Transcript: "Fall Ball Fire-Up 2009"

For those unable to attend the recent Stanford football fan event at Zott's last Saturday, we don't want you to miss out entirely on an afternoon of open conversation with Stanford's engaging head coach. Coach Harbaugh clearly appreciates the hard-core supporters of Stanford Football and wants to create more of them. It is hard not to get caught up with Harbaugh's enthusiasm for the program.

Transcript: "Fall Ball Fire-Up 2009" [8-08-09]

Coach Jim Harbaugh's Opening Statement:


Coach Harbaugh: "We're not going into this thing 'tentative'. We are coming in to make a stand in the 2009 season. To make a stand, getting ready for what…a fight! We make a stand, people are going to challenge us and we've got to be ready for a fight. Kick the door open and start swinging, that's our mentality going into this 2009 season."


"I can tell you this; our youngsters had a good off season of training – winter conditioning, spring practice and summer camp. But it was a great off season; I don't think anybody in the country had a better off season than we did. I think we did as well as we could've done this offseason. The guys are bigger and stronger. All the way through I'm happy about [the offseason] and I hope our other coaches are. I think you guys will be pleased to with the way our team looks – just the attitude and mindset that they are coming into this season with."


"I think you may have heard a couple quotes printed of what our mentality will be going into the season, what it takes to get us over the hump and make us a better football team. Really just one thought and two words. The two words are ‘resilient' and ‘relentless'. We've proven to be a resilient football team in the last two years. And what I mean by that is it's kind of like that movie you go to and you see that guy in the movie you just can't kill. You can't take him out, he won't die. He always lives, doesn't matter how many bullet holes you put in him, he always survives. That's the way our guys are going to be. You can't get them to quit, you can't demoralize them, you can't take the fight out of them…they always come back for more. But this year we want to take the next step, and that's relentless. You become the guy in the movie you can't kill, he won't quit, never goes away and eventually he kills you. That guy finds you, wherever your lair is, kills you and then moves on to the next guy."


"What it's going to take [to achieve this] is being able to play with poise under fire. We did that at times last year, againstOregon State, San Jose State and Arizona. But there were a couple of times we didn't; up at Oregon we get beat on a drive in the last minute of the game. Against UCLA, we had a chance to put that thing away, but then we let them go 85 yards and get a touchdown. When it comes to a critical third down or a critical stop at the end of the game, we've got to have the poise under fire to get that done. And that's the next step in our program."


"So how do we go about that, how do we take that team to the next step? We become better, stronger and more athletic. We've done that by coaching-up the guys we have, but also recruiting guys that we hope can make us better. We bring those guys in and let them compete to make us the best possible football team we can be. We talk a lot about sharpening the iron, one man sharpens another. That comes from God, not me (gets laughs). ‘As iron sharpens iron so does one man sharpen another' [Proverbs 27:17]. That's competition, that's offense versus defense, that's punt versus punt protection, that's our receivers versus our secondary and that's the way we are going into this training camp. We are going to let the team know [Sunday] night, that when we start on Monday I want "relentless" coming at each other from both sides of the ball."


"One thing we're going to be known for on our football team, besides the blue-collar, besides the hustle, besides the all-out relentless play, is to lift each other up...make each other better. I think we are getting there with our program from a mentality standpoint, but from an attitude standpoint that's been hard to do. Let's face it, Stanford football has picked up baggage. Just like anybody in life, you pick up baggage. You take bullet holes; you get stabbed in the back. Stanford football has got some stab wounds; we've got some bullet holes in us. You have to take all that and decrease drag. We have to get that baggage off of us and that's the kind of attitude we have to come at it with. And we think we can accomplish anything we put our mind to. We are going to become a faster, better and smarter football team and we feel we can do that with our attitude and by the way we approach things."

Q & A Segment:


Q:
What will make 2009 a successful season?


JH:
"It's not just one thing, it is a thousand little things. All those little things that seem meaningless to people, but it's all those thousands of little things that, when you add them all up it, makes a difference."


"Mainly with our football team, half the battle was getting to this point. Half the battle was to get them to training camp. The best possible football team we can to training camp. We talk to the football team a lot about What's Important Now – " WIN". The most important thing now is that we go into training camp and take advantage of every minute to make ourselves the most competitive, fast and strong football team that we can be. It's built, it's all organized, it's ready to go and we kick it off Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. Come out and see us, come out and take a look for yourself. We have stands there, right in the middle, so you guys can come out and watch practice."


