Nov. 12, 2002
Q. Having played six straight weeks, is your team tired? Does it physically need a break from the intensity of it all?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You know, that’s always a tough one to answer. I think we’re playing well in some areas, in some areas we’re not playing well. I think the break will probably serve us well. As we’ve always tried to do, we try to do about three things in a break of this nature, no different than our first encounter earlier this year.
If you can get your team healthy, fresh, will be one goal. If you can develop some of your younger players, give them an opportunity to get some work done, gain a little bit there. Then if you can prepare for your opponent upcoming. We have two of those upcoming. If we can kind of make some steps toward preparation for them, accomplish those three things, we’ll be well served.
Q. Have you tried looking at Bowl situations yet, implications, where you stand?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, I don’t. You can’t help but do something along those lines, but I really don’t focus on it. My belief is if we can do ourselves good by winning our next ballgame, then probably by that time, in two weeks, everything will start to clear up a little bit more. Then if we can get the final ballgame, I’m quite sure that by that time things will really be pretty clear about what opportunities we have in front of us.
I think I focus more on just trying to keep our team headed in the right direction and not so much about where everybody else is going to fall, whether I should wish this team luck or not, the opponents out there, you do that sometimes.
Probably the worst week, gosh, of my coaching career might have been I think it was the final year at Stanford, not that long ago, but you’re sitting there on a bye week as you start to do this thing, you’re watching games being played, and you’re helpless. There’s nothing you can do about those games going on on television. I didn’t scream at the television, but you did have a lot of anxious moments sitting there watching some of these other teams play.
Q. Do you worry about the players thinking much about this, especially an off week? I’m sure they’re looking at these things.
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, I don’t. Again, that is a good thing, it’s not a bad thing, that they should have thoughts about the future and where we can go. My only thing I would say to our football team is, “Those are great thoughts, just don’t think them when we’re playing Rutgers.”
Q. The BCS ratings and needing a law degree to figure it out?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Obviously, my physical education degree doesn’t qualify me for that. I’ll leave that to others to decipher.
Q. How will you approach this week? Will you take the same schedule and go through the same routines that you had in the previous weeks, previous bye weeks?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It will be similar, but probably a little bit less than we’ve done in some of the other weeks. We’ll cut back a little bit because it is now I think week 11 of the season, somewhere along those lines. We’ve been practicing since it started. It is time to have a little bit of a break.
The thing you’re always conscious of, you want the team to maintain its sharpness. We want to keep the rhythm, not have to start all over when we start our preparation for Rutgers. At the same time you want them to understand we have been playing football for a time. It’s time to rest, recover. From a coaching standpoint, our coaches need that same kind of refreshing that a break gives you. It’s time.
Q. Carlyle’s (Holiday) numbers have improved a lot since he’s been back from his injury. Any specific things you’ve seen in his development that have led to that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I hope you’re not suggesting he needs to be injured again (laughter). No, it’s all about I think the amount of time that not only Carlyle, but all of our young men have to spend in this offense. I think the more time they’re in the offense, the more comfortable they become. The more comfortable they become, the more we can begin to produce in certain areas. We’re struggling right now a little bit in our run game, faltered just a little bit. On the other hand, our offensive pass game has started to show signs of life.
Q. Have you been able to get much of a read regarding Gerome Sapp?
COACH WILLINGHAM: None that I’m able to talk about today.
Q. How much do you take a look at USC this week?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Not a great deal. We want some awareness, maybe more for our coaches to have time with SC than our players. Our focus has to be Rutgers. We’ve got to be looking at Rutgers. If we don’t do that, then that’s probably making a mistake.
Q. What do you look at specifically? How might that be different?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It will be different because you’re looking at two guys at the same time, two opponents at the same time. You can never play two opponents at the same time. At the same time, we can start to take notes, just prepare certain little things that you might need. Might give you an opportunity to watch more games of them. Maybe you go with a three or four game breakdown during a regular week. Now you might be able to look at seven to ten games they played. I don’t think they played ten yet. I think they’re at eight, if I’m correct.
“There’s not a lot that I’m dissatisfied with because the ultimate goal is really to win.”Head Coach Tyrone Willingham
Q. Now it’s November, the weather is changing. What challenge does that present to you when you’re inside more as opposed to being outside on the field? How does that change your preparation?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, the first thing is we’ll try to stay outside as much as possible and use that as a positive because if we have the discipline and the toughness to fight through any of the conditions that we have to encounter outside, hopefully it will make us better. We will try not to go inside unless I feel like it does not allow us to have a good practice. That’s what we always want to have, we want to have a good practice and get things done. If not, then we should be inside.
Q. Passing game, is it just the natural process as you go along with guys getting more comfortable, or is there something else to it? Has Carlyle really done something well to be able to expand the production, limit the mistakes? Has he done something special during the last few weeks?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I don’t know if I can say that. I think Bill (Diedrick, offensive coordinator) might be able to entertain that a little bit, actually a particular thing.
I think it’s more his level of comfort and starting to see things. It’s amazing when you talk to a freshman quarterback or a rookie quarterback in the NFL about what they saw their first time out, their first season. Really the game’s like a blur. They don’t see very much. So getting into a new system that asks you for different responsibilities, probably the first opportunity is more like a blur.
Now the game starts to slow down a little bit and you start to see more of what’s taking place, and you can do a better job of attacking from a quarterback position.
