Nov. 8, 2011
An Interview With COACH Brian Kelly
COACH KELLY: We’re back on the road with Maryland this week, and I know it’s technically a home game, but we’re in Washington, D.C., and that’s Maryland’s backyard. We are mentally preparing ourselves to go in to play on the road again and all that goes with that.
I think we saw last week you’ve got to really play well when you go on the road. Teams are going to play their very best. Maryland will play their very best against us, as has every team we’ve gone against; they’ve played their absolute best game of the year. Maybe you don’t get that, but I get that from the coaches after the game.
Again, we’re going to be confronted with a similar situation. Everybody looks at Maryland’s record and asks about them. I can tell you this from watching film and studying them offensively: They can put some points on the board. Look at the West Virginia game, the Miami game, the Clemson game. They have skilled players. Two quarterbacks that can do a lot of great things for them, throwing it and running it, and defensively they’ve got some athletes. Certainly you’ve got new coordinators. It’s the first year for Randy Edsall. I know Randy Edsall. He’s a darn good football coach, and he’ll have the memories of coming in here and beating Notre Dame and playing physical. That’s what his teams will do.
So we have to be prepared and worry about ourselves. So this week is focused on our guys just taking care of their own business, and I think we all know what that is. We’ve got to have a great week of preparation so we have great confidence going in against Maryland. We’ve had a pretty good understanding of how to play on the road and what is necessary. Other than the last couple of minutes of the Michigan game we’ve been very good on the road over the last year and a half, and we’re going to expect the same because we’re going to need it.
Q. Just following up a little bit on the injury situation, any new news with those injured guys?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Braxston Cave will be out for the season. He is going to get surgery here in the next few days. I don’t have the technical information for you other than to tell you that they’ve got to go in there and repair a ligament, and so he’ll be lost for the year. It’s a tough loss for us, and Braxston has been a consistent performer for us over the past couple years. We feel terrible for Braxston, and again, he’s given us everything over the past two years, but he will be back, and that’s the good part about it.
Having said that, we’ve got a great deal of confidence in Mike Golic. Mike came in, played very well for us. I think when you look at the center position, there’s always a great concern because that guy is put in a very difficult situation, shotgun snaps, changing up the cadence, calling out some of the defensive fronts and structures, but Mike has done a nice job and we have a great deal of confidence, and that’s a next man in situation for us with Mike going in there.
Theo Riddick will not play this week. He has a hamstring injury. It’s not as bad as we first thought. We thought we had maybe a couple of week kind of injury. It calmed down pretty good, but he’s tender today, and that generally tells us he’s four, five days before he’s back to full speed. We don’t see him playing this weekend.
We’re very confident that Ethan Johnson is going to be able to play for us this weekend, so getting Ethan back is going to be a key for us in the depth of the defensive line. Our ankle guys are our ankle guys. They’ll answer the bell on Saturday. We’ll just have to be smart with them during the week. Ankle guys are Manti (Te’o) and Aaron Lynch, but they’ve responded well to treatment, and they’ll play on Saturday.
Q. Who becomes the next man in at center?
COACH KELLY: Andrew Nuss will move over to the center position. He will take the reps there, take a great amount of the reps to make sure that we’re prepared at that position. Andrew has been great. He’s got great versatility. He’s played guard, he’s played center, he’s played tackle for us, so to have a guy like that, that’s why we wanted him on our football team. He’s just been that kind of player for us.
We’ll move up Bruce Heggie to left guard. He’ll come up and be in the two deep at guard, and he’s done a really nice job for us, continues to show some really good things for us, so we’re excited to get him in the mix. And Coach (Ed) Warinner is excited about working with him. That’ll kind of round things out for us on the offensive line.
Q. And I assume Toma starts for…
COACH KELLY: Yeah, (Robby) Toma will start there, and TJ Jones will take some work in there, and John Goodman will play some X, so you’ve really got a three man rotation with Goodman, Toma and TJ Jones working both those positions, the three of them.
