine instead of 12 or 13, they are like you've lost it. I heard that about JoePa a couple of years ago. People were saying, aw he lost it. He had a couple of years where he did win 10 or 11, all of a sudden they figured out he didn't lose it; he is still okay."

Question: Most athletic directors have to break in coaches and university presidents have to break in coaches; he has broken in athletic directors and presidents.

Coach Rodriguez:: "Yeah, he's outlasted them all."

Question: Is that a benefit?

Coach Rodriguez: "Oh sure. The people that hire the coaches are the presidents and ADs and a lot of times they don't stay at the institutions that long. They bounce around a little bit too. Maybe not as much as coaches do; I know I took my share of criticism for leaving West Virginia, but I was there seven years. We didn't think we short-changed it. We thought we gave them everything we could for seven years. That's also nice to have some stability though too. I'm not one to bounce around, even though I've been accused of it. You'd like to get settled. You'd like to say okay, I'm going to stay here for the next 20 years and raise a family and never have to worry about it. The truth is that you don't get that kind of security generally nowadays because it is the success itself; they want it all and they want it all every year."

Question: More on Paterno.

Coach Rodriguez: "He is very good at what he does. He's one of the best that's ever been. He's a Hall of Fame coach, an icon and a legend because he's great at what he does. He can coach football and he can build a program and he has built that program. Obviously, he built it many, many years ago, but he has continued to sustain it at the highest level. He's got a great staff, a loyal staff. He's got a loyal environment, a fan base, administration, athletic director and that's a model on how you build it and sustain it. What Joe and the folks at Penn State have done."

Question: Rich whenever a guy comes into a new place like you did though, do you always have to deal with factions from a standpoint of…?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah you do."

Question: Do you understand what I'm asking?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. I think every institution is a little bit different in some of the things, I don't want to say…everything is important to them, academics is important to every school and all that. Every school has its own little quirks, things that are unique to them that you need to understand. Everybody says well I was an outsider and I didn't understand. I understood it pretty well coming in. I did my research and understood that after a few months of all the advice you understand it pretty good. So our issue wasn't with that at all. The biggest thing I learned about being at Michigan after being there was what we had on the team. What our strengths and weaknesses of our players were, what we needed to work on and where we need to go in the future. You don't know that until you play a season with them and play some games with them."

Question: When you're at a place like Michigan though and you come off a season like last year, does the pressure feel even more than it did a year ago?

Coach Rodriguez: "You know it should, but it's not for me. I think I feel more pressure in the process of okay, what are you doing daily. You got to get that done daily, and the reason I don't feel as much pressure with that is because of the staff that I have and the guys that are around me. They know we've been through this before. We know what we need to do. If we were out there kind of (uncertain), wake up today and what do I need to do to fix this or what do I need to do to get this process going. Then I would really be nervous and I'd be a basket case. But it's kind of a been there done that kind of deal. We wake up and say okay this is the process that we're going through and started last year. So it wasn't like all of a sudden it was a terrible season, alright what do we have to do now. This thing has been in motion now for 18 months or 16 months."

Question: You watched your offense for example last year, did you feel like though you were aiming a gun that sometimes had blanks in it?

Coach Rodriguez: "Taking a butter knife to a gun fight."

Question: You got to figure that it is going to work…

Coach Rodriguez: "Not from a talent standpoint but more from an experience standpoint. As much as we try to coach and educate them, they are going to be in a tough battle. We knew that coming in. We didn't help ourselves either. Because there was some games that we had unforced errors and that ball was a funny shape and we had turnovers without anybody hitting us and all that kind of stuff. That was just one of those years that everything that could go bad, but you have got to fight through that. I think more than anything else, our guys will have more confidence this year because it was played and they've been through the process and they understand what we want."

Question: Let me ask you a dumb question; what sounds like a dumb questions. Does a year like that in some stupid way help you in recruiting -- from the standpoint of, you are still Michigan?

Coach Rodriguez: "No I don't think that it helps in any way. It breaks things down; we've scrubbed the floor, we've scrapped the paint off, we're down to the bare bones and building it up. Everybody says that you are not building a program because at Michigan you don't have to build it. But we are building a program. I think you're always building a program no matter where you're at. The formula is not any different at Michigan or West Virginia or Penn State -- it is about getting the right guys and doing the right things with it. So we are not going to show up at Michigan and win games no matter what we do. You have to do all the right things. As far as coaches that's our job. Last year, it didn't feel like we were doing all the right things. I thought we did some things that maybe didn't show up, but until we win games and have success people will question it. That's the nature of the business."

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