Spring Preview: Mazzone Interview

We talked with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone about the structure of the new offense, the value of going up tempo, and what raw material he thinks he has at quarterback...

Q: I wanted to ask you a little bit about your background. I know at ASU you were mostly running the spread, but has that always been your offensive style?

A: I've always been a spread sort of guy, it was always just what percentage of spread was I doing. You know? So a little bit of that has to do with personnel. Depends on what kind of running backs and what kind of tight ends you have, and that sort of stuff.

Q: And you've had some pretty good quarterbacks in these locations to run that spread too- Phil Rivers at NC State and Brock Osweiler at ASU.

A: Hey, and I had a guy by the name of Jason Campbell over at Auburn, so I've had some pretty good guys.

Q: How much of that ASU offense do you think you'll be able to adapt to use at UCLA this year?

A: I mean, that's kind of my MO, right? That's what I do. Now, how much other stuff gets thrown in there, just kind of depends on, you know, once we get into spring ball and can see what kind of kids we've got. You know, what's their strengths, what's their weaknesses. I'm kind of big on fitting what we do offensively to the type of personnel we've got.

Q: So you're more of the philosophy of fitting the offense to the players than fitting players to the offense?

A: Well, yeah. Why would I run a 4x4 sprint team when all I've got is milers?

Q: You'd be surprised at the number of coordinators UCLA has had who've had a bit of the opposite line of thinking.

A: I'm not a good enough football coach to pull that one off. I'm the put in plays my guys can run kind of good.

Q: How much time have you had to look at tape of the personnel you've got?

A: A little bit. We did a little bit of point of attack tapes where we just kind of pulled, you know, 15, 20 plays off of each guy. But I don't want to, I'm not going to delve too much into it because to me everyone's kind of got a clean slate. I don't want any pre conceived notions of, well, this guy can't do this, or this guy can do that. I kind of have to see it on the field.

Q: Kind of in that vein, I noticed that you've made some position changes, particularly Dalton Hilliard moving to running back. Was that based mostly off of tape that you'd seen of him, or conversations you had with him?

A: What we're trying to do is get our best 22 on the field. You know, and he was a pretty good running back, I believe, in high school, if I'm right in that. And he's just going into his senior year and he feels he can really contribute in that spot. So, a lot of times, you have a little bit of depth at one spot and not as much some place else. My hat's off to Dalton. And it's spring ball. Shoot, he's been playing, what, in the secondary for three years? So, you know, I'm excited to see what he can do and see if he can be a big factor for us offensively. He's also got the ability to jump back over and play some defense. And who knows, he might be able to be the next Charles Woodson.

Q: You've talked in the past about the importance of tempo for your offensive scheme. It seems like there are two competing schools of thought on that, calling the perfect play vs. simply playing fast, like the Oregons of the world. Can you talk about what goes into that thinking for you?

A: Yeah, I mean, I've known Chip Kelly for a while, and you look at Chip, you look at Mike Leach, you look at Dana Holgorsen, you look at Kevin Sumlin down in Houston, we all kind of grew up together. We all kind of came up in the same line of thought. It doesn't make that the best way to do it or the worst way to do it. It's just a way to do it. I mean, you look at the Stanfords of the world and those guys, and they're pretty dang good offenses themselves. So to me, it's whatever system you decide you're going to be, as long as you truly believe in it and you've got a passion for it, and you coach the hell out of it, that's what creates the success. We're an up tempo football team, and we're not going to get in the huddle much, if at all. We want to kind of press the envelope as far as how fast we want to go. We're always trying to catch up to Chip up there. They do a great job with it there. Arizona, and Rich Rodriguez too, so there are a lot of teams out there doing that type of tempo system.

Q: So when you do that tempo system, it must kind of limit the number of things you can call?

A: Yeah, if you want to play fast, you can't have a lot of volume. That's what I believe. I kind of see it more like quality, not quantity in terms of the offense.

Q: At this point, are you trying to install that whole thing this spring, or just kind of build a framework and see how guys work in it?

