"A Cardinal Conversation" w/ Randy Hart (2)

In the second installment of a two-part conversation with first-year defensive line coach Randy Hart, we learn Coach's views on the pass rush, two-way players, and whether the 1971 Rose Bowl might have turned out differently if he had had one more year of eligibility with the Buckeyes.

"A Cardinal Conversation w/ Randy Hart", Part II

Bootleg Co-Founder and Editor Jim "Emeritus" Rutter recently had a chance to catch up by phone with Stanford 's first-year defensive line coach, Randy Hart. This is the second segment of the two-part conversation.

TB: When we left off we were discussing goals and especially those you have for the Cardinal pass rush. We haven't seen Stanford defensive tackles get to the quarterback much in recent years, and that might be in part due to our scheme, but what are you going to do to get them to the quarterback? We can't rely on Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser to do it all by themselves, can we?

RH: Well, if the tackles are doing a good job, then you can. If you look over the years, there aren't a lot of tackles who lead the world in sacks.

TB: Right, you don't really care as long as the package is working.

RH: If they're getting a pocket push, if they're getting the offensive line into the quarterback's face so he can't step up and you're shortening the corner for the ends coming off the edge - I wouldn't mind if Chase and "T.K." led the world in sacks. As productive as your outside backers and ends are, normally you have a couple guys in the middle that are causing problems, where the o-line can't kick out and stop the edge guys.

TB: Sione Fua, Matt Masifilo, and Brian Bulcke ought to be plenty for most teams to handle.

RH: The greatest thing about the game we have here, is that we have got 11 people. It's a team game, it's the ultimate team game. If there were 12, things could be evened up, but it's 11. It has to be six and five. You can't ever even up across the field. Those are the fun things that we get to deal with. The kids will respond hopefully and we'll get things done.

TB: Coach, what are the qualities from your experience in ranked order that you feel are the most critical to the success of your interior defensive line? You have "motor",  "quickness",  "desire", "toughness", "ability to stay low"? How would you rank things in your mind?

RH: You named them all right there! First, you have to work hard. There's never been anything done in the game of football without working hard. The quickness factor, the strength factor, the competitiveness, all that stuff comes into action from there. It all starts from the heart, the "intestinal fortitude", the idea of "I'm not going to be defeated", that's where it comes from. If you have that first...You know, the biggest, strongest, fastest guys aren't winning this game every year. It's guys that go out there and compete together as a team, play as a team, and execute as a team, that wind up winning the game. That's what you're looking for. The chemistry. I'll go back to those two basketball teams that we talked about. Those guys are good on both sides, but where does (Derek) Fisher come from where all of a sudden, he's winning the game for them? Nate Robinson, one of the smallest guys in the NBA comes out having a big game, gives the Celtics a spark.

TB: Help fans understand - we're going to be playing a "3-4" but you have a lot of different variations you can employ. What s going to go on in terms of over and under fronts - In layman's terms, what responsibilities are going to change and in what ways, situationally?

RH: There will be an over and under front, there will be a rush outside linebacker. It could look like a four-man front at times then go back into a three-man front with two outside linebackers. So there is great flexibility within the defense… I'm sure you're aware of Coach Fangio's past. The defense started with the Saints. It's been to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They still run it of course. They still run it at the Ravens. Dom Capers is one of the originators at Green Bay, so enough teams have converted. This year I think you'll see over half the teams in the league run a version of the "3-4", certainly not the old "two-gap across the board" that we used to know back in the ‘70s but a lot of the 1970s principles will go back in the game. It's just one big cycle. The number of players isn't going to change, but how you position your players and what you do with them is just going to recycle around: For every offensive action, there's a defensive reaction, and then an offensive "re-reaction". So, we're in that phase right now, where we're reacting to the offense and then we'll see what the offense has for us as we go down the road.

TB: So let's say the "4-3" or even the "5-2", you've seen Stanford run in recent years. If we were trying at the time to squeeze and constrict gaps, what will be the philosophy of the "3-4"? What are you trying to accomplish?

