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An Interview With Bob Davie

Aug. 29, 2000

BOB DAVIE: First of all, all of you can imagine how anxious we are to get this season started. It’s been a long, long, long off-season.

And the first game of the year is always so big, and, you know, I was thinking coming over here what makes it so big. First of all, how much thought and time you put into the first game. You think back to last November — and you always look at that schedule for the next year, and certainly, Texas A&M has been on our minds since then. So from the players’ standpoint, that’s been their focus all along.

Then as a coaching staff and as a football team, you put so much preparation into the first game. In the off-season you spend a lot of time, and obviously through training camp. And as players and coaches, you want to get some rewards for your hard work because you just have so much invested in that first game. From this point on, they start rolling pretty quickly.

And I think the third thing, as you all know, you get such a tremendous boost of confidence and momentum from winning the first game. So the first game of the year is always huge.

I think this year, playing Texas A&M, this is probably even bigger, not just because of how we finished last year, but we have so many personal ties when it comes to this football game. We have 20 players on our team that are from the State of Texas, 19 scholarship players, one walk-on. And you think back to the recruiting of all those players, just about everyone of them either had a chance to go to either UT or A&M, certainly had the chance to stay in state. So much went into their decision.

And certainly bragging rights is involved with it. They all go home. They all want to show that they made the right decision by coming to Notre Dame. They have their girlfriends at home, their families at home. So many of their high school classmates probably went to A&M. So it is big from their standpoint.

We have seven starters on this team from the State of Texas, that’s a pretty good percentage. We have two of our four captains are from the State of Texas. If you look at this student body on our campus, I don’t have the exact statistics one of the fastest growing states as far as enrollment is the State of Texas, and there’s an awful lot of students here.

If you look at our coaching staff, certainly Greg Madison and Kirk Doll and myself, all three of us having been at A&M and coached there — that was a long time ago. I was going to come up with a line: “It was so long ago, Greg Madison had a full head of hair.” Thinking back, I don’t know that Greg Madison — I’m going to have to get one of his pictures when he was in junior high and see if he had a full head of hair there.

But you can’t help but spend nine years at a place — where if you spent nine years at a place, having a lot of strong emotions. And if you combine that with the fact that R C and I are extremely close friends, you know, it makes for a unique situation.

I think it is going to be a great game. I know it is big for A&M. They are coming off somewhat of a disappointing finish to their season. You know their players are focused on that. I think in this football game there is going to be a lot of pageantry. I mean, a lot of our games, as you all know, are like Bowl games.

But this game is big, with A&M coming up here. I know it is big for their fans. They always travel well. There is a lot of them coming. I can tell there’s not a lot of tickets supplied to them because I’ve had some calls from some old college friends looking for tickets for this game.

A&M is bringing their band up here, about 400. They are all cadet, military band. And I promise you’ll see the two best bands in this country in the stadium on Saturday and the two best fight songs, the War Hymn and Notre Dame Victory March. So there will be a lot of pageantry.

I think there is a lot of interest in this game. Any time you play the first game of the year, there is always those concerns that you have, and a lot of the concerns haven’t changed since we started. But when you play the first game of the year, you know, I look at these NFL teams playing these exhibition games, and you have players that are making millions of dollars a year and they play five of those games, or four of those games. And you look at the high school teams, they play exhibition games. My son, Clay, he is in the seventh grade, he’s got a jamboree tonight, kind of a tune-up where they play a bunch of seventh grade teams before the first game.

But here we are in college football: We go out and play the first game without any tune-up, without any exhibition game, without any scrimmage. And because of that, there’s always a lot of surprises, and it’s a concern as a coaching staff, but that’s also what makes it kind of fun and unique.

I think the second thing is we go into the first game we do have a new quarterback and we have a new center. So every time we touch the ball on offense, there’s going to be someone new handling it, whether we’re in the shotgun or whether the quarterback is under center that’s a concern.

Are be better on defense. Sure, we’d like to think we are. Can we cover? We won’t know until we try to cover their receivers, until we play defense against their offense.

And then what about the kicking game? We think we are improved in that area, but who is going to be the kicker when everyone is in the stadium. So you just don’t know until the first game.

