Interview: Joe Tresey, Part 2

With a week before spring practice begins, UCLA's new Defensive Coordinator Joe Tresey talked exclusively to Bruin Report Online in detail about the issues facing UCLA's defense...

Read Part 1


BRO: That's an interesting thing you bring up, because you look at the defense last year and, sure, they got railed on because they were not very aggressive. But there also were times that they did blitz, they did pressure, and guys just didn't get home …

JT: Ran into blocks, got blocked, you know? Maybe had the wrong call. Maybe needed an overload in that situation. Maybe give the offense credit – they did a great job in making an adjustment on the sideline or the kids made an adjustment on the run because, you know, they practice, too; they get coached, too. There are so many variable involved in it. There's a fine line, there really is, there's a fine line between winning and losing at this level because so much of the talent is similar.

BRO: That makes me wonder, at this point, do you have an inkling, are you thinking going into spring, OK, these are my strengths, or this guy can do this or this guy can't do that?

JT: No, I think we're going to come out of spring ball, when you get to see them play, and have a much better idea. This is a whole new deal to them. This is a whole new system. I have a different approach than Chuck had. Is it better? I don't know. It's my approach. You know? Chuck had his approach. DeWayne Walker had his approach. We all have our approaches, we all have our personalities.

The whole key is Bill Belichick – you've got to get them all to mesh, you've got to get them all to understand the destination and this here's what we're going to do along the journey to get to that thing. But we're all tied into this, we're all linked in arms. We can't have two guys come into a meeting late – and I'm not saying they had that before, I'm just using that as an example. You just, you know, you've got to go with what you feel from your experiences, what I feel is going to get us there, and I think I know enough football that we can be successful.

Am I a guru? No, I'm not a guru. You know, Paul Brown, Sid Gilman, Knute Rockne, those guys are gurus. Those guys changed football, they changed modern day football to what it is today. We just have the ability with the technology and the evolution of society and the sophistication to make it better. Sid Gilman was getting five guys out in routes in 1954 … come on, you know? I'll show you a playbook from 1958 where they were dropping an end and bringing an outside backer – Carroll Widdoes at Ohio University. You know?

The guys that are winners, the guys that have been around, you know what I mean, they do the little things right and they make sure everybody is on the same page and everybody hears the same message. And, hey, you're either all in or you're out. There's no I'm in one day and the next day I'm out.

BRO: Your approach then, is there an adjective … How would you define your defenses?

JT: I think if you put on Cincinnati tape, you put on South Florida tape, you put on Central Michigan, my teams are going to play fast, OK. They're going to be pretty well coached fundamentally in tackling, meeting and defeating blocks, and there's not going to be a lot of mental mistakes.

After that, you know, I had some good teams that I could pressure with and they were really good at it – they could run an edge, I had guys who knew how to fit on edges, guys who knew how not to get blocked. And then there other teams I had that they just couldn't … my second team at Cincinnati we weren't really a good pressure team. We didn't pressure much. They liked to put their feet in the ground and when that ball was snapped, they liked to go, man, and they could tackle and they could run to the ball and they were physical.

My first team at George Southern, shoot, we could pressure people. We could zone pressure people and we were good at fitting on edges, playing off of blocks, not wasting, you know, running in straight lines. You know geometry, right? The fastest point from A to point B is a straight line. That's important in football. You've got to understand angles, departure angles. You've got to understand angles of force, where you're coming from. They were really good at it and I lit them up.

But it all comes back to knowing the strengths of your players – accentuating their strengths and trying to minimize their weaknesses. If you don't have a good cover corner, don't put him in a position where he's in man a lot. You know, be a zone guy and probably play a lot where he has some safety help to him if you need it. Little things like that go a long way between getting the ball thrown over your head and keeping it in front and making them snap it again. But I would say that would be it – they have the ability to play fast, they communicate well and, you know, fundamentally they're pretty good. I'm not going to say they're the best, but they're pretty good at playing blocks and tackling.

BRO: So we have to wait until the end of the spring to find out if you're going to be a blitzing mad man then, huh?

JT: Oh, you're going to see it just because we're going to install it and if we get good at it and that's what we are, then that's what we'll be. So we'll get an indication and find out what kind of guys we have and how they understand angles of departure, how they understand avoiding getting blocked at all cost, because the job is to get to the quarterback, not to get blocked. Some guys can get that and some guys are really good at it, while some guys they just can't process it mentally … just that little boom-boom to get around somebody. Once they're there it's like …

BRO: That's weird, isn't it?

JT: Hey, we all have different make ups, my friend. You know? Athletically, whatever you are, there is somebody who does it better than you and there is somebody who doesn't do it as well. It just depends. The Lord makes us all different. You know, you have to figure it out. That's our job, to figure out what makes us tick and how it's going to make them better and how they're going to buy into it and all of those little things.

At the end of the day, I don't care what you do, it's all about buy-in, man. It's all about buy-in. If you work for a guy that you really like and he treats you right, but point out when you have a bad deal and you grow from it, you come to work every day feeling pretty good. If you have a guy who doesn't say much to you, doesn't talk to you much, doesn't tell you when you do a good job, maybe tells you when you're doing something wrong, doesn't rip you but he's not engaged, you're not going to dread coming to work but you're going to have your days. You know what I'm saying? There are a lot of intangibles involved in this, not just X's and O's.

