Rich Rod's Roundtable (Part 4)

In part four of Rich Rodriguez's sit down with the media at the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon Michigan's headman discusses Will Campbell, Vincent Smith, the Big House Atmosphere, night games, and much, much more.

Question: Coach what does it mean to you to coach against a guy like Joe Paterno, who has had such a body or work?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah he is such an icon. My wife Rita and I were laughing about it the other day. When I was at West Virginia, we played against them every years, back in the early ‘80s. One of Rita's prized possessions; she was a cheerleader when I was playing and before the game JoePa came over and got a picture with her. So she got a Polaroid, whatever it is, picture and carried it for years. I never thought I would meet somebody as famous as Joe Paterno. We are from little small towns in West Virginia. We still laugh about that. Joe and Rita, we had several laughs about that on some of the trips we took a few years on some Nike trips."

Question: I'm sure you don't think about it during the game, but when you look at your career and some of the things that you've been able to do and guys that you've been able to go against, where does it rank; what does it kind of mean to you?

Coach Rodriguez: "I remember coaching against him and coached against Bobby Bowden in the Gator Bowl. You don't think about it during the game because you're just trying to get a first down and win the game. Before a little bit and certainly after the game, man you coached against a legend, a hall of fame guy, a guy that is one of the best that has ever been. Before the game, you are just trying to win, trying to beat them. So you don't have as much reverence for them until after game. It would be nice to reflect back on. I would just like to get one win against him at some point. He's beaten a lot of people. So as bad as we feel about it, he's beaten a whole lot of people other than me."

Question: Coach how do you feel about the new media types, the Twitters, the Facebook and even the texting; both the recruiting process…?

Coach Rodriguez: "I think it is the day and age we are in. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Now I didn't Twitter for like two or three months, so I don't know if they threw me off or not, whatever that is. It's hard to keep up with it. I didn't grow up in a social network. Until three or four months ago, I had never twittered or Facebook or anything. We do a little bit. Facebook helps in recruiting, because that's a way some young kids can communicate. Twitter is more of an informational thing, just kind of let people know and have a little fun with it. I don't think it is really a big deal one way or another, but we do it because we don't want to be behind the other people as far as the trend is this day and age. We can't text message any more and we can email. So that is the newest way to communicate with young men is email. Everybody has phones with emails, Iphones and Blackberrys and stuff like that. As coaches, you better learn how to do it or you are going to be behind."

Question: Do they have long term potential, are they going to stick around?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah unless the NCAA comes up with legislation like they did with text messaging. Somebody will come up with something next where there will be some video type of Twitter. I call it the George Jetson era. You know that old cartoon, you go back and watch some of that and we are doing some of that stuff now. There will be somebody who comes up with an invention that you can Twitter video wise and watch someone. That's coming."

Question: Are you directly controlling any of these or is it more of a staff more?

Coach Rodriguez: "The staff members do it more for me, but they tell me what they are doing, because I'm the one that is going to have to answer for it. I don't want them Facebooking or Twitter, particular Twitter without me knowing what they're doing. The Facebook is more of a communication way for us. I'm not as active with that as I am with email. I'm not overactive with email; I'm just slow at it. I'm learning how to…I would put all my messages on the subject part of it. So I'm learning how to do that a little bit better – I've got too."

Question: What value do you place in a team finding its personality?

Coach Rodriguez: "Finding the personality or identity… I think there is a lot of value in that. As a coach, I try to foster that as much as anything. As far as this is what I want our identity to be. I think all coaches say okay. It's not a particular scheme, offense or defense, but it is more of a mentality that we take each and every day in practice and in the game and workouts and all that. That's one of the thing that even going through the last year, we tried to stay true to our identity and what we wanted our program to be known as and that is a constant battle. A constant battle, because you are always going to have new kids. Now it should only be a battle for us with the 20 to 25 new guys. Last year it was 100 of them that we tried to establish a certain identity with, and that's why the first year is the toughest.'

Question: That's what (Mark) Ortmann said; he thought the first half of the Penn State game when the offense was starting to click and everything was falling into place, the team felt that that was their identity that was team when they started to personalize it.

