"A Cardinal Conversation w/ Randy Hart"

We recently had an opportunity to talk a little shop with first-year defensive line coach Randy Hart. In the first of a two-part conversation, we learn Coach's impressions of Stanford, hear his observations on changes in the recruiting landscape and get his impressions of the spring game. It is time to lace 'em up, Stanford Football fans, Monday is the opening of fall camp! Get your game on!

"A Cardinal Conversation w/ Randy Hart" (Part I of II)

On Wednesday, July 7, 2010, Bootleg Co-Founder and Editor Jim "Emeritus" Rutter had a chance to catch up by phone with Stanford 's first-year defensive line coach, Randy Hart. This is the first of a two-part conversation. We wanted to spread these in-depth coaches interviews out a bit, thus the delay on getting it to our readers. We wanted to save this one for the opening of fall camp.

The Bootleg: Coach, we appreciate your making time for this conversation. You spent 20 years winning a lot of football games at Washington and a couple of pressure-packed years in South Bend. Can you talk for a minute about how you ended up at Stanford University. How did that work out?

Randy Hart: I was a poor young coach seeking employment and Coach Harbaugh was good enough to hire me (laughing).

TB: You're saying you were... "available"?

RH: I was "available" without a doubt, without a doubt!

TB: Isn't it a little surreal to start your Stanford coaching career on the very same field you were standing on just last November as a member of Fighting Irish staff?

RH: There are so many coincidences, like just having to go to South Bend and having to go Washington as part of your season, during the very first year you're at Stanford, which is obviously very motivating and very exciting.

TB: Coach Harbaugh said you were his first call when he found out you were available and you seem to be that "enthusiastic" style of coach that Jim prefers. What do you think he was looking for and why do you think you were his guy?

RH: You'd have to ask him that, but I've always been a Jim Harbaugh fan since he was a player and knowing his dad throughout the years…the Harbaugh family is fairly well-known in the parts where I'm from, known for their enthusiasm and known for their traditional football values. It was a no-brainer for me.

TB: You're one of the more experienced veterans on the staff and you've spent most of your career in the college ranks. What is it about the college game that has kept you here?

RH: The guys that you work with are so exciting. When you think back to your days at age 18-22, you're capable of doing great things and you were capable of doing "not-so-great" things. It's fun to be a part of a guy's life when he comes in thinking he's got all the answers as a young freshmen and watching him mature and realize he doesn't have the answers. You see him gain the confidence to go in and be a great person, a great player, a career man, a family man and everything else when it's all said in done. There's such tremendous growth in guys from that 18-22 range and that's always exciting, Certainly the environment of a college campus is always there too. It's been a great time for me and I've not had any desire, really, to move on.

TB: You talk about the fun of witnessing that player development. Have you maintained your enthusiasm for the recruiting process?

RH: Without a doubt, that's your lifeblood. There are a lot more good players than there are good coaches, I would guess. So I would like to go out and get some really good players. This coaching stuff becomes real easy I've found over the years when you're coaching good players, so to think that you're going to overcome a lot as a coach and not have great players and be able to develop them, you're sorely mistaken.

TB: You played on a national champion in 1968 with Ohio State and coached one at Washington in 1991. You have some perspective now and you've been around Notre Dame as well. Do you think Stanford football realistically can compete at a regular basis at that kind of championship level? I'll let you know in advance that we expect a "yes"!

RH: You're going to get a "yes" and let me tell you why. Times have changed. When you and I started, things were a lot different than what they are now. I'm talking about the last 10-15 years. The internet, the multiplicity of the television packages for every team in America. It used to be three college games on TV during a weekend. Just the exposure to every team, every coach is out there recruiting and the visual aids that you can show a young man now, the technology involved in coaching with all the games being on computers, you can analyze anyway you want. It's a different game. And consequently, the essence of coaching is still there in that you hear the old cliché, the "chemistry". Most recently we watched the NBA playoffs and if those two teams didn't epitomize how you could win… They had good people competing, working hard with high-character guys led by high-character coaches. You have the best of all worlds. Was anybody surprised those two teams wound up on top? The essence of what we're doing is still the same, but how we're getting the job done is, I think, a little bit different. There's definitely a lot more outside interference involved with young athletes.

TB: Talking about great players, those Husky defenses you were a part of during the James/Lambright era were frighteningly stout and admirably nasty. How much of the UW defensive line success at that time was a reflection of pure talent versus attitude and want-to?

RH: It was a combination of doing something new in a scheme, much like the spread offense. Football is a cycle. The spread offense…When you become somebody's summer study, they're going to start finding the answers out of how to stop some of the offense that is going on today. This year, I'm not sure, but it will be stopped. We were fortunate enough at the time at Washington that we were doing enough things different. The kids took great pride in it. But I have to tell you, the guy who said "It's not about the X's and O's, it's about the Jimmy's and the Joe's" was exactly right. It's still the kids that play the game.

TB: Right, and you certainly had advantages of having guys the caliber of Steve Emtman, maybe the best college football player I've ever seen...

