Sunday Call with Mike Johnson

Mike Johnson talks about coaching the team for bowl practice, whether he has any interest in the full time job, and the value of the added bowl practice...

Q: What are your initial thoughts on the match up for the bowl game?

A: I think it's going to be a good matchup. I think it's two teams that have gone down similar paths. I've watched very little film of Illinois, but I remember watching them when we played Arizona State. Watching their offense, they're a talented group. They have a physical offensive line, their quarterback is extremely athletic and they've got a very good wide receiver that's a big time play maker, so it's going to be a physical football game.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face in trying to get these guys over what happened to Rick and ready to prepare for the bowl game?

A: I think it's a group that's a resilient group. I don't think it's going to be tough to get these guys focused on playing this game. Everyone to a man, both coaches and players, are determined to get this football program back to where it needs to be. And this is a stepping stone, one game to get that going in that direction. There's a month of practice, I think it's 15 practices before we play a game. And it's a time for guys that are coming back to get better, to work on the fundamentals and techniques of playing football. And I think the seniors are a group that want to go out on a positive note, so I don't think it's going to be tough to get these guys focused and get them going in the right direction.

Q: Is fifteen days enough to change things around, or are you going to try to keep things the way they are?

A: There are going to be a couple changes. The one thing I can do is to, at first initially, get back to the fundamentals and basics of playing football. Work on the fundamentals and the techniques and the skills at each position and get better at those things. And try to improve the team at that standpoint initially, and as we get closer to the bowl game, try to concentrate more on Illinois.

Q: Did you sit down with Dan Guerrero to kind of have him map out what he wants from you?

A: No, I have not spoken to Dan. I've talked to Bob Field a couple of times, but we're going to talk some more early in the week to really get a focused plan and the direction in which we want to go with this thing. I had an initial conversation with those guys right after the firing of Rick, and they gave me some idea of the direction which we want to go.

Q: Illinois' coach said he can't count on all nine guys on staff to be there through the bowl. Are you in a similar situation? Are some of your coaches looking at other jobs?

A: I'm sure in the back of everyone's mind they're looking for different places to work, and you never know what's going to happen so you have to do that. But I think our group is a professional group. I think right now everyone's coming back and everyone's going to work toward getting to December 31st and putting the team's best foot forward. Everyone's committed to that, I know we talked about it as coaches after the game a little bit on the bus. And I think everyone's going to be positive, we're going to work in a positive direction. I think everyone's going to be committed to that.

Q: So you think you'll have your whole staff with you through December 31st?

As of right now, I think we will. I'm sure things could change, but then we'll have to make the necessary adjustments to make sure we cover that. But as of right now, all of our coaches are there and I think all of our coaches are planning to go and working hard towards putting UCLA's best foot forward.

Q: How do you go about keeping the recruiting class together though the lag time between interim coach and new head coach?

A: Those are some of the things I want to talk about with Dan and talk about with Bob and the direction in which we want to go as far as the recruiting goes. I know that they're looking at a couple different candidates right now. I'm sure when things happen with that then I'm sure we can make some necessary adjustments. But those are some of the conversations we're going to have when we meet tomorrow morning.

Q: If they make a hire between now and bowl game, how will that affect your status?

A: I'm going to coach the bowl game, so I'm looking to December 31st and getting the team there with the proper and necessary focus, and making sure that we're not distracted in any way. If that happens, then it happens, but I've been asked to coach this team in the bowl game, get us ready in practice, and put together a plan that gives us the best opportunity to compete on December 31st, and that's what I'm going to do.

Q: Have you expressed to them that you would have any interest in the job?

A: I have not sat down with Dan, and I have not sat down with Bob to talk about anything yet. We plan to have a few conversations early this week to discuss a number of different matters. If that comes up then we'll definitely talk about it. But as of right now, we have not had any conversations towards that.

Q: Are you interested in this job?

