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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 5, 2008
COACH DANTONIO: '08 season, year number two, and first off, I think that it's important to know we have very, very high hopes. I look at last year and constantly look back and evaluate. We critique it as a staff, as a football team, and without question I think that there were some games we could have possibly won. We won seven football games, could have won nine, ten, whatever it is.
So again, the difference between winning and losing is like that. If you blink, you may miss it.
So we have very, very high hopes this season. With that said, though, I think it's important to realize and recognize that we're a work in progress. We've got a small group of seniors. We only have 13 seniors on this football team. We return, I think, five total seniors and are two deep on defense, and I believe five in our two deep on offense, and then a kicker. So we're young.
We also have experience, though. When you look at how many defensive backs played or linebackers played or defensive linemen, we had probably eight, eight, eight. When you look at how many offensive linemen we played, we played with seven or eight.
Obviously we have concerns on our football team just like everybody else in America, but with that said, I do think we have a significant amount of experience. When you look at our number one defense right now, pretty much everybody on that football team has experience, game experience, not just experience in starting in the spring but game experience. That's pretty much the same can be said for our offense.
We have our specialists back, our snapper, our kicker, our punter, our kickoff guy in Todd Boleski, which I think is important these day days when you kick off from the 30. So we have very, very high hopes there with our football program at this point in time.
I thought we were sharp yesterday in practice. There was a lot of retention when we looked at the film today or last night, guys flying around, guys playing with effort. There's focus, they came back in shape. So that's sort of where we're at, I think.
From the standpoint of the new building, we moved in Sunday night really with our football program, and it's an outstanding teaching environment for our football team right now. Probably the biggest thing I want to do in mentioning that is I want to publicly thank the people that made that happen, Bob Skandalaris, some of the major contributors and all the major contributors that worked to make that a happening for us.
I also want to thank the people that have worked on that building. If you go over there and you spend a couple minutes over there and you watch our workers, people that are involved in the day-to-day work there, they take a tremendous amount of pride, I think, in just doing the work there. The attention to detail there is phenomenal, and it carries over into the facility and the outcome that has happened there. So publicly I just wanted to thank them.
Practice, day two in shorts is coming up today, so again, it's shorts. I think that when you're watching shorts, people say, well, how did you do here, how did so-and-so look, how did that guy play. It's tough to evaluate in shorts. All I can tell you is there's retention, guys are moving quickly, the effort is there, the focus is there, there's a great learning environment. I think it's important to realize that we need to get our feet up underneath us and our legs up underneath us as football players, and that has to come back.
You can run half gassers, you can do all the stuff in the summer, but when you start playing football from a bent knee position, regardless of what position that is, it takes time to get your feet up underneath you and your legs back. So we're in the process of doing that, and there's a lot of enthusiasm there.
With that I'll just open it up for questions. I think that's usually the best way to do it anyway because you have specifics on your mind, and we'll move forward. Questions?
Q. You have a lot of competition for spots, maybe more this year than last year. Is that something you expect to see increase this year as a sign of a program that's growing?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think hope that that's what you'll see. If you look at our defensive line situation, if you look at our defensive tackles, and I think somebody brought it to my -- sometimes you don't realize these things until you sit there as a coach and get asked the questions, but we're deep. We have four good sets of defensive linemen and defensive tackles, our defensive ends. You look at us up front defensively, we've got some guys.
For example, Antonio Jeremiah was running with the threes yesterday. Well, he'll probably play with the ones, but he was running with the threes just by the nature of him not making his run test. We finished up our run test, we've got everybody, 99 percent of our players have made it, and those others will continue to make it. Those one or two others will make it probably before tomorrow. So we are in shape.
But you look at that across the board, and I think that's correct. You can look at a lot of the positions, there are some positions that obviously are positions of concern that we need to address in recruiting, which we are doing. But for the most part, defensive back, we have players back, we have linebackers back, offensive line, we're looking at players.
I think running back, while we don't have a guy who's really taking the place of Jehuu yet, somebody is going to emerge, and certainly we have Javon back. At wide receiver position, we lose one. We bring some of the red-shirt freshmen in and we recruited three, so we've got some guys.
