Nov. 19, 2000
As you look back on the season, is there anything that really deviated from what you had imagined the season would be back in training camp, either a specific unit or some kind of trend that really was not what you expected?
No, there was nothing that seemed out of the ordinary in training camp. The only thing that always you guys (the media) and myself have touched on is the fact that the difference in play (is) where a year ago we had a lot of big plays and that catapulted us into some very nice situations. This year, we couldn't find a lot of those big plays. At the same time, I think especially in the earlier and middle part of the season we had a great deal of turnovers.
In the Pac-10, is it almost essential that your quarterback stay healthy the whole year?
Well, I think it's essential that he stays healthy, but I think it's essential that he have an experienced hand. You see the teams who are at the top have quarterbacks that have had at least one to maybe even two to three seasons under their belt.
You alluded earlier to big plays and at the end of the year you got a couple (of big plays) from Luke Powell. Can you just talk about what you imagine from him? Is that the kind of player you imagined him to be both when you recruited him and as you see him develop?
I guess my answer to that is I hope he'll be all of the above, which is a big play guy, but also a guy that makes the routine play. That's what you need in my mind, a guy who has a great deal of consistency to his play. You like his assets, because he does have some quickness and does have some speed. You also like the kind of consistency you see out of DeRonnie Pitts. Every day, he (Pitts) makes every play, every possible way he can hurt you, he does.
Luke Powell is one obvious place where big plays might come from in the future. Where else are you hoping that you might see them coming from?
Well, you hope they come from a lot of places. First of all, you hope they start with your quarterback, that (he) could put you in some situations that you can execute the big play. From there, you've got to have some of them take place in your offensive line. They've got to be able to control some things and open some lanes so that Kerry Carter, so that Brian Allen, so that Casey Moore or any of our other emerging backs might have the opportunity to get into the secondary and create some big things. Then, of course, you want to go to your wide receivers. You say to Caleb Bowman, Ryan Wells, Luke Powell and those guys to really step up and start to make some big plays for you. Then, you've got to turn to the special teams. No different than we had yesterday in the Big Game (California, 11/18/00) when we had two blocked punts. Those are big plays and those put you in position to have success.
Does this feel at all like the end of the 1998 season when you guys were out of a bowl and yet you won the last two, and it kind of generated a little momentum for 1999?
Well, no, I think this is a lot different, because I can't remember where we placed in the conference (that year). But, with the real competitiveness in the conference (this year), we're going to finish tied for fourth or somewhere around there. That's a lot different feel to it than not having a bowl game than it was in 1998.
It certainly suggests in the rankings that the Pac-10 was better this year. Do you think it was much better?
I think it was better. I guess the thing that we keyed up so much in the past was the record against outside play, and I think we played some quality teams outside the conference and yet we did fairly well.
Can you just talk a little bit about the players you'll be losing, particularly Willie (Howard), Riall (Johnson) and DeRonnie (Pitts), and the significance attached to that as it relates to next year?
I think it's very easy to discuss your superstars and those guys definitely shine - Russell Stewart, Willie Howard, Riall Johnson and DeRonnie Pitts. They were clearly the stars of our team. But, to have success, it's not just those guys that allow you to have success. It's the Emory Brock's, the guys that step up and do great things for you that you don't read about all the time. Or the Sam Benner, who's another place of consistency on our football team that played very, very well. You go down the line because at some point you have to have those type players in your system to make a good football team. Those guys, as much as our stars, did a great job of keeping their composure, keeping their drive and providing leadership for our football team to at least finish the season strong.
It appears that probably because of a result of the injuries at quarterback that the offensive game plan was at times a bit more conservative than last year when you had a senior quarterback. As far as addressing that for next year ... you're going to have a senior quarterback again. Is one of your hopes to maybe open up the game plan a little bit?
That's going to depend on a lot of things. When you have a Troy Walters, you can take some risks. You can do things a little bit differently. Troy had a marvelous track record. It wasn't just all of a sudden that we woke up and found Troy. He had been doing those things for a couple of years. So, if our young men allow us to, then you can take risks. Of course you know, when you take great risks, that means there's usually great rewards also.
From what you saw of guys both performance and personality, who would you suspect might be some of the leaders next year?
