Sept. 10, 2002
Q. After reviewing the tape, can you talk about the problems the offense had? It looked like especially the line seemed to have some problems?
Coach Willingham I think as I said on Saturday following the ballgame that our problems were never confined just to one particular area. There were a lot of areas that we didn’t do things as well as we wanted to, and at times it was in our offensive line, but also it was in the accompaniment of our backs, the accompaniment in things our quarterback did, it was everywhere. Our receivers contributed. Everybody was a part of us not being as successful as we wanted to be in terms of passing the football.
Q. Was one of the major things only the two catches by wide receivers ?
Coach Willingham No, that’s not exactly what we call our passing game is having our receivers only catch two balls. No, our distribution was not good. But that was reflective of the total that we had. When you only have one completion, if I am correct, in the second half, that’s not a good stat for us.
Q. Any one area that you’re really focusing on this week, as far as something you think you really have to get done against Michigan?
Coach Willingham Well, when you did as poorly as we did in the passing game, I don’t think there’s one area that needs I think all of the areas enhance some attention: Our releases by receivers our protection by the line, our accompaniment with the backs our reads by our quarterbacks, everything we kind of touch up on and make sure we get in ship shape. Because if not, we won’t have a lot of success against the University of Michigan because they are very good.
Q. The decision making by Holiday, was that a major problem?
Coach Willingham That often can be a reflective of the things that are going on around the quarterback and not just his ability to make a decision.
Q. Does your dislike for Michigan breed naturally?
Coach Willingham Well, I don’t want to add to anything they might already have on their bulletin board by using the term dislike.
I think, let’s say my eagerness for competition against Michigan is heightened by the tradition and history that I have. (Laughter). Every now and then, Tim, we have to give you one. (Laughter).
Q. With Watson expected to be back this week, if, say, Watson, Curry, Goolsby were your three best linebackers, would you consider moving one of them outside, or would you prefer a rotation to build the depth inside?
Coach Willingham Well, I think based on the nature of what they do and what their positions demand, I think we’ve got those three guys in the right spot. And Curry is doing an excellent job outside in the role that we have him.
But the first thing to consider is, what actually is the health and condition of Courtney after the layoff that he’s had, and that will be the first thing we start to monitor as we start to work him back into it.
Q. You rotated three different guys at right guard against Purdue; did you go into the game with the plan to do that?
Coach Willingham I think it was a necessity based on kind of the practice week and some of the bumps and bruises that we had going into that ballgame. So it was something that we had to do, yes.
Q. Powers Neal seems to have really good vision as a running back. Is vision something that you can teach to a running back or does he have to pretty much be blessed with that?
Coach Willingham I think it’s both. I think there’s certain guys that just have a natural ability to see things and see things better than other guys. But I think, also, there’s the understanding of the game that takes place, which allows a guy to improve his vision.
So we hope that one, they have it; and that two, we can enhance what they have by great teaching and great coaching.
Q. Can you talk about the secondary
Coach Willingham Difficult for me to speak to past years, but anytime you give up a 3rd and 13 completion, they will swear, okay, that the coverage was loose and the guy was often 15 yards, where in some cases, that is not the truth. Because I think the two passes, or at least one of the passes that 82 caught on Saturday, that there was almost bumper press coverage (ph) on him in that situation, so it’s not always because they are playing off and back off the individual. Sometimes they do make good plays.
But I think I’ve been very pleased with the performance of our secondary. Obviously I think it’s highlighted by the play of the two corners, Walton and Duff. I think they have been spectacular, but also has been their play of the two safeties inside, to make it a solid unit.
And I think Coach Walters has done a great job of coordinating them and really providing a total package, which is what we like to see, where you mix in your zone, you mix in your man, you mix in your combination style coverages, where it really can keep your opponent off guard.
Q. Do you have a philosophy of being more aggressive just let him catch it
Coach Willingham Well, if you said all of the above I would agree.
Q. Tomorrow is obviously, not another special day, but a dark day in this country. You touched on what a privilege it was to play in New York so close to the day. Will you talk to your team at all about September 11?
Coach Willingham I will try to get a feel for our team, but I think it’s something that we have talked to them all along about. And I think the message is that it is not just a day of message. I think if it’s something that if it’s the right thing, you hit it all along, but it truly stays with them.
