Have you always been a hockey fan?"Actually my favorite spectator sport when I was a kid, I don't look much like a hockey player as you can tell, I used to love watching hockey; absolutely loved it. I was a big Ranger fan. I used to go to the garden all the time. I loved it. When I was in college here, our hockey team had a bunch of friends who played hockey then, I think it was like the WCHA or CCHA, I forget what league it was, but Michigan Tech and a bunch of other schools were in it. I used to go to hockey games all the time, but I haven't gotten to too many this year. I have gotten there, but not too often. But I figured this is too big of a one to miss."
Are you pleased with the defensive line at this point?"I think the guys that are out there have gotten better, but there isn't one guy that I could say I have a better feel for than when spring started. There are guys who have made some exponential gains and some guys who have made modest gains. I think things are moving in the right direction."
Is this kind of D-Day for the baseball guys? I noticed Golden Tate was at practice today."We could have had Eric Maust if we had wanted him, but I think he is pitching on Sunday so what we would have done, we would have practiced him today and tomorrow and then shipped him out to pitch on Sunday. What Coach Schrage and I decided to do, we let Eric go and just stay there. Now next week what we are going to do, he is going to come to practice Friday and Saturday, then he's going to fly out after the spring game to pitch on Sunday. Evan's (Sharpley) hitting the ball too well, and I was given the option from Dave to do what I want. I just think he's too integral a part of the baseball team, the way he's hitting. Even if they are pitching a lefty in that platoon system they have going, all of a sudden the righty is in and they're looking for him and he's not there. I don't want to hurt the baseball team. So I think we will have Evan on Monday and that's the last day we will have him for the spring. Golden wasn't going on the trip so that's why he's here."
How will it work with the quarterbacks next Saturday? Will Jimmy Clausen do a lot of throwing?"People are trying to read a lot into the offense versus the defense. I mean Jimmy's the quarterback. I have Jimmy and the two walk-on kids. We will use Jimmy as much as we can, not to wear him out, and we will give those other kids some shots in there. But obviously the drop off in performance from Jimmy to the next guy is different than if Evan was here - if it was Jimmy on one team and Evan on the other team. I tried about a million different theories and I couldn't come up with any one that made any sense to make the game competitive."
With Golden not going with the baseball team, how important are these practices for him?"We're force-feeding him up the ladder right here more than he's earned at this point to try to get him into the mix quicker. He's been out a good portion of these 10 practices so let's get him in there. Today was a pretty light practice, but we're going really hard tomorrow. Today was a day where he got a lot of opportunities ‘cause I pulled off on (David) Grimes which gave him the opportunity to get out there a lot more."
What has Chris Stewart done to get where he is this spring?"Well, I think it's a combination of a number of things. First of all going back to last year when he temporarily went home and reflected on whether he should stay or go, ever since he came back, he has made gradual improvement; not just on the field but the whole mentality that goes with the game. All the arrows on Chris are pointing up. I'm very pleased to where we are going with Chris, and he's probably pretty happy in his own right because he has sort of settled in there and not bouncing around in multiple positions. He has settled in at a position and it looks like you're going to have a hard time getting him out of there."
Coach Haywood said this is going to be the first time in 19 years that he is going to be in the press box. What is your feel for being in the press box compared to being on the field?"For an offensive coordinator, the worse place in the world to call the game is on the field."
You called the plays from the field?"I'm the head coach. I only came down on the field because (Drew) Bledsoe got hurt. Until Bledsoe got hurt, I was never on the field. Every game I ever called, until Bledsoe got hurt, was upstairs. When Bledsoe got hurt, we had a lack of leadership when we put Tommy (Brady) in there. So I came down more to kind of fill that void that we kind of lost when Drew went. Then we won the Super Bowl so we decided not to screw it up. It's almost like bad karma (laughing). Realistically as an offensive coordinator, you can see the game so much better upstairs. I gave him the choice which place to go. As an offensive coordinator if you didn't have checks and balances on the field to make sure he could get everything passed onto the offense, then he would stay down on the field. Just think about it, you could lay all your charts out; you have the down and distance tendencies; it isn't just sitting there with a call sheet. You can see what they do in different areas. As the game goes on, you can be charting what they are doing and you can actually see it in front of you instead of having to memorize it and visualize it in your head. I would say that almost any other offensive coordinator that you would talk to, other than being able to be sighted on the side lines, would like to pull themselves away from that and actually be able to see the field."
