A two-year letterwinner as an outside linebacker at Appalachian State, McCray had coached linebackers at Murray State, Illinois State and Toledo before venturing to Wisconsin to take over a veteran defensive line. Under McCray's watch, Wisconsin's defense finished second nationally in scoring defense (12.1 ppg) and fifth in the country in total defense (253.1 ypg), as well as Matt Shaughnessy (second team) and Jason Chapman (honorable mention) getting recognized by the conference.
But with Wisconsin losing its defensive coordinator over the winter and with last year's co-defensive coordinator, linebacker coach and recruiting coordinator Dave Doeren getting the promotion to coordinator, McCray finds himself with two new positions in 2008 – co-linebacker coach with Doeren and the new recruiting coordinator, two positions that high-energy McCray has embraced full go this spring.
BN: How are you enjoying your new assignments now as linebacker coach and recruiting coordinator?
Randall McCray: I am enjoying it. I was a linebacker coach for almost 10 years. I played the position and I kind of call myself a linebacker coach by trade. It's kind of what I like to say. You know Coach B asked me to do something when I came here when he hired me on the job, I accepted the role and now he wants me to try and do something else and I am excited about it. I am going to do a good job for him.
BN: What's it like working with Dave Doeren? You worked with him last year but now things have kind of been taking to a different level with him being the coordinator and the added responsibilities?
Randall McCray: I think because of his added responsibilities, Bret just wanted more eyes on the position because his eyes have to go other places a lot of times now. It's nice working with Dave. Dave is a good man and a good friend. I say good man and good friend because when we're on the field, he's a good man because he's my boss at that point. Off the field, he's a good friend. I think Dave's doing a good job, I am excited to work with him and I hope I do a good job for him.
BN: Probably the one spot on the defense that is the most solid and healthy are the linebackers. For the spring, how important is it to have these guys out there and work on defensive sets with your number one unit out there?
Randall McCray: For the most part, other than Casillas being out, we have some depth there if any of those guys were in a ball game right now, we'd feel pretty comfortable with. We're talking about our ones and our twos. We feel pretty comfortable with our first six players playing defense for us at linebacker at least. It's nice to have those guys getting reps, everybody except Jon obviously. They are doing a good job, they're using great technique, great fundamentals and they could be pretty good for us.
BN: When you look at the defense as a whole and you guys have had the unfortunate situation of dealing with so many different injuries, is there a silver lining that you get to see you normally wouldn't get as many reps?
Randall McCray: Yep, you have guys that may have stepped in that are getting practice time and getting better. Hopefully they are getting better. I think the silver lining behind that is you would hope you would be better when the starters get back. But right now, you are building depth in your defense.
BN: Is that how you approach it that maybe with these guys being out like Jonathan Casillas, you know he is going to step in and be the starter, now you are getting a closer look at the Blake Sorensen's and the Jae McFadden's, getting an idea of what they can do and making it harder on you to keep them off the field?
Randall McCray: Yeah you would hope it makes it hard to keep them off the field if they are doing the right things and getting better at it a little bit. But I guess the way we look at it, one guys is not there, the next guy has to step in and play. We don't really look at it the other way. If a starter is not in, the next guy better become a starter and play that way real fast.
BN: What, if any, are the open positions in your unit right now?
Randall McCray: They're all open (laughing). We've got our number ones set and the greatest thing about our linebacker core right now to me, it happened on defensive line last year in the spring, they have somebody behind them competing for the position. Somebody is behind you competing and legitimately competing for a spot, it raises your level of play and that's what we got battling at linebacker right now.
DeAndre (Levy) has really raised his game, (Elijah) Hodge came back and is in the right places all the time and doing a good job, Culmer (St. Jean) is in the right places so you're not missing anything when those guys are out. Blake (Sorensen) has tried to push Levy a lot and Jae was actually pushing Jonathan a lot and (Ryan) Flasch is coming in here and doing a really good job. I think the competition makes everybody a little bit better.
BN: How many linebackers can you realistically rotate in during any given game because your unit has a lot of depth right now?
Randall McCray: Well you can rotate six for sure and probably can rotate between eight and nine because of special teams. Eight to nine could possibly be getting reps every Saturday.
BN: Have you liked what you seen out of those eight and nine guys? I would assume Kevin Rouse would be in that mix?
