UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 28, 2003
JOHN HEISLER: A couple of quick notes, kickoff this week is at 2:30. We don't know anymore than - probably closer to 2:38. We're an hour later than we had been for the last three home games. Also keep in mind that for those of you on the satellite there will be five minutes of highlights from the Boston College game at end of our satellite feed. Also keep in mind that South Bend is on the Eastern time for the next six or seven months. At this point Coach Willingham is here. We'll take some questions to start with from people here in person; then we'll go to the telephones.
Q. Coach Baer made a comment about a player not being in the game and not being aware of that. What is the normal procedure for that? Do the position coaches decide who is in the game and the coordinator doesn't, tend to that and then they communicate to him? How is that handled?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It can come to us in a variety of ways: Sometimes it comes from the trainers; sometimes it comes through the position coach. So it comes in a variety of ways.
Q. Wouldn't necessarily be uncommon if he wasn't sure of the specific personnel in the game?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, because sometimes I am not aware of some of the specific the personnel.
Q. Do you think the players are at stage where they might be fighting the emotion of feeling sorry for themselves with the way the season is going?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That, as you know, I think is always a part of human nature that sometimes when things aren't going well, you can very easily feel down. But I like our football team, I like the way they fought back this past ballgame; that it would have been very easy, I think, at some point when you are down 6-24 to just let it go. They didn't do that. They continued to battle. I think the spirits are very high.
Q. Your interception total is quite low, which is three for the year. I know you played a lot of man-coverage on Saturday which makes it many times difficult to get interceptions because your back is to the quarterback. Do you then try to run more zone coverage just so you can put yourself in position to make interceptions or is that to force turnovers or is that completely dictated by what the opposition does?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Look at it -- always trying to find ways to get turnovers, anything you can do to create that because that hopefully changes the football game. But the team, more than anything else, dictates what you do and how you try to match up and what you can and cannot do versus them.
Q. Jerome Collins played quite a bit. Can you comment on his progress and do you see his playing time increasing? Coach Baer had indicated after the game that he was pleased with the way he had performed Saturday.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, we were because we put Jerome in a very difficult situation. We had to make one of those adjustments. I think you have look at those things last week when those things happened; how they occurred. We had to go to a total -- a different personnel group that we'd been to all year and he's stepped in and did a great job for us. So we need to find ways to, I think, get him on the field and have him do some things but we're pleased with what he's doing.
Q. What are his assets? I know mainly like during the preseason, you are looking more as a guy that can rush the passer, but has he developed into some other areas as well?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think, one, he has speed, size and strength. And those are always wonderful advantages. Probably he and Derek Curry have been in a great competition for that position and Derek Curry has done a great job of being a total player that can do a lot of things for us.
Q. The white shoes Saturday, was that an emergency situation with your footwear or how did that come about?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, that was ordered sometime ago.
Q. You described last week as a must-win. What does that make this week?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Heck of an opportunity to upset one of the best teams in the country.
Q. Is that one of the things you talk about now that you can't be -- you can have an effect on who does win the National Championship?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, we're lucky that our schedule at this time of the year gives us that opportunity that we have got one of the top 4, 3, 5 times depending on what particular poll you are looking at, whether it is BCS, AP, or the College Rankings, we have got a great football team coming in here that gives us an opportunity to be the spoiler.
Q. After last year's game it seemed like they were a team that was in disarray, changed quarterbacks, they really seemed confused by what you did. Notre Dame had reestablished itself as a power. What has happened since then? It just seems like they have got -- it switched --
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, it's a fragile thing sometimes to keep a team moving always in the right track and the thing that we have not done and I have consistently said this, we have not executed and if you don't execute and make the plays, you are not going to win.
Q. Are you convinced that this team is a team that you can knock off a team like Florida State?
COACH WILLINGHAM: We can knock off Florida State. We have got to play consistent. We have got to execute. We can't have lulls because Florida State, from what I have seen this year, doesn't have lulls. They go pretty hard the entire football game. They have great confidence at what they are doing and their players are doing a great job in executing it. Their quarterback, I think, is throwing the ball right around 60 percent, I think his completion rate. They have an excellent runner. As a matter of fact, they have got two or three of them that come in and do very well. So this is a good football team - probably better than that - a very, very good football team.
