"We've got the least number of returning starters in the league, yet I really like the makeup of this football team. We've got a lot of new faces, yet when we have a lot in your senior class that's what happens. Fortunately, a number of these guys have played quite bit and although they weren't starters and you don't recognize their names, they've played a lot of football.
"We also have a lot of very productive veterans that have given us very good years and have done an excellent job in leading this new group. And quite frankly I like teams like this. I like teams that are hungry, teams that have to prove themselves. As I told our kids last week, a year ago today, know one in this room knew much about Erasmus James. But he made a name for himself. That's what it's all about. That's what great college football. It's not about preseason rating, it's not about preseason All Americans or anything else, it's about what you do on the field… It's about productivity when we play.
"You take a look at our offense, we have a number of veterans back, we have a number of proven players back. It all starts with your quarterback and it's always good to have a veteran, someone who was playing before. John Stocco started 12 games… and got better as the season went along. Didn't finish the season the way you would have liked, yet that should take him a long way the situations that he was in, the venues that he's played in.
"We've always started with our offensive line. That's always been the strength of our football team. I think we have two elite players in the offensive line. Joe Thomas at left tackle I think will be one of the best lineman we've ever had. Donovan Raiola has been outstanding at center. We've got two new guards but they're fifth-year players. They are guys that know about the program and know what we're all about.
"Our tight ends are two players that have been very productive; they compliment one another. And receivers, two of them that are seniors that were outstanding as freshmen. Really probably haven't lived up to their billing after their freshman year… When we have a good year I always say that your seniors have to play the best football of their career.
"Defensively, we've really going to have to revamp the defense as far as personnel. A number of our seniors came off the defensive side. Our defensive front, we had four seniors last year, but our defensive line coach rotates 10 guys. The players who will play are guys that have played last year. And with the injuries we had, they played a lot. I feel very confident with them.
"I think our linebackers will be much improved.
"Our secondary has some returners. Brett Bell, who is an outstanding young man, had a great year last year. Had to have knee surgery in the offseason. Has done a tremendous job of rehabbing and they confirmed about a month ago that he's 100 percent and ready to go and he'll be quite a boost for us."
"Probably the biggest concern on our football team, the thing that is a question mark, is kicker. As you go through the spring and last year also, we haven't had consistency at the kicking position. We have someone in Taylor Mehlhaff with ability and talent yet we have to see that carry over to the field and have consistency there."
On putting together a non-conference schedule
"First thing I like to do is play home games. That's thinking with both hats… I try to find teams that are in areas where we recruit and are in areas where we will take some of our current players back home so their family will have the opportunity to see them."
When you hired Bret last year, did you have it in your mind at all that you were hiring your successor?
"I didn't. I was impressed with Bret, I've known Bret for a while and I've followed his career. But I hired him because I thought he'd do a good job for me as defensive coordinator. He was exactly what I was looking for and he more than satisfied me as far as his productivity and what he accomplished. And I became more impressed with him the more I spent time around him and the more I watched him deal with players and other coaches in all the facets of the game."
On playing a round-robin schedule within a 12-game schedule
"I wouldn't be in favor of it. We talked about that years ago about possibly doing that. I remember John Cooper specifically bringing up the fact that if you look at the Southeast Conference, they don't have a round robin, consequently more teams are involved in bowl games. If you go to a round-robin it probably costs at least one team the opportunity to go to a bowl game."
On the timing of announcing his retirement as head coach after the 2005 season:
"The timing was the fact that I felt comfortable with a successor and the fact that I didn't want him to lose a year of recruiting. It gave me time to talk to our players, before they took a little break before and start on [camp on Aug. 9] so it's not a distraction to them and would be as easy a transition for our players and our staff. As a head coach you just don't worry about yourself, you've got a number of people that you're concerned about …There is no guarantee, but they have an opportunity to stay on… I think it will give us an advantage in recruiting. Right now we've got eight commitments; we've put a lot of work in, got a good board up and if there's a change after the season, you might as well throw that all out the window."
On the Hayden Fry coaching tree
"Hayden did an exceptional job in hiring assistant coaches. He had certain things that he looked for. The sad thing is that I think everyone that knows the history and knows who has gone on and become successful head coaches…. Bill Braden, our defensive coordinator; Bill should have been a head coach. He was as strong a coach as Hayden had on his staff. I think all of us have taken quite a bit from Hayden. Particularly his organization and how he ran a program."
On the offensive backfield:
"That could be the strength of our team. (Matt) Bernstein has had a good career for us. He's a 270-pound fullback. He has played some tailback for us. He has had some big games, he has soft hands. I think he's as good a fullback as there is in the country.
"Even though Brian Calhoun hasn't played for us, he's been a productive player. We played against him when he was a true freshman, started for Colorado in the Alamo bowl. The game before that I saw him rush for 120 or 130 yards in one quarter against Nebraska. He is very talented, has sprinter's speed; he can make you miss. He can be as fine a back as there is in the country.
"Booker (Stanley) has played and done some good things for us over the years."
How has head coaching changed since you took job 15 years ago?
"Probably the biggest change is the Internet and the media. And the fact that players know. In recruiting, when I first started, in recruiting everyone didn't know all the kids we were recruiting. Now everything that is said to a coach by a recruit is known nationwide within minutes. It's just the awareness of players and everyone else and just the acceptability that anyone has to say anything they want without any accountability at any time. Whether it's recruiting or whatever you just have to deal with it."