A Card Conversation w/ Jim Harbaugh - Pt. II

We are proud to present Part II of our extended sit-down conversation with third-year Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, conducted on Friday, February 13, 2009. Read on to learn Coach's views on projected OL depth, non-conference scheduling, and the use of two-way players. Hear which Cardinal players have been "dominating" in offseason workouts and learn which guys we might expect to see emerge in 2009!

A Cardinal Conversation with Jim Harbaugh - Part II

The following is the second half of a conversation with the Stanford Football Head Coach Jim Harbaugh conducted by Jim "Emeritus" Rutter at the Arrillaga Family Sports Center on Friday, February 13, 2009. Once again, your Editor apologizes for the considerable delay in getting this interview transcribed and published, but there have been a lot of irons in the fire. 

TB: Coach, now that NLI signing day has passed and the guys are inked, we can talk about the 2009 class. Some close observers of the program have expressed concern over offensive line depth after 2009 since we landed two, but not all of our top OL targets. We like the guys we have in Kevin Danser and Khalil Wilkes. For one reason or another, we missed on the likes of Michael Philipp, Xavier Sua-Filo, Joel Gray and a couple of other big tackles that might have helped us? You have a large number of tight ends, athletic bodies...what is the thought process as you project out to 2011-2012? Do you yourself have concerns about depth and if so how to you plan to address the issue? 

JH: Well, there are about 17 or 18 offensive linemen on our team right now and there is the possibility that James McGillicuddy ends up being an offensive lineman.

TB: He's coming back for a fifth year?

JH: Yes. Well... there is certainly that possibility.

TB: Do we know yet if certain fifth-year guys, like Tom McAndrews for example, are expected to be back? Have those decisions been made yet?

JH: The final roster is going to be out July 1st. We don't know exactly what is going to happen. There is going to be some competition in spring ball. You know that on July 1st you have to be at 85 scholarships - that is the day and we will be at 85 scholarships. That's an NCAA rule. If James McGillicuddy is an offensive lineman, then we have 18 offensive linemen on this team. Allen Smith will be in his last year of eligibility, Chris Marinelli will be in his last year of eligibility. Matt Kopa as well. I believe that's it - there might be one more. Beeler has another year of eligibility after '09. There will be a lot of offensive linemen that are going to play in '09 that will have eligibility in 2010. We feel we will be very strong in '09 - beyond that we do need to develop guys that are already on this team, there's no question about that.

TB: But you're not "feeling the pressure", that we need to go out and get a transfer or turn to one of our many talented tight ends and bulk 'em up, turn one of them into an offensive lineman?

JH: No. However, there's a sense of urgency to develop some of the younger linemen and determine whether they're going to be good enough to play - and while you are doing that, you are also recruiting players to come in who are better. Simultaneously, you are trying to develop the players you have on the team and trying to make it so that there is no one you could bring in that could beat them out!

TB: So wait, so you are working on one set of guys to come in and replace your current players and on the other hand coaching those existing players up to be able to fend off any newcomers? You have to coach everybody up?  

JH: Yeah, there are two jobs going on. One, you bring in guys to beat out the guys you already have and then you are coaching the guys you have to be good enough to keep their jobs.

TB: Ultimately, you want players who love that kind of competition, right?

JH: Definitely. Now, projecting to 2010, in this next class there is going to be a real need to bring in some offensive tackles or guys that can potentially be offensive tackles. With linemen, it's that way every year, you want to bring in good quality players on a consistent basis. 

TB: To be fair, perhaps I shouldn't have characterized some of those tackles as "misses" - after all, ultimately, not all of those guys were options. Not to get into their personal details, but it's not like the staff "chose" not to bring in another offensive tackle. 

JH: There were some tackles that ended up not being viable options for Stanford, there were some guys who chose to go elsewhere. But we feel very good about Kevin Danser, we feel very good about Khalil Wilkes. They will definitely add to our depth through 2011 and 2012, they will probably be back-ups in 2010 and then compete for jobs as soon as 2011 or maybe even 2010, those two guys. 

TB: So, in any reasonable observer's opinion, you and your staff just landed a ground-breaking class, The idea of Stanford landing a #14-rated class - given that we are still digging out of seven losing seasons - to ask you and your staff to do more than you have done is almost unreasonable... Not sure we'd trade our '09 offensive skill players with any other team in the country - So what more can we ask of you, what can improve?

JH: We are continuing to build a pool. That means identifying as many people that can "rise to the standard" of Stanford University, to be admitted, that are BCS football players. As many of those guys we can get into the pool, as many of those guys as we can get to come visit Stanford, as many of those guys that we can get out and touch, whether in person or by e-mail or by sending letters - making them aware of what Stanford has to offer them. That's the job. That's the 100,000 man-hours. We are continuing to work very hard at that, work more creatively. To be smarter. We're panning for gold and they're out there. We have to identify them. Our coaches are doing a tremendous job.

TB: We used to say we couldn't find the right players, but we just landed, for example, the Northern and Southern California players of the year. They're out there!