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. I remembering sitting on the sideline first couple of series for them and there was a couple of long drives and I thought this is what we envisioned. It should look like sort of speak. Not only from execution standpoint, which was the key, but from a mentality standpoint. We played a pretty good team in a tough environment. We were about as low as you could get and our guys were coming off the ball and competing. That's the idea. That's not new to Michigan, but it was new to some of our guys because they never played before. So that identity is something that we are always working on."

Question: You mentioned now that you got 25 or so new guys, not 100 new guys, do you feel from a fan base perspective and their relationship from Michigan; I'm not from Michigan, just looking at it from afar, do you feel that their understanding when they look back at your track record of development that you've done from first year to second and third year that they are holding hands with you now?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah, I felt great support last year. Our fans are educated. Their upset with some games that we didn't, but so was I. I don't blame. There is nothing wrong with that. Going through speech and alumni going around the country, especially our former players; they've been terrific. I think they understand what we were going through. Nobody likes it. Everybody is thinking if you're not in the middle of it to know exactly what is going, they ask what is going on, but there is nothing wrong with that. I would rather be a place where they have high expectations, but you got be realistic too. I don't know what is always out there in the media, but I don't get up on the soapbox and say, hey let's be realistic. The best way to ease everybody's concern is to work and get it right. That is why I just try to stay focused on doing what's right. A lot of people say, coach don't let them get to you and I was saying, don't let who get to me. Our fans just want to win and there aint nothing wrong with that. I'm right there with them."

Question: What areas of your team do you feel are going to be better from day one in practice this year?

Coach Rodriguez: "Well hopefully all of them but especially every position offensively just because they've all played. Other than maybe at quarterback and see who wins that job. The offensive line for example, it is night and day between last year and this year, because they've played and they got a year in the weight room and any coach that you talk to, you give those young men a year in the weight room, whether they are freshman to sophomore or sophomore to junior, they are going to make significant gains."

Question: Have you ever played in Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, as an assistant coach or anything?

Coach Rodriguez: "No I haven't."

Question: What have you heard of that?

Coach Rodriguez: "I have heard that it is a very tough venue, especially at night. The fans will be into it. More than anything, they've got some great coaches and some outstanding players. It'll be a tough venue, but I haven't thought that far ahead. I'm still trying to win this first play against Western Michigan."

Question: Have you and Bill (Martin) and whoever I guess had any discussion more about night games in the future; it seems like the whole country is going that way?

Coach Rodriguez: "A little bit but not a lot. I think the bigger issue is that ESPN would love for us to do that."

Question: They come every year a lot to kind of do that?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. I think some of our fans would like it. Not all of them, but some would like it. I think we would entertain more if we had….not lights in the stadium isn't an issue, but lights in the parking lots. It is a security issue. A lot of fans park at the golf park and that's not lit up. So I think there are a lot of issues regarding security that have more concerns is anything else."

Question: Is there any allowance for any of the lights with construction that is happening?

Coach Rodriguez: "If we wanted to have night games or have a 3:30 game later in the year, they'll bring in lights."

Question: If you are just having the night game do you need more or something?

Coach Rodriguez: "No, I think you'd be okay. They can handle that. As coaches, from a preparation standpoint, we'd like to play them all at noon or one o'clock and when to get ready for the next one. I've played a bunch of night games in the past because our program needed the exposure. Now the players would like a couple of them because they have fun with the night game and I think the atmosphere would be great. It's not as a simple, because I've asked. It's not as simple as just saying okay let's play this night game. You really got to see what your fan base would want and then see if all the other issues, the security and all that could fall in line."

Question: You said you asked; are there other things that you've brought to them and said maybe we could try this, because I know you did a lot of that at West Virginia?

Coach Rodriguez: "Oh sure. Yeah when I probably got blamed for everything else that was perceived to be different last year anyways, which I don't know what that was, but we talked about game atmosphere. I think the school, we've done…"

Question: The little things that have…?

Coach Rodriguez: "…yeah little things. I don't know if it will be really noticeable. Some of the things we did in the spring practice. I think our athletic department has really gone out and researched some things marketing wise to try and make it fan friendly and entertaining and all that. I've been involved in some of the discussions, not a lot of it, but some of it and just given them some ideas and I think we're headed that way. First off with the stadium once the construction is all done that will help. I think nowadays people are coming to games they want entertainment. Obviously playing good football is the best form of entertainment, but what else are you doing to get the crowd into the game have them be a part of the game as opposed to just being there."