Q. Chris Rix last year obviously you guys did a good job of keeping him from not doing much at all. This year he is obviously playing well. What do you see that he's doing differently?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I have always said that when you play as a team it makes a tremendous difference because you kind of alluded to that statement with your statement earlier about the duration they were going, there were a lot of in-house problems, et cetera, they are playing as a team; and when you work together as a team it's amazing what can happen.
Q. Courtney Watson, I assume you think he's the best linebacker in college football. What makes him that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: All along I said that Courtney, because of his knowledge of the game, makes him special. And with that he plays and he makes plays. When you are smart, you understand the structure of the defense, you can help other people get in the right place, you are also able to do your job, I think it makes you a special player.
Q. What kind of leadership does he provide? Is he somebody that talks a lot or is he more by example? What type of leadership does he provide?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think he talks, I will say sparingly will be the term, but I think he's very selective and appropriate when he says things to the football team. But his example is not one that you see just on the football field. He's also involved, very involved with the community in different things that really set him apart.
Q. What is the state of health of Darrell Campbell right now?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It is probable, I guess is the best way to say it.
Q. Ten years ago the last time Florida State came into South Bend, Notre Dame was kind of at the height of its program in recent years. What do you see is the state of the program in comparison to where it was then and what would you see to take it back to that status?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, it always takes great leadership, great coaching, great playing to get it back to its height. As you relate it to the ballgame, you have to execute - and I keep harping on that, but that's something that you can't say enough because it's true - everything you do, if you execute it, you got your best chance of being successful.
Q. When you look at your running game right now and how it is performing and the inconsistency, how do you explain maybe what is going on there?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I wish I can give you all the explanations on why one week it's good; one week it's not good. You have to have, with running game, you have to have patience and sometimes based on the score of the ballgame, it doesn't allow a coach to have patience; that I have to be more involved in terms of trying to put the ball in the air and trying to get points. So what dictates running game, you hope, would be a nice close ballgame where you can be confident, you can stay with it and be in a position to win the football game.
Q. You are saying then maybe sometimes it's the score that's maybe taking --
COACH WILLINGHAM: There's no question about that. I have always said execution is important, okay, you are tired hearing me say that - but it's true. That's a part of it. We have got to execute. We, as coaches, have to try to put them in the best possible calls you can put them in for them to be successful and you have to have patience and score does play a lot of that. If you get a team like we faced with Boston College and you were in the second half, okay, you know that they are a running team and they have the lead, they will continue to run the football. As they run the football, time goes off the clock, you don't have many opportunities. So often the best way to take advantage of that is see if you can get some passes, get something going, and passing more than we'd like to which hurts our running game.
Q. Talk a little bit about the kick coverage, kickoff and punt returns, what has been some of the difficulties there in executing?
COACH WILLINGHAM: (Laughs) The difficulty there is sometimes placement; sometimes just defeating a block and sometimes just making the tackle because there are a couple of times I look at this past ballgame we had a guy right in the site to make a tackle, we miss it, all of a sudden he is up in the lane and now they have got a big return.
Q. I think in the BC game there were four instances where a kickoff or punt required Notre Dame to make a tackle. D. J. Fitzpatrick wound up making two of those tackles. How troubling is that not only the philosophy in terms of punt coverage but also knowing that Nicholas Setta is hurt already and you probably, I would imagine, you don't want your kicker out there to make tackles out there?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, we don't want a kicker to make tackles. That's not an advantageous position for us when he's got to make the tackle because usually it means he's the last guy. But you try to structure yourself where you can get the young people in the right place and hopefully that they do the right things and make the tackles and they don't get to that level where D.J. had to be two of the last four. But that's a critical part of the game because I think in that ballgame alone they started just with our kickoffs on the 36, 35, 39 and the 50, and that's far, far too good a field position to offer any football team.
Q. Freddie Parish IV, he played a lot defensively earlier in the season; that seemed to have tapered off a little bit. I am curious what maybe some of his struggles -- things that have gone on that prevented him from seeing much time defensively and what he needs to do get back in that rotation?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Game plan, package, just the overall acclimation that a young guy goes to in adjusting to the system and improving. Those are all things that are kind of keeping him out of the lineup right now.
