Spring Preview: McClure Interview

We sat down with Angus McClure to talk over his switch to coaching the defensive line, what he thinks of the personnel, and who he thinks has a chance at nose tackle...

Q: From your perspective as the recruiting coordinator over the last few years, how do you think this staff did closing out with the 2012 class?

A: Oh they did an outstanding job to transition from other colleges or from the NFL and to come to UCLA and hit the ground running. They did just an outstanding job just understanding the dynamics and the details of recruiting student-athletes to UCLA. Because it is a little bit different than most other institutions when it comes to admissions and academic standards and that kind of stuff. And then to certainly learn their new recruiting areas and to build relationships with the high school coaches in their areas. They did a great job, they really did.

Q: Being the recruiting guy for a couple of years, how much dealing did you have with guys like Adrian Klemm, Eric Yarber, Steve Broussard prior to them being hired at UCLA?

A: You know, I run into coaches when I'm out recruiting. And I certainly knew Adrian, because he played with one of my former players in New England, so I knew him through Lonnie Paxton. I've known Yarbs through the years just through the coaching profession and I knew he was an outstanding recruiter also. Steve Broussard…I mean, the whole staff is a bunch of outstanding recruiters. So, I was excited to see those guys come on board.

Q: Did you play any role in pointing Mora toward those guys, since he wasn't really in this environment?

A: No, I didn't. What I helped Jim with was organization of recruiting, educating him on the admissions process at UCLA, and getting him kind of acclimated to college football recruiting since he'd never really done that before. He was a quick study. I took him out on his first day, and he did an outstanding job. He's certainly a natural, he's a big personality, and he's a football guy.

Q: How much of a role have you had in dividing up the recruiting responsibilities going forward?

A: I helped organize the whole transition, so a big part. The easiest thing to do is to have coaches recruit in areas where they've done it before or where they have preexisting relationships, or areas where they grew up. That's the easiest thing to do. So for Los Angeles, what we tried to do was essentially break up Los Angeles, and try to get each coach a little area of LA. So we have our three city recruiters- we have Klemm down in Orange County, I'm doing the 818, Coach Spanos is doing 661, so he's got Santa Clarita and up, Coach Ulbrich is doing Ventura County and out, so he's got a little LA. So that's what I tried to do. I think with our situation being in Los Angeles, if we could use the whole staff in Los Angeles, it would be better for creating more relationships than just having, say, two guys in LA.

Q: What's Mora's role in recruiting?

A: You know, as the head coach, he's just overseeing everything, and we don't give the head coach an area because, well, first thing is he can't go out and recruit in the spring. So head coaches have to be on campus. And then when you get into the season, and things like that, it's difficult for him to get out on a consistent basis. Certainly when we have home games he'll be out watching games in the local Los Angeles, area, but to give him an area would be really tough. And then when you get into December and January, with home visits and that type of stuff, the head coach has to be the closer a lot of times. So you're pretty limited in his access for doing an area.

Q: Are you keeping the responsibilities of recruiting coordinator next year, in addition to defensive line?

A: Yes, this will be my fifth year as the recruiting coordinator.

Q: Heading into spring, obviously you're moving over to coaching defense. Have you had much experience on the defensive side of the ball?

A: You know, I started as a defensive line coach back in 1992. So I've been coaching for 20 years. I started as a defensive line coach, and then evolved to defensive coordinator at the high school level. And then when I moved to junior college, I moved back to offense. And then in four years schools, I've been doing offense and special teams the majority of the time. But I love the intensity and the enthusiasm of defense. I like the defensive attitude. I'm really excited about it. It's funny. When you're an offensive coach, all you do is study defense. You study defensive linemen, you study defensive techniques. Fundamentals, schematics. All you do as an offensive coach is study the other side of the ball. So, to actually switch over, I feel I have a big advantage because I've coached in the west coast offense, I've coached in the pistol, I've coached in spread offenses, I've coached in option offense. I've coached in so many different offenses that whatever we see in the Pac-12 or in non-conference, I've coached a similar type of offense before, so I know a lot of the answers.

