Sunday morning 'chat' with O

Coach Ed Orgeron sat down this morning with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's Michael Wallace, the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Marlon Morgan and I to discuss a myriad of topics concerning Ole Miss football. The following are the results, in semi-transcript form.

The following is a Sunday morning interview with Coach Ed Orgeron with Mike Wallace, Marlon Morgan and Chuck Rounsaville asking the questions.

Q: What are your plans right now after your first season has ended at 3-8?

Coach O: To remain positive. Today begins a new season. Recruiting is our number one priority - I have home visits today in Mississippi. At the same time, I have to evaluate the whole program. I have to evaluate from A to Z why we didn't have the success we expected and draw some conclusions on my evaluations.

Q: What are some specifics of that evaluation?

Coach O: Let me say this - we have ongoing evaluations daily as a staff, so it's not like I don't have a lot of thoughts on what has transpired. First of all, I have to evaluate myself and all the things I did right and wrong. Then I have to watch film of the offense and defense and evaluate what went right and what went wrong and why. Are the schemes the right ones? We believe they are, but I still have questions in those areas. Are the athletes doing what we want them to do, not just in games but in the offseason, in practice, in team meetings? I see lots of things that need improving and I have a pretty good idea what direction we need to go in all areas, but I'm going to sit on my decisions a little bit and make sure I'm right with more evaluation.

Q: How do you evaluate yourself right now?

Coach O: I need to get better. I felt I did pretty good as the defensive coordinator for the first time, except we need to get better on third downs. I watched the MSU film this morning at 4 a.m. and that game was not about scheme. We had players in position to make plays. I need to look at how we are practicing. I need to evaluate myself from top to bottom and be honest with myself.

Q: In the evaluation process, will you take input from your staff?

Coach O: Yes. We talk about personnel and the jobs we are doing every day. We plan for the future all the time. I think this year in the SEC has helped us understand where we are and what we need to do to correct things.

Q: What did you see in the SEC this year that you have to aspire to?

Coach O: SEC defenses are very good. The running backs are excellent and there are tall receivers that cause matchup problems. But the number one thing is the teams with experienced quarterbacks are the ones winning the majority of the games. The SEC is about what I expected, and we are really not that far away from competing and winning. LSU was really the only team that just got away from us and manhandled us. We hung with Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn. As far as the Mississippi State game, they came to play. They played better than they have played all year, we had four turnovers and we worked with a short field some. We did not step up to the challenge. It's hard to overcome that in any game, but in a rivalry game on their turf, it's harder.

Q: You are losing a lot of quality seniors. What are your concerns there?

Coach O: My main concern due to graduation is the entire defensive front and LB Kelvin Robinson. It will not be a simple task to have four new starters on the DL next year, but that is what we are faced with. We also need bigger, more physical people across the board in our front seven, as a whole. On offense, we will retool the whole thing. I have some things in mind, but I'm not ready to discuss those yet. Retooling the OL is one, but I won't discuss at this point how we are doing that. All I know is that we can't give up 300 yards rushing any time and we can't just rush for 30 yards, or whattever, in any game.

Q: How do you solve that?

Coach O: We have to target the right players in recruiting. My first thought is JUCO recruiting, but that doesn't always work. You have to be right on them - no mistakes. They can't come in here and be backups. We feel good about the ones we have targeted being capable of being starters.

Q: What about mid-semester recruiting?

Coach O: We can sign eight or nine, but I doubt we will be able to find that many who fit in the system and are capable of starting for us. I really don't know how many we will end up with, but we have some room to work.

Q: With all the attrition you've had, how many scholarship players will you have next year, roughly?

Coach O: We will find a way to get close to 85 next year. We only have 13 seniors next year, so when we sign 25 next year, that will get us closer to the number. We will get to 85 pretty quickly. We may give a couple of more walkons scholarships as well for next year.

Q: There's a lot swirling around about Noel Mazzone and other staff members. Can you comment?

Coach O: I'm not ready to address that. There are a lot of channels you have to go through to do those things officially. I will do what I feel has to be done. Beyond that, no comment.

Q: Will you stay with the USC offense?

Coach O: It is a great offense. Whether it fits our personnel, we will have to figure that out as we go. I give our offensive staff this year a lot of credit for working their tails off to make it work, but the results were that I wasn't pleased with the running game or the turnovers. If we have to tweak it, we will, but I can't see moving away from it completely. It's cutting edge and where we want to be with our system.

Q: What about the player attrition?

