Q: Coach, you played the Buccaneers at the end of last season and you're playing them again at the start of this season. How has this (Buccaneers) team changed?
MH: Well, they've added some new people on defense. For starters, they have a new quarterback (Jeff Garcia). Those are big changes because those are key guys, the linebacker (Cato) June and the quarterback, as an example, (Jeff) Garcia. Those are key guys. But they didn't have changes on the coaching staff there, Jon (Gruden) on the offense and Monte (Kiffin) on the defense. That's always the challenge when you play them.
Q: Is Jeff Garcia the quarterback that Jon Gruden has been looking for, you think?
MH: I think so. Jon's had a lot of guys play the position down there, and play it well. He's so good that he can teach that passing game and I think Jeff is an experienced guy that has played, and he (Gruden) hasn't had that the last couple of years. I think for him that has to feel pretty good.
Q: Coach, can you speak to the level of consistency that (left tackle) Walter Jones has played at?
MH: I think, and again I'm his coach, he's the best lineman I've ever had. He might be the best offensive tackle in the game today, arguably. He's just so solid and so good. For a strong, strong big man he's so athletic. He's played through injury. He's very much in a quiet way a team leader. He brings his lunch pail to work every day. I can't say enough about him. It's quite a comforting though to know your left tackle, which is a premium position In this league, is Walter Jones. He got hurt a little bit last year and played through it. I think by his own standards he was good last year, but normally he's great. He cam in with a different resolve this year because he's getting a little older. So you have to work that much harder to maintain the level he's used to playing at. I expect him to have a great year this year.
Q: What have you seen from the preseason tape of Gaines Adams?
MH: He's a talented young man, that's for sure. There's a reason he was picked so high. I just told my own guys in my press conference that if you're a fan and you want to watch a little subplot in the football game, that would be a good thing to watch (Adams vs. Jones).
Q: From the outside looking, Jon Gruden has been said to be on the proverbial hot seat. How do you think he'll handle that, knowing him as well as you know him?
MH: I don't think those things bother Jon. Jon has his eyes wide open. He's an outstanding football coach. I mean, he's a really good football coach. And you know every team goes through cycles. He's won the Super Bowl and now he's trying to build something back up again. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, as we all do. I really don't think those other things bother him too much.
Q: What do you think about the staff that's been around Gruden all these years? How do they rank around the league?
MH: I think they have a great reputation. I see the defensive guys all the time, and there are guys that have become head coaches off that staff, like Rod Marinelli. Tony's (Dungy) guys and you know they've gone on. They have great continuity and great coaches on defense. And on offense I think it starts with the head coach. He is really very thorough and very creative. I know this. You're going to play the Bucs and you know you're going to have to play Gruden and you know you're going to have to play Monte Kiffin. That's the challenge there.
Q: Mike the last time we saw you were losing that tough game in Chicago (NFC Divisional Playoff). How much do you still think about that game?
MH: You know I think about it. It's funny. As you get older you tend to think more about the ones you've lost, especially the close ones. I've referenced that game any number of times to our current team. I did it this morning in trying to motivate them in how close this business can be. Actually I was proud of the way we finished the season. We lost a very difficult game to the Bears. But we didn't play well in the middle of the season at all. And then they bounced back and instead of cashing in the chips, they rebounded and I thought they finished strong. I'm trying to build on that experience even though it was a tough one.
Q: Last time Shaun (Alexander) was healthy, he was MVP of this entire league. How does he look and how important is he to your success?
MH: He's very important our success. That goes without saying. But I can honestly say this — he came in (training camp) in the best shape of his life and had the best camp of his life. We didn't play him much in the preseason. But as far as practicing and how he conducted himself, he looked quicker to me and looked to be in great shape. I know he has a lot of pride and his numbers, while good for most people, for him he's used to bigger numbers and those are important to him. I think he's highly motivated to have a good year this year.
Q: What is the game plan for Jeff Garcia defensively? Obviously he's successful in the West Coast offense. What are you think about in defending him?
MH: We tried to sign Jeff a couple of years ago and he said, ‘Thanks but no thank you' and he went off and became the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles last season. He did a marvelous job. I played against him when he was in San Francisco. He's a tough, tough guy and a great competitor. He has tremendous movement ability and he makes it very tough on the defensive team because guys that can run like he can and can move like he can get things done, even if you're playing good defense. I think anyone that plays him you try your best to contain him. But he's a good enough passer that he can hurt you that way to. You just try not to let him beat you with his feet.
Q: What do you like about Ellis Wyms, the defensive lineman you signed a couple of days ago and is a former Buc?
MH: He's versatile. We always thing you can't have too many big guys on our defensive line and we've gotten a little thin there as the seasons have gone along. The thought there was we have a young man who can play inside and outside, even though he's more of an inside player. He can give you some pass rush inside. We had tremendous people there. Chuck Darby, who we got from Tampa, has been a really good player for us. I hope Ellis can come in and do those types of things for us as well.