A: I love Los Angeles. I think UCLA is a great place to go to school. I think anyone who works in this profession would have an interest in coaching UCLA, so to answer that question, yes, I would be. And it's a situation where I've been asked to be the interim coach to get us to December 31st and that's what I'm going to do…(here he was cut off by the next question from someone who sounded drunk)

Q: How did you qualify for a bowl at 6-7? Isn't there a rule that you have to be .500?

A: I think that rule- I can't answer for the NCAA, but before we added the Pac-12 championship game we would have been 6-6 and this is the first year that we've had a Pac-12 championship. (At this point, Chris Foster clarified for the seemingly drunk guy about the waiver process).

Q: How much of your current job at offensive coordinator do you have to cede now that you're taking over the head job?

A: I'm still going to take on the offensive coordinator duties and be responsible for the game planning along with the other coaches on offense and putting that game plan together and calling the plays on game day. So I don't think that role will change. You'll add some more responsibilities being the head coach that day. But I think my role as the offensive coordinator won't change that much. I think that as a group offensively we'll work together more. I think everyone will have a little more input, and there will be sometimes when I'm not in there where guys will have to take that over, but I think our guys are professional, they're a veteran group and if that has to happen, then I think they can handle that responsibility with no problem.

Q: Would you be the quarterbacks coach and will Kevin Prince definitely be the starter?

A: I think Marques Tuiasosopo will work with the quarterbacks, but those are some things that we'll talk about tomorrow when we get to the office. But I think I'm going to work with the quarterbacks during the individual period and work with them on the techniques and the fundamentals and the drills, and things like that with the quarterbacks, but then I'll oversee the entire deal, and then we'll probably put Marques Tuiasosopo in that role.

Q: And with Kevin and Richard Brehaut, will Kevin be the starter?

A: That's something we'll have to sit back and look at. It hasn't been determined yet, but as of right now, (Kevin) is the starter.

Q: Do you envision consulting with Rick at any time in the next couple of weeks?

A: I don't think so. I think Rick and I have had a couple of conversations right before he left where he gave me a little insight into a couple of things I'm going to have to encounter, but I don't envision us having a conversation anymore after that.

Q: When will you start bowl practices?

A: That's what I'm going to determine tomorrow. Finals week is coming up this week and our students will be involved with that, so we'll probably get started early next week. But the date has not been determined yet.

Q: Does having a later bowl game give you more time to get adjusted to the job and does it help to have that week off for finals?

A: It definitely helps from the finals standpoint, and it gives us another week to ten days to get better fundamentally and gives us another week of practice. For the young players on the team, the freshmen and sophomores and the guys red shirting, it's huge for them, because it gives them another five to eight practices to get better with all the things they do.

Q: How does going to this bowl help UCLA?

A: I think any time you play a season and you become bowl eligible, you need to reward those players. The NCAA says we are eligible for a bowl, and I think it's important for all the guys who have put in all the hard work for UCLA this year to be rewarded. And I think from that standpoint, it's great, but it also gives you fifteen more days of practice for all of your young players to get better at their craft and get better fundamentally.

Q: Have you met with the team alone as head coach yet?

A: No, the first meeting will be tomorrow.

Q: How much of this transition will be getting these guys to accept you as the final word now, rather than as maybe the No. 2?

A: The one thing I think I have with all the players is their respect. And I think from that standpoint, it makes it an easier transition. I think the players know exactly who I am and they know what I stand for. And they know what type of coach I am, so I don't think it will be a hard transition at all. I think that the players will do what I ask them to do, and I think they'll do it to the best of their ability. They know the kind of coach I am and they know the kind of person I am, so I don't think it'll be hard at all.

Q: Are you looking at these fifteen practices as an audition?

A: No, I wouldn't say an audition. I think it's going to give me an opportunity to coach. I think it's going to give me the ability to put a foot print, or a thumb print on this thing that kind of gets them going in the direction that I see fit. But I think it's going to be a group effort by the coaches and the players are going to work hard. I think everyone to a man wants to do well in this bowl game to earn UCLA the respect it deserves.

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