Q: I wanted to start with recruiting. When you came in here, were you expecting to get as good a class as you ended up with?
A: Yeah, I thought one of Jim's points of emphasis in getting guys in here was to get guys who could recruit and have some success with it. So when we saw the guys that made it on to the staff, we knew that we could put together a good class. I don't know if we thought we get something like what we ended up with, but we just started going and progressed, and as each guy got added on, you know, our goal was to get a top ten class. And we came pretty close to it, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. We only had a short period of time to work together to put the class together. And keep it in perspective too. One of the things we came into was that we could have brought in a lot of the guys from where we came from, but we chose not to do that. We just went after the best guys we could find, and the best players we could find. We didn't take the easy way out. So it was just a great effort by everybody, and everyone contributed. It was important to everyone. And another thing, I think, you know, we get the awards for different things and we get a lot of notoriety for being recruiters, but Jim made our job easy. You don't have a lot of head coaches that take that kind of pride, and give out their personal cell phone to recruits and different things like that. I mean, it's just crazy. I was surprised at just how much he took to it and just how natural he was. He put himself out there and I think people just saw him and people really appreciated that. That's one of the reasons we had success as well.
Q: Did you see him develop as a recruiter during the process?
A: Yeah, but it's weird. He's kind of just himself. And I think that was endearing to a lot of people. Parents came in and he was very approachable. And like I said, he was very accessible to the kids. And, you know, when they go to top tier programs, or you know, BCS programs, you don't have really have a lot of interaction with the head coach on a daily basis. But a lot of these kids that were top targets, and even some that may not have been top targets, they were able to call him whenever they'd like, and he'd answer the phone, and that was one of the comments that they all made, that he made an impression on them. Just his accessibility, and answering their questions. He only had a short period of time for these guys to get to know him, and he did an excellent job of making himself available to the kids and their parents. He's genuine, and that's one of the things that the recruits and their families just ate up. You just don't have guys that are like that. Especially, I think, coming into this situation, you know, you have a guy that's been in the NFL for 25 years, who's never been in a college environment except for when he was playing in it. But he's just the complete opposite of that. You'd think he's been in college for the last 20 years. He's just a natural.
And the other thing is, he's the one giving out a lot of these offers now. You know, we're evaluating as a staff, but he wants to be involved with everything. It's just pretty neat. He's on facebook, and he actually does his own, so he's talking to the kids on his own. He does his own twitter, the whole nine. We'll be sitting in there, and one of us will be like, "So and so's really interested." And he'll say, "Oh yeah, I know, I talked to him the other day on facebook." And we'll just sit back and be like, "What the…?" But it's kind of refreshing, when you think about it, all the stuff he has to do, putting the playbook together, hiring staff, but then you add in all the administrative stuff, the things behind the scenes, and still be able to go and do all the things that we do as assistants…I mean, it's pretty awesome. It makes our job a lot easier.
Q: And it helps when you only sleep about an hour a night.
A: [Laughs] He's great. I've really enjoyed working for him so far. Everything I heard about him, I mean, I had two teammates in college that played for him. One played for him for five or six years or something, and they spoke really highly of him, and everything they said is pretty much true. He takes really good care of us, and looks out for the team's best interests. You know, it's been a good experience so far.
Q: What do you think makes this staff so good at recruiting? Is it the same kind of thing as with Mora, where it's just about being genuine and up front, or is it something else?
A: I think it's just guys that, well, it's a lot of different things when it comes to LA. I think you see it this year especially, because we recruited California so well, because we have so many guys that are from here. You know, I'm from Inglewood originally. Yarbs is from South Central, so is Broussard. Demetrice is from Pasadena. We've got guys that are from here, and it means something to us, it's important to us. We've got to go to those neighborhoods to meet their parents, so it's a lot of different things. We're around, we're accessible. People feel really comfortable talking to us, because we're one of them. And then you've got Angus up north and it's the same type of thing, Angus and Jeff. And Jeff's another NFL guy that came in and just took off running. He's all about it. The kids love him, and I tend to think it's because he's just real. I think people give us too much credit, and put too much emphasis on NFL background. No, I think it's more just that they can relate to us, we're from where they're from. We grew up with UCLA in our back yards, and it's important to us. It means something. And when something means something to you, you have to take pride in it, and you have to do well at it. We're all excited to be here. None of us are looking to go anywhere else. This is where we want to be. Somebody such as myself, my goal was to get to the Pac-12. My goal was to be here in LA. And when I got into coaching a while back over at SMU, that wasn't where I was planning to spend my career. One of the reasons I was trying to get LA (in recruiting) was because I wanted to be in LA. [Laughs] The only way to get over here was to steal kids out of here and open some minds. And thinking with Demetrice, he was at SC for a while as a GA, but then he went to Washington and one of the reasons why he switched is because he's recruiting LA so well. Same thing with Broussard. And, you know, Yarbs, the guy who was recruiting when I was coming up, when a lot of us were coming out. He's had a name out here in the streets for a long time. He's an OG in the recruiting game. He came on and all the coaches were excited and all that. His reputation precedes him and all that. And I'm just talking from an LA standpoint. I mean, look at Noel, who has a reputation for being a national recruiter. He's done it at the highest level- the SEC, the Pac-12, the NFL. When you talk about a guy whose name carries weight, you don't get any better than that in the college ranks. And it all starts at the top, with Jim. There's a lot of credibility with that. You don't have to hard sell (kids).
Q: As a young coach, how valuable is it to you to be around guys like Mazzone and Yarber and Mora who've got that kind of wealth of experience?
