Mike Johnson Interview, Part 2

Bruin Report Online sat down with UCLA's new offensive coordinator, Mike Johnson, for an exclusive interview, in which he talks about the scheme he wants to run in 2011, quite candidly discusses personnel, and more...

Go here for the first part of the interview.

BRO: Do you change that mentality through mental challenges, physical challenges, a combination?

MJ: A combination. I think you have to change the work ethic. First of all you change the standard and expectations, the work ethic. You change the way they see themselves, and you build confidence and self esteem. You go through all those things and, I believe this, I believe that accomplishment builds confidence which instills belief. And it has to go in that order. And I think the harder they work the better they become at their craft from a fundamental and technique standpoint I think the more plays they'll make and they'll become more confident and by the time we get to the season they'll be a confident group.

BRO: Where do you even … They're all individuals obviously, but you've got some guys who route wise are lacking, some guys can't play the ball in the air, use their bodies very well. Where do you even start?

MJ: You start from their stance. From the time they line up and get in their stance to the time they get off the ball. That's where you start. You coach them just like they're 8-year-old kids and you build them from the ground up. That's where we'll start. We'll start from there, then go to the get-off and go to what I call the expression phase – what you do from the time you get off to the time you break. And then you have to coach fundamentals and technique in breaking areas, you have to coach the way they catch the ball, the way they tuck it, you have to teach them how to beat bump-and-run versus inside-outside technique press, you have to increase their football knowledge of defenses because you have to understand why people do what they do and this is why I use this technique. Those are all things we're going to do in the group with the wide receivers. We're going to increase their football IQ tremendously, allow them to play faster with more confidence.

BRO: Despite the fact these guys have played football for a long time now, it seems like you're starting from zero …

MJ: That's where we're starting. We're starting from the time they get in their stance and teach them how to get out of their stance without false-stepping. We're going to start from zero. But I think once we build them, you're going to be surprised with the group we get.

BRO: Well, there's no question there's a lot of athleticism there …

MJ: But there's gross underachievement. That's a mild way to put it.

BRO: It's been a maddening group to watch, I can tell you that.

MJ: But it's a group that hasn't been given a lot. You know, we didn't do the things in the passing game last year that gives them tremendous hope. You know, you have to give them they can believe in. You don't give them a goal to achieve, then they're going to be a lost group. They have to be able to see something that's attainable.

BRO: At least part of that has to do with their play, though. Be it something as simple as a dropped pass, or running a flat route …

MJ: You're right. Everything you're saying I've seen. Everything. There's no hiding from that. That goes back to my term again, gross underachievement. And the standard that we're going to set, the standard that I'm going to set on the offensive side of the ball, that bar is going to be high and certain things that you just mentioned will not be tolerated, will not be accepted. And if you continue to do those things, you won't play.

That's what I'm saying. The mindset has to change. The first thing, we have to change the way we think, change the way we see UCLA. You know, this is a tremendous university that has a great tradition and to go out and do some of the things that we've done, then, you know, you're disrespecting people who played before you who have done great things. That's what we have to understand. It is a tremendous honor to be here and we should see ourselves in a totally different light offensively than they see themselves right now. That is what you have to understand. When you put on that helmet and you put on those letters, you have to treat that with a tremendous amount of pride. That is part of the mindset that we are going to teach.

BRO: When you look at the challenges ahead of you, where does that rank, the changing of that mindset?

MJ: No. 1. Before they can do anything we want them to do – practice at a different level, set a standard of expectations that is totally different – the first thing they have to do is understand what it means to be here and how you should see themselves and how you should treat putting on that uniform. I mean, you have to walk a certain way. You have to put your uniform on and tuck your shirt in a certain way. You have to pull your socks up a certain way. All of those things are going to be things we talk about that we expect. Then you go out and then you owe it to everybody that has come before you to go play at a high level. You have to play hard. You set the standard of expectations and you don't put the importance on numbers, you put it on trying to be the best that I can be every single day and set that standard, then see what numbers you achieve. That's why I'll never say, ‘How many games do you expect to win next year?' I'll never answer that question. Because if we go out and do things at a high level and we have a standard of expectations that we live by and everybody on our football team tries to be the best they can be, then the sky is the limit.

BRO: How do you deal with a kid who comes back to you and says, ‘Coach, I am practicing hard, I am competing,' when you know there's a large gap between where he is and where he should be?

MJ: Well, the one thing that I'll never do, recruiting a kid or anything else, is promise a kid playing time. And what I've told every kid that I've talked to do far, we will create an environment offensively for competition and when you create that environment for competition, the cream rises to the top. I don't care who plays, to tell you the truth. If guys show that they can make plays and can execute and play hard and do the things that we want offensively, then those are the guys that need to play. I don't care if you were a 5-star high school All-American. If you don't do the things that are necessary for us to win games, then you don't deserve to play. Those are the things that we are trying to set from an offensive standpoint this year. Once you create that environment for competition, now the ones that are the naysayers will fall by the wayside … they'll fall by the wayside.

