Interview: Joe Tresey, Part 1

UCLA hired Joe Tresey a little over a month ago as its defensive coordinator, and he has just about a week before spring practice begins. He sat down with us to talk about everything pertaining to UCLA defense. Part 1.

BRO: OK, so, it's been a few weeks now. Catch us up on what the priorities have been, what you've been trying to get done before the spring …

JT: I think the first priority has been trying to get to know all the players. That's the No. 1 priority. The No. 2 priority has been installing the defensive package. And, of course, the third priority probably has been recruiting. That's very important nowadays. If I would rank them, those would be three things that have been priorities. But getting to know the players first and foremost is the most important thing, without a doubt.

BRO: How has that process gone?

JT: It's been great. It's been really good. They've been very receptive, very positive. You know, everything has been extremely positive so, you know, it's been kind of like the honeymoon period. When you come into a situation and you're a new guy, for the most part, everywhere I've been, everyone is very positive and … you know how that goes. That's the way it's been.

BRO: Did you get a lot of input on the players before you started that process?

JT: Well, what I did is when I got here, I got some input from the coaches, but I met with each of them individually within … I started meeting within, I don't know, I think I got here on a Wednesday and I started meeting with them on the following Tuesday or Wednesday. I really wanted to meet them and form my own opinion through the meetings, at least have a starting point ‘A' of my perception of them just from what came out (of the meeting), and I met with them for anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes per player on defense, wrote down facts, got some facts from them, got spring goals, what they're looking to accomplish in spring football, talked about on the field and off the field and all those types of things.

BRO: In a lot of ways, football players are the same, but they're all individuals. When you think about the group that you met with, did they seem as competitive as other groups that you dealt with or maybe less competitive?

JT: You know what, I think when you're dealing with 45 individuals, no matter what school you're at, you're going to have some that come across as very competitive in the pool of 45. You know, you're dealing with a large number, so when you're dealing with a large number, you're going to have a pool that's very competitive, a pool that you're not sure about, you're going to a pool that, yeah, that's about what I expect. So I think that's pretty consistent, no matter where you're at. We'll find out when we start competing, that's when we'll find out.

BRO: So, now they all have their playbooks?

JT: When they come back on Monday from spring break, we‘ll give them the install book per day. Each day we have a different install, and we'll give them that book and just start rolling, and we start practice on Tuesday. You know, we haven't had a lot of time to spend with them, haven't been here very long. But we've laid the foundation.

BRO: In putting those packages together did you look at a lot of game tape or practice tape from last year to get a feel for what guys can or can't do?

JT: Not practice tape. We've looked at games. I didn't look at every single game. We've looked at a big majority of games and conference games especially, because I want to see what's going on in the conference. But I also, I want a guideline of their athleticism, their urgency, how they play. But at the same time, I want to have an open mind and give them an opportunity because, you know, there's a new guy in town so everybody is kind of starting on a fresh slate.

I've been careful not to be too harsh or to put too much stock in what I'm seeing on that tape. There's going to be some. But, also, it's a different scheme, we're going to teach in a different method, things are different just because there's a new individual that's running the defense. I want to be fair. I told everybody they have clean slate and what happens from here on out is what counts, not what happened last year or prior. I made that a point, so I want to make sure I store that within my own framework to be fair to them and to be honest with what I told them.

BRO: OK, so when you're at Cincinnati or at South Florida, I'm sure the perception is, ‘Oh, it's UCLA, it's the Pac-10, they have to be a lot of football players there.' But is that …

JT: I'm going to tell you something and coaches know this more than anybody else because we live it every day. Football has changed. You still have, you know, you're still going to have your Oklahoma, your Texas, your Ohio State, your Michigan, your Notre Dame, your UCLA, you're still going to have those guys, especially in the SEC. Let's face it, they're going to whatever they can to stay on top, whatever means … whatever they have to do. That's just their mentality.

