Aug. 20, 2004
This is the first of a weekly column that will take you inside the minds of Stanford's assistant football coaches. Each week we will converse with an assistant coach to provide an inside look at the team. This week we sit down with assistant head coach and linebackers coach Tom Williams for his preview of the upcoming season.
by Janelle Kwietkauski
JK: You are returning all three of your starting linebackers from last season in David Bergeron, Jared Newberry and Kevin Schimmelmann. Can you talk about how their experience will shape your defense?
TW: We consider the linebackers like the quarterbacks of the defense. The offense has the quarterback that calls the plays and gets the guys into the right check in case they need to make an audible. The defense has the linebackers who run the defense. Some of the guys have three years of experience, which gives them that much more credibility to the younger players and makes them more coach-like on the field.
JK: You also seem to have some of the best depth on the team at the position with impressive players such as Jon Alston, Mike Silva and Michael Okwo currently in backup roles. Can you talk about how important depth is?
TW: We felt like one of the strengths of our defense was the number of linebackers that we had. All of them have really good ability. When you have really good young players like Michael Okwo, Mike Silva, and certainly Jon Alston, who has played for us the last couple of years, it just means that if one of the first line guys gets hurt or can't play, then the second guy can go right in. There is no drop off; the second guy is just as good as the first. It gives the coaches a lot of flexibility and confidence in the ability to call defenses.
JK: Who among your group do you look to as the leader?
TW: David Bergeron and Jared Newberry. Jared was elected the captain by his peers and David was definitely in the running. Those guys provide leadership, confidence, and a calming influence to some of the other guys on the field. They give our defense great direction.
JK: How will the leadership of the returning starters help you in the upcoming season?
TW: It's tremendous. You can't really put it into words. The best teams that I've been around as a player and as a coach have been the teams with veteran leadership. I think the first couple years we were here, we struggled with that role. We had some good individual leaders, but we didn't have the depth and the breadth of leaders to chose from that we have right now. We have a core group of about ten guys on the defensive side of the ball that has really played a lot of football for us. They have formed a tremendous bond between themselves and that carries over into the leadership that they display with the younger guys.
JK: What are the strengths of the linebacking corps?
TW: I'd say the biggest strength is the speed. Our slowest linebacker is a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash. We've got a guy that runs a 4.4, which is secondary speed. I think speed is our overall strength. I think our second strength is our quickness. Third would be leadership. I think we have very good leadership.
JK: What are the weaknesses of the linebacking corps?
TW: I think sometimes we are too aggressive. I think sometimes we have a tendency to guess instead of reading our keys. That happens when you have aggressive players, they want to attack all the time and sometimes you have to be a little bit more patient. I think that's probably the biggest weakness we have right now. As a coach though, the old expression goes "You'd rather have to pull `em off a pile than have to put `em on a pile". I can coach the patience into them but sometimes it's hard to coach aggressiveness, so I'll take that.
JK: It's early in fall practice, but can you talk about the play of the linebackers in the early practice sessions?
TW: So far they haven't missed a beat. I feel like coming out of spring practice we were starting to peak. The first four or five days of our fall camp so far, they haven't missed a beat. I feel like they are continuing to improve at a rapid pace. I think they will be primed and ready come September 4th.
JK: Is there anything that has surprised you from the first five days of practice?
TW: No, we have high expectations for our team and we certainly have high expectations for our defense. As a position coach, I have very high expectations for the linebackers. They have a lot of experience. This will be their third year as starters in some cases. I expect them to play like All Pac-10 caliber players. I think they have that expectation themselves.
JK: How has your playing experience helped you as a coach?
TW: I think it's helped tremendously. I felt that the advantage I had on the field was my knowledge of the game and my ability to lead my teammates. Those things have helped me impart some wisdom and some knowledge to the guys that I coach. If you have great ability sometimes you don't rely on as much technique. The guys that we have combine great ability with their love and technique for the game so I think to be able to share some of my insight with them just makes them better.
JK: When you played at Stanford, you earned a reputation as a team leader and one of the squad's hardest workers. How do you try to instill that in the players that you currently coach?
TW: The biggest thing is that most of the guys we have on our team have the work ethic coming to Stanford. We try to recruit guys with good work ethics so you don't have to work on that as much when they get here. For the guys that don't have as high a work ethic, I think what you have to do is set very high standards and not back off. We have an expression in coaching that "if you tolerate something then you are encouraging it" so we have a zero tolerance policy in terms of work ethic. Either you work hard or you don't play so from that standpoint it makes it very clear to the players. They know that if they don't work hard in practice then they won't play on Saturday.
JK: How has working with some widely respected coaches helped you form your coaching style?
TW: I've learned so many different things from all the people I've worked with. I've employed some things I've learned in my own coaching philosophy. You're always learning and sometimes you incorporate lessons you want to use and sometimes you learn what not to do. In this profession, as soon as you stop growing you get stagnant. I think you need to always keep your eyes open and pick up tidbits. I've been blessed to work with guys like Denny Green and Bill Walsh, among others. I've learned some great lessons. Hopefully, I can continue to learn.
JK: After playing at Stanford and coaching on The Farm under Bill Walsh for two seasons as a graduate assistant, how enjoyable is this second coaching stint at your alma mater?
TW: It's hard to put into words. This is the place that I've loved the most since I spent my time here as a player and as a graduate assistant. Coming back here is a dream come true. My whole coaching goal was eventually to make it back to Stanford and have an opportunity to coach here. The best way I can describe it is a dream come true.