Nov. 13, 2001
JOHN HEISLER: Good morning. Couple quick notes. Kickoff this weekend is at 2:30 eastern time. For those of you connected via satellite, we’ll have five and a half minutes of highlights from the Tennessee game a few weeks back. One other note. Since our last teleconference, the time has been established for the Purdue game, postponed till December 1st. That will kick off at 4:30 eastern time.
Coach Davie is here. He’ll make some opening comments and take some questions.
COACH DAVIE: Sorry I’m a little built late. Late getting out of a staff meeting – not with the coaches, but my new group of usher recruits. I recruited me a new group of ushers, did some strategic planning, put them through some tests, got them each binoculars, have them looking out for new T-shirts they see in that stands. I have new guys, coached up, ready to go. Just kidding, Bob (laughter).
I tell you one thing. When I first came here eight years ago, I’ve had — I realize now just how good our ushers are. Finally those guys have convinced me they’re probably the best ushers in the country. I have a couple new guys with fresh legs coming in this weekend that are going to be even better than the guys we’ve had out there.
But the Navy game, I think every year you play Navy, it’s always a unique situation. I just did a little interview with the Navy press. I can remember a couple years ago Navy had lost to Akron at home. Charlie Wetherbee I think that night went in and had some kind of emergency surgery. The next week, they come back, Charlie comes off the death bed, comes in here and takes us right down to the last play of the game.
I think that kind of shows what this series has been. It’s a cliche, but it doesn’t matter what the records are, doesn’t really matter what happened during the season, didn’t matter what happened the week before, or what happens the first half. This game, because of who we’re playing, is a game that each year is a challenge.
For whatever reason, and I don’t know the answer, it seems like we’ve played a little bit better on neutral sites than we have playing here at home. I think they come in — not to take away from them, we’re ready to play them each and every year. It’s not like playing teams from the academies the first time and we don’t understand the challenges. We understand what’s challenges are.
I look at them. I’ve watched every one of the games they’ve played on tape. They really have improved. I can see where they went out and hired a new offensive coordinator at the end of last season. Looking back at last season after we played them, they played Tulane, I think in the next-to-the-last game they had 724 yards in the game last year against Tulane. They come back this season, really struggled early in the year. Madden didn’t play the first couple games. But they made steady improvement, they really have.
They’re capable of moving the football because they have a really unique scheme. They have I think really a good quarterback. He’s a guy that’s about 6’1″, probably 225 pounds. He’s very strong, very competitive.
They do a good job. They spread you out all over the field with one back. They still are wishbone concept of offense. They score points and they move the ball.
Defensively they’ve struggled. They’ve struggled a little more against the passing game than they have the running game. I think they’re going to force us to throw the football. I think that’s something we’re anxious to see if we can throw it a little bit better.
It’s always a different game. It’s a game I enjoy. It’s always a difficult preparation because you have to have a plan for just about everything they’re capable of doing. And they do a lot of different things. It’s a true scheme game. It’s one, if you enjoy football and coaching, it’s a challenge.
For us, we have a lot of injuries. I think back really to this season, for whatever reason, the tailback position, it’s been difficult. Tony Fisher won’t play in this game. David Givens won’t play in this game. Jason Murray won’t play in this game. He hurt his knee, hurt his ankle a little bit last night in practice.
But mostly at the runningback position, then with Givens’ injuries, obviously Arnaz just getting back for the second game, seems like tailback and receiver we’ve been hit since training camp.
Then on defense, Dykes is out, Glenn Earl is out, and we’ve had that problem really at safety all season. Gerome Sapp was hurt early in the year for a good part of the year, now it’s been Dykes and Glenn Earl the last couple weeks. Andrew Wisne is out, as well as Ryan Roberts. You know, you start adding John Teasdale has been out the whole season. You’re talking about a lot of starters that will not play in this game, have not been healthy. I think that adds to the problem.
What we’ve tried to do on offense is really get continuity. Julius was able to practice last night full speed, practice the whole practice, which really helped. Hopefully we can eliminate some of those mistakes of putting the ball in the ground, some self-destruction by getting guys out there to practice.