Q: Did Mora approach you about being the defensive line coach, or did you tell him, "hey, this is something I can do."?

A: No, he approached me about coaching defensive line. He certainly knew my background as an offensive line coach. He knew my background of coaching special teams, and in talking with him also, he obviously discovered my defensive background. And certainly it wasn't on a major college campus, but I do have experience in doing it. Another thing that's kind of interesting is that, I told you, as an offensive coach you spend a lot of time in learning all the things defensive players do and studying defense and all that stuff, but if you come out to any type of practice, you'll always see the offensive line coach coaching up the defensive linemen and vice versa. So, I spent a lot of time this year coaching the Kevin McReynolds, and the Seali'i Epenesa,s and the Tepas, and the Tuliaupupus, and the Willie Flowers. I worked with those guys all of last year coaching the offensive line, so it's kind of interesting the banter that goes back and forth and the similar things that offensive and defensive linemen do.

Q: So you've probably got a pretty good feel for the guys who are coming back this year?

A: Very much so.

Q: Given the personnel, how do you think these guys will acclimate to switching to a three man front?

A: Well, first of all, the scheme is going to be different so the alignments are going to be different. That's going to be the first thing. The second thing is going to be assignments. And the third thing is going to be techniques. Now, techniques you say is the third thing, but that's where they're going to spend the most amount of time doing, because it is different for a defensive lineman in a 34 front. And certainly when we go to nickel package, we may be more of an even front, which will be similar to what they did last year. But the big thing is going to be learning the techniques of a 34 front.

Q: In terms of alignment, what kind of big changes come with the 34 front?

A: Well, starting with the defensive ends, they're going to be moved inside from where they were last year so they'll be on the offensive tackles. So, for example, in the old system if they were on the open side, they'd be lined up on the tackle, but if they were on the closed side, which is the tight end side, they'd be aligned on the tight end. So alignment-wise, that's where it's going to be a little bit different for them. But when we get into our nickel package, we'll have some of those guys playing defensive end also. So when we're in our nickel package, we'll use our defensive ends as well as our outside linebackers.

Q: Is there an element where you have to change the mindset of a guy like, say, Datone Jones, who's made a name for himself as a pass rusher, because the 3-4 is more about being kind of a space eater?

A: Well, that's not necessarily true. You're a space eater from the standpoint of the run game. In the pass game, certainly, you're not. A lot of times there's an advantage for a 34 defense for the defensive ends because now they're going to get two way go's. What I've told them, being a coach of 20 years, is from an offensive standpoint, there's nothing more difficult than blocking a 34 defense. I explained the advantages that the defense has running the 34 defense. For example, knowing who the fourth rusher is going to be. You don't know quite who it's going to be. Or the different schematics of the run game, how they're going to block certain things. And again that's why it's so popular at the next level. The 34 defense is multiple. You have a huge, huge pressure package. The pass rush game, I was telling Datone, should flourish in this system. It will be more beneficial for him. And also, at the next level, if he learns the system here, when he moves to the next level it's just going to be that much easier for him to learn the defense in the NFL. To block it, it's a pain in the butt. You look at the top defenses in the NFL, they run a 34 defense. You look at a lot of those guys, it's a great defense. It's a great defense. I'm excited.

Q: In terms of the nose tackle, do you think you have that prototypical nose tackle in either Donovan Carter or Epenesa?

