UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 2, 2003
MODERATOR: Good morning, just one quick note. Kickoff this week is going to be at 1:38 here at South Bend. We're on the equivalent of Central Time. We'll begin by taking some questions here in person, and then we'll take some questions from people on the telephone.
Q. As an observer of the Washington State program from the outside looking in, what did you see? How did they did they build their program to become a Top 10 power?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I believe what they have been able to do over the years is to smooth that out so that now they don't have the peaks and valleys. They've got a pretty solid and smooth running program in terms of the populous they use and therefore been able to put together some good years back to back.
Q. Is there any correlation in building a national power as compared in South Bend, Indiana?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would say those two environments are drastically different. It's a little different than South Bend, Indiana. Those two are separate. What you have to do is be consistent. They have begun to be consistent over the years and they have done a good job.
Q. You have a couple coaches on your staff that were at Washington State that you had at Stanford. What did you see that meshed with your philosophy offensively?
COACH WILLINGHAM: First of all, Bill has been excellent over the years. He's done a great job of working with quarterbacks. He is a young man that pays attention to detail, and he believes very much like I do that the game is so quick today that it's impossible for a coach to provide all the right plays. So, therefore, we have to provide a series of plays for our quarterback to take advantage of so that hopefully we can be in the right place at the right time.
Q. I know that your staff has moved past last year and things. Does it come as a relief now that maybe this week you can put last year behind you and get down to regular business?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Yes, it does, but I'm not sure on how much even our players have allowed themselves to reflect on last year. I haven't seen many of the articles so I don't know if they've spoken in great length about last year, but I think our focus is really on page with everybody in the program that it's what you do today. We've got to go out against Washington State, a very good football team, that's proven over the years they're a sound program. We've got to go out and play a great game against them. Anything we did last year really will not have any bearing on the ballgame.
Q. Do you hope that the offense has good performance so that it can stop answering that question?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think we all are, but at the same time my focus is really, as you can imagine having been around for a while, my focus is simply win. I'll say it again this year: If we can win by a half point, if they allow it, I would take it.
Q. Is the defense going to have to play the kind of games it played in the ten wins, or do you hope that it's more of a shared responsibility in that defense will have those kind of games but the offense (inaudible)?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, what we all hope for is that we have great offense, great defense and great special teams. I think that's every coach's desire. That will never change, but the one thing we try to tell our football team, at some point, the defense will give us 40 points. If it does happen, that means the offense has to score 41. The goal is to win. One day our offense may not score but 3 points, so you want a shared responsibility not only in terms of production, but you want a shared responsibility in terms of focus and effort to win the football game. That's the number one thing.
Q. Coach, when a team has a bad season, but finishes strong, they often think they can take the good momentum into the next season. Last season you had the opposite. Do you worry about a carryover, and have you talked to your players about such a thing?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, because the hole focus of the program hopefully is of a positive nature, and we always focus on the positive. It's about winning the next ballgame to me.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Until you said that, I wasn't focused on it.
Q. Coach, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about Josh and what you've seen with him in fall camp?
COACH WILLINGHAM: He's done a good job. He's a walk-on in our program, and he's distinguished himself with some fine play and put himself in a position where he'll be a contributor to our football team this year. We've needed, wanted and desired someone in the fullback position to step up. We've got so we're pleased with the group, we're pleased with the performance.
Q. How about Dwight, what kind of a fall has Dwight had?
COACH WILLINGHAM: He's come in and really been a true competitor, and that's what we need in all our positions. It's been exciting to watch that, to watch his growth and maturity. We hope he continues to do that.
Q. I believe when you were at Stanford, you had Chad on your team as a true Freshman. Was it difficult at all?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, with any of the young men we're constantly reminding them of this fact: If they're ready to play, we put them on the field. It should be in best interest of the team. I don't think you can be successful if your best players are sitting on the sideline.
Q. Along the same lines, is there an urgency in your mind to get (inaudible)?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You would always like to gain experience for any individual if you could, so you always make those attempts to provide some experience even through practice.
Q. My last question is about Jeff. Can you talk about what you've seen of him?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I have been very pleased with Jeff. He's come in and accepted the responsibility of trying to add something to our team. He's come in and been very aggressive, and I think he's in a position to make some contribution this year.