Randall McCray: Yes Rouse we definitely think he's athletic enough to at least help us on special teams this year, pray there's a guy that can help us on special teams. Flasch is definitely a guy that can help us on special teams. A lot of times, our starters would be required to help us on special teams with punts and stuff like that. Yeah, I think those guys can step in and athletic enough to make plays on special teams for us.
BN: Talk about Flasch and Rouse. Two guys we don't see or hear a lot about but have been making good strides in this camp.
Randall McCray: When Rouse first came in here, it was bad. It was real bad (laughing). Now he's getting to where he can get lined up the right way and lining up the right way where he can make his reads and in position to make a play. He's still a little out of control in his body but he's working on that really hard.
Flasch is a guy that you just put him in there and he's solid and whatever he does. He came back from a knee surgery and right now, it's not affecting him any. It's just good that you have those guys because as soon as someone steps out, they can step right on in. That's coach's mentality and they have to know that they are one play away from becoming a starter and you have to practice that way.
BN: Where does Tony Megna fit in?
Randall McCray: He is fitting in by learning a lot right now. In the grand scheme of it, you tend to look at it and say hey, he might or could be a year away from playing for us. But he's a good tough kid, works hard, learns and understands and learns the defense. That's big for us right now.
BN: How big was it for McFadden to get time last year and then to get that injury, rehab it, and then come back early for the Minnesota game to show how dedicated he was to playing?
Randall McCray: He's done a lot right. He's had a few mistakes once in awhile but I think that Jae brings for us is, if he's not going to be a starter on every downs, which if he works for and competes he can be eventually, if he's not going to be a starter on first and second downs he can come in and be a starter for us in our nickel defense. That's a true contribution that he was doing until he got hurt. He was starting on nickel defense and he's a guy that can do that for us.
BN: As a defensive coach, when you see the struggles the defense had at points last year, does that eat at you that maybe you didn't do something right or that things happen for no apparent reason?
Randall McCray: As a staff, we take full responsibility for it. Things eat at me on every play. As a season goes along, there are certain things on every play that eat at you. Towards the end of the season, I thought we improved a whole heck of a lot after that Penn State game because we knew nothing was going to be given to us. Defense got a lot better, a drastic turnaround in my opinion. Even at that time when we were playing pretty good, single plays each at me. As a coach, everything eats at you and you have to take responsibility. So the answer is yeah, it does eat at you a little bit.
BN: What's the main thing Wisconsin is doing this year defensively to combat the spread? Half of the Big Ten now with the addition of Michigan is going to be running some form of the spread and the Badgers are starting to be in the minority. As a defensive guy, what do you look at to try and fix?
Randall McCray: The first things that we are doing is put together a defense that we can hang our hat on. We add a couple of change ups and we practice that. The thing is getting the kids comfortable with what you are trying to do and that's what we are trying to do with the spring here is practice that stuff and get them comfortable to play against that style of offense.
The good thing is all of those spread defenses are defending our offense. We need to go ask them what they are doing to defend two backs high with 6-foot-7, 300 pound lineman smashing them in the face. But no, we're just practicing, getting our kids comfortable with their reads and keys.
BN: How much are you looking forward to the spring game and what are you hoping to get out of your linebackers, particularly the guys that are competing for that six through nine spot?
Randall McCray: Well I would like to see them step up and make a lot more plays. I would like to see the leaders lead through the adversity of this next week. You can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel but it ain't over yet. We have to focus until this thing is over.
BN: If you could give your core a grade, can you give them a grade and what would that be?
Randall McCray: I would say not what we want yet (laughing). That's a ‘thank God we haven't had the final exams.' There's a lot of catching up we can still do and we're definitely not where we need to be right now. But they are working at it, they're attentive and they're trying to learn.
BN: That light at the end of the tunnel, they aren't where they are yet but they can be by the season opener?
Randall McCray: Well … I think they can be by then. I am talking about right now, all I can see is the spring game and we have two practices to really compete where we need to try and be for the spring game. Then, we'll start over again for our summer conditioning and that kind of stuff and then we'll be ready. Two-a-days is going to be really, really, really important for our core defense. Some of those guys missing the entire two-a-days last year. Those things put you behind and make recovery slower.
Let's get through next week and see what that new light has in store for us.
BN: So you can't preview the Cal Poly game for us?
Randall McCray: (laughing) I don't know a dang thing. I know we play them but I haven't thought about them yet. I have yet to get the film.