Pac-10 Football Media Day

Thursday was the annual day where all of the Pac-10 football coaches get together and talk about their teams. We have all of the comments from new Head Coach Rick Neuheisel, as well as some of the more salient ones from the rest of the coaches in the conference...

UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel

Opening Remarks:

"Needless to say I am elated to be here. It is a thrill to be back in college football. It is a thrill to be back at my alma mater. UCLA is a great place, it was great to me and I look forward to helping rekindle what I think is a rich, rich college football tradition and getting us back to a place where we can play for the big prizes. To do so, we're going to need to go out and recruit with the very best, and the kind of guy we're looking to recruit is the guy sitting right next to me, in Brigham Harwell. Outstanding student athlete that has done an unbelieveable job both on and off the field at UCLA. My first grade report that I got as the new head football coach, he had straight A's, and then came out and was clearly the leader of our defense in spring ball coming off an injury this past campaign. To do all that, shows what's possible when you put your mind to it. So I'm thrilled to be around this kind of people again. I guess lastly before we take questions is that I want to thank Dan Guerrero and those at UCLA, Chancellor Block, for giving me the chance. I know there has been a lot said about me in the last five years. It is what it is, but the bottom line is I've been given another chance and I'm going to make the very most of it and I'm looking forward for the opportunity."


On building a team around defensive tackles:

"I don't think there is any question that to play great defense, you have to have the ability to create a pass rush and disruption with the front four of your defense. If you look at the national champion teams from the last four years, they're going to have an unbelievable defensive line. It's just kind of a necessary component with playing great defense, because otherwise you have to put yourself at risk by adding a fifth rusher, or you have to play games with zone pressures and so forth. And while you can be successful with that, you also are going to give up big plays because you just can't play as consistently when you're adding a fifth man to the pass rush. So, when you have the benefit, the advantage of having a guy like Brigham and a guy like Brian (Price) to start your defense up front, it's a nice place to start. It gives us hope to be a very, very strong defense."


On the quarterback situation:

"You know it was a strange day that 14th practice. We had no pads, we were out there just going through some drills, and Ben (Olson) took off to his right to hand the ball off and then carry on a fake to his left. I thought that he had his foot stepped on. He just was hopping around, and having played the position I know what it's like to have a 300 pound guy step on your foot, so I was kind of giggling at him. The very next play, Pat (Cowan) went back and kind of shuffled around in the pocket, moved over to his right and went down in a heap. Ben went back in the huddle and couldn't take two steps away from center in the very next play. So I had these two senior quarterbacks who we we're counting on both in heaps on the ground being administered to by our training staff. I remember moving the drill up 15 yards and going ‘What just happened', because neither one of them was touched. But it just goes to show you what can happen in football. It's a precarious game and the quarterback situation is as follows: Pat's out for the year. He unfortunately will not be able to compete as a senior. He still has not had surgery. He decided because he will miss the season with the torn ACL he will be a regular college student and went on a couple trips this summer. He will have surgery in August. Ben is just out of a boot. He had surgery to put a pin in his fifth metatarsal in his foot. The healing process is going as planned. He's doing all the stuff you can do as you get out of the boot, and he will start regular drop-backing I think in the next week and hopefully be at full speed early on in camp. So we got high hopes for Ben to have a great senior, to fulfill the promise that everybody had for him when he arrived at UCLA. In the wings we have Kevin Craft, who was a junior college transfer from Mt. San Antonio College. Kevin became the starter in the Spring Game after this practice and was nervous as he could be. It looked like he had put his lips in a box of white powdered donuts, he could hardly talk in the huddle during the Spring Game. But he's kind of gotten over that and I think he's showing some real leadership, especially in the summer months when it's up to the quarterbacks to lead the summer workouts and so forth. So I'm pleased with him. Chris Forcier is a freshman who I think has some promise, and then we've got a couple of young kids. Osaar Rasshan, who had been moved to receiver and then moved back to quarterback to handle some of the injury problems that happened last year, also had to undergo a knee procedure in the offseason and we will wait to see where he is when we get back to camp. All that being said, no excuses. We're going to play that quarterback position well. Norm Chow's got as good a resume as there is in college football in terms of playing that position well and having people rise to the occasion. And I don't think that giving ourselves a free pass on why and what if is good for us. So we're going to play it well and someone will rise to the occasion. I've said before, every year someone in college football comes out of the woodwork to make a name for himself and take a team to a place where no one thought they could go, and hopefully that's in Westwood this year."