"We've put the practice at Paly (High School) for our first week of training camp for some good reasons. The first reason is because our first game against Washington State is on field turf. The only field turf field we have close to us is Paly High School. The next reason is Paly is not practicing next week so we can use that field without any distractions for the first week of training camp. Another reason we are doing it is because a lot of our players are still in summer school and most of those guys class schedules are set up from about Noon to 5:00 p.m. So we'll practice in the morning so we can get the most guys at practice and not conflict with their summer class schedules. Another reason is because, as all of you know who live around this area, the mornings get kind of dewy. Our field gets kind of wet in the morning so with the field turf over at Paly we know we can get good footing, there won't be any slipping around or chances for pulled hip-flexors or hamstrings."


Q:
Who is the starting quarterback?


JH:
"You should know that by now, Andrew Luck is our starting quarterback coming out of spring practice. He had a heck of a spring. As you might have seen he threw about five touchdown passes in the spring game, but it wasn't just based on that. He had 14 other practices that were very, very similar to that one. He is consistently good. He's very mature for a freshman, both mentality and physically. He's about 6-4 and a half, 235 pounds, and can bench press about 300 pounds. We've got really high hopes for him".


"The other quarterback, Tavita Pritchard, we consider him to be a guy who will battle for the position. People don't just give up their job easily so we expect competition in training camp. Tavita's had 19 games he has started for us and won some very good games. Tavita has really improved so much as a quarterback since he's been here and I'm really proud of him. I hear a lot of talk that Tavita isn't want people ultimately want, but he prevents so many bad plays from happening. There were so many times last year when he avoided a sack or fumble. He's really athletic and heck of a good player."


"We have a lot of confidence in both of our quarterbacks. Down the line we have Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo who are true freshman coming in and they have to step up. We are going to give them a lot of reps from Day 1 [of training camp], almost as many as the second-teamers get. Right now, it's Andrew's job, he's got to come into camp and confirm that. He will be our projected starter going into Week 1 against Washington State."


"The good thing about Andrew is that he learns from his mistakes very well. You don't have to coach him on something three, four, five, six, seven times. Usually he will make a mistake, correct it and he'll get it right away. Sometimes you have to go back and reinforce it, but he learns very fast. I really think he's got a chance to be the next great Stanford quarterback in a long line of really great quarterbacks."


Q:
You experimented a lot with guys going both ways during spring ball; do you have a sense of who will actually be doing that in the fall?


JH:
"We had a lot of guys in the spring that were going both ways. Whoever we could think of: Gatewood and Sherman at wide receiver. We tried the linebackers, Chike Amajoyi, Debniak and Quinn Evans at running back. McGillicuddy as an offensive lineman and defensive lineman. Lorig as a defensive end and tight end, McAndrew the same thing. Marecic as a fullback and linebacker. Loukas, who was playing a little bit of defensive end. Fleener was playing defensive end as a pass rush specialist."


"Anyway, all that was evaluated and whittled down to Owen Marecic will go both ways as a fullback and a linebacker. We'll start the depth chart with Macaluso as the second "Mike" linebacker when we start fall ball. Sherman goes in as the starting corner, and he'll be a wide receiver as well. He knows that wide receiver position very well. Lorig will still be a defensive end and we'll look at him in our goal line and short yardage packages. We do have more tight ends than we did a year ago, but it's still what he gives us as a run-blocker in short yardage and goal line that we're most excited about. McGillicuddy is a guard on offense, but we also need him on defense as a tackle for depth. We feel good there but we'd rather train-up McGillicuddy as a D-tackle in case guys go down. The other guy is Alex Debniak. We feel good at running backs, but it's the same kind of principal. We know Debniak can run our running game. In 2007, we had six or ultimately seven running backs get hurt over the course of the season so now we have a chance to have the sixth or seventh guy trained-up in Alex."


"So there's really about six or seven guys that we'll look at both ways in games. It's not like these guys are going to be playing every down on both sides of the ball. They are specialized. Owen Marecic plays "x" amount of snaps of offense which comes out to about 30 percent of our offensive snaps, and let's give him "x" amount on defense as well. So it's that kind of mentality."


Q:
There's seem to be a lot of depth at many positions this year, how will that affect players getting reps in practice?


JH:
"Would you believe me if I told you that last year in most of the games that we played we only had three wide receivers, would you believe that? We had serious problem, we had no wide receivers. We go into this camp with 11 wide receivers. And Sherman makes 12. Not saying that he is No. 12 on the depth chart, but we have 12 guys that can play wide receiver and compete for those positions."


"We should be more effective throwing the ball this year with more receivers to throw to. We look at our secondary now: left corner has five guys, right corner has five guys, free safety and strong safety have five guys competing for that job also. We have 20 DBs competing for four or five starting spots. So it's a whole different ballgame when it comes to depth this season."


