Question: As far as filling Stevie Brown's open linebacker position, is there anyone that has kind of shown themselves on that spot or is it still kind of wide open, a lot of guys kind of vying for the same spot?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah, you'll have to check back with me in August. Right now, it is just wide open. All the safety positions are wide open. That doesn't mean there are not players there, that just means nobody has firmly established themselves as ‘the guy' at any of the safety positions."
Question: Thomas Gordon, Floyd Simmons and Michael Williams, are those guys kind of looking for that spot?
Coach Rodriguez: "And a host of freshmen."
Question: So if I had sat down with you when you first got the job and said okay, here is the list of all the setbacks that you are going to have to overcome in this transition would you have thought I was just nuts?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. There was no way it would…god, it has been interesting to say the least. I would like to say that there won't be no more adversity the rest of my coaching career, but that is not the case, it is always going to happen. A lot of stuff that has happened, I don't think you get in football coaching 101 manual. It has been a little bit crazy and it certainly has not taken away the enjoyment being able to be the coach at Michigan or anywhere else because of all that stuff. My family has been very supportive. I've got a great staff that are supportive and the players have been terrific. We've tried to forge ahead, tunnel vision and build a program the way that we think we need to build it. The administration has been supportive of me. We're on our track. That's the thing, all the things that have happened that maybe could have knocked you off the track or stuff; it has probably slowed it down at times and it has temporarily knocked us off but we got right back on it and we're going to stay on it."
Question: There is obviously not one thing that contributes to the setbacks, the records, is there one particular thing that has been most problematic, whether it is numbers, personnel issues or even off the field, some of the negativity that has hovered over you?
Coach Rodriguez: "No and I really have not…I try to be positive and move forward. I do not really reflect back on that. I think that I have to look at everything. It is my job to look at everything and learn from everything. Some folks might not think so, but I think I'm a lot smarter now than I was two years ago, or least I'd better be. There have been so many other things that have been off-the-field drama that you don't want to deal with, but you've got to and that's the reality of it. I think the only thing you do is get up every morning and work as hard as you can, go to bed at night thinking what can I do better the next day and move forward. We kind of used that phrase "all in" last year and it really struck a chord with all of us in the program. The people that follow that say, hey if you're all in for Michigan there is nothing that is going to take you away from that… and I think from a coaching standpoint it is easy for us to do, but to get everybody else to buy into that sometimes it is a little bit more of a challenge, but I think they have for the most part."
Question: Coach you guys got off to a fantastic start last year and had that great comeback win against Notre Dame. Did you see anything different as far as your team's character from those first couple of games of the season versus the second half of the season?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah the biggest difference between the first half of the season and second half is that we played better in the first half than we did in the second half , especially defensively and in taking care of the ball. The second half of the year, we did not give ourselves a chance in some of those games, like the Ohio State game, because of all the turnovers. We didn't play as well defensively. Still you got to play, play it and see what happens. We studied enough and we always kind of…we could do this over again and that over again and you study that as coaches, but that's in the past. We don't dwell on it too much because what good does it do to dwell."
Question: You said yesterday that the fans were kind of juiced up for this coming season?
Coach Rodriguez: "I think so."
Question: What about the alumni, the high rollers that write the checks and all that, have that been outspoken about the last two years?
Coach Rodriguez: "They have been very positive to me, at least in front of me. I think everybody wants to win and have great success and that's what is expected in our place. I think most of the people support our program very well. They love Michigan. They love everything that goes on about Michigan and I think they understand some of the issues that we have. I think they have seen some progress, maybe not as much as they would like, and it is not as much as I would like. All we got to do is win a few more and show them that we're doing it the right way and I think that is all comings."
Question: What are those issues, some of the issues at least, maybe the general public doesn't understand that you have to overcome?