Q. With Glenn Earl banged up, does that kind of move him up a little bit or is he working more specifically only at the free spot where he's still behind?
COACH WILLINGHAM: We're trying to keep him really more at the strong spot, okay, just kind of gradually bring him along and make sure we have got the right timing for him.
Q. What do those receivers to, maybe they are a little bit better against BC whether it's just making plays, getting open, things of that nature, that allows them to have statistical success?
COACH WILLINGHAM: One, we try to incorporate a little more play-action into our system versus BC because of the things that they did. I think the play-action helped with that process of our receivers being in better positions to catch the football.
Q. Any improvement to the receivers like Sean or does this team kind of play to them, being open more vertically?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think both. I think they can continuing to improve. I think the improvement that you've seen in Rhema and Maurice from the beginning of the season from last year with Omar, I think they are continuing to improve.
Q. Rhema is a guy has made plays for you all season. What do you say to him after an instance like in the first half or he has a drop or -- he knows as well as anyone that he could have easily taken that all the way. What do you say to him to kind of like snap him back into it, to have him forget about it and move on?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That we're counting on him, that he's an integral part of our offense, our passing game and that he makes big plays and we expect him to make big plays. Let that one go and let's pick it up.
Q. The last few games the offense has either been heavy off passing or heavy off running, or a combination of both. What do you look at this Saturday?
COACH WILLINGHAM: My wish list. Okay, my wish list is to be heavy starting with the run and then heavy with pass. Now will Florida State allow us to do that? I am not sure yet because this is a very good football team. So we're going to try and map out the best plan for us to have success. We think first we have to improve the running game in there.
Q. Is Florida State compare to any other teams you have played against this year?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Let's see. I would say like USC explosive, speed, talented very much along that line, yes.
Q. What is the status on Nicholas Setta?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Nick is questionable. We'll start the week to see how he can perform and see if he's healthy and ready to go.
Q. Is there a likelihood he will play before the season is out?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Yes.
Q. Take us through scenario of an overtime game, let's say there's a change from weather conditions or who you are playing, in terms of whether you prefer to have the ball first or second and if so, or if not, why?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I am pretty consistent on that one: I'd like to have the ball last. I'd like to know what we have to do to win the game.
Q. Bobby Bowden now is the winningest coach in Division 1-A. Talk about what you see from afar as the attributes that he's been able to bring to build such consistency there?
COACH WILLINGHAM: One, stability. Two, he's put, I think, an excellent system in place. And he's done an excellent job of recruiting.
Q. When you talk about stability, it seems like ten years like Bobby Bowden's or Joe Paterno's that people who have been in a place for a long time seem more and more rare in Division 1-A. What are some of the demands -- I guess with the way the demands or pressure has changed on coaches at that level that maybe diminishes how long someone stays at one place?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think probably the primary thing is just our need as a coach to have things fixed right now. So therefore when it's not, you see change.
JOHN HEISLER: Let's take from questions from the people on the telephone.
Q. You talked a little bit about Courtney Watson and his role as a leader as a linebacker. Can you talk a little bit about how Brandon Hoyte's game has perhaps improved? I think at the start of the season some of the coaches were talking about how Brandon Hoyte needed to be a little bit more polished. Talk about the progress you've seen in his game?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Brandon has a special, what I call, a special-type player. He's really -- you look at him sizewise and you don't see how physical a football player he's. But he's probably one of our more physical, big-hitter type-players. And with that comes a personality that he likes to get involved in the action right away. What we say when we say patient -- when we say -- I think you said polished if I am correct, is that the word patience fits in there because what is important is that you not react too soon but yet you flow with the nature and the responsibility of the defense and really that's where the biggest change, I think, has come in Brandon this year, he's begun to do that better and better each week; to be able to fit into that defense and now still maintain that aggressive of physical nature that he has.
Q. How much has somebody like a Courtney Watson and a Derek Curry done to bring Brandon along in terms of tutoring him on the field?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think the communication between those three and really all of our linebackers is excellent and when you have guys like Curry and Watson that really, in my opinion, have a pretty good handle on the overall structure of the defense, they can relate to each other very well and help him see things that maybe he does not see.
