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February 5, 2020

Jeff Hafley

Boston, Massachusetts

JEFF HAFLEY: I appreciate you guys all coming out. I also appreciate you guys so far, just the -- from the articles, just from all the positivity, for how helpful most of you guys have been. I really appreciate that. We appreciate that. I know we haven't been here for a long time, but it does not go unnoticed. So anything you guys ever need from me, please feel free to ask myself or Jason, but I really appreciate you guys so far. It's been awesome. Your reception has been awesome, and just your articles and stuff so far. I heard somebody say let's keep it that way, please.

But, no, it's appreciated. I'll always be honest with you. I'll always be up front. You have my word on that. I'm not going to hide things from you. What you see is what you're going to get. That is what it is.

Obviously, before we start, it was a small class. When I got here was really a few days before Signing Day, so we honored those 12 commitments, and we're really excited to have them. I went and visited with most of their families the first week on the road. I went to see as many as I could. It was impossible to see all of them. I just didn't have enough time.

I made it the first priority to let them know I wanted to meet their families and welcome them and really thank them for honoring their commitment and really be a part of this. It was important for me to meet their family so they could see who they were coming to work with and be part of. So that was the first priority.

Then we set out, and we had limited scholarships. We evaluated a lot of players. We went out and saw a lot of players, and we felt really good about three. Our staff did a really good job of getting those three. That was Kam Arnold, a defensive back from Michigan, big DB who plays corner and safety. Great family, great kid, really smart kid. He can run. He's physical. He'll fit really well in the scheme.

Matthew Rueve, a quarterback from St. X out in Cincinnati. Really interesting story for him. He only started senior year, and for a quarterback, it's hard to get recruited like that. Most people jump on the quarterback really early. They look at junior year, sophomore year, and most people have their quarterbacks committed fairly early. He was behind two really good quarterbacks, both of whom went on to get scholarships, but comes from a great program, one we'll look to go back to, big, strong, athletic, throws the ball really well. Great kid, good lineage. As we got to know him, we just felt really comfortable with the person that he is, and we feel like we can develop him because what's exciting, like I said, he only played for a season, so he hasn't had a lot of experience. So the upside is really exciting. So I know Frank Cignetti is really excited about him, as am I.

Jiovanny Holmes, this is an interesting one because I actually had Jiovanny in camp and in my office a lot at Ohio State, and truthfully I was very close to offering him at Ohio State, big, long corner from Cleveland Heights, great kid. So as soon as I got the job, he was one of the first kids I called. Obviously, I had a history with him. I knew exactly what I was getting. I've seen him live. I know what he's capable of. I knew him as a person, and I called him and I said, hey, it's funny how things work out sometimes, but I'd love for you to come and join me, and he did. So sometimes it's funny how things work out for these guys, and I think the three found a really good home, and I think they fit us really well.

We didn't want to rush. We didn't want to just go crazy and offer everybody and make sure we filled up all the slots, but I think we feel really comfortable with those.

And then obviously, Phil from Notre Dame. We set out. We wanted to find a quarterback to make that room more competitive. I think we know we need that. So when he entered the portal, it was very clear to us that we were going to go full speed after Phil, and we did. I watched the high school film. I'm obviously familiar with the area, being at Pitt, so I knew Pine-Richland really, and I knew his coach. When we watched the high school film, it's one you've got to smile on when you watch it. He's big. He's athletic. He can run. He's strong. He can throw the ball. He's the type of guy that, when he walks in the room, he looks like a quarterback and he has the presence of a quarterback.

Then when we got to know his family, which is going to be so important to us, just great people, great values. They fit us. In talking to him, it became pretty clear early on in the visit that I think we both felt the same way. We felt he was the right guy for us, and I think he felt we were the right people for him, and he shortly committed. He obviously just entered class, and he's been working out, and it's been awesome to see. I think you guys will really enjoy him. Just try not to ask him too many questions about Notre Dame. But he's a great kid. I think all those guys are really good people. We're excited about him.

So I just figured I'd start off with that, and then any questions you guys have, I will do my best to answer.

Q. Do you have any handle on where his waiver is now, Phil, and do you have a plan going forward if the NCAA doesn't approve it?
JEFF HAFLEY: I know the waiver will be submitted, and at that point, my hands are kind of tied, and I'll wait, just like you will, to see what happens, and I hope we'll find out sooner than later. Yeah, we'll have a plan. If it works, we'll have a plan, and if it doesn't work, we'll have a plan. We're always going to try to think ahead, and we'll just have to see what happens on that. As soon as we do know anything and we can let you know, I promise we will let you know.

Q. Coach, with two defensive backs out of the three that you were able to offer for yourself, just how have you seen the evolution of the defensive back position knowing that you have a lot of experience there coaching the position, and what do these guys kind of offer you to what you might see in the future of the position?
JEFF HAFLEY: Yeah, I think they both have the ability to play man, and I think nowadays you have to -- your corners have to be able to cover. The receivers are getting so big and so strong and so athletic, and it seems like right now everybody wants to play wide receiver. So you try to find guys who can play man but are tough enough to tackle and play some zones. They come in all different sizes. One's 5'10", and one's really big and really long, but I think they're both good players with a lot of upside, and I know coach Aazaar and myself will work to develop them as much as we can.