But I promise you, I’m really excited about this football team, and I mean that sincerely. This has been a very low-maintenance team. It’s a team that I think has a lot of juice and a lot of passion, they enjoy each other and they enjoy playing and I think that’s pretty visible when you’re around and it is pretty apparent.

For me, it is a big game. I feel very fortunate. The last 16 years of my family’s life, I’ve been at Texas A&M and I’ve been at Notre Dame. I think they are two of the greatest places in country to coach college football. Without being too dramatic, I think they are two of the of best places in the country to raise a family. I feel very fortunate to be in that situation.

Before the came is kicked off, and I’ve said this before, I’m going to enjoy the moment, and I promise I’m only going to enjoy it for a moment, and we’ll kick that thing off and we’re going to get after each other.

It is a different kind of game playing against someone you may consider your best friend, but I think both of us have been in this profession long enough, both of us plan on being in this profession for a long time to come, but it is all part of it somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose, and we’re going to walk away. And life is going to go on, but it is a great opportunity and something I’m looking forward to and I’m anxious to play.

I’ll be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

Q. I’m wondering if you can remember some of the personal things that you and RC used to spend time together when you were done at College Station? I heard you used to go out on rides in the country occasionally together.

BOB DAVIE: When I first went to A&M in ’85, you know, I had never met RC. And you know, I grew up in Pittsburgh, and believe me, I was truly a Yankee when I came to College Station. You know, I remember when I came in for the interview, I had never met RC. In fact, I had coached for ^ Jackie Cheryl at Pittsburgh, and Jackie was going to let RC make the decision, which he should have, because RC was the defensive coordinator. But I came in for the interview — and I had not met RC. RC was skeptical: Here is this Yankee from Pittsburgh that he did not know and the flight — I missed the flight from Houston to College Station, so that even added more fuel to the fire.

But I got in there that night, we didn’t know each other, but hit it off from the time that I arrived at A&M and we really had so much in common. RC played at a small school, he was a tight end. I’ve done a lot of jogging with him. He runs about like I do. Both of us have pretty good hands, we both played the tuba in the high school band. I played the tuba up until the night ninth grade. I think so did RC. We both married our high school sweethearts. We both coached defense. We just had a lot of interests the same. We hit it off in the beginning, and he really kind of adapted me to Texas living.

He finally broke me down, and you know, I got a pair of Tony Lama (phonetic) boots, he just wore me out. I’ve got a pair of boots, that I had to — to be honest, I was never really comfortable wearing them, but I had the boots. We would go to the Houston livestock show every year and we’d he’d try to tell me about the rodeo and the livestock. To be honest, I kind of paid attention, but I was never into that a whole lot.

You know, just a lot of things. We just had a tremendous time. The night before my son was born, we were together. You know we played southern Mississippi. We were in Jackson, Mississippi, RC and I were roommates. I got the call Friday night, and looked like she was about to go in labor, and Saturday morning I called and she was in labor, and RC was with me every step of the way.

So, just a lot of things. We have a great friendship.

You know, I think — I learned a lot from him. He introduced me to a lot of people in Texas. And the thing I thought he always did a great job of was just really being steady in the boat and seeing the big picture on things. He is really a stable person and I enjoyed our relationship.

I kind of rambled on — we did a lot of things together. Played a lot of golf together. Did a lot of jogging to the. He’d take me out to the country to look at those Blue Bonnet flowers he was so proud of down there in Texas. We just enjoyed a lot of things. Talked a lot of football together. We were at a lot of pro training camps. So I appreciate our friendship.

Q. I was wondering what your thoughts were on any talk about RC being under fire after winning as many games he has and winning 102 games in 11 years. I wonder your thoughts on that and how would you relate that to your own situation there?

BOB DAVIE: Well if he’s under fire, I’m under ashes. I’m already burned and toasted.

You know, I think I’m kind of amazed by that, if that’s accurate. I haven’t really heard a lot of that. I think any time you coach at a place like A&M where there’s been so much success, people probably get a little bit spoiled. And they probably should.