On dealing with USC:

"I think you have to embrace it. You know, they're that elephant in the living room. They have earned it. They have done an unbelievable job. Pete is to be commended for what has taken place there in the last six, seven years. It is really remarkable transformation from maybe the middle of the Pac, to not just leader of the Pac but leader in the country. And so, you can't be the head football coach at UCLA and not find a way to compete successfully with USC. It's just part of the deal. But the good news about that is when we catch them, and I say when we catch them, we've not only caught the leader of the Pac, but hopefully we'll be amongst those programs that can rightfully challenge for the big prize. And that's where we want to go. I know this: we can recruit at UCLA anybody. We can go get the finest in the land to come to UCLA. You look across the board at the other sports in collegiate athletics, there are 103 national championship trophies one floor below where I sit. So we can recruit. We've got to get the people to come see, we've got to do a great job of evaluating that we're spending our time on the right student athletes, and then we got to do a great job of coaching them to be the type of people and players we want them to be. And we can rise to that occasion. And I think you just have to embrace that that's what we want to do. You know, fight them on every corner. It's going to be exciting to take the field against them. As I told Pete when I called him when I first got the job, I hope one day that we're not just playing for first place in Los Angeles, we're playing for first place in the country. And it would be exciting to have that happen."


On the offensive line:

"We don't have a great deal of depth. Some people that we've moved around and I think that if you look at our offensive line as it sits today, maybe one guy is returning playing the position he played last year, that being Micah Kia our left tackle. Micah Reed has moved from guard to center, and had a good spring and I think will be a very solid player for us there. We've moved Darius Savage from defensive line to offensive line. He'll play our left  guard. He's an NFL body. Having just come from the NFL camps, he could walk into an NFL camp and no one would look twice and say he doesn't belong. He's a bonafide talent. Now he has zero experience other than 15 spring practices, but we hope that he can learn quickly. At right guard we've moved Scott Glicksburg who was a backup tight end from a year ago to there along with a guy named Nick Ekbatani, and hope we can get a great combination, a great competition to see who will be the starter there. And then at right tackle, we had hoped Sean Sheller would be our right tackle, but he was involved in an unfortunate ATV accident at the conclusion of class and will miss the season. Hopefully he will be back and able to play again. Pretty serious knee and ankle injury. But we think that Mike Harris will be ready and we just moved Nate Chandler from tight end. When he looked in the mirror he wanted to say tight end but his body kept saying offensive line. He's accepted that role and he's embraced that role. I hope he can add some depth. I think a year from now we'll talk about a future NFL player in terms of what I've seen and what my experience tells me, that this is going to be a very talented young man. How fast he can get there remains to be seen. I remain optimistic there because of who we have coaching. Bob Palcic and I worked together back in 1993. Bob had just come from USC to UCLA when Larry Smith and that staff were let go. And in short order, Palcic has a great front and I know with his expertise and his personality that those guys will gel. And I believe he and Norm are on the same page and I believe we can get it done. They key will be to stay healthy. I want everybody to keep their fingers crossed."


On Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow:

"I think he'll have a huge influence. I guess the biggest noticeable influence he's had thus far is that every quarterback in the country calls us wanting to see if they can come. There's a great allure to Norm Chow and well deserved. His resume gives him kind of rock star status when you look at national champion and Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks. It's fun to be in that marketplace. His duties will be the same duties that belong to all offensive coordinators: he'll be responsible for the direction of our offense. And I've volunteered to help. And he can use me as he sees fit. There's always a concern as an offensive coordinator that the head coach will be mettlesome, that the head coach will want to make you do things you don't want to do and so forth. Norm and I had those candid conversations before we joined arms. It was important that he know and that he knew that I was going to let him do what he had done so well at so many different places. And I just wanted to be an asset to him and I could not be an happier with the way that that relationship has begun and where it is currently. I think that it is a great, great marriage and I'm hopeful that it will benefit our team, in the short term as well as the long term. It's also a benefit that Norm and DeWayne (Walker) worked together, because as is the case so many times in coaching, your offensive and defensive coordinators can compete against one another. It's a necessary component in getting better that offense and defense practice against one another. But when they start competing against one another in terms of who gets more attention and who's trying to out scheme the other, it can some times be a detriment to the team. But those two having had a past relationship both at BYU and Southern Cal, I think is a huge asset. So I could not be any happier with the harmony of the coaching staff.


