Aug. 9, 2000
COACH DAVIE: Well, here we go.
You can’t make many promises as you look forward to a season, but one thing I can promise you, it definitely won’t be boring around here and I am sure, as usual, we will keep your interests and it will be enough issues throughout the season that will keep you motivated.
But I think the great thing to me about Media Day is that it really officially signifies the start of the season.
And you got media, you have fans, you have coaches and you have players, all of us, that where the so-called gurus, all get together and try and figure out what is going to happen over the course of the next three, four months. And I think the reality, none of us know exactly what is going to happen and I think that is what makes it so exciting and makes this honestly such a great profession that we are all in.
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you this: I really like this football team and I am really, really excited about the challenge we have ahead of us.
I think every year you are anxious to get started. You know, as a coach you have butterflies. It doesn’t matter if you are in your first season or your 25th season, you are always excited to go.
But I think this year, what is more true than ever, particularly because of how we finished last year, everyone in here knows that we lost our last four games and at Notre Dame, the bottom line, that is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter how it happened, doesn’t matter why it happened, we lost our last four games. So because of that, it has been a long offseason for all of us. But I am proud of how we have handled it. I think because of how we have handled it, we put ourselves in a position to have success and I also realize that everyone is excited this time of year and the reality is, the bottom line is, we need to go win football games, but I am really proud of how our coaching staff and our football players have handled some difficult situations.
It hasn’t been a lot of talking. We haven’t been in the position to do a lot of talking and since the day we walked off that field last year, the evening we walked out that field at Stanford, hadn’t been a whole lot of discussion. This team has been focused on what is ahead because to be honest, we really don’t want to go through it again.
Kind of like the position we are in. I don’t think that it is realistic to say you are going to sneak up on anyone at Notre Dame. I don’t think that is going to happen. There is too many of you in this room, too much attention to Notre Dame. That is not going to happen. But let’s be honest, the expectations on the outside are low, we are not a top-25 rated team. I think people continue to talk about last year, continue to talk about the negatives.
On the inside, though, I guarantee that the expectations are extremely high. On this football team, I think we all realize the challenge ahead. We are intelligent to know that we have got a lot of challenges. But this is an extremely confident football team and I promise you there is no one walking around here with their head down. All of us are looking forward to it.
This time of year you always have some potential strengths, potential weaknesses, how that all plays out during the course of the season none of us know. But as I stand here right now, you know, sometimes you always talk about the philosophical things and sometimes that is coached (inaudible) No. 1 thing I am excited about most is the leadership on this football team. This football team has been through a lot, you know, all of our pride was hurt last year, let’s be honest. But no one’s pride was affected more than our football players. They have been through a lot. I think they are stronger because of it. In fact, I know they are. I think we have four great captains which has been documented. We could have really had six captains the way the vote came out. There were two other guys that tied just below those four. I think we have got a lot of leadership on this team. How I can tell that, not because of any clever cliches, not because of a whole lot of rah-rah type of things that happen. It is what they have done. You know, once again, I don’t have a crystal ball, knock on wood, we have had no behavior issues. When you think back there really have been no behavior issues on this foot the team.
Academically, we came through summer school and we are just fine. That shows me that leadership is good on this team. I am also smart enough to know as you are, looking ahead, leadership is not easy in the summer. But it is easier in the summer. Because let’s face it, there is no depth chart in the summer. There is no one that is splitting time when he thinks he should be starting. There is enough footballs to go around for everyone in the summer so you don’t have some guy who thinks he should get the football more than the other guy.
So the leadership, as we go through this next phase, is critical. I talked to our team last night. I said, I love the leadership, I love the chemistry on this football team, but as we go through the next two weeks, next two months, that is what where are going to find out about the true leadership of this team. But I feel good about it going in.
Second thing, I like the maturity of this team. To play the kind of schedule we play, to play in the atmosphere that we play in, to play at a place where, there is the unparalleled media attention, I think you have to be mature. I think this team is. I think back to a year ago that offensive line with John Merandi, he being the only player that had really ever played, only started — Mike Gandy had played a little bit. Now we are back because of some of the injuries last year. I think we have 9 or 10 offensive linemen that have started games. You think back to Jordan Black and John Teasdale and Jim Jones, starting at the beginning of the season, then those guys getting injured, it is frightening to think back to that. I think we are better off because of that. We played a lot of players.