I think in time he will continue, as he’s I believe shown today, to get better, to see more, to understand more, be able to execute more. It’s just not limited to your quarterback. I think our receivers now will do a better job of recognizing things, knowing when to flatten things out, knowing when to keep things high in a particular route. That all makes a difference. Now hopefully with that you have two people or more on the same page.
Q. One of the players talked about after the game that the bye week came at a good time, not only because the team seemed to need some physical rest, but mental rest. How do you provide mental rest for the team?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That’s a tough one. I think it all comes with resting the body more than anything else, because now you don’t have a game so you’re not under the mental pressure of the preparation it takes to prepare yourself for a game that weekend. I think just having the ability to relax and knowing at the end of the week there’s not a game. At the same time we still want our young men intense because you want value to their participation during each day you’re out there on the field.
Q. Seems like your bye weeks this year have come at good intervals. Some years you have two bye weeks within a month, closer together. Do you have any preference on bye weeks, how they can help or hinder a team?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You know, I really don’t. We very seldom have a great deal of control over the bye weeks. It’s kind of hard to really say what is ideal. We just had to adjust over the years and try to make the best of whatever situation shows up.
This year I think the split has worked well for us.
Q. Is there anything new on the status of Gerome Sapp? Sorry if that was already asked.
COACH WILLINGHAM: The question was, was there anything we were able to reveal publicly today. No, there’s really not. As usual, I don’t get to see most of our guys until Tuesday. We have the preliminary reports, which I’m not comfortable yet talking about, until I actually see the guy, see exactly what’s going on with him.
Q. You expressed a lot of confidence in Ryan Grant on Saturday. Anything changed with his status, after all his fumbles? He’s still sharing time at that spot with Rashon Powers Neal and Marcus Wilson?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Yes, he is. Ryan has done I think a really good job for this football team this year. We have a young man that, if I am correct, is probably within 10 or 20 yards of being a thousand yard rusher. I think there are many on the outside that wouldn’t have given that young man that chance, that opportunity, to be in this position right now. So he’s done a great job for our team.
This is probably one of those cases of a young man that may be kind of tired and beat up physically. The rest will probably serve him very well. Let’s see if we can get him as close to healthy as possible and back and energized and ready to play these last couple ballgames.
Q. You mentioned the bye week. You mentioned mental rest for the players. I’m wondering how your routine changes this week. What is typical of what you do that would be different?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I’ll probably go home at night (laughter). I mean that in the sense that I probably go home a little earlier, probably a lot earlier, to be perfectly honest. I need it. My family needs to see me sometimes before it’s dark. A lot of times they don’t get that opportunity to, because as a coach you get home most nights probably 11:00 or so. Most people are asleep. When you leave, it’s roughly 6:00. My son has basketball practice at 6:45 in the morning. I get to take him to practice.
Q. With just a couple games left to go, what would you say you’ve been most satisfied with this season and dissatisfied with?
COACH WILLINGHAM: There’s not a lot that I’m dissatisfied with because the ultimate goal is really to win. That’s probably what I’m most satisfied with because we’ve accomplished that 9 out of the 10 Saturdays we’ve been on the field. I think those two hold up, what’s been dissatisfaction and also the satisfaction.
Q. Courtney Watson made a comment, the team hasn’t performed up to their ability the last three weeks. Do you see that as a lack of concentration? What do you do during this bye week to get the team back on track?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think Courtney said it very well. I always hate to talk behind our young men, but I think what Courtney is saying, if I might kind of play on that a little bit, our team, because we’ve had areas of our football team that have performed very well this year and even in some of these last couple ballgames that we’ve played, but at the same time our guys are not satisfied with just individual areas of performance. They’re more focused on what the team does as a whole. To me that’s a very positive thing. Even though we’re winning, it means our guys expect more. I really like that sound coming from our players.
Q. Can you talk about Rutgers, what does that team bring to the table, what do you have to do to prepare for that this week in practice?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I’m not sure of all the things. That’s why we’re going to take this week to really get a good look at them so next week we’ll be able to answer that question in more detail.
Coach Willingham plans on getting some extra work in for some of the younger players.
What I am aware of today is that this is a football team that has played one of the better teams in this country (Miami) almost toe to toe. That means when they’re playing their game, they are very difficult to deal with. Judging from the little bit I saw of that ballgame, they have the ability to strike on special teams and also do some things offensively and defensively that were impressive.
Q. Ryan (Grant) seems like a very serious and focused guy. He was saying after Saturday’s game, shaking his said, “I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to find a way to fix it.” With somebody who is that focused, do you have to sometimes say to him, “You’ve done a good job” so he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Ryan is not the only one that falls in that category. We have quite a few young men that if they’re not very careful have a tendency to kind of beat themselves up.
What I try to assure them of, “There’s enough people in this world that want to beat you up, so you don’t have to do it.”
You have to have them understand that they’re doing great things. What we have to do is check the fundamentals, keep working hard. Ryan is one of those guys that will do that.
Q. It’s a little cold for golf. Is there anything you do when you need to relax and get away from it for a few hours?
COACH WILLINGHAM: What I try to do is always, one, find time for the family; two, when the weather is good, play golf; and, three, find a way to get a workout in. Under the pressure of these jobs we have, that’s a good release, good outlet.