RH: Sure. Here he is, he's got two choices in college football. He can go to Washington State or Washington, an in-state guy and nobody from out-of-state ever talked to him. He wasn't even one-star guy, if there were ratings like that in time. Those are the guys that you remember and that you feed on and that kind of tells you…"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". You're looking at a guy as a football player, that's the guy you want to take and as a result, I'm not sure how many of us are off chasing the wrong guys sometimes when you're looking at the star ratings and things like that. But those things have made a difference, certainly.

TB: Taking into account the current talent that we have on the Farm and the promising outlook for recruiting, how far do you think we are from getting to - who knows if we can reach a Washington-caliber defense from those days - but assuming it can be done with all the right pieces in place, how long a transition would it be? And that's not to be too tough on our current defense, but statistically we haven't been up in the upper echelon in recent years. How long would that process take?

RH: It takes consistency. We have to stay consistent. We have got to keep recruiting and certainly you have to take advantage of those you have while you have them. For these guys on our defensive line not to have a productive year when you have Bulcke, who's been around, you have a Fua, who's been around, you have a Masifilo, who's been around, you have Thomas Keiser, you have other guys who have been around, and as a result, you have to build on what you have now. The idea of looking down the road, I don't know a coach that ever looks down the road. I don't know about building, I don't know what that means. We're "in the now". We've got to do as well as we can do, compete as hard as we can, work as hard as we can and play football as well as we can "in the now". That's what will pay our dividends. In doing so, you're going to attract better guys down the road - in the future. It's something that you deal with right now, on an everyday basis, and it's something that's tremendously important to your program (focus on the present). We can't look to the future and say when we'll be there. We're there now and we've gotta do what we can do.

TB: Makes sense. You mentioned that not only were you at the forefront of innovation in terms of scheme with the Huskies, doing things differently, but also being able to get some outstanding players up there. You've said that you think Stanford can get there because of some of the changes that have gone on during the past decade. Did you honestly feel that way before you arrived here? Didn't you think it was awfully tough for the Cardinal to compete with high academic standards?

RH: But there's an academic influence throughout the country now, where everybody is becoming more and more aware. When in the early stages of your career, did you ever hear of a "APR"? No one talked about such things. Well, now people are talking about them because they are being held to those standards. Being competitors, the athletes are going to compete at that level, whatever standard they put out there - I believe we are going to meet that standard. They're not going to quit playing college football, that's for sure. Whatever gets us into the stadium, the kids are going to do. That's kids. If you tell them they can't do it, I guarantee you, look out, it's going to get done. They're phenomenally resilient and they're phenomenally intelligent. When they have to use their wits to get something done that they want - If they want to get good grades and go to a school like Stanford University, you're wired a little different..... As a result, it's certainly within the grasp of something you can do, and away guys go. So is it for everybody? No. But certainly there are those that are wired like our guys are, that are looking to the future of what they can do, we'll be fine.

TB: On that subject, you've had a few months of being exposed to these kids. How has you impression of the Stanford student-athlete changed since your days up in Montlake. Didn't you have to sell your Huskies on the fact that Stanford guys were a bunch of entitled, bookish sissies back in the day? I'm really kidding you more than anything, Coach.

RH: I appreciate that! You talk about those kids up at Washington - I think it's happening in Stanford right now…We talk about the recruiting aspect, but the developmental aspect is tremendously critical. When I look at Stanford University right now with the strength coaches that are in place and what they're getting done in the weight room, they're improving guys' times and they're making guys functionally strong so they can be out there and do a good job as a result. I think that takes time. If there's anything in a program that takes time to take effect, it's what you're doing when the coaches don't have them. We're allowed our 20 hours a week in season,and they are allowed eight hours out of season, but there are no coaches allowed in summer. The critical aspect of your program is the strength and conditioning guys who are with them all the time, who are working with them and getting a lot done. That's an aspect that helped us in Seattle every bit as much as the coaching, probably.

TB: We haven't seen a Stanford defense finish in the upper echelon in run or pass defense in the last 20 years or so. What are the pieces of the puzzle to move up in the next year?

RH: I think we need to continue to develop the personnel. I don't know if the scheme is all that critical. The name of the game right now is to execute what you're doing and to be sound in what you do, which I believe most coaches are stressing - in fact, I believe all coaches are. Nobody puts a defense out there to fail! Nobody puts a defense out there where all gaps and all containment principles and every other thing we know about the game of football isn't employed. So now it comes down to how we execute the defense and that's the critical part of what has to happen. We have to A) get as far along as we can in the playbook and know what we're doing to where it becomes second-nature, intuition. We need to know what we need to do and know how it's going to happen and then we have to make sure we get the job done. We're going to go out there and play as hard as we can and following through - the excitement, the emotional aspect of things are critical too. You have to go out and play defense hard. You gotta play hard! 

