Head coach Tracy Claeys
Q. Tracy, now that you're a head coach, can you talk a little bit about what your thoughts are and your philosophy may be about junior college recruiting? Do you think you come at it across the board year after year pretty selective?
TC: Recruiting is all about recruiting to your needs, and so whatever those needs are, that's how we'll recruit. If you're really young in a position and you feel like you need a little bit more age, then you go after some junior college kids that can help and you make you better because you may need them to play right away.
But besides that, I don't think the recruiting philosophy necessarily will change. So depending on our needs at the end of the year when we sit down, that will determine how much we go junior college and how much we go high school. I am a firm believer that the base of your recruiting has to be high school kids if you want to be consistent at competing. I just think there is too much up and down when you take a whole class of junior college kids. University of Kansas did it a couple years ago with Coach Weis, and it's gotten them in a bind. So I think the junior college needs to be a specific purpose.
Q. You're not necessarily taking a half a dozen, depending on the year?
TC: It all depends on the high school kids too that are out there. But our first preference is to take high school kids and then take junior college kids to fill in the immediate need where we don't feel like we have somebody to step into that.
Q. I'm sure your guys feel some confidence. These last two games, if you look at the game this season, this was a nasty stretch, and they were in every single game.
TC: Yeah, in the situations we've been in and you look at our injury thing, and it's not an excuse. I've said all along you've got to find things your kids do well. Our kids that have stepped in playing for the injured kids, really have made some good plays and they're competing hard. The disappointment comes in the end result.
We're always judged on wins and losses, and we haven't been able to find a win. But I think any team -- most of the teams in the country that would have played that three-game stretch would have some difficulties also.
But we've had some chances and we just need to -- the last game we need to make a few more plays on defense. The Ohio State game, we need to make a few more plays on offense, so pretty soon here we need to put together as a whole team. You just keep working hard and you'll be rewarded.
Q. I wonder how your life has changed this last couple weeks, if it has in terms of your lifestyle, things you're doing, sleep?
TC: Sleep and all of that has been pretty good. The thing that's changed the most is the recruiting calls at night. I'm making a lot more than what I did in the past because both sides of the ball. So I literally have to set aside an hour to 90 minutes to make those extra phone calls each evening. So that's been my biggest change.
Q. How much are you involved with the defense compared to when you were coordinator a couple weeks ago?
TC: Not as much. But what I do is like if I spend the mornings with one side of the ball and in the afternoon I spend the practice time on the other side of the ball. Then the next day I just alternate it. This morning I spent with the offense. Today I'll spend with the offense, tomorrow I'll spend with the defense in the morning, and believe me, it's just I feel it's my responsibility to have an idea of what's going on both sides of the ball. But the other guys are preparing the game plans and that.
Q. Is there a learning curve offensively? You've been so immersed in defense is for so long.
TC: I think the guys will tell you they've enjoyed. I'm not so much trying to learn everything they're doing on offense as much to putting a defense in perspective to whether it's a motion or formation or giving them an idea of how I think they would try to stop that play. I think they would tell you they've enjoyed having me in there for that part, and I've enjoyed it also.
Q. Getting to the recruiting calls last week, did it take on a different tone after you got the job?
TC: Oh, I think there is no question. It eliminates the uncertainty, so that's been really positive. Like I said, we're in a time now you can only call one time a week right now. So we've got to make sure we're organized and stuff. But I think it's important since that happened that the kids hear from me. So I'm continuing. It's a pretty big list, and I hope to be through it by the end of this week.
Mainly it's the same principles. I've said that over and over. It's a different personality when you talk to kids and their parents, it's the same principles we've been building on. The fact that graduating every kid that comes here to play football. The goal is to compete for the Big Ten Championship. So there may be a few different personality and the small changes, but the principle is what's allowed us to build this thing. We're going to keep building on those I same things.
Q. Does the defensive tackle with the two guys out, how do they feel about the job Stelter's done? When you talk about that spot, is it kind of the twos that you've got to put in now being a little undersized?
TC: Yeah, I mean, Andrew's done a great job for us up front. Gaelin Elmore has played well and Shouby (Yoshoub). But those kids are still not -- they don't have the same strength that our first two guys do. So it's not that they're playing bad and you say, oh, it's killing us. Those kids are competing hard and playing hard. \
But one of those things with the quarterback scrambling and a lot of that is not getting as good a push up the middle, so those kids don't quite have the power and that that Steve and Scott do to get that push up the middle. But they're competing hard and trying every day. It's giving us a chance to win. I know most people in the country probably couldn't play number 5 and 6 as much as we are and still have the success that we're having.
Q. I know we've talked a lot about Jeff Jones and his position change, when did that happen and what brought that up?
TC: Don't hold me exactly to it, because I'm not for sure. But I think it was somewhere around three weeks ago. It's just one of those things that with anybody who is not right now playing on the offensive side of the ball, if there is somebody there we think can help us in the secondary or something like that, we're going to move them over and let them do some individual stuff. Just get a jump again. Talked about recruiting and filling needs. Maybe we have somebody here on the team that we can fill a need with and allow us to get somebody else. So that's what brought that on.
Q. Tracy, how much has your hand print influenced the offensive game plan or even play calling?
TC: Play calling, none. I don't spend enough time. If you're going to play call, you need to be in there all the time, I believe that. But I've been able to let them give them an idea how I think other teams will try to stop something. Because eventually you're going to take away what you're doing and what's going to be your next move. Allow those guys to think about what the adjustment will be once they take something away.