The pride that we have in being a United States citizen, to me, should be tremendous. It should not be something that just you reflect on on tragic days like today or flag day or veteran’s day. It should be something that should be with you every day.
Q. There will be a fly over Saturday, and I don’t want to trivialize it, saying that you will use it to motivate the football team, but I think it will be emotional when the jets fly over the stadium?
Coach Willingham I think it always is. Those are first of all, it’s just the sheer power of those machines, period, at man’s hands, should represent something. But it also should be a reflection of our country, and hopefully the solidarity that we should have for this country.
Q. How typical is it that a coach comes in and doesn’t try to install a scheme, no matter what the talent level, or what the talent is, and do you feel comfortable or what makes you comfortable in meshing the two, the talent and the scheme? You see a lot of coaches that they are going to force fit their team no matter what.
Coach Willingham I just don’t think that’s maybe the right way to go about what we do. I think first of all, you have to have a system. If you don’t have a system that you have confidence in, then when tough times hit, okay, you don’t know which way to turn.
We have a system that we have confidence in. But for that system to work, there have to be people that run the system, and the people are our players. So therefore, it has to conform to what they do best, because if you don’t do that, then you don’t have any success.
And always, in any system, there’s going to be a learning curve. At some point, you’re learning exactly what they do well, and hopefully we have got some of that already in place and some of that will continue to tickle with and learn exactly what our guys can do better.
Q. How much of it is oversimplifying to say that part of the problems that you had Saturday may have with regard to pass protection because these are linemen that are sort of used to being option type run blockers is that
Coach Willingham I don’t think that’s fair to say that. I think our guys have shown in Week One that we can handle pass protection. We just had some mistakes and some things that just didn’t quite fit together.
As I said Saturday, I can guarantee you that every ballgame that I coach, okay, we’ll spend time talking about areas that did not do particularly well one particular day or another and certain days it will be different areas. And Saturday, of course, is no secret, it was our passing game.
Q. It appeared at times that Carlyle had trouble with some coverage recognition or things that they were doing, moving around quite a bit, did that show up on the film? Would you say that is a problem that he had or was that part of the learning curve that you look for in this new offense?
Coach Willingham Well, the thing is, I probably would not say it was problem with coverage recognition. Probably would say it was a great job of recognizing what took place, okay. Now, you’re trying to figure out probably exactly what Coach Willingham is saying there.
Often, with the clock that we have, 25/7 clock, when one figures out exactly what they are in, and you make adjustments and they pull out at the last moment, you are left holding the bag. Everything that you read was exactly correct, right read and you put yourself in what you believed at that time was the best situation.
Unfortunately in many cases, you can’t go back and change it again because there’s just not enough time.
So I thought he did some excellent things in terms of getting us to the right things and I thought at some points they did some great things, while now all of a sudden, giving us another look.
Q. You mentioned your history and tradition with playing Michigan. To what degree do you have any sort of memory of any Michigan rivalry, and to what degree you will incorporate that into your preparation?
Coach Willingham Probably I will have to do more research to make sure I am up on how that particular rivalry has been played, because you know in my career, the focus was not Notre Dame/Michigan but probably more Michigan State/Michigan.
Q. Can you talk about the atmosphere and the reaction you’ve received and what the environment was like, your first home game?
Coach Willingham So you mean the tough place was not directed at the opposing coach?
Q. It should be at the opposing coach.
Coach Willingham Gosh, I think if you’re speaking of it being a tough place for the home coach, I think it has to do with the expectation, and it is tremendous. I think that has been well documented; that our fans, our alums, expect great things from this program. I have said constantly that I have great expectations for our program, also and hopefully those two are on line and moving in the same direction.
The reception, being 2 0, you know, probably a lot better than being 0 2, I would imagine. But it’s been positive. But you have to understand, I haven’t focused a lot on that.
Q. The opportunity to go through this Big 10 gauntlet with Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, the fact that you have been in the Big 10 and that you are familiar with this kind of competition does that help you to prepare?