I think RC would be the first one to say that they didn’t end the season last year on a particularly high note. But it is amazing what he has accomplished. You know, when he took over for ^ Jackie Cheryl back in ’89, just able to bridge that gap, to make that smooth, seamless transition and what he’s done with that program.

He’s done a tremendous job. I think anywhere people like to stir some controversy. I think as coaches, you realize that’s all part of it, but I can’t imagine he’ll be under any kind of fire.

Q. Can you talk about the criticism of your own situation and having to win?

BOB DAVIE: Sure. You know, once again, I think — you know the reality is we lost our four games last year, and regardless of the reasons, that’s not acceptable here at Notre Dame. I realize that. Our football team, our coaching staff realizes that.

I think if you look at the facts, we lost our last four games, obviously, we have had the NCAA decision that was made where we had probation situation in December. Then there’s been a change in our athletic administration here. I can certainly see why there may be a perception on the outside that I need to win X number of games to save my job.

I’m not sure it’s quite as dramatic as that, to be quite honest. I’m not sitting here whining about the fact that people would say that. But I don’t think it’s quite that dramatic. I think we have done some positive things in this program. A year ago, I was awarded a five-year contract because people at this university thought that we had built a solid foundation in this program. They knew last year we were going to struggle as a football team. I know how much thought goes into those decisions. We have a new athletic director and his responsibility is to assess and evaluate that program, and I am totally comfortable with that.

I believe only in worrying about things that I can control, and I do think we made progress as a football team and I’m not going to spend one second thinking about how many wins this football team has to have for me to be back here as the next head coach. That’s not an issue with me at all. I’m going to focus on each game, and let’s go, let it rip, and let’s go play.

Q. When you were recruiting what was that (inaudible) how do coaches make that appeal to high school players and how strong is the pull and how do you –?

BOB DAVIE: What I did is I really related that to my situation in ’94 when I made a decision to leave Texas A&M to come to Notre Dame, with Lou Holtz as defensive coordinator. Certainly, I had a great job at A&M. Could have been comfortable there for the rest of my life. My family loved it, and a head coaching situation that I could have left A&M and didn’t leave.

I think that you have the opportunity to do something different. I think A&M is a tremendous place, Texas is a tremendous place. But let’s face it, a lot of those high school teammates, a lot of those high school student body members go to A&M and go to Texas, and how many opportunities you’re going to have to go to a place like Notre Dame and do something different. It’s not for everyone, but I think for the right person, it’s a tremendous opportunity.

And certainly nothing against A&M. I love the place. But Notre Dame is unique and it’s an opportunity of a lifetime. The maturity that you receive as a young man here, the opportunity to play all over the country, and it’s just a unique place.

So, I just tried to be honest and I tried to get it back to the decision I made and the reasons that I came to Notre Dame. I wondered.

Q. I wondered if you could talk about Nick Setta and what weighs into your decision with putting someone who has not been in the game to putting him into a game?

BOB DAVIE: You kind of said it right there. I think Joey Hildbold has improved since last year. I know Nick has improved as a punter. I think Nick Setta’s operation time is a little bit faster, he gets it off a little bit quicker. Joey Hildbold may have a little more distance, maybe a little more consistency than Nick Setta. Plus, you factor one of them has kicked in major college football games before and one of them has not. But Nick Setta is such a confident young man, such a good athlete, and so competitive.

And that’s why it’s such a tough decision. I think both those players have handled it well. I’m not trying to be evasive or trying to have some mystery to it. We’re just not sure. We punt every day we’re going to punt again today. We’re going to try to make a decision in the next day or so. But they are close and they both do things they both have different things but hopefully they have both improved. So it’s a win-win situation for us.

Q. Any progress with Miller and Setta?

BOB DAVIE: Pretty much the same process. You know, David has done some outstanding things. David has been a little bit inconsistent in the past. But he has kicked in the game, and I think that’s a — I think that’s a factor.

So, it’s pretty much the same situation. David Miller may be a little farther ahead than Nick Setta right now, field goal kicking. But you’re comparing that to the Nick Setta, Joey Hildbold punting competition.

