"It has definitely helped me with seeing what was going on and seeing it play after play and not having to look for certain things on Sunday (when the film is analyzed) or having to hear from somebody else about it. If there is a question about the personnel grouping that the other team is coming into the games with, I am up there and can see it. And since I'm not on the sideline I don't have to hear about it because I see it. That allows me to make a call quicker and better.
"Another factor in the improvement is we still have a lot of young guys playing and they are continuing to get better. As I look through that group, from Willie (Evans) to (Kevin) Dockery, to Darren (Williams), all those guys are still puppies. We are going to keep doing what we are doing and keep getting them better and keep improving. I know we are going to be fine. What we have to do is keep doing what we are doing and not worry about anything else."
As the defensive coordinator, what specific improvements have you seen in the play of the defense from the first game to the last game?
"The guys are understanding things better and they are playing with confidence. I can actually call bump and run, man coverage and put Quinton (Culberson) in a receiver's face now and not have the receiver exploit that. They can now get up a little closer to the receiver. Eric Fuller made the last play of the (Vanderbilt) game in bump and run. Three weeks ago I don't know if we really wanted or could do that."
Plus, another factor is you only had the young guys for two-a-days and not during the spring, which had to make it even harder on them, you and your other defensive coaches.
"(True freshman) Jeramie Johnson has started two of the games in place of Darren Williams. (True freshman) Deljuan Robinson has started two games and he wasn't here (during the spring). Still, the guys we are expecting to be older, mature players, Willie Evans to Marvin Byrdsong, played few games last year. Those are still young kids and you don't want to have to play an SEC schedule with them, but we have to. But I'm pleased because the guys have done what I have asked of them, which is continue to get better and don't listen to what anybody else says."
Even though you are still a very young coach (41 years old), you have coached quite a number of years and have even been a head coach a couple of times. Have you ever in your career had this many young guys - freshmen and sophomores - starting and backing up the starters in the secondary at one time?
"(Starting cornerback Quinton) Culberson and (sometimes starter and other times backup safety) Jeramie Johnson are true freshmen. (Starting safeties) Dock and Darren Williams are 19 year old sophomores and (starting cornerback) Odell Bradley hasn't played. (Backup cornerback Eric) Fuller is a brand new kid. They are talented but there is no experience like game experience. Our guys are getting that and playing hard and learning. All we asked of them from day one was to keep learning. There is no doubt in my mind that we are going to be a very good defense this year. We are getting better and just have to continue improving each week."
Do you hear the criticism from the fans? You, basically, are their lightning rod; the guy they want to blame for the poor play of the defense, for the busts, for the mistakes they see on gameday.
"No, I don't listen to that. I'm a tough butt. Nothing that anybody says bothers me. I've had it when I was doing good and I've had it when I was doing bad. People say what they want to. If you worry about what everybody says and thinks and then you actually coach and do things out of what people think and out of fear.....I don't do things that way. I know what we have and I know what we are dealing with. I knew the situation here when I was hired. I understood it from day one. I'm a positive person, so I can look at Darren and Dockery and all the other guys and know they are very good players. I say 'Wow' when I think about their futures. They are going to be very good. What we are trying to do right now is help them mature fast. If we mature them fast, then we are going to be in good shape. I was brought in here to do a job and we are going to get it done."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.