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Interview With Coach Willingham

March 27, 2003

Q. You talked about the offensive line and how sometimes individual development does not always translate into group development. What do you do from a coaching standpoint to encourage both?

Coach Willingham: What it probably comes down to, the right amount of individual instruction and group instruction, and seeing if you combine those where the individual gets the proper amount of work within that group so we can develop as a group, and yet at the same time, give him what he needs as an individual.

Q. You talked about seeing some of the information about Chris Olsen developing the off-season?

Coach Willingham: Well, Chris’s activity over the winter, he’s made a commitment to get game one knowledge, and those two are important because you never stop being a good athlete or get to go that point where your best athlete has the process has to continue day after day after day. And also, he’s not limiting himself to just developing his body. He’s met with his coach, he’s trying to figure out all of this offensive system makes us a better opponent.

Q. What are your expectations of what players in the off-season from that mental standpoint we talk about what they do physically, but what do you expect from them mentally during the off-season?

Coach Willingham: We expect them to become students of the game where they really start to understand the game of football. And it’s unfortunate that our rules limit the amount of time that we as coaches get to spend with them, so they have to do a great deal of that on their own, and that kind of impacts I think the question that you asked talking about leadership, about them being able to do things on their own. So you might see it as part of a group but it is manifesting most when they do it within the team structure.

Q. You talked earlier about getting this team ready to win its next game, in the next month, is something that is four months away the primary motivational tool or do you want it to be more of an individual basis where guys are out there?

Coach Willingham: It’s always both. You have to and I say this because I was always taught that there’s no “I” in team; and that is correct, if you just think of spelling the word.

But if you talk about having a team composed of individuals and we have an individual group, we have to have individuals make decisions that impact our football team. So we now have balanced that where we do get the individual growth when we do get that combination of becoming a team and the focus has to be to a certain degree, that is competing to be a player. The thing about a team is they are competing to be a player, to be at a starting position, you have to have that. But at the same time we can’t have that person focused so much on themselves that they relinquish the team responsibility or the team objective.

Q. Coaches turnover, as well, is that a luxury, and how much of a benefit that is, is there any way to quantify that at all?

Coach Willingham: In terms of?

Q. Not having a turnover.

Coach Willingham: This year, if you can have the same staff does that mean now your lines of communication are consistent. You don’t have to go back and re-teach coaches within your system now, and it works both ways. Sometimes that’s a good thing, re-teaching your system, because you answer critical questions about why you do things. But for the most part if you can have continuity and you have great coaches, which I think we do, then that allows us to be one step ahead of hopefully where we were last year.

Q. At the end of last year you talked about championship teams need to win their last game, do you?

Coach Willingham: Yes and no. You have to have memory. To a degree it has to be that short-term memory, we always refer to quarterbacks having. You have to remember that certain things happen. You can’t forget that but you don’t let them wear you down. That’s the difference.

Q. What will Jimmy Gonzalez’ title be and his responsibility?

Coach Willingham: It will be director of personnel and his responsibilities will far exceed those of a recruiter.

Q. The priorities for the staff going into spring, if you can, again, talk about leadership and talk about development of different positions and things like that but overall, the team spent a lot of time last year getting to know the coaching staff and what your goals were, they are probably more comfortable going into maybe spring and a little bit more work to be accomplished without having to go through the basic growth last year?

Coach Willingham: Well, probably eliminating some of the anxiety is No. 1. I can probably remember going back and doing our testing that we did a year ago. And we know that the first thing that enters a young man’s mind is, “can’t have a bad performance.” And because he’s afraid that if he does, gosh, coach will cut him out of the system; he’s done. So hopefully we have eliminated those kind of anxieties.

Now a young man in our program has a comfort level with our coaches and that he can really focus on excellence. And that’s what we are interested in. So that will be, I think, the No. 1 thing that we have from a year ago in dealing with our young people, but I’m also cautious that you don’t want to get too comfortable. I think that the one thing you have, a new staff, we had edge to us coming in everywhere in the program and that edge created a certain amount of energy in itself and allowed us to move forward. So you always want to have that edge and we’ve got to have something that keeps us as a football team copes and keeps us kind of on that edge and working towards the goals that we want to have, which we want to become a great team.

Q. The offensive line you’re going to have a lot of guys participating in the offensive line this year that haven’t really played much at all, but have been in the system and got a chance to learn last year how much of an advantage is that going to be to take guys that are hungry to play and have not been consistent that didn’t have that didn’t have a lack of success or success, and did you get a chance to work with them from the beginning?

Coach Willingham: Well, the No. 1 thing there would be they have the talent that’s necessary to perform at the level, which we think they do, is an advantage, to work with them, to coach them to, have the opportunity to really format them or form them into the players that we want them to be so that will be the advantage there.

The difficulty is, there is no substitute for experience. I mean, when you get guys that have been down in Tallahassee or in the Coliseum, there’s no substitute for that. That’s just a certain amount of calm, and you’ve been there, okay. Hopefully our guys at least have made the trip, they have some understanding of it, but they have the talent to really expose and develop players.

Q. What’s the situation with your coaching staff? Their comfort level has to be pretty good this spring?

Coach Willingham: It is. And I think they are eager to do that because obviously there are advantages and disadvantages both ways. But now having a good insight into our young people, I think they know the personalities of our guys a lot better, and hopefully we can push all of the right buttons to develop every guy on our squad because we are a believer that you are only as strong as your weakest link, and if we can have our weak link extremely strong, then we become a much better football team.

Q. What will the edge come from this year?

Coach Willingham: I don’t know. We’ll be creative in thinking about that, how to create that edge. But in most cases, there is enough you name the team on our schedule, that usually gives you a pretty good edge.

Q. Inaudible?

Coach Willingham: Well, our starters are our starters hopefully because they have earned that right to be a starter. So No. 1, we have to start within that position and have great confidence with them. So at the same time, we enable our football team knowing that every position is open. Our goal is to have our best players on the field, and if we do that, then that can ensure us our best opportunity to be successful. And if you are our start or if you are our All-American, then you should welcome the challenge of being the best that you can be. It shouldn’t frighten you or cause you to become complacent. It should energize you to be the best of the best, and it’s not just when we talk about being the best. We are not interested in just being the best on this campus our starting role would think about being the best in the country.

Q. Was Derek Landri able to do any practicing last year? Is he healthy now, and your impressions of him?

Coach Willingham: Well, Derek, at the end of the year got some practice sessions in. He will be limited to a degree. We will be watching closely what he does but we are excited about seeing him become full-time in our system where we can really get a chance to evaluate where he’s at.

Q. Was he a person that you looked at as a possible offensive lineman?

Coach Willingham: No.

Q. And in terms of offensive lineman, you had two freshman at Stanford play quite a bit, Kwane Harris

Coach Willingham: Yes, I did.

Q. What is the biggest challenge to get a young guy playing real early in his career at that position, why is that so difficult at that position?

Coach Willingham: First of all, in most cases there’s a physical difference between a high school lineman and collegiate lineman. Usually there’s a physical difference. They are not as strong, certainly not as knowledgeable, and part of the challenge is understanding pass rotation. That’s extremely difficult to understand. For making a transition, from an unsophisticated high school passing attack to collegiate sophisticated passing attack, adds a great deal.