Quarterback position is obviously a position of a little bit of concern in terms of depth, just in terms of numbers, but we'll rectify that situation, as well. So we're moving forward. But with that said, everybody has got issues they've got to address, and we're going to try and address those.
Q. You mentioned off the top, and there's been a lot of talk about the six losses by seven points or whatever it was. My question to you is getting over that hump, is that a small step or a quantum leap?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I guess we'll tell you at the end of the season, I guess. I would say the first thing you have to do is you have to get yourself back to that situation at the end of the game where you're there. When you play Ohio State and you've got -- you're down by a touchdown with three minutes to go, however it happened, we were in that situation at the end of the game. We have to get ourselves back to that situation, so we'd have to be able to play well up to that point and then finish.
Same thing could be said for whatever the game; you could look at the Michigan game and say the same thing. We're up by ten points with seven minutes to go. Well, we've got to get to that point again and then finish. Same thing could be said for the Wisconsin game, or whatever the case, the BC game, Bowl game, but we have to play well enough to put ourselves in that position to win, and I think that's preparation.
I think we'll get there. But you know, I can't -- everybody asks me, I think the normal questions you get asked as a head coach is how are we going to be this year, what's your prediction, and I don't predict the future, I just talk about the present and where we're at and what we have to do. In terms of the first thing we have to do is come back in shape. Now we have to find out who we are as a football team and prepare until the 21st. Then we'll get ready for Cal, and we'll play the chips as they fall on the table. I guess that would be cards that are dealt, some adage there.
Q. You haven't been shy about talking about championships and the Rose Bowl and where you want to get this program, although as you said, you are a little bit young, but you do have some experience. Do you feel, though you have some championship personnel on this team?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I was talking to our coaches in the defensive staff meeting early this morning, and for some reason I tend to keep a lot of things, so I was looking at -- there was a depth chart of our '02 Ohio State defense, and we usually measure people up by saying, did he have a Big Ten performance, Big Ten Championship performance, winning performance, average performance, losing performance. And I had Big Ten written across a bunch of names obviously on that 2002 football team coming into the season, where the coaches had said, he can play at a Big Ten Championship-like level.
While I can't always say that about every single player comparatively, I can say that we have a lot of players on this football team that would qualify for Bowl game players, that I think that they're capable of playing at the Bowl game performance level. Now, how that works itself out on that football field is another matter, but I think we have that ability.
I also -- many of you were at the Big Ten luncheon maybe and saw the highlight film that the Big Ten Network put together, and I'll show our football team that tonight. A lot of other teams have that same type of ability and atmosphere, so it's a very, very competitive situation here in the Big Ten conference. That's the way it should be, but you look across the board, and I'm sure there are a lot of people that feel the same way that I do about their players.
But I'm not going to shy away from talking about Big Ten Championships. I believe that's what has to be talked about here. I'm not going to sell our players short, and you have to have a vision and a goal in terms of where you're going, and you have to have a passion for that, as well. And if we have a passion for where we're trying to get to, we may get sidetracked, but we'll renavigate and move towards the ultimate goal, and that is the ultimate goal here.
Q. You'll probably address this, of course, as it gets closer to the first game, but the importance of the Cal game, getting off to a good start, getting a win out there, how important do you think that will be to how the program goes this year, the performance out in Berkeley?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think the performance is obviously key, and everybody wants to win a football game, and certainly we do. But I think more importantly, this is a long season. This is a 12-game season, and whereas last year I think it was important that we take steps towards going towards where we're going. We played a UAB team that -- a little bit better BG team, a little bit better Pitt team, a little bit better Notre Dame team in terms of just the whole importance. You know, last year's Notre Dame game with what had happened the year before, so the stakes kept getting a little bit higher, the competition level, the stress.
You know, this year the Cal game comes right up on us, important game away from home, high expectations at Cal, as well. So we put our hand right in the fire right off the bat, and I don't think that's a bad thing for this football team because we have to establish our leadership. We're a young football team. We have to jump into the fire right away. Our seniors have to show -- we have to find out who truly is going to lead in adverse situations, and I think that's a good thing to find out exactly who we are early in the first game, and then we can play accordingly from that. So I don't think that's a negative for us, and we'll look at that as a positive just in terms of don't be too happy, don't be too satisfied.
