Monday press conference: Barry Alvarez

UW football coach talks about Michigan, the defensive line depth and Jamie Pollard's new job

Audio file 1 (4:46) -

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I know you have no control over who you face on the schedule, but if you had your druthers, would Michigan be a team that you would like to play every year and not miss them just because of the tradition in their program?

"That's a hard question to answer because you don't have any input over it. You just play who's on your schedule according to how it's kicked out in the computer. You like to play in games with good teams and teams with tradition, but when they're not on, Ohio State is not on the schedule this year. When it's a week you play Ohio State, it's an exciting week. But I just don't concern myself with that."

Coach, how concerned are you with your defensive line depth given the injury to (Jamal) Cooper and Kurt Ware's chicken pox?

"Well, I'm very concerned. You know, that was the area that was hit most by graduation. We all know the four that were drafted. Then you lose one in the summer with a broken leg. Then you lose another one, for how long I don't know, in (Justin) Ostrowski. And then now you lose Coop, your best two going into the fall camp are gone, and three total after going in with not much experience.

"So I am concerned, yet I'm very pleased with how our guys have responded. You know, injuries are part of football and you have to deal with it and you try to get the point across that when someone goes down that the expectations don't lower, that you expect guys, whoever fills in to hold up their end of the bargain, and that's what I saw last week. I was very impressed."

Barry, an administration question. Could you comment on Jamie (Pollard) going to Iowa State and about your timetable for replacing him?

"I'm very happy for Jamie. It was just a matter of time before Jamie took his own job or had his own school. So I'm happy for he and his family. He did a tremendous job for me and the university and I'll always be indebted to him for what he did for us and the tremendous job that he did. He's someone that I could rely on.

"You know, I told the senior staff and everyone else if I wasn't there and whatever Jamie's decision was, Jamie's voice was my voice, and that's the type of communication and relationship and trust that I had in him. So I guess it's bittersweet that I see him leave. You hate to lose a good man, but you know when you have good people they're going to move on. So I'm excited for him.

"And as far as the timetable, Jamie and I just talked briefly yesterday. We'll probably get together in the next couple days to see what his timetable is. But obviously we'll post the position and take a look and see who's out there, but I don't have a timetable right now. It's a little too early."

When were you informed of this whole thing?

"Well, I think Jamie really interviewed a week ago. I found out yesterday. Jamie was asked to keep everything very confidential. And in his particular case, because of the relationship with Dan McCarney and myself, I think his president wanted to keep it confidential and go through the process without it being a public issue. He was offered the job officially yesterday and accepted and contacted me right away."

Audio file 2 (5:06) -

Barry, if there's maybe one Big Ten team that you've had a hard time beating during your time here, it's Michigan. Is it just as simple as saying they're that talented or is there maybe a little more to it than that?

"I think it is as simple, just a simple fact that they're pretty good and always have (been). I think if you take a look at every other team in the league, there has been some slipping. Some teams have slipped and had years when they've had down years, but I can't remember a year when Michigan has been down. Their down years are pretty good years.

"They're very talented and their play has been very consistent over the years. Then they've continued to recruit well, and because of their tradition and location, I'm sure they'll continue to do that. But I think it's basically as simple as that."

Barry, back to the topic of Jamie, is this a distraction for you right now?

"No."

Why not? Just because he's your right-hand guy, you're still trying to run your football team and the timing would seem to be not the best.

"Well, I think if you let it be a distraction, it can be a distraction, but I have a senior staff meeting here. I just found out about it yesterday. And I talked to some of my senior staff already. We'll absorb Jamie's loss and move forward. And I'm not going, to be honest with you, I'm not going to get real wrapped up in it this week.

"I have one other priority that sits a little higher than replacing Jamie, as valuable as he was, and I have a lot of confidence in the people that I have, that we'll be able to absorb it for the short term until we find a replacement. But I'm not going to let it be a distraction. We have had a few distractions that we've overcome, so I'm sure we'll be able to do this."

