Well, we couldn't. We needed the influx of talent in 2007 and 2008. Will we red-shirt more players in 2012, 2013 and 2014 down the line? It's possible. I've always adhered to the philosophy that if you can make a dramatic impact in your football team and help your win games, then play - play as a freshman. It's easier for skill kids, receivers, corners, sometimes a running back, maybe a kicker. It's very, very difficult and challenging for offensive linemen to come in and play. We saw the rare exception last year, where Robert Quinn comes in and he was ticketed to probably be a backup player. By the second or third game of the season he's clearly the best guy and he plays lights out as a true freshman, so he did a great job. The other thing that I've always adhered to is the idea that if a kid gets hurt as a freshman, he gets a chance to red-shirt later on. If you red-shirt him as a freshman and then maybe he gets hurt the next year, now you've lost that poor kid for two seasons. And so, if they're going to play 15-30 plays a game, then we're probably going to play them.
Where does Casey Barth stand as the kicker?
Casey is clearly ahead [of everyone else]. His accuracy, his sophistication and his ability to kick specialty kicks and stuff, I think that he is clearly the kicker.
How do you see the tailback situation coming around this year? Has one of those guys got to take over that position?
You'd love to have one marquee guy. Not that the other guys can't eventually become marquee guys. But you need one guy that is going to get the lion's share, the majority of the carries and stuff. I think Shaun (Draughn) can be that guy. I think everybody on our football staff is really pleased with the work of Ryan Houston. He can run, he can block, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's an outstanding player on short yardage and goal line situations. I think Shaun will do a much, much better job this fall of protecting the football. He went through no spring practice (last year). No drills, no fundamentals, all the things that you need to spend time working on. He got thrust into the role and very easily he could've rushed for almost 1,000 yards in about three quarters of a season.
What about Jamal Womble?
That's another kid. He really had a nice spring. We tried to feature him a little bit in some of scrimmages, because we had a pretty good idea of Shaun and Ryan of what they were capable of doing. He's still a young kid, there are still things he doesn't know. One thing is he has very good instincts and he has good vision. He's a little bit of a slasher. You'll see him get a chance to play this fall.
Can you talk about the speed of your linebackers and what that allows you to do?
I think, certainly, it gives them the ability to make plays. Anytime you've got speed on defense, it allows them to makes plays outside of their extended area of responsibility. We're fortunate that the three kids that I think we're going to start this fall, they're going to be pretty fast, pretty athletic and hopefully that'll allow you to do some things with those guys that maybe we hadn't been able to do in the past.
On Signing Day earlier this year, when you were asked about signing more players than you had scholarships for, you said it would work out. Does the fact that you have a surplus of scholarships now justify in your mind oversigning?
Truly, in 35 years of coaching, you get a chance to see all kinds of scenarios and you know that there's going to be things that are going to transpire over the course of six, seven months that's going to allow you … even though we oversigned, we never were really going to be over the number because we knew that four of those guys, two of them were going to go to prep school and two of them were possibly going to go to junior college. So there's never any overage, it's just a matter of whether we were going to hit the number or not. Someone asked me the other day, ‘How do you predict your roster from year to year?' There's probably only one given, legitimate factor that you know every single year. You know how many seniors have exhausted all four years of their eligibility. After that there's like eight other potentials: injuries, academics, graduate early - I mean there are all kinds of things that play into how big the roster will be for the next year. You better be prepared and you better have guys waiting in the wings to take those scholarship spots.
The N.C. State game closing the year with that, is that a rivalry game that you'd rather have in the middle of the year and rather play Duke at the end of the year like it's seemed North Carolina's done every year?
The conference makes up all the schedules, so you have no input whatsoever. But whenever they put it, those are always going to be big games. It wouldn't matter if we played both of them back-to-back weeks 1 and 2, they're going to be huge, monumental games with their fans and our fans. So, whether you end the season with them or play them in the middle of the season, it really doesn't matter.
