New WR Coach Jon Embree

The new wide receivers coach, Jon Embree, comes to UCLA after 10 years at Colorado, bringing a hard-working and demanding reputation with him. With spring practice upon us, coach Embree answered some questions about the new staff, the off-season regimen, and recruiting...

New wide receiver coach Jon Embree comes to UCLA after coaching various positions at the University of Colorado for the last 10 years.  While with the Buffaloes, he coached receivers, tight ends and the defensive line. He has a reputation for being a dilligent coach, with an attention to detail, and an aggressive recruiter.


You've been on the job at UCLA now for a few months, how generally has it been?


"It's been great.  The campus is great. The players have all responded well to the things we've instituted and are trying to do.  It's been a real good experience for just the first few months."


With some holdovers from the last staff, how has this new staff meshed so far?


"Really well. Even better than I would have believed.  The old guys have done a great job of  helping us make the transition.  Many of the new coaches, though, knew the coaches who had been here, even though we've been on different staffs.  Don Johnson I knew from seeing him around in recruiting.  Larry Kerr and Brian Schneider I knew, since they were at Colorado State and we went against them every year at Colorado.  I had a little previous contact with Coach Weber.  And Coach Bernardi, well, he might as well be the logo for the Pac-10 he's been here so long.  He could be like how the Jerry West logo is for the NBA. There's been a great camraderie.  Even though we haven't had a lot of time, I'd say it's one of the closest staffs I've been on."


How has it been starting to work with a new Offensive Coordinator and quarterbacks coach in Steve Axman?


"Really a great experience.  I've learned quite a bit about quarterbacks and quarterbacking from coach Axman.  His perspective, the places he's been and experiences he's had. He knows a lot about quarterbacks. So, it's helped me to really look at it all more from a different perspective, the quarterback's perspective."


How involved has Karl Dorrell been in conceiving of the offense?


"Karl has been involved. Being the head coach you generally don't get a lot of time to actually coach football. You have a lot of other duties and many times you leave the coaching up to the assistants.  But he's been involved, making sure how we've installed the offense, the plays, what order they're in, making sure we're using the concepts we want to use.  It's worked very well."


Has the playbook been written, so to speak?


"Yeah, well, the thing about playbooks is, many people have a misconception about them. Basically it's something that isn't set in stone. You're constantly adding to it.  It includes different concepts and plays, and gives you the ability to pick and choose, run a a play out of different formations. But it's a very fluid thing. It's not something that is ‘written' and then it's done."


Can you give us a little hint as to the style of offense?


"It's going to be a west coast offense, but everyone uses that term so it can mean just about anything.  We're going to have a balanced attack, and run effectively.  You have to be able to run the ball, and do it even when they know you're going to do it.  It's that attitude.  But at UCLA, there is a tradition of great quarterbacks and receivers, of having great offensive weapons and getting the ball down the field, getting the ball in the hands of your playmakers that we want to keep very much alive."


What were some of your impressions recruiting for UCLA for the first time during the recruiting crunch time in January and February?


"There was a lot of excitement, from the staff here and from the recruits, because of the coaching change.  A lot of the kids we recruited were excited about it.  They really wanted to now take a new look at UCLA.  See what the new staff was about up close.  At Colorado, we always had a good recpetion, but being at UCLA, more kids would probably consider us, since so many are from the Los Angeles area and want to stay in the Pac-10 and not leave home.  Overall, it was very encouraging, and a positive reception."


Do you think your recruiting philosophy will change at UCLA?


"Wherever you coach there are going to be things about that program that you need to address when you're recruiting. Like at Colorado, we always had to battle the myth about the weather.  But despite those specific issues, you still use the same philosophy as a recruiter no matter where you are.  The philosophy you have is really the plan behind it all.  I think I have a pretty good philosophy that's been very effective.  And I don't think I'll change that basic philosophy because I'm now recruiting in a different program."


Are there things about UCLA that you are excited to be able to utilize in recruiting?


"Definitely.  I think UCLA has advantages over most schools. In recruiting a California kid, being at UCLA will give me an advantage, as opposed to being at Colorado.  At UCLA, it seems like it will be much easier to get in the door.  But you have to always remember, once you get in the door you still have a lot of work to do."


