Oct. 21, 2003
Q. After the game, I probably heard about four or five different reporters ask your coordinators about whether adjustments were made, I guess that’s the buzz word, and of course they said yes because if they said no that would make them look bad, so of course they said yes, that they made adjustments. But what is the reality of that, what constitutes an adjustment at halftime, and specifically, what kind of adjustments do you make over the course of a game?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, no. 1, if they said they made adjustments, they made adjustments.
Q. I didn’t mean to accuse —
COACH WILLINGHAM: It seems as though you were attempting —
Q. — you’re right.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Thank you.
Q. What kind of adjustments do you make over the course, at half-time?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It always depends. It can be as simple as alignment. It can be as specific as changing the whole nature of a defense or taking one in or out, what you might use. So it varies week-to-week.
Q. Do you find that most of the time it’s not a matter of an adjustment, it’s just a matter of one team playing better than the other?
COACH WILLINGHAM: In most cases I’ve always said that the team that wins usually does play better than the other team. But no, there are things that happened, there are things that you adjust to, and in some things it’s simply execution. So, it varies.
Q. You mentioned after the game that you thought your team was tentative against USC. Do you feel, were they intimidated by the situation, were they intimidated by a USC team that’s clearly one of the best teams in the country?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No. We have a great deal of respect for USC. They are a very good football team. They have been that way, I think most people would agree for the last 24 games or so. They have been pretty good. But at the same time, I feel like we did not see personnel, when you talk about making adjustments and seeing things, that’s part of that adjustment process; that you see things, you see what’s coming at you, and I don’t think we did that very well; and therefore I thought we were tentative.
Q. Barry Alvarez was asked about his quarterback and apparently he had knee surgery on Sunday and he cited the Federal Privacy Law as his inability to say something about the injury. Is that something that you’re advised by the university? I think that came into play when you were still at Stanford; what does a Stanford, what does a Notre Dame tell you with regard to that law?
COACH WILLINGHAM: The law tells us something that we must respect the privacy of those individuals involved. So universities make different decisions or varying degrees of how they protect that, still trying to work within the umbrella of that law. We’ve chose to be probably less informative than some simply because we think that’s the right posture as we look at the law.
Q. Did you always approach it that way, even before there was a law?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I tried to, because I think so much of the information that is passed on about injuries really serves no real purpose except for those that are involved in gambling. And that’s something that we don’t want to be a part of in any form or fashion, even if it’s a casual, just bypassing, kind of information out.
Q. And also you’re trying to respect the future career of an athlete?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That information will be gained I think. The young man I think when he talks with the professional scouts and the people of that nature, he talks about everything that’s going on in his career.
Q. They put him through so many physical exams, etc.
COACH WILLINGHAM: They will examine him and look for past medical records and things of that nature. I think most young men, I believe, sign a waiver that allows them to do that.
Q. At this stage of the season, will Mike Goolsby play the balance of the season?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I will not be drawn into that debate.
Q. Will he be made available to answer this question?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would imagine that you will have access to him, but I would imagine that he’s going to take the very same posture that Coach Willingham is taking.
Q. I wondered if you could talk about Carl Gioia and Geoff Price a little bit, how close, how competitive they are in practices and just the progress of those two guys this year.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think the progress has been good. The difficulty with the two of them is just trying to find the right opportunities in more games. I’d like to get them to feel that sensation that they had a year ago as high school seniors. But I’ve been very pleased with what they have done, and what I’m hopeful of is that we don’t reach a situation where we have to see them this year.
Q. And even in building for next year, because obviously Nicholas Setta isn’t going to be here next year?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, as you know I’ve always said, we do what’s best for the football team and if it’s Nick Setta to kick, why would I deprive him of the opportunity to do that?
Q. The fullback’s role this year, is this how you had hoped it would look, I mean, obviously it’s Stanford, you have a very talented young man, your later years there, can you talk a little bit about the fullback’s role?
