Coming down the homestretch of spring practice, how do you measure the progress of the defense?"Well, there are two really significant practices left as far as I'm concerned. On Friday, we basically take the whole practice and make it a fundamental and technique practice; like a back-to-basics. And it kind of complements the fact that we have a coaching clinic going on and it gives us an opportunity to spend an extensive amount of time on fundamentals and techniques. Because what is happening in such a short timeframe, you start not to get sloppy in fundamentals and techniques. But you have to steal time to get more things in. This gives us an opportunity on Friday to go back and spend an extensive amount of time, not on just doing things (x's and o's) right but spending more time physically to get them right. Saturday we are going to have a couple hour buckle-up scrimmage where we'll actually scrimmage special teams full speed for about 20 minutes, then we'll take a break and then we will go anywhere from 60 to 80 plays full speed. Then we will come back on Monday after we've had a chance to look at that and Monday we will put in the last couple elements that we haven't been able to install yet. In this case, I call these four-minute and two-minute offense. Four-minute is where you have the lead on offense or you are down more than a score on defense and we're going to run it and you know they're going to run it. We have to try and see if we can end the game on offense and on defense you have to see if you can get the ball back. In two-minute, because we haven't run two-minute yet, because after we get those two components in, four-minute and two-minute, at least we will have on defense and offense the base in all elements of what we're going to do in. And before you know it, it is Wednesday and half the practice you are reviewing and half the practice you are getting ready for the spring game. Spring's over before you know it."
Is George West banged up and is he done for the spring?"He was in the training room. He has a little cut on his hand so he had to go ahead and get that thing bandaged up. I don't think he's done for spring."
Will the offense and defense installation be about the same coming out of spring?"Put it like this, it isn't like the last two years where we just threw everything at them. I would say there will be a progression continuing into training camp. It won't be like, ‘Okay, we've got everything, what are we going to do?' I think what we will be able to accomplish going back to the initial question is walking out of spring feeling like we have the foundation of what our identity is going to be like on offense and defense. I think that was the number one goal going in, and by the time you walk out, you say, ‘Okay, here is our core of what we are going to be on offense and defense,' and go from there. I think they're probably on fairly equal sledding."
Is the coaching clinic getting almost unmanageable because of the number of participants?"Last year there was a thousand, but you never know how many walk up on the day of the clinic. There are a lot of numbers there, but that's why I think the way we divide this up, you know you have to do it in such a way that you get a lot of work done. You know how I am about not wanting to give away information. The flip-side of it is, you are not going to give them your best stuff; you just can't do that."
What part of those two days do you enjoy?"Oh, neither one of them (laughing); there's nothing about those two days that I enjoy. I enjoy the days when there's nobody there. That's the ones that I enjoy because those are the days you can truly teach; uninhibited teach. Because there are certain things you have to make a point and pointing doesn't necessarily mean call somebody out or be condescending or demeaning. I mean there are certain times to do certain things and you just don't do it when there are a lot of people around."
When you were a high school coach, did you attend coaching clinics?"Yeah, I used to go to them all the time and they used to give you all sorts of information. Amazing that (laughing); that's just not me."
Is it closer to the vest now?"No, I think what we do at the coaching clinic is that every coach goes ahead and gives 45 minutes of real stuff. And I think we try to give them their money's worth when they're there, and I think that is very important to us. That's one thing, talking about how you coach and how to play positions, but it is a totally different thing to tell them about what you are going to do on offense or what you are going to do on defense."
In your mind, will spring game performances help in your evaluation of how guys compete?"It carries the same weight. Put it like this, it's not insignificant. Sometimes the spring game is like, let's get it over as fast as you can and let's be healthy and let's be done and move on. But I think you do want to give the guys the opportunity to compete in front of 30-40-50 thousand people. You know there will be on the low end 30 and if it's a nice day, it might be 50. So it at least gives these guys an opportunity to compete in front of a bunch of people and I think that's a good thing."