I feel the same way about the secondary. We have got some guys – their stories have been well documented, the Brock Williams, the Tony Drivers, the Clifford Jeffersons, offensive line and secondary, there is no other replacement for maturity. So I feel good about it.
The reason I think maturity is such an issue here, maybe than anyplace else in college football – I am sure there are some other places, but when you look at our schedule, we all know that what happens early in the season impacts what happens late in the season. What I have kind of talked to our football team about is every one is going to talk about those first five games, everyone. I think those first five games are going to take care of themselves.
What concerns me — I shouldn’t say “what concerns me” – the priority that I have spoken to our football team about is the last six football games. What happens in the month of October and November, because if you think back we won a great football team but we were 5 and 3, then we caved in at the end of the season, so I have tried to address all of those issues from the end of last season to this season, but maturity to me is a plus.
This is always a touchy subject, but I think the talent level is better. I firmly believe the talent level is better. That is not to bash anybody, that is not to say anything negative. In my heart I feel we are a more talented football team across the board. Now are we so talented we can just walk out and not play well and win? I don’t think anybody is that talented. But I feel good about our overall depth, not that we don’t have some holes. But I feel a little better than I did a year ago, about the talent level on this team.
I think the fourth thing what I am excited about is the continuity. Continuity of the coaching staff. I think we have an excellent coaching staff. I think the coaches are comfortable. I think the players are comfortable.
Once again, last year because of the change in offense it was a little bit different, but I just think the overall continuity. If I had to kind of look ahead to say what my concerns are, it would be impossible to stand up here without saying my concern is: Can we improve enough on defense. We have to show improvement on defense. That is a challenge. That is a challenge every one of us are going to be involved in.
When you look at playing Texas A&M, who I think will probably change their offense to some degree, because of some new additions on their coaching staff, then you come back with Nebraska and Purdue, just going from Nebraska to Purdue, there is not many college coaches because the schemes and all those things would embrace that challenge. So I think you can see the kind of challenge we have. But improvement on defense No. 1 priority without a doubt.
I think the second thing you have to say of concern, young-up-the-middle on offense, we young up the middle. Every time that ball is snapped in that A&M game – every time that ball was snapped in that Nebraska game, it is going to be two new guys touching the football. Two talented new guys. Looks like Jeff Faine will be the center, Arnaz Battle will be the quarterback. Regardless of who it is, they are going to be young players, that is always a concern, particularly with those kind of defenses you are playing against.
I think the depth on the front 7, we need some depth at linebackers, hopefully some of these freshmen can help us and I don’t think it would be a Notre Dame press conference if I didn’t say there is some concern with the kicking game. Although — I should rephrase that. I don’t think there is so much concern with the kicking game because I think that should be a strength for us in the kicker. We made some strides in the spring, but I still got some concerns about our punter. I still have some concerns about who is going to be the place kicker. But there were some positives throughout the spring with our kickers.
So all and all, none of us have a crystal ball, but it is a great opportunity and I think all of us really are excited about the challenge because I think we have some things in place where we can be successful.
So at this time I will be more than happy to answer any questions. Just a couple of things. Excuse me. As far as reporting back, we had two players that didn’t report back, one Daryl Campbell, his grandmother passed away. She is from Chicago. The funeral was yesterday. Daryl will be in sometime this afternoon. Hopefully he can make it back for Media Day. The second player Jamaar Taylor. Taylor will not come back. Jamaar is a young guy from Mission, Texas. He had had some injury problems, had some different situations through the season. Disappointed that he is not coming back, but feel like we have done everything we can do. I learned a long time ago, you can’t talk people into looking Notre Dame which doesn’t apply to Jamaar, but you can’t talk people into liking football so certainly wish him well.
As far as the physicals and the injury part of it, everyone is going to start practice. We are going to be real careful with Jim Jones who pulled his ham string late in summer conditioning. We will be careful with Denman. He tweaked his ham string a little bit. Also John Owens has a hip flexor. And we all know about Greg Pauly who has a knee. So all and all we are in good shape. Academically everyone is okay, and with the exception of Jamaar Taylor, this whole football team is back and ready to go.