COACH WILLINGHAM: The fullback role, when we first of all identify that role, we say the priority is No. 1 to block, No. 2 to receive, No. 3 to be a runner, and I think this year has gone just about as planned.
Q. Even in terms of production?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, you always want more, but then that’s up to us to try to give them more. But if you are asking me to — and you’re not of course.
COACH WILLINGHAM: But if you’re asking me to sacrifice Julius Jones, 260 yards a game, to put the balls in the hands of our fullback, I will tell you, no.
Q. After the game you mentioned, someone asked you about Brady Quinn’s performance and you said — I’m paraphrasing —
COACH WILLINGHAM: I can tell you. I said that our measuring stick for our quarterbacks is to win, and I said we did not win.
Q. Okay. You got it right.
COACH WILLINGHAM: (Laughs).
Q. I wanted to ask you, with young guy a like Brady Quinn, is that really the bottom line, is it maybe not more important that he doesn’t make the same mistake twice?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, a quarterback has a huge part to do with that, and that is the focus that we want on our quarterback in our program, to make this team a winner and we talk about that, not just with our quarterback. That’s a conversation not exclusive to him, with everybody on our football team that is our goal. But he has a major hand in that, because he and the center — I’m not telling you something you don’t know — are usually the only two people that touch the ball every play.
Q. Beyond Notre Dame not winning Saturday, how would you evaluate the things that you see in Brady Quinn at this point? COACH WILLINGHAM: I like what I see in Brady Quinn. I think he’s continuing to improve each and every outing. And you mentioned making mistakes, no, I don’t think he’s making the same mistakes.
Q. The defense was so dominant last year until the USC game, and then this USC game it seemed like the same problem came back, and I realize that they are a very talented team, but what’s happened to the defense? What do you think is keeping this defense from maybe being as dominant as it was early last season?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think first of all, it’s hard to do what that defense did a year ago, to create all of the turnovers that they created, all of the scores that they created. You don’t see many teams do that in a ten-year stretch. But our defense has been very consistent in many respects. You look at the game they had against Pittsburgh, you look at the game they had against Purdue, there was some outstanding things that our defense was doing. What we are seeking across the board, offense, defense and special teams is the word consistency.
Q. You’re 2-4 now, what’s the focus for the second of the season, do you talk to the guys about bowls, do you just say Boston College is all we’re looking at, do you try to give them a big picture?
COACH WILLINGHAM: First of all, you have to focus on Boston College, okay. This game is very important to this football team. It’s very important for what we want to accomplish as we get toward the end of the season. Can you get to a Bowl game without beating Boston College? I think it puts a serious cramp in that effort. So we have to be successful this weekend. We want to be successful this weekend.
Q. How would you — you’re a very bottom-line oriented guy, how would you rate your performance as a coach this year?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would say it’s not successful. We haven’t won games.
Q. And just in terms of your vision and goals for this program, I know it’s to win, talk about, you were 10-3 last year, 2-4 this year, talk about the progress and what your vision is and how you feel about where the team is right now?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You wait until the end of the season to make the decision about where you are.
Q. I think Coach Baer after the game on Saturday was questioning whether he had properly prepared the defense and motivated them. Do you look at every little things that would motivate them, like what you could have done differently, that sort of thing?
COACH WILLINGHAM: We do that every game. That’s not something new. But when you lose, okay, it seems to have a greater focus than when you win.
Q. You mentioned about losing to BC, the bowl chances are in jeopardy, would you want to go to a bowl game at 6-6?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You’re speaking a hypothetical?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Okay. I don’t have an answer for that one.
Q. At 6-6, you don’t have any opinion whether Notre Dame should go to a bowl game or not?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Not at this time I don’t.
Q. If I’m right, I was looking at past records, I believe Notre Dame’s only loss by 30 points, twenty times in its history. What does it say about the status of the program that three of those games have been in the past eight games?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That’s an interesting question, what it says. I think it says more than anything else, we’ve got three losses.
Q. The size of the loss doesn’t bother you at all?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It always bothers you, okay. You’re not comfortable losing. You’re not comfortable losing by one, by ten, by 20.
