We started Aug. 1 with preseason and are rounding this week off. I know that the players and coaches are real excited to get this first game under wraps. Right now, as far as the team is concerned, we are winding down with the game plan and are getting ready to go to Raleigh, N.C. I have been there many times and it (Carter Finley Stadium) is a great venue.
What have been your experiences with the Atlantic Coast Conference?
The ACC I think is one of the better conferences in the country from top to bottom. It is well staffed with good football coaches and good players. Anytime there is a conference championship, it gives everybody a shot. I think the ACC has changed. When I was there Florida State was starting to rule the roost a little bit. There was only the one conference. Now, you see a lot different teams popping up like Wake Forest. It is a good and well attended conference as far as fan base and is a well coached conference.
What did former NC State coach Chuck Amato bring to the Wolfpack?
You never know, sometimes it is chemistry. I think Chuck Amato recruited very well. He had some real talented players up there. I know that some of the players he took out of Florida were really a talented group. The two or three running backs that they play are good enough to play on Sundays. They recruited the right people. Sometimes it is like a freight train where you just cannot stop bad things going on as much as you work at them. I think that Chuck did a lot of good things, like improving the look of the stadium. When the administration makes a decision to move on, there is not much you can do as a coach except hope that you have friends elsewhere.
How does the new NC State coach, Tom O'Brien, affect your preparations for the week?
It is hard playing the first game because you really do not have the tape. The tape we have is obviously from Boston College and NC State looking at the talent base from last year. They brought defensive staffs in from other teams, so that is what you have.
How do you prepare for the first game of the season?
I always look at your first game in that you are only as good as your base defense and base offense because it is a game of adjustments. The one thing that I think is a plus from previous years is that we do have a lot of players that have experience in playing and starting football games. It is a lot easier to make adjustments with those kids, than these young kids that are big-eyed to begin with when they walk into a stadium for their first college game. We will play some freshmen, there is no question there. Right now, I believe that the veterans that have played for us have really taken charge on the field. This is what I have seen different from past years.
How has Kevin Smith changed from his freshman year?
I think that Kevin Smith is a very good running back. Kevin has gotten stronger. He is bigger. He is a very smart football player. One thing about Kevin is that he does not know just his position, but a lot of the positions. When a play does not work, he knows exactly what happened when he comes to the sideline. As a freshman, he did not know what was wrong. Last year was a little better. This year he tells me that guard did not get his hat where it belongs. He knows what is going on and is not afraid to speak up, which is why I like Kevin. Whether right or wrong, he will speak up. Especially today with peer pressure, I do not see a lot of kids standup for what is right or wrong. He will speak up when kids are wrong and even when he is wrong which I appreciate.
How would you judge NC State head coach Tom O'Brien?
Tommy is a very solid football coach, fundamentally sound. He always has big offensive lines to control the ball in the run game and very good play action. The quarterback usually makes good decisions. My history with him started when he was at Virginia as an assistant coach, then at Boston College as a head coach. I have been to NC State about seven or eight times to play and have played him seven or eight times when I was at Georgia Tech. They are a typical ACC team that runs the ball and has good depth.
When you look at any team, I think everybody has skilled athletes at our level. The difference between most teams is the offensive and defensive lines where dominant guys are needed that take a man and a half to block or can tie up a guy one-on-one.
Last year's recruiting goal was for athleticism and speed. The UCF depth chart shows Kamar Aiken and A.J. Guyton listed at the wide receiver position. Have they outplayed the upperclassmen?
I do not know if it is outplaying them. I think that when they have opportunities, they are able to make plays. They are only so many opportunities given on the field in practice. It is hard because the receivers cannot drop a ball or make a mistake, since they are always being evaluated. They made less mistakes and less drops. That is the purpose of practice. I have to go with the people that were more productive.
I think that the freshmen that we recruited were exactly that I thought they would be. They are very talented individual athletes. Freshmen-wise, the further away from the ball they are, the easier it is to play early because the athletic ability takes over. It is tougher when getting inside the tackle position because strength and experience are needed. The freshmen that we did recruit are a talented group.
We are going to travel with eight receivers and Javid James is a part of that eight. The key to everything is productivity. A couple of those guys can play different positions that make them more valuable.
How is the team looking forward to the first game on Saturday at NC State?
They are tired looking at me and the guys that they are hitting every day. I think that they practiced really well today, the sense of urgency was there. I do see great effort, which gives them a chance to be productive on the field. The big thing I look for on both sides of the ball is communication. Today, I heard a lot of talking going on as far as tendencies and reminders in coverage calls. It is a good sign showing that they have their heads where they are supposed to be.
How would it be to come home to open the new stadium after a win?
No question that would be great, but it makes it a lot easier to be around me during that second week. Having an open date with a sour taste in your mouth is not a good situation. I have already given the kids off Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week only because I think that they need it to get their feet on the ground with school. This is the best team that we have had here overall in every facet, from strength to speed. I hear the guys constantly picking each other up. That is what you want. I have always thought that is what was missing in the first couple of years because we were constantly trying to find leadership. This senior group has been here now for four years.
How has Kyle Israel progressed through the summer and training camp?
I think that Kyle is productive kid like most quarterbacks and reminds me of (UCF quarterbacks coach) George Godsey. He is a smart kid that will move the chains, but cannot get himself into a lot of mistakes. He is not able to get out of the bad play all the time. He makes good decisions and throws the ball on time. Last year over the final three games, he did not make too many mistakes. We self inflicted some of his wounds during the East Carolina game last year by missing some field goal kicks and did not play well defensively.
Are you any more excited about this season with the opening of Bright House Networks Stadium?
I am, but I am more concerned that everyone else is getting things done. I worry about the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. I am excited for our fan base. On Saturday (at UCF fan day), they were really excited to be around the new stadium. It is a big deal. I think the whole dynamics of this campus is going to change. It really is from a fan standpoint a place to call home. We are trying to get better as a football team in a tough state with other schools having legitimate traditions. The only way to get them is to beat the teams that you are not supposed to beat. These non-conference games are the way to get recognized. Our conference plays a lot of BCS teams, but we need to start winning these games, not just play them.
The school has done everything that I spoke to them about when I was hired. During the summer, I have said that it is time that we have to start doing our job. Players should be thankful for all the facilities that they have and coaches getting the players to do what they were supposed to be doing. The only pressure that is on me is what I put on myself. I do think that it is time to start winning. Not just win, but win consistently. I thoroughly expect to do well in the conference. We should win the games that we are supposed to win and take everyone else into the fourth quarter to see what happens. We need to start winning, which solves a lot of problems.