Coach Rodriguez: "I could sit here and talk to you for two or three days about everything that has gone and reasons why or this, but all it does is make it look like we're making excuses for this or that. I don't know if that serves any purpose. I just prefer to tell everybody everything is going to be okay. Everybody on the team and in the program is all in for Michigan. We're working hard and just wait and see."
Question: How much adversity that you've experienced in the first few years compared to maybe the other schools that you've coached at? Was this kind of over and above the most adversity that you've experienced or is there anything that compares the past two years?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah, we had the rough first year at West Virginia. Back in my second head coaching job at Glenville State, we had a really rough first year. We were happy to get a first down that first year there. We didn't get a lot of them, but we got a few. The times that we are in, everything is more public now and that's not a bad thing. We are on the biggest stage there is and that's a great thing, that's not a bad thing. We just got to realize what we got do to get better and stay focused on that end. I think we have. Like I said, there has been things that maybe that could have tried to sidetrack us, but we're not going to let it."
Question: Will Michigan fans every be 100% satisfied short of a National Title?
Coach Rodriguez: "Oh I think so. Would you rather coach at a place that has great passion about having success and winning as somewhere where people are indifferent and don't care. We're at a place where they care. You want to coach and play at a place like that."
Question: Is 99.9% ever good enough?
Coach Rodriguez: "Probably, yeah. I don't know if you ever have 100% of the people happy no matter where you are. When we were having our good runs at West Virginia there, if we lost two games, it was tragic. You built it up to that point. There is nothing wrong with that. I want to get to that point. I want to get to that point where one or two losses is a bad, bad thing -- and we can get there. It has taken us longer than we wanted, that's for sure, but we can get there."
Question: Do you feel that you have after three years of recruiting the kind of playmakers that you need to…because I know your offense is so predicated on getting guys in space and having the big plays.
Coach Rodriguez: "We're getting there. We wanted to have a fast team that played fast. It starts off with recruiting fast players, and we are getting some fast guys that you mentioned. Now we got to get them to play fast all the time and that's our jobs as coaches. We've got to put them in that position, teach them, educate them and on both sides of the ball. I think some people talk about the offense all the time but it is defensively too. We've got to play faster defensively, and I think we are going to be a faster team defensively, not as experienced as we want, but we're going to get there. Like I said, in a couple of years those fast guys playing fast will be juniors and seniors."
Question: Can you look back at that first year and kind of admit that you really didn't have that fast personnel like you said to really succeed more than what happened on the field?
Coach Rodriguez: "The first year the biggest issue was inexperience especially on offense. We had nine or ten guys starting offensively that haven't started before and that happens. It happens at every program. If you have a great senior class that have multiple year starters like Jake (Long), Chad Henne and Mike Hart and all them…the next guy coming could be talented, but he hasn't played and that happens at a lot of places. Then you have a new system coming in and it is like they are all freshman. But, I think we learned a little bit there, and last year I was nervous coming in because we were going to have true freshmen playing quarterback, and they competed but at times they played like true freshman. This year they will play like sophomores."
Question: So you feel yourself kind of less nervous going into this season I guess, because you do not have that massive inexperience I guess -- you cannot really point to anything other than maybe the kicking game or maybe the secondary?
Coach Rodriguez: "We have more players that have played, that helps. We know that as coaches, we know the players better. Third year, you know them better than you did the second year. So that is all a bonus. I do not know if you were all sitting here, but I think the small senior class that we have I think is taking even more ownership in the program, which has helped. Because you want those guys to kind've be an extension of the staff from a standpoint of getting things right attitude wise when the times the coaches are not around ,and I think they will do that."
Question: Coach, touching on that, saying that you guys had a young team and you are getting to know them better and they're getting to know you better and their having time develop and bond as a team. You guys competed in a lot of games last year, do you think them having that much more experience is going to help you close out some of those games that you were competing for?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah, we did not do a good job in a few games last year of finishing off or making the plays at the key times. As coaches, we've got to get them in position to do that and hopefully guys will get the confidence to finish those games. Sometimes you create that play yourself and sometimes you are a little bit lucky when it happens. Either way, the good teams take advantage of those opportunities, they win those close games. We didn't do that. We won a couple last year but there are other ones that we didn't do that, do a good job of."
