Interview: Tom Cable

The new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, <b>Tom Cable</b>, provides some insights into his coaching philosophy, taking over UCLA's offense, some changes to the offensive line, and much more...

What were some of the factors that went into your decision to come to UCLA?

"I think my relationship with (Head Coach) Karl (Dorrell). It certainly was having a passion and thirst to coach offensive line again. It's where it's at for me. UCLA is also a great place, with a tremendous upside to it. Now, having been here for a month or so, I see it's going to be a lot of work. Perception isn't always reality. But the opportunity to have an impact and help put something back on its feet that has a lot of tradition and pride is appealing. Those are the main reasons. "

Since being at UCLA, what has been your initial impression, especially about the task before you?

"When I was younger, I always pictured UCLA as a major program, and put it on a pedestal. Then, coaching at Cal for six years and competing against UCLA, when they walked out of the tunnel, they lived up to that perception you had of them physically. They had talent, but they also had depth of talent. After being here just one week, Karl said to me, ‘You have a lot of work to do.' I thought, but this is UCLA. Then I saw that there were only nine scholarship offensive linemen on the team right now. That's not even half of what you ought to have. So it's a challenge to build competition, and build a competitive unit, and to make it one where we can really get after someone running the football and keep our quarterback clean. We don't have the luxury of numbers, or bodies, which would make that easier. We have to find the bodies to get it done, and when I first got here the realization of that was a big eye-opener. I never would have thought it about UCLA. I would have thought that you'd have 18 to 20 guys who were evaluated and talented, and you have to just get them on the same page and you could have something. That's not how it is here yet, but my job is to create that, and I think that's exciting. You can definitely get a productive unit out of the guys that are here, and get them to do what they need to do to succeed."

Did Coach Dorrell contact you a year ago about a potential position on the staff?

"We had talked about working together somewhere. But I was coaching Idaho, and I've never quit anything. It wasn't possible that I leave something like that. That's what I teach and coach, that when you set out to do something you do it to the end, and do it the right way. A year ago, it kind of would have gone against what I believe. And it never really got to that point. We talked about working together and what we could accomplish."

Knowing Coach Dorrell, and other coaches at UCLA, have you been fairly comfortable joining the staff?

"I actually only knew one other coach on the staff besides Karl, and that is Coach (Jon) Embree. I had met Coach (Eric) Bieniemy and I knew Coach (Gary) DeLoach since we had coached against each other. I understand Karl and know what his vision is. Being that UCLA is his school, it's a bit deeper for him. He'll teach that to all of us. But the philosophy and vision, the type of people and talent we want to recruit, how you want to be perceived, and the type of integrity we want to maintain, I think we both understand that really well."

What would you say are some of the basics of your philosophy in coaching the offensive line?

"There are a few things, off the top of my head. You have to figure out what you have and where they fit. Whether you have a right guard or a left tackle, a strong guard or a weak guard. You have to get them fit the best and then get the best out of who you have. That's the #1 responsibility. Secondly, there has to be a change in attitude in how you play the game on the line of scrimmage. And I can break that down. You have to love what I call ‘the grind.' You have to love to work. You're never strong enough for me. The way I present it, you can't put enough time in for me. You have to accept responsibility of your job. I think for Cable and Dorrell, school is important. If you want to be an NFL first-rounder, you have to be a first-rounder in the classroom. It's about work, getting stronger, committing to yourself and the future, on both the field and the academic side. Thirdly, the guys I coach have to understand that I want it right now. I'm not very patient in that way. I believe we can teach them how to do it the right way, and I think you win with fundamentals, good habits, and not doing anything half-assed. There's the right way to do it and everything else is the wrong way. And you have to have unbelievable passion for it every day you put the helmet on. Whether it's a game or practice, you have to strive to be the best you can and have to love to play this game."

How has it been so far for you in applying those tenets in beginning to coach UCLA's offensive line?

"I think good. We're in the phase like I said where you want to get to know them, and for them to get to know you. Right now it's important to be very clear and concise in what you expect from them. I've done that from day one. And I want it from them in return. You can't b.s. me. If you screw up, drop the ball, whatever, just tell me. Act like men. Be responsible. I'll coach you the same way. I don't want to babysit you. I'll coach you hard and make you great. I want to love you as men and give you all I can. And there's no b.s. involved."

Since you've been here you only have been able to have limited coaching time with the players. What have you been able to do and accomplish?