We can go ahead and take some questions.
Q. Your injuries aside and Navy’s improvement aside, how do you guard against coming into this game overconfident?
COACH DAVIE: Man, I haven’t even thought of that one. You know, we have a young quarterback on offense and we’ve made some — even with experienced guys, we’ve made some inexperienced mistakes on offense.
I think, you know, your biggest issue right now is yourself on offense. That’s your biggest issue. We’ve been able to use this last week to really improve. Regardless of who we’re playing against, I think on offense it’s about playing better and playing as well as we’re capable of playing.
On defense, we went out there last Wednesday, was the first time we practiced. Anytime you walk out on the field and it’s just unique formations, unique concepts, it’s going to get your players’ attention.
That combined with the fact that we’ve played these academies every year, I don’t even concern myself with overconfidence. That’s really the least of my concerns right now. They’ve not won a game, but we’ve only won three. That’s pretty simple.
Q. With Tony Fisher, is this just the same lingering injury or did he reinjure it at any point?
COACH DAVIE: It’s both hamstrings. He reinjured it a little more in the Tennessee game. But it’s the same reoccurring problem he’s had since training camp.
Q. You said Julius was able to practice last night. Do you have anything in mind about who you’re going to use at tailback and how you’re going to run things Saturday?
COACH DAVIE: We’d like to see Ryan Grant get the ball back in his hands, also Terrance Howard. I think you’re going to see all three of them.
Q. With a week off to ponder things a little bit, where do you think you’re at this year, whether you’ve presented to your team this is a 3-0 thing?
COACH DAVIE: I think this weekend, I was kidding last night, Joanne finally broke down after 22 or 23 years of marriage, let me get one of those Direct TV satellites. She wouldn’t let me get all the sports stations, but I paid the money or did the little deal on the screen to get all the games this weekend. Had a chance to watch so much football. I watched it all day Saturday. You get a chance to see a lot of different teams.
It really reconfirmed or reaffirmed what I thought. I think we’re a football team that’s like a lot of other teams in that we can be a good team. We’re a pretty good team that has had some things happen that are inexcusable, but we easily could be sitting there having won the last five games.
You watch Boston College play Miami, certainly Tennessee goes and plays Memphis. I told my team when we were 0-3, “Let’s just find a way to win these next five games.” What you’ll see in college football, there’s a lot of teams 3-0 and we’re 0-3. If we can get to 5-3, they’ll all be right there with us. Soon they’ll get out of the non-conference games and play in the conference. That’s true.
There’s a lot of teams in this country that have two and three losses that are good teams. Unfortunately, we didn’t win the last two games. So now the sight is to have a winning season.
But I still believe we are a good football team. If we can eliminate those mistakes that have happened, I certainly believe we can win our next three games.
Watching other teams play, it’s amazing in college football right now. It’s every week. You watch North Carolina State, Florida State, you watch all the games. Certainly there’s a lot of teams that are very close to being the same. Some teams play more difficult schedules than others.
I think we can be a good football team.
Q. Have you actually presented to your team, “We have three left”?
COACH DAVIE: Yes. We all realize we’re not 5-3. The message I gave when we were 0-3, “If we were 5-3 right now, we’d be in the middle of it right now with other teams that are about that same record.” The next goal for us now is to be 6-5. That’s how we’re approaching it right now.
The bigger picture, if you look at it closely, we have the advantage of looking at those tapes and running things back, playing things back, watching other teams closely. I understand you’re going to get beat up by saying you’re a good football from a fan’s perspective. But from a coach’s perspective, I think we’re a pretty good football team. I think our team sees that as well.
We’ve got to look at the positive side and finish this thing out trying to be a 6-5 team.
Q. The trophy games in college football, you have one coming up on December 1st, what makes trophy games, those rivalries, special?
COACH DAVIE: You know –.
Q. Or do you think about them?
COACH DAVIE: I’m trying to think of what it is.
JOHN HEISLER: Shillelagh. There’s two separate ones.
COACH DAVIE: I don’t think the trophy game signifies a whole lot. It’s more of what is the rivalry all about. You can tell by my answer, I don’t really know. I’m still waiting for that Shillelagh on the USC game.