And obviously when you get into four down territory and all that, I try to let them know ahead of time so they can call the plays appropriately and things like that. But for the -- you know, for 99.9%, they're calling the games. I'm just in there during the week.
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover
Q. Do you think in addition to all the other things we've talked about with Mitch, do you think his mechanics have improved over the last month or so?
ML: Yeah, I believe so, just from the standpoint of, like I've talked about before, earlier in the year when we kind of had the revolving door and the offensive line shuffling everything around, I don't think he felt very confident. I think everything he was doing was off his back foot. When you do that, the accuracy's going to suffer, the velocity's going to suffer, and then the confidence suffers. I think that's where he was at for a while.
If you go back and trace his progression over the year, you can almost see with each game that he's improved how the mechanics are better because he's using stepping into his throws and using his body better because there is more confidence there to be able to throw it and not have defender's face mask in your chest every single time. So I think that's helped him from a confidence standpoint to be able to stand in and throw the football.
Q. With Shannon Brooks a teenager, a true freshman, how do you see him or maybe project him physically changing over the next couple of years? Will he get stronger? Will he read the blocks even better? Will he look at that or project that?
ML: I don't think he's a finished product at all. That's what's so exciting about it. Eric Klein does a fantastic job. Our head strength coach, director of physical performance. He does a great job with developing the entire body. He's not just a guy that will get them in there and all they do is lift weights or all they do is run 40s. There is an overall package.
You look at the older guys. A guy like K.J. Maye is a great example of how his body has changed. He's gotten faster or he's gotten quicker and stronger from when he was a freshman. I think he's a great example. I'm sure there are more. But David Cobb was another example of that. David always had the ability. When he started dedicating himself to the weight room and to the preparation year round, I think that made a big difference for him. He even talks to our guys about that now, how important that is now that he's moved on.
I think that Shannon and Rodney Smith, those guys, any time you get a chance to go through it, and college football is a lot different than high school football, and whatever position you're playing, whatever you're going through, to go through that season and to feel that. I think he realizes, okay, as good as this has been, I'm pretty worn down here. I've got to be able to go for the long haul.
They talk about, I think, the one thing I hear all the time is between college and pro basketball they talk about hitting that wall. I think it happens in football too when you go from being a high school player and playing, and maybe you're not even playing second halves of games because your team's blowing somebody out, to then now you're one of the top conferences in the country playing week-in and week-out against very physical, 22, 23-year-olds, you learn those lessons.
So he's already talked about he has some work to do, and I think he'll be a different player come as early as the spring.
Q. No disrespect to Jerry Kill at all, you know how we all feel about him, but there is a feeling that the offense is a little more uninhibited now than when you go back to two years ago when he was on leave. Can you address that theory from where you sit?
ML: I could see that could be something that people could connect the dots to. I really think one of the things is that it's kind of an interesting dynamic now with Tracy being in charge because I was always concerned, and you guys know, I've been in here five years talking in these press conferences about team game and taking care of what we need to do to take care of the defense and be team players. I think I probably said we need to be better team players probably a hundred times in these things. One of the interesting things is that I think Coach Kill always felt that way.
So that was kind of permeated down of let's make sure that we're not putting the other facets of the football team in jeopardy with what we do. And interestingly enough, with Tracy being the defensive coordinator and now the head coach, he's been the one to say, hey, go ahead and take a chance here. Go ahead. He sits in our meetings now and it's great because we'll talk about he was all in favor of Shannon's half back pass to Drew. He was the one that said don't bring it back on the plane with you, and coach was great about it.
Coach had a great knack for calling those at at the right time, those type of plays. But the nice thing is I think now with Tracy at the helm is that I feel like I'm dealing directly as him as the head coach now. He has a great idea as a defensive coach of what we're trying to accomplish. He says, Yep, go ahead, he's all for it. Hey, if you're going to throw it on first down, have a darn good second down throw or run or whatever, because you need to be able to move the chains to win football games.
So it ends up being the same. It's just been interesting the different dynamic in that area.
Q. In terms of whether a game plan might be conservative or not, last year every game for the division title counted. Is there any of that involved? Right now there is less to lose in some ways?
ML: No. It has a lot to do with having a quarterback who every offense is going to revolve around a quarterback. What they're doing well. And then it goes from there to how well are you going to run the ball? How well are you going to protect your quarterback? So it goes quarterback, offensive line. So right now we have, I think everybody thinks, hey, they're wide open and what have you.
Well, we're throwing the ball more because we have a quarterback that's really confident right now and that's a big part of it. Hopefully it can continue, but we're starting to gel in the O-line with the changes we've made and those guys are protecting him a little bit. I think that has more to do with it than job security.
We're still in a dog fight. This group of kids, we want to send the seniors out right. We want to go to a bowl game. We want to win a bowl game. There are still a lot of things left there to play for. If we don't come out with a sense of urgency this Saturday, a lot of that evaporates.
There is still a lot to play for. There are still goals that we've developed and created and we've had to adjust. But it's still there. So kind of this, oh, what the heck. We'll just throw it up there and see what happens. We're working as hard between the young men and us as a staff offensively working as hard today coming in this morning as we did six weeks ago or this time last year to make sure that those guys have a chance to be successful