A Conversation with Ron Lynn [Part I]

"Emeritus" sat down with the most recent addition to the Stanford Football coaching staff, Assistant Head Coach & Defensive Co-Coordinator Ron Lynn. This as a highly experienced and positive football coach who is obviously enjoying being at Stanford University, who has great regard for his fellow coaching colleagues, and who clearly can't wait to get his players on the field this fall. 

The following is the first of a three-part interview, conducted at the Arrillaga Family Sports Center on Thursday, June 19, 2008

TheBootleg.com: Coach, now that you are settled here at Stanford and you've had the chance to review some film, can you share your initial impressions of the Cardinal team, what things may have been validated, what things may have been surprising?

Ron Lynn: I don't think there any real surprises. My initial impression was reasonably accurate. I thought that the Stanford players played really, really hard. They tried their.... butts off, if you will, and never were out-competed, I don't think there was any game in which it looked as if the Stanford guys were ever lesser in their efforts than the opponents. 

TB: You are talking specifically about the defense?

RL: I am talking specifically defense because I really haven't had much chance to watch our offensive film, although I did see our offense in the spring. So that part of the thing - the enthusiasm with which they play, the integrity with which they play, I don't think that is in question and in the spring it continued along those same lines. Hopefully, when we get to the fall, we will exceed even that level that we reached a year ago.

TB: You mentioned the Spring Game, you had a chance to see the guys in action, what are some target areas of improvement that jump off the page at you?

RL: You never have enough defensive linemen. You never have enough defensive backs, particularly at the corner positions. You are always looking to try to either a) develop the guys that you have there or b) you go out on the recruiting trail and look for those guys. There isn't always a strong correlation between "speed" and "academics". And when I say that - we understand our parameters so we know that there are guys out there that have both and it's just a matter of going out there and convincing those guys that this is the best place for them as opposed to somebody we might play against. So those are the two areas and when I say defensive line - I really feel as if our defensive line will be very good this fall. That is really a good group and if we can get Ekom (Udofia) to stay healthy and be able to play a full season - that should be a big factor. The fact that we have Sione (Fua) back, that's a big factor. The fact that he was able to be back for at least six or seven practices in the spring was big!

TB: That was pretty good karma for you to have Sione return early from his mission!

RL:  It was great because we only had, to their credit, we only had three defensive tackles for most of the spring. Now Matt Masifilo got a ton of reps and so did the other two guys that jumped in there, but they were more offensive lineman-types, but both of them got better and provided us for those first nine practices with the opportunity to participate in "team" activities, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to do it. We had a very similar situation with the defensive ends- we had to move some guys in there to play, just so we could get through those first nine practices. The good thing was that at the end, we got some guys that came back, with Sione... Levirt got better, but didn't practice. Ekom got better and got in a couple of one-on-one things. They got back and it did relieve some of the work burden on those other guys - those guys were playing almost two games per day when it was all said and done because one of them always had to be on the field. The other guy - they'd rotate through on a three-man rotation - so I really have great fondness for the efforts those guys put forth because it enabled us to get going on what we needed to do.

TB: Let's talk about your system. Former defensive coordinator Scott Schafer had us running an "Attack 4-3", are we going to be in the same mix of 'under' and 'over' fronts? Should we expect more of the same?

RL: [Smiles, rightfully not wanting to give too much away] There is some tinkering with it. There are some things that we will do a little bit differently, but for the most part, the feeling was that it would be a lot easier for me to learn the system than to have the 60-some players and five or six other coaches learn an entirely new system. That doesn't mean that we haven't added a few things, that we won't change it up.  It's just like baking a cake, everybody's going to have a little bit of an ingredient that they put in that will make it a little bit different. I would still expect that our philosophy, our concepts in terms of how we play defense, that would be similar.

TB: You mentioned your "philosophy" of defense? What are your highest priorities? 

RL: I think that our philosophy is that we are on the field to get the ball back to the offense and I think that as soon as you say that, it puts some things in concrete. We aren't just out there to stop them from scoring, we are out there to be more proactive than reactive. We want to go and get the football! 

TB: ....Three & outs, takeaways?

RL:  I like "one & outs"!  Get the ball back, get the heck off the field. At the same time I do know that with this type of system, this kind of philosophy, that it's "fun" to play as a defensive player. When you can be in a system that allows you to make big plays by penetrating the line of scrimmage, that's a big deal for players. There isn't a guy alive that doesn't want to be a participant in a big play.

TB: "Read & react" isn't quite as "fun"? 