Do you foresee a new energy and aggressiveness in UCLA recruiting?


"I know that the new staff has a lot of energy involved in recruiting. It's a good blend of different recruiters, and different styles, on the staff.  We're going to be aggressive in recruiting.  They guys I'm most familiar with, like coach (Eric) Bieniemy and some of the other guys, being aggressive is how they are by nature.  Whether the staff was like that in the past, I don't know. But if it wasn't, it will change."


You were involved in the recruitment of Kevin Brown, the lineman from Long Beach Poly, which came down right to the wire.  What were some of your thoughts toward the end of his recruitment?


"There are some kids who let it go down to the wire but they really know where they're going. With Kevin, that was truly genuine coming down to the wire.  I believe sometimes when kids have a dream of playing for a school growing up, and then they like it even just a little bit as a high school player, it reinforces that dream. And that's hard to overcome as a recruiter.  That's what Kevin was dealing with.  As a recruiter, though, you like being in those situations, when you get to go in there and recruit the kid down to the wire. I love those situations.  You don't always win them, but it's very fun when you do win.  With Kevin, when Don Johnson and I went to go visit him toward the end, we came out of his house and I told Don I thought he was going to come and felt good about it. Don was, ‘Hey, I don't know. I don't think it's a slam dunk.' It ended up Don was right and it came down to the wire."


What kind of response have you gotten from the 2004 class so far?


"It's been positive. Real positive. A lot of kids are interested, and that's always good, especially this early.  I don't know how it's been in the past at UCLA at this time of the year. When I was at Colorado it always seemed like UCLA got early interest and commitments, so that seems consistent with what we're getting.  I think it was an issue at UCLA in how it came down to the end in recruiting.  But right now, we're getting a lot of interest."


Having to build a new program, do you feel that you're still not quite up to speed in where you want to be in the recruiting plan?


"We are trying to get everything in the program implemented, the playbooks, the structure and all that.  So we are pretty busy doing some things that you wouldn't be doing if you were a staff who had been here a while.  Like, say, with Oregon, for instance, they're not organizing their program, so they might be able to do a little more work in recruiting.  But we just have to work harder and longer."


What area are you responsible for in recruiting?


"A small part of L.A., and northern California, which was my region when I was at Colorado."


We've heard stories that the new staff has been very demanding of the current team in their off-season workouts and work ethic...


"It was a demanding off-season. We tried to make it very demanding, and let the players know how demanding we'd be. I think Karl wanted to get the kids to understand right off that it's a privilege to play football at UCLA. It's not just a situation where you're handed all this, and you just show up and go out, play and have some fun, and whatever happens happens.  There's a serious commitment here. We wanted the kids to understand that. Our philosophy is that it's how you prepare.  It's how you are in the off-season that determines how you perform during the season. We wanted to get them to understand that you win championships now, in the off-season. You don't miraculously win them during the season."


What's your opinion of the offensive personnel on the team?


"I think we have good personnel. I think Marcedes Lewis has a chance to be special. We have so many playmakers and receivers, and two good young quarterbacks.  Tyler Ebell has a chance to be a very good football player. On the offensive line, we have three starters coming back.  With Coach Weber, it's made the transition for the OL much easier."


What kind of talent do you think you have to work with at receiver?


"Honestly, I tried not to evaluate them too much.  I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to start on even ground. I didn't want to pre-judge. We'll see what they can do."


Do you have a style of coaching that you think is distinct or unique?


"I think, as a coach, I'm very demanding. There's a standard, and either you reach it or you don't.  I'm not into compromises.  You get the job done or you don't. And they'll know what that standard is. The guys that play on Saturday are the guys who can do it, and do it under pressure, and play to that standard.  I don't know what every coach is like, but I know that's how I am. That's how I've always coached, at every position I've coached, and that's how it's going to be."


After spending so much time in the first few months at UCLA getting the program established and doing organizational work, are you looking forward to spring practice?


"Really, yeah. Let's put it this way, I just want to get out there on the field and start playing some football."


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