Aug. 28, 2002
John Heisler: Good morning. Just a quick note, for those of you on the satellite feed, we have about seven minutes of highlights of returning players that are taken from our preseason practices. That will be at the end of the satellite feed. Coach Willingham begin by taking some questions.
Q. Notre Dame has lost nine straight games played at night. Is that an issue that you have addressed with the football team and do you have a special philosophy as to how to deal with the time in between waking up in the morning and playing at night?
Coach Willingham: (Inaudible).
Q. You’ve made the decision to — Coach Baer has not coached a specific position. Could you explain the thought process going into that decision?
Coach Willingham: The process there was that it would give Coach Baer the best opportunity to overlook the entire defense. And I think as a coordinator, you would love to have that ability so that any moment on the practice field to be able to look at different areas that you think deserve your interest. So this allows him the best opportunity to do that. It should also strengthen our defensive team and give us more preparation time in terms of scheme and adjustments of things we might want to look at in terms of preparation.
Q. Which assistant coaches will be in the booth game day?
Coach Willingham: Right now Trent Walters will be in the booth from a defensive standpoint. From the offensive standpoint we’ll have Coach McDonell and Coach Diedrick.
Q. Uniform changes, can we anticipate you putting your touches on the unforms?
Coach Willingham: At some point, yes.
Q. But not this year?
Coach Willingham: At some point, yes.
Q. Following up to that at Stanford you had the names on the back. Was that a Pac 10 rule or was that your decision?
Coach Willingham: No. I thought that it had always been the tradition of Stanford for some point time it had been there, but we kept it in place.
Q. Talk about Holiday’s development this fall?
Coach Willingham: I think in keeping with the train of thought that I have had about Carlyle since we opened catch and really coming out of spring practice, I have been very pleased with what Carlyle has given us and I said all along, it’s not necessarily his physical presence that has given me the most delight, but really his progression in terms of making decisions in our system. Because we believe it is decisions that make the difference and not just physical skills.
Q. What have you seen that you’ve like so far?
Coach Willingham: I like his ability to make those decisions in our offense. It seems a little bit redundant, but the focus is on decisions and he’s made good decisions with where the ball should go and when it should go there. He’s also enabled us to be a more effective run team by his ability to get us into the right run at the right time and all of that centers on his ability to make decisions.
Q. Talk about how much of the offense you feel he is for this game because you said at Media Day that offense takes years to perfect
Coach Willingham: Well, there are a lot of things to consider when we go into this ballgame. I think Carlyle is right on the mark when there’s some things he’s concerned that he doesn’t know. There’s some things that as coaches we don’t know in terms of our offense with this particular group that we’ll find out during the course of the ballgame: How far we can go; what we can extend; what we can’t; what we need to take back. But we’ll probably go in trying to ensure as much as success as we can for Carlyle and the rest of his teammates. So in terms of how much of the offense will be in for this game, I wouldn’t dare say right now. But it is safe to consider that we’ll try to make sure that we only have enough that they can have success with.
Q. What kind of mixture you hope for, kind of 50/50 that you aim for as far as run/pass or what type of
Coach Willingham: (Laughs) I smile because the mixture is one that only has one ingredient to it, I hope, and that’s to win. So whatever produces that we’ll find out during the course of the ballgame. So it’s not I mean, you would love to sit down and say the perfect day would give us a 50/50, but I don’t think that day ever exists. You are going to be either in one direction or the other and for us most of the time it is slightly higher pass percentage than it is run percentage. But the key is to win and that’s what our focus is. So anything that kind of works in that direction, I am happy with. Anything That doesn’t work in that direction with, I am not very happy with.
Q. What was your reaction each week when John told you well, each week you have a nationally televised half an hour to an hour press conference?
Coach Willingham: He didn’t tell me about the hour portion of it. He mentioned the half hour. (Laughs). No, to me, public speaking is about talking to one person. Whether it is one or 50,000, really doesn’t make any difference. It’s about the communication. And hopefully my communication will bode well, whether it’s national or local, very clear, very concise.
Q. Do you find this to be a positive I mean this could be on ESPN news; it could be picked you up by anybody every single week. Is that a positive that you can reach this audience every week?
Coach Willingham: It is very much a positive because that means that it goes into a lot of homes of the young people that we will recruit. And if that comes across very positive, very strong, very assertive for our program, it is a great thing because I think young people will be attracted to people that can give very positive leadership.
Q. This weekend not only is this team playing its first game this season but you are playing on a big stage, New York City, lots of media, lots of attention. Are you at all concerned? Are there concerns about young players who are not only playing new roles on the team, dealing with all of the hype it is unusual a little bit for the first game of the season?