Q: About the West Coast trip, it's a long trip for any team. You made a few when you were in Green Bay. What's the trouble with the trip? Why is it so difficult?
MH: I always felt it was harder to go east than it was to come west. But anyway you slice it the time on the plane, the extra day typically — and I don't know if Tampa is coming in on Saturday or Friday — but if it is Friday, typically, when we go cross-country, that's two days. That extra day you have to get them acclimated to the time change. I don't think it's quite as hard for an east coast team. When we go east, we play a noon game or a 1 p.m. game it's actually 10 in the morning by our clocks. Sometimes my guys still think they're in bed. So we have to work through that. They're big guys and they have to fly and be in hotels an extra day. It's just different.
Q: Mike, when you were an assistant coach, how much of an opportunity did you get, from coach (Bill) Walsh and others to try new things to see how much ability you had?
MH: I think I was fortunate when I came to San Francisco with Coach Walsh, I was a good student if nothing else. I was bound and determined to learn as much as I could about the offense and watch how he conducted himself. Walsh coached quarterbacks before and he liked coaching quarterbacks, so obviously I was under the gun there to do it right. He was very hard on me, you know, and I think if you as Jon or Steve Mariucci or Marty Morningweh or any of the other guys that have coached quarterbacks for me, and Jim Zorn now, I can be kind of a bugger with those guys sometimes. But they know that I love them and I'm just trying to get the most out of them and that's what Bill did with me. It helped prepare me for, first off being a coordinator, if I had the chance, and then a head coach. I think he gave me that type of freedom and at the same time, when I used to get mad at him, holy smokes, he was tough on me. Now as I look back on it I realize, I'm a little more mature now, and I realize why he did some of the things he did and it's really helped me and aided my development of my own philosophy as a head coach.
Q: Do you feel that responsibility to do that for other coaches?
MH: I've always done that. I think one of the things that I've talked about with my staffs for the first time is that I will do everything I can to help advance in this business. It was done for me and I think that's fair. What I ask for in return is tremendous loyalty and then great work ethic. Then my side of the coin, I will help you. That staff in Green Bay, when we first put it together (in 1992), there were a lot of young guys on that staff, including Jon and (Andy) Reid and Mariucci, all sorts of guys. And I think while they all had aspirations, who knows what's going to happen down the road? So once you've worked for someone who's willing to help you, and then you uphold your end of the bargain and work hard and be loyal, then typically you've got a shot. Good things happen.
Q: Dealing with the quarterback in the West Coast, you stuck with Brett (Favre) and Matt (Hasselbeck) because you believed they were the guy. What does it mean about Jon trying to find that one quarterback that can run his offense successfully?
MH: It's a challenge and it's not easy to find the guy. I think it's easier if you find one. You have to be in a place where the owner will allow you to go through the growing pains of developing a quarterback into a player. Unfortunately in this league, not many teams have that luxury. I think it takes three years, if you have the player you think will be your player, your quarterback for a long time. It takes three years before they feel comfortable and function the way you'd like them to function most of the time in your system. Now, what happens in years one and two in your system, when he's playing and you're throwing interceptions and getting sacked and you're losing games. How does everyone react to that? That's the tough deal. Certainly with Matt, we had that growing time here. With Brett, we had it in Green Bay. That's just the way it is. Steve Young in San Francisco, there was a bit of a learning curve there. So I just really believe that's the way that is. Would every coach like to have that guy? Absolutely. But not everyone has the luxury to stick around that long to see it come to fruition.
Q: How much harder is it to play defensive back than when you first came into the NFL (he began his coaching career in 1986)?
MH: Defensive back? I don't know if it's any harder. They can't be as physical as they used to be. They used to really be able to knock people around. The size of the corners now, for example, you can get away with the small guy that is a good cover guy. In years past that might have been tougher. Back then they were bigger and more physical because you could be. Now your coverage skills, if you play corner, there's more asked of you. Then you have certain schemed defenses, like Tampa's defense or the Cover 2, Tampa 2, where the corners are asked to be more physical because they're in more run support situations more of the time. So it depends on what team you go to and what that team is looking for.
Q: Are you surprised that Jon kept four quarterbacks?
MH: That's a little unusual. I can't say I'm surprised. Teams do what they have to do and he knows his guys better than anybody. He has something in mind there. It is a little unusual. Normally you keep three. Now we have two going into this game, but we usually keep three and most teams do that.
Q: Coach, do you think the Buccaneers should go to the Jimi Hendrix museum out there in Seattle?
MH: Yes, I do. I think they should. I think they should stay up really late Saturday night and go visit over there.
Q: It sounds like a cool place. Have you ever been there?
MH: Oh, yeah. It's really something. My owner (Paul Allen) that's his baby, his building. If you like music and all different kinds, it's a cool thing to visit. And if you are visiting this way for the first time, if you haven't seen it, go over there. It's really something.