Q. Chase Hounshell, I don’t remember seeing him in the game Saturday. Did he play?
COACH KELLY: He struggled during the week with his shoulder. He then got sick. He got a respiratory illness late in the week. He had to fight through that. He really didn’t have a good week. We didn’t feel his preparation was at a point where we could get him in the game. We feel really confident that he’ll be able to bounce back this week and have a great week.
Q. How do you feel about playing a home game in the opponent’s backyard? It’s one thing to play kind of in a neutral site.
COACH KELLY: As I said, I have no control over those things. They make the decisions and they tell me what bus to get on. I have a card that tells me what seat to sit in, and I show up. I look at it, as I said, as a road game. We’re excited. Listen, playing on the East Coast, part of our recruiting, it’s a great area to recruit, get great exposure on NBC in primetime. We’re really happy about those things, but we’re treating it as though we’re going to play Maryland in Maryland.
Q. As you kind of take the pulse of your team going into this week, how do you feel about where they’re headed mentally?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s the same each week. I get asked the same question each week about where they are mentally. I don’t know. We can go over it again. We started poorly against South Florida, thought we bounced back against Michigan, played great. If we don’t make some mistakes late in the game, we win that game. I think the only game that I was disappointed in our start was against USC, but for the last almost year and a half, it’s been the same. It’s the same preparation, it’s the same mental approach, kids work hard during the week, and they come ready to play.
Q. On Jamoris Slaughter, you seem to be able to get a lot of versatility out of the guy, playing at a pretty high level. What’s he done to put himself in that position?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s more about what we’ve done to put him in that position. Jamoris has been there. As we’ve talked about, we love Jamoris Slaughter and what he can do. He’s a playmaker. We’ve played him at an invert linebacker position against the option teams. He’s played nickel for us, and now when we get into games where there’s skill on the field, three wides, four wides, we want to match that, and Jamoris gives us the ability to do that, and if you want to run the ball, he’s physical enough to stick his nose in there. So I think it’s more about getting him on the field in those nickel situations than anything else.
Q. Going back to the center position, how much do you put on that guy in that spot in this offense?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it starts with the basics that we all kind of take for granted, and you’ve got to shotgun snap that ball to Tommy Rees, the quarterback, in a consistent fashion. If the ball is off a little bit, it messes up the timing. Mike Golic is excellent at snapping. One of the traits that he’s that we’ve liked about Mike from day one is his ability to snap the ball. The other things have come. He’s gotten stronger, he’s more physical. He’s certainly not as strong as Braxston, but he is physically able to move his feet, get out and do the things, but I think it starts with snapping the ball. That’s really where he’s done a nice job and has been consistent in that respect.
Q. How much work do you generally give him with the first team working with Tommy?
COACH KELLY: Well, that’s a good question because when Mike (Golic) went in, my first thought is Tommy (Rees), get over and take snaps. ‘Coach, I’m fine, we take snaps all the time, I know exactly where his ball is, I feel great, don’t worry about it.’ I feel good about that when those guys are working. Every day when we go out to practice we have a 15 minute pre practice. Eight of it goes to our stretch, and seven go to ST and then the QB and center exchanges, so they to work with all those guys and have a pretty good rapport with them.
Q. Just about managing Manti (Te’o), it’s something you guys have done before. How much is he really going to practice this week?
COACH KELLY: He’s got to practice. He’s such an integral part of our defense that he has to practice. We’ll just be smart in the things that he’ll spend most of his time on teamwork. He won’t do a lot of individual work, we won’t have him in run support, he won’t be doing things like that, but he’ll be involved in most of our team stuff.
Q. Just adding onto that, with Mike Golic now, how much more does that put on perhaps Tommy Rees for the pre snap reads because you mentioned that is so pivotal to Tommy’s success and ability.
COACH KELLY: Well, certainly some of that falls on the center, but not all of it. Trevor Robinson has been making most of our calls during the year in terms of changing any protections and trumping any of Tommy’s (Rees) protections. Braxston (Cave) recognizes the front, but Trevor has been making most of the final checks, so that’s still in place for us. So we’re not asking Mike (Golic) to go in there and do all those things. He just has to concentrate on his specific assignment and snapping the ball.