Coach Willingham: As a coach you are always concerned about the hype and it’s something that you talk to your football team about each week, okay, because it does not matter how large or how small the hype. It only matters does it penetrate the mind of a young person. If it does then you have to have a counter for it. As a coach, you are always concerned about the hype. You don’t want to have your team dragged into it. We want them to stay focused on what is important and that is the game and the opponent that we’ll have.
Q. Are you doing anything along those lines heading into this weekend specifically?
Coach Willingham: No different than I do any other week. We address all those issues, very straightforward in our manner and try to make sure that our guys understand what they have to do so to be successful.
Q. What particular problems does Maryland present particularly as you try to get something going offensively?
Coach Willingham: Outside of the fact that they are a really good football team?
Q. Exactly. In addition to that.
Coach Willingham: In addition to that. Okay. Well, I guess I can say that we anticipate from them a very balanced offense. They are one of those teams that had great success a year ago in terms of running and passing the football. They return a very, what I consider, skilled offense. Some questions in their quarterback position. The one kid maybe health and be back ready to play the game. They are talented at their backfield positions, both fullback and halfback if their starter is there, and if he’s not there they have ample backups to step in. The offensive line is, I think, intact with the exception of one player. Receivers are very talented. Defensively they may have the best player in the country. So it’s a football team that poses challenges at every turn schematically challenged, offense and defense, special teams, great punter. So I don’t think there’s anywhere that ther’s not a challenge with this team. What we’ll be focused on is aware of in terms of one will be our awareness of ourselves, of what we have to do. And then two, adjustments that we’ll have to make based on their scheme.
Q. I would imagine before the game you are probably not going to waste a lot of words talking to your team. What do you say? What will you say and what will you say to your team different that is different from any other moment, any other game because of the significance of the first game Notre Dame Will there be a speech?
Coach Willingham: Gosh, I can’t let all the cats out the bag today. I have to keep some, kind of cover it up a little bit. But I will tell you this much: The significance of this being the first game will be minimized by me, probably and maximized by someone else. You can guess who those someone elses are. But no, it will be a game that will have only one focus to it and that will be to win the game. And the words that I give the team, there will be no great oration, okay, prior to the game. Because I have always believed that as a player as soon as that guy hits you in the mouth you forget everything the coach told you 30 minutes before. So you have got to have a little bit more prolonged period of time to work on that mindset so when he’s knocked silly that those thoughts still remain. So there won’t be a great oration before we take the field.
Q. In the way your team is put together, strengths and weaknesses, does it remind you of any team that you had coached previously?
Coach Willingham: No. This team is so much different in terms of the personality; in terms of the situation that we inherited; in terms of trying to formulate the term and get it back as one unit. So, no, this is a totally different situation and team.
Q. Last thing, freshman contributions, can we expect to see significant ones from the outset and have the progress of the freshmen the first three weeks here surprised you?
Coach Willingham: You will see I think, significant contributions from limited freshmen. But I also think that their progress overall in judging the whole group has been very much what one would expect of freshmen. They come in with great energy, great enthusiasm; they worked hard. They have done some things well, but other times they have looked exactly like freshmen, which is lost. So I am pleased with where they are at. I am pleased with hopefully the contributions they will give us down the road. For the most part, that will speak to the majority of the group and there will be a few guys that will step forward probably in this ballgame and make a contribution.
Q. Besides quarterback, I guess the position that has been focused on most of the preseason by the media and the fans is running back. Ryan Grant is the only one that has any playing experience and he had limited experience last year. Can you just talk about the runningbacks, how they have looked so far and what you expect from them?
Coach Willingham: Well, the expectation is probably that we’ll work more as a committee than by just one young man, so therefore, hopefully their strength in numbers and that we can work through the strengths of each individual to produce a very solid group. The progress has been good. They are learning. They are growing in the system. For us, progress has to be interpreted in both catching and running skills. And the ability to be implemented into our pass offense so they have done fairly well there. But of course, all the things that we have done in camp, the real test comes in the ballgame and that’s when we’ll really have a handle on exactly where we are not only as running backs but as a full team.
Q. A little bit about your philosophy of one of the things about getting through fall practice and not getting people too beat up or hurt. Is there anything that you have noticed at Notre Dame that surprised you that you have had to change or is coaching coaching in terms of how you prepare your team and handle the team?
Coach Willingham: Well, I have always said that every team is different and you have to adjust to every team even the teams that I have been with over a period of time that have been fairly consistent, adjust to those teams each year because the personality changes in those teams. So this one is no different. I think to a degree it still is coaching, but all coaching is about adjusting and adapting to each team and each season.