We put two walkons on scholarship that I am really excited about Dwayne Francis, defensive back from Houston that has just been a great young man in our program. This past spring we actually put Dwayne at wide receiver because we didn’t have enough wide receivers. We are moving him back to corner and I have decided to put him on scholarship.
Another young man, Joe Recendez, tightend from Chicago, both those players are on scholarship and I am glad we had the opportunity to do that.
As John mentioned, everything is going to be out of Keough Hall. I’d like to just take a second to publicly to thank people here on this campus. First of all, for allowing us to have the arrangement Father Doyle, Director at Keough Hall, we are able to use the south dining hall that is probably 50 yards from Keough Hall and to have Rec Sports Intramural Field to have us use the Rec Sports Intramural area for practice. We are going to shower right in Keough. We have a big tent where they take their helmets and shoulder pads off. I will tell you, they will appreciate that long room after being out there. It just saves us so much mileage on their legs. Guys like Greg Mattison and Steve Addazio has those big wheels, it really saves them a lot of mileage. So I appreciate that. I also appreciate — John mentioned briefly about this- I know you guys appreciate this. The opportunity to get off that practice field at 615 on Tuesday, Wednesday nights.
We all think back to last year coming off that field at 8:30. I don’t think that was good for anyone. Most of all our players. There is a lot of people on this campus, that process started ways back. I remember having a meeting the week of the Tennessee game last year with people on campus to get that thing moving along and I appreciate the help of a lot of people to get that in place.
So those two things I think are going to help us.
Q. Seemed to be a little happier with the kicking. What happened over the summer?
COACH DAVIE: As you know, we are not allowed to watch those guys over the summer so I don’t know, but they all stayed here, all three of the kickers were here all summer as was our entire football team, every scholarship player.
I was impressed in the spring — at the end of the spring particularly. Not that what we did in the spring game out here was anything like what it is going to be September 2 in this stadium as far as a pressure situation. But I thought David Miller at the end of the spring was really consistent.
I thought Nick Setta showed improvement throughout the spring and then Matt McNew, a guy who we are excited about. So I think we have some talent there. I would have to give the advantage right now to David Miller as far as the place kicking job.
COACH DAVIE: First thing is you do what you think you can do with your personnel.
Second thing is you go back and look at what you did well last year, what you did poorly last year. We broke it down. We took all the things that we did well, all the things that we did poorly. The common thread through all of that in the end was probably that we need to improve our pass defense in particular. We gave up way too many big plays last year. The one overriding thing to it all was that we gave up big plays. I think the third thing that we needed to become more aggressive. That is one of those catch words that you always hear before the start of the season, but with those three things in mind, we have researched the heck out of what other people are doing defensively. We have researched what we have done in the past defensively and we have researched our talent level and our personnel to see what all that adds up to.
So you are going to coach what you know how to coach and what you are comfortable, but I think it is fair to say we are going to tweak that a little bit to try to take advantage of some of the things we have, also who we play, which, not to go into a clinic on it, but when you look at our schedule with the option teams, Air Force, Navy, Nebraska is an option team. You have to package those teams together. Then when you look at Purdue who kind of sits out there themselves, and you have got the other teams, you have got three really distinct packages so all of the things I just mentioned, you sit down and say what can we do and who are we playing against and I think it would be fair to say that although we didn’t start from scratch, we have tweaked it a little bit.
COACH DAVIE: Break it down further — I wouldn’t call it a concern, but I think it is an issue that is somewhat critical. It is also an issue, as I have said before, that kind of takes care of itself. You always start out the season saying, boy, how are we going to take care — not take care — how are we going to get the football to all these running backs. I remember last year we had five of them when we started. They seem to take care of themselves and it works itself out.
