I've got the best of the rest of the Pac-12 Coaches from Media Day in Burbank, plus some commentary afterwards. Overall I found the coaches to be far more forthcoming than during the regular season, and I was also struck by the genuine respect and friendship that emanated from every coach in the conference. Many of them spoke of the bonding that went on while they went through the Bristol Car Wash and then traveled back across the country together. The mutual admiration society seemed genuinely sincere.
Except for Todd Graham and Rich Rod. They don't like each other, and I don't think they have any interest in veiling that point.
Todd Graham, ASU
"Some of the things I'm the most proud of is we had 13 academic Pac-12 Players last year. That was second, I think, to Stanford."
And don't forget it, Coach Graham.
"Our goal and our mission is to be Pac-12 Champions and national champions."
Graham was one of the few coaches to name these goals explicitly, and for owning those expectations publicly, I give him credit. The Sun Devils are certainly going to be in the mix for the Pac-12 South, and there is no question that the Pac-12 champion qualifies for the playoff this season. They have no shortage of talent, and a returning QB in Mike Bercovici. The big question for them is the replacement of both tackles this year, and the fact that they hit the ground running with the opener in Houston against Texas A&M.
"I've been straightforward with recruits about where we're at. I've paid my house off and I've donated half a million dollars. I don't know what else I can do."
That was Graham, asked if recruits ask him how long he intends to stay. It's a good example of printing the legend, as well. I had occasion to talk to a writer at media day who explained the truth behind the "Todd Graham left Pitt via text" story. Graham didn't bid farewell via text, exactly. The Pittsburgh AD apparently forbade Graham from talking to the team once his departure was clinched. With no other recourse, Graham sent the SID at Pitt a text and asked him to pass along the message to his players since he couldn't talk to them in person. Kind of changes the story for me, anyway.
Gary Andersen, OSU
"The freshman quarterback is guaranteed to start, don't know which one, but there's three of them."
The three freshmen in question would be Seth Collins (true freshman), Luke Del Rio (actually a sophomore) and Nick Mitchell (redshirt freshman). I don't envy Andersen this year, but he did point to an experienced offensive line and the presence of running back Storm Barr-Woods as players the Beavers would count on to alleviate some of the pressure of having an inexperienced signal caller come the fall.
"...this league has what we call juice. It is fast. There are a lot of guys that make one mistake and you're going to pay the price quickly."
This is Andersen speaking on the speed of the Pac-12 vs. the Big 12, and thankfully was in no way a reference to any former USC Heisman Trophy winners. He also went further to praise the offensive and defensive line play in the Pac-12 citing the technique, physicality, and toughness pervasive throughout the conference in the trenches.
"We need to be able to take shots. The key thing to that is it's one thing to take shots and another thing to be able to complete shots."
Coach Andersen was either talking about A) The need to throw downfield even with an inexperienced starting QB. B) The drinking philosophy of every college kid ever. C) His best advice for Coach Tinkle and the Beaver Men's Basketball team. Insert your own context here.
Jim Mora, UCLA
"We went into last year's Stanford game with a legitimate chance. Maybe not a completely realistic chance, but a legitimate chance to maybe get into the playoff. I shouldn't say we laid an egg. We didn't lay an egg. Stanford beat us soundly."
Gotta say, there's not a lot of spin from Jim Mora. He talked about how he is more comfortable with lowered expectations, at least with lowered external expectations. He went on further to say that if he had it his way UCLA games wouldn't be covered or televised.
"We've had no changes to our roster."
This was Coach Mora's response to a reporter asking if Justin Combs, son of P Puff Diddy Sean Combs, was still on the team. So apparently having a dad go berserk and attack your strength coach with a kettelbell is not a terminal offense, and that's probably fair. Probably wouldn't look for the Puff to be on the sidelines come the fall, though.
"So at times as coaches we get carried away with being so creative and wanting to be the guru and do something that's so unique that sometimes we lose track of what is fundamentally sound. When you do that, you create real problems for your players."
I thought this was a really honest admission that many coaches would never make. It started as a response to a question about preparing his team for unscouted looks and the unexpected in general in games. Mora talked about having a rules structure and a base of concepts that each player can hold on to when confronting unfamiliar situations. The message, as always: keep it simple.
Chris Petersen, UW
"I thought that would be kind of ridiculous and selfish. So, you know, it's awkward for me."
This was Petersen's response to an inquiry about whether Petersen had considered trying to back out of playing Boise. Essentially saying he'd never have done that, no matter how awkward it was for him Petersen. Also, this game makes for a the classic "return" narrative, but nobody seems to interested in the fact that it has virtually no implications on league or playoff pictures. Yes, it is always good to win the non-conference games for both your team and the Pac-12, but I for one have a hard time getting all revved up for a blue turf reunion for Petersen.