Q. Coach, I'm sure you got to watch some football this weekend, and I'm sure you saw a lot of mental mistakes. With Washington State having a game to work out some of those kinks, are you somewhat concerned you might have those mental errors in this game?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think everyone is always concerned in the first game about penalties and turnovers and pad level. Those are the things you come out of your first game and you usually get back into game speed; and the second game you eliminate those. For us, it is a concern that we make sure we talk to our team about avoiding the mental mistakes and turnovers and get our pad level in position.
Q. How do you prepare your team for something like that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I would venture to believe that most of our guys have butterflies for every ballgame. It's exciting to think about going into an 80,000-seat stadium. I think that's a natural thing to have butterflies. These guys have done this over a period of time, and they know how to negotiate those jitters that go with the game.
Q. I notice on the depth chart that was released that Cedric wasn't listed as a starter. Is that do to an injury?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Cedric has missed a certain amount of days, but I anticipate he will be in place probably come the weekend.
Q. What can a runningback like Ryan Grant who obviously had a productive season like that learn from someone like Julius Jones and what can Jones learn from somebody like Grant?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think, first of all, we're blessed we have a group of running backs that have their eyes open and are willing to learn from their teammates. You can pick up certain things from him. I think that's what our players do. You have to understand where they're strong at. You can't adopt certain things from other players if it doesn't fit into your play.
Q. What has Ryan done through spring and fall camp to hang on to the top spot?
COACH WILLINGHAM: He has continued his play from the fall and really strengthened it because I think he's done a much better job in the off season. He had a great rest. He got his body in better shape. To do that it means you also have to get into excellent mental shape. He's well prepared to go into the season.
Q. Coach, there are so many black quarterbacks in college football these days. Do you feel like any cultural or prejudicial resistance to black quarterbacks in the game has almost banished?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It's one of those questions that you're aware of, but you don't have a focus on. I think most of the coaches in this day and age are really dedicated to putting the best player on the field. It doesn't matter what his color is. I don't know if I have the right answer for that question in terms of specifics.
Q. Do you feel like there may be instances where the black quarterback is held to a higher standard? Can you detect anything of that nature?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No.
COACH WILLINGHAM: I can't shed any light on what the role will be, but Julius has had an excellent camp. He's done all of the things that I've requested of him; that the university has requested of him. He's put himself in a position to be a major contributor for our team. We've got a pretty good combination to work with.
Q. You have been asked a ^couple ^ custom times about the up-and-down-nature of Notre Dame's record the last few years. I would imagine the players on the team are maybe a little more conscious of it because they have been here through those up-and-down times. Do you try to coach that mentality away at all? Do you ignore it and let the players follow your lead, or is it something you bring up in meetings when you're talking to the team?
COACH WILLINGHAM: So you won't have a problem if you're really curious after this question; is that right?
Q. I'm kind of expecting that.
COACH WILLINGHAM: I'm one that focuses on the next opportunity. I don't spend a great deal of time looking back whether that's good or bad. Do you need to make corrections? Yes, you do and try to move forward at a greater speed. My focus with our football team is to go forward. What happened last year is, to me, old news. It's about what we do today. That's where my focus is. When I work with my team, I work with that mind-set.
Q. I don't have a depth chart in front of me, but I was wondering if you could talk about the status of Mike?
COACH WILLINGHAM: The status of Mike is that Mike is not listed as a participant in our opening ballgame, and that probably states exactly where he's at.
Q. Okay. And the other thing is I'm assuming that Nick is going to be doing the punting as well as the place-kicking. Can you talk about the challenge that presents for him?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Amazingly, first of all, yes, he's going to have both of those responsibilities for us. I'm not sure how much of a challenge that is. I think he's the kind of individual that leaps all over that and probably is saying, gosh, Coach, I could have done this my whole career.
Q. Lastly, you touched on this a little bit earlier: The fact that Washington State has played a game already when you play them Saturday. A lot of coaches have always said that the team makes its biggest improvement from the first week to the second week. What are the challenges that you face playing that team?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think that is a challenge that we recognize as coaches. I think the question has already come up, and I think it was about penalties, turnovers, and I think I even added pad level, and those are things you see a tremendous improvement from Game 1 to Game 2. We've got to find a way to make that improvement with the fact that they have a game on us.