"It's very difficult. We're very limited because of NCAA rules. I'm kind of chomping at the bit. But we've been working as much as we can. I've analyzed a lot of tape and give the players breakdowns, evaluations of what I've seen. I've probably watched too much tape, over and over. I think that's important, though. It really is the #1 thing, to know where you're at and what you have. And then to know the player, his emotional side and maturity level. That's what you have to do face to face. You have to understand who they are as football players and who they are as people. So there has been plenty to do really."

Have you had enough to evaluate that you could make changes in the two-deep prior to spring practice?

"First, we don't even have enough bodies to make up a two-deep, which is amazing. But I don't think we're quite there yet anyway, to be able to make those kind of decisions. We're still making evaluations, and that's what we'll use to establish where guys will start out, what positions. It's just really a jumping-off point, but not really a two-deep."

UCLA has had a history of recruiting big offensive linemen, but recently signed smaller – and seemingly quicker – recruits. Do you have a preference for bigger -- or smaller and quicker?

"I say take the athlete. My philosophy, in a nutshell, is pretty simple. I'm going to go as big as I can until you get negative returns on a player's suddenness and quick twitch. I'll admit I want monsters. I'd like to have King Kong with Michael Jordan's quickness. I ain't going to lie. But I want monsters with some zip to them."

What have been your impressions of the JC OL transfer, Marc Villafuerte, and whether he'll be able to immediately contribute?

"What I've seen in condition and weight training, I'm been very impressed. I'm anxious to get on the field with him and coach him. He looks you in the eye. When he's asked to do something, whether it's school or film, or anything, he goes and does exactly what he was asked to do. It's a tremendous characteristic. I like his work ethic. He grinds. And from what I've seen he has the suddenness and the quick twitch. He's a guard, but I don't know if he's strong or weak. Those are things we'll have to iron out in spring football."

From what you've seen, will JC quarterback transfer David Koral be able to contribute quickly?

"My sense, being new, is that everybody should be looked at that way – that they're here to contribute. Nobody is happy with what this program went though last season. That's by no means where the bar is set here. So, they brought in guys for a reason. For a specific need, number one, but number two you'd have to have the ability. In Koral, I see a pretty athletic guy. I haven't seen him throw in person but on tape, so I can't judge. But on tape, and in training and conditioning, I've been impressed."

As the new offensive coordinator, what is your offensive philosophy and how do you get the West Coast offense to succeed?

"People have a lot of different perceptions of the West Coast Offense. I come from the Steve Mariucci philosophy, which comes from the Mike Holmgren philosophy, which comes from the Bill Walsh philosophy. In a nutshell for me, it's first downs and first downs and then touchdowns."

UCLA has seen a lot of stacked boxes in recent years. What will you do to counteract it?

"Throw over their heads. I think that would be great. I've seen enough tape of UCLA games and see that people have stacked the box. You have to then make the opportunity to create big plays. We have receivers that are capable of doing that. With eight and sometimes nine in the box, you have to also find a way to consistently run the football. But this system will create the opportunity to throw the ball over their heads. You never ever go into a game without knowing you're going to take shots down the field with the deep ball. You have to be able to go in there and take shots, as many as you can each quarter. Not two or three a game. Baloney. Two or three a quarter. And you have to use reverses, reverse passes...You have to be able to go deep against a stacked box and not just use a short pass."

To be able to do that, you have to be able to protect your quarterback. UCLA saw a lot of blitzes last year. Which do you prefer to counteract blitzes: Hot routes with five out or max protection?

"I think it's a mistake to go exclusively either way. You have to have the capability to do all things. People talk about a balanced offense as the balance between run or pass, but it's also the balance between being able to do many things that allow you to run or pass. That's truly balance. Throwing the football you have to be able to protect against five, six or eight. You have to be able to come out hot on both sides. You have to have the ability to attack either side of the field. You have to have multiple protections. I enjoy the blitz. It presents opportunity. I teach kids to enjoy it too."

Will you simplify the blocking schemes?

"I've been running this system since 1996 and have a good understanding of it. You have to be smart, but to be smart it's good to be simple. It's really not what I know, or what Karl knows, or what Larry Kerr knows that matters, but what the kids know. You can only go as far as your kids can take you. And that depends on what kind of teachers we are. It's always about whether you can take them to the next level, but you can't think about C until you've accomplished A and B. Could it be by August that we're not past a certain stage and we're still pretty limited? Maybe. Are we at D, E or F by then? I certainly hope so. But it's all about teaching your kids what they can master. Not what you can tell them, but what they can accomplish. That means you use the guys you have, whoever you have, and you build the offense around them. Then you make sure that all 11 guys are executing perfectly on any given play at any given time.