"Depth of the running backs, we had two in the spring and now have five new guys coming into the fall training camp – five new guys that we are really excited about. And if you don't know who they are their names are Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor, Usua Amanam, Michael Spanos and Andrew Stutz. And of course you have the ability to bring Debniak over."


Q:
When recruiting players, what do you look for in a running back?


JH:
What we look for in a running back are three things. The ideal guy is the guy that can do all three things, and that's Toby [Gerhart] (gets laughs). Seriously, you want your running back to be the type of back that can run the ball 15, 20, 25, 30 times a game – durability. You also want a back that can run your running plays. He can insert between the tackles, he can run those downhill plays, plus he's the back that you can get on the perimeter – tossing the ball, screening the ball, get him out on the perimeter. He can run all the assortment of the running plays, he's not a specialized back that can only run outside plays or only catch a screen pass. The other thing you want your running back to do is be able to block, and Toby is that. He can block like a fullback, catch the ball like our wideouts do, and he can run all of our running plays.


With other guys, you try to figure out what he can do best. If a guy is specialized in one area, then we will try to take advantage of those skills. If they can show they do it better than Toby then that's how those guys can get on the field. That's kind of the philosophy we take. I think Amanam and Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney really have the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. We first looked at Stepfan Taylor in our summer camp and I was throwing him passes, and coming out of the backfield he reminded me of a pro back. The way he ran his routes and just how smooth and soft he was by being able to keep his speed without losing momentum.


Q:
How are you going to prepare for the early start to the Wake Forest game?


JH:
We will fly out there on a Thursday to get ourselves acclimated to the East Coast time frame. The other thing we will do leading up to the Wake Forest game is practice at kickoff, which is 9:00 a.m. our time. We'll get them up early, get them acclimated to getting their bodies ready to play early that week. And then the first week of practice this training camp will be in the morning. So those two chunks of practice will help us prepare for the Wake Forest game.


There will be some practices in the afternoon as well to make sure we are ready for the heat and humidity. It gets a little cool here in the morning and evening so we fight that, we fight not having the sun beating down on us because the sun shapes the body and shapes the mind. So we will need to get out there in that 3:00 p.m. range so we can make sure our guys are being shaped properly. So morning practices all week leading up to the Wake Forest game should be ideal. We did that last year when we played Oregon State, all of our practices leading up to that game were in the evening.


Q:
How has Coach Dalman's departure affected the offensive line?


JH:
Coach Dalman is a heck of a good coach and even better friend. He did a great job at Stanford for two years. We absolutely thought he was going to be tough to replace going into it. And then we came upon Greg Roman and got really lucky.


[Roman] has coached for 13 years in the NFL for Carolina, the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens, and he is 'aces'. Trust me, he is a heck of a coach and he had offers from us and the Denver Broncos when we wanted to hire him. He came out here, liked it and said he was coming to Stanford.


We put him on a plane back to New Jersey, and then the next day I get a call from my brother John. He said, "Hey Jim just a heads up, I know you are trying to hire Greg Roman but I just talked to Bill Belichick (new England Patriots head coach) and they're going to try and hire Greg." So I knew we had a problem (more laughs).


It came to the end and he said he wanted to be at Stanford, that's where his wife and kids wanted to be and boom, he came to Stanford. So we dodged a huge bullet from a Magnum .44. (laughs) We got really lucky, but we got a coach who is dynamite. He is coordinating our run game and he's also coaching the tight ends and tackles. Tim Drevno has moved from the tight ends to the guards and centers. So we are taking a unit of 16 that used to be coached by one guy, and now we have 22 guys and coaching them with two guys. We are kind of taking the Stanford model, smaller class sizes and more professors (laughs). But it's worked well and our players are excited about it. They are getting more individual attention on technique, and Greg has also brought some fresh ideas to our running game which we are really confident about.


Talking about the players, we have six really good offensive linemen. In no particular order we have Marinelli, Kopa, Jonathan Martin at the tackles, inside DeCastro, Beeler and Phillips. So you can pretty much expect five of those six to be starting. So you have six that you know will be there, but we need eight to nine 'tough guys'. If you have eight to nine tough guys we can get through a season. So the next guys are McGillicuddy and Bert McBride – proven guys. So that's it in a nutshell and we go into training camp putting the best five on that offensive line. I think Beeler is the center, DeCastro is the right guard, Phillips most likely will be the left guard, Kopa is going to be one of the tackles and Marinelli is going to be somewhere. But then Martin's fighting for a job too so you can't say anything for sure other than let it play out.


Note: There were some additional questions, but we are providing a few highlights. This should give those who couldn't attend the event a good feel for what they missed and encourage them clear their calendars the next time Coach Harbaugh agrees to do a sensational sit-down session.


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