Spring Football Presser: The Play-by-Play

The pre-spring football press conference is one of the best of the year. Why? Given that it's the off-season, coach Jim Harbaugh is generally a bit looser and willing to discuss practically anything.

Generalities still persist, to be sure, but while coyness is the name of the game in the fall, the spring is far more blunt. Plus, given that the presser covers not one specific game or performance, but rather everything that has transpired since the last contest, and everything that has yet to happen, it acts as a catchall for questions of all shapes and sizes. Harbaugh even answers injury queries, a rarity on par with Haley's Comet. As a result, there is a wealth of information disseminated, but it can be all over the place—accordingly, the responses are grouped somewhat chronologically, but more of an emphasis is placed on topic relevance. Read on as Harbaugh talks everything from big picture to coaching philosophy to individual player roles.

Opening Statement

I'm super excited about this spring. Probably even more so than the first year I got here. Glad to be back, glad to be coaching this football team. Excited about some of the changes we've made in our coaching staff.

On the coaching staff

I'm really excited about the new guys. The professionalism they bring, the expertise they bring—it's just neat to know that our players will get that type of coaching. You look at our offense, and really, there's five guys who have the ability and the expertise to coordinate an offense: Greg Roman, Dave Shaw, Ron Turner, myself and Tim Drevno all have that ability. We have five guys working on that side of the ball, and working together when it doesn't matter who gets the credit. That kind of effort to come out of our offensive coaches—I'm really thrilled.

Now on defense, Vic Fangio is the lead voice and coordinator of the defense. You could not, in my opinion, have a better football coach in America coaching our defense. Players in Baltimore called him "Vic Fangio: Football Specialist." He's got the focus of a wolf every time you're around him.

Randy Hart is bringing incredible expertise to our defensive line and also great enthusiasm. Really excited about Derek Mason and the job he's been doing since he's been here. Lance Anderson is going to move and coach the outside linebackers, and so right there, you have three or four guys who have coordinated on that side of the ball, and have that ability.

Brian Polian will help Derek in the secondary, as well as coordinate the special teams, and Brian has been outstanding. We watched him for three years coordinate the special teams at Notre Dame, and they've gotten the better of us, let's face it. If you can't beat them, join them, so we're lucky to have Brian on board as well.

So I'm really buoyed up by that. I'm really excited about the guys we have working with us as staff members. Also, Chester McGlockton has come on board. I don't look at it as head coach and assistant coach—this is like ten executive vice presidents. That's how I look at our organization. At the end of all this, it's a matter of what the players know. These guys have the ability to transfer their knowledge of the game to our football players and that's why I'm really excited for our players and our team.

You seem to target NFL coaches. Why?

I haven't quite figured this out in my head yet, how much NFL experience we have on this coaching staff, but it's about 100 years. Basically, I worked all January on this. It took me about six weeks. I talked to hundreds of people. Interviewed multiple candidates. Talked to a lot of people in the profession about different guys, some that we hired, some that we didn't. There's a lot of good coaches out there. I interviewed high school coaches, college coaches, obviously some professional coaches. I feel good that we got the best ones that Stanford could have gotten, and not just because of who they are as coaches and what they know, but the kind of men they are, the kind of character they have. The way it fits and meshes together is critical. I put a lot of thought and time and diligence into hiring this staff while we were recruiting and had a lot going on. But it was head down for about six weeks to make sure it got done right.

I felt this was a great opportunity for Stanford football to strike while the iron was hot. We first put this whole staff together in 2007 when this team was coming off a 1-11 year. There weren't a ton of people who were trying to get here to coach. Three years later, it's a much better program, and it's an attractive place for guys to come and coach. They've seen what other coaches have been able to do in terms of head coaching jobs and coordinator jobs and it's been a good place. Being at Stanford has been very good for some of our assistants who aren't here anymore and have gone on to bigger and better things in some cases.

And the salary pool is bigger now for our coaches. So we thank our University and our Athletic Department for recognizing how important it is to have the best possible coaches working here at Stanford and coaching our youngsters.

My goal was that for every position where there was an open spot, I wanted to get a better coach than what we had last year. And that took some doing, because we had some pretty good coaches here at Stanford that left. So it felt good. It wasn't just a one operation to find and interview these guys. It was a joint effort with our coaching staff, and our staff, too, like Mike Eubanks, Matt Doyle and our Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby. It was a group effort the whole way, but I felt that it made our team stronger.

By how much did the assistants' salary pool increase? Was it a tough sell?

You got to stay with the lead pack. If you don't, you're going to fall behind. It's an investment in my opinion and our university's opinion. Our student athletes here deserve the best possible coaching they can get. You have to stay up there in front. Stanford deserves the best. The finest food, the finest equipment, the best coaches, all of those things attract student athletes to this university, just like the professors, the architecture, the campus, and everything about Stanford that is excellence. You want the best of the best, and we certainly want that for our football program.

Is it fair to call it a substantial increase?

Yes. Substantial increase in investment.