BRO: You mentioned the tackling earlier …

JT: I basically studied tackling, I still do it, but I started my last year at Akron, and I found out when we were 85 percent or better at tackling, we had at least an 80 percent chance, probably would have won eight of the 10 games, so we use that as the goal. Really, 90 percent is the number. If you have 70 plays in a game and you miss five tackles, I'll tell you what, your offense is really going to have to turn it over a bunch for you to lose.

And big plays, they're extremely important. Urban Meyer did the study. You know, mine was you never give up more than three big plays a game. When we gave up more than three big plays a game, the chances of us winning diminished. The only way we could offset that was with turnovers. OK? So, you know, the stat was, and he studies it, when you have no play of 15 yards or more in a drive, you have a 25 percent chance of scoring. When you have one play that's 15 in a drive, it goes up to 50. When you have two, it goes to 80. So, we can't give up more than three plays of 15 yards or more in a game. That's our goal.
You know, let's be honest. Even if you give up three, and they're on three different drives, there's a 50 percent chance they're going to score. If you're going to Vegas, you're not sure if you're going to bet 50-50. Now, if somebody tells you have a 70 percent chance of winning, your wallet is going to open up. Am I right? Our defensive scoring goal is 17 points – in the old days it was always 14. But now offenses have changed and if you look at the top scoring defenses in the country you're going to be in the top 10 every year if you give up 17 or less.

BRO: With that in mind, do you see doing a lot of tackling this spring?

JT: You don't have to actually tackle and get them to the ground. You're going to do that some. It's more fundamentally about your angle, where your angle is, being able to come to balance, you pads are this way and not this way, keeping your feet buzzing, your eyes are up and you're able to shoot your guns too roll your hips. You use your whole body to tackle and you can get a lot of that without even taking somebody to the ground because if they understand the urgency and the speed that you need to do it with and you teach them how to take the right angles and to fit their body where it needs to be on their body, if they're athletic enough and they're strong enough, they'll get people down.

You need live tackling, there is no question. But you don't need to do it every day as far as getting them on the ground because you end up beating each other up and you can't do it anyway, it's against the NCAA rules. You're only allowed nine days or whatever where you can actually take people to the ground, whatever it is. But you do it every day. I mean, the first day we're going to stress tackling. We're not in pads. But we're going to take the right departure angle, we're going to come to balance, keep our feet moving, have our elbows in and our palms up, just like we would if we were going to tackle you.

BRO: You talk about the missed tackles and the opportunities it gives an offenses, but when you get to that point, you want a tackler more than a wrangler, so …

JT: Oh, yeah. You want people that get people down first of all. Getting them on the ground is the first thing, and it isn't the prettiest some times. Secondly, if you can teach your players to utilize their bodies in everything they do, then you're just going to by nature, they're going to become more aggressive and they're going to understand the concept better.

BRO: In watching the games, were there individuals that stood out to you?

JT: Well, you know, I think the guys who made plays for them … You know, (Sean) Westgate made plays. (Patrick) Larimore looked like he was evolving as a player before he got hurt. Of course, Rahim (Moore) and Akeem (Ayers), especially the linebacker Akeem, I mean, you know, build wise, wow. For 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he can bend and he can move around really well. Datone (Jones), he never got to play. Sometimes, you know, (Justin) Edison, Nate Chandler, (Owamagbe Odighizuwa), they all had their moments where they showed that they made plays and did some good things.

The whole key is getting them to be consistent every down, where nothing changes, the tempo stays the same, the urgency stays the same. The way you come out of your stance, your start, and the way you attack people, it's going to be consistent day in and day out because you condition your body and you teach your body to play a certain way.

BRO: Not putting this on any individuals or anything that happened last year, but as a coach is that mentality, that drive, is that on them or is that on you?

JT: It's a collaborative situation. It's on both of us. You know, we've got to get them to do it and we've got to do it in a way they want to do it and it's important to them. It's got to be important to them, but we have to also be able to teach it to them in a way they understand why it's important.

I mean, you tell your kids things. Do you tell them because your parents told you and that's why you're telling them? If you are, hopefully it's because you learned from the situation and you don't want them to make the same mistake and once they get it and they understand where you're coming from, they'll put themselves in a position less and less to do that.

And the ones you can't reach, they end up going at the end of the line, not because you don't love them just because they can't grasp it or they don't want to grasp it, one of the two. But from our conversation in here, it's not real difficult. It's pretty simple, and we're not loading them up mentally and they're not going to sit there and get analytical. We talked about some pretty basic fundamental things just to make it in life day by day let alone play on a football field.

BRO: I don't know if you're this far into it, but any position changes you're looking at?

JT: You know what, off the top of my head. I don't think so. Not really. I don't see it. The d-line is going to be interesting. Nate Chandler was an end and now he went inside. You know, Datone was injured and didn't play. Edison is a 1 right now. Owa, we're going to have a guy what we consider I guess a strong end to the field or over the tight end and we're going to have an end that's an open end or into the boundary. I think they might have done the same thing last year – I don't even know. I really didn't sit there and try to get, again, I really don't care what happened last year. I really don't.

My day, every day I come in here I'm trying to get better. We want to get better and we're moving forward, we're not looking back. Next year at this time, I'll be able to reflect back on the season and give you reason why we gave up big plays here or did this here or why we did good or why we didn't do good. I wasn't here last year. You know, evaluation is a lot easier when you can do it day by day and it's live, actually seeing the teaching process take place, how it was taught, etc. When you're not there and you're not part of it, it's hard to evaluate and really it's not fair.

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