Some fans say you appear to be a little too critical of players when answering questions from the media. What's your take on that?
"I'm honest. Why would I sugarcoat it with the media when I tell the players that I am always going to be honest with them? Why would I tell a player that he is playing great when he's not? If the media doesn't ask about the players, I'm not going to say one negative thing about them. If you ask me a question, I will be honest and candid, but if you don't ask me, I'm not going to say a thing about it. I will deal with it in-house like I always do.
"When I talk to our players and I'm hard on them, I'm hard on them about giving their best effort. That more than anything else...giving their best effort. Take a player such as Will Prosser; you never hear me criticize him because he gives 100% effort all of the time. I never say anything about Dezmond Sherrod for the same reason. The guys I say things about are the ones that either have not been focusing in practice or haven't given their best effort. I'm not going to tolerate a lack of effort. If you aren't going to class, if you are not concentrating on the field or you aren't doing things right, I'm going to call you out everytime. And that's one of the things that we have to get over around here. We've got to be able to take constructive criticism. I take it all the time.
"I've been young before, too. I want to see them change. I want to see them grow up. I want to see them graduate with a degree from (Mississippi State) and go out in the world and be responsible citizens. That's what we (coaches) are here for. I don't understand what they mean when they say I'm hard on our players. Yes, I'm demanding on them, but how else are you going to win? How else are you going to win?"
Why not just say it to the players one-on-one in the locker room and not to the media?
"What do you want me to say to the media? You guys ask me questions and I try to be as honest as I can with you. When you ask me what happened on that play, am I supposed to say the protection is bad when the receiver dropped the ball, am I supposed to say the quarterback was wrong when the protection was bad? I am just trying to be honest with everybody. I think I protect our players as best as I possibly can. Do you want me to say our receivers are not good enough? I won't say that in public because the bottom line is they are playing the best they can play."
Would you say you are as tough on yourself to the media as you are on your players?
"I am tougher on myself....let me tell you something, this losing kills me and I take it hard. But I have to learn to get over it. I take responsibility for everything because I'm in charge of everything. I'm the head coach. If they want to say I'm making a bad call, I don't care about that because I accept that. Everything that goes wrong on that football field is my fault. The quarterback-center exchange is fumbled, that's my fault. Every play called. Every defense called. Every offense called. Every fumble made. They are all my fault, because I'm the head coach. But when I get ready to correct a mistake, I'm going to call out who made the mistake because I have to be honest.
"Of course, I have made mistakes, too. I probably should have changed quarterbacks earlier. I probably should have change punt returners earlier. I know why I didn't because I'm loyal to a fault. I'm loyal to a fault. I am going to give a guy every chance just to make sure."
You are never critical of the assistant coaches to the media. Do you feel that's not appropriate?
"I'm not going to be. I'm not ever going to be. It's not appropriate at all. If I have a problem with a coach, I will deal with it in-house. I will say this, nobody is going to tell me to fire a coach at any time. If the coaches leave, I'm going with them."
How it is different coaching a young, inexperienced team compared to a veteran team?
"What the fans don't understand is I worry about what the players think about themselves. In the game against Houston, we probably should have gone for it on 4th down, but I hate to get down there and not make it because I worry about our players. If we get down there and we come away with absolutely nothing, how will our team react the rest of the ballgame? The same thing the other night (against Kentucky). We take the ball 90+ yards and go for it on 4th and 4 and we get nothing. We still have 5 minutes to go. How are they going to react? I have to worry about that. I would go for it everytime if I had veteran players. There will come a time, when we become a good team, that we will roll it out and play 4 downs all the time."
The offense you run is called the West Coast Offense. Have you made adjustments to it or have you stuck with what you used at Green Bay?
"We've simplified it tremendously. We have made a great number of adjustments. The first thing is the protections we use. We are now a slide protection team. We don't even use the man on man protection schemes that I would like to use because we aren't good enough at this point to use them. The line has, at the most, only two or three protections. That's much less than I'm used to having."
Then, is it still the West Coast Offense?
"When we talk about the West Coast Offense, more than anything else it's the concepts. The way we organize, the way we practice, the basic concept...those are still the same. We've had to adjust due to the players that we have and don't have. Now, our primary focus is getting the ball to the backs and tight ends, whereas, I'm used to tying to get the ball to at least one outstanding wide receiver, two if possible. But we've had to reverse it. Our main focus now is to get the ball to the backs and tight ends first, then give whatever is left over to the wide receivers."
How much negative affect have the last two recent losses to Houston and Kentucky had on your program?
"My concern is always recruiting. And we won't know that until signing day. But it was still a setback to me personally, because we had two games I felt we should have won. We had every opportunity to win them and we didn't. That tells me how far we have to go. The thing that I have found is different, particularly here, is not having enough explosive players to cover up any mistakes that you may make as a team.
"As an example, I get upset when we have a quarterback-center exchange or a fumble. Well, Florida had one the other night in the same situation. I got upset when we played Houston and we had that punt return. Well, I was sitting there watching Auburn and LSU and Skyler Green rips one right up the middle against Auburn and he didn't get one against us. The bottom line is when those things happen against other team, they have the talent to come back and overcome them. When they happen to us, we can't overcome them."
Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college football program. Some schools send out hundreds of form letters to recruits. And some of the recruits, because they receive so many letters, then say those teams are recruiting them harder than anybody else. Why not do the same thing?
"We hand write our letters because we like to send out personal notes. Handwritten letters take a long time (to write), but they come from us and not from a machine. They are personally written. And we text message and call guys as often as the (NCAA) rules allow us to. In fact, I have a list of guys that I call every week."
What has been the toughest adjustment that you have had to make coaching on the collegiate level compared to the pro level?
"The toughest thing on me is all the time I have to spend on things outside of coaching football. You have alumni meetings, academics, meals, all kind of things to deal with. That's the toughest part of it. But that's part of college football. I understand that, but it's tougher than I thought it would be. I guess it's different when your program is already established, but when you are trying to get your program to a level where it can run itself, in my case that's taking 90% of my time. That's the reason I don't call plays."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.