RH: You're trying to play a seven-man front as much as you can with the four-deep secondary. You're trying to hold off gaps and probably get more pressure up the field instead of being as "gap-conscious" as some people would like to be. But you're not going to be… you're still going to defend the ball by gaps. There might be times where you get eaten out of the gaps but you're linebacker will play over the top and make the play and away you go. It probably isn't much of a difference when you look at how we've evolved in the defense. We'll have the flexibility, and the substitution defenses, with nickels and dimes, will still be the same. There will be some difference in approach with regard to pressure, not that it's going to be all pressure, but there will zone pressure, man pressure. You have tremendous flexibility when you have got a three-man front.

TB: Within your unit you have "defensive tackles" and you have, whether you call them "nose tackles", guys that fit the traditional idea of the nose. Fua could probably play anywhere. Terrence Stephens will probably be a middle guy. Can you talk a little bit about which attributes you prefer to have at each of those positions?

RH: Your ends are guys that are bigger, more of a defensive tackle playing on an offensive tackle - rather that than your smaller six-foot four-inch, 230-pound or 240-pound defensive ends. That's your nickel threat, your outside linebackers getting moved in. That's where Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas get in the mix. In reality, you have three defensive tackles that are working with one nose-man. In the NFL you'd have a BIG nose-man, a 350-pound guy that is a "phone booth" football player that is a first- and second-down player, that wants to stuff the four inside gaps as best as he can. I don't know that we're going to have that animal within our defense right now. We're going to have a guy that plays doggone good football in there in Sione  - and certainly Terrence will have to pick it up in there as well. We'll play traditional nose-man football where we'll try to get them to play off the front side of the football and go from there.

TB: One of the areas that can help get the ball back for the offense is successful defense on third downs. You have to have enough depth to be able to bring fresh bodies in on critical third downs. We assume that's been a big challenge, just to have enough depth.

RH: Exactly, that's what you have to have. The other thing is "Don't wait until third down!". When you look at the league champion statistically - and I have not - you'll find that a whole lot of the teams that are playing the best have a  positive turnover ratio. If your defense is getting more than your offense is giving up and you can gain those offensive possessions by turnovers, you have a great chance of wining football games. That's a statistic that we don't always throw out there, but turnovers are critical. We can't always wait until third down to get off the field. If we can get off the field prior to third down, I think that the defensive will improve tremendously. If you can go first-down fumble and get off the field or second-down interception and get off the field or third-down on downs or interceptions, those are your field position numbers. Any time you can create a turnover, your opponents aren't punting, so you're not giving up those 40 yards of field position.

TB: But now you're talking about the collective defensive effort, because we can't really expect the defensive line to contribute a lot of turnovers. As far as forced fumbles go, greater aggression might help…

RH: Exactly right, and somebody has to be there to recover it. That's where your aggressiveness comes. If you're working to get to the football every time, then good things will happen. If we get the ball out and there's nobody there to pick it up, what have we done? We've created a fumble and not made a turnover out of it. That's where you get the idea of getting one, two, three, four guys to the football. If two guys are tackling and two guys are getting the ball out, you have a chance of getting it out. That's just the overall aggressiveness of your defense. You want to keep that going as best you can.

TB: Coach when you arrived here and took a look at your depth. Obviously you want to be three-deep at everything, but we may not always have that many bodies with experience and we've had to do a few "conversions". Can you talk about a few of the converted guys, who may have played some defensive line in high school, like a Jacob Gowan, that will be necessary as a part of your rotation?

RH: I'm not familiar with where some of these guys played in high school, but the guys I've seen are suited to where they are playing now. I'd agree with all the personnel. After every practice we're always looking as a staff to find out who can help us better at another position or what we can do to help ourselves by position movement. That's one thing I think Jim Harbaugh does a great job with. He's open to any and all movement and he's even open to having guys play both ways. A lot of coaches in college football, their minds aren't that open to see what Owen (fullback/inside linebacker Owen Marecic) will do and how he's done it, to be ready to go at both positions is pretty doggone good. And it certainly will help you, not only in your front-line guys, but it will help you as you go, too. Those snaps you're always worried about - when somebody needs a break, it's great if you can put an offensive starter on your defense, or a defensive starter on your offense - you can keep that high level of play going.

