Sept. 24, 2002
COACH WILLINGHAM: He’s still feeling good. He’s upbeat, and no new injury news to report.
Q. Talk a little bit about what when in your mind when you recruited Pat Dillingham, he could have gone to Stanford one of the best schools in the country and is a walk on at Notre Dame. Is that a shock to you or?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, it wasn’t a shock to me simply because our situation at that time, if I am correct, was fairly crowded at our quarterback position and therefore a young man wants to have an opportunity to contribute and he maybe thought that this was a better opportunity at that time.
Q. Tell us a little bit about his personality, what he is like and what makes you confident what type of person is he that led you to believe that he can do that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: The thing that I like about Pat is that, (1) he is bright and I have said that on numerous occasions. I have always said that it is a quarterback’s decision making ability that is more of an asset in our system than just the physical ability. And he learns well. He will get a grasp of the system as he becomes more familiar with it. He will just be one of those guys that has that kind calm to him about his play that most things won’t bother him very much.
Q. This is jumping ahead. There has been some national talk before yesterday about BCS and Notre Dame. (Inaudible) do you have an opinion on whether or not a 13th game would make sense given where you are at this stage of the season and is that something that’s even on your radar screen at this point?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think you said it very well that jumping ahead is something that I shouldn’t do and I know you didn’t say I shouldn’t do it. But it’s something that I shouldn’t do. Right now what this football team has to do is leave all of the details to others and let us focus on playing one game at a time. I was asked because there’s something written about who you play down the road and et cetera, and my answer to that was: I have never seen a football team defeat two opponents in the same weekend. So I think we better focus on one in the next one that we have got coming up and that’s Stanford.
Q. Talk a little bit about trying to prepare Pat in case he needs play on October 5, what do you have to do as coaches to make up for the lack of game experience that he has? How do you compensate for that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You can’t. There’s no way to compensate for a guy not being in the lineup, but what you have to do is, as we always do with our practices, try to provide as many game like situation as possible so you grow as fast as possible, and make sure that the rest of the team understands their role in this because it’s not just Pat Dillingham. The focus has to fall squarely on the shoulders of our football team; that we’ve got to do a lot of things better to be the team we like to be.
Q. There a lot of positions, not just quarterback, where the backup doesn’t necessarily have a whole lot of experience. Does that become a concern and as you get further into the season, as the team becomes more banged up?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, you know at some point that almost every position is going to be stressed and tested, and what you are hopeful for is that the guys that their backups have paid attention, and have gotten enough reps so they can step in and play well. And then when they get the game experience really grow and make you a solid football team.
Q. New York Times had an article saying that there are no more walk ons anymore. Very rarely happens. Do you think it’s pretty hard now for someone to walk on?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would probably agree with that to a certain extent. Because I think now with the media and the communication age that we live in, that information on good players is spread vastly around the country so it makes it very difficult for someone to just kind of slip through the system but I think there are occasionally young men that have personal preferences that will allow them to be a walk on in a particular program.
Q. When was the last time that somebody that you were aware of walked on and made a major impact, game winning play or even turn into a starter?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Pat Dillingham. (Laughter).
COACH WILLINGHAM: There are millions of them. Mine doesn’t even fall on anybody’s radar screen. I think you can probably go to almost every major conference and find at least one or two programs a year that some young man fits under that category.
Q. I am wondering how much do you feel like you played Michigan State. You are about to play Stanford. How much do you think this is weighing on your players to win one for you as opposed to win one for them?
COACH WILLINGHAM: None at all in terms of win one for the coach. I think our guys are focused on the understanding that a football game, any football game that we play is important and that one really doesn’t have more value than the other one. I think if you put 11 or 12 names in a hat, okay, you said, well let’s pull one out and that’s a loss, I don’t think it matters which one it is. So I think they’re focused on winning the football game because they enjoy winning.
Q. Would you give any consideration moving someone like Arnaz Battle and Jared Clark to quarterback and what would it take in order for you to look in that direction?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would give consideration, but it will only be about two seconds.
Q. Can you comment on your rushing defense so far?
COACH WILLINGHAM: We have been fortunate. I think our players are, on defense, are playing well in all aspects even though as you shut down the run, that does mean that you are going to give up something someplace else, but we still managed to minimize those areas that we have given up a few plays. But we’re playing total team defense and it’s not just one player. It our front guys are maintaining their gap responsibilities; the linebackers are coordinated and we have done a great job of playing I think what we call modern football which is dropping that safety down into the box, making it very difficult for teams to run the football. And with the corners that we have, and the play that they have been given us all year, it’s allowed us that luxury that you can do that. So scheme wise, athletic wise and execution wise we’re right now doing an excellent job .