Any spot in particular that you are eager to see how guys perform in the spring game?"The way I'm going to divvy it up, and I told Brian (Hardin) today just so you know, I'm going to divvy it up on Tuesday next week. So whether I give it to you on Tuesday night or Wednesday, I will have it divvied up by then – and that will be coaching staffs and everything. I kind of have it laid out generically now, but I might put one person on this team and I'm trying to make the teams more competitively balanced so there's not one team that has a big edge over the other team, because even though it goes relatively quickly, I would like to see it fairly competitive while we are out there playing."
If one of the quarterbacks tears it up during the spring game, will that carry more weight in your evaluation?"It will be one of the 15 practices. I think we have been very fair in the evaluation of the quarterbacks by giving them all equal billing and doing it the right way. They know exactly what the plan is, similar to what I have told you guys. We just have to evaluate that as one of the 15 practices, and we're going to come back at the end of May after we get off the road from recruiting and we're going to go ahead and evaluate it and go ahead and make some decisions. With some practices to go, you can't have any preconceived notion of, ‘Hey, this is who it's going to be.' I'm not rooting for anybody. I'm rooting for the guy that gives us the best chance of winning; that's who I'm rooting for. That's the only one I'm rooting for. Other than that, I don't really care how it plays out."
What's the difference with a recruit visiting in the spring compared to visiting on a home game weekend?"Well, I think the big problem, maybe it's not a problem but the lay of the land now, recruiting has been pushed back so much that a lot of these guys are making decisions before they even get to the season. There will be half of them who will make decisions even before September rolls around. So a lot of them are just trying to gather information. Some of them are closer; some of them are just fact-finding missions. Obviously the ones who have the opportunity to visit a number of schools, it gives them a better chance to make what they feel is the best decision for them. During the season, it is a little different now because it sometimes can almost be choreographed no matter where you go because of the time restraints. There's not a lot of free time on a home football weekend; I mean there just isn't a lot of free time. The only free time is Saturday night after a game, and it's a pretty mentally and physically straining week you have already gone through."
So you and your staff can give recruits more attention at this time?"That's right, because I think one of the key things when these guys make decisions, one of the things they want to do, is have a feeling for the coaches and their future teammates. I think that is significant and I think they want to know what it feels like being around the coaches and being around the players; seeing whether they fit in or not. I think that's significant."
Is this one of the most important times in recruiting because of spring practice going on?"Every element of recruiting is different. I think there is definitely some value in them seeing you practice, but it is spring practice. I think it just gives them an opportunity to gain more information. There will be plenty of guys who will commit to places that they don't watch them practice in the spring. It's just one more bit of evidence they get. Like we are one of those teams that when we start practice, by the time we end practice we have only been on the field two hours. So we start at 4:15 and we end at 6:15. So there is a lot of stuff that goes on in a short amount of time. I coached at high school before and there were times when you practiced 3½ hours. There wasn't anybody who said, ‘Oh, your time's up; you can't practice anymore.' You have no time restraints; you can practice as long as you want. Here, we have a 20-hour week and you have to stick to the limit, and 20 hours includes a maximum of four hours a day and that's including meetings as well. It's different."
Do the recruits in the spring go through the academic process too?"Anyone who is here enough, whether it is a full day or a few days, we treat it just like an official visit with the difference being financially. We can't pay for anything. When a guy is on an unofficial visit, it is all on his dime. We can't pay for anything. Not only can we, but we do set up academic appointments just as though they were on an official visit. Yes."
Although all quarterbacks are being treated equally, did you have to insulate Clausen (Jimmy) because of all the publicity surrounding him?"The first thing as a head coach, you don't create prima donnas. I think that's very, very important. And you just set up an equal plan, very logistically laid out, and let everyone know this is what the plan is going to be. This way, everyone is treated the same. I think it is very, very important to treat everyone the same if you are going to be fair. If you don't treat everyone the same, you are going to lose the trust of your players. I think that's all the players can ask of you, that you treat them fairly."
Did you have Brady Quinn talk to the quarterbacks about the pressure and other things?"He has talked to all of them about dealing with Weis, dealing with the media, dealing with the fans - because I'm not in that role. When I first got here, I had Brady (Tom) talk to Brady (Quinn) because I can't answer that. I think Ron Powlus has been a very big benefit to these players right here because he has already lived this life we are talking about. And I'm not just talking about Jimmy; put them all in the same boat, experience-wise. Ron is the one guy who has already walked the walk. So it's a little easier for him to answer questions that even I can't answer. I can answer schematics and x's and o's, fundamentals, techniques, but there are things that he is actually better prepared to answer on those type of subjects than I am."