TB: We get that concept, but we have some concerns. Owen is a great fullback. To tire him out, potentially, when he is that valuable to our run game, it seems like quite a risk. It seems hard to believe he could log meaningful minutes on defense and maintain his incredible effectiveness on offense...

RH: He can. We probably differ on that one. I watch how they do it in basketball, when you are getting those guys rested at the end of the first quarter. You are working them around as you watch the basketball guys go forever. Your substitutions are strategic as heck and I think there is a lot that football can learn looking at basketball substitutions. Certainly you want your best players on the field at the beginning of the game, the end of the first half, the beginning of the second half and late in the fourth quarter. What happens in between there - if you can cheat a couple of possessions and come out ahead in that fourth quarter when it is time to go out and win the football game. you want the best people on the field.  Everyone substitutes in other sports, you don't have to be only offense or only defense. If we are going to save scholarships down the road, we may have to get back to single-platoon football. We need to great players playing.

TB: Among your pupils you have now, who would you say comes to mind as your "most hungry" student? Who's knocking on your office door who's trying to watch film and trying to learn? Hopefully a lot of them!

RH: (Laughing) I'm not going to label it like that for you, Jim! I'm not going to tell you! They're hearing it from me. so they don't have to read it in the paper.

TB: (also laughing) OK, here's a question we know you can answer! Would Stanford and Jim Plunkett have beaten Woody Hayes and THE Ohio State University if you had one more year of eligibility?

RH: You know what, it would have been no factor. It would have been the same outcome. Out-coached and out-played in all areas of the game. My two cents would not have made much of a difference, I guarantee you.

TB: You must have known Dave Tipton (1971 Rose Bowl defensive lineman and later longtime Stanford assistant coach) and some of the guys from that Stanford team?

RH: Sure, I saw Tipton up in Seattle and followed him throughout his coaching. Good man and doggone, he's a great Stanford Cardinal, no doubt about it!

TB: If you're looking across the line in practice, you must see a pretty formidable Stanford offensive line, one that obviously has gained respect within the conference and is bringing back four experienced starters. Which of those Cardinal offensive linemen would concern you most if you were preparing your defensive line group to battle them?

RH: You're always looking for the great centers. A great center can cause you all kinds of problems because he's running the show up front. He gets the protections turned mentally, he makes the run calls, the blocking calls, he's the guy pointing out the middle linebacker, in most cases, for pass protection. A great center is a guy that can pull, a guy that can block, and a guy that can handle somebody on his nose, which some guys are having to learn right now because there aren't a lot of high schools recently that are playing the odd-front. That's the guy that makes the whole thing go, in my opinion.(Ouch, not very encouraging for the San Francisco 49ers, who lost former Cardinal star and veteran NFL stalwart Eric Heitman to injury this week)

TB: As you go forward you have to be looking forward to a couple of these road trips. You mentioned earlier in the interview that you'll have an opportunity to travel to some very familiar territory this season…

RH: I look at them as a group, as a team. You're looking because like I said it can be flexible in their protection and blocking schemes, so you're trying to put some of our favorite rush combinations on some of their weaker guys and letting somebody know when you're playing against this guy they're as good as there is and let's see how good you are. Everybody thinks they're an NFL player, well guess what we're going to find out if you're a good college football player. Those matchups are obvious and they come from time to time but in one game I don't know in any situation where one guy would block one guy for the entire game. There is too much changing going on up front with protections blocking assignments, etc..

TB: Well, coach, thank you. We look forward with great anticipation to the fall. I'm sure it will be fun for you and I can't tell you how happy we are to have you on the Farm!

RH: Well, you're not as happy as I am, I guarantee you. I'm a very fortunate man and quite happy - so we're excited to get going!

TB: Our goal is to make sure this is your last stop in your coaching career and to make sure it lasts for at least the next
21 seasons - so you can break your record with the Huskies!

RH: I'm with you. I'm with you. For obvious reasons, for both of us, that's great!

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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