On losing Toby Gerhart and the subsequent battle to replace him

Toby is on to the NFL. He's in Indianapolis today and texted me yesterday. He's getting on with his life. We expect all our players who graduate from Stanford to be leaders in their chosen fields. We expect that from Toby, and we're forever proud of Toby Gerhart.

We can't replace him. We can't replace him and the production he had. I don't believe that one man on our roster can do that for the 2010 season, but I do believe that we can replace his production in combination, in tandem, in group. The guys who will be asked to do that will be Jeremy Stewart, Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, and we've got some freshmen coming in, as well as Usua Amanam, when he gets healthy. But it will be one tandem—two guys—who can add up to be one Toby Gerhart. That will be our plan in replacing the production Toby gave us.

Will a starter or tandem be named at running back in spring ball, or will it carry over until the summer?

Like all of our positions right now—and this is pretty good on a lot of levels—it's the way you want it to be. It's a new year, and new roles have to be earned and established. Starters, backups, contributors, role players, scout team players, special team players, etcetera. And you like to go into spring ball with a fresh slate because there's guys who go from freshman to sophomore who grow by leaps and bounds. There's guys who haven't contributed much who can reinvent themselves in a new year. There's guys who have contributed here in the past, and that's the best indication of future contribution, but they can't take that for granted—they have to continue to improve or they get worse. It's a clean slate, especially this year with new coaches. Five out of the seven positions have a clean slate, and that's exciting for a ballplayer, to learn, to grow, to learn new concepts, and have a new shot with new eyes on you. So I'm not going to put any time limit on when those positions will be solidified, but we like competition around here and this sets up really nice going forward.

Gaffney is playing baseball. Is there a chance it might set him back in competing for this job?

It might. Some guys can do it, some guys can't. Toby moved seamlessly from baseball to football and from football to baseball. We'll see with Tyler, because he's never done it before. He seems to pick baseball up very well, he's contributing over on that end. But he was outstanding in bowl practice and contributed as a true freshman. It was similar to the kind of production Toby had his freshman year. Toby is not Tyler and Tyler is not Toby, but it looks fine. We'll let it play out.

Will Gaffney take part in any spring drills?

My philosophy is that if he's contributing to the baseball team, and he's playing, and we have a practice while they have a game, and if he's contributing to baseball, then go play baseball. Now if he's just sitting there spitting seeds and saying "humahuma batter!" on the bench, then we'd rather get him over here to football practice. And on the days when he doesn't have a baseball game and we have a football practice, we'll have to coordinate the hours—they might be in two sports but they can only add up to 20 hours. So when we can have him at football practice, we'll have him at football practice, but if there's a baseball game he'll be at the baseball game, if he's contributing to the baseball team.

Are you going to any baseball games?

I'll be there watching! I like to go check it out. I have to see if he's spitting seeds on the bench or actually playing. It's more fun to watch the baseball games when one of our players is on the team, I enjoy it.

On off-season speculation about Harbaugh leaving Stanford

I told you I was going to be back! I kept telling you guys that! It's unbelievable, you look people in the eye, you tell them what you're going to do, and they look back at you like they don't believe you. (Laughter) I'm excited to be back, get started. We like to go early. We think it has good carryover from the end of last season. Especially being in a bowl game last season, and having those three weeks of practice and that extra game, I feel like our team will be even sharper in this first phase of spring ball, and even into April in our second session, all the way through April 17th.

On playing the spring game at Kezar Stadium

It's kind of the cradle of Bay Area football. Both the Raiders and Niners started there. The Shrine Bowl was played there for something like 45 years. The city championship has been played there year after year. Couldn't be a better setting for our spring game. Really excited for our players, that they'll be able to experience that. We ask, so many times, for the people in the San Francisco area to come down to Stanford and watch our team play, and this gives us an opportunity to go to them and let them know how much we think of our San Francisco alumni and how much we want them in our program. Hopefully that's something we can continue on an annual basis going forward.

I'm really looking forward to it. I've seen a lot of the footage of guys like Y.A. Tittle. It's an opportunity to educate our players on how special it is to play on that surface.

On Ron Lynn

What are Ron Lynn's new duties going to be?

Ron is the Director of Player Development. Jon Haskins was in that role last year. Jon has moved on to Pace, where he'll be the defensive coordinator.

Was the fact that Lynn is no longer the defensive coordinator a sign of dissatisfaction with him in any way?

I have great respect for Ron and his ability as a football coach. That's why he's still with us. But production wise, defensively, I wasn't satisfied with that, and felt we needed to make some changes.

