Walt Harris Big Game Post-Game

There was much to discuss with Walt Harris late Saturday underneath Memorial Stadium. Stanford just finished their best performance of a tough season, which called for much praise plus discussion of a few mistakes. The Cardinal head coach also shared news with reporters about his next meeting with athletic director Bob Bowlsby, as well as what is right and worthy of continuation for this program.

Opening statement

"I thought our team rose to the occasion of the Big Game.  I congratulate Jeff Tedford and the University of California.  It was a hard-fought football game and could have gone either way.  It was a credit to our players' getting themselves ready to play.  Unfortunately we didn't get the job done, but I thought we played well enough to win - to give us a chance to win the game.  After all that we've been through, I think it's a great compliment to all of the people involved."

Walt, why don't you think you got the job done?

"Well, we didn't win.  You have to win the game.  You don't play to be close.  The effort that our players gave didn't deserve to get close.  The effort deserved winning the game.  That's why I ache."

You couldn't make the big plays?  You got down there late and couldn't turn it into points...

"Yeah, we had a turnover that was huge.  We were unable to execute during that three-play series and missed the field goal, as well.  When you look back at the game, there were a lot of really good plays by our offense, defense and special teams.  Unfortunately that wasn't a really good series for us."

Was that as good a first half as this team has played all year?

"Yes.  Yes, I think that we really brought our 'A' game.  We had Darrin Nelson come talk to our football team.  One of the things he said is that we haven't played our best game yet.  His comment was, 'We have to play our best game.  Every player on the team.'  We played really well.  Unfortunately, we had trouble keeping it going.  Still, it was anybody's game in the second half."

Walt, you know that there has been speculation about your job because of the record.  Is there any reason to believe that you won't be back next year, and do you think this game had any effect?

"You know, really this isn't about me.  This is about our team.  Our guys gave tremendous effort.  I think that what the powers that be decide to do, that's up to them.  They have to evaluate what they see on the field and what we do in all areas.  But we didn't go down overnight, and we won't come back overnight.  This is the kind of effort, the kind of preparation and the kind of playing that our team needs to do each and every week.  We need to get ourselves in the mindset that it's a Big Game every week.  If we had done that, we wouldn't be in the record we have right now, for whatever reason.  I think a lot of it, honestly, is the injuries that we had.  We couldn't replace them with seniors, juniors and sophomores in most situations.  We had to replace them with freshmen or other first-year walk-on players.  That's the hole that we have to fill.  Unfortunately, that's going to take time.  But boy, what a great job by a lot of our young guys out there, too.  I think a lot of our young guys really stepped up as the season went on, got better and better and started learning more about how to play their position.  I think Richard Sherman is a good example.  Look at how much better he got, but he's just one of many.  We had quite a few of them.  I saw Ekom Udofia made quite a few nice plays today.  Clinton Snyder and right on down the line.  I think that the future is a little brighter than it was halfway through the season because of the improvement of our young guys."

Do you have any meetings planned with Bob Bowlsby?

"Yeah, I'm going to meet with him at 9 o'clock on Monday."

Walt, do you have a sense of the kids and whether you all are on the same page, as far as where the program is headed?

"I don't know.  What did you think out there today?  It looked like we were all on the same page."

T.C. Ostrander just said that it would be a mistake for you to go.  He thinks things are headed in the right direction.  Do you think things are headed in the right direction and feel that way?

"If you have been around football very long, you have to replace injured players with older players - guys that have been in the game.  This is too hard of a game.  Just look at our conference.  I believe three teams are going to have a winning record in our conference - correct?  I don't know what happened with USC and UCLA, but if UCLA got beat, then only three teams in our conference have a winning record in the conference.  What does that say?  That says, man, this conference is really good when they play each other.  When you play 31 guys who have never played before, it's for me really obvious that is a difficult task for these young kids to do.  Therefore it's difficult to win.  We just have to stay the course, hang in there and understand that losing is hard.  When you lose, someone is always looking to point the finger.  The finger is just that we have too many years of losing.  It's going to take a while to work our way out of it.  In my mind, and I don't mean to be bragging, we have someone who has done it before and who in some eyes might be starting to do it again by the way our young man played today."

Is there any regret about what has happened this season?  Anything you would have done differently?

"Sure, there are always things you wish you would have done differently.  It is what it is.  That's what we have to show for it.  What we decide to do with what we have learned will be the magic for next year."

How far away are you from turning it around?  Are you two years from turning it around?  Is it three years?

"The problem, as I said, is when the next player who replaces an injured player is a freshman or a first-year player or a redshirt freshman, then that means that your other three classes aren't competitive enough to give you the best chance to win.  You only play the best players.  How long that takes?  I don't know.  I know that we have a chance with some of the young men we have to put a competitive football team on the field.  Obviously we are going to be playing some freshmen who are coming in now, who we have recruited and hopefully will hang in there with us.  We have some other guys who we are trying to finish on, who I think will have a chance to play and to make us better athletically.  You saw a very good athletic team out there.  Cal is big and athletic in all phases.  We have to work to improve in that area.  That is why our guys played so great.  We got our guys ready and put them in position, and they played lights-out.  They really did.  They played tremendously - running the ball, passing the ball, defending the run, defending the pass.  They were just a little better football team than we are right now."