I think they have a history here of fattening everybody up after a so-so season and saying great things are on the horizon. I think that's the natural progression here. I think also the progression is they want to deflate you very quickly, as well. So we'll step up to the plate right -- I've got these baseball analogies working. We'll step right in there the first game and get ready to play.
So I think it'll be exciting for everybody, but it'll be a challenge, but we'll find out a little bit about ourselves. With a 12-game schedule I think it's good to find out about ourselves as early as possible.
We have confidence, we've been to a Bowl game, but when I called the sophomores and the freshmen, the sophomores and the red-shirt freshmen up to sing the fight song on Sunday night, there wasn't enough room up there to stand. I called the seniors up there, it was a very small group, 13 people. So that's the nature of this football team, which is a good thing for the future, but we have to find ourselves a little bit. I think that's the nature of it.
Q. When you look at Javon, projected as one of the top running backs in the Big Ten, how do you utilize him best this year and what does he mean to your team?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that nobody is going to be just critical. I mean, I think if I was not here today, somebody else would be talking with you, right? So I think that we have to take that idea with every single player on our team, but at the same time understand that he is a tremendous offensive weapon for us. I'm not going to say he's the heart and soul of our team because I would never want to lose our heart and soul. I think that belongs to everybody.
But he's very dependable, he's very well liked by our football team, and they appreciate his toughness and his effort and the type of person he is as an individual. And I think he's very respected for that.
He means a lot to our football team because he's a senior and he's been through it and he's been so successful. But I don't know if I'm answering the question. I don't want to put it all on his shoulders, though, either.
Q. You mentioned Jeremiah. How far is he from being in the condition that you expect?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he's pretty close. He had a good day at practice yesterday. He's a very good football player. People fluctuate. When you're 320 one day, 320 pounds one day, and you're 330 the next day, that's a big meal (laughter). He's got to get his weight back down around 319, but he ran well for 330.
But he's a good football player, he's a great person, but I just want to be able to -- when we make a blanket statement that everybody is going to pass that running test, then I have to hold to that statement. I have to hold to that statement because three years from now, I don't want him to be sitting there as a senior saying, well, wait a minute, I had to do this and he doesn't have to do that. So it's a blanket statement that everybody is going to pass that test in this camp. So he'll pass it.
Q. You talked about the tendency here to get inflated after some success, and yet some of the inabilities to sustain that success has been an issue here in the past. How do you deal with that or do you address that or do you not even talk about it?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I think you have to address it. We came off a '97 year and played in '98, everybody remembers that; we didn't go to a Bowl game. We come back in '99 and go 10 and 2. 2000 we didn't go to a Bowl game, right? So it goes back and forth.
A lot of programs do that, but I think that if there's one message that I've tried to say, or send, when we first got here, it was that we have to go like this, in the same direction. Everybody has to go in the same direction. I think that's difficult to do. Just look around the country at any aspect of society right now, and that's difficult to do for people.
But we at Michigan State with our football team, we have to go in that direction. You know, the Spartan Nation, our supporters, need to understand that, as well, that it's not an easy task. If you have an opportunity to sit in the stands and watch, it's a different perspective from being on the field than being on the sidelines and watching, and some of you guys have been down there and seen that.
It's very competitive at this level and everybody is working extremely hard in this conference and throughout America to try and be successful. We are a work in progress, but be that being said, I think we can be successful and I think we have players. So the first thing, in answer to your question, the first thing we have to do is recognize that fact. If we want to change it, we need to recognize that fact and not look past it, so we've talked about it.
Q. Brian obviously last year played every game and had the lion's share of all the snaps. Talk about just how rare that is and how quickly you have to bring someone like Kirk Cousins along. I think you kind of alluded to it before, the depth at the backup quarterback position.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, you know, last year was a little bit different. First of all, he was the one guy that was ready to play. We had a couple other quarterbacks. We played Nick Foles in the first game but then his shoulder required surgery, and then we wanted to be able to red-shirt him. We were able to do that so we didn't play him. Connor Dixon had a sore shoulder pretty much the whole year and had a very difficult time throwing the football, and we wanted to red-shirt Kirk, so just by the nature of what we were trying to do, that's the way it ended up.