On the roles of the offensive coaches

How do the different responsibilities of Greg Roman, David Shaw and yourself shake out, in terms of coaching, gameplan, and gameday

The way we do things, and who's doing it, is my responsibilities. The guys and the ways—that's what I set up. Greg Roman will be responsible for the offense. From there, it's best not to get into semantics and titles, because that's not important to our guys and our coaches. What's important is the product and what we put on the field and what our players know. It's about putting together everyone's strengths and putting our players in a position to be successful. The oldest saying in the book—"It's amazing what can get done if nobody cares about who gets the credit"—is very appropriate for football coaching. It's about the players and putting them in a position to be successful. From there, as football coaches, we want to grow, we want to learn, we want to work together in tandem, in groups, to put the best product forward. We're working in tandem and in groups to put the best possible passing game that we can have; we're working in tandem and in groups to coordinate the best possible running game that we can have. Same can be said for the read zone, third down, two-minute, the base passing game, short yardage and goal line run game and pass game—there's a lot of work to be done, there's a lot of areas to be addressed. Putting guys in areas that will use their strengths best helps us win football games. Blitz protection, blitz pickup, pass protection—there's so many areas. Our philosophy is that we'd like to do that as a group of three, or in tandem as a group of two, batting things around as an entire staff, and making sure that we're doing it the best way for our football team. That's the way we do it. It can be successful.

Are you still calling plays?

We did it last year in group. Myself, Greg Roman, David Shaw. It was kind of a triumvirate. Will we do it this year? Ron Turner has a ton of experience calling plays. Greg Roman is extremely talented. Right now if we went out there and played a game tomorrow, I'd have Greg call the plays, because I believe he's the best guy to do it. Now, as we go forward, whatever play is called, it will come from us as a coaching staff, it won't always be one guy. It could be one guy. We called a halfback pass last year against Notre Dame, and it was called by Willie Taggart, our running backs coach.

With the time limit between plays, everyone doesn't have time to chime in, right?

As I said, last year Dave and I were contributing on the passing game, and Greg was doing the running game suggestions. Sometimes a guy would come over the headset with a suggestion. We have a way of doing it that works. Will we do it that way for sure next year? Maybe not, it may be different.

With Roman's new title, does that mean that if you're incapacitated in any way, that Roman will be in charge?

That's what that means. If I can't perform my duties, if I'm not there, then Greg Roman is the head coach.

On moving players between both sides of the ball

Will you be experimenting with a lot of guys two ways, is there anyone in particular who you're looking at for a two-way role?

The obvious guy is Owen Marecic. He's going to be our starting Mike and our starting fullback. Levine Toilolo—there's an ongoing fight for him right now between Randy Hart and Greg Roman. They both want him, they both think he can start on either side of the ball. Alex Loukas can be a heck of an offensive player. We're intrigued right now to see if he can be a safety. There could be others.

How about James McGillicuddy?

Cuddy is an offensive guy. There might be times by depth that we may think of using James as a nose tackle, but right now we want to keep him on offense. He had a very explosive role for us offensively last year, and when you go back and look at the film and the success of the run game, James McGillicuddy played a huge role for this football team, and we want to expand that package that he was in last year and expand him as a regular.

With Tavita Pritchard gone, how do you see backup quarterback? Will that determine if Loukas gets a long look at safety?

Right now we're focused on what's best for the team, but also what's best for Alex Loukas, since what's best for him will eventually be what's best for the team. He's just such a good, big athlete, fast athlete, that he should be playing somewhere on the football field. That's not just for his career here at Stanford but I believe there's football after college for him. We want to take this opportunity in the spring to see what his best position is. It will be as a starter at safety if he's to remain on defense. We know what he can do offensively as a role player at quarterback as well as his ability to be a receiver. He's just a multitalented guy.

Did he play safety in high school?

Nope. Don't think John Lynch did, either. Vic is very intrigued with him right now, and we'll let that play out.

Owen Marecic is your starter?

He's going to start over there on defense. We're pretty much going to put him over there on defense the whole spring. We know what he can do as a fullback. Day one he'll be over there on defense. No one is anointed or granted starting spots, but do I think he's one of our top four linebackers? No question about it.

What linebacker spot?

One of the inside spots. Him and Shayne Skov. They're our two best inside guys.

On injuries

Who will be limited?

Usua and Corey Gatewood will be limited in the first part of spring ball.

Andrew Luck?

Far as I know, he's good to go. We've only seen him run for the last three weeks. He runs well. He tells me he's throwing the ball, but I have not seen him throw the ball since his finger has healed. We'll get a look at that, how much he can take a snap, how much we want him to take snaps. We'll see when we can actually use a ball again—that's on Monday.

What's Gatewood's problem?

Ankle. He broke his ankle.

And Usua is still the foot?

Yeah, but he's close. He's getting very close. He's close to being ready again. Jeremy Stewart just got back to full speed. He'll be back practicing. Trent Murphy had a sports hernia repaired, so he'll be limited for the first part of spring ball. Geoff Meinken, who tore his ACL late in training camp, is out for spring ball. He's in the fourth month of what is at least a six month rehab.

On eligibility

Any word on Matt Kopa?

Not officially yet. That's still ongoing.

Anyone else applying for an extra season?

Not at this point. He's the only one in a position for a sixth year.

What about Loukas? Will he be in a position for a sixth year?

Possibly. He's definitely got a fifth year. After next year, that's when you apply for a sixth year. You can't apply for it in advance. He'd be a candidate.

Time frame on Kopa? Weeks? Months?

It's just ongoing right now. Can't give you a guess on that.


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