Q. The freshman quarterback situation, any more settled than it has been? Is there any clear pecking order?

BOB DAVIE: We’re not going to make it any clearer, to be honest. Gary Godsey is still No. 2. There’s no reason for us to really have a definitive No. 3 right now. We’re going to alternate who we take to Plymouth with us each week in these first three home games, just to get them acclimated to what the structure is on the next four home games. We’re pretty much just going to alternate that as we go. It’s hard to say.

They have not had enough scrimmage for one of them to stand out and I don’t think it’s fair to any one of the three, to just say this one is ahead of the other one.

Q. Are you going to keep Godsey in the game if the situation is –?

BOB DAVIE: I don’t think so. To be honest, I think you’re always going to see how it goes. But right now, it looks like Arnaz will be the quarterback — I don’t see Gary in the game, unless something in the game kind of dictates it.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: It’s extremely close. Both of them are going to play. There’s two things that factor in. Really, Shane is such a confident, competitive player. Love his personality.

And the second thing is Clifford Jefferson had a bit of a hip flexor, I believe, that kept him out of work. And Shane is just a tough guy. He’s a little bulldog. When he gets in there, he is hard to dislodge out of there.

So he’s matured as a football player. He brings a lot of competitive edge to the table. I can see where why he is a great soccer player. It is important to him. Clifford is going to play as well.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: Well, we took all 38 plays that he was involved in last year and put them on one tape. You know, he is a guy that has good feet he moves around, has a strong arm, he’s a baseball player. Mature, I think he’s 25 or 26 years old, if I’m right. So, he brings experience. He’s played in games, and he is a good, solid quarterback. I can see why they are excited about him.

Q. (Inaudible) What concerns do you have with Arnaz in the first game?

BOB DAVIE: If he was not the starting quarterback, if it was not his first game?

I think the concern I would have, and I think our coaching staff would share this, is what happens when something goes wrong. What you loved about Jarious Jackson was how he bounced back. I can remember that spring game two years ago. He had three interceptions. Not only did he make the hardest tackle in the field, best tackle in the spring game, but bounced back in the next game.

Jarious was so resilient. Until Arnaz is under the gun, until he picks up those newspapers Sunday morning after the game and goes through the whole thing it takes to be the quarterback at Notre Dame, you just don’t know for sure.

So I think it is — as I said, the surprises that happen in the game, just how resilient is he going to be. That doesn’t mean as a negative at all. I think Arnaz has shown he is pretty steady in the boat, but you just don’t know until you let it go, and that would be my major concern.

Q. Can you talk about the hamstring –?

BOB DAVIE: Both of them did some limited thing last night and both of them I think they are going to be ready to play. And I think Tony Fisher will be the first tailback out there as we start the game. I’m certain Julius Jones will play. I’m certain (inaudible). I think all three of the tailbacks are going to be healthy and ready to play.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: I don’t know, maybe I’d better figure out what he’s doing, what kind of — but you know, I do think there is a confidence with this football team. And it’s kind of the confidence you have — you know, it’s back kind of when you were taking those tests in high school and your mom used to tell you, as long as you’re prepared, you’re going to be fine. There’s some point that it’s what it’s going to be is what it’s going to be.

I think this football team thinks that they have done all the right things — and I feel that way, to be honest. We’ve had a great off-season. We have had a good preseason. And as I mentioned, it’s been a low-maintenance time. You feel good about it and you’re anxious about what’s coming, you’re looking forward to the challenge of it, because you feel like you’ve done what you can do. And I think because of that there’s an air of confidence and looking forward to the game.

I can remember last year, this is nothing against last year’s team, but it was just like the week of the Kansas game, we are were packing every second into practice. We were almost at a fanatical pace, just to get things in and to get checks and working against that 50 defense. And we had some injuries in the preseason camp, all of those things, we were just — we were just off-balance a little bit, where you just feel much more confident about how things have gone.

So, you know that may be it right there.

Q. Do you have a feel for the defense, the pass rush, is that something you can even find out about during the preseason?