Q. Coach, kind of a two parter. In terms of recruiting in this area, what goes into kind of building those initial relationships with high school coaches around here? And then the national perception about what athletes from here are like, just kind of what is it?
JEFF HAFLEY: That's a great question. I think, if you looked, I didn't have much time to get on the road to recruit, and I actually spent a lot of time in this area. And as I looked at this job and I looked at this area, I think we have to do a great job of evaluating really well in this area. One, we have to get to know the high school coaches. If they want to come up and talk football, our staff will be open to them to talk football. Whatever they need, we want them to feel part of this whole entire thing, so that's the most important piece, and whatever they need, we will give it to them if we can.

Then we have to do a great job in this area, especially because we're close. We have to evaluate them. And I'm not just talking about film. They're close enough where they should also feel free to come, whether it's to camp, whether it's to come on a Saturday and watch football with us, whether it's to come and sit in our meetings and watch spring ball because I think what's lost in recruiting right now.

You watch the tape, and you offer, but you don't get to know the kid. I mean, we're at a luxury with kids that are close by of getting to know them, getting to know their families, getting to know what makes them tick, and when you do all that -- it was kind of like in the NFL Draft. When you get ready to draft a kid, you'd better know everything about them because, once you do that, then you can kind of get a glimpse of what he's going to be like.

So if there's a kid that's eight hours away and we love his tape but there's a kid half an hour away and we get to know him, we've got to take the kid that's half an hour away, and we have to do our homework. I mentioned this before, there were plenty of guys in the NFL that were on our rosters that I've been a part of from the New England area that turned out to be really good players in the NFL that went to smaller schools.

So we need to do our job, and we need to listen to these coaches and watch the film for ourselves and then get to know them, and we have to do a great job in this area. And I think our staff actually understands that.

Q. But the national perception about Massachusetts athletes?
JEFF HAFLEY: I think it's on a rise. I think coaches that I've talked to around the area about it, I think the perception is that, yeah, it's getting better and it's on a rise right now.

Q. Coach, with Grosel at the end of the season and now the addition of Jurkovec and Rueve, what's the competition in the QB room going to look like next year?
JEFF HAFLEY: I think it's going to look like every spot on our roster. I truly mean this, and this isn't like just the media answer. We have not seen many of these guys live yet. Certainly, there are guys that are four-year starters that are going to be ahead. I would be lying if I said they weren't. But there's a lot of spots now where we haven't seen them live and we haven't seen them in our system. So how are they going to fit our system? How are they going to adapt to the new fundamentals and techniques these new coaches are coaching them in?

You asked about the quarterback position specifically? Guys are going to get reps, and we're going to play the best guy who shows us that he gives us the best chance to win, and I mean that. I think, if you ask me in the spring once I've seen them, I think I'll be able to give you a better answer to that question.

Q. You mentioned earlier just not having a lot of time, but how did you tackle kind of the area once you were able to get started in terms of knowing kids you'd have to talk to, kids you'd have to reconnect with?
JEFF HAFLEY: With the 2020s we just recently signed? I relied heavily on guys like Joe Sullivan, who's done a great job throughout his time here. It started at one point with just him and I in the office, and we're looking at lists of guys who haven't signed yet, and then we're watching tape, a lot of tape, and he's watching tape, a ton of tape while I have a million other things to do. I kind of looked at guys we liked, and once the staff came in, they looked at them, and we just kept narrowing it down, narrowing it down.

And I talked to their families. I wanted to get to know their mom, their dad, or whoever was in their lives and get to know the player. Once we did that, then we made it a point to go out and visit with them to get to know them even more. Whether it was myself and I visited or the coordinators or the position coach, we visited them, got to know them.

Then next step was to get them up on a visit because I wanted to get to know them in person and wanted to get to know their families in person. We spent the whole weekend with them. Some of them we spent a lot of time at night with, and we spent a lot of time at night with the parents and the players. On that Sunday, we kind of met. We let them know how we felt, and they did the same, and most of those guys committed.

So I had a lot of help, and it was fast, but we think it worked out well because we got three really good players.

Q. Obviously, you focus on the short term and the long term. You've got to balance both. I'm curious just how you approach that winning in 2020 versus kind of building for the future and just how you balance those two?
JEFF HAFLEY: Yeah, we certainly -- the nice part was, once we identified those 2020s, we went after those guys, and we no longer looked at a huge 2020 list. So from there, we kind of put those guys over to the side, and then we started the 2021s, and it's the same thing with the process of, you know, watching the tape for ourselves and not worrying about lists and then going out and asking coaches about those players and then getting them on the phone. So we started that. As soon as we had the staff ready to go, we started on the 2021s every single day, which we will continue to do so.

