We weren't a very fast football team in 2007. We didn't have speed at a lot of positions. Certainly not at running back, not really at tight end and didn't have much speed on defense. The two recruiting classes that have already come in have really changed that somewhat significantly, but we're still not where we need to be from a depth stand point and then with our overall speed. I think the incoming young freshmen receivers, I think those kids can run. Jhay Boyd was 10.6 100-meter kid this past spring in official track meets and Josh Adams can run really well. Dwight Jones has been a real pleasant surprise - we've kind of done a major transformation in his running style. We didn't like the way that he ran, even though he ran relatively fast he wasn't very efficient with his body. So, Jeff Connors has worked for about the last 6.5 months with his running style, which has made him more in control, made him a little smoother and made him a little faster and quicker. So, I think that's certainly going to help him.
Could you explain that a bit more about Dwight Jones and changing his running style? How did you pick that up?
Just watching the way in which he ran during the fall. He spent some time playing and some time on the scout team and just watching the running mechanics of wasted motion. The things he was doing with his arms and trying to lengthen his stride and trying to be a little more in balance and under control when he got in and out of breaks, it would make him faster and quicker to get in and out of breaks. Jeff Connors has got a real significant background in track. He is a grinder. He studies people all over the country in trying to find each way to address each players' shortcomings or weaknesses. He really worked on Dwight in the off-season, in really overextending his stride. In the spring you could really see evidence that it was making a little bit of an impact.
Where do you need more speed at this point?
Well, we'd like to have a little more speed in the secondary. That's an emphasis because a lot of these guys – you've got to go cover an awful lot of very fast wide receivers. We're getting fast in the front seven and we're getting faster in the secondary, but you need to really get speed when you get out on the perimeter. Especially with the way that people spread the field. The read-option offense with three wide receivers or four wide receivers, two corners isn't enough. Nobody plays with two traditional corners. You've got two corners, a nickel and a dime that has to go in the game and they have to cover guys that are just great athletes in the slot. And four doesn't become enough because you have to have backups. We're still in the position that we still need to add some players at those positions.
Coach Lovett said the hardest part of taking the defensive coordinator job at Miami was that he was leaving you guys for another ACC school. Can you talk about him a little bit?
He's a good guy, good man. He's a good football coach. He added to our staff the same thing that Art Kaufman brings to our staff. Being a former defensive coordinator, unique perspective of game planning and this is how I did it in the conference when we played although John was at Bowling Green and formerly he was at Ole Miss. Anytime somebody has that kind of experience, it's always good to have that kind of knowledge when it's Sunday night and Mondays when you're game planning – you need ideas, you need fresh ways to do things. Sometimes staffs can get stale if you're not careful, if you're not really pro-active about going out, staying on the cutting edge and visiting places. So, sometimes a new guy that comes in brings some new ideas of how to do things and sometimes that can be good for a staff.
What makes Virginia Tech's defense consistently what it is?
You just said it, consistency. They are not exotic and they don't ever try to do things that are going to put themselves in a position to beat themselves. They are fundamentally sound. Bud (Foster) does a great job, they are good teachers, they know their scheme and the kids know the adjustments. You rarely see them out of position or out of place. You could watch film on a lot of teams and sometimes you go ‘Oh, they are going to lose leverage. If they line up like that very much they're going to be out of position.' You never see that at Virginia Tech.
You said that when you prepare for a defense, you pick out a name or a number or players to watch. You don't bother with them, because they're all…
Yeah, they are all in role where they could be a playmaker. Their scheme is different and I think that that's one of the things that's really an advantage. If you're doing something that is so different that you only see it – it's like in the old days when you used to see Oklahoma with the wishbone and they were the only team in the country really running the wishbone… that was tough. You get two or three practices and you've got to try and get ready to stop Oklahoma's wishbone. It's kind of the same way with Virginia Tech's defense. Everybody else is 3-4, they're 4-3, then all of a sudden here comes Virginia Tech and you've got three days to get ready for that. It takes, even for a coaching staff, a couple of years to see it and really appreciate all of the things that potentially could show up on game day.
Do you see Virginia Tech as a national title contender?
I mean they could be. Frank would certainly have a better opinion then I would. They have a lot of returning starters, they've got a proven returning quarterback. So, conceivably, they could be.
Are they the team you think you have to beat to win your division?
They've set the bar, there's no question about it. In our conference, they've set the bar on our side. If you expect to get to the ACC championship game, you've certainly got to beat Virginia Tech.
When Shaun Draughn first came to you a while back and said ‘I want to change positions,' could you have ever imagined at that time, here we are a year later, he's played well enough that now he is in the position to really make an impact?