Walt, at this time last year after Big Game, you were beside yourself at how you lost the physical battles at the line of scrimmage.  Was this very different today?

"Mike, thank you for reminding me of that.  Honestly, I mean that positively.  I think that we went toe-to-toe with those guys today, which is tremendous.  I think that is a huge change in what we did.  We gave our guys a plan on both sides of the ball that gave us a chance to match up with their superior physicality that they have, and we were able to be competitive."

You have told us many times this year that you can't match up in a lot of these games.  Why could you today, though?

"That's a good question.  I probably have to watch the tape to find out.  I think our guys probably got in a little different frame of mind, and that's why I say that we have to prepare to play like this every game.  Every game is a Big Game-type atmosphere.  I think our guys enjoyed the atmosphere of the stadium here at Memorial Stadium.  And they had success.  They started off well.  When you start off well, you gain a little momentum.  It was a really great job of playing by all of our guys."

With the wind gusting like it was, how much did that figure into your decisions about the kicking game and passing?

"I think it figured in quite a bit.  It was a huge play - I know that Evan [Moore] had that ball that they ruled a catch and then ruled it wasn't a catch.  If it wasn't a catch, it was only for one reason: it was the wind.  That was unfortunate because that ball was down on the three-yardline, I think.  That would have made this game even a lot more interesting.  So the wind was a factor.  Both teams played with it.  I thought our guys played pretty well, considering it."

Looking back on this season, what is the one thing that sums up the season for you?

"I think that whenever you have to play so many new guys, it's going to be frustrating.  Unless you are really on top of what you know about the game, you are going to start to think that things aren't going really good.  You watch any good teams, and they aren't playing young guys - unless they're a guy like DeSean Jackson, who is extremely talented.  How about the job that he did today?  The wind was terrible, right, but did he shy away on any punts?  Holy mackerel, he caught 'em all.  That's his job, to catch every punt.  I don't know if I answered your question correctly, but that's how I feel."

After their missed field goal, what were you trying to do?  You ran the ball twice into the line...

"We ran the ball well early.  We had trouble pass protecting well in the second half.  They are very good up front; they have an excellent scheme.  They wouldn't have played SC so well if they didn't.  We have to not let them tee off on us, so we tried to mix it up as best we could.  They adjusted how they play defense.  We thought we could run the ball to give us a chance, and we just weren't able to do it."

Your guys bottled up Marshawn Lynch pretty well, but Justin Forsett came in and made some pretty good plays at the end.  Was that a pretty good switch for them?

"I think that he's a great runner.  And they have good guys, now.  They have really good guys.  They had the lead and they were going to run the clock, so they were probably a little more patient with the run game than maybe they possibly were earlier - I don't know.  He's a heckuva back now.  He would start at a lot of Pac-10 teams.  It was a great one-two combination.  I thought Lynch was great, too, but he can't run through...  I thought A.J. Christoff got our guys in position to make it hard on a very outstanding Heisman Trophy-type runner."

You say that on Monday morning at 9 a.m. you have a meeting with the athletic director.  Are you worried about what might come out of it for you?

"No, I'm not worried about the meeting because I can only do what I can do.  The best thing that I have learned as a coach and as a human is to worry about the things I can control, and not worry about things I can't control.  I'll stand by my record.  I'll stand by everything that I have done.  We'll go from there."

Is this job more difficult than you thought it would be when you took it?

"I think it was magnified because we lost so many starters, especially on offense.  I thought that we were going to have a chance to be really competitive on offense.  But a guy like Mark Bradford was a devastating loss for us because he really was a big play player for us.  We have been successful in making receivers very deep-threat oriented, and we thought Mark had a great training camp and was going to have a really great year.  When we lost that speed and that experience that he had, that really hurt.  Then we lost Evan, lost [Matt] Traverso and lost Nick Frank.  I think Nick Frank was a huge loss for us because Nick is one of the best fullbacks in the Pac-10 and really brought a physical presence to the game for us.  That was tough.  We tried to overcome them, but unfortunately we had to overcome them with not as competitive of guys possibly, and also young guys.  It just takes time.  You saw how Richard matured during the season.  It just takes time.  It doesn't happen overnight."

You shared a lot of time and space with Bob Bowslby this week with Big Game activities.  Has at least been asking questions to learn things from your perspective about what is going on with this program?

"I have a lot of respect for Bob Bowlsby.  He has been a winning athletic director, so to speak.  They won at Iowa.  He built a great football program there.  He knows what it takes.  I really respect him, too, because he's smart, he's hardworking and he's going to do the things that Stanford needs to do in order to give us a chance week-in and week-out against the other teams in the Pac-10, which we're not doing, which will give our players a better chance to be successful."

If he asks you at 9 a.m. on Monday, 'Walt, if you come back next year, what are your plans or what are your points of emphasis to help this football program?'...

"Mike, I can't answer that question right now.  We just got done with one of the...  We just played as hard as we have played this year and as well as we have played this year, and just lost the Big Game.  It's hard for me to move any further than what I've already answered."

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