Also just by nature of the games being so close as they were, and he was able to stay healthy. If you look at our football team last year, I believe going into the Bowl game we had the fewest giveaways in America, five fumbles, I think, and five interceptions, I believe. So we played very well. What we have to do, we have to finish the game, and at the end of the game, whether it's a coach's call or a quarterback's decision or a guy playing the ball in the deep part of the field, those are the things that make the difference at the end of the game. It's the one play. If you take away the one play, reverse that one play, you're successful.
And so without a doubt, quarterback is measured usually at the end of the game. That's how the great ones have been measured, the Marinos and the Elways, taking the team down at the end of the game, those type of things. I think Brian had an outstanding year, throw out the Bowl game, had an outstanding year, but you're judged by the end of the game sometimes, too.
But I do think it's a little unusual that a guy would get that many snaps, but we were in year one, too. We were trying to develop a program, and you know, it's not a perfect world out there in terms of who you are and the numbers you have to play.
Q. Do you expect the defense to kind of reflect your values and philosophies maybe a little better than you were last year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, this is Coach Narduzzi's defense. This is Michigan State's defense, number one. Coach Narduzzi runs this defense in his staff, okay? I'm a consultant. I like that (laughter). A heavy consultant, but I'm a consultant.
You know, I think that when we first sat down and we hired Coach Narduzzi as our defensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati, there obviously was a lot of philosophy things that were much the same as mine as a defensive coach, or there was constant sharing of ideas. So I hope it's a great defense. I expect it to be a great defense, or we expect it to be a great defense, and I think it's always going to be based on the ability to pressure the quarterback, tackle, turnovers, things of that nature, tackle in space, get off blocks.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the transition going from year one when a lot of things were new to now? Even the players talked about it earlier, that they thought things were -- and obviously so, were simplified in some respects, but now that you and the staff have put more accountability on them as far as the program goes. Can you just talk about where you are in that area?
COACH DANTONIO: I think you always continue to develop a foundation and build on that foundation. So in year one a lot of things we were doing were for the first time, especially in the spring and then the fall camp. Year two we come back in camp, we're certainly always going to tweak things and try and make it better, look at the things we did and try and build on those things. We also want to feature certain players differently maybe or use other players.
So there's always going to be some change there, but there's always going to be a little bit of people being familiar with the program. There's always going to be a carryover.
We always want to have a basic theme of every single day as we go into our camp, for example, today, which we feel are critical to winning. For example, today is just sharing information. Well, if you're a senior and you've played four years and you're talking to that young freshman, you can share and you can bring him along just as much as a coach can, and if I look back at last year, one of the things that I put down was that our coaches continue to coach, but our seniors need to coach our young players. It's not a bad thing for your senior safety Otis Wiley to stand out there with a whistle around his shoulders and to coach the young players, because if he can get to that level and coach them, if he can play at that level, and he becomes a coach on the field, I think that's powerful. And I continually talk about knowledge is power. We need to share that knowledge with other people.
We're trying to transition in that way, but we do -- like I said earlier, we have a lot of young players, as well. But we're moving in that direction.
Q. He kind of stole my question, but I guess I'll phrase it this way. This is kind of your sophomore year here. Not to discount what you did at Cincinnati, but did you learn a lot that makes you more prepared for this the second time around than in the first year?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think so. Hopefully I'm getting to know everybody's names a little better. But hopefully I'll do better. I guess I can't be the judge of that. You guys and everybody else judges us, and my team judges us as coaches and judges me as a head coach. And every year give them a little survey, take to heart what they say, try and change a little bit. I take to heart what our coaches say and I ask them the tough questions and we evaluate what I do and who we are as people, whether you're the defensive coordinator, the head coach, the defensive back coach or the wide receiver coach, whatever it is. But I think that's how you get better. Year two as a sophomore, you know, we just want to step forward, continue to get better and build this foundation.