Question: Like the towels Rita was talking about?

Coach Rodriguez: "A little bit of that and creating an atmosphere, getting the band and the students and some music and all those kinds of things that kind of create…I think we can create the best atmosphere in college football from the standpoint of everybody is into the game, but it is a process to do that. It's not going to happen overnight."

Question: What is the best thing you've seen from someone else as far as that?

Coach Rodriguez: "I'm not going to give anybody…even though I could tell you that, because I don't want to help them with recruiting. But there are some venues that we've been too and venues that I've been in, in the past that get everybody fired up. They just can't wait to come. We have that, when we're playing well. I know in the Big House, there has been some great moments. There is more that we can do to make the experience even better for everybody and so that is what we are talking about."

Question: You said at the end of last year that one of the things would change next year is that you were going to be more guarded in terms of what you said publically.

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah I have been. I think. Maybe not."

Question: I haven't been around enough to know.

Coach Rodriguez: "Okay I won't say any more (laughter), end of story. This interviews over."

Question: Is it kind of hard to adapt that way and change?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah I don't think I did very well at it. I'm just one that tries to say what you believe and be who you are. I try to be pretty open. When you guys that cover us, I try to be pretty open. Again, there is always things, I don't know if I should have said that. There are other times that I said, man I wish I had really said that. So I've gone both ways with it."

Question: How conscious is that? Is it a daily every time you are a press conference that you think about that?

Coach Rodriguez: "No I don't think about it at all."

Question: Okay you were joking. You're not guarded?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. I try not to be. Like when I'm ticked off I won't say as much, but when I'm happy I'll say more. Right now I'm pretty happy other than this cold that I'm battling."

Question: The apparel has been changing, you guys switched apparel companies?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah we went to Adidas. We had a longstanding relationship, Michigan did before with another company, I think was well."

Question: What is your involvement with the uniforms and stuff like that?

Coach Rodriguez: "The uniforms have to be picked a year in advanced. We're not going to change them much. If they are, it will be very subtle changes, because we have a great looking uniform. So there is always going to be subtle changes. I think typically a fan wouldn't even see it. Whether it is a different type of material what have you. Our deal with Adidas – Adidas has been great. I think our players…it didn't start until August, so that was another transition. I really like this stuff. I think our players like the stuff. I think it is a really, really good partnership."

Question: Rich, I talked to the director of officials and there is going to be greater emphasis on head hunting, helmet to helmet hits; how important is that?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah they talked to use about that. I think it is critical. The head shouldn't be a part of any tackling or blocking that you do. Every coach, I've probably screamed more about that…don't lead with the top of your head. Any time you do that bad things can happen. I think they are looking at something like the NFL does, that defenseless player more or less. Where he is defenseless and you take kind of a cheap shot at him. Now I think there is a difference when they see it coming and all that. Still, if you lead with the top of the head and even if he sees it coming that shouldn't be part of the issues, but I think they are more looking at the defenseless guy that is kind of laid out and you take a shot at him. It is more of a safety issue."

Question: You as a coach, even if a ref missed it, would you discipline your own guy, say look you can't do that?

Coach Rodriguez: "No question. You point out and say you got lucky and say this should be a flag. I don't know…it's not an epidemic in college. I don't see it a lot. It is a safety issue so I think that is why the point of emphasis is there."

Question: You guys had a couple of concussions last year; Steve (Threet) had a couple, at least one and Sam (McGuffie) had multiple. Where there things that you saw, was it just plays that were bad or what?

Coach Rodriguez: "Naw they were hits, eww, you could see where he got it, but some guys are prone to it for whatever reason. They are prone to it more. The best way for like a skilled guy not to get a concussion is to make a guy miss, then you won't get hit as much. That would be better."

Question: Talk a little bit about Will Campbell. You talked about conditioning at times what he really needs to work on before he is going to be able to play at a high level; how is he doing with that and do you see him coming along?

Coach Rodriguez: "Really good. I think Will enrolled early, which really is giving him a chance to play because he had to get in shape, had to learn some techniques. He was well coached in high school, but it is still a leap for him. He came in a little heavy and Will is a great guy. He's very consciences. He has worked his tail off. I don't know how much weight he's lost this summer, but he looks good. He's got a lot of natural strength. The work he has put in the last six or seven months has given him a chance to help us this year."