Truthfully at the time, you start running into 2022s and 2023s and 2024s. It's so fast now, and everything's so sped up, we just need to slow down and do our homework and find the right fit for us. I've got to give our staff a ton of credit. They were very, very aggressive on the road. They were all over the place, and I can't tell you how many times in the middle of the day someone will call me and hand me a phone and say this kid wants to talk to you, this kid wants to talk to you. So the staff has done an incredible job with that so far.

Q. You mentioned with the system of just finding the best players that will fit the system. When you were looking at the recruiting class, obviously, some of these guys were recruited to a different type of system than what you might have, but how different or reactionary from them or the reactions from them when you sat down with them? Did you have to re-recruit them into a new system? What was their reaction when you were able to sit down and talk to the guys who had already committed?
JEFF HAFLEY: Right, that's a fair question. That's honestly something I kind of asked myself when I first got the job. These kids are still coming. They don't know me. They don't know who the staff is going to be, yet they hung on, which is why I went and saw all of them to thank them for that. What does that show you? It shows they love the university. They love Boston College, they do. That, to me, was even more encouraging because they chose the school for the school, not just for the coach, which a lot of times people do make the wrong mistake for. So just very powerful that they still wanted to come here.

Then once I got to know them, no, I mean, they'll have every fair shot to -- we're going to develop them. We're going to coach them. We'll fit them in. We'll find ways.

The thing about this staff is we're not going to be set on running this system and fitting our system into the players. We have the players we have here. We have good coaches. We have smart coaches, and they will do a really good job of fitting our scheme into what we have, and they will develop that, and I'm very confident they'll do a good job with that.

And I want our players -- the players that are here know that already, but I want the players coming in to know that too, and we'll do the best we can with that.

Q. Kind of back on that vein of into the future, is it kind of beneficial that it is a small class this year, that you'll have maybe more slots to fill next year when you're looking for the guys you need?
JEFF HAFLEY: Yeah, that's a good question too because we didn't want to just rush things and take people just to take people, and I mean that. I'm not saying that because it is a small class. I'm saying that because, if we found five guys that we felt were the right fit and fit us and were the right people, then we would have taken five people, but we didn't. We felt good about the ones we had, and now we can take our time with those others and make sure it is the right fit.

We didn't want to rush into anything and make a mistake on their end or our end or try to pressure somebody quickly into coming here who really didn't feel comfortable coming here. We wanted the right mix so, when they're here, they're going to stay here, and we feel good about it, and they feel good about it. I'm excited we used what we did and we have what we have left.

Q. You were talking a little bit earlier about just kind of recruiting in the area or whatever. I saw a tweet probably a few weeks ago from like a coach like they're up here at 6:30 in the morning or whatever. How important was it to just kind of lay that groundwork initially?
JEFF HAFLEY: For the coaches to get on the road?

Q. Well, to make themselves present and like early in the morning?
JEFF HAFLEY: Yeah, that's -- I think that's not something I asked them to do. I think any guy who is going to hit the road and do it the right way is going to be at the school when it opens or when the players are in the weight room at 6:30 in the morning and working out. Those are the guys that we want around -- and that's a credit to our staff -- guys that are hungry and aggressive and want to do things the right way, and I think that sends a message to what's coming here.

Q. I guess what are the next steps now that this is behind you a little bit?
JEFF HAFLEY: After the recruiting?

Q. Just in terms of what's next on your plate?
JEFF HAFLEY: Right now we're getting ready for spring football, which is awesome. I actually watched football for the first time this morning in a long time, and it felt great. So now we're going to get ready for spring ball. We're going to get around our players, which is awesome, which is why we're here. I'm excited to meet them more, get to know them more and start to be part of their lives. I can't wait for that first practice to get coaching again. Sos that the next step.

At the same time, we'll recruit every single day. So what we kind of do, we split up the mornings. We do recruiting and be around our players as much as we're able to, and the afternoon we'll get ready for the scheme stuff and get ready for spring ball.

Q. He's actually going home this weekend to see his family because he hasn't seen them because he's been recruiting.
JEFF HAFLEY: I'm going home. Leah's not here waving right now. I was kind of hoping -- I haven't really seen her much since that press conference. So I'm going home, tomorrow night I'm flying home to see them, which will be great, and they'll be joining me coming back, and I can't wait for them to be here.

Q. Just real quick, the ESPN thing you did for the National Championship, what did you take from that, and how awesome was that?
JEFF HAFLEY: What did I take from it? Those guys doing the games are really good at what they do because that wasn't easy, but it was fun. I got to meet three really good coaches. I got to watch the game from like six different angles, so it was actually pretty cool from the coaches' standpoint, but it was fun. Fun to see two good teams, fun to talk about it. Fun to think about what it could possibly be like to be there one day. So it was a great experience, and I'm very grateful that they gave me that opportunity.

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