UCLA DT Brigham Harwell

On the defensive front:

"(Brian) Price and I, we're great. We're pretty good working together. We're excited for the season. There is a huge pressure on us as a defensive front. We're all excited for the challenge. Me, Price, Tom Blake, Korey Bosworth. As a unit, we play really well together and we're looking forward to this season. The defensive line is the strength of this team right now. We're welcome for the challenge."


On missing last season due to an injury:

"Being out last year was really tough for me. That was my first season actually where I didn't play football. Being at home, watching the Bruins on TV was really hard for me. I had some tough Saturdays. But I'm so hungry just to get back into this game. I'm really excited for this year and I'm looking forward to having a great season, my last season here. I'm down with school so I can just focus on football and put the time in, watch film, and just help the younger guys out. Come out strong on Saturday and help the team win games."


On Rick Neuheisel: "When we heard that coach Neuheisel was up for the job, we all knew his past and how as coach he was successful. We all were excited actually. Everybody thought coach (DeWayne Walker) and Neuheisel, it was kind of up in the air. But with Neuheisel it's been great. He's changed the program around. This offseason has been the animal. For me the past four years, this has been the best offseason as for myself and as for this team. Next year, once the season starts we'll be ready to go. I'm excited that he's here. He's a great coach and I look forward to a great year this year and a great year for this team."


Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham:

On the strength of schedule:

"I look at it as a challenge and I think our team accepts it as a challenge. We have one of the most difficult starts in the country because we play our opener against a Conference team on the road. But we believe that if you can prepare yourself for Autzen Stadium and for Oregon to start off, you can do anything down the road."


Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh:

On beating USC last season:

"It was a great thrill winning down at the Coliseum. That being said, that is water under the bridge. 2008 is a whole new dynamic, new culture, new team of guys."


Washington State Head Coach Paul Wulff:

Opening Remarks:

"I am honored to be back at Washington State. As a former player, to be a part of the program again is a special feeling and honor. We have work to do, but I think we have the tools. We have the opportunity to really surprise some people and have a very successful year."


California Head Coach Jeff Tedford:

On the quarterback competition:

"We feel like we are in a great situation with our quarterbacks. Nate (Longshore) has played a lot of games and won a lot of games for us. Kevin Riley had a couple of opportunities last season and played well. It's going to be very competitive going into Fall camp. We will pick a starter the first week of the season and it might take both of them. To clarify, they are both going to get game time."


Arizona Head Coach Mike Stoops:

On carrying momentum over to this year:

"When you look back at the last two years, we won four of our last six, and we've done that back to back years. However, we haven't gotten off to the start that we would have liked. This season, we open with two teams at home, with two teams that had lesser or the same record as us in 2007. We have always played strong out-of-Conference games. You go through some tough times, but it still tells you a lot about your kids when they fight through."

Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti:

On Jeremiah Johnson:

"Jeremiah is totally healthy. He ran a 4.40 40 a few weeks ago, and is totally ahead of schedule. I see it much like I did last year as a 1-2 punch. LeGarrette (Blount) is a power runner, he can break a lot of tackles and run north to south. Jeremiah is one of the best athletes on the team, he is a jitter bug in terms of his skill. They will compliment each other. I see them protecting each other, and pushing each other."


Oregon State Head Coach Mike Riley:

On the return of Sammie Stroughter:

"It's great to have Sammie back. I'm very thankful he was granted that year. He is just a great young man. He, like Brandon (Hughes), is another one of our team captains. He had a great offseason, great spring practice and he is really ready to go. He is thankful for this year."


Arizona State Head Coach Dennis Erickson:

On the offensive line:

"We lost a great center in Mike Pollack, he is going to be difficult to replace. We're going to be young, but a little more athletic. We're going to throw the ball, we are going to go four wide. I've run every offense that's been invented, but we are trying to take a little pressure off the offensive front. A lot of the sacks we had last year was because of play action passes and we were taking seven step drops. We didn't protect well and we didn't get the ball off quick enough."


USC Head Coach Pete Carroll:

On the culture of competition:

"We have a number of spots up for competition. It's clear that with new starters coming together on the offensive line, there will be tremendous amount of competition there. That is going to be a big sport for us. Maybe in a few weeks into the season, we'll get the chemistry right. It's a deep group but they are young. The competition at wide receiver is going to be outstanding. It's a group that wasn't up to the level of play in years past but Patrick Turner is the leader coming back. It's going to be cool to watch."


Predicted order of finish in the Pac-10 by the conference's media:

1. USC (38)
2. Arizona State
3. Oregon
4. California (1)
6. Oregon State
7. Arizona
8. Washington
9. Stanford
10. Washington State

(first-place votes in parenthesis)

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