"Now, we do think that being in a strong and weak side would be more advantageous for these guys. For example, nothing against Steve Vieira. Before the end of next season he's going to be a great player. But there really isn't a left tackle in our program. You don't have the main piece for that philosophy of left and right side. It would be like fighting a war with squirt guns and the enemy has machine guns."

So, you're going to use a strong and weak tackle approach, rather than a right and left?

"I think the weak and strong works better. It really gets guys a little more uniformed in their approach and understanding. They play certain looks all the time and in terms of a learning curve it's a little more streamlined for them. The understanding comes sooner. And once they understand it they're able to master it at a faster rate. I've played and coached in this system almost every year of my career."

So, just to clarify, the offensive linemen will move to either side of the line depending on whether it's the weak or strong side as opposed to staying on one side, correct?

"Absolutely. You get that versatility with it, too. It makes them interchangeable, and gives you balance to run on both sides, and away from the tight end. And in learning it, players tend to grasp it sooner. That's the number one reason to do it. I mean, can you be successful with a right and left side, with or without a tight end? Absolutely. Can it be done? Yes. I've done it. But it's double learning. The most important thing here is for UCLA football to be successful and we have to give ourselves the best chance to have success quickly. I think that's what coaching is all about. You take what you got. Every year you get something different in terms of personnel and it's about having a system and a way to optimizing that talent within it.

"Hey, everyone associated with UCLA – whether they're coaches, players, or fans – wants to win. And we have to give ourselves the best chance to do that now."

UCLA was pretty predictable offensively last season. What can you do to change that?

"I'll be able to answer that better after spring practice. In no way am I avoiding the question. I just have to be able to see what we're capable of first. For me, I need to see what are our strengths. Who has the ability to do certain things. And also, who can handle pressure and be able to perform in all situations. How many guys I determine are capable I'll use all of them. Using as many as possible keeps you away from being predictable. In this system, we should throw the ball to 10 or 11 guys in one single football game. You have to have that sort of mix. And while you might not think it, running the football with consistency makes you more unpredictable. If you pound some ass on the ground they can't stop you in anything you want to do."

Will there be more diversity in the running plays, utilizing misdirection, or toss sweeps or toss blast plays?

"A lot of that will have to do with personnel, to be honest. The real key to running the football successfully at this level is to have a system. And everyone on the offense has to buy into the system. It has to be important, for instance, to the wide receiver and the quarterback to want to run the football. It will make them better. We all know that if a receiver blocks someone it could result in a big run. That then opens up the passing game. You have to have a system, and everyone has to understand it. You have to teach it right, learn how to do it right, work on it, and then everyone has to commit to it. It's easy to throw the ball. It's easy to spread out everyone. But to run the football you can be ultimately the most successful on this level and you have to commit to it and work at it. If you're successful at it, it's the key. And what is successful to different people is different. Is that 120 yards a game? Is it 200 yards a game? Is it the ability to run four yards with consistency? Everyone has a different definition for it."

How do you, though, keep the play calling from becoming predictable and keeping defenses from teeing off on you?

"You need good run blocking, obviously, and be able to run the football. And of course you want to be a good pass protection team, and not allow your quarterback to get hit. If you can do these things your play calling can be hard to predict. I think people tee off on you when you give them the same launch point. It's not necessarily the play calling. But it's also about getting the defense worried about your running game. If they're worried about the ball coming out of the back end to Maurice Drew or Manuel White, it's a real issue, if you make it an issue. All of that figures in. But it's also about not being afraid to run the ball on third and seven and not being afraid to throw the ball on first down. It's about not being afraid to run or throw the football on any down. Any down and distance. Unless, well, it's fourth and long. You might be pretty certain that you're going to see a pass then."

As the offensive coordinator, how much control do you foresee you'll have over the play calling and the game planning?

"I think this is my baby. We're very lucky to have a staff of good coaches. I think we all have the same mindset in how we think. It will be a team effort in putting together the game plan. But just below Karl's name, I'm going to have my name on it."

Who do you consider some of your biggest coaching influences?

"That's where I think I've been one of the luckiest guys for someone my age. Dick Armstrong, my high school coach, next to my father, was one of the greatest men I've ever known. Keith Gilbertson, Sr., and Keith Gilbertson, Jr. Dennis Erickson. Greg Smith, who is the line coach with the San Francisco 49ers. And Steve Mariucci. All those guys are exceptional. All have had trials and failures, but at the end of the day, every day, they do it right. I have a lot of respect for them."


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