Q. And one other stat, it doesn’t seem like it, but in the past 20 years, Michigan has been catching up to Notre Dame as far as being the winningest program. If my math is right, and I believe I’ve checked three times, if Michigan wins two or games the rest of the way out and Notre Dame loses two more, they are going to pass Notre Dame as the winningest program. What would that mean to the program?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That would mean we are no longer the winningest percentage program in the country.
Q. Do you think it would hurt Notre Dame’s —
COACH WILLINGHAM: That depends on how bold your print is.
Q. Would it bother you that that occurs on your watch?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Yes, it would.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Carlyle’s progress as a receiver, what you see that he’s grasping pretty well, what he’s still having trouble picking up as a receiver?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, No. 1, we have not given Carlyle enough time to really devote himself to a receiver because we still use him as our backup quarterback at this time. So he’s kind of bouncing back and forth. So he’s very limited about what he’s acquiring and about what we’re exposing him to, so that kind of — that kind of tempers anything that I can say about him in terms of how well he’s progressing.
Q. Will we continue to see him more as a receiver?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think you will, yes.
Q. What do you consider him right now as, receiver or quarterback?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I consider him as both.
Q. I think that in the past, the talent of Notre Dame has been a popular conversation topic among fans. As you watched USC play on Saturday, did you see a much more talented team than what you had or how do you assess the talent difference between the two squads?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I can simply say that USC is a very good football team and I don’t think anyone can dispute that. Talent I don’t get into and I’ve told that you many times. It’s simply about if you can play and execute better, you have the best chance to win. We didn’t do that.
Q. As you look at your passing offense, especially from a pass deficiency perception, over the last few weeks mit’s kind of varied near the bottom of the NCAA statistically. What are some of the biggest challenges that you’re facing right now in the passing game in getting that going and getting that started that has prevented it from being as successful as you would like it to be?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You always start with a true understanding. You always start with protection and then you follow that with execution. Those are the things that have to be in place, okay, for us to really bring that percentage up and be efficient with our pass offense.
Q. Would you talk a little about Cedric Hilliard has struggled a little bit this season, the ankle has been something that’s reoccurred, as you’ve watched him and tried to keep him encouraged, what is your perception about how he’s battled through this; and obviously it’s a very difficult, nagging type of injury?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, he’s had a lot of things that have affected him this year. But I think he’s been exactly what you would ask a senior to be. He’s worked hard every day to put himself in a position to play and help this football team. In some of the cases he’s doing it hobbling and not at his fore 100% and that’s what you expect out of a senior, to give you his very best and he’s certainly doing that.
Q. With all respect to Greg Pauly, what do you lose when you don’t have Cedric at 100%, can you quantify that a little bit?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would probably say Cedric is a little more explosive, would be the thing that you may lose just a little bit. But Greg has done a wonderful job, and to some degree, he’s made that gap really small between the two of them. After the game on Saturday, somebody asked you if a loss like that one was a step back for the program, and I think you said that if you responded in the right way, it doesn’t need to be a step back, it can just be a loss.
Q. I guess when you classify a rivalry game like USC as just a loss, if you respond in the right way, do you run the risk of devaluing that rivalry?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I don’t think so, because I think everything that leads up to that ballgame says that it’s an important football game, for the coaches, for the players, for the program.
Q. So even if you take the right step, it can never just be truly just a loss that you move on from?
COACH WILLINGHAM: We can’t replace what happens.
Q. Against Purdue, Notre Dame had five sacks and against Pitt the defensive line had eight sacks. USC seemed to be able to stifle them pretty well; they only gave up one sack. What do you need to do against Boston College, what did USC do to make that so difficult?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I thought USC did a great job with their quick passing game and also with their play-action boot scheme. That gave them opportunity to, one, deceive us with their run, and then move to the edge and move their quarterback out of the pocket and throw the ball off their boot scheme. And then I thought they did a great job with their quick game. So I guess to answer your question, when they are doing those things, it becomes a little bit more difficult to get those. With Pittsburgh we were able to locate the quarterback and put pressure in and intensify our pass rush on him and I think that would be somewhat similar with the Purdue in terms of their strategy for their offensive team.