But I think we do have a lot of weapons at tailback particularly. We have got three guys there and a freshman that brings different things to the table and I think we have to have an organized plan going into it at how we are going to take advantage of those three players. All of us have to be on the same page. You talk about how many times you are going to get the football to someone. You have to factor in Julius Jones on kickoff and punt returns. Tony Fisher, you have to factor in his good hands. Terrance Howard kind of a combination. But as this thing unwind a little bit, I think that is one of those things that are critical. We have got to have a plan in place as coaches to take advantage of the weapons we have there.
COACH DAVIE: That is a great point. Two things on offense — three things. We turned the ball over over 30 times last year. The year before it was 12, I think. We had 30 some sacks which I think the year before we had 14. And we also had trouble scoring in the red zone. So those three things, if you break it down on offense, don’t turn the ball over, score in the red zone and don’t self inflict negative plays on yourself. Those are critical, but I think when you look back, as I mentioned the inexperience we had on that offensive line, didn’t — we were a little bit chaotic. We had good success statistic-wise, but I think all of you guys have watched us would agree that we were hit-and-miss. It was either real good or it was real bad. We had big plays or we kind of turned the ball over and you can’t win on a consistent basis doing. So when I look at our offensive line being experienced, No. 1 we have got to run the ball consistently which we couldn’t do last year and No. 2, we need to protect the passer which we struggled with and to be quite honest, Jarious got a little gun shy at times because he knew going in we were struggling, but I think we are a much more experienced offensive line. We should be better.
Q. Talk about your concerns about Arnaz (inaudible) and the inexperience and the positives he also brings?
COACH DAVIE: I am excited to watch Arnaz just like you guys. We will all know a lot more September 2. But so far it has been really good. Kevin really likes him. He has been in the program two years. I have seen Arnaz go from the stage of being Jarious’s backup and kind of accepting that to all of a sudden having a little bit more vibrance for it now that he is the guy. So he shows that he can be a leader.
I think his strengths would obviously be to beat you carrying the football right now. I mean, he is fast. He is quick. You think back to the Kansas game last year. It is going to come down to how good can Arnaz throw the football. Not that he can’t go out there right now and throw the football, but when it is third and 10 up there bluffing blitz or they are blitzing, how well is he going to throw the football. I think back to Jarious two years ago out here against Michigan, the first half it was frightening, I didn’t know if we could ever complete a pass. Second half got a little bit better. Then we got a little bit better, got a little bit better, so how quick he is going to settle in in being comfortable throwing the football.
But I mean, I like him. He brings a lot of explosiveness to that position and I think he is going to be exciting to watch I really do.
COACH DAVIE: To be honest, it has been nine years, I mean, things change. Things change weekly around here. But in nine years, a lot of things have changed. But obviously I have got a great relationship with R.C. Slocum, I have got a great relationship with some of the people there at Texas A&M, without getting too dramatic – it is going to be a big game for me. I am not going to stand up here and say: Well, it is just another game. And then once again, without getting too dramatic, you know it is a chance to sit back and reflect a little bit about just how fortunate you are. First of all, to be in this profession and then have the opportunity to coach at places like Texas A&M and Notre Dame. That game is huge. It is huge for our program. But you know what, I am going to enjoy it a little bit. I am going to enjoy it because there is an old saying, you know, someone told me a long time and I have been trying to think who it was, but they said: You know when you are picking out a profession for yourself figuring out what you want to do the rest of your life, find something you love to do and then figure out a way to get paid for doing it. And that kind of — that is true. So I have been very fortunate. So I am going to take a second and just appreciate all those great memories of being at A&M then being here and then we are going to try to beat their butt. I already told R.C. that. He is going to try to do the same. After that game, one of us is going to be real happy and one of us is going to be real sad. But that is what coaching is. So it is something I look forward to.
Q. You mentioned before about how the way you guys ended last season is unacceptable at Notre Dame. With that there has been a lot of talk about the program, about people — can you talk about your mood heading into the season? Are you feeling pressure or anything this year?