RL:  It takes a little different kind of body-type than we have, to do that all the time. I am not saying we won't do that - to say that would be wrong. But we are going to be a "at the snap of the ball, you had better be prepared for us across the line of scrimmage" type of team. Even when we are in the "read & react" mode. Even when you are "attacking" there is still an element of reading on the move - you still have to react. The idea that we are going to sit at the line of scrimmage and respond to the blocks, that's not what we are talking about. Are we still going to respond to blocks? You have to or you can't play. 'You can't be a blind dog in a meathouse just running up the field and sniffin' around for where the steak is.' The use of the eyes is a critical factor for what we are doing. But I don't think that's much different from anybody else other than the fact that the philosophy is that we... want... to go after the offense, We want to get the ball back for our offense first and foremost and the best way to do that is to put pressure on the offense. And I don't think there is a dichotomy there when you also say - we don't want to give up "big plays"!  Also, When we go get 'em, we expect that we will be helping the coverage elements if it's a pass - by reducing the time the quarterback has to throw the football, but also we are going to, by our disguises, reduce his recognition time, so that when he gets the snap from center, he's thinking "I've gotta have this ball gone in 2.5" (seconds)

TB: Which of our athletes are most likely to be able to provide that type of pressure? Will that be (Erik) Lorig or Pannel (Egboh)?

RL: It's a team thing and that's why it's why it is fun to play in a team defense like this because, as you saw a year ago, a lot of guys got sacks. And I love sacks as much as anybody, but the number of sacks may or may not be reflective of how good you are because if you are giving up big plays at the risk of getting sacks, then that's not what you are trying to do. We gave up WAY too many big plays. There are a lot of long plays that came out last year... 

TB: You should have been around in '06 and '05, Coach!

RL:  Oh, I saw enough of 'em. I was retired at the time, so I did get over a few times. Aggressiveness and balance - they don't have to be diametrically opposed. You don't have to say "we have to take chances." I don't think they are "chances" if we know what we are doing and why we are doing it and we think we have a real good opportunity for success by doing it. It isn't just "close your eyes and run this 'dog' (blitz)." You have to have a reason for calling it - when we've had analysis into what and how they protect and how formations are a factor.

TB: You talked about blitzing - does that mean we will have to rely heavily on our safeties? Does that put extra pressure on Bo (McNally) and Taylor (Skaufel) or whoever is back there?

RL:  No more pressure on the safeties than it will put on anybody else in the coverage element.

TB: But we won't be employing a lot of press or bump 'n run coverage against Pac-10 wideouts with our corners at this point, will we?

RL:  I don't know why we wouldn't - there's not a faster guy in the Pac-10 than 'Pamo' (senior Wopamo Osaisai) and he had an outstanding spring doing those kinds of things. Corey Gatewood can run.

TB: Is Corey permanently yours now (Gatewood - on defense)?

RL:  We hope so, at this stage.

TB: There are ongoing negotiations?

RL:  Yeah, we will see how it goes. In my view, it (blitzing) doesn't put any more pressure on the coverage guys than it does on the rushers. That is kind of the ultimate team proposition. OK, you guys want to go after him? Then you guys have got to get there! If it's a run down, you've got to be where you're supposed to be, when you're supposed to be there, and in a position you're supposed to be when you get there - so you can make the play that's necessary. There's no more pressure on the corners if you are playing man for man. His job is to cover that guy. There is no more pressure on him than Clinton Snyder who is rushing against a 6'8" 300-pound tackle who is allowed to hold him. The same pressure is on Clinton as there is on the corner. You've got to beat that guy!

TB: So there is nowhere to hide? 

RL:  No, I don't think so. There is a 'shared responsibility'. It isn't as if you are saying 'OK, you have this area here, you're responsible, Ekom for the gap between the center and the guard.' If that center is better than you and he's just beatin' the dog out of you, then we have to adjust to that, give those guys a chance to get their job done. If that tackle can block Clinton, then we need to find another place for Clinton to go, to match up with a guy that he can beat. That's a part of what we're doing, utilizing the system like we did against the SCs - the four picks against USC, that was spectacular. How many sacks did we have? A couple, right, but it wasn't like we had 10 sacks. That pressure, that perceived pressure, the psychological pressure than you put on the quarterback in the passing game, is critical. We need to be in a lot better control of the line of scrimmage on run downs. You have to earn your way to become a pass rusher. 

TB: That "shared responsibility", that is part of the message you are sending to your players

RL: Yes, there's got to be a trust factor, there's got to be a confidence factor that I am going to do my job and I can do it full speed with no limitations, no second-guessing because I know that Maynor, or Chike, or whoever is doing his the same way. That gap is taken care of, I'm taking care of my gap, Pannel's taking care of his gap - there's no place to go!

TB: You have said you are planning to make the defense unpredictable. Do you accomplish that more by "mixing it up" with different formations or by "disguising" your sets and coverages?

RL: Yes and Yes [smiling]. That's all a part of it. The better your guys understand what they can do, as long as you are not mentally overloading them. I have always thought that with smart guys, you could give a guy multiple assignments as long as the techniques were the same. So whether I line up half a man over against the guard or the tackle or the tight end or the center, if my stance and alignment and technique are the same, I ought to be able to accomplish that in a lot of places along the line. If we have one great pass rusher and I am not just talking about one that comes as a result of a blitz, but if we have a truly great pass rusher - if we can predict and dictate the protection and get a one-on-one for a particular guy, then he might line up any place along that front line. We once had a guy a long time ago, if we could get him a one-on-one pass rush, often the best guy to get by was the offensive center. It is hard to pass protect with one hand and out reaching, trying to grab and hold. There will be some flexibility, maybe more flexibility than what was seen a year ago. There will be, even though there was great "multiplicity"  a year ago, there will be some things we feel this team is ready to add to, since we have so many veterans.