Question: You guys were a few plays away from having a much better season than you did, it just a matter of like you said not be able to finish out.
Coach Rodriguez: "You guys that have covered us closely, I've said this a bunch of times. You know you've kind of arrived when you can play poorly and win. We've not been able to be there. We're not there yet. I don't want to test that theory (laughter). I would rather not play poorly and win. I'd rather play well and win. I would rather win period. There are moments throughout the season inevitably even if you got a really, really good team and a lot of veterans coming back, they may have a game where they off and don't play well. You hope you are good enough to still win with that. We'll see. We'll find out."
Question: Getting back to something that you said yesterday about certain things that you regret from last year that you maybe wish you had back, and you said Michigan State wasn't one of them. Was that fourth down against Illinois a big one when you look back at the season?
Coach Rodriguez: "As far as going for it?"
Question: As far as going for it and how that could have maybe changed…
Coach Rodriguez: "On the goal line?"
Coach Rodriguez: "Oh gosh, we replayed that series, as painful as it was, numerous times. Like oh, we could have called this play or called that play. Hindsight…I heard a coach once say that hindsight was 50/50 (laughter). Hindsight really is 20/20. When you go back and say if we had done this play, he would have just walked in the end zone. We played the what-if game probably too much with that. I would still go for it and I would just hope that we call a different play maybe and score a touchdown. Even with that, you pointed out, it was a huge momentum deal, but we still could have made some plays and won the game. You had them back there. That was just probably the low point for us offensively. Because the rest of the year, I thought we made progress offensively. We did not in that game, but the rest of the year we made some positive steps other than the turnovers."
Question: Off the field was there also kind of a sense sometimes in maybe the last three years of what-if, what if this decision was made, what if this decision wasn't made?
Coach Rodriguez: "Oh sure, but I think that is kind of normal anyway. I'm not a big revisionist other than you got to go back and learn, but I've always done that in 17 years as a head coach. Go back and say, okay what can we do better, what have we done in the past. I think you need to view it and try to learn from it. If I ask the players to get better every year and learn from their mistakes and learn from their experiences, then I've got to do the same thing and so does my staff. I think to sit back there and say, well we've got all the answers and it wasn't our fault, that is not educating yourself. I've been educating myself quite a bit the last couple of years."
Question: Do you feel like you've gone back and played that what-if game maybe more the past year or two years than you ever have?
Coach Rodriguez: "Sure, and I think probably similar to the first year at West Virginia, the first year at Glenville and before then. Particularly if the season doesn't go well, you play more of that. Then if you have a great season, say you only lose one game, you replay that one game a 100 times over in your head too. I have not slept well in a few years. I want to be able to sleep better this season."
Question: This might sound weird, but in the sleeping well thing, is it literally where you are up at night sometimes?
Coach Rodriguez: "Yeah. When you finally get to bed and if you wake up at three in the morning and you start thinking about something, to me I'm up for an hour and try to get back to sleep, it is hard to do that. It must mean I love what I'm doing because if you didn't love what you were doing, you'd just want to forget about it. I love what I'm doing. If you are a competitor, you hate losing. It means that it eats you. It kind of eats at your soul. It takes the life out of you. It really does."
Question: Not to harp on this whole not being able to sleep thing, but is there a certain play, a certain series, a certain decision that when your sleeping comes back to you?
Coach Rodriguez: "All of them. The night after the game is the worst one, whether you win or lose but especially when you lose. Even in the offseason you replay it and probably too much. Again my whole thing is that it is in the past, yeah it is in the past, and you can't bring it back -- but you can try to learn from it."
Full Transcript: Coach Rod, Part Three
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