COACH DAVIE: You are conscious of all of the things but one thing I have always said and you guys have heard me say it, I think every coach says this if you are going to survive in this profession which I plan on doing, I don’t think you put yourself in a situation where all the issues on the outside, whether it is something somebody writes about you or some rumor that somebody writes of who is going to replace you, I don’t think you subject yourself to have to react to all of those rumors on the outside. So it is not something that I have sat around and just dwelled about or sat around and felt sorry about. Obviously you are conscious of all of those things. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. But I am not going to sit and let outside things create a scenario that may not be totally accurate. I don’t think it is fair to me. I don’t think it is fair to our football team, and I know it is not fair to our coaches to do that. So all along, you have tried to focused on what you see the issues have been. You only care about the opinions of the people that are inside that really matter and as you guys know, sometimes there is issues on the outside and there is things being said on the outside that aren’t quite accurate. I think we have all seen that. It has been a long offseason. It has been a long one. It has been a different kind of offseason because normally the talk in the offseason is all about next season, where this season has kind of been about last season. That continues to go, but I also realize that is all part of it. That is why I said when you lose your first last few football games, when you have the NCAA decision that came in mid-December, when all of a sudden there is a new athletic director, when there has been somewhat of a new restructuring, I think all of those things are valid reasons for people on the outside to create some type of scenario. But I don’t know that — this is — dramatic as what it has been created on the outside, it is kind of focusing on what I think the real issues are and what I think the real solution is and going about your business, so I am not feeling sorry for myself. We are going to go after this thing hard.
Q. Did you talk to the players last night about that this is a do-or-die year for the staff (inaudible)
COACH DAVIE: I think maybe it gets back to your ego. This whole thing isn’t about me. I mean, they don’t need to go win to save Bob Davie’s job. They need to go, one, because they don’t want to feel like they felt in that locker room in Stanford. So they don’t want to feel like they have felt all offseason reading those things. It is not about me. It is about them. I am not going to overburden them with my problems. So, no I haven’t really talked to them much about that. I think our guys have all been around and that is what I meant about being a mature football team. They have seen the issues.
Q. You say you don’t want to over burden (inaudible)
COACH DAVIE: Not particularly. I think back to a year ago, standing right here, just signed a 5-year contract, a new five-year contract, people were talking about us winning the National Championship because it was 1999 and it was 66, 77, 88, 99. I feel, to be quite honest, I think we have the opportunity probably this year to be a better football team than we were last year. So I am conscious of all of those issues. But to be honest, I feel pretty confident.
Q. (inaudible) Nebraska being ranked No. 1, do you use that as a vehicle to talk to your guys about obviously — how do you approach that?
COACH DAVIE: I think you use that a little bit obviously. It is inherent that you are going to use that that people don’t have a real high opinion on you, but I don’t want to make it (inaudible) the reality of the top 25 situation, we are going to play a bunch of those teams. So it doesn’t do us any good to sit around and talk about where we should be. We are going to get a chance to go play them. I promise you, if we win the first couple of those first football games, we are going to be up there. Also there is teams in the top 25, Southern Cal, the last time we played them, I think we beat them out here. I think the same thing with Oklahoma, I think the last time we were in this stadium we beat them. Not to pick on Oklahoma or Southern Cal, but I think the point of it, is if we inside as coaches and players, because of what has transpired, feel we are a better football team at this stage than we were a year ago and there is two teams in that top 25 that beat us, we don’t need to do a lot whole of talking about it, but we ought to have some confidence that if we take care of our business and play as well as we are capable of playing, we will end up there pretty high. So it is kind of a non-issue to me because it is all going to come out in the wash over the next several months.
Q. First of all, the emotional hits this group took last year with the sanctions (inaudible) are you concerned at all that it’s a vulnerable group and that its ability to withstand a setback early might be in question?
COACH DAVIE: You know, Malcolm, I don’t think it is those kind of hits to take the wind out of a football team. I think it is more the kind of hits that when you have a really good player, that he is not there for some reason. That is always a tough, you know, always kind of a tough question because there is so many different areas that you are involved in. I kind of always think back of what Ara said when I first got the job – and it is kind of like the Al Davis thing, but Ara said: Just do whatever you have to do to win because there is a bottom line, there is a bottom line and I also realize that I feel good, the coaches feel good, the players feel good about a lot of things that you realize that there is a bottom line and the bottom line is to go out and win football games. Circumstances don’t matter. So I don’t know if that answers your question.
Anything else? Thanks.