Q. Talk about the development of the offensive line, how well is it coming together with only one starter back.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, as you know, that is an area that usually takes the longest to develop, and we've got the situation this year where we lost four young men to the NFL, and having to replace those is a challenge, but I think our coaches have done an excellent job of bringing our group together in trying to figure out all the best combinations, and I believe this week will slowly begin to process to put all those guys in the right places so we can have the kind of chemistry it takes to play a ballgame. I think they've done a great job bringing the group together.
COACH WILLINGHAM: It's very difficult to do that simply because there is so much history and so much tradition with this program that even as an opposing coach when one decided to use that tactic, it's very difficult, so we would go -- on occasions, we would go to the College Football Hall of Fame to do those kind of things to make sure our guys appreciate not only college football tradition but all traditions of the game of football, and I think it enhances our ability to play.
Q. What's your most vivid memory of your years at Stanford playing Washington?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You asked that question, and I want to believe we were up there one time in the snow near the end of the season, and our trainer's rainsuit caught fire, so that one jumps out at me.
Q. Did you win or lose that game?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I'm certain I believe we won it.
Q. One more question, of all the famous Notre Dame's sites, do you have a favorite?
COACH WILLINGHAM: The stadium.
Q. Could you talk also please about -- football's important at Notre Dame, and at Stanford, football is sometimes important. Discuss that. That certainly was a factor in your decision.
COACH WILLINGHAM: I don't think you can say that football is sometimes important at Stanford. Having been in that program, the young men and the people around that program want to be successful, want to be the best. I don't think that's any different at Notre Dame. The young men, coaches, et cetera, want to be the best. Now, attendance is a different story. We're very fortunate at Notre Dame that we have tremendous crowds every weekend.
Q. Coach, I realize that you guys work 80 hours a week. Do you guys (inaudible)?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I try to follow the entire country just to keep a pulse on what's taking place around the country. There is something you can learn from keeping up with all of the teams. There are things happening in and outside of the programs that we need to have an awareness of.
Q. How is the book doing and what's it like to be a published author? Does that create some more anxiety? Is that like finishing a term paper and, hey, there it is, I did a good job?
COACH WILLINGHAM: What book?
Q. Your book.
COACH WILLINGHAM: I don't think I have one.
Q. I'll send you a copy.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Please do. Excuse me, I think your reference is probably to Grant's book; is that right?
Q. Yeah, but you obviously cooperated with it because the guy got good stuff. (Inaudible).
COACH WILLINGHAM: We've listed that and I've kind of been somewhat humorous and I hope it's appreciated that it's been day to day, week to week and month to month and year to year, and you're able to choose the one you're most comfortable with.
Q. What were your impressions of Washington State last week?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It's nice to know that we have a game coming up, and Washington State is definitely an opponent. They were impressive last week. I liked the play of their quarterback. I thought both running backs, especially Smith, had just a spectacular game. I'm very familiar with their defense, and it looked like a traditional defense. Their athletes are explosive. Not in all areas the biggest guys, but very explosive. Their secondary plays a tenacious game. I was really impressed, and I thought their place-kicker did a wonderful job.
Q. Can you talk about how the trainer caught fire?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think it was one of those blow heaters that you have because it was cold and snowing, and I think he stood a little too close a little too long, and it ignited.
Q. Was damage done?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Yes, and being a trainer, he was prepared to take care of himself.
Q. Just a minute ago, you said his role -- you haven't determined it yet or you don't want to give away how much he's playing?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I prefer not to give away exactly what those are. Traditionally, as a coach, I'm reluctant to do that because as soon as I say how many minutes he's playing, and he doesn't play it, he's very disappointed. I've learned you don't get into that area. It will happen. You know we want to get him in. We know he's done a lot of great things this fall. I don't want to define it to that degree; whereas if something doesn't go that way, then all of a sudden the young man is upset, you're upset with me because I deceived you, and I don't want to do that. Thank you. Go Irish, and let's have a great game.
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