Q. As you continue to learn about this team how much more can you learn from a game than just a practice?
Coach Willingham: It would be mountains what you can learn from a game. Game is what counts. Coaches don’t ever want to minimize practice because it allows you to get to the game and hopefully have some confidence when you get to the game because you have done the things that you have been asked to do. But you really find out how people handle situations in a game and so there will be mountains that we’ll learn about our football team, not only this game but I’d probably say in about the first three ballgames that we’ll have a gigantic amount of learning that will take plays and give us the true personality of this team.
Q. You mentioned that this team is unique from any other that you have coached in the past. How would you define the personality of this team?
Coach Willingham: I wouldn’t. I would kind of wait on that and make sure that I speak about it from a game standpoint and not just a practice standpoint.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your recollection of having to face Bill Diedrick when he was an offensive coordinator at other schools and also what he brings to your team in terms of Notre Dame?
Coach Willingham: In terms of having to face Bill, I don’t really have any recollections there. But what I liked about Bill, okay, was his ability to pay attention to detail and that his thought process and how a quarterback is instrumental in an offensive team, okay, but what are things that we whole heartedly agreed on and those are the things that makes us very compatible in terms of our relationship and our relationship with players.
Q. Talk a little bit about Brandon Hoyte and your expectations?
Coach Willingham: Well, Brandon is another one of those players that I heard great things about and so far he’s lived up to the great things that I have heard about him. He is a young man that’s bright, that’s articulate and very aggressive in his play on the field. And I am looking forward to him having a contribution in a lot of areas. Hopefully as a down as an every down player at some point and also as a special teams player.
Q. Glenn Earl, what kind of fall has he had? I know he had some injury problems last year in the spring; how he progressed this fall?
Coach Willingham: Again, and I hate to be redundant in using the word very pleased with progress of certain individuals, but it is true. Glenn, didn’t see really anything of him in the spring so therefore was very interested in what he would give us this fall. And he stepped up to the plate. He had had some injuries in our fall camp. He stepped above those. I am looking forward to him being a very physical part of our defense; hopefully one of those style safeties that when someone does catch something over the middle, that they have to answer to him.
Q. Talk about what separated Mike Goolsby in terms of earning the starting spot at linebacker?
Coach Willingham: Mike is probably as quick as anyone along with Courtney Watson, kind of mastered our defensive system in terms of understanding what has to take plays, adjustments and changes that have to take plays and that has given him a real advantage on the other players at his position. Along with that, he has been physical which we expected out of a linebacker, and that is very pleasing to have him bring all of those ingredients together.
Q. How important is his personality at the position? A lot of his teammates talk about him being kind of a brash player?
Coach Willingham: I probably interpret that as being intent. I am not sure what their definition of brash is. I kind of like being intent and having a sense of focus about the entire defense and that’s what that middle back position has to do with us. It has to bring everything into focus for the defense, so, he does that and I like that contribution.
Q. You talked about the leadership that you want to get from the middle of the team on offense and defense. Do you feel like you are getting that from Courtney and Mike and also the backup linebackers that are behind them?
Coach Willingham: Well, I’d say yes to that. But of course, qualifying everything because the game is approaching and you really find out how everything is fitting in. But my comment was I think if I go back to that reference to the middle, okay, is that to have a good team in almost every sport you are usually sound up the middle baseball has a pitcher catcher, the batter, I think they call it, shortstop, second basemen, centerfielder, if you are good in your core of the center you usually have a pretty good team. We want to be likewise, we want to be good with our center, our quarterback, our halfback, as you mentioned in terms of our depth, or lack of experience, that we want that position to grow and really be strong for us. We want to be just solid right down the middle and we’ll have a good team.
Q. Coach, what Notre Dame has done and what it is a constant factor here and around the country. What are your expectations for handling that kind of tradition and expectation?
Coach Willingham: I think No. 1, history and tradition, you embrace it, enjoy it, because there are very few places that can match it so that’s something that you put in your pocket and you call on it when you need it.
Q. What are your expectations?
Coach Willingham: Expectations, I have always said this I think I have been fairly consistent in saying it, as long as one’s expectations are greater than those around him, then you are in great shape. Okay. My expectation is I expect us to win.
Q. I was wondering if you have any recollections of your first game as a head coach at Stanford against San Jose state, Notre Dame coaches have been pretty successful in their debuts over the years, what do you remember anything specifics from your head coaching debut when you were at Stanford?
Coach Willingham: I think I said no to that because I think I was asked that earlier. I am not sure exactly when, but I also said that probably my recollections of a first went back to the first Pac 10 game. Now I believe if I am correct we won the San Jose ballgame.
Coach Willingham: I think we won the first Pac 10 because that one seemed to have a little bit more of an importance to it, I guess. I don’t mean to minimize San Jose because they gave us some problems some other years, but yeah, I went back to our Oregon ballgame because that one was a big one in my mind to get your first Pac 10 win and especially at their stadium because it is a very difficult plays to play.