BOB DAVIE: That’s hard. That’s hard to judge if you go against yourself. Because especially — particularly you do those third down drills: 3rd and 4, 3rd and 6, 3rd and 8, it’s easy to rush the passer. When it becomes a lot more difficult, when it’s draw when it’s shuffle bass pass, when they convert the first down, and now you’ve got to keep the wind from going out of the balloon. And it’s just much more difficult in the games when you get tired, all of the sudden the backups in there that have to rush the passer.

We won’t know. I don’t know for sure. I do think Tony Weaver will back it in. He’s got some quickness and I think he is a pretty good pass rusher. I’m comfortable with that move.

Grant Irons is a power kind of pass rusher. Lance Legree has had a good camp, I think Andy and Darrell Campbell can do some things inside. We’ll know more Saturday. A&M is a tough team to rush the passer against, they do a lot of turn back and side protection, but I’m anxious to see if we can do it.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: The thing I’ve seen is just talking to these officials that come in, that officiate your scrimmages, not many times are really scrimmaging. You know I always ask them, who else have you done, and you know, what did they do. And not trying to get information out of them, but I’m just curious who is scrimmaging.

Not many teams are scrimmaging. I think we are very fortunate that we were able to scrimmage twice and not have a serious injury.

I don’t know, I don’t know. But that’s always a difficult decision to make, how many times you scrimmage. I can remember being at A&M in ’91. I think it was we opened up against Stanford first game. It was Bill Walsh’s first game back coaching in college football. We never scrimmaged one time. Not one time did we ever tackle full speed with someone on the ground. Went out and played a great football game. You just don’t know.

But I think that’s always a difficult decision. I don’t know why there seems to be more injuries this year. I just know in our situation we’re really fortunate.

Q. Does this game come down to how your offensive line handles their linebacker and what are you expecting from your linebacker?

BOB DAVIE: I think one of the reasons, you know, Malcolm brought up that Mike Gandy situation, last year that offensive line was chaos in the first game, couple of games we just really struggled from a role standpoint, we are much further along. We know how to get a hat on a head.

The question will be can we block really explosive players like A&M has, really an explosive scheme like they have. They do it a lot of running downs. We do some of the same things on defense and we’ve had a chance to work against some of them. But I think that’s a question: How do we handle their quickness up front? How do we handle their experience up front?

But I promise you, I feel a lot better this time than I did last year.

And our linebackers, I feel pretty good about our starting linebackers, Harrison, Anthony Denman and Rocky Boiman. Depth there is a concern. But they have got the big fullback. They have kind of an explosive tailback, two of them. Lining up is a priority for us.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: Jason Beckstrom is not quite as bad as we first thought. When it first on tape, I thought it was going to be a month or two and he actually tore something. He’s going to try to go. It’s one of those injuries where it’s really hard to judge just how bad it is until he kind of goes. I have a question to doubtful for this game, but it’s into the quite as bad as we first thought.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: I think we’re going to make that decision today. He’s been back there catching punts, he’s had to cut it loose. You know with Joey Getherall as punt returner, we’re pretty solid there and with David Givens, Tony Driver, Jason Hunter, we have some depth there, so I think we wait and see today. If he can cut it loose, feels good, then he’ll be back there. If not, I have no concern about the other guys, the other players.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: First of all, Jabari Holloway and Dan O’Leary, not very often you have captain that plays the same positive. Both of them are good football players. They really are. Jabari, you know good hands, runs routes well, tremendous upside. Dan O’Leary may not be as fast, but also, has great hands and I think is a good blocker. Dan is a deep snapper on punts, critical part of our football team.

To be honest, they are pretty similar. They really are. They are pretty much the same size. They are both solid players, probably going to get a chance to play in the NFL. Probably more similar than what people might think.

Q. You talked about not knowing how Arnaz is going to respond until he is under pressure. Going on in to the first game, do you have to do anything to keep the pressure off him? Do you simplify a little bit?

BOB DAVIE: You really — I think really from the time we started putting this offense together in the spring, I think it has been cleared up that we have a stronger supporting cast than what Jarious had last year.

But we really haven’t simplified things. I think it is just more of the mindset that he does not have to go out there and do it all himself, to not have the big mistake, just play within himself, that he does have a strong cast. I think Jarious last year — it was pretty much on Jarious. And I think that probably hurt his performance and became a little reckless with the football.