"I don't know. I think it's irrelevant."
This was Petersen on his potential reception when he returns to Boise State. Although that's my answer about this game as a whole, to be honest.
"We don't hardly ever take our ball carriers to the ground."
Petersen was asked a series of questions, starting with the rule in the Pac-12 restricting contact practices to two a week. He didn't think that it hurt defenses to have such limited practice tackling, and in fact said he preferred to play teams that tackles three or four times a week because they'd inevitably be worn down in games. I'd be interested to know the attitude of the rest of the Power 5 on this subject. The quote above refers to his strategy for practices in-season. He emphasized that the Huskies would rarely tackle, and considering how good their defense was last year, it certainly didn't hinder their efficiency at all.
Mike MacIntyre, CU
"Well, our personal challenge is for our young men to trust each other in the fourth quarter. We were ahead of a lot of games at halftime."
For the record, Colorado was ahead in five of the ten games it would lose in 2014. It's possible that Coach Mac is right in surmising that the Buffaloes are not that far away, though I still don't see them making much headway in the Pac-12 south, especially with the most brutal home schedule in the conference. (Oregon, USC, Stanford, and Arizona all visit the Buffaloes this season).
"We picked up another game. We need to create some more revenue, so we get another home game, so it puts money in our budget and everything else as we're building our program. So we're going to play 13 straight."
Not a big revelation that a college would schedule a game for financial game (they're all scheduled for that purpose, after all), but I was intrigued by this quote for two major reasons. First, you rarely hear a coach be so candid about playing a game literally just for the money. Second, two straight years of 13 games with no bye week this year has got to wear on the Buffaloes at some point. On one hand, you are getting an inexperienced roster two extra games. On the other hand, the Buffaloes' depth will be tested severely as 2015 unfolds.
"He knows 13, and I would say he knows 14 languages now."
That would be Coach MacIntyre talking about Stephane Nembot, from Cameroon by way of Montclair Prep in Van Nuys, CA. Nembot is up to 343 pounds and indeed speaks over a dozen languages, so we'll consider him some type of human prototype because I don't see many guys like that being mass produced. Also, Montclair Prep was the last team my high school baseball team played my senior year. We crushed them.
Rich Rodriguez, UA
"I don't know why we bash our own pinata. We should be hitting ASU's or somebody's."
Here Rich Rod is talking about the pinatas the Pac-12 Networks had for each team to whack at Media Day. He makes a legit point, by the way. I'd have rather seen Kyle Murphy destroy a USC or Cal pinata. Also, he loves to get in digs on ASU at every opportunity.
"Refreshing? I think a nice cold beer or a Bacardi and Coke, or maybe even a nice iced tea sweetened is refreshing. What was the question again?"
This is Rich Rod being asked about having a returning quarterback, then free-styling into the Rich Rod Zone. He was hands down the best quote of the two days in Burbank, with only The Pirate coming close.
"Because, like I said, if you're in the middle of the fourth quarter and you've played a 200-something plays as a team and it's a tight game and you're tired and sore and lined up against somebody, you're not going to think well, 'Coach said in August that we're going to win the national championship, that's not going to make a difference. You're like, how do I whip this guy's ass on this play or how do I keep him from whipping mine? So I'm more of a , I guess, in-the-moment-process kind of guy. That doesn't mean other philosophies are wrong or bad, it's just ours is different."
This is Rich Rod responding to the idea of talking explicitly about winning the National Championship like ASU's Coach Graham, and Graham was named in the question. So, loosely translated, Rich Rod is once again saying something along the lines of "If Todd Graham is doing or saying one thing, you can bet the gas it takes to get to Tucson from Tempe that I'm doing it the other way." These two stand out so much because of the mutual admiration society between the rest of the coaches in the conference, and it's awesome. I envy the Wildcat and Sun Devil beat writers this season, because these two so clearly loathe one another. It's glorious.
Sonny Dykes, UCB
"At the end of the spring, I thought he was a completely different player than he was last fall."
Coach Dykes was talking about Junior QB Jared Goff, who actually echoed the exact same sentiments, saying that this past spring was the point in his career where he made the most progress and that the game slowed down the most. Goff said he was comfortable making check downs and was able to see the entire field in his progressions far more comfortably than during his past two seasons. Goff and Dykes certainly seemed convicted that the best of Goff is yet to come, which is impressive considering how good he's been so far.
"Yeah, look, we have to get better. I'm not going to try to make excuses for us, but yeah. The numbers are a little bit skewed, without a doubt. As I said earlier, our pass defense was the worst in the country. But again, people attempted I think 74 more passes against us than anybody else."