Q. When Courtney Watson got (inaudible) got back in the lineup. Is that your philosophy? Is that something that’s understood in the locker room that when players get injured, it doesn’t necessarily mean they lose their starting job?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, that’s not understood because it’s never been communicated. What is communicated is that we will play our best player and that has a lot of factors that you would include in it. Time has something to do with that, exactly when it’s taking place. So there are a lot of things to include in it but it’s simply that we will put our best players and whoever fits that situation best at that time will get on the field.
Q. What are some of the things that you have been doing in terms of preparing your secondary?
COACH WILLINGHAM: We’re lucky that in this system that we use we don’t necessarily do as much scout teamwork, I guess if I am using this correctly, if we’re seeing things the same. We don’t use as much scouter service teamwork as some other people. We try to have as many opportunities as possible for our ones and our twos to work against each other. And that way you get quality as opposed to quantity and that’s always our focus.
Q. I believe in the first three games the defense total, I believe, 5 sacks in the last three games (inaudible) what are some of the factors you think that gets you that much improvement last weekend?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think one, the opposition that you are going against makes a difference in what happens along that line. We were very fortunate that last week we could get pass rush without having to go to a blitzing scheme which, as you know, if you can do that, and it doesn’t stress you in other areas. I think we’re very fortunate with the matchups that they worked in our favor and our guys were able to get sacks.
Q. At the quarterback position how similar or different is this to last year with Randy and Chris, when Randy went down
COACH WILLINGHAM: Oh, gosh, I don’t it’s tough to kind of draw that comparison because we’re dealing with, I think, two different quantities. You are dealing with Pat that’s had limited experience and in Chris, Chris had had I think significant experience, all along the way. And you are looking at the job that Chris did in high school, that was tremendous, I think Chris, gosh, may have led the State of California in touchdown passes for his career or for a year or something along those lines, so you are looking at two different individuals and situations. But our approach will be similar from this standpoint: That the next guy that steps in we, expect him to perform well.
Q. I believe Carlyle in the last three games was something off, I think 20 and 56 passing. What are some of the factors you think that has gone into him struggling with that completion percentage?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, there are a lot of things. I think one is the learning curve. One is just being relaxed and comfortable. And then just the team itself, when I say learning curve, yeah, I include them also.
Q. Mechanics a part of it at all for Carlyle?
COACH WILLINGHAM: At some point it probably is.
Q. Are you believer in Sports Illustrated jinx?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Probably as much as Ali, Jordan and Tiger Woods.
Q. Given the fact that Pat has a chance to receive scholarships in some other schools, could you kind of talk about maybe his skill level as compared to what we might think of as a typical walk on skill level?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You are hurting me now because what is a typical level of a walk on okay. And I might take offense when you describe it (laughter) it’s okay, we’ll move to the next question. (Laughter).
Q. How do you plan to have the media between getting the guys to believe that they can go out there and win every game and at the same time letting them know that there are still improvements that need to be made every week?
COACH WILLINGHAM: How do you find a happy medium there. I don’t know if you have to. I think the athlete himself is driven to win so, I mean, that’s nothing that really I have to do to encourage that. Then the great thing that we have at our finger tips is we have video and usually they say the eye in the sky does not lie, so all of the mistakes, all of the things that we do incorrect and poorly, is right there for them to see. So I don’t think you need to define that medium there. I think it’s really clear that hopefully there’s a lot of ways that we can improve and yet at the same time, I think the athletes themselves are driven to be successful and driven to win.
Q. For a guy like Arnaz who has had his share of difficulties injuries seemingly always coming at the wrong time. As you are watching on the side can you enjoy that moment for him (inaudible)?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I didn’t get that (inaudible) to appreciate that moment. No, I am looking at the clock and trying to figure out exactly what we need to do next to secure this ballgame. But that in itself is quite enjoyable.
Q. Coach, this may not have an answer or may not make sense at all, but I am wondering having been a walk on yourself has that given you any special insight into Pat either that you talk about expressly or just helps you deal with maybe what the situation he’s in or the mindset he might have at the moment?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think having walked in those same shoes and I talk to Pat, I will know some of the things he is thinking and some of things that he’s having to deal with, so hopefully I can give him some advice that might be advantageous to his steps that he has got to take in this process.
