You mentioned about a player coming to see you early in the morning wanting to know how he could take on a leadership role. Were you surprised it was Sam Young?"I was a little surprised because when you have a domineering player with your offensive line like Sully (John Sullivan) is – such a strong leader – you really don't know what you have with some of those guys because they understand like the pecking order and don't want to try and step above someone. So it was really encouraging and refreshing to see something like that."
Corwin Brown said schemes are sometimes overrated. Is this a defensive/offensive philosophy difference?"Not knowing the whole context of what that quote was taken from, I think what Corwin basically is saying is that sometimes you just have to let them line up and play and not try to out-think them all the time. Just let them line up and play. Because sometimes I think you can become more passive – both offensively and defensively – when you are spending so much time thinking what to do instead of just lining up there and trying to pound them on offense or just trying to stuff them on defense. I've always felt that schemes are significant though. Without hearing the whole thing, I think that's probably where he was going with that."
What is the status of Mike Ragone?"He was out there today and he has gone from doubtful, to not playing, to probable, and I would be surprised if he didn't play. He practiced yesterday too."
Who was the young man out on the practice field today?"David just flew in from Ontario, California, today with his family. It's one of those feel good, feel bad stories so I'd like to kind of respect the privacy of an 8-year-old kid. This was something he wanted to go do, so we made it happen."
How concerned are you if you don't get a win on Saturday that it could affect December in regards to recruiting and the entire off-season?"That's a legitimate concern. You go into the last two games of the year and you're sitting there 1-9, and you're sitting there talking about how hard you are going to work in the off-season and all the promise and all the young guys you played. But still, if they don't have a taste for something good happening, it isn't like you can't fix it or you can't start to try to repair it. But at the same time, psychologically, it is always a significant thing when you're on the up-tick instead of the can-we-do-this."
Have you discussed this with the team?"No, this week is senior week so this week is really about these guys going out. Each week, I think you have to have a main focus and I think the main focus this time was trying to get these guys – they haven't won a game at home this year, they are playing their last game at the stadium here, and we're trying to get them to walk out of here with a win."
With your personnel groups, will you try and get a little more gas out of the seniors because it is their last game in the stadium?"I think you're willing to change your flow if that ends up happening. I think it is something you have to see happen in the game because it could work the other way. They could be so geeked up; they wouldn't be doing anything right. I think you have to be cognizant of that where if you've got a hot hand, regardless of what position it would be, you try to play it."
Is this more of a Kerry Neal type week?"You'll see a lot of Kerry Neal this week."
What kind of week has Jimmy Clausen had?"He's been pretty sharp all week, to tell you the truth. The biggest concern we have as we get ready to face Duke is you could take their last half dozen games and do a scouting report and everything based on what they do which is not a high-pressure team. You kind of expect when they come up against us, we're going to get a lot of pressure. You can practice against their tendencies and what you think they're going to do, but the bottom line is you still have to wait to see what they're going to do in the game to see how much you do based off of how much they change going into the game. Not to get away from the Jimmy question; I think Jimmy has had a nice, sound, productive week."
Do you worry about losing to a 1-9 team and how it would affect the players?"This week I'm only really worrying about one thing; I'm trying to get all our focus and all our energy on just one thing. It's not whether we are playing Duke or whether we are playing Stanford next week. This week it's about these guys playing their last home game. Really, that's where all the energy and all the direction is. You have to have a focus for the week, especially when you're stumbling. You have to have a focus and that is where the focus is this week. I'll worry about the record two weeks from now. These guys haven't won a game at home this year, and it's the last game in their career. I feel for them just as much as anyone else does and that's what we're trying to get done this week."
Would you like it to be another cold day Saturday with a southern team coming in?"Well, it's supposed to be, and that's why we went out there and practiced today. It's supposed to be in the mid-40s and I think it will be pretty brisk. Hey, I'll take any edge that we can get. I'll take it."
Will you be rewarding the seniors on Friday?"I'm taking them all to the hotel. I've done it for the last three years but no one has asked before. I take everybody, all the walk-ons, every senior, goes to the hotel tomorrow night."
The fans have been great here this year. Has that been the case when you've been at other places and had a season like this?"The support has been unbelievable; almost where you question why are they here. I went to school here, and I don't know if I would have been in the stands at the end of some of these games the way things have gone. Most of the places I have been, I can promise you, the fans would have been at home by the time the game ended. It's been remarkable and it's not just the students. The student body has been beyond reproach. It's just remarkable. But it's not just the students; it's the people and the people who have been here have been very, very good to our football team. And I know, to a man, every senior you ask this week, especially the way things have gone this year, have been quite a sight to see."
Do you get a sense of this support during the game or are you too busy with what's happening on the field?"I sense it at the end of the game when we go over to the corner to sing the alma mater with our student body. I stand behind our team because I want it to be about them and I stand behind the team with my kid. As I'm singing the alma mater, I look up in the stands. I'm trying not to be disrespectful as I'm singing the words but sometimes I want to say to my kid, ‘Do you believe these people are still here?' That's the time when you really feel it. When you feel miserable and you're walking to that corner because that's what we do and there they all are. They're all still there. And that's a credit to those kids."
Many of the students that I have talked to say they feel close to this team. Are you aware of that?"I think that's a very unique thing. When I'm talking to kids, especially when I'm talking to them and the parents ask questions like this when you're on the road recruiting. I say no football player comes in here rooming with a football player. That's a little different tact, and they say, why. And I say we want our players to be a part of the community. We don't want them to be holier than thou. We don't want them to be put on a pedestal. I think when you have a school with a little over 8,000 undergrads and you're intertwined with all the dorms, some of these guys live with the same roommate they get when they're freshmen in college. When I came in here, I had kids from Fort Lauderdale, Saginaw; they were from all over different parts of the country. That's one thing that's different about Notre Dame."
So do you feel you want to win as much for the students as for the team?"The student body, absolutely, especially the seniors in that student body. When I get one thing on my mind, and that's what I'm trying to do; I'm trying to do everything we can to get those kids walk out of here. It's the same thing for those seniors that have gone through a miserable year, just like we have. I would like for them to have a Saturday night where they can actually enjoy themselves."
What have you seen from Chris Stewart since he has returned?"I think he had a crossroads in his life that weekend. Sometimes when people try and dig to find out what the story is, he needed that weekend and he is still a kid. We forget sometimes because they are in men's bodies, but they are still learning to be an adult. I think he needed that weekend away from here to reflect on what would be the best picture for him in the long run. Since he's come back, his whole attitude has done 180. It has totally been flipped. Before he was kind of going through the motions and now he is getting ready to play. There is a big difference positively."