Here we have Coach Dykes essentially having an argument with himself, vacillating between not making excuses to making excuses and rather, rinse, repeat. A fascinating point/counterpoint about which we can all agree on one thing: Cal's pass defense was terrible last year. They had the worst pass defense by yardage in the conference, were ninth in passes defended, and surrendered the most touchdown passes by a healthy margin (seven) than any other team in the Pac-12. So yeah, room for improvement there. QB Jared Goff and Coach Dykes expressed optimism that the secondary and defense would be improved. Goff said the secondary was much better at attacking passes than they'd been the previous year.
"Yeah, he's going to play safety for us right now. We're going to rep him some at quarterback, and then we're going to see where he is in the depth chart after about two weeks of fall camp."
Luke Rubenzer joins UCLA's Myles Jack and ASU's Kalen Ballage as players with legit two-way opportunities this year. It's more than likely that Rubenzer ends up as primarily a defender, but what makes him unique is that he's switching over as a quarterback to the defense, much like Stanford's Dallas Lloyd.
Steve Sarkisian, USC
"We all chose to come to USC to win...We came here to win championships."
Coach Sark joins Coach Graham as one of two coaches to explicitly talk about winning a national championship. Sarkisian should be, because as most of the Pac-12 coaches readily admitted, the Trojans have the most talent in the conference and pretty much always will have the most talent.
"I wish I had us better prepared to finish those (ASU, BC, Utah) games. We just didn't get it done for a variety of reasons and that falls totally on me."
Say this for Coach Sark, he doesn't sidestep expectation or accountability. There are no shortage of Trojan fans full of doubt about his ability to lead USC back to the top of college football, but he hasn't been one to make excuses since taking over in Troy. In fact , he took the scholarship reduction card and flushed it on this very day, saying the restrictions would "never be a crutch for us. I'll never use that as an excuse. We're good enough to win." I credit him for owning up to that, and wish all USC fans would adopt that stance.
"We're not going to take the field in 13 different uniforms in 13 games this fall."
#SarkSnark. Wonder which team he had in mind?
Mark Helfrich, UO
"It's David Shaw's birthday today, so if you see David Shaw, happy birthday David Shaw."
I've long suspected that there was a tremendous amount of mutual respect and admiration between these two, and Coach Helfrich's thoughtful birthday greeting only further convicted that idea in my mind. It was that admiration that kept Oregon from scoring 60 against Stanford last year. It's an interesting dynamic that you don't often see in other conferences. Can you imagine Nick Saban wishing Les Miles a happy birthday, or knowing when Miles' birthday was? Helfrich serves as a refutation to Leo Durocher. Sometimes nice guys finish first, at least in the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl.
"Yeah, SC is SC....I mean, they always are the best recruiting class. Always are the best. We know they have good guys and they do a good job with them."
Helfrich was one of many to tout the Trojans talent level. Their meeting in Eugene in the second-to-last game of the year projects as an unbelievable game. Ted Miller walked laps around Sound Stage 12 trying to get the Trojans and Ducks to express an interest in that game, but none would bite. Nevertheless, this is the Pac-12 game of the year (to not include Stanford, of course). All that is certain is that we know what USC will wear, and we have no idea what the unis the Ducks will don.
"The unbelievably lucky part of my job is the staff that we have. The longest tenured staff in college football, and a bunch of great guys I have 100% trust in..."
I wrote about the massive disparity in coaching experience last year when breaking down Oregon's victory over Stanford last year, and Coach Helfrich was very forthcoming about the fact that coaching experience was a huge part of the Ducks's success, and the fact that not only have the Oregon coaches been around, they've been coaching at Oregon seemingly forever. To me, the adaptability of a staff that tenured to be able to run a system of football than as a whole didn't really exist when they started coaching is incredibly impressive. Yet another cliche' refuted by Oregon's program: You can teach old Ducks new tricks, apparently.
Mike Leach, WSU
"And our facilities are the best in the conference."
In a quote that earned double takes from Eugene to Los Angeles to Tucson, Coach Leach went on to celebrate the Cougars' newly completed football facilities, located right in the center of campus which features a players' lounge and all the amenities. Washington State, like the rest of the conference, has put its money where it's heart is, and that's square in the bank account of the football program. It's interesting that the coaches from the two least celebrated Pac-12 outposts (Pullman and Tucson) went out of their way to talk up their facilities and towns. Rodriguez and Leach harbor no delusions about their situations, and it was clear that they knew they had a captive audience the size of which they were not likely to enjoy the rest of the season (though Rich Rod's Wildcats are legit division contenders, and Leach's Cougars are not).
"You can hunt rattlesnakes, if you want to. You can fish for sturgeon. I tell you what, if you took her sturgeon fishing I don't think she'd ever forget it."
Dating Pearls from the Pirate. No need to elaborate.
This isn't a quote, but Coach Leach referenced it during Media Day, so I feel like everybody should remember that he is the author of a book titled "Swing Your Sword."
That is all.
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