Barry, along the lines of the games you've had with Michigan again, what are some or a couple of them that maybe stand out in your mind, both maybe one that you have won and some that you have let get away?

"Oh, probably the '93 game has to stand out, you know, just because of how excited everyone was and how big a victory it was at the time, really kind of launched us into the Rose Bowl picture and league championship picture, and then all the things that transpired after the game with the injury to the students and that type of thing.

"And then we had to address our players that week. You know, we had psychiatrists coming in. We had players that were really affected because they thought they were carrying bodies out of the stadium and guys going resuscitation.

"And if you remember, the students were blue because of the capillaries, as they were crushed, their chest, and our guys, I mean, they came down, Panos and Rudolph, those guys came down crying after the game. So just the emotion that they had to go through and how we had to deal with that that week and address it to get ready for an Ohio State team who was very talented.

"And I thought it was really a tremendous week of organization and planning, and you talk about distractions. I mean, that was a potential for a disaster and our guys came back and played a great game against Ohio State. So I thought it was a good job of everyone doing their best to keep focused and get our kids back focused on that game.

"You know, we've lost some tough games. Up there we had the one where, with Michael Bennett and Lee Evans--I think it was Lee one time or Chris (Chambers), one of the two just slipped. The field was wet and the grass was high and they caught a pass, just touched the out-of-bounds marker or they score, you know. It was just a back-and-forth game. We had balls in our hands. We let one get away.

"You know, you always remember the one where we have all the momentum, we have an easy field goal kick right in front of the crossbars with less than a minute left, we're going to win the game, missed the kick and then, you know, the unfortunate thing with that crazy bounce hitting Brett (Bell) and them just running down. That was a gift, you know. So we've had a lot of tough ball games, a lot of close games with them, a lot of hard-fought games."

Do you expect to get Kurt Ware back this week? If so, how much will that help? And are there any other bodies you would consider moving to defensive end to shore it up?

"Yeah, Kurt Ware is cleared today. He's been cleared for meetings and in practice. We just have a walk-through tonight, but cleared for practice this week. So we will have him back. There's no one on the waiver wire that we've pulled off yet, so you just have to go with the ones we have."

Audio file 3 (5:07) -

Coach, with Michigan already having one loss to Notre Dame, obviously some weaknesses have been exposed. What do you think their weaknesses are and how do you expect to capitalize on them?

"I haven't seen any weaknesses. In our staff meeting this morning, as we discussed them, I think it's a very typical Michigan team. They're athletic. There are no weaknesses. There are some players that in some positions that are stronger than the others, but they recruit too well.

"You're not looking at that team and you're going to find, well, ‘we're going to pick on this guy or this guy over here', ‘we can throw at that guy'. You don't see anything like that. You have to be sound and it's about executing your game plan and you playing well, because they're not going to put anybody out on the field that isn't a very solid player.

Coach, does your defense plan to do anything special this week to stop Michigan receiver Jason Avant, who so far leads the Big Ten in catches and yards per game?

"Well, we're just in the process right now of game planning. We'll put our initial game plan in tomorrow. Now if we did have something special for Avant, I certainly wouldn't sit up here and give you the game plan. But we will have to give him special attention.

"He's a big receiver with good speed. The thing that I see is they'll throw the ball down the field and do it very effectively. And I'm very impressed with the quarterback [Chad Henne]. For a true freshman to lead a team to a Big Ten championship and to the Rose Bowl is very unusual. He truly is a special, special player. But he has good receivers and Avant is one of them."

Barry, would you consider using Joe Thomas in a pinch on defense?

" Maybe in special occasions. Last week we had him ready if need be for a goal-line situation. It might be for a play here or there in an emergency. That would be the only way. But, you know, there's a possibility."

Barry, Ken DeBauche obviously was recognized this week for his play last week and I think you guys felt comfortable about him already last year. But how valuable of a weapon has he become? Is he in the mode of a (Kevin) Stemke, and how important is he going to be this week given what (Steve) Breaston can do in terms of the field-position battle and momentum?

