"We would've loved for them to stay exactly where they were -- unfortunately they didn't. As a former defensive coach we went through this with the run-and-shoot, we went through this with the wishbone back in the 1970s and the 1980s and 1990s with those two different offenses. It takes a while to really school your kids up on because it's something that's very difficult.
"We spent some time on it this spring, just simply because it was so new, that you didn't want to wait till the week of the game and say ‘ok, we've got three days let's try to get everybody on the same page.' So, some of the nuances of some of things that are coming – some of things that Notre Dame does, things that UConn does, things that Rutgers does, things that Georgia Tech is going to do -- we spent some time on each of those during our spring practice, just so there might be a little be of familiarity and a little bit of carry over when we got to those specific games this fall."
With the new timing rules do you anticipate more plays in a college football game?
"I think it will probably be about the same to be honest with you. I think what you'll see is a lot more consistency with the clock operators. I think the pace of the game will be faster, it will very similar to the pace in pro football games."
Will it make the hurry-up offense more in vogue?
"Well, it's already in vogue a great deal. The minute someone throws an incomplete pass the hurry-up offense slows down because now they have to rethink what they are going to do. If you can get them off track, it'll slow them down a little bit."
Is T.J. Yates completely healthy?
"Yes, he is. T.J. kind of got the green light back around the first week or so of June, so he's been pretty much throwing all summer. We started him off on somewhat of a pitch count, where every other day he was throwing 15-20 balls. Then he went to 30, 35, 40. Then by July 4, they just said throw all you want to throw."
How much did he miss by not participating in the spring?
"There is a lot that we would've loved for him to be able to do. It was obviously important to get him healthy but, you know, anytime you've got a quarterback that starts 12 games you're anxious to see – ‘ok, take that experience and now let's find out what you can build on top of that.' We missed that opportunity with him. He took a lot of mental reps and he watched a ton of film. But there is no substitute for being out there with the receivers and running the offense."
How much has Yates evolved as a quarterback?
"It'll be interesting to find out, because he missed all of spring. I think mentally and cerebrally he's evolved some because he's watched an awful lot of film this summer. Of course, that was the only way he could challenge himself to try to get better. Hopefully, we'll find during training camp how much [he has evolved]. He's bigger now, he's stronger now, because those were the only things he could work on was lifting. Hopefully he'll be a little bit more durable than he was last season."
Would you ever consider a two-quarterback system?
"I'm a one [QB] guy. I think you absolutely have to have a second guy ready and I think that what we found out was that Cam Sexton and Mike Paulus, by taking all the reps in the spring time, they got a tremendous amount of work. What it did with our football team is I think that they saw them in a different light. They know now – T.J's one injury away from one of these two guys [coming in] – the respect that they had, the huddle presence they had. I think that makes a big difference for them coming into a game."
Why is it so important to settle on one guy?
"The leadership thing and also the way in which no two quarterbacks are going to be absolutely identical. Each one of them is going to have a strength and you're going to want to play to that player's strength. So, those are things you practice and things you have more confidence in doing. I've never been any place where two guys were absolutely identical. When we had Bernie Kosar and Vinnie Testaverde, they were two great quarterbacks – two guys that had long careers in the NFL – but they were totally opposite."
How long does it take a new head coach to establish a new culture and make that transition -- and where do you think you are now?
"8-12 years [laughter]. It takes a while. I've got to think it takes at least a minimum of two years to really, truly get everybody all on the same page. You talk to your team from the very first team meeting – the faster you do it, the faster you're going to start to win win. As quick as they start to by in … but still there is recruiting the type of athletes that fit, schematically, with what you want to do.
"Taking the players, there is so much experimentation. If you followed our program much last year, hardly a week went by that we weren't taking a player that played this position and moving them to either another position or the other side of the ball. Maybe as many as 12, 15, 18 kids went – Deunta Williams is a great example, he was a wide receiver who became a free safety. Johnny White and Richie Rich were running backs who became corners. We just had a lot of things where we were trying to find roles for those kids to excel and to really find a niche where they could help us win.