Coach O'Brien was asked the same question and he said the thing he didn't like is that he thinks you should end your season in your division, because you might have to play that team the very next week. Do you feel that way?
That was one of things, that when I first came into the conference, that they said they were originally trying not to do - to pit two teams that might the following week have to go to Jacksonville or Tampa Bay and play each other back-to-back weekends. For whatever reasons, at least this particular year, that's the way the schedule fell.
Can you talk about the game with Florida State? Are you excited about playing them this year? Thursday night game, Chapel Hill.
We're excited about the opportunity to have the Thursday night game. The history with Bobby (Bowden), you know since 1984, my first year at Miami, they're always going to be very talented. They have a wealth of speed, they're always going to be a very, very well coached football team and they travel well. They're never intimidated by anybody that they play. Their program has been in enough big games, whether it's a night game or a road game, it's not going to intimidate them at all. We're going to have to be prepared to play well - they're going to be a very good team.
Do coaches have an opinion on what's going on with Coach Bowden and the wins and everything or are they staying out of it? What's your take on that?
We've never discussed it. It's never come up in casual conversation or with any of the other coaches. That's Bobby's and Florida State's situation. None of us know, I couldn't even begin to tell you what all the minute details … we went through our own situation, when I first went down to Miami, with all the sanctions and probation. And still to this day most people still don't know what that was all about, even after the fact.
Do you have a favorite memory with a Florida State game or Bobby Bowden memory?
The game that stands out the most in my mind is the last one. We were fortunate enough to win the game and like all the games against Florida State, it seemed like they were always knock down, drag outs and somebody won in the last three or four minutes. There were some great games when I was an assistant coach. All the wide right games, wide right and then there were some wide left's thrown in there. They were all very competitive games.
What will it take in a conference this deep and with this much parity for one team to kind of emerge and become a player nationally?
I think you have to win and you've got to win , certainly, against credible opponents in your non-conference schedule. I think all of us are always very concerned about playing well outside the conference and I think all of the coaches are certainly … we talk about it, I'm sure everyone else does, that we want to play well in the bowl games. Those are the two most immediate, measurable ways that people evaluate your conference. If you're a football fan and you're sitting in an armchair in Omaha, Nebraska and you're looking ‘How did the ACC schools match up in their non-conference games?' When people saw us last year play Rutgers and UConn and Notre Dame, I think we got some favorable impressions because of that. And then we had a chance against West Virginia to do the same thing.
Is there a team that can emerge or is it going to be like last year?
I think every year there is a possibility that a team could emerge and do that. I think one of the reasons that there are so many diverse opinions about the league is that there are so many more quarterbacks that are back this year. It's a little easier to project what Virginia Tech is going to look like because Tyrod Taylor has been there before. Riley Skinner, this is his ninth year playing [laughs] and so everybody knows what he is all about. Everybody else has pretty much got an experienced, veteran quarterback coming back and so there's not as much guess work. And they give those quarterbacks an awful lot of credibility for their ability to win games.
You've got back-to-back Thursday games this year. You ever had that happen before and does that disrupt your rhythm?
It'll be something that we'll have to really do a good job with our players. They're used to having Sunday's and Monday's basically off. A little bit of film on Sunday's, Monday is the players' day off. Now all of a sudden, the weekend kind of becomes the coaches game planning and Sunday and Monday kind of become like your Tuesday and Wednesday practices, so this will be a little bit of a learning curve. You'd love to have been able to play one Thursday night game and then have a traditional Saturday game and then somewhere else have the other Thursday game. This is going to be a little bit of a tough situation for us.
There's been a good deal of talk about how North Carolina and LSU are trying to put a game together at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta in 2010. Can you talk about the importance of playing a team like that at a neutral site?
If that game comes about, it's certainly something that we would like to do - I think it's a real plus for any program. I know that I think that Frank Beamer would tell you that the opportunity to play Alabama is a great way to start the season. I was fortunate enough to be at Miami in 1999, we beat UCLA the last game of the season in 1998 and won a bowl game and then we got a chance to open the season the next year with Ohio State in the kickoff classic and it was a great experience.. If that opportunity comes up, we would certainly like that opportunity.