How optimistic are you about the kick-return game?"I think we have more contenders as kick-returners. I think both of our return games last year I felt were sub-par. That's why this year special teams have become a staff assignment instead of just one special teams coach. Because I'm making the entire staff buy into the importance of getting guys out there for field position. Because I think a lot of times that hidden yardage that you lose or gain on field position is a critical factor especially in games that are close."
Is there anybody who has separated himself from the field as a returner?"No, there are guys that have looked good out there. We have run through about eight of them and at times all of them have shown some flashes. Now we have another special teams practice coming up which is really the second full-go special teams practice, and I will probably have a lot better feel how that's playing out here in the next week and a half. We won't do kickoff returns in the spring game so, in other words, it is going to have to happen in practice for that to materialize."
Other than the kicking game, are there any disadvantages to practicing inside?"The biggest thing it negatively affects is punt and punt return. Because in kickoff and kickoff return, the ball doesn't hit the roof, so one thing you do miss out on is fielding punts. The other thing is, you don't get to play enough in windy situations. I'm not big on going out in 40 degree weather or snow or anything like that, but I think there's always some intrinsic value in practicing in windy conditions and/or rainy conditions. I would just appreciate it being 70 or 65 when we are doing it."
When you mentioned Brady talking to Brady about Weis, how do you think that went?"I'm sure it was very pleasant (laughter)."
What would they need to know about dealing with you?"To realize that when I correct somebody, I'm already onto the next play. A lot of times, players don't have short-term memory. I mean you have to let a play go. When something bad happens, you've got to let it go. And I think inexperienced quarterbacks, and it's true of almost all positions, I think inexperienced players a lot of times hold onto something negative too long and then there is a parlaying effect that gets us on a downward spiral. I think one thing they'll learn is that when a mistake is made, I will say something and we're onto the next play. Unless you are the guy I have been talking to, you don't understand; it's not like I hold a grudge. It's already gone. Let's go and move onto the next one. Once they are around you, they realize, ‘Hey, he's going to correct me but he's already moving on.' So they move on and it makes it a little easier for them."
How is John Sullivan filling the role of leader on the offensive line and did you expect him to be a leader?"He has been absolutely tremendous in that role. In fact, we had that conversation today. When he was out for an extended period, I called him over to me and I said, "Lookit, your role is different now; you are almost like the quarterback and if you lose your composure, it's just like Brady Quinn losing his composure. Because, I said, those players are looking to how you're going to handle when things are happening right there. Thank God for John Sullivan; because it is sort of the glue that kind of holds everything from the inside-out together. He has been invaluable through the spring."
You have talked about the flexibility of the guard position through the spring. Is that something you hope to continue through the fall and where does Sullivan fit into this?"For example, he is our center and he is going to be our center. So let's take a guy like Wenger (Dan) who is a natural center. Well, he's not beating Sullivan out. That's not happening. So if he's going to get on the field, he's going to have to get on the field at guard. But if he's practicing at guard and something happens to Sullivan, then the question is, is he going in at center or is Bemenderfer (Thomas) going in at center. There is an example of position flexibility where you want to get on the field and even if it's not at the spot that you're most natural at, it's what gets you on the field."
When will you separate the right guard from left guard position?"It plays itself out, there's plenty of reps out there. We're only two-deep at offensive line and there's a lot of snaps out there. There's plenty of opportunity for those guys to get set and ready to go."
How long did it take for Brady Quinn to accept mistakes and criticism and move on?"I think that's one of the elements that Brady had, is that he very quickly learned short-term memory. It's okay, it's gone. That's when you start to know you have something to work with. Because you're not going to sit there and pout over something that happened, he's already moving onto the next situation. It's way too early for me to see where that is heading here. Once you settle in on who is getting more and more reps, because right now the reps are too split to get to that point. But once you start to give heavy concentration to the guys at the top on the rep chart, that starts to play itself out a little bit better."