That's something I'd like to hold on. I think that takes a great deal of work before you start having young men to assume a role of leadership. I think there are some obvious ones, but at the same time I kind of like to say let's go through the winter, let's begin the process, let's let guys take the natural role of leadership. It can't be something that I manufacture, that I think a guy's a leader because that may not fit with the flow of the football team. It has to be something that naturally guys step up and their peers respect them as being leaders and assuming that role.
Given the fact that the Pac-10 was better, was this year's team nearly as good as last year's team?
No, I don't think we can say that. Because how you measure being better is what you do on the field. The record would have to be similar - you would have to accomplish something along the similar lines.
In regards to the wide receiver position, DeRonnie Pitts had (something like) 40% of the total receptions this year. Next year, who are you going to be looking towards to step up and start getting a greater lion's share of the passes directed toward them?
We don't know. That's not to be evasive on the question but you have a group of young men that their finest points of last year could have been the catch they had Saturday (California, 11/18/00). Ryan Wells has done some good things. Jamien McCullum has made some big plays for us in some big games. Who will really emerge and be the player, you don't know. It's spring practice (and) workouts that lets you separate the young men as to who will be the guy that really takes responsibility and takes leadership and wants to be a go-to guy.
When you sit back and imagine the offensive line next year, are you pretty happy with what you see?
No, not yet. Again, so much of this will be determined (later). What we try to do is just listen very well. One of the things that I have to do is listen to them (the players). Not what they say but what their actions are. You know that we started the year a lot different with the offensive line than we finished in the spring in terms of who was at what position, and who would move. That will take place once again depending on what they do in the winter, what they do in our spring practice, what they do in the course of two-a-days as we head into the season. That's what we'll always be looking for - the ability to find our best players to put them on the field. That really is all of our positions, not just the line or the quarterback or the wide receivers, it's everything. We wanted to find the best guy that will give us the best chance to win.
Do you foresee any dramatic differences in scheme offensively or defensively?
Well, I hate just to keep saying that everything hinges on the winter. We're going to look around and we're going to see and try to bring in different ideas, different thoughts that warrant being brought into our system. The winter is that period of time for coaches, also. We'll be studying some other teams to see what they've done to have success. Is there a trend coming somewhere that we need to be on the cutting edge of? It's a lot of work that takes place during the winter and the summer and the spring to get us where we want to be in the fall.
In your defensive concept, the outside linebacker position kind of requires a special athlete. Riall Johnson really performed that role well the last couple of years. Who are some of the candidates who might be in line to compete for the role for next year?
We don't know. It could be somebody that comes over from offense. Please, I'm not skirting or running away from the question, but the truth of the matter is we don't know. We were very blessed to have Riall Johnson, but who has shown that they can equal those talents. I'm not sure yet because he's had some games where he was slightly injured for a lot of the ballgame and stayed in the lineup. We didn't have the opportunity to put that other person in a game. We'll be looking forward to answering that question as we go through the winter, the spring and the summer.
What do you think the lasting memory you're going to have of this season is?
My lasting memory is character, because I think not only from our seniors but from our underclassmen, they displayed a lot of that. There was a point in the season that there was no tangible or no real incentive in some regards, a bowl game that you're shooting for. But yet, our football team maintained its pride and maintained the right attitude to hopefully eventually one day be a champion.
Do you have any reason to believe that your (coaching) staff would not be intact next year? Will you have the same staff back that you had (this year)?
The only thing I can say is that you never know. You never know what other opportunities are out there that somebody might see - a better opportunity than the situation here. You never know what adjustments we might feel that we need to make in trying to make us better.
Do you look back at the season with any what ifs?
No, because we had opportunities. That's what the football game is about. It's 60 minutes of establishing or clarifying those what ifs, and we didn't do enough of the good things and make the plays that you had to make to give us the what ifs that we started the season with.
Do you want Randy (Fasani) to run as much as he did (this year) again next year or is that something you guys are going to talk to him about in terms of staying in the pocket a little longer?
No, it's a valuable component to have. If you ask me what's changing football to some degree, yes we've got the offense that's spread out all over creation, but at the same time we've got young men that are more athletic at the quarterback position. That is a tremendous weapon to have, and like any weapon, you have to use it at the right time. That's the key.