BRO: With that in mind then, obviously the receivers as you said underachieved. When you look at the other parts of the offense – backs, quarterbacks, line …

MJ: See, it's not just wide receivers. From an offensive standpoint I don't think we played up to our potential. So, it's not just the wide receivers that I think underachieved. I don't think we played as a group. I don't think we played to the potential level, I don't, for whatever reason. I wasn't here. I don't know. But I think it all starts with the mindset. It all starts with how we see ourselves, and that is the biggest thing that we have to change. We have to change the way we look at one another, change the way we look at ourselves, and then understand that this is UCLA and there is a high level of expectation that we must live up to.

BRO: In putting this all together, you have some pretty interesting guys, body wise, that can fit in a lot of different places. I'm thinking of a guy like Anthony Barr. Where do you see him playing?

MJ: I think he's a very good athlete and I have to watch him in the spring to see how he fits. But I think he's a guy that is a very good athlete that we have to find ways to get in the game and get the ball and he's going to get the opportunity to show us. I don't like putting boxes around people. I think if you create an environment where he can do a number of things then he'll show you what he can do and the guys that make plays, those are the guys that we're going to try to get the ball to. I think he has a tremendous upside and great potential.

BRO: So you look at him as a running back, as a H-back or F-back …

MJ: I think you look at him and find ways. If he's a guy that can make plays, I think you look at him and you try to find ways to get him touches, regardless of that, if he's that kind of guy, and spring will tell that. But just from what I've seen so far, I think he's a tremendous athlete.

BRO: How about Morrell Presley?

MJ: I think Morrell has potential. I think he's a guy that has potential to make plays and he has to … I think we have to give him the opportunity to make plays and I think he has to finish better. You know, I've talked to him. I think he drops balls, I think he does certain things, and we're going to go back to catching drills, go back to building confidence in his hands because he's a guy that can give you a mismatch and beat a safety one-on-one with his athleticism. If he can beat a guy one-on-one and he can make the play, then he'll get more opportunities, but he has to finish. And that's where we have to go back and treat him like an 8-year-old kid and go back and go through catching drills because if he can catch the ball he can make plays.

BRO: You know, it's funny with him, because he uses his hands, but sometimes just can't get it …

MJ: But confidence is a big thing. Confidence is something that can be taught. Confidence is something that can happen over a period of time through repetitions of doing things correctly and that's what we're going to do with him. We're going to give him the fundamental base for catching the ball and doing certain things and then build his confidence over a couple months period of time and then I think he is a guy that will grow in the deal. He's another athlete has tremendous potential, but right now he's potential. But if we can build him up and develop a player, he's a match up guy.

BRO: The other guy is Damien Thigpen. He switched back and forth last year, offense then defense. Does he start with you?

MJ: He's another guy that's 10.3 100 meters, 10.4 100 meters, whatever he is, that is a football player, and you try to find ways to create space. I like those types of players. I like guys that can run that are football players, guys that can help you make plays. If you get three, four, five guys on an offensive football team that can make plays, now you've got something. There are some guys on our offensive side that I think have tremendous upside and I'm excited to work with some of these guys and try to put them in situations where they can help us.

BRO: Might be too early, I don't know if you have worked it out, but on Saturday afternoons, what happens. During the week, I'm sure, you're putting the packages together. But on Saturday afternoon, is Rick calling those plays? Are you calling those plays?

MJ: We haven't talked about it. I'm organizing the room and putting it together. We'll talk about that later. That's something that is so far removed from right now … if we don't get the parts taught correctly then those plays we call on Saturday don't even matter. That's my major concern right now, making sure we teach all of the components of the offense and making sure everybody is fundamentally sound.

BRO: In watching the film from last year, are there guys who stood out, that you think you can count on at this point to take another step forward next season?

MJ: Well, I don't know who I can count on yet. I don't know who those guys are. Like we said, whatever we did last year wasn't good enough. We know we can't have another season like that and I don't think we will. I think there's enough talent here to not play like that. And I think we're going to have a much better season than we had last year, but I don't know who those guys are going to be.

BRO: So, every one of them, they're all in a group …

MJ: They're all in a group. There are certain guys who, the coaches that have been here, they say OK, this guy deserves an opportunity to be in front and I will listen to them initially. But once we go through three, four, five practices, I'll have a better idea of the guys who warrant that type of respect and we'll find them, you know, because it's going to change. The tempo in which we play, the tempo at which we practice, it's going to increase. Certain guys can rise up and certain guys won't be able to. So we'll see. We'll find out who those guys are. It's a total mind transformation. That is the biggest challenge.

BRO: In talking to these guys, do you get the sense they understand what's ahead of them?

MJ: I think belief is a mighty tool. I do. I believe in belief in self, belief in what you're being told, belief in your coaches, belief in everything you do is a tremendous tool. And we have to start believing in what we do around here offensively, and that's going to be my job. And I think the things that we're going to give them, the things that we're going to show them, and the way we're going to show them to do it is going to increase their belief. And once you believe in something and you start playing with belief, it's amazing what you can accomplish. Certain teams just believe they're good. They might not be good, but they think that. And they win a few games that maybe they shouldn't.


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