A: I mean, there's a learning curve with any new offense you put in. Like I said, we don't have a lot of volume, so we'll have the base, or most of it, in hopefully by the end of the spring. Because basically what we're trying to do is just play faster every practice. So there's not a lot of change as far as our concepts or what we want to do. So, I've always said the first thing I want to do is to teach them it's not all about schemes. There's a million awesome, great schemes out there. There's a lot of guys who are smarter football coaches than me that come up with great schemes. I kind of concern myself more with training these guys on how we practice. What kind of pace we practice at, what kind of tempo, how you practice. Because I believe you've heard it for a hundred years, basically, at the end of the day, you're going to play kind of how you practice. So I put a lot of emphasis on us training that part of the offense. It's more important to me now than, hey, we've got 25 schemes, let's see if we can get them all in.

Q: Obviously, you haven't seen any of these quarterbacks in live action so I'm not going to ask you to handicap the race. But in general, what are the most important qualities for a quarterback in your offense?

A: If I had the perfect makeup of a quarterback, I would say he's got to be accurate, he's got to be a good decision maker, he's got to have some mobility, he's got to be able to create plays when there aren't any good things there, he's got to be able to overcome my play calling when I haven't called a good play, and the last thing on the list for me is arm strength. I'm a lot more interesting in a kid being accurate and making good decisions with the football than I am with him throwing the ball 85 yards down the field.

Q: I talked to T.J. Millweard a couple of times, and he generally seemed very impressed with you, saying you and he would talk nearly every day. How were you able to build such a strong relationship with him that you were able to flip him from two different schools?

A: Well, the other thing is T.J. really hit it off with Taylor (Mazzone, Noel's son), when he had a chance to meet him. He just was a good kid, had a good family. I really liked him. I fell in love with him the first time I went and watched him practice during spring recruiting, during fall of the season, during the season, when he came out and made a visit at ASU. We just kind of hit it off. He likes the offense. He and Brock kind of developed a friendship from when Brock was playing for me, so he was just kind of a good kid. I liked him.

Q: From what you've seen of him, what kind of strengths does he have a quarterback?

A: Shoot, I don't know. I won't know that until he gets here for a few days. I mean, his strengths are hopefully the five things I just said to you right here, you know?

Q: I hear you. Switching to another guy, did you recruit Brett Hundley during your first year at ASU?

A: Yeah, we did. I liked him coming out of high school. That was just my first year getting to ASU, so I don't remember how it all went down or anything like that, and he kind of made his decision for UCLA, and now I'm glad he did, because he's here. But yeah, I liked him out of high school a lot.

Q: Do you think you have a lot of raw material to work with at quarterback, with the seniors, Hundley, and Millweard?

A: I hope so. I mean, honestly, I didn't see any of these guys except playing against Kevin Prince, and then a year ago playing against Richard Brehaut. But when you're playing against somebody, I'm not really watching their offense, I'm watching their defense. Because, you know, you get kind of busy when those guys are on the field. But shoot, they've all been working their butts off since we got here, and I'm sure they've been working their butts off since they've been at UCLA. They're hopefully very competitive, because that's what we want. I hope there's competition at that position. So we'll throw the ball out here in a couple of weeks and start to kind of figuring things out.

Q: Given the spread system, are you doing just a straight left to right thing for the offensive line?

A: That's kind of a bizarre question from a sportswriter. You've been watching way too much football. But yeah, we'll just go right and left.

Q: Kind of a broad question, but what are your main goals to see out of spring?

A: I think get the core of the offense learned where these kids can execute at a good tempo. And then, it's not going to be pretty for a few weeks, you understand that? Because the main thing is that I want everyone to find their role. What's my role in this football team? Am I a starting slot or am I a backup Y or am I a starting X or am I backup center? So as soon as some guys can start to find their roles on this football team, it gives us a starting point for what we need to work on. So, I think you're going to see some guys bouncing around between different positions until we find what they athletically and mentally can do.

Q: You talked about the wide receivers, and settling on who's going to be the Y, who's going to be the X. Do you have as much depth as you would like at receiver, or as much as you think you'll need?

A: No, no. Not at all. I always look at it this way, I need to have a 4 wideout offense, which we'll be in sometimes. I need to have eight starters. Because when you play at a pretty good tempo, those kids get tired, so you need to roll guys in and out. So that's what we'll be looking for. That's what we'll be looking for this spring, see what we've got, and then when the young kids come in in August, that'll give us a good idea of where we need to plug those guys in at.

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