I haven't dwelt on it an awful lot. You wonder how that conversation would've gone, because it hasn't been a secret we've been struggling to try to find a real running back since the day we got there. There just wasn't anybody. We tried a whole lot of guys that first year: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and a whole litany of guys tried it. The second year we weren't that much further along in having an answer for it. We saw what Greg Little could do as an athlete and he actually did some good stuff. Against Rutgers and he had a great touchdown run against Virginia Tech. He could of, conceivably, been the answer at running back. But Shaun, because we were still searching for somebody, we were more than willing to give him the opportunity to come in there and find out. At the time, we had enough guys playing safety. For him to get on the field, because he is too good of an athlete, it made sense to try and find a role for him. You've got to give Shaun a lot of credit, to have the courage to come and approach the head coach and say ‘Give me a chance, I think I can do it.' We're thankful that he did.
What do you need out of him this year?
Consistency. The next phase … and we went through this – I talked to him a little bit about it – we went through this with Edgerrin James early in Edgerrin's career that he tried to score with every carry. We'd be thrilled to death, we wanted to hand it off on a particular play, we wanted to make seven yards on this play. Edgerrin wanted it to be an 83-yard touchdown play, and fighting and scratching and trying to get through to the second level. I told Shaun, Edgerrin had a game where we lost to Virginia Tech on national television, I think it was a Thursday night game, I think we lost 20-17, he had five fumbles. That was one of the great learning lessons for Edgerrin that there's the better part of valor, that when you're running between the tackles and you're at the linebacker level and you know that all of the safeties are going to be converging, let's get two hands on the ball. I think Shaun will learn from that particular situation from last year.
How disappointed would you be if someone from the administration told you that because of budget reasons, your team can't go off campus anymore (to a hotel) on Friday nights before home games?
I think it'd be very destructive towards winning games. You look at the dynamics – we can't be any different then probably 150 schools around the country. We got 25 kids that are living in apartment complexes all over Chapel Hill and Durham. We got kids that are living in houses, we got kids that are living on campus in freshman dorms. For them to spend the night, that night, in that same environment, I don't think we would be very conducive at all to being mentally rested and well-prepared to play the game the next day. There's a lot of ways I think that any athletic program can save money, cut budgets. We try to be as lean as we possibly can. We don't use all of our official visits. We didn't go out all the days that you can go out in the spring time. There's a lot of ways to do it but that would not be one of the ways that I think would be very smart for an athletic department.
Before you came to North Carolina, what was your perception of the high school talent in the state? And has it changed?
You know what? I really didn't know. When I was at Miami, we didn't recruit (North Carolina) very much at that time. I had a great appreciation for the success that Mack Brown had when the program was really going good. At the time, a real significant amount of that team was Carolina kids and Virginia kids. They had done just a phenomenal job in the Virginia Beach and Hampton area. It's an area that we need to do a better job. It's a 2.5 hour drive. We're probably as close as any of the schools that those kids can go to. The population explosion in Carolina, South Carolina and certainly in North Georgia/Atlanta area makes it extremely important for us to do well in those areas. The high school talent, it's impressive from the standpoint that there's more in Carolina than … when I coached at Oklahoma State and I used to recruit the state of Arkansas, the state of Arkansas on any given year might have seven kids in the entire state. Now they have a few more than that now but North Carolina, they'll be between 25 and 40 every single year. You just have to make sure you get the right ones.
It seems like defensive ends in this state … there's been such a run on them here. Starting back with Julius Peppers and then Mario Williams. Does it surprise you that that kind of athlete is in this state?
I can't tell you if that is cyclical. Is it like that every single year? Maybe it is, maybe there will be a run of three or four years of kids like that. So far there seems to have been a pretty significant number of guys.
There's been some discussion of an early signing period …
In our spring meetings two years ago, we voted unanimously as a conference to support legislation to have a December signing day - hich was a good compromise. I think everybody at that time, in our room, was very much against a May signing day or a June signing day. There was no sense to it because head coaches didn't have the opportunities to go off campus in the spring to make home visits. How would those kids get to know you? So, that made no sense whatsoever. I'm fine with the February signing day, but I think from a financial standpoint, I think it would be financially prudent on schools if you did have a December signing day. Most schools have anywhere from 10, 12, 14 kids committed by that time. If you could sign those kids it would lessen the plane flights to go and … because you're kind of just babysitting some of those kids. But, I think it's losing momentum, there's more conferences that are against it than there are for it. And I understand. Some of the schools are in locations … if I was the head coach in Wyoming or in Kansas and there is only seven schools in your state and you need that six, seven or eight extra weeks to go to Dallas, go to Houston, go to Chicago, go to St. Louis, you might not be in favor of it. So, there's a lot of people who are worried about whose ox is getting gored. So I expect it's probably going to stay (as is). Bobby Bowden said ‘If it isn't broke then don't fix it - Feb. 3 has been working pretty good for a long time so let's leave it alone.' … The proposal that we made was that, I think it's like the third Wednesday, which gives you three official visit weekends in December. Like the third Wednesday in December is already the national signing day for Junior Colleges. So it made sense that since there was already kind of a built-in dead period, let's just piggyback on that and make it the same. Junior colleges are early commitments, that way half of your kids are already done. Between that date and when you can go back on the road, you've got the holidays – there's about a month that you can't do anything anyway. Then you've got about three more weeks in January. It doesn't sound to me as though it's anywhere getting close to being something that you'd get a majority of the people on board with.