What is it about Jim Tressel that allows this team to have that cohesion even when struggling like what it is right now offensively and with all the controversies this year?
"Well, my impression is that he is a very patient person, and that's as a person. He is very patient, and he doesn't overreact. He keeps his composure, and that filters down through his assistant coaches, and that filters down to the team. I think that makes all the difference in the world; you know, if you lose your composure, then things become divisive. So, he doesn't do that. He stays the course and because of that whatever he attempts he is successful because he is able to just stay the course."
When you draw up a defensive gameplan, you don't factor in the offensive struggles?
"No, we don't. I don't care whether we are winning 44-20 or whether we are winning 20-0. We are still winning by 20 points. If they scored 20 points (and) we won 44-20, we would be upset about the 20 points. So, we just try and stop them. We are trying to play perfect football, and we've not played a perfect game yet. There is not one guy on our defense that would say we have played a perfect game yet. We've made mistakes, and we need to improve. So, we just keep trying to work to get better."
Isn't perfect football an unreachable goal in some respects?
"Well, that is why I am coaching. When you are a coach, that is what you are trying to do. That's just the deal I guess."
What is your favorite part of being a coach?
"I think my favorite part is probably interacting with the players in a competitive environment. It's seasonal, thank goodness, so that you do different things throughout the year and, you know, it's still a game even though there's certainly a lot more pressure here than some places. It's still a game for you, and you are able to be innovative, and you are challenged."
Were you able to add things with this being the third year for your scheme at OSU?
"No…What we are always trying to do is we try and simplify. We try and take the complex things and try and break it down and simplify or throw things out. You know, I'm sure we add things, and so we go the other angle too, but we are trying to making it more simple as we go because like I said before, you play faster if you understand it more. On the other end of things, the longer we are here, the longer our defensive coaches stay the same, and we are all together, and our players come up through the system, and then you have a guy who has played in that system for four years. Well, he is going to be much better than the guy who has played in the system for one year. Then the way that it is being taught has been consistent because we had the same individuals coaching, and it all just falls into place for us."
What kind of year is Will Smith having?
"A good year. Very good year. What ends up happening for our defensive line a lot of times is that as the pro scouts sit in there…I've had individuals make statements about a lot of our players to me, you know, but the normal person doesn't really see a defensive lineman dominating a block or getting under a guy and creating a situation which allows another person to make a tackle. They key in on, ‘hey, does this guy make a sack or does he not?' How many tackles he had. Really, that is not the story on how well a player is playing. We've had a lot of players who made a bunch of tackles that don't play very well."
Will has been doing both from the sounds of it.
"He's been productive. He plays at a high level of intensity."
What is it like for a coach when you are on the other end of the defense struggling. Obviously the offensive coaches are doing anything they can to get things going.
"Sure, it's frustrating. It's frustrating. You have a tendency to probably lose a little confidence in yourself, and you need to be able to have a person like Coach Tressel who keeps his composure and is able to stay at task. Usually when that happens you go back to look at things fundamentally…and be as fundamentally sound as you can. It can be frustrating at times. I haven't made a tackle yet!"
Looking back at 2001, what is happening the last year and a half that you did not have back then?
In 2001, we lost five games, and I think excluding the Illinois game, which you guys remember how close that one was, excluding that game we could have won the game on the last play of the game. That is the difference. Going into last year, we probably could have lost six on the last play of the game. So, what we try to say is that the difference between winning and losing is like that; it's a game of inches. What you have to be able to do is keep your composure near the end of the game and make a play. It is a very, very small – it's inches difference. What we've tried to do is focus on that, focus on playing every play, one play at a time, playing with great effort and toughness and knowing what to do. After the games, if we haven't been successful (you should) be able to look at yourself and say, ‘Well, I did what I could do.' After the Wisconsin game, you look at yourself and say, ‘Well, what could I have done to change the outcome of that game? It was so close. What could I have done to change the outcome of that game?' You look at yourself. You look at what you can do and not what others did."
Did you have a middle blitz on with the bootleg?
"Yeah. You had to bring that up. Their deal was to run fullback wedge, and then they called a timeout. I should have…I have to look and see what I could do…I should have changed the defense. That is their history. They run about third and one about 15 times (with) the fullback. I didn't think we could stop the big guy for two yards if we came off the edge, so we came up the middle on it, and they made a good call. They changed it in the huddle and in that timeout. I should have changed it. We talked about changing it, but we just had to go with what I thought they could possibly do, and they booted it, naked."
Can you talk about the line next year. Does this team have anyone in the wings to be another Will Smith? The players all seem to indicate he is in a class of his own.
"We have some young players. We have Mike Kudla, who will be a great player for us. We have David Patterson, who is going to be a great player for us. Quinn Pitcock is a redshirt freshman, and Simon will be back for his senior year. We have Jay Richardson and Joel Penton…we have a bunch of linebackers who will be back. We have some young players who (we'll) see what they've got in the spring, but all indications are right now that they will be very good players for us."
Has there been any discussion of dropping one of the current linebackers to DE?
Jason Bond fills a variety of roles for this team. Can you talk a bit about him?
"Jason is a team player. He went over and played a little bit of offense. He plays on the special teams. He has been on the punt team since 2001. He is a tough guy, smart player. (He) went in there and (I) didn't hesitate to put him in there the other day for some snaps because I knew he would know what to do, and I knew he would play fast and physical. It is great to see him go in there and get an opportunity. So, Jason is a winner. He will be very, very successful at whatever he decides to do in his life."
What do guys like Kerr and Bond, who have walked on without the benefit of a scholarship, bring for a defense and for a coaching staff?
"Well, I think it shows that whoever you are, you are going to get an opportunity. It is not always about the guy with the most talent. It is about the guy that works the hardest and plays with the most confidence and plays with the most toughness. Hopefully that is what people will see about our players on defense; ‘you know, that guy is talented, but he plays awful hard too.' That's what we try – that is the kind of attitude we try and adopt here. To me the most pleasing thing is when somebody says, ‘Boy, your guys play hard.' Because that to me talks about an intangible and not a physical attribute. That is coaching."
Do you personally, as a coach, have a soft spot for players like that? Can you talk about that?
"Oh yeah. Most definitely. They want them to succeed. You know, they appreciate and respect that. I think everybody in whatever profession – they respect toughness and effort. So, if we can get that out of our players and give them those examples of that as they go through their lives, they should be successful as people."