What went into your decision process in joining the staff?
“Trying to figure it out over the month of December and January, I thought the thing that was most intriguing to me was the opportunity to work with Coach [Larry] Fedora and Coach [Gene] Chizik. I had known Coach Fedora a little bit and I always had a ton of respect for him. Then I got a phone call from Coach Chizik and it really became a no brainer for me. We had a chance to sit down and talk and share philosophy and a vision of where he saw this going. I was excited and I thought it was something I wanted to be a part of.”
You were announced as a defensive assistant, yet you’ve primarily worked as a defensive line coach, correct?
“Yes, except the last three years I’ve had the opportunity to be a walk-around defensive coordinator. I didn’t spend as much time in the defensive line room as I spent in the linebackers and the defensive backs room. The last couple of years it has been more of the back end. I feel like wherever fits best for this staff and this program, whether that be linebackers or safeties, that I can fit where needed. That’s something that Coach and I have to sit down with the rest of the guys on staff and figure out what the best fit is. I’m sure that we will come to a conclusion on that pretty soon.”
Were you able to get out on the road and do much recruiting?
“I was out [the week before Signing Day] on the road. Most of that was junior recruiting. It’s hard to build and establish a relationship with a committed player or even a player that is on the fence of committing in the last week. For the most part, I thought I would be better off not getting in the middle of that. So I’ve spent most of my time working on the 2016 and 2017 kids.”
What’s your previous relationship with Gene Chizik?
“We’ve met, but never worked together other than when he was doing radio. He came to Nebraska a couple of times and we had a chance to sit down and talk. But other than that, this is the first time we’ve actually worked together. I’ve worked with a lot of people that he’s close to and we have some relationships through other people.”
What’s the feeling like when you are inheriting a defense with these types of struggles?
“I’m a glass half full guy and an optimist, so I look at it as an opportunity to grow. I was in a similar situation when we took over at Nebraska in 2008. In 2007 that team struggled the year before we got there. I think they were 108th or something like that the year before we went in there. So I have a little bit of a background in going in and trying to build something and fix something. And in 2009 we were No. 1 in the country in defense. So it took two years to turn it. I think we have a lot of the pieces in place here to turn it around quickly and I look forward to doing it.”
Do you have any experience going through a schematic change?
“I have gone through it. I don’t think it’s a huge challenge. I think our kids are hungry and excited and I think they are looking forward to whatever system and philosophy Coach Chizik wants to bring in this spring. I look forward to building that from the ground floor and the kids seem like they are excited to learn about it.”
With your experiences as a defensive coordinator, how does that knowledge base help you and the staff throughout the spring?
“I think it will be helpful in the sense that Coach Chizik was a head coach for the last six or eight years of his career. Offenses have changed a little bit, the style of offenses you see, the way they attack you and the way they threaten you, so I think in terms of that I think I will be able to be a resource. From my perspective, I always wanted thoughts and ideas from the others guys in the room. With the way this staff will be able to be set up I think Coach Chizik will have a lot of different voices and thoughts about how we want to do things. The important thing is that when we leave the room we will have a clear and concise plan and that we present that to the players. That way we will always be on the same page and unified going forward.”
Do you consider working across from Coach Fedora’s up-tempo offense on a daily basis as a challenge?
“I think the direction that football is headed in now, you are hard pressed not to find offenses that operate like that. You have to find a way to make your defense work within that. When you score points like they score here, it really makes your job easier on defense. As long as they are scoring lots of points, it doesn’t matter how fast they go, and here they are scoring a lot of points.”
How does UNC's reputation as a school that churns out NFL-caliber defensive linemen help with the rebuilding process through recruiting?
“I've been really impressed with some of the kids that we were able to bring on campus, both for junior days and some of the kids I saw that have been committed to us, in terms of the defensive line. I've met some of the guys on the team that are defensive linemen. We have the pieces in place, I think, to be pretty good up front. A lot of your success defensively is going to start there. The tradition that they have here, defensive line-wise, is second to none, so I think we can definitely build on that.”
John Papuchis Q&A
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