Q. And Sunday when you did mention about Tommy being so effective and going into the run checks, I think usually there’s an assumption with quarterbacks they just have to be concerned with the pass. Can you just talk a little bit about the process that a quarterback has to go through as far as it seems to be such an underrated aspect.
COACH KELLY: Well, when you’re in the spread offense all you’ve got to do is drop one guy down, cover the middle of the field, and you’ve got more guys than we do in the running game. So it’s so important to get into the right plays relative to what they’re doing. Wake Forest closed the middle of the field virtually the entire game. When you close the middle of the field, you’re dropping a safety down, that puts them with better numbers in the run game. And Tommy (Rees) has got to be in tune with those things and making sure that we get in specific plays that give us a chance to be successful. So it’s not just the passing game, it’s the running game, as well, within our offensive structure that falls on the shoulders of the quarterback.
Q. Just off topic a little bit, there’s quite a bit of buzz about the uniforms for the game. There’s some outside perception that so much of this is for recruiting purposes, being able to draw attention, get some buzz going. How realistic is that, or is that overrated?
COACH KELLY: No, look, the only people I care about relative to the uniforms are the 105 guys that were in this room when we showed it to them, and they were excited. All due respect to everybody else that has an opinion, I really don’t care about theirs, I care about what my players think, and our players love it. We’re going to stay with those kinds of things that still fall within our color schemes and our logoing, and kids like that stuff. So if our kids like it, then I can tell you I’m certain that the recruits like it, as well. And that’s really the only people that measure for me relative to who likes them and who doesn’t like them.
Q. If they didn’t like it, do you have veto power?
COACH KELLY: I would tell you this: If they didn’t like what we showed them, I would not even touch the topic again. But they’re the ones that generate this. The players come to me, they see what other teams are doing and what other programs have, and they bring it to them, and I shoot it up the flagpole and see if anybody likes it and then go from there.
Q. Harrison (Smith) looked like he made a lot of plays on the back end.
COACH KELLY: Best game of the year.
Q. I wasn’t making that up.
COACH KELLY: You were paying attention.
Q. Could you talk about you’ve had a lot of senior leader captain types in your career. What’s unique about him and that group of guys you’ve had in the past?
COACH KELLY: Well, each young man is different in his own personality, and what I love about Harrison Smith is that young man got beat up before we got here. When I got here, I heard some things about Harrison Smith, and he can’t do this and he can’t do that, and all he’s done since I’ve been here is do, do, do. Whatever we’ve asked him to do, on the field, off the field, he’s been there. He’s been a great teammate. He’s been a great leader and captain, and he’s been a darned good football player. He was invited to the senior Bowl, and they don’t just hand those things out because you’re a good guy. So he’s done all those things, and the way he’s done them since I’ve arrived here measure him up to the great captains that I’ve had.
Q. Could you talk about just his on field development since you’ve been here?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s apparent that what we’re seeing is an impact football player. Part of that is his maturity, but I think he’s been committed to his strength training, he’s been great to coach. I know Coach Martin really has a great relationship with him. He’s very bright. He’s got an incredible football intelligence, and I think his development has been clearly something that we all can look back on and say, that’s player development. It’s getting better going into your senior year. It’s getting better as you stay in the program, and I think Harrison is clearly that case.
Q. Your depth along the defensive line obviously has really been tested this year. In the last 14 games, you’ve shaved off like more than 100 yards. If you could just speak to how important depth has been and when you talked about developing keys to quality defense was that at the top of the list?
COACH KELLY: It was number one. It started with the defensive line. We’re not done. Our second phase in recruiting is what we’re in right now and that’s the secondary. You look at Wake Forest, for example. That was a deep and talented group of young men, not that we don’t have some nice players; we do, but we’re nowhere near Wake Forest in terms of depth in the back end of our defense. That will be the next point of emphasis in terms of developing our defensive backfield.
And so that’s the next stage in developing a great defense; you start up front and control the line of scrimmage. Now the next challenge for us is teams aren’t going to run the ball against us. They’re going to see that we need to get the ball out on the perimeter. We need to challenge their secondary, and that’s where we have to continue to build and deepen our football team on the defensive side of the ball.