How will the transfer of information to the field take place?"He'll call the plays and Ron (Powlus) will signal the plays, so that's how that will go. He'll be hooked up with everybody. But he'll be the one talking because normally what happens, the guy upstairs says, ‘Okay, it's first and 10 on the minus 26 on the left hash mark.' Then after you hear that information, you give the personnel, you give the play that goes after that. He'll already know the down and distance because he's upstairs. He's already got a jumpstart because he can see where the ball is before the guys on the sideline can. So he'll say personnel and the number of the play because we signal by wristband. So that I am not completely dumb, after he gives the number of the play, he'll say, ‘Okay, coach, we are running this.' So I don't have to look down and say, ‘What is No. 32 flipped.' I'll just sit there and he'll tell me what that is."
When you were in New England did you have somebody upstairs to give you all this information?"Absolutely, they would say, ‘Okay, it's first and 10 on a minus 34 right middle.' And I would say, ‘Okay, give me Detroit people.' Then they would send the personnel out there. The only difference in the NFL, you have to coach the quarterbacks. So now you would actually press the button and say, ‘Okay Tommy, one up slot, crack 35, second sound.' And you would actually just go ahead and say it to him instead of having a mechanism where you signal with wristbands. The only wristbands you needed in the NFL, was when the coach-to-quarterback went down, at which certain stadiums it always conveniently did."
(Question was unclear but pertained to the defense in the NFL having a headset in a helmet.)"The defensive one, I think they have mixed emotions."
How do you feel about this?"Here's the biggest problem, what if the guy with the headset is off the field and somebody else is on for him? Do they get multiple headsets? Do they run off the field and flip them the microphone as they go by? See, every quarterback has the coach-to-quarterback in their helmet. So if one quarterback gets knocked out and the next one goes in, he's already got it in his helmet. So what if that guy's not on the field for every play? I don't know the answer for that. I think that would be the obvious most notable issue that you would be dealing with there."
How difficult is it for Kyle McCarthy to replace a high-profile player?"As in Zibby, you are talking about? I think the number one thing as far as the team goes is how you perform. I don't think they're worrying about the aura of a player as in the production you show when you are on the field. Fortunately for us in this camp, he has shown a confidence that is beyond his playing experience. That's the best way of me saying it. Now, he has been here for four years and the confidence is as much mental as it is physical because there's a great line of communication between him and David (Bruton). It's not like Kyle has to turn around and count on David. They're communicating very well between the two of them which has made everything flow a lot better than I was anticipating."
How much difference has he shown from the beginning of last year to now?"I think the big difference is the confidence level. It's one thing when you're filling in for Zibby, but it's another thing when it's your job to lose. And he's playing like it's his job, not like he's trying to lose it."
How's the transition gone for you having let go of the offensive reins?"Actually, it has gone much better and easier than I anticipated. I expected it to be worse. I'll be perfectly honest with you; I didn't think I would be able to handle it as well as I have. It really hasn't been that bad. I have been able to do a lot more coaching and I've never been able to do this. Never in my career have I been able to do this. I've just been able to do a lot more coaching. I was never a true walk-around coordinator. I was always involved in the position. So when you're involved in the position, even when you're the coordinator and you're calling the plays, you're still responsible for a position too. Now, it's like you're a walk-around guy and it's different, but I've really enjoyed it to tell you the truth."
In special teams, will you be working with the returners?"I've got the returners. I have the punt returners and the kickoff returners. Brian (Polian) coordinates the whole deal. But I feel we need to be more productive in the return game and I have coached returners before, for several years as a matter of fact. I'm going to be involved with all the special teams but they're my responsibility."
So you'll be coaching and picking the returners?"Yes."