"I always thought Stemke was special and I think Kenny is getting closer. He's getting to the position where he's comfortable in positioning his kicks. We've did some directional kicking this past week where the ball was kicked to the boundary, making it a little easier for coverage if they know where it's going.

"I think (where) he manages the ball (well) is inside the 20. He is extremely confident and just composed. I like the way he competes. But in a game like last week, it's a field position game. You know, we're backed up. He's standing deep in the end zone to punt and gets off a 58-yarder [54-yarder], so they spot the ball in minus territory.

"The same respect, we're punting from midfield and he drops four of them inside the 20, and a couple of them inside the 10. So that's very valuable in a game like that. It's very unlikely they're going to take the ball 90 yards. And so field position, as we talked about a couple weeks ago in the special teams, is established by special teams and he's a vital part of it. But I really just like the way he goes about his business and the confidence and just the results he's given us.

In looking at the two quarterbacks going into this game, other than the fact that (John) Stocco and Henne wear the same number and play the same position, what similarities do you see in the two of them, their play on the field, or the situation they've been thrown into with their programs?

"You know, that's hard. You know, John at least had a couple years to get his feet wet. I just thought it was very unusual ... I think they're totally different situations for a true freshman to be put in the frying pan, so to speak, in a program with a tradition of Michigan and the pressure that goes along with that position at a high-profile school, to put a freshman in that position is very, very unlikely.

"And then the fact the results he had. Probably the next thing other than what you've mentioned that's similar is both of them have excellent records as starters. You know, both of them have won a lot of football games that they've started. And that's probably, that's the most important position."

Audio file 4 (3:29) -

Barry, Joe Monty seems like kind of a quiet guy who maybe has been overlooked a little in the past, but John Palermo always has had a lot of confidence. Is he playing his best football for you right now and what have you thought of him?

"You know exactly what you're going to get from Joe Monty. Exactly. He's not the fastest guy. He's not the biggest. He's not the strongest guy. He's just a football player. He's very smart. And he's where he's supposed to be. So you know exactly what you're going to get from him. He's a guy that will continue to get better.

"He's better than he was last year just because he worked so hard and goes through our system and learns and understands it a little bit more. He anticipates what's going to happen to him at the position just because of his experience. But, yeah, he's playing his best ball."

Barry, it seems, if I'm not mistaken, every time you've played Michigan they've gone exotic at some point during the game. When you have a young defense, how do you go and set up to prepare for something that'll happen just once in the game?

"What you try to do is prepare them for where and when it might happen. You know, you don't know what exotic it might be, but normally it's between the 40s. A lot of times it's after a sudden change. There are certain times when you kind of halfway prepare for it and then you've got to react and play your responsibility."

A little bit of a follow-up on DeBauche. Last week Zach Hampton made two plays kind of in the mold of (Scott) Starks last year, and I don't think those were the same two guys that you guys had at the beginning of the year, (Shane) Carter and (someone else). Is Hampton in a position now where he can give you maybe somewhat of what Starks did last year?

"Well, Sparky I think was special. He had done it for four years and, let's face it, he was one of the faster guys on our team. And guys could not hold him up on the line of scrimmage. They could double him, they could do whatever, no one could hold him up. He had a knack for getting off the ball. Effort-wise, we're going to get that from Zach.

"And Zach is a tenacious competitor. I think he did do it the first week, but he was playing every snap and I think that took away from his effectiveness as a sprinter just because I think he was worn down. You know, if he runs 4.5, maybe he was 4.7 covering punts because he was worn down a little bit. So now he's more on special teams in specific situations so he's fresh, and I think that'll help him."

Coach, you kind of alluded to it earlier, but are there any more special thoughts running through your head, the last time you're going to face Michigan as head football coach here?

"No more than the last time I face any other team. It's a big game. There will be two rated teams playing. That was one of the goals that we set going into the season. We wanted to make this a big game. And we should have a great atmosphere. My main concern is that we prepare well and play well. That's my biggest concern going into this game and about the game."


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