Q. Where would you be without (Aaron) Lynch and (Stephon) Tuitt coming in and stepping right in and developing?
COACH KELLY: That’s why you take four flights and you wait in the airport for a flight into South Bend that’s been canceled six times. That’s the work that our guys have put in, because we knew the importance of putting our football program in the position we need to moving forward is developing that depth on the defensive line. That was job one.
Q. You talked a little bit about Mike Golic and the snaps and how key that is. When you found him, did you find him to be athletically a good fit for the spread?
COACH KELLY: It’s an interesting question. I think what we liked right away was how easy it was for him to snap the ball, because believe me, you can find yourself out of that position if you don’t have that skill and the ability to do that, and I’ve had some centers that looked great, are athletic but just couldn’t snap the ball. So that was a positive for us.
The center position is a little bit different relative to athleticism in the sense that it’s really about your ability to stay on your feet, and so you have to have a great base. He’s athletic. Braxston has a more developed base. You can’t knock Braxston Cave off his base. And I know this sounds like a crazy analogy, but think of two sumo wrestlers. The center position, those guys have to stay on their feet. Mike is getting better at that. He’s getting stronger. But he’s a BCS football player, so he’s athletic enough that he can do those things. He has to continue to develop his strength, and he has. He is so far ahead of where he was last year, and now he’s a starter for us.
Q. Last week you faced a receiving corps that had a lot of speed, a lot of talent. You talked about Maryland has a similar depth at the skill positions. Can you just talk about how your secondary played extremely well last weekend, but talk about how important they’re going to be this weekend in keeping Maryland off the boards.
COACH KELLY: It’s going to be a difficult challenge. They’ve got two quarterbacks that play different styles, and they have a talented receiving corps. It’s going to be a challenge for us. You know what our numbers are. We’re not very deep there. We go really inexperienced after the first four guys other than Jamoris (Slaughter) at the nickel position. Yeah, we’re concerned. We know we have to play really well against a team that can throw four and five receivers at you.
Q. After the Wake Forest game, you talked about Tommy (Rees) and Harrison (Smith) and a few others having maybe the best game of the season. For your players overall would you say as a team that was the best game so far?
COACH KELLY: Well, there are beauty points sometimes when you play a game and it just comes out easy and it looks great. This could have been our best victory as it relates to just playing tough and staying committed and keep fighting. At times it was a little off, but they just kept fighting on the road.
So as a coach, those are the wins that you’ve got to get. I think I brought this up before: I think there were four or five games last year when Oregon went to a National Championship, they had to win in overtime or they had to win by seven. Sometimes you just need those wins, and they’re gratifying. Maybe not as much for those that watch the game, but for us internally, that’s a great win. And that win against Wake Forest for our guys was gratifying to them, because you know what, the next guy had to step in and play. Their teammate, their buddy had to go in there, and that dynamic, y’all don’t understand it, but our guys do.
Q. The players talked about making the adjustments at halftime from the coaching staff and how that helped them coming back out. If you can touch on that at all.
COACH KELLY: I think we do a good job of preparation, but I don’t think we are these gurus at halftime. Our guys made plays. They made the stops, they got the ball out, they made some great catches, they made some great plays. Michael Floyd made a great catch. We controlled the ball with five and a half minutes to go in the game. I don’t know that I’m standing here in front of you and saying, here we do our job, but our kids played well in the second half.
Q. And being the second week in November, 6-3, thinking back to where you thought you’d be at the beginning of the season, are you happy with where you are?
COACH KELLY: I never think in those terms. You don’t think in those terms. I’m involved in the process, the journey. Every day I’m with these guys, so we don’t have the luxury to step back and wax philosophically about where we should be or where we’re going. We’re dealing with two guys are in the health center and they’re sick, are they going to practice today. One guy has got an exam, can we move his drill work later. Those are the things that we get worked on. We’re so close to this on a day to day basis, we never think in those terms.
Q. Going back to the halftime adjustments, obviously Jim Grobe was trying to make halftime adjustments, too. Why do you think that you guys have been consistently good at that this season? It certainly has to go beyond just the players making plays in the third quarter.
COACH KELLY: Well, we weren’t very good at halftime against USC. You could make that case.