TB: Personnel wise, we lost to graduation Ekom Udofia and Erik Lorig and a valuable utility guy in Tom McAndrew but really we had to make do without those first couple of guys quite a bit during the last few years because of injuries. Does that help lessen the pain of transition?

RH: You know, I think it probably will. I mean, you had youngsters who were out there when we had two or three tackles that were injured. Guys got some great experience. Terrence Stephens, for example, I don't know for a fact because I haven't talked to Lance Anderson specifically about whether we wanted to redshirt him last year, but he's a guy who got an opportunity to play. So as a result, there are guys who gained valuable experience that they can build on this year. We're not going to know that until we get back and get into some games.

TB: We can see that a lot of the guys that Lance Anderson and D.J. Durkin developed in recent years have come a long way. But looking at film from the '09 season - and you've probably had a chance to review some games - Where are some areas that defense can most quickly shore up some holes? What are some areas in which you would like to see improvement?

RH: Playing the games will get us going. We're in the right mode of things. I like the defensive scheme. I think in the 3-4 defense causes you have an extra linebacker you can use in defense of the spread offense. You're playing with a consistent four-man secondary back there so they can learn what they're doing much better rather than somebody working in and out of the secondary as you run plays. We can benefit there. The idea of our guys coming off the edge, I think we have some personnel that fit very well. When you guys like Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser and Alex Debniak - for goodness sake, don't forget him. He's a guy that can play. I'm sure I'm forgetting some guys, that might even be the stars, that we don't even know about right now, that will show once the defense gets going.

TB: Well, that's what fall practice is for, right?

RH: Exactly right. I like where we are. I like what we saw in the spring, but we were playing ourselves in the spring. When the opponent gets in there and they have different-colored uniforms on, things change again. We just have to go out and be consistent and we have to develop ourselves as we get going. There's never been a great quarterback that's thrown the football when they're on their back. However, it's more difficult these days because the launch times are so quick. It's hard to get there when they're launching the ball in 2.3 seconds!

TB: You mentioned the spring game and the consensus opinion seems to have been that the Cardinal defense may have gotten the upper hand a little bit on the offense during that game, at least in terms of stats and scoreboard. Do you think that was more as a result of the offense transitioning to playing without Toby Gerhart or was it truly a sign of an emerging defense? From the stands, it sure looked to us as though the defensive guys were really getting after it!

RH: It was probably a bit of everything. The plays being called were reducing things to basic defense and basic offense. Just letting them play football rather than trying to trick each other. Certainly there's nobody that knows our defense better than our offense and I'd like to think our defense knows our offense. One of the objectives of the game was to first and foremost get out of the game healthy, but then secondly to let the kids go and have some fun playing football. And I think they had that. I got the feeling throughout the entire day that the guys enjoyed themselves. It was a great venue to be up in San Francisco at Kezar Stadium and it was a fun day. We'll find out the benefits that we got obviously as we progress in the season, but it was a good culmination to 14 other great spring practices.

TB: So, we were kind of hoping you would bring 49er legend Bryant Young with you out from South Bend…

RH: Well, he's just down the road! (at San Jose State). But I'm trying to get both him and Chester McGlockton back in uniform!

TH: Uh, yeah, Chester - that's a pretty formidable "intern" we have now. What's the reaction of the players to being around McGlockton - we're talking about a truly large human being?

RH: Without a doubt. He's not allowed to do any coaching on the field, obviously, but just to have him in building where guys can see him in one-on-one situations is certainly valuable. He's got great knowledge of how we play in college football, he has great knowledge of the NFL. Just like Bryant Young, I think Chester will be a fine coach down the road. I can't wait to get him on the field one of these days and watch him go - because he's doing everything right. He's an exciting guy to watch and certainly a great influence to have as we watch video and as we do our game plan.

TH: And he's able to have that influence even though he's not allowed to be a coach?

RH: It all has to be player-initiated. He's not going to run the meeting, he's not going to go out there and do the things that a coach would do. He will be more or less in the administration of the position, which is good.

TB: I don't know.. I guess from The Bootleg's perspective, we just like to have the big man around. It's like when you're picking sides - it's good to have him on "your" side, maybe send him off the bus first...

RH: Oh, I guarantee you! He's the ultimate competitor. He's one of those guys that can't stand losing at anything.  Whether he's watching it or being a participant, he wants to win - so his influence is genuine and his presence is one that I think our kids can learn quite a bit from if they'll open up to him and listen to what he has to say.

TB: Speaking of that attitude and competitiveness, what are some of the things for which the 2010 defensive line group would like to be known. We haven't had a decent nickname for that unit in more than a decade? (1999's "Trench Dogs")

RH: That has to come from your performance. We're not going to label it. I'd like them to be known for stopping the run and sacking the quarterback. I'd love to lead the league in yards per rush and quarterback sacks, that's my goal! But sometimes I don't get my goals.We'll see.

Stay tuned for Part II of our conversation with Stanford's defensive line coach Randy Hart.
The Bootleg is grateful to Niall Adler of Stanford Athletics Media Relations for helping to arrange this interview with Coach Hart.  

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