But I don't care if you're playing San Jose or you're playing a conference team. I mean, you have to be happy when you win a game at the BCS level. You have to be ecstatic. It used to be, well, we expected to beat them by 40 points. I think those days have come and gone. It's a cliché, but I think more than ever now, and you've seen it with Boise State and TCU, you have to be ready to go every week. You know? So, yeah, I'm at UCLA, I'm in the Pac-10. But you know what, San Jose can roll in here and if they have the right frame of mind and we don't, hey, it's going to be a battle and our chances of winning diminish and their chances increase.

I don't get caught up into that at all … at all.

BRO: Did you see any of that when you were watching the tapes from last year, that they're not where they need to be mentally, they're not doing this or that?

JT: You know, it's easy to sit there and be critical after the fact and I'm working with two guys in that room that were here last year and you know, they had a plan, they had a plan, they had a plan of attack, they had a coordinator that did things a certain way and wanted to do things a certain way. So, it was what it was and it's over with. I'm more focused on what we're going to do and how we're going to do it, not what happened before. I really am.

It's almost like, to me, the philosophy is the glass half empty or is the glass half full? And if you're looking at it as half full, then you're looking at today, hoping to get better today so you can be even better tomorrow, and not going back and dwelling on what happened before. You know what I'm saying? I'm just trying to be forward in this situation. I mean, they went 4-8. There are problems here and there -- defensively, offensively, whatever. It happened. That's over. We're moving on.

BRO: OK, tell me then about your scheme …

JT: It's a multiple 4-3 and, you know, we're going to have multiple fronts. We'll be in a four-down look or we'll be in a five-down look or a, you know, an under look sometimes where we have five covering up the front. We can get in a three-down look, we have the ability to play some 3-4 out of it, so it's very multiple. I think the most important thing to us personally is our kids are great communicators so the right hand knows what the left is doing at all times, that they can play and have the ability to play very fast, and that's on us as coaches to make the scheme to where we have answers but it's simple so they don't have to do a lot of thinking, so when that ball is snapped, they can react, they can anticipate and react and not have to think about it.

I think we want to be a physical team, a very physical team that's known for pursuing to the football and being really good tacklers. And then the next step is, hey, you've got to get off the field on a third down, you've got to be great in red zone defense. You know, you've got to be able to create turnovers, you've got to limit big plays and you've got to cause minus-yardage plays. I think when you look at basically those five things those make or break you in the course of a football game.

You know, sudden change is extremely important in this day and age in football, just because of the way offenses have evolved and how much more their likely to throw the ball when you don't expect them to throw the ball and things like that. Those are things, to me, that are critical and make you a championship level defense, so those are the things that we're going to try and accentuate.

BRO: The turnovers, that's something your defenses have been good at …

JT: You know what, I think it's all about coaching kids to communicate – the right hand knows the left hand, they're put in a position to play fast so they don't have to think and I think when they're fundamentally sound and great in their technique, your chances increase of getting turnovers. You know, the more hats you get on the ball your chances increase of causing a fumble. You know, the better your guys are at back-pedaling and staying in your break, being able to see the field with vision but yet know what routes are occurring in front of them and being able to teach that and get them to anticipate that and be able to make plays, I mean, that's to me how those things happen.

I think it all goes back to what I talked about originally, when you asked me what this defense was going to be about. Yeah, scheme is important, attacking protections are important, trying to get overloads, with four guys coming versus three or giving the illusion that you're bringing four when you're only bringing three and making linemen move their feet and chase people when they're not supposed to chase them. Things like that, that's extremely important, that's what we spend all day in the room for. But if your kids can't do that and can't execute it fundamentally sound and understand their fits and the whole deal, you know, you can be a scheme master and it doesn't matter. You're going to have issues, you really are.

BRO: How do you see that process coming together in the spring then?

JT: I think you start from Day One, and as the days evolve and you teach off of film, teach situations on the field, teach, ‘Why did the ball get outside of us here? What was the breakdown? Did we communicate? OK, we didn't communicate, you see how important communication is. It's because he didn't know what you were doing and you guys were intertwined in the situation.' It's things like that and many arise every day. Just using those as teaching tools and having a priority on communication, on pursing to the football ...