Question: You are going to need him in depth probably?

Coach Rodriguez: "No question."

Question: When it comes to the offensive line, do you think that they have the chance to be one of the most improved position groups on the field this year?

Coach Rodriguez: "Should be and I would be disappointed if they are not one of the most improved positions, because they gotten some experience and they have had a year in the weight program. I think they feel more confident. I don't know if we are as deep as we want to be or will be with experience, but I like the way they've come together. Our offense, even though the quarterback is the focal point always, it is going to start with the guys up front and they are going to be better up front."

Question: You've been pretty tactful when people have taken shots at the program on the way out, not to say much; is it tough to bite your tongue?

Coach Rodriguez: "Sure, yeah, yeah. I've talked to the team about it a little bit. I've talked to my coaches about it a little bit. You want the attention to be on the guys that really want to be there and are doing it. If you talk to our players, they like the guys that are on the team. I think they like the direction that we're going in and who they are playing with. That is the most important thing. You don't worry about guys that don't want to be at Michigan or don't want to do the things that we feel it takes to have success. Michigan is not a place for guys that want to be average. It is a place for guys that want to have success and be challenged athletically and academically."

Question: Coach you mentioned depth, particularly on the offense line and one other place that Michigan is incredibly deep is at running back and one of the people who have stood out since the spring game is a young man named Vincent Smith; his highlight real made the internet, can you give us a little bit more depth on him; he really seemed to have had a good spring.

Coach Rodriguez: "Yean Vince is another guy who enrolled early, which helped him learn the system. We have a variety of ways to go with our backs here. We have some bigger backs and we have some smaller guys. Vince is a smaller guy who can make people miss. He's got good ball skills, but he's a tough guy too. He's still learning the offense and all that, but he's not afraid to mix it up a little bit. Where normally, you just take a guy like that and redshirt him, now he has got a chance to compete. At running back, because those guys unfortunately have a tendency to get banged up a little bit, he is probably going to play quite a bit."

Question: Another guy that was banged up was Mike Shaw, I read I believe in the Free Press that he is back from the sport's hernia surgery, how does he look at this point?

Coach Rodriguez: "Probably the best shape that he has been in, in his career. Just saw him the other day, he says he feels good, no pain. It was probably bothering him quite a bit more than we knew last year. He looks good now and he is one of the fastest guys on the team, so he should be able to help us."

Question:: Any academic concerns with the guys in the summer; do you expect everybody to make it?

Coach Rodriguez: "I think so. Now there are a couple more weeks yet. There are still a couple of guys that have some work to do and they have two more weeks to finish up and if they do what they are supposed to do, we'll be alright."

Question: You sat down and talked to these guys? Give them a little pep talk.

Coach Rodriguez: "Oh yeah. Yeah, our academic center does a great job and our coaches are constantly trying to monitor that. It is ultimately on their own. They got to do the work. Unless they are tricking me, they're trying. We'll see what happens."

Question: You said this summer the team GPA has been the highest that it has been it has been (in some time)?

Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah it was through the spring. We're going to continue to try and do that. I think our guys love to compete. I think all these players do. To get them to compete athletically is easier sometimes than competing academically, because they like to play ball. What we like to do is challenge our guys to compete academically. At Michigan, they got to want to do that to have success and get our degree. So we are doing a few things in our program to make them have, feel that sense of competition academically amongst themselves and so far I think it starting to help us."

Question: Did you really have any fun with anything last year?

Coach Rodriguez: "Oh yeah. I had fun working with our guys. It was miserable during the games, but I never came and said, ‘oh we got practice today and it is going to be miserable'. I really look forward to work every day. I love working with our staff. I had fun in recruiting. Life's too short to be miserable all the time. I'm miserable when we lose and I'm miserable this past year a lot, but I got a great wife, two kids, everybody's healthy. Shoot – life is good. This is tough times. I said this yesterday when talking about, do you feel any pressure. You feel pressure when you're a family of five with no job. You just lost your job with no pension. You got a house payment, car payment. Those people got it tough. Shoot, I'm alright."

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