What are your impressions of your return people so far, especially since you haven't been outside much this spring?"We're going to go outside Wednesday, regardless of the weather - if it's rainy or windy, because the second half of practice is going to be about an hour of special teams practice. It hasn't been the best spring, as we all know, but we're going to go out there and see what it's like catching it under whatever conditions we end up getting. The one thing I can tell you is we have several more contenders than we've had in the past. Let's say with a security blanket like Zibby as a punt returner, you're really not worrying much about the second and third guy because Zibby's passion was to be out there doing it. But now, I'm back there working with four or five guys at punt return and that's even before any of the freshmen get here. So I've been very encouraged by what the punt returns and kickoff returns have looked like for that matter."
How would you assess Harrison Smith's progress this spring?"First of all, the first half of spring he has done a really nice job as safety. But we look at the safety position and we have a lot of depth so the question comes, we have had this guy who has had a good spring, is he going to get on the field for you. The answer to that is, he is going to have a tough time getting ahead of the guys that are ahead of him so this week is the week we started moving some people around to try and see if there are other places we could put them to try to get them on the field. So that's what we are trying to do with him this week."
Who else have you done that with?"There's a whole bunch of guys that we have moved around. The linebackers have moved inside and out depending upon who they were. We moved a defensive guy over to offense. For example, (Steve) Paskorz we moved over to fullback this week. I don't know if you guys noticed that or not, but he went from 50 to 30 and he wasn't playing linebacker, he was playing fullback. Today we took Barry Gallup and moved him from wide receiver to running back. Guys like that who aren't really in the two-deep right now, if they're not in the two-deep, we're trying to find is there somewhere else that they have already previously played that could get them on the field faster. So that's what we tried to do."
Will this continue in the fall or just the spring?"You won't have much time to move a lot of people around once you get into about a week of training camp. I think I have the magic cut-off day for Wednesday, August 20, as like the cut-off day for any experimentation has to be ended by then. So that gives you your five acclimation days and the two-a-day/one-a-day schedule. That gives you a full week of that. Then I have a window of days where I have something else planned. Any experimentation will be done by that time."
The hockey team has turned it around in a short period of time. Is this an inspiration for you considering last year's season?"First of all, I think they have a very, very good coach. I think he is a good coach. I think he is at the top of his profession. Not only has he been able to recruit good players, which he's done, but he's created a mindset in there where they can get through tough times and still have the mental discipline to play through it. Like this year, they started off red hot, then we kind of went into one of those lulls in the action, but here he is peaking at tournament time. You have to give a lot of credit to the coaches and players on that team. It's an obvious example for any other team here, football included, that this is what can happen in a short amount of time."
What is the rationale behind the scoring for the spring game?"Every time that there was a chance for an offensive score, I needed to have a chance for a defensive score so I didn't give an unfair advantage to one side of the ball. For example, a first down is a point, a stop is two points, and a three-and-out is three points. Because if you pick up a couple first downs, that's two points, then if you stop them, it's two to two and still an even game. Some people have asked me about this blocked kick situation. I must have had 50 questions about blocked kicks. The reason why the offense can get three points, because the defensive team is going to go on when we punt it. Field position is going to be established as the result of that punt. What would the offense gain by punting the ball deep? So they punt the ball five yards and gain great field position other than pin themselves back. So the defensive team will come out and run the punt team and the offensive team will run the punt-return team because the punt-return team wants to be the team that gains field position because that's where we will play it from. So that's why, if there is a blocked punt, it will be three points for the offense. If there is a blocked field goal or extra point, it will be three points for the defense."
How is Matt Romine doing?"It's his ankle; he's not ready to go. Just like Luke Schmidt had that concussion, but let's not compare the two because with a concussion we're always going to err on the side of safety coming back from a concussion. So I don't know when that will be cleared up. I don't know if I'll have him back Monday or the rest of the spring. We're just going to go along and see how it goes."
You had mentioned you were pretty impressed with Gary Gray. How has he grown up? He said you told him once to get his head out of his rump."I said that? (laughing) I would say that he has turned in, and this is in the building, from one of those people you didn't know if he was going to make it here, to you like being around. I think that is part of what you just described when he first got here. I think he had those far-away eyes. Every day is he ready to pack it up, (laughing) pack it up and head on back to Columbia? But that gradually changed. He started coming out of his shell and talking, cracking a joke here and there, and the next thing you know, he's like one of the fellows now."