Look, that’s the first time we played Wake Forest, so when you’re in first time games, you really don’t know. They did not put their hand on the ground one time defensively. Their entire front stood up. That’s an adjustment. We’re used to getting our hands on you and raking you and driving you off the line of scrimmage. We couldn’t play that way in the third quarter. We had to change up our schemes a little bit. So some of it is we played a lot of first time opponents and we’ve got to get a feel for the game, and I thought we got a good feel for the game and were able to articulate that to our players and come back and play a better second half.
Q. Could you talk about that articulation a little bit at halftime. It’s not like you have a half hour in there to go over this stuff.
COACH KELLY: Well, we get together as a staff. I give an overview; Bobby gives me some information defensively; Charlie gives me some information offensively. And then we go to work. We talk about the things that we need to strengthen, some decisions that need to be made and what our plan is going to the second half and then we get with our kids, so it’s quick, because we’re calling them up at about 6, 7 on the clock to get them out there in time.
So you’re right, we don’t have much time, but we meet real quick, we talk succinctly to make sure we’re communicating and then we get to work with our kids.
Q. My question is can you learn different things about your team when you go against a team that maybe doesn’t have a national profile, that isn’t a big name, that is struggling a little bit? Are there different things you can learn about your team in a game like this?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I guess. I mean, I don’t know that we get that deep in it, though. I really think more than anything else we’re just honest with our guys. You know they’re going to play really, really well because they’re playing Notre Dame. So whatever their record is, it is. But this is their one shot. They’ve already had their senior day. That was last week. So they’ve got to look at their schedule and go, here’s our Bowl game, so that’s how we approach it from what we should expect from Maryland, their very best.
Q. Lastly, offensively the tempo that you guys had in the third quarter, just talk about that, why you think that worked so well and kind of what you saw at halftime to be like, okay, let’s do this.
COACH KELLY: Well, they were checking everything from the sideline, and so any time if you’re going to spend a lot of time trying to match our formations, we’ll move a little bit quicker. I’d like to move like that all the time. We’re not able to do that yet. We will. Remember, we’re still getting to that point where we want to be. But we saw some things that we thought we could speed up play and really force them to make some quick decisions, and some of them worked out in our favor.
Q. What can you tell me about Dennis Mahoney, just what he means to the team and what it means for him to finally travel with the team as a walk on after four years with the program.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Dennis has been extremely valuable to us, especially this week. He’s going to travel with us. He’ll be in the depth for us. We’ll give him some work. We’re at the point in the season where we don’t want to jeopardize any of our young players by putting them in the game, so Dennis is going to provide a real important piece for our program, and that’s really that’s been Dennis. He’s a program kid. Again, he’ll get the opportunity to travel with us this weekend.
Q. Did you tell him that he was going to be traveling?
COACH KELLY: No, he’s going to hear it from you guys first.
Q. What do walk ons in general mean to the program?
COACH KELLY: Well, as you know, in any football program, they provide you with so many resources, in particular your look teams, the guys that help you prepare your two deep, and Dennis has been one of those offensive linemen that we can count on every single week. He’s there for us, and you can’t have a successful program without a good walk on program.
Q. Can you talk about the transition that any first year coach goes through in a new program, and maybe there are things that the fans and even the media doesn’t see that make the transitions difficult?
COACH KELLY: There’s a philosophy that has been laid down, there’s a way of doing things, and you’re coming in and you’re not smarter than anybody else, you just do it differently. When they’ve done it a certain way for so long and there’s been certain personalities talking to them and you have different voices and you have different philosophies as to how you want to succeed, there’s a transition there. It just takes time, and nobody is patient today, and I understand that.
The fact of the matter is it takes some time. I know Randy Edsall, and he’s a darned good football coach. I’ve gone against him. I’ve seen his work. I’ve seen him develop, and it’s going to happen at Maryland, I just hope it doesn’t happen this weekend.
Q. Just to follow up, do you feel that you are still going through that transition?
COACH KELLY: Well, transition is a tricky word. I mean, we’re on a journey here, and that journey is to get to playing like a champion every day. We have some good days and bad days, but we are committed to the process. We are committed to getting there. But we’re certainly in that journey process right now.