JH: Yes, they are, and not just the obvious guys. We are really mining for gold and identifying guys that are both BCS football players and who can get into Stanford and graduate from Stanford, finding them and reaching them. That's the mission and the goal for 2010 is to get even better at that.

TB: What is your personal philosophy on non-conference scheduling? Is your natural inclination to be like Fresno State and take on all comers or do we need to try to maximize our chances of becoming bowl-eligible by scheduling Cal State - Channel Islands? Obviously there is some medium ground here, but do you want to go out and challenge the Florida Gators or do you want to pick a medium-level team? 

JH: One of our goals here is to win multiple conference championships. The Pac-10 is as good or the best conference in all of college sports. We play nine of those games every single year. We like the mentality of playing anybody, anywhere, anytime and all that. That's not necessarily practical. And if we could get it, we would have all home games.

TB: We have had a 20-year series with Notre Dame and won about one in four so that certainly hasn't worked out in our favor from a wins standpoint.

JH: We want Notre Dame. We want Notre Dame! We deal in facts. We play Notre Dame, we play San Jose State, we play Wake Forest - There are no bunnies on our schedule and we prepare for that!

TB: Let's move on to some player-specific questions. There have been indications that fourth-year redshirt senior-to-be Richard Sherman is likely to move from wide receiver to the secondary? What are the primary motivations for that move?

JH: First of all, we let players compete at the position where they want to compete, first and foremost. That was something where Richard asked if he could go to corner - so we said "sure". 

TB: We have added three four-star running back recruits and you have stated you feel Delano Howell can be an All-American at safety. Will Delano be on offense or defense in 2009 or will it be both? How will you decide?

JH: Anybody would see it - Delano Howell is a football player, he is just a "warrior" and we love him. And I use that term "warrior" fully understanding what that term is! With no disrespect for anybody who is in the military. That is used out of respect, that term. He's "got it" - that covers a lot of ground. (Laughing) I will stop there so you can fit it into your article, rather than to go into all of his qualities!

TB: So with Howell, and guys like Owen Marecic, you are starting to get some players you're feeling pretty good about?

JH: Yeah, love 'em. In Delano's case, we think that safety could be his best position on the football field. He is the kind of guy, when we asked him if he thought he could play safety, he said this: "I know I can do anything I put my mind to." When we get enough guys thinking that way, that they can do anything that they put their mind to - and what they put their mind to is winning a national championship here, then we're going to do that. Another pretty exciting thing about our football team, we are going to put good players on defense, we are going to put our best players on defense! With the exception of a few guys - Toby Gerhart being one. We have the intention of putting them on defense, but then the really good ones, the guys who can handle it, we'll bring them back and they'll play both ways. Like Delano - we foresee he'ill be one of those guys who plays defense, but comes over to the offensive side as well. And we are going to give several defensive players the opportunity in the spring to show that they can play on both sides of the ball. We'll look at guys in the secondary at wide receiver: Yancy, Mueller - Wiser has played some offense. 

TB: What about (Corey) Gatewood at receiver or running back, coming off an injury-plagued campaign?

JH: Right now, we are going to let him concentrate on trying to win one of the two corner positions. There is one other guy..... "MT3" (Michael Thomas)! "MT3" is going to stay on defense, but we'd like to look at him as a slot receiver and as a running back. Chike Amajoyi as a running guy, we may see what he can do. "The Tuna" - (Alex) Debniak! Quinn Evans played some running back in high school. Lorig, McAndrew...Keiser.

TB: Wow, you are that open-minded about where guys can end up?

JH: Yes, we specifically targeted defensive players that could contribute on the offensive side of the ball. We had some success last season - Delano Howell last year was a running back, but he was also a wide receiver. (Coby) Fleener was a tight end, but he was also a wide receiver. And we are looking at some offensive guys on the defense side of the ball. Fleener as a defensive end,  Owen as a middle linebacker. "Patch" (Jeremy) Stewart as an outside linebacker. Mainly those guys. We're going to look at McGillicuddy as a guard, we are going to look at Padraig Scott as a guard. They won't have the whole volume of the offense to learn. It's going to start as 15 plays. Defensive guys will learn 15 offensive plays and be part of a package. It could be the "three Ds", the three wide receivers who are defensive backs. We have Yancy, Mueller, Wiser. There were more offensive players recruited in this latest class than defensive players so it will be the case next spring that some of those players will be looked at on defense as well, creating a two-way player. 

TB: Last spring, after the offseason strength and conditioning cycle, we heard a lot about guys who had bulked up, the coaches were pretty excited about certain guys. What about young men like Jonathan "Moose" Martin and Chase Thomas, who are unquestionably terrific talents, but obviously need to get bigger and stronger? Has that been happening in the off-season? Will we see some guys arising from the natural progression of player development?

JH: Definitely. That is a huge area of emphasis in the football program. After a guy goes through his first fall term of his freshman year, from January 1 to September 1, that is when he is in the window to make the biggest strides in his football career - so it's a huge emphasis for us.

TB: Are there any guys who have been "workout warriors" or who have been making enough progress that you've had to take notice?