Q. What do you remember then about that Oregon game from a coaching standpoint?
Coach Willingham: Oh, from a coaching standpoint, it was a battle. I remember a personal foul as a matter of fact I talked to that player this morning. Personal foul, and then the young man turned around and ran the next kickoff back for, I think it was about 80 to 90 yards for a touchdown. So I think our discussions during the game went very well.
Q. You have a number of players that are from New Jersey but one in particular senior fits your scene Ryan Roberts. Wondering how has he played this summer and what does he bring to your team?
Coach Willingham: Well, Ryan has done very well this fall and of course, we’re expecting big things from him because any time that you are lined up as a defensive end that means one you are expected at some point hopefully a lot of points to get to the passer and provide some pressure from that standpoint as well as to stand up very strong in all of the off tackle run game that we’ll see. But you expect from your fifth year seniors to really step up and give you some leadership and help your football team grow and that’s especially true this year when you have a new staff, a new system, new program, you need those seniors to really step up and stand tall as well as on the field with their leadership.
Q. If I may just ask about Lionel Bolen is also from this area, south Jersey…
Coach Willingham: He’s been really up and down. He’s had some injuries and some things that kind of hampered him a little bit, but we really haven’t seen the full extent of what he can do. But we’re looking forward at some point to kind of incorporate him in the system so that we can get some great play out of him because he has some pretty good tools.
Q. Has the success against being the first Black coach at Notre Dame hit you yet?
Coach Willingham: No, it hasn’t. Even though I have been I don’t think there’s probably three days that have gone by that someone hasn’t asked me that question. But it’s something I said that as someone that has been lucky enough to be a part of a lot of firsts so it really hasn’t been something that I focused or concentrated on. To some it will be very important. Is it a good thing? Yes. But will I focus and spend a lot of time on it? No.
Q. What is the one thing you want to try to accomplish this season, this first season?
Coach Willingham: The thing that I’d like to accomplish is to win all our football games. I don’t think there’s any secret; that’s why you play them. If we can’t do that then I’d like to win all of them but one. You work your way down that continuum. So that’s the goal. It doesn’t change. As a coach we just want to win.
Q. Any one thing that you have changed since coming from Stanford to Notre Dame?
Coach Willingham: Is there one thing
Q. Have you changed like preparation or in just the way the way you recruit or anything?
Coach Willingham: Well, I guess I’d have to say there are a lot of things that we have changed. Some very subtle. But as I said because it was a question earlier that related to, I think it was practice or something along that line, or each team being different so you do make subtle changes. We probably had more walkthroughs or something along that line than we have had in other years based on what you felt like the team needed.
Q. You talked about trying to read the personality of your team as you get into game situations. That’s when that develops. I wondered is there a more certain time than before a first game for the coach as far as trying to anticipate what might happen?
Coach Willingham: Well, I think as a coach you are always trying to anticipate what happened. Probably the worst state for anticipation is probably Friday before the game simply because there are so many ghosts that kind of float through your mind, what if this, what if that, and it kind of is important that you don’t take those thoughts to your football team and that you kind of deal with them yourselves to make sure that you are prepared and anticipate as many things as you can about the football game.
Q. Common things that you always worry about for an opening game?
Coach Willingham: Oh, I think that’s a slightly different question. I think you worry about everything, you worry about whether you will get the snap, whether a guys will get on the right bus before you board and come to the game, you worry about everything, special teams, penalties, timing, everything.
Q. Did those questions — those worries change from game to game and get more specific as the season goes on?
Coach Willingham: I probably maybe agree to that simply because hopefully after the first couple of ballgames, you start to get into a routine and everyone can kind of understand certain things about the system, certain things about the play. As a coach you may have identified have a better handle on strength and weaknesses at that time, so you kind of know where your problem areas are and how you can hopefully compensate in those areas.
Q. Opening games that there’s always something that happens that’s is a huge surprise or is it mostly just minor things here and there?
Coach Willingham: I hope for no huge surprises. I’d like for everything to be kind of anticipated and just kind of roll out get a great ball game win, get on the bus and on the plane and come home.
Q. My question is a little kind of a follow up on David Woods talk being the first game. You called you labeled the Oregon, your first Pac 10 game as big. I know you are not putting all the eggs in one basket but how big to you is the Maryland game other than just being the first?
Coach Willingham: Well, I think it is a very special opportunity. First of all, it is a kickoff classic it happens to be (inaudible) I think that adds a little bit to the stature of this game. We’re also playing, I call them the defending ACC Champions, a team that has great energy, great enthusiasm, great confidence, excellent coaching, great players, so I think that registers fairly large. But the goal is just to win the game. And that’s what we focused on. That’s what we’re always focused on and we’ll do that every week of the season. FastScripts by ASAP Sports