A: You know, yes. We do. And we have one in Tuliaupupu, and we have one in Brandon Willis. Now, when we go into spring, we're definitely going to find out who can do what. But evaluating the film that I've watched over the last three months, I have a good idea who I think can do a nice job. But I want to see it myself when I'm coaching them. That's why we do spring ball, so we can experiment with guys. You know, like a Brandon Willis, certainly he can be a great end. But after observing him last year, and in the scout team…And again, when we used him on the scout team, when our opponent was running a 34 defense, whether it was Cal or Stanford, I put Brandon Willis at nose guard, and I put Kevin McReynolds at nose guard to emulate Cal and Stanford's nose guards. And they did a nice job against us. So, again, [Laughs] I have a little experience coaching defense. More than people realize. It's football, but I've always thought a good offensive coach, he spends the majority of his time coaching up the defense, because you've got to each week project what your players are going to see. And vice versa with defensive line coaches, you've got to project to their players what the offensive players are going to do. And a lot of that is schematics and technique. Whether you're offensive or defensive line, you always work with both sides of the ball.

Q: With Willis, he's a guy you're going to experiment with in spring just to see where he's a better fit?

A: Yeah, and there's a handful of guys that I'm going to do that with. Certainly Brandon is one of the strongest players on the team, and the nose guard is the guy who has to hold the point and certainly, the way we're teaching it, we're attacking the center. And we certainly need guys who are strong enough to hold the point, and push the offensive front back.

Q: What do you think Owamagbe Odighizuwa has to do to break into the rotation a bit more this year?

A: I think consistency, with Owa. He certainly is a tremendous athlete, and I think the spring is going to be really good for him. I think this system, that we're installing this spring, is really going to benefit him. I think he fits in to the 34 defense. So I see him having a big spring for us. We'll see how he progresses, but I'm excited for him.

Q: Obviously you've lost a couple of guys to the outside linebackers, but what do you think of the depth along your front three? Does it look good to you?

A: Yeah, depth's great. Even though we lose Damian Holmes and Keenan Graham and those type of guys to outside linebacker, I'll get to work with them when we're in a nickel front because we'll be a four man front essentially. That's the cool thing about this defense is that there's a lot of overlap in everything we do. So I feel very good about the depth we have going into spring. I'm very interested to see how our younger guys develop as well as our veterans like Cassius Marsh and Datone, and the Owas, and how they do in the new system. Like anything else, it's going to be a progression in spring ball, and we're going to take it one installation at a time. And we're really going to focus on fundamental techniques at the defensive front.

Q: That seems to be the mantra from a lot of the new coaches- focusing on fundamentals.

A: Well, first of all, you need to get back to the basics, right? And you've really got to stress…I mean, I'm changing their stances, I'm changing their eyes, I'm changing their hand placement. All this, the 34 front changes that. So it's a lot of newness for them. And we're going to use as much repetition as we can to get them comfortable with what they're doing. And then from there, we'll get more into schematics, you know, pressures and that type of stuff. The stunts, that type of stuff. But we're going to stress fundamentals first. As simple as a proper stance in the 34 front. As simple as your first step. As simple as your hand placement. Your second step. Your pad level. Your finish. All that stuff.

Q: Do you want to have an idea of who your starters are by the end of spring? What's the overall goal for spring?

A: When we get into that first week of May, we would really like to know and establish our depth chart for going into camp. So we have a good idea when we go into camp, of the personnel. But with this front also, it gives guys a lot of opportunities because it's situational football at times. You can use different talent at times. I think the biggest thing for the defensive line is to find out exactly everyone's strengths and talents in this new defense and find a way to use them all if possible in different situations. I think that's going to be one of the key elements to our spring. I think the biggest thing is to raise our level of effort throughout spring so we really set a good tempo and a good pace for the offseason which will carry us into August camp.

Q: Is increasing effort and tempo and pace- is that part of the culture change that Mora's been talking about?

A: Yeah, I think, we certainly want to do that. We certainly want to see daily competition. I think that's one of our keys. And certainly we will have competition throughout spring ball. Offense vs. defense, and those type of things. Just challenging the guys. That's going to be the biggest thing. Spring ball, obviously, we have 15 days to install our defense, offense and special teams. It's a great opportunity for coach-player, player-coach relationships to develop also, especially with the new staff. But we really want to establish the tempo. This is a huge spring for us. It's really big. We've got to set the tone.

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