JOHN HEISLER: We never gave it back. Never took it out of the trophy case.
We’ll take some questions from people here in the room.
Q. What have you guys done this week to work on the red zone, improving performance in there?
COACH DAVIE: So many different things, as you know. Arnaz Battle dropping the ball on the one. The ball popping out of Ryan Grant’s hands. I think the biggest thing is to have everybody practicing, the continuity in the offense. That’s the biggest single thing.
I think from a scheme standpoint, as I’ve said before, we’ve evolved to where we’re pretty good scheme-wise. Kicking game, we’re solid. You think of the things the last two weeks, Julius on the toss, dropping the toss, then the two things I mentioned. It’s more individual mistakes that simply through practicing and, you know, working on those things over and over.
I think the thing of not accepting it, it’s inexcusable for that to happen. There’s a reason why we’re 3-5 instead of 5-3. That’s the reason right there. It’s that simple.
It’s continuing to do obviously what we’ve done, but do it better. Have the people that are going to do it in the game on the field – and practice.
Q. Do you look at Omar Jenkins to step up? Which of the younger guys are you looking at?
COACH DAVIE: I think Carlos Campbell is maybe at the head of that pool as far as guys that have an opportunity to step up. See Arnaz get out there and catch some balls. Javin has been solid all season. The next guys I would say would be Carlos Campbell, Lorenzo Crawford, Omar Jenkins, Ronnie Rodamer. I think Carlos Campbell is right at the head of that list.
COACH DAVIE: Solid. He’s a dependable guy, he catches the football. We haven’t seen him make real big plays. We’d like to see him in the game, give him an opportunity to do that.
Q. Cedric Hilliard this year, did you see him evolving into a starter even without an injury?
COACH DAVIE: I was talking to him the other day. His first day out there as a freshman at practice, 340 pounds, no endurance at all. But since that point, he’s evolved to where he’s an every-down player. I think with Darrell Campbell and Cedric in there, you have two pretty good defensive linemen.
We’ve been waiting for Cedric to be a full-time player. He’s done that. He’s taken advantage of his opportunity with Andy out and I thought played good against Tennessee.
Q. How would you evaluate his play against Tennessee?
COACH DAVIE: The fact that he was in there that many plays, that was encouraging, against really a good offense lineman. I think he went against their one lineman a lot. He’s projected as an early round draft back. The more he played, the better he played, that’s encouraging. That’s the thing we’ve been concerned about, his endurance.
He’s taking care of his body, in great shape right now. I think he has two years of football left, as does Darrell. Both those guys are about where you want them to be, young linemen in their third year, but two years of football left.
Q. Is this how you saw his career progressing, where he’d evolve into a starter?
COACH DAVIE: I think that’s how it’s supposed to be really at places like Notre Dame, against the teams we play. If you walk in there and play too early, it always seems to backfire on you. There’s a reason.
I can remember when we were at Pittsburgh with those great defenses, those great teams. None of those guys played before. Hugh Green is an exception. Ricky Jackson never played till his junior year. He was a first round draft choice. I think we have a little more depth. We’re not quite in the situation where guys have to step in, like Anthony Weaver, and play right out of the box.
Q. What were some of your initial impressions?
COACH DAVIE: Out of shape. Great kid, great heart, just out of shape and no endurance.
Q. Coming off two losses that you could have won, did the off week come at a good time to regroup, focus on the improvement you have been making?
COACH DAVIE: Not really. When you lose, you’re in a hurry to get out there and play again and win. That’s the only thing that’s going to make you feel better, is winning. With Navy coming up, all the different schemes, with the injuries we have, you turn it into a positive, you turn it into a positive.
Obviously you’d like to have had the open date maybe before Tennessee. I think on the schedule, I think it was originally where we were to play Texas A&M. Texas A&M would have been coming off the Oklahoma game this week. They moved the Oklahoma game. It was originally A&M had Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Texas, back to back. That’s a pretty good deal for us. The open date — wouldn’t have been an open date, it would have been earlier in the season.