"As you recruit your own players, there is a lot less experimentation because you've already gone through that mental exercise while you're recruiting. You may look at them and say ‘this is what he plays in high school, but as soon as he gets here for us he is going to play this position.' So from the very first day you put them where you think they're going to be."
Having said that, now entering Year 2, is it a little early to be picked second with four first place votes?
"It is what it is. It's a compliment and it will give us something to shoot for."
Are these four votes for Butch Davis or your talent level?
"It's probably my wife voting. I don't know who it is, I don't know who voted – who voted?…"
Well, you've been around a lot of talented teams in your life…
"I hope they voted for our team. Best I can tell they aren't going to let me play in any one of these games next year. So, I hope it's for our team."
What coach has been most influential in your career?
"Jimmy Johnson, without question. I spent 15 years with Jimmy as an assistant coach on both sides of the ball. I was a recruiting coordinator at Oklahoma State and Miami and learned an awful lot about personnel. You learn about personnel decisions – being a defensive coordinator. Jimmy's boldness, I thought, was something that was extraordinarily understated. I remember back at Oklahoma State, we wanted to try and be a 3-4 team and we had Dexter Manley and a few guys. We played horribly in like one or two games of the season, we started off lost to West Texas State and Wichita State and he came in Sunday and said ‘Okay, we're scrapping this defense and going to a 4-3 by this Saturday.' We were changing total defensive schemes in four days and it was kind of the turnaround in the program that eventually we got a lot better and started recruiting great athletes.
"He had no hesitation, whatsoever, to look at the big picture of a program – whether it was the Dallas Cowboys going 1-15 or in Miami or wherever we were together – and saying in a short amount of time, this is the evaluation, we're rotten, we're terrible, we've got no talent and we're going to get rid of Herschel Walker because we need an influx of talent and the only way to get it, we got to get more picks. He would pull the trigger in a heartbeat and I appreciated the opportunity to learn a lot of that from him."
You talked about position changes -- what made you think Greg Little, initially, was more suited for wide receiver and what changed your mind?
"Well, when we were recruiting him – when I got in we only had like 40 days before National Signing Day so I didn't get a chance to see an enormous amount of film on any of the kids we signed in that first recruiting class. Greg had been a receiver and he looks the part. He looks like an NFL receiver and very easily may end up being an NFL wide receiver.
"We tried the running back by committee – we tried four or five guys all during spring practice and probably the tell-tell sign was that nobody emerged which meant that instead of maybe having three or four that could play, we probably didn't have anybody that could play. We tried to think that somebody would emerge during training camp and during little, bity, tiny glimpses throughout certain games – Anthony Elzy had an outstanding game from Virginia Tech – and there were would be little things that would trick you into saying, ‘well maybe if the offensive line gets better, or maybe if we get a little bit more continuity or maybe if we can throw the ball better this that and the other'… And the fact of the matter was we needed an impact running back – we needed a difference maker…
"I regret to this day, because we might have went to a bowl game last year, that we didn't pull the trigger because we talked about it in staff meetings. If you watched our games, we started doing things with Greg in the backfield and every time you handed him the ball he made about 10 yards. So it was like, well how fast can he learn the protections and how quick can he learn everything at running back? We put him on the fast track and by Georgia Tech, I'd say he knew 60 percent of the offense as a running back. And the next week against Duke, he probably knew 65 percent. Hopefully now he's at a point where he knows everything we're doing."
From the accounts I've seen coach, Bryon Bishop had an outstanding offseason and spring. Can you talk about his prospects of having a starting role this year for you?
"I think Bryon is one of those players that, you know… sometimes if you don't see the light at the end of the tunnel, you never get your best effort. It's like no matter how hard I play, there is this guy that is a two-year starter in front of me. I think what he sees now is an opportunity to finish on a real positive note. He's worked harder, according to our strength and conditioning program, than he's ever worked in his entire career, which gives you a chance to be a competitive player. Obviously, selfishly, as a coach the more juniors and seniors that you have that you are starting, the better you feel about any part of your football team. We would love for him to be that, but he's got to be the best guy. He's going to get pushed by a lot of guys to play. I'd still love the opportunity to play as many as seven, eight, nine guys in every game – but he's got to earn it. Right now he's paid the price to be given that opportunity."