Q. One of the philosophies you've taken from Coach Tressel at Ohio State is you play a lot of guys so when seniors do graduate you're not empty in that position. Talk about that and how that benefits you this year.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, it's a great benefit this year because you look out there right now, if you just walk out there and watch our practices, you know, you see that -- we have eight corners that are playing, that are functional. What you look at is -- or whatever position it is. We're trying to build depth so that you have function at that position of depth.
So for example, the number one wide receiver, Z, might be better than the number two or three, but those numbers two and three are functional. They can go in and play and make plays for you. So that's what we're trying to develop.
I think you're exactly right, when other people leave, when we lost Nehemiah or Travis Key, when we lost Kaleb Thornhill, there was somebody to step in there and play. When we lost our offensive left tackle, Pete Clifford, Rocco Cironi being able to step in there a little bit, he played as a freshman, he played a lot, he was an understudy last year. Didn't play as much, but he's very functional. He knows how to play. He's not learning from day one. That's what you're trying to do.
Q. For those who haven't seen Trevor Anderson play in a game, what does he bring to your ball club?
COACH DANTONIO: He's very explosive, very powerful. He's got great pass rushing ability, and he knows the system. You know, he's been in this system for three years. So it's not like he's a brand new player. He's played in Big Ten games, he's played against Penn State, he's played against Ohio State, he's been a very good player at the Big East level. He's not played a game here yet, so I'm sure he's looking forward to that. But he's got leadership qualities. He's a very, very impressive worker. So those are some of the things that I would say that he brings to the table. He can be looked at and say, hey, here's an example of how to do it, whether it's this pass rush or this particular stunt, and I think that's powerful to have on your football team.
Q. Speaking to some of the players and coaches at the roundtables, on offense Joel Foreman's name has come up, and on defense, Brandon Long's name has come up as guys who have really gone the extra mile in off-season workouts. I wonder if you could talk about those two and what they've done to contribute to the team and maybe anybody else who's stepped it up over the off-season.
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Brandon Long is a guy who's a senior. He's in the top five of our -- what we would call power players, offensive-defensive lineman in every area, bench press, squat, hankling (phonetic), he has personal bests in all those. He's in the Top 5. He made his tests completely. He's in great physical shape, he's mentally and physically sharp. He came in last year as a starter. If everybody remembers, sort of him and Jonal split that until Jonal started having all these great plays, stripping balls and everything. But Brandon, I think, is poised for a great football season. It's his senior season, and usually if you're going to have success as a football team, your seniors usually have their best year, best career year. He's done an outstanding job this summer.
And then Joel Foreman is a red-shirt freshman and he looks like a refrigerator. He's about 6'3", 315. He was a dominant player in high school. If you look at offensive linemen, being named the MVP in his league, that's a huge statement in high school. But he is a red-shirt freshman. He's played center some, he's played guard, he had a good spring and I think he's taken that and is moving that forward. But he's got to prove himself yet this summer practice. But I think that he's on the verge, and I think, again, he's another very powerful man.
Q. With so few upper classmen this year, especially compared to last year, how have you seen leadership that might have been different this year than last year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think it's going to fall on more people this year. It's going to fall on some juniors. I said yesterday, I don't care who becomes captain. I'm sure some juniors may get some votes. We'll vote at the end of fall camp and it will be how they handled themselves in camp. It won't be a popularity contest, hopefully, but it'll be about who can lead in adverse situations. I think that's what I'm concerned about.
But you have a smaller pool of seniors, and that just means that more people are going to have an opportunity at a younger age. But people will rise up.
Q. You mentioned Otis out there teaching. Can you talk about his progression last year in and out of the lineup? What have you seen from him and how far has he come along going into his final year?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he had a great spring practice, an outstanding spring practice, and I would say he was one of the top performers in the spring for us. He's come back in great condition. I think he's poised for a great senior year. He has outstanding ability. He's big, 6'2" or 6'3", 212-pound safety, can run, great ball skills, tackles well, he knows the system, so it's all there, great person. So it's all there. But what he has to do is be more consistent. I think consistency is what we're looking at, and if you judge him by the spring, there's consistency there.
But with that said, you know, every game, depending on who you play, the offense changes. So preparation, I think, is key there, and we need to prepare every single week. He needs to prepare for every single game.