Coach Willingham Well, I think it does, because you have some history of the teams, but the truth of the matter is, I think the Big 10 has changed, certainly since I was a player and maybe even since I was a coach in the gosh, I think that would have been the early 80s, but I think the conference has changed. I think it carries kind of a new face now compared to what it did in maybe those three yards and a cloud of dust era that I played in.
Q. You had one experience against Michigan State, successful, 38 0, have you thought about going back into Spartan Stadium?
Coach Willingham I will have to be honest; that Michigan has not allowed me enough time to think about Michigan State.
Q. When you have a defense that’s been as proficient and scoring and as good at running to the ball, does that build its own momentum?
Coach Willingham As you know, success in any area has a tendency to build on itself, and our defense right now is thinking of itself in a little different light. I think there are times where you think about holding an opponent to a certain score.
Right now, our defense is thinking: Don’t score at all, and when you have an opportunity, they are thinking for themselves to make something happen to score.
So I think that’s a whole lot different thought process than it would be if you’re thinking, well, if we can be fortunate enough to hold an opponent to so many points. Our guys are really feeding on the fact that they are playing well, and that they can really make something happen in a football game and it really builds positive after positive after positive.
Q. You talked about, we’ll say, we could have done this better or this was a mistake or whatnot, but when you go through a game like Purdue where the offense doesn’t score and you still come out, you win does that build a type of confidence with the team to feel like, you know, we can find ways to win?
Coach Willingham It really does, and I think that’s a thought that some of our players echoed as well as our coaches, after the ballgame.
Really, you see some of the offensive guys walking around with their chins down, disappointed with the way they performed, but at the same time, they know that that football team as a whole did it what it took to win. And you win as a team and not just as an individual group.
Q. On Saturday you told the team, don’t believe the hype or something
Coach Willingham Did I say that?
Q. Something similar to that.
Coach Willingham Okay.
Q. Anyway, with Michigan coming in, both teams undefeated and things like that, have you addressed the team in terms of handling all of the outside distractions and the expectations on campus?
Coach Willingham Again, that is a message that I give them all the time. It’s not just for this particular ballgame, but it’s a message of understanding the distractions that come with collegiate football, and that if you’re able to put those in the right place, you can go ahead and concentrate and focus on the things that are important, which are your preparation for the game. If not, you can have ticket issues, request from family or friends that disrupt and you don’t allow you to concentrate.
So we try to talk about those things all the time, and not just as this game approaches. And it seems apparent that it’s going to be in many eyes, a bigger game, than the game last week.
Q. Aside from his on the field contributions what has Gary Godsey brought to this team off the field in terms of leadership?
Coach Willingham As you noticed last week, Gary was one of the captains. And as always, a captain I think occupies a very special role in hopefully the play that he’s done some good things and of course last week, if you could say we had a featured served in our offense, he had four catches last week.
But, you look for your captains to be strong in moving your team forward in a positive direction and Gary has done that. His contribution has been that he’s been very solid in terms of being a citizen in our community on the university campus and also in our community off field on the team. So he’s been the leader and he’s been very positive, and that was rewarded last week by him being named captain.
Q. What about his off season work has impressed you on changing his body type to slim down a little bit? It seems like he’s put in the extra effort to fit in the best he can into your offensive scheme.
Coach Willingham Well, I think that shows his desire, his focus and his concentration and I think that reflects off the other teammates; that when they see him do those things and make that kind of effort, they understand that he really wants to be successful as an individual, but also, he wants the collective success of our football team by trying to find a role that he can function in very well.
Q. He and a couple of the other offensive players mentioned that as a coach when you look at the tape of the team that had 50 passing yards, what are some of the signs that might be order to explore?
Coach Willingham I think you almost have to look at combination of the two weeks. One week, I think you had, it was 270 yards passing, which is not a fantastic day, but is a very good and solid day if you can do that.
The next day you look up and we have 153 yards rushing, so now if we can put those two together this coming weekend, I think you’ve got a solid offensive performance, but you’re also looking at an offensive team that has not turned the ball over. We had one ton turnover, our first one this ballgame, and there have been a couple other close cases, but still just one turnover. And you look at a team that offensively for the most part has still led in the ball position in terms of time on the clock. I mean, those are some things that we have got to just bring it all together and not just have a weekend of one part of that in, but all parts in.