Q. Even though the outcome of the game Saturday was not what anyone hoped, do you have to this week in preparation emphasize the first two drives on offense and show what’s possible when everything — when everything is executed properly, because you were able to move the ball pretty well against a pretty good USC defense.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, we always search for those positives that we can build on and hopefully make our guys understand the potential that we have and the things that we can do. So, yes, we focus on those.
Q. Is there any — after looking at the film, is there any reason why those two drives were successful and why the offense struggled the rest of the way?
COACH WILLINGHAM: One, our execution in those drives was in some cases flawless. And we did something that has been somewhat of a nemesis to us: We overcame penalties. I think both of those drives had penalties in them, but we overcame them. And there have been other drives that we get those kind of negative things to happen, and we haven’t been able to overcome them. So I think the fact that we did do that and the fact that if we did have, I think, great execution on those two drives, in most cases were the two things that made the difference.
Q. Just wanted to ask a little bit about last year’s game, in particular, just the decision to go with the green jerseys, do you think that kind of gave seed to this budding rivalry?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Yes.
Q. Do you feel as though you outfoxed yourself and that it had the unintended consequences of firing up the opposition?
COACH WILLINGHAM: There is always that possibility. I’m not sure how much difference it made to them. I know it made a great deal of difference to our guys because I think they were very excited about the game when they went in the locker room and saw those things. And in some cases maybe they were too excited and they didn’t play within themselves.
Q. You kind of gave a hint to the crowd at the pep rally, to come out in the green, do you intend to do that this week?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No.
Q. Can you just talk about the state of these two teams coming off two tough losses and what this game will mean?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think it fits in that category as a kind of must-win for both teams. That is, that point of the season where you need to establish some clear direction and the winner of this football game moves a step closer to doing that.
Q. How big of a blow was the interception return by Josh when you look at it?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That was a tremendous play in that football game because for the, most part if I am correct, if I remember things, their offense, if I’m correct, did not cross our 50, except on one occasion; I think when we gave them a short field to work with. So when you have an opportunity to score on plays like that in a close ballgame, that makes a tremendous difference.
Q. Getting back to one last thing about the rivalry, coming off your true rival, do you think Boston College in your players’ minds has become a rival?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I’m not sure about that, but I do know the game has a great deal of importance to us.
Q. Wondering if you could tell me, one of the assets of your personality that others have commented on is your ability to maintain that even keel no matter whether you are winning big or losing, and to those on the outside it seems like that would be tougher to manage in a losing situation. Can you just expound on how you’re able to do that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think I’m able to do that because the focus of what I desire and what I desire for our program doesn’t change. What we want to do is win. We want to win every game and most importantly, the next game that we play. I’ve found that over a career, that the best way to do that, is to be excited, to be focused and driven toward what you want. And I think knowing that what my goals are, I’m clearly pointed at them, that I can maintain that focus.
Q. And I wondered if you’ve seen that your players over these two years have moved more in that direction of being able to do that, as well?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No. I try to make sure that our players are able to have their own personalities and that they can exert their own influence on this team. Because you don’t want a group of clones. You want them to be able to be who they are and work within — and create chemistry of this team; that is, like themselves, yet at the same time, focus on the things that we want accomplish.
Q. Last year after the Boston College game, some of the BC players were seen lifting pieces of the Notre Dame turf in the air in a triumphant manner, and there were also reports of some damage in the BC locker room after the game. Has there been any discussion on any level of that or do you think that’s at all in the mind of the players going into this game at Boston College?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You’re asking me if that is in the mind of the Notre Dame players?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think they are aware of all those things that took place.
Q. Setta coming into the USC game he said that mostly was out; what is his status?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Starting the week he is out.
Q. And Glenn Earl, as well?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Glenn Earl will be out, also.