Q. Reflect on when you took the job, could you foresee something like this breaking like it has for you guys as you kind of look down the road?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, first of all, I try not to get ahead of myself, so thinking or believing that at the start that 4 and 0 was the number you were shooting for, I simply shoot for one and once we had one, then you look to see if you can get two. Once you get two, you keep moving to three and so on. But I am always guilty of answering this question with a question, and it’s simply “Why not.”
Q. What has been the one thing that surprised you the most about how your team being able to play during this four game winning streak?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Probably out of surprise it’s probably still that I haven’t begun to hit on all cylinders so I don’t think it’s a surprise. Probably more of a slight disappointment that we still need to improve in a lot of areas for us to be the team that I think we can be.
Q. With Pat, obviously until Saturday, he hadn’t had any playing experience and I know he’s still like all the other players getting comfortable with the system, but he seems to have a good grasp of the system and what it entails. Can you talk about his picking up the system and his ability to perform it?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think the thing that Pat brings and I keep going back to this, Pat is a bright young man and I know that’s redundant and maybe I need to find a couple of other words to be more descriptive of his ability. But when you have that on your side and we’re blessed that both our quarterbacks have demonstrated that so far who adapts to a system that other guys might be, so therefore with his background he did live on the west coast, he’s been around the 49ers; he has been around Stanford University, their passing game as a kid growing up, and his dad’s involvement from the medical standpoint, it gives you access to different things so therefore he can have a different comfort level in this process that maybe some other young men couldn’t.
Q. With the bi this week and three days of practice, how is this week of practice given with a game week of practice?
COACH WILLINGHAM: We try not deviate very much from our system yet at the same time we recognize that our players will recognize it, (inaudible) so therefore it is a little different motivation so we have got find some things to really (inaudible) attribute their minds to be really active this week so we can get some (inaudible).
Q. I didn’t realize we could ask a follow up and I wish I had, going back to the question about sort of the insight you might have into Pat and some things you might be able to share, can you share any of those with us about ways you might relate to what he’s feeling?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think it’s really the very obvious thing, sometimes we just take for granted(inaudible) how there’s a great deal of attention about Pat. A week ago I don’t think he would have showed up in any of your questions. These are things that he will have to deal with that have the ability to distract him and take him away from what he really has to do. That’s understanding that and understanding what is going to be coming at him and some of the adjustments that he’s going to have to go through.
Q. Talk about what Bob Simmons has brought to your staff and how you guys background together?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, No. 1, and it’s not just Bob, but yes, your question is directed at Bob, quite experienced if you look across our staff (inaudible) I will try to cut in a little better. The staff, as I was saying, not just Bob Simmons because he adds a great deal of experience having been a head coach but if you look at our staff across the board, it’s a staff that probably seven nights of the staff (inaudible) coordinators at the collegiate level and the other two have been in professional football which some will say is the highest level of football you can play, so they bring a great deal of experience. I think that’s what Bob brings, great deal of experience and having that understanding in all aspects of the game and not just being a position coach.
Q. What about your backgrounds together, where did you first cross paths with Bob?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Oh, gosh, I am trying to think. Where we really started to have some interaction was would have been 1995. I think it was Oklahoma State, and I was headed toward Stanford.
Q. Wondering can this experience be a little bit too overwhelming for a guy like Pat being thrust in the spotlight like this?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It all depends on the individual. It’s all about the individual’s ability to balance all of this. I think Pat would do a great job of that with the experience that he has around him in terms of the coaching staff and also with the expectations of his teammates.
Q. Begin the fact that you are going to have a Saturday off actually how are you planning on spending it?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That’s kind of personal.
Q. Several people have commented on the competence that your team plays with and the enthusiasm they play with. Was there a point during summer preparations when you saw tangible evidence of that confidence there?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I would hope that from the staff that we have and the experience that I have recently spoke of that our players would feel and sense some of that (inaudible) our system, what we were going them to do and the presentation of it and therefore, our guys would kind of grow in that. But I think we have to be careful because we may be trying to contribute some of this to places that it shouldn’t go. I think these young men (inaudible) are very eager to be successful and you have to work and pay a price to do that. Usually when you work hard, you expect great things to happen to you.