Coach O: We have worked really hard to build relationships with our players. I think they are treated well here. But we demand a lot and demand what it takes to win in the SEC. If it's not for them and players want to transfer, then that's the way it is. I'm trying to raise the bar here. It won't be for everyone. The guys who have had success in our system love it. Patrick Willis loves what we are doing. Jayme Mitchell, many more. They love it.

Q: Do you expect more players to leave?

Coach O: Yes, I expect a couple of more. Some are having personal issues at home. Some didn't feel they fit here. We try our best to keep most players here.

Q: Do you expect Robert Lane to come back amidst rumors he will not?

Coach O: Yes, I expect him back. Time will tell where he will play, but I have time to talk to him about his future and I will do that as soon as possible. I also expect Ethan (Flatt) to come back, even though he is graduating.

Q: What are your thoughts about spring training?

Coach O: My first thoughts are on recruiting and trying to get some mid-semester guys in here and maybe a high school player or two that will graduate in December to get them in here in spring. Quarterback is the single most important position to get settled. We have to get the guy in there that fits what we do and can do it. Second, we have to start on solidifying both lines. Third, we have to find playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Q: Are you expecting staff changes? Has any coach come to you and said he is leaving?

Coach O: No decisions have been made. No coach has come to me and said he is not returning.

Q: When will you have your postseason evaluation with the administration?

Coach O: I will talk with AD Pete Boone in the next day or two and he will tell me when we will do the year-end evaluation on the program. I'm not sure right now. We talk every week, though.

Q: You've already hit on the subject, but what are the big concerns in recruiting?

Coach O: OL, DL, WR, LB, TE and QB. Kind of across the board recruiting, to be honest.

Q: With TB BenJarvus Green-Ellis now being eligible to play after sitting out with the transfer rule, does he solve a lot of your running game problems?

Coach O: BenJarvus is a physical back who can make things happen. A physical back gives your team confidence and a different mindset in the running game. We will be able to move the chains better and keep the defense off the field more. We also have Mico McSwain coming back. He's a playmaker. He can go all the way at any time. We can have a good one-two punch there if that is the direction we opt to go.

Q: Which young players have to step up in spring?

Coach O: DT Peria Jerry, for sure. We also need to have some DEs step up. On offense, some young OL have to mature.

Q: Any players set for offseason surgery?

Coach O: I haven't talked to (Football Trainer) Tim Mullins this morning yet, but I will. I don't know yet, but I don't think so. Patrick Willis may need an overhaul. He's been through a lot. (laughs)

Q: Freshmen Kendrick Perry, Tyson Andrus, LeRon King - what is their status?

Coach O: I have given Kendrick and Tyson time to take care of some family issues and decide their futures. Nothing has been resolved on them yet. LeRon called me recently and told me he'd like to come back.

Q: What happened with LB Dontae Reed?

Coach O: He cited personal reasons to me. I was very surprised he left.

Q: What about Willis?

Coach O: I went through the deal of undergrads and the NFL before. We need to get to the truth about what his immediate prospects are. We need to help Patrick gather information. He needs a lot of information and then we will let him decide. We want what is best for Patrick. But I have to be honest - he will be my 100% biggest recruit, so to speak. I will recruit him hard and expect him to be back, but he knows we will do what is best for him.

Q: Will FB Jason Cook and OL Reid Neely be ready for spring?

Coach O: Yes, they should be. Reid's been working really hard in the weight room and has gotten thicker. I expect him to have a good spring. Jason is almost healed from his injury.

Q: You have said that losing hurts recruiting. How does this 3-8 affect you now?

Coach O: I don't think it will have an impact this year, but you can't lose consistently without it hurting recruiting. This is, for all intents and purposes, our first recruiting class coming up. We played 11 freshmen this year, which recruits look at. The guys we are recruiting now know they will have a chance to play quickly and that excites them. They see what we are trying to build here and that excites them. They see our facilities and our fan base - that excites them. We can sell that we have everything they need here. They will graduate and play in the SEC and will win. I believe Mississippi kids want to come to Ole Miss and we are showing them what we intend to build here with them.

Q: How tough was the season for you?

Coach O: I don't look at it as tough. I look at it as a learning experience. The things we went through, we may have had to go through them. We will stay strong, stay positive and turn our mistakes into triumphs. I'm here for the long haul and will continue to give every ounce of my energy to winning football games at Ole Miss. This year was not my definition of tough.

Q: You have taken some shots in the press and elsewhere. How has that affected you?

Coach O: I'm well-trained in taking shots. (smiles) Those things have not affected my attitude or work ethic or my positive approach to this program.

Q: Where will you recruit this week?

Coach O: All Mississippi players this week. I will go to California next week. I have home visits today.

Coach O will have a press conference tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. at the IPF.

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