In the last 18 months, what are you most proud of with this program?
"The attitude of our players. Their hunger and their passion to be good is exactly what every coach wants. There hasn't been hardly anything that the majority of the players, that we've asked them to do, that they haven't jumped on board. When we talked about, you've got to watch more film… you can't just come over and watch film for 30 minutes before practice and assume that you're ready to play on Saturday. Lifting, running… mentoring to younger kids – our older players taking a leadership role of realizing that 11 guys can't win a game.
"You need 40 or 50 guys and I think a great lesson that we learned was last year at Wake Forest – we were terrible on special teams. So many of our kids that should've been playing on special teams were starting. Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter a lot of the young freshman guys were starting positionally on offense and defense and I think it dawned on a lot of our players that ‘hey, you know what, we better make sure that these freshmen and red-shirt freshmen know how to play to be able to go in and play on special teams'… because we got embarrassed that day, we were atrocious. We turned the ball over and played poorly on special teams and that's about as fast as a way to lose games as we could possible have. But, I love our kids' attitude."
How far away do you think your team is from contending for the ACC title?
"I don't know. It could happen this year, it could happen at anytime in the very near future. We're definitely moving the football program in the right direction. We need more depth, talent and speed but we're moving in the right direction.
It seems like Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate get a lot of the attention, but is Brooks Foster a guy that has the tools to maybe have a breakout season?
"They had a deal on TV the other day called ‘Workout Warriors in College Football' and if there is anybody in college football, as a wide receiver, that has a better work ethic and is strong and physically more gifted then he, I don't know who it might be. He's fast, he set a school record in the bench press and he's a great athlete. One of the real regrets that we had at the end of the season was not finding more ways for him to touch the football. Between Hakeem and Brooks and Brandon we feel like we have three really talented wide receivers and they've all got to try to be involved in every game plan."
Each of the last two years, Brooks has had a monster game very early on. Then he seems to fall back and have average performances …
"I don't know that he is average, but I know that our offensive coordinator John Shoop really tries to find ways to get everybody involved. And one of the guys that we want to continue to grow his role is Zack Pinalto. As a true freshman last year… when you get defenses to start to worry about the outside three wide receivers , you really need to be able to run the ball and have a really talented tight end. The more weapons the quarterback has the better off that you are. So, we want to try to get all three of those guys involved as much as we can."
What will it take to make some of those close losses from last year wins this year?
"Special teams will be a big part of it and self-inflicted wounds of not turning the ball over offensively. We've got to run the ball better, not turn the ball over as much. We've got to do a great job on special teams. We really didn't dominate the field position aspect on special teams like a good football team needs to."
Is there a philosophy in overseeing a program to differentiate between the superstar players and the second team players?
"I try not to, to be honest with you. I just try to have kids that our respectful of their teammates, of the school and the opportunity to play. You just try to get kids to buy-in into the idea of how important it is to do the right thing. Kids are going to make mistakes and kids sometimes need second chances. I just believe that, as you're building the culture and environment of your program, there are certain things that sometimes, unfortunately, there's no compromise. Sometimes there are things that you've got to try and get those kids to mature and grow up. That's one of things that we need in our program – last year we only had four seniors that played. And you need to get more senior leaders, you need to get guys that can be mentors to the younger guys to help them understand and appreciate how important it is to do the right things, on the field and off the field."
How's your health? Do you have a lot of follow-up stuff that you have to do?
"Good, yeah, I feel good. I do some period follow-ups with the doctors at UNC and everything has been negative and I've passed every test. I'm closing in, sometime in the very near future, hopefully, like, on the last of those. If I can make it, here, another four or five months than I won't have to ever go back again. So, so far it's all been clear sailing. I've been God blessed and very fortunate."
(Check back Wednesday for the fourth and final installment.)