JH: Yes, you mentioned a few of them. Chase Thomas is doing a good job. Martin is puttin' on some weight. Kopa has added 10-15 pounds already. Numerous guys - (Sam) Schwartzstein, (David) DeCastro - DeCastro is doing a heckuva job.

TB: Is DeCastro now looking ready to be a Pac-10 o-lineman?

JH: Yes. He is getting there. Delano Howell is another example of a guy who was literally dominating in the workouts.

TB: Chike Amajoyi added a lot of weight after his freshman season, but didn't necessarily have as effective a sophomore campaign...and speaking of that can you also talk about last year's use of Clint Snyder, who was clearly a rising star in people's minds as a sophomore and then last year, whether it was the new defensive scheme or not, didn't seem to  be in a position to make as many plays and probably wasn't as satisfied with his season. Is there a plan for using Snyder differently this year?

JH: Clinton did a very good job, but clearly, we need to develop a true "Mike" (middle) backer - and not "by committee", it's not Chike or Clinton. We've got to develop that with guys who are in the program who will have a chance to become that (e.g. Marecic) and there are some players coming into the program that will have a chance to do that (e.g. Shayne Skov, Geoff Meinken), but that is an important thing for our defense, getting guys to play at their very best position, putting them in a position to be successful - that's going to be critical. We'll be finding out in spring ball who that guy is, the guy who can make our defense really good up the middle. 

TB: You openly expressed your confusion and disappointment with regard to the underwhelming home crowds we saw during the season, asking what it was going to take to get people to come out and support this team in its spectacular new stadium? You have produced exciting football with great kids. How do you feel about the community support or lack of it? Has it been a great disappointment?

JH: Yes, disappointment for our players. When they walk out of the tunnel, you want to see a full stadium, you want to see it predominantly in Cardinal red. We understand the argument "Show us wins!", but if being there and supporting the team, supporting these guys who are playing their guts out for Stanford is going to help them win games, if there's a chance of that, then we need to be doing it for the guys that are out there, fighting for Stanford University. You can make the argument the other way - I get the whole "win first" and then the stadium may fill up, but if there is a chance that, even if we're not winning and you do come, then we'll win... Then hey, I think we owe it to these guys to do that. 

TB: You have lost some key veterans to graduation, Kimble, Maynor, Muth, Osaisai, but the team loses an outstanding player and obvious team leader in Alex Fletcher, a unique guy in terms of leadership.  Who will step up to fill those big shoes?

JH: Certainly every year there are people that graduate and there is a void that is left there from a leadership standpoint. That's why every year is new. You can't expect anything going into a new season other than that we'll work to develop those new guys. The ones you look for first are the guys who do it by example. The "vocal" element comes into play in different people's personalities. Everyone leads through their own personality- that's the most effective way. We are confident that we have guys for those roles, who have been doing it as underclassmen. Either "by example" - Owen Marecic comes to mind. Chris Marinelli is another. (WR) Doug Baldwin is working at that. All of our quarterbacks, I am confident are lead-by-example guys.  

TB: We give you a lot of credit for firing up your quarterbacks in pre-game, smacking them upside the head to get them fired up...(Laughing as together we visualize the rather enthusiastic "confidence-building" sessions Coach regularly provides his QBs in warm-ups)

JH:  Well, going through 6:00 a.m. workouts, the team technician workouts that they do in the weight room - it definitely gives them every opportunity to flip the switch and gain the respect of their teammates.  

TB: (DE) Tom Keiser is an example of a relatively unknown guy who emerged as a pleasant surprise last season Are there some guys of whom you think you can say "Hey, you are really going to be surprised when you see this guy play next fall?

JH: (OL) David DeCastro, (QB) Andrew Luck. (WR Ryan) Whalen continues to dominate his position. Jeremy Stewart would be another. Fleener, he is doing some good things. Loukas, Tavita. If there is a perception out there that Tavita's not a very good quarterback, trust me, he continues to improve all the time! Debniak has been a guy who has just been dominant in workouts so far. Kopa. Allen Smith, perhaps. is another guy who is looking very good. We're hoping Yancy, a guy who didn't contribute at all last year, that he will be healthy and ready to go this year. (DL Matt) Masifilo is dominating out there - he's another one to watch. 

TB: Who is going to back up (or replace) Marecic at fullback?

JH: Yeah, so the candidates there are Josh Catron, Andrew Fowler. Liam McNally.

TB: When will we know about running back Toby Gerhart. The MLB draft is the first week of June. Is it going to be a drawn-out thing? When will we likely know if he is coming back?

JH: Well, I think we'll know when he gets drafted. If and when he gets drafted, how high, how much money, etc. I know he loves football and I know he wants to come back. We know that.

TB:  We are running out of time so one last question... Let's say you are the General Manager of Stanford Football, on whom would you stick the "franchise label"?

JH:  Toby Gerhart. He's our best player. Of course, there's nobody on the team, coach or player, that is irreplaceable, but if you had to put it on one guy, (Laughing at how easy this question was) Toby would be that guy!

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