Q. I know you weren’t here when Vontez came in, but he came in as a running back and then got moved to corner back later. I wondered, when you have someone like that that shows so much potential on both sides of the ball, how do you weigh that equation out where you are going to stick him? Do you find out what he likes, is it based on need? What’s your thought process?
Coach Willingham I hate to use the all of the above answer, but it is true. The first thing you want to do is see if you can satisfy what that individual believes he’s best at, because usually if he believes that, his performance will be best there.
Then you have to look at the needs of the team. What does the team really need for it to be successful? And then where do you think you can project him that maybe one day he will have a future at as a professional athlete. So, those are the kind of things we start to consider as we try to find the right position for a young man.
Q. You mentioned your eagerness for competition with Michigan, what qualities do you feel like you bring from your playing days into your coaching days?
Coach Willingham Discipline. Toughness. Work ethic. Sportsmanship; would be a few.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk with Dennis Green earlier this year, he said that you would have the best arm among the quarterbacks on this particular team; is that true?
Coach Willingham (Laughter) I sincerely hope that it’s not true.
Gosh, because this arm of mine is the best on our team, then we really are in trouble because this one has had it.
Q. To your knowledge, is Marcus Wilson and McKnight going to be available?
Coach Willingham We’re not sure yet. It will probably be day by day on both of those. I think Marcus might be a little ahead in terms of starting to come back, but we’ll see as we start today.
Q. Can you say a little bit what kind of mentality does a cornerback need to be successful?
Coach Willingham It varies, but you’ve got to have a little bit of a showman out there. You’ve got to have a lot of ego out there. You’ve got to be willing to kind of stand alone and you’ve got to have, obviously, the toughness and the athletic ability that the position demands. It’s really, I think, a special position, especially the way modern football has evolved.
I know, of course, you look at what I call, I guess the Deion Sanders area, where he came and stood out and then you heard the compliment that one guy alone can start to shape a game from that position.
And so, it’s made, I think, a real change in how people look at the position and how those young men think of themselves at that position, how they can dictate the flow of a football game.
Q. How much do you see in Vontez being able to dictate flow of a game?
Coach Willingham Well, I think we are very fortunate because those two guys have done great job in terms of the individual man to man coverage. When you have that kind of ability, that means that you can do more sophisticated thing with safeties involving other type of coverage patterns. So when you have that kind of player, it really helps your total defense.
Q. How do those two guys being in similar positions play off each other help on and off the field?
Coach Willingham First of all, they are good friends and really enjoy each other’s company. And they challenge each other that when one makes a play, the other one wants to make a play. And that kind of really competitive spirit and attitude, that really gets your team stronger, because now that challenge to each other extends itself to the linebackers, extends itself to the safeties, lineman.
So now that you’ve got a team that everyone is rallying, trying to make a play what you would hope though during the course of that is that no one in their efforts to make a play losses their team discipline.
Q. You talked about how guys need ego and showmanship; you touched on your players having class, how do you feel about that, going out with that swagger?
Coach Willingham Well, I don’t think in most cases it ever comes down to be a either/or. I think you can have both. I think you can have that swagger that you alluded to, and yet at the same time be a great sportman and play the game with a class play the game with a class manner.
Q. Coach Baer (ph) talked about the defense not practicing as well as he would have liked coming off the big win, how do you guard against that as a coach? And does a game like this help focus the a little bit?
Coach Willingham I think a game like this doesn’t demands as much work on the coach’s part in terms of understanding what’s at stake. I think when you have a No. 6 or No. 7th ranked team in the country come into your stadium it has a natural tendency to focus your team. What we are hopeful for is that starting today that our practices will improve; that we will step up to the plate and practice a lot better.
Q. A few of the Michigan players talked about growing up Notre Dame fans, players are on both teams are often recruited by both schools. How does that factor into the players eagerness to compete, like you said, for this game this week?
Coach Willingham I think what it does is really intensify the rivalry. When you have that kind of proximity between the schools and the players know each other, they recruited, visited each other’s campus, there’s a lot of pride involved in that, and it has a tendency just to intensify the entire relationship of the two universities and really makes the rivalry intense.
Q. Gerome Sapp talked earlier in the season about how he is trying to help the younger guys come along and get ready to play. Obviously, he’s shown on the field what he can do. What’s he done off the field to create that depth and experience?