Q. Pertaining to the mental side of the game, what kind of advice are you giving the team when it's crunch time and you're trying to finish the game?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, just what I said earlier. I think you need to get to the point where you're able to -- you have to get to that point where it's on the line and you have an opportunity to finish. And then everything that we've done throughout this summer and throughout spring, throughout our fourth quarter, our winter workout program, has been about finishing. And that's why, going back to the one person who hasn't made the run test yet, we're going to finish that, because it's about this whole football team. It goes beyond the one person. It speaks to what we're doing with this whole football team.
The premium emphasis is on that, but it has to get done on that football field, too.
Q. You told us yesterday you're not sure about academics with all of them. When do you anticipate knowing what guys made it, what guys didn't?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think the semester, second semester of summer school is over August 16th. I think all of our upper classmen are going to be fine, but until they're done with that particular class, I can't say. But I think we'll be fine.
I want to introduce Tim Allen. Tim is our new director of operations. He comes to us from the University of Minnesota. I worked with Tim at the University of Kansas back in '91, '2, '3 and '4, and he's a good personal friend of mine, but he's been in the Big Ten conference for ten plus years, seven Bowl games at University of Minnesota, Glen Mason, and he's been a part of football staffs in this position for approximately probably about 17 years, or 19.
But he's done the job. He's a great person, and he has an outstanding family, brings four more children here, so we'll just have to get a bigger bus. But it's great to have him here and be back with Tim, and he'll bring a certain amount of excitement and he deeply cares about our players. I'll just bring Tim up and go from there. Thanks again for today.
TIM ALLEN: Thank you very much, Coach. I have to tell you that I'm very grateful for the opportunity to be at Michigan State University. I've known Mark Dantonio since 1991, and when people ask me about Coach Dantonio, I always tell them, he's a great coach and he's an even better person. For the Allen family to be here and have the opportunity, we couldn't be more excited, more thrilled, and I hope to get the chance to know each and every one of you, and if there's anything we can do, I'll be there for you.
My goal is to do the best job I possibly can at Michigan State, and we're going to follow all the NCAA rules and go to the Rose Bowl. If you have any questions, please feel free.
Q. Can you talk about what your day-to-day responsibilities are?
TIM ALLEN: Well, initially there wasn't a director of football operations position. You started out as the administrative assistant and you were responsible for a little bit of everything. I was a graduate assistant at Kansas, and the year after I arrived there, the guy that did it left in August, so I was the academic guy, I was the administrative guy to the head coach.
But you know, this is big business, and there's a lot of things that go along with it, and there's a lot of responsibilities that the head football coach has that the director of football operations assist him in. We monitor the budget, we monitor NCAA guidelines, I work closely in liaison with all the administrative areas on campus.
We want to make sure we do things the right way. I want to make sure we do things the way that Coach Dantonio wants it done, and that's my primary focus on the job.
TIM ALLEN: Well, I think any institution that you're at, whether it be -- you hear about some of the big budgets in the SEC, I think you have to be fiscally responsible. But at the same time, you have to run your operation in a manner that's Big Ten first-class situation, and I think Michigan State does a great job. I couldn't be more impressed the way Mark Hollis runs this program, the way Coach Dantonio runs his program. We do things in a first-class manner. I think those type of things show up in recruiting.
You look at our facilities, that's a first-class facility now. That's big-time. I couldn't be more impressed. I've only been here for a little over six weeks, so I'm still relatively new on the job. But I think we do it the right way.
Q. When you were at Minnesota and they hired Dantonio, was there any reaction, like uh-oh, they got this right or this guy is going to make his mark?
COACH DANTONIO: Absolutely. Like I said, I've known Mark and Becky Dantonio for a long time. You look at his record, he was on a National Championship team at Ohio State. I always knew that he was a great football coach, but as I mentioned earlier, he and his wife are even better people, and they're all about the right things.
Like I said, we're going to do things the right way at Michigan State as you've seen already with Coach, and it's about the family.
I think that's -- people see that because he's a very genuine person, and when I saw that Mark got the job at Michigan State, I knew right then and there that this program was going to go in a different direction, and obviously it has.
End of FastScripts