We have not simplified the scheme. If anything, we are probably doing a little bit more. Arnaz has been in the program two years. I’m totally comfortable with his — how he controls the offense, all of the things that he does mechanics-wise. He’s really mechanically sound. We really have just the mindset that he does not have to do it himself.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: I’m a little bit concerned about that. I’m glad we’re in the playing down there. But there’s not much we can do about it. We go out there and we practice hard. Talked to our players this week about drinking a lot of water, hydrating, all those things, diet.

That’s not going to be an issue, I don’t think. It’s been hot enough, and in some way it is concerns me a little bit just because it seems like every year, we go through camp and it’s relatively cool, and then we go out there for that first game and it’s hot and humid and 90 degrees. So I’ve talked to our players about that from day one. I made a prediction — I’m not a weatherman, but I can tell you what, it’s going to be hot as it usually is. So we prepare for it as much as we can. Not a whole lot more we can do.

You know, in some ways, I know from being down at A&M practicing in that heat all the time, that’s draining in itself, so maybe there’s some advantages to being up here. We’ve got some pretty good tempo.

Q. You said you and RC ran the same way. What way was that? Very slow, any style?

BOB DAVIE: Well, to be honest, he probably ran a little bit better than I did. He’s a guy that always stayed in shape. We did a lot of running out around the pig farm at A&M. It’s an agriculture school and we have some pig farms out in back. I shouldn’t even say that because that’s where the George Bush Memorial Library is, so he got the prime lands down there.

So our jogging trail is probably not there anymore. But we used to go out there and jog and we both jogged fairly slowly.

Same thing playing golf. We both were — I promise, you he played a lot more golf than I played with, but I seemed to bring him down to my level when we played. We did about the same in golf.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: Well, you know, it is nice to have the first games at home. Now how you play in those first three games — (inaudible) to play in our stadium, I’m not concerned about being on the road so much as impact about what happens those first few games. So that’s really not a concern.

Q. (Inaudible)?

BOB DAVIE: (Inaudible) … coming in here with the Heisman Trophy, I can’t help but notice our schedule. This team is focused an A&M. A&M is such a good opponent, all of those personal ties that I talked about of our football team with the State of Texas, and Texas A&M — we didn’t have the excuse of overlooking A&M. That won’t be an issue.

Q. Can you talk about the freshmen that you may be using does, and also, have you — do you re-evaluate year-to-year what your policy is about using freshmen early in the season?

BOB DAVIE: I am happy we did not play them. I think both of them could have played, looking back. But you now see — what you see is how difficult it is for a freshmen to get ready. Darrell Campbell, as talented as he is, it’s been difficult getting him — or him getting ready to play in the game. You know when you start putting all the elements in there, it’s much more difficult when it is game time than it is in the spring. And he’s going to be a tremendous player here, but Andy Wisne is ahead of him right now.

Same thing with Jeff Faine. Jeff Faine we kept up there every day last year in practice. He practiced with our offense, it’s been a foot race to get Jeff ready to play. Those are two super-talented guys.

So you can see how difficult — I’m looking back to say, you know, what if they had have had to play last year, wow, how would we have done it.

I think those are good guys to make a comparison from because they are talented.

I don’t think we are in a position where many freshmen are going to play. I think Weatherspoon could get in the game. I think Preston Jackson might get in the game. Vontez Duff may get in, special teams or some type of situation if something happens.

I don’t see many other freshmen playing. We’re a little bit deeper than we have been. We’ve had freshmen play out of necessity — not to get off the subject, but Grant Irons played as a freshman, 218 pounds starting linebacker his freshman year, that’s a tragedy. That was a tragedy. He played a lot of football for us, but come on.

We played some guys out of necessity and it’s hurt us and a little bit — I’ve always been a firm believer, and you’ve heard me say it, guys paying their dues, waiting play where you really appreciate playing, and it’s important and you sacrifice. And when you get in there, it’s something that you’ve worked for and I feel fortunate that hopefully a lot of freshmen don’t play before they are ready to play, and they really have not earned the opportunity to play. But we’re in position where I think that is not going to be the case this year.