Q. Also you were talking about the kicking game earlier. A lot of times when a program loses a quarterback to graduation, a tailback, a defensive end, people sit up and take notice. Talk about the effect of losing a veteran like Joey. I think sometimes from the outside people don't notice the value of the punter. But a guy where he can place the ball where you need to, who can hit spots, who can create -- talk about some of those things that a veteran punter can do.
COACH WILLINGHAM: The first thing is the public may not know but I think coaches notice. Joey is -- I thought just did an excellent job last year with the number of punts that he downed inside the 20 and inside the 10 and his ability to, what we call, directionally punt, which makes a major difference in your coverage where you can isolate a guy to only one-third of the field, it really, I think, improves your coverage. So when you have a loss of that nature, it's important. Yet at the same time, I think Nick has done a great job; he's grown into the two roles and it is just a unfortunate that we haven't had him for the last couple of weeks.
Q. I was looking through the Florida State coaching roster and Coach Bowden has had some coaches that have been with him long time - one 27 years, 20 years, 18 years. Talk about the kind of stability that that brings. I mean, I guess you have had Kent with you from the start at Stanford. Talk about the rapport that can build up and how does that improve and affect the football team when the coaches have that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: The No. 1 area that I see that affect is, in terms of stability and being a positive thing, is that your players have a constant personality. They know that person. They understand what he says, things they understand, what he means when he nods his head, when his mouth moves in a certain direction, I mean, all of those little things, those subtle things have the impact on the young people that they can really feel comfortable in the program. As far as the coaching, it makes it a lot easier because you know in most cases that if you have been in a program that long or you have been with people, then you think along the same lines, and your structure for your program, the things that you do, you don't have to spend time re-teaching things and you can kind of, in a sense, advance your program from just the elementary days.
Q. You are not spending as much time coaching your coaches?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would agree with that statement.
Q. Dove-tailing on that previous question about length of service, could you see yourself coaching to the age of 75 and do you think we'll see any such coaches like Bobbie Bowden or Joe Paterno coaching that long?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You said 75?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Gosh, I hope to be alive when I turn 75. No, that's not my desire to coach that long. I don't know what that year will be and I haven't even thought about that, but I think they have done a remarkable job in terms of maintaining their youthfulness and being in a game that is for the young.
Q. In your two seasons at Notre Dame you of sort of experienced the highs that come with the success at this job and sort of the lows this year with what happens when your team doesn't meet expectations. How do you, as a coach, with your coaching staff, really keep an even keel and just go about your job the same way in both situations?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think, No. 1, it starts with, what do you believe in and what do you believe you ultimately can accomplish. I think myself and our coaching staff believe that we can have a good football team and at some point we're going to turn this corner that we're in and play the kind of football that we expect and we will meet our expectations as a football team. Therefore, the only way to get to that level of expectation, is to keep pressing forward, to keep working, to keep driving our young men and to keep being very positive with them.
Q. You mentioned before how you think this football team has a good opportunity to upset one of the better teams in the country. How much of a role do you want to see the crowd play into that game? How important is that going to be Saturday?
COACH WILLINGHAM: The game is an emotional game - that's with the players, with the fans and I have said that hopefully our players will pick up our fans and create some energy in them, with the way they play the football game, and hopefully our fans will at points during the ballgame, pick up our team because during every contest there's some high points; there's some low points. If we can have our energy level raised during any of our low points to our fans, then you can have a chance to be consistent and play better; if you can play better, you've got a better chance to win.
Q. Following up on that question with the crowd and emotions, how much do you play on Notre Dame's mystique with your kids?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I probably label it tradition and I think that's something that if you can get that throughout every bit and piece and particle of your system then it adds something to your program because there are not a lot of people that have the tradition and the history that you have at Notre Dame. That should work for you and that should be a sense of strength as you play your contest.
Q. Different question, what has happened defensively that that was clicking so well last year for you and maybe isn't right now?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would probably say the most drastic thing is the number of turnovers. I think last year we created more, I think, more interceptions, more scores from our defense, and when things were going along that line, you have the tendency to just kind of build on it and right now we are not getting those kind of plays from our defensive team.
Q. Is Glenn Earl ready to go?
COACH WILLINGHAM: He will be out.
JOHN HEISLER: Thank you very much.
End of FastScripts...