Coach Willingham He’s spoken to it, by his willingness to spend time with the younger guys, to bring them along shows the kind of leadership attitude that you expect from a veteran player. You expect for him to not only focus on his own play, but to be focused on the growth and development of the younger players coming up in the system. And that’s how you start to develop a strong system is when your veteran players reach down and grab the younger guys and teach them all of the little things that are necessary to be great players.
Q. Coach Carr in his teleconference this morning that said the way this BCS works now as the ten year contract goes through, they might want to reassess playing a school like Notre Dame, any idea that schools will start to avoid you to help their ranking rather than play to you potentially help?
Coach Willingham Well, I guess it’s a two edged sword to some degree because it can both hurt and help, in my opinion. But I’m not so sure that Coach isn’t kind of doing a little gamesmanship as we start to approach this ballgame, so I’ll just kind of leave it at that.
Q. You’ve never done anything like that; right?
Coach Willingham Oh, never. (Laughter).
Q. The amazing work ethic of your wonderful mother must have figured mightily in your development but who were other intimate relationships and folks you may perhaps have never met who influenced you and what were those lessons or influences?
Coach Willingham Well, yes, I think my mother without question was a very strong influence in terms of work ethic, but equally so was that of my father. Together, they provided, I think, as fine an example of how to be a person, how to work and how to relate to others that I could possibly have.
But I’ve been blessed, I think, in my coaching career to have been around, I think, some excellent people and excellent coaches. Of course, Denny Green jumps to the forefront of that because I spent the most time with Denny and I really respect his work ethic and the things that he’s done in his career.
But I had great high school coaches Ken Miller, Johnson, Jack Bell along the way, I’ve been able to work with some other fine coaches at the universities I’ve been at. So it’s been an experience of having great people around the entire time so. From that standpoint, I have been blessed.
Q. One would assume that maybe you know every step that a Jackie Robinson took through his trials and tribulations. Am I presuming too much?
Coach Willingham I would say yes. Yes, I have some awareness of some of the difficulty that Jackie had to face, but I don’t think anyone knows of all of the things that he did or didn’t do on that course of his.
Q. As a former quarterback, wondering whether or not you pulled Carlyle aside this weekend and maybe had a quarterback to quarterback discussion?
Coach Willingham Well, there’s some brief, I think, discussions that Carlyle and I have had, and we’ll continue to have those. Because I think he has shown in my opinion that there is great potential in that body and mind of his.
What we have to do is just keep him relaxed and confident that even though things didn’t go well this one opportunity, that there are plenty of opportunities out there are to not only Carlyle, but for our football team to demonstrate the quality play that we expect.
Q. Michigan’s players talked a lot about their excitement level, the renewal of the rivalry and that this is going to be one of the defining moments of the season. Is that the same kind of feel that your players have right now?
Coach Willingham I really haven’t sat down and talked to our players about it, nor have I had the opportunity to read our guys confidence in the media regarding that.
But I would believe that because of the nature of the two schools and some of the things that we spoke about earlier, the proximity, the two schools recruiting some of the same players, that this rivalry will have a great deal of intensity to it, and I think there’s some history between the two universities from an athletic standpoint that go back from years that even further intensify the rivalry.
Q. You mentioned about the pride and tradition of the Notre Dame program, what do you think you’ve brought to the program that maybe it’s been lacking for the past couple of years?
Coach Willingham Well, that I can’t tell you in terms of what’s been lacking. I can only try to focus on the things that I think are important, and I felt all along that to be a great program, you have to understand and have some identification with your history and your tradition.
We are fortunate that we have a history and a tradition that is unmatched, and I don’t think that’s something that young men of this modern age don’t care about. I think they do care about it and they do want to know the history and the tradition and they do want to build on and that’s what we are trying to do with our football team.
So what I am trying to do, not necessarily based on what was done in the past, but make sure we have an awareness of that and that our approach and our attitude is to really build on that for the future.
Q. Do you think your greatest task as new head coach is to return that glory?
Coach Willingham I think my greatest task will be to win each individual game that we play. And I guess it is in my belief the accumulation of that will hopefully give you that great tie in with the history and tradition of the past.