TB: You have a nice core of veteran leadership on defense, with a considerable amount of game experience, what has been lost from last year that will be a challenge to replace?

RL: I think Nick Sanchez. He made some things happen. Now some of those younger guys are going to have to jump in there. Pamo had a starting position and then lost it and came back and played. Kris Evans had a starting position and he has to continue to compete to sustain that. There are some young guys who didn't get a shot, like Mark Mueller, who spent a lost of time injured and Sean Wiser and some of those guys that weren't able to practice much that are coming back now off of a full spring when they got a lot of time and it'll be really good to see how they come back in August. 

TB: But those guys are pretty much wild cards for you, right?

RL: Yeah, but each of them needs to be more than that! Because we have lost some of the numbers, certainly. Where they could have been a third or fourth guy a year ago, now they could be a one or a two.

TB: Austin Yancy is expected to be a fulltime safety?

RL: Yes, I don't think he'll be back on offense. He got a lot of playing time (on defense), partially out of necessity, partially because he won the position. Not having really played defense much, I am hopeful this fall that a lot of lights will go on and that certain things that were kind of struggle can become second-nature, where it issn't a thought process anymore, but more of a reaction. That still remains to be seen, but I expect him to be a lot further along than a year ago.

TB: So at the free safety position we have Skaufel and Yancy?

RL And maybe Bo McNally. The great thing about Bo, besides the way in which he plays, the way in which he prepares. He couldn't go out and play the way he plays without great preparation. He could go line up if he had to, at either safety. He could line up at nickel, he could line up at corner, at dime.

TB: Seems like we need bodies at corner, with Sanchez and Tim Sims gone and now with Chris Hobbs unavailable, we are going to really need Gatewood and Thaddeus Chase

PL: And the young guys (incoming freshmen) - some of them, hopefully one of them will emerge- we just don't know who.  The only guys who really have played are Wopamo (Osaisai) and Kris (Evans) They played, did either of them play "great"? (insinuating "not yet")

TB: OK, so the emphasis is on "getting the football" more than "stopping the run"?

RL: The stouter you are against the run, the more opportunities when the ball is in the air to make plays. When they're running the football, you have one way to get the ball back and that is to take it out of their hands. When they are throwing the football , you can intercept it, or get a sack, or cause a fumble, or you can tip a ball at the line of scrimmage and catch it. We've gotta play better against the run to put ourselves in better position to get after the quarterback. We have to put them in situations where we can dictate tempo. As long as we play with great passion and without making foolish mistakes that cost us, then we are going to have a chance!

TB: Is this Stanford defense going to be among the least-penalized teams or are you willing to give up a few flags for the passion?

RL: There are penalties and then there are penalties. There are stupid penalties where the guy hits a guy five yards beyond the sidelines. I don't think we'll get a penalty for the whole team going into the end zone to celebrate like Georgia or whoever that was. There are some penalties that are going to happen in the course of a game when a guy gives a great effort, diving to try to make a play - I am not sure how you criticize that. A guy who comes late to the sideline, when the guy is already out of bounds and then hits him? That's stupid. A guy that jumps offside on a third & one? That's not very smart. Those are the penalties that kill you because they continue drives and give the offense another opportunity to succeed. We will be talking about being smart, but inherently we have reasonably smart guys so let's take advantage of that, fellas, and not kill ourselves doing something after which you have to say in retrospect "What the hell did I do that for?"

TB: What did you learn from the Spring game? Were there any surprise issues that arose?

RL: Yes. We are always going to have issues - part of it was that some of our guys still didn't play. Levirt didn't play, Ekom, Sione probably played more than he needed to given the condition he was in at the time, but nonetheless it wasn't bad for me to see him play. I liked the opportunities that a lot of those guys got to play in the game, a guy like Mark Mueller for example, did pretty well in the game. (Sean) Wiser did okay in the game. Not okay - he did a little better than okay. I was looking to see how some of the down-the-line guys , and when I say 'down-the-line', I don't mean that in a derogatory sense, but just as they are now lined up in the depth, how they would do when given their opportunities, because now it was like two teams so you had to have twice as many guys, which we simply didn't have -  I think we ended up with five or six DBs on each team - there weren't a lot of numbers obviously.

TB: We were waiting to see QB Alex Loukas playing corner... 

RL: Yeah, he can probably do anything. So, yeah, I learned that there is a real pride amongst this group of guys. I know there is a competitive zeal about them. I know they  want to do things the right way. That was all manifested in the game. I didn't see things where I was saying "Oh no, I am not liking that!" Would you always like better players? Absolutely. Would you like to be bigger, stronger, faster? Absolutely.

TB: We'll assume you are working on all of those areas...

RL: Yes, to some extent you can alter that. To an extent you can't. We have what we have and our job is to put them in a position where they have the best chance to be successful.

Editor's Note: Part II of our interview with Assistant Head Coach & Co-Defensive Coordinator Ron Lynn will be published Wednesday or Thursday.

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