The schedule is what it is. That change was made to accommodate A&M. You make the best out of it. You make the best out of it. I don’t know that it’s ideal to have it right now.
Q. Talk about what the walk-ons bring to this football team.
COACH DAVIE: We’re going to introduce all the seniors Friday night. I think we have maybe seven walk-ons that are seniors that have played it out.
You’ve heard me say it before. Unbelievable, unbelievable. You talk about a guy like Tim O’Neill, what he’s done for this football program every night. I could go through them all. Y’all know the ones that play. Bernard Akatu, unbelievable. We have a kid from Massachusetts that we took to the Boston College game, a big lineman that never played a down of football here, never played in high school, played basketball, never played football. He’s been an offensive linemen for us for two years, turned into a pretty good player. Gets beat to a pulp every day out there. They’re unbelievable guys. They are unbelievable.
You’re playing against a lot of those kind of guys this week. That’s why I think our team respects who we’re playing against. There’s some good football players out there. I have tremendous respect for them. Those guys are unbelievable.
Q. Do you ever look at those guys and wonder if they’re crazy?
COACH DAVIE: Yesterday, I did. We have that offensive scout team ready to go. There are no backups. On the offensive line, no backups, they’re in there every day. You’re rotating two defenses. I told them before practice, I was going to get them a goat, they’re into it. Little Krueger the quarterback, he’s good.
I thought before practice, I was thinking to myself, “You guys realize what’s coming right now? You have probably 150, maybe 200 straight wishbone plays full speed. We’re not tackling, but you’re getting bounced around.”
It’s amazing what they do, it really is. The scholarship guys are getting their scholarship. But the walk-on guys, they’re doing it because they love football. I have tremendous respect for those guys.
Q. You came from A&M. How does this compare with the walk-on tradition there?
COACH DAVIE: I think it’s more difficult here. At A&M we actually had 150 walk-ons at one time. I coached linebackers. I had 40 walk-ons, literally 40 walk-ons. We had so many numbers of guys. You could rotate them, they didn’t get beat up.
I think at a state school, obviously it may be a little different, in some ways easier, to get admitted. It doesn’t cost as much to go. You may get more numbers of talented guys because the pool is bigger.
Here, the ones you get are really important. There’s paying 30 some thousand dollars to go to school, they had to get in. There’s no hook of any kind. They’re getting in like all those other 1400 SATs. You don’t have as many. The ones you have you appreciate even more.
Q. What sort of evaluation period goes on in spring to figure which ones make it?
COACH DAVIE: They all make it. Every walk-on makes it, as long as he can protect himself. There’s no ability cutoff for walk-ons. If a guy wants to play football, he can come out there and we’ll find something for him to do, as long as he won’t get himself hurt. The only evaluation done is by the trainer and Mickey. If they’re physically okay, we’re going too keep them in.
You talk about improvement guys have made, it’s unbelievable, guys stay out there and play.
Q. Have you ever looked at improvement and considered awarding scholarships?
COACH DAVIE: We do that. We do it every year. One or two guys on scholarship. Done that every year since I’ve been head coach.
Q. Which ones are on scholarship this year?
COACH DAVIE: Dwayne Francis is on scholarship. Dwayne may have been the only one this year because we had to wait on a guy that we thought would make it, that whole thing. We couldn’t use that one other one.
I can get a list.
Q. What do guys like DeBolt, Sarb, how much does their attitude bring to the special teams?
COACH DAVIE: A lot. They’re fun to watch. I’ll tell you what, Navy, probably the best kickoff return. They have a little guy, 21, back there. Our kickoff team has been good. We have DeBolt and Sarb as walk-ons.
Q. A lot of the injuries, you have hamstring pulls. Do you ever consider how much conditioning plays into it with muscle pulls?
COACH DAVIE: I’ve thought about a lot of things. We started out two-a-days. As you remember, we had so much rain, so much rain. The first day we practiced, there was this much water on the field. Who knows. I mean, you think back to all those things.
But I think things just kind of go in cycles. What’s tough is it hits the same position. Those guys were here all summer. No one works harder, conditions harder than a Tony Fisher, Julius. Those guys are in great shape. David Givens. David goes back, he hurt his last spring, missed spring practice with a hamstring.