I mean, heck, when you come to a meeting, you're fully dressed. You're taped and you're braced. You know, we're not going to go out to a walk-through and wait for you to go up and get taped after we met. You have to work on winning every day. You know, it's a cliché but it's true. The little things, if you can condition yourself to do the little things right … it's kind of like the destination and the journey, right? It's not about the destination, it's about the journey, and within that journey there are a lot of little things that are going to get you to the destination. If you don't do the little things within that journey, you're probably not going to get to that destination.

BRO: In 15 days, 15 practices …

JT: Again, it's a simple process. It's not rocket science. You know, it's building your foundation and what's your foundation going to be on from a football standpoint? It's going to be that you're going to be great communicators, you're going to stay on your feet, you've got to pursue, you've got to know how to tackle, you've got to know how to meet and defeat blocks, you've got to understand where you fit versus the run, where you're going to fit versus these routes -- inside out, outside in.

All of those little things that take place during that 15 days, play after play, you're either going to say this is a great job, great communication; this is a great job of where you need to be, great fit; way to come to balance, way to run your feet, way to finish; we've got 11 guys, look at these 11 guys going to the ball right now. It's a process and it's going day by day minute by minute.

BRO: If you get all of that done, I would think part of a defense's aggressiveness comes from the play calls, so …

JT: You know what, to a point ... to a point. But I think a lot of it is how you coach – how you coach a kid coming out of his stance, his start, as a defensive lineman; how you coach a linebacker to play downhill, how you coach a linebacker to meet and defeat a block; how you coach a corner to meet and defeat a block; how you coach a safety to fit the power and read force and how fast he's going to be the force player. That builds aggressiveness.

Aggressiveness does not come from the call, because I tell you what if I've got a bunch of passive guys I can make some great calls, but it they're not fast and they're not physical, and they're not taking the right angles and I'm not teaching them how to blitz on an edge and I'm not teaching them the right fit – he's got to be in the A gap, but he's not in the A gap -- then they can be bar brawlers, tough guys that can bench the world and it's not going to matter. It's not going to matter at all. It all starts with fundamentals, it really does, and you have to be aggressive in your teaching of fundamentals and when you get them aggressive in your teaching of fundamentals, then you've got a great shot at winning … you've got a great shot at winning.

You know what, I'm going to tell you something, we want to make it complicated because of this thing here (points to a computer) and media and TV and all of the shows and everything we have, everything is guru-ism and schemes. Hey, I'm going to tell you something, Bill Belichick, you know, obviously he's probably a decent schemer, but he's won because he's able to manage a group of individuals, to be able to evaluate talent, see players that other personnel people didn't think were as good.

He can fit all 11 guys together and they all play together. You know what I mean? You know, he's taken his chances on like a Randy Moss. That was his pet project. How many Randy Moss's has Bill Belichick had since he went to New England? One. He had Corey Dillon, who was a problem at Cincinnati. But he has such a tight ship when they come in, they know they're coming into a tight ship and they have no other choice. But, I mean, there's so much more to it than scheme, but we want to make it so much scheme. You know, Auburn, yeah, Gus Malzahn, he's a good coach. There's no question. But I guarantee you there's another 30 guys out there that can scheme just as well as Gus Malzahn can. Gus Malzahn did a great job of managing Cam Newton and putting him in a position to be successful with throws and decisions. That ain't scheme, as much as it is understanding and managing your players, knowing their strengths and limiting their weaknesses.

We don't look at it like that much, because we're just are always so engrossed in the big picture as fans, and as sportscasters and observers, because you don't sit in a room every day, you're not there with them every day, you're not bringing them through the process, you're not bringing them through the journey, you know? There are a lot of simple things to it that we make very complicated because we all want to be gurus and sound smart when in turn, that stuff can be very overrated.

Part 2 of the interview will run tomorrow...

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