If you were still coaching in the NFL, would you give Michael Vick a shot?
You know, it's hard for me to say, because I don't know any of the particulars about that case. I don't follow the NFL that much and I didn't follow that much about the situation. We played against Michael Vick the two years when he was at Virginia Tech, he was a dynamic quarterback. Roger Goodell is an extraordinarily smart man and he is probably the only guy on this planet that knows everything that went on with Michael – the behind the scenes stuff. I would trust that Roger is probably going to make a smart decision as to whether or not to let Michael play.
You've talked about all the experienced quarterbacks coming back this year for this league and when people talk about the all-conference preseason teams, T.J. Yates isn't in the mix. Do you think T.J is underrated?
I don't think he has, right now, the extended pedigree that some of these guys have. Missing seven games last year certainly derailed his opportunity to gain extraordinarily valuable experience - an opportunity to play in some nationally, big-time games. Had it been T.J. Yates being the starting quarterback against Notre Dame on national television and we win the game … When T.J. got hurt he was one of the hottest quarterbacks, from an efficiency standpoint, in the entire country. He lit it up against Rutgers and played extremely well early in the year. He's kind of got his resume still yet to build. He's got two more seasons and we're thrilled with where he is right now.
How much would it mean to have him healthy for a full year?
It'll be critical for this football team, because of all the other youth and inexperience of some of the players that we're going to have to play offensively, it's going to be critical to have an experienced, veteran quarterback.
There are lots of experienced quarterbacks returning to the ACC, but with all the new wideouts around, do you think the passing games will be better?
I can't speak for the other 11 teams - you just can't be one dimensional. I know that you can't pull a Woody Hayes, three yards and a cloud of dust and run the ball 45 to 50 times a ball game and expect to be successful against the schools in this conference. You're going to have to find a way to manufacture passing yardage and plays. It's the quickest, fastest way to get big chunks of yardage and I think coaches in this league will find ways to get balls to playmakers.
What's the status of the Kenan Stadium upgrades and renovations?
We're probably within a week to two weeks to three weeks to finishing Phase One. Pretty much a total renovation (of the Kenan Football Center) and a facelift of the old existing four floors with the addition of a fifth floor. There's a mad dash to finish the parking garage - that's probably still at least a year away. The next major phase is the east end zone. When we made an announcement that we were going to back off and put it on hold a little bit to kind of judge the economy, we really deviated and went in a different direction because we were thinking that we were going to address the site of our press boxes and now it's almost a unanimous slam dunk that the board of trustees and the administration think that the east end zone is the most viable, fastest, quickest way to make an impact in the stadium. We can add club seating, we can expand the overall seating capacity and we can address the issue with the academic support system. That's a big part of this deal. We've got 32 sports at Carolina and we really need to have study hall rooms, mentoring and tutoring rooms, and places for all the academic support people to have great facilities -- all the Olympic sports -- and weight rooms and stuff. So there is a lot of complexity to that project. I think that as the economy starts to rebound a little bit, I think you'll see that put back on the fast track.
What do you think is important for you to emphasize in the preseason this year?
The biggest, pressing thing clearly has got to be the receivers. And it's not just the three wide receivers - we lost a tight end that got drafted in the second round. So, kind of the skilled positions on offense is got to be an area that we've got to really put some attention to detail. We lost our punter and our place kicker, so we've got to break in two new kickers during training camp. We've got to rebuild the right side of our offensive line. You lose the right guard, the right tackle and the tight end, so there's no shortage of things that we've got to work on. In some respects we've got some players that we've got a lot of confidence that we think will come in and they'll be good football players. Can they be as good as those guys by Week 1? No way, they're not going to be. It doesn't matter who lines up out there, they're not going to be Hakeem Nicks the first week of the season. But, can they be some of those players as the season goes along? We certainly hope so.
(Check back tomorrow for Part III …)