A: You know, I'm sitting up there today, and Steve Broussard was over there with Mazzone, and we were just going over what our spring ball practice was going to be like, and shoot, I'm learning stuff every day. You know, I've played in different offenses in the league and at the college level, but you can always learn, especially with a unique offense. This is my first time being…obviously, I've played in big games, but as a coach, I'm freaking pumped up to be in the Pac-12. Every time we get some nice gear or something I'm like, "the Pac-12, it's a hell of a thing." All these other guys they're coming from big time programs, but for me it's like every day is like Disneyland. But I mean, it's a learning experience all the time, and not just from an offensive standpoint. But from a defensive standpoint, just the things we'll see in practice, going against those guys over there. A lot of NFL experience, a lot of different things they all bring to the table. I just think, this is exciting man. You know, Jeff and I played together in college. So that's another awesome thing. You hear a lot of things about some staffs, they click, and here, you've got guys roaming into each others' offices throughout the day. It's just a fun environment. People's kids, we all know each others' wives. Well, I'm not married, but everybody knows each others' wives and girlfriends, things like that. It's just really cool. Jim's really made a point to not just get guys that can do the job, but guys that fit the mold. We're all kind of very similar, and all our strengths kind of play well with each other. It's just great. And Angus has done a really good job as recruiting coordinator. And Pat Girardi has done a good job of getting guys in areas that they could be happy with. We all recruited LA, and different areas were split up in a way that's fair to everybody, and everybody can still utilize their strengths. Guys have kind of humbled themselves. No one feels like they have to be the guy. Everyone just feels like, whatever's in the best interest of the team, in the best interest of having success and getting the best players. And that's what we're going to do. It's all the way across the board.
Q: Moving to this year's team, I saw that Jeff Baca has been moved back to guard, which is probably his more natural position. Do you feel OK about your depth at tackle heading into spring?
A: Well, I don't think you can ever feel OK with your depth at tackle. That's one of the most important positions, so we're going to move some guys around. It's wide open. Everybody's going to have an equal opportunity to earn a position. There'll be some guys missing due to different ailments or whatever, but the guys that are here are going to get a ton of reps and a ton of opportunities to earn a spot. I thought Jeff was a natural guard, and so I want to put him in a position, just like anyone else, where he'll have the most success. And his body type and his skill set, they're most conducive to having success at an interior position. And so guard is what it's going to be.
Q: How much tape have you been able to watch of last year's guys?
A: All of it. Coach wanted us to watch all of the film to be familiar with the guys going in, you know, and know what type of players they were, and what they're capable of. Where they were at skill wise. What their mentality is. What their effort levels are. We've been able to watch practice film as well as game film, and all of us are going to make cut ups and talk to guys about what they need to work on, so there's a good understand on both ends of what the expectations are, on their side from us and on our side from them. What we need to see from them, what they need to work on, and what things they need to focus on going into spring ball.
Q: A big switch is going from the run heavy pistol to, not to assume anything about Noel's offense, but definitely a more pass oriented attack. How does that change things for the line? Do guys have to be more mobile?
A: Yeah, more mobile. More athletic guys. A lot more length. But we have some guys here that possess all of those qualities. I think we obviously need to add a few more components and we addressed those things with this past class, and we'll continue to do so going forward.
Q: Are you hoping to have Alexandru Ceachir actually get some serious playing time this spring?
A: Yeah, most definitely. That's one of the benefits of him coming in. I was looking for one guy, one or two guys that could come in in spring and get a jump start on next year. So hopefully he can come in, and you know, he can play either position, guard or tackle. There's still some learning curve for him, even though he had a lot of big schools after him. But he's a guy that I expect to make incredible gains in spring ball, and then hopefully build on that foundation once he gets into camp. So I'm excited for him.
Q: And then you've got Xavier Su'a-Filo coming back after the Mormon mission. Last time I talked with him he said he still had to get back into shape. What's he looking like after a couple of months of working out?
A: He has incredible athleticism. He's quick. I mean, we have them every two days, and every time he's on the field, you can see he's improving. What I've told him is he just has to be patient, that there is such thing as muscle memory, and everything will come back a little faster than he thinks it will. When you're a guy like him that has some special abilities, you're a little more gifted than other people, so you'll probably be a little more apt to recover some of those skills fairly quickly. It's crazy, but he hasn't played in two years, and it looks like he could be our best lineman.
Q: Given the depth concerns on the line, is it fair to say that the positions on the website, Baca at guard, Capella at center, are all going to be a bit fluid depending on how things iron out this spring?
A: Yeah, that's just where I project them at. That's just where I see them being, but that could change, depending on what happens in the spring. Capella and Jake Brendel are going to fight it out at center, and then we'll kind of go from there. I like both of them, and I think we could get some nice competition there.
Q: Are you hoping to nail down some starters by the end of spring practice, or do you think you might be in the position of having to take a look at some of the freshmen in the fall?
A: We'd definitely like to settle on some guys who can play in the spring. You know, we're going to give guys a ton of reps this spring and give them every opportunity to get their roles. We want guys who'll show toughness and really expend the effort and show they want to play. But if we have to, we'll look at some of the younger guys later on. Obviously, you'd rather not play freshmen if you don't have to, but we will if it comes to that, and if it looks like some of them are ready.
Q: Your ideal situation, how many guys would you want in an offensive line rotation?
A: In a game? Five. I just want five guys. I just want continuity. I want those guys working well together, and I want a single-mindedness every single game. Every single day. Obviously different guys will practice and all that, but in a game, I want continuity on the line, so the guys are comfortable with who they're playing next to.
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