I don’t know. We’re looking at everything. We are going to look at everything inside and out. I think back to fall camp, all the rain we had, this wet field. I just wonder if that in some way played into this. We had so many pulls in camp.
Q. This has been a difficult season all around.
COACH DAVIE: What makes you say that (laughter)?
Q. It appears that way.
COACH DAVIE: I’m with you, Bob. We’re on the same page.
Q. How do you handle the reality that Notre Dame football is not where anybody wants it to be, the inevitable talk, rumors, speculation about your future here?
COACH DAVIE: There’s not much I can do to handle it other than try to win games. Obviously in December I made a long-term commitment to Notre Dame. It’s a place I wanted to be and coach. Thought we had a lot of positive things going ahead.
At this point we’re 3-5. That’s what’s going to come with being 3-5. I understand that. I think the thing you do, you have genuine appreciation for what your coaches and players have done, how they’ve done things. And I do. I appreciate how we’ve done things.
But as far as those decisions, you’re asking the wrong person. I totally plan on being back here next year and continue to try to get this football team to improve.
Am I disappointed? You’re darn right. A lot of people have a lot invested in this program, but nobody has as much invested in it as I do. I have eight years of my life in this. I haven’t spent one minute trying to do anything on the side or trying to parlay into anything for myself or my family. I mean, every second of my time has gone into this football team, from off the field with strength and conditioning to academic issues, to nutrition, to everything. I mean, every second of my time has gone into this.
No one is more disappointed than I am to be 3-5. I thought we had a good chance this year to be a good football team. But I also look at next year I think the schedule does balance out a little bit. We have a quarterback coming back that I think most people across this country would see as outstanding. So you look at the positives.
Certainly there’s a bunch of people looking at the negatives. I don’t become cynical towards those people at all. That’s the reality of what it is. I look at the day-to-day thing and have the appreciation for the players and coaches, the way they’re doing things. I think in the end that wins out.
Q. You mentioned a couple weeks ago that you’d like to try to get Jared Clark some time to see what he can do. If the opportunity presents itself, would that be something you would consider?
COACH DAVIE: I talked to Kevin today. If we ever get a chance to get those guys in, we’re putting them both in at the same time. We’re going to find a way where they both go in at the same time. We’re going to let that go.
No, that’s a difficult scenario right now. I’m not sure. Both those guys deserve a chance to play. We’d like to see both of them play. I think a lot has to do with the situation that allows either one of them to play. Certainly one you’ve seen in the game a lot more than the other one. I think the situation is going to dictate that. That’s as honest as I can be about that.
Q. Can you talk about what you’re hearing from NFL scouts?
COACH DAVIE: I’m not going — you can hear whatever you want to hear. All you got to do is try hard enough and you’re going to get the answer you want, whether it’s about writing a story, if you’re a journalist. You’re going to get the answer you want if you look far enough, look to enough sources. I’m not going to get into that.
I think we have some good, solid players. The overriding thing, we have a lot of guys that people perceive as being the same. They’re good, solid players that in the right system and with improvement I think can be good solid NFL players. We do have a lot of those guys. We may have six or seven potential guys like that.
An example of that would be John Owens. Kind of a journeyman, starts out at tightend, struggles early, now has turned into a good blocker and is getting better. Is he going to be a guy that goes in the first round? That’s not going to happen. But he’s a good, solid football player. I think there’s a lot of room out there, particularly with 32 teams, there’s a lot of places out there for those guys.
Q. Can you talk about Anthony Weaver?
COACH DAVIE: No question. Anthony will be a drafted football player without a doubt.
Q. What makes him so special?
COACH DAVIE: Same things you see. He’s a solid, productive, dependable football player. He’s a good, solid football player in every phase.
Q. Last game for the seniors. In your situation, do you reflect at all this might be the last game?
COACH DAVIE: No, not at all. Not at all.
Q. Is there any circumstance that you can envision right now under what you’d consider resigning?
COACH DAVIE: None, zero. I have too much invested. No.
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