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January 5, 2015

Brock Spack


J.D. HAMILTON:¬† Good afternoon, and happy new year to everyone.¬† Thank you for joining us today for this call for the 2015 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game participating head coaches.¬† At this time I'd like to introduce the head coach of Illinois State, Brock Spack.¬† Congratulations to you, your staff and your student‑athletes for advancing to Frisco in the National Championship game.
BROCK SPACK:  Appreciate it.
THE MODERATOR:  Can you please give us an opening statement.
BROCK SPACK:  Well, yeah, it's quite an honor to be playing in this game.  I want to congratulate our players.  They've done a tremendous job and worked very, very hard for this opportunity.  Obviously want to congratulate our opponent North Dakota State for getting there for the fourth year in a row.  That's very impressive.  Playing in a National Championship game against a conference opponent is kind of cool.  I think we're excited about it, and look forward to getting there.

Q.¬† Obviously coming off of last year, a 5‑6 season, can you talk about what was realistic in your eyes and your coaching staff's eyes going into this year?
BROCK SPACK:¬† You know, the last year was kind of a transition year for us.¬† We had a good team in '12 and graduated some very good players.¬† We had a four‑year starter at quarterback, and that's always difficult to replace a four‑year starter under center, and then we had some unfortunate injuries to a couple guys in preseason that we would plan prominently in our coaching plans here.¬† It was a tough year, but we kind of expected that we were very, very young, thought we'd have a chance to be pretty good this year.¬† I kind of use the term sneaky good.¬† I didn't know‑‑ I thought maybe this might happen a year from now, because I thought we had a pretty good young team, but it happened a year earlier.
Our kids have done a tremendous job.  They've worked very, very hard.  You can tell this team had a different vibe, a different attitude about it starting about this time last year when we came back and started training and going through winter conditioning.

Q.  When did you start to push them at a higher level to the sense that you felt you could get this far?
BROCK SPACK:  Well, you know, it started last winter, you know, in the winter conditioning.  We felt our team was a team that liked a challenge and liked to be pushed, and we pushed them very hard in winter conditioning.  We always do, but this team, we kind of stepped it up.  We kind of changed things a little bit, not a whole lot, maybe the order in which we did things instead of a total different philosophy.  Our philosophy is always the same, but we did some things a little differently as far as our 6:00 a.m. workouts and all that, and our team just embraced being challenged from the start, and they liked it and they responded to it, and just kind of knew we had a special group.
We had very good leaders.¬† We have good leadership throughout the team, not just in one class.¬† We have leadership on every level and every class, and a great team usually has a lot of good leaders, and this team does.¬† That's kind of when we knew that‑‑ I kind of knew that I think we'd make a run at a playoff team.¬† I didn't know how deep we could get, and the quarterback has made a big difference, obviously, but we've been able to run the football.
Our offensive line, we've leaned on them heavily.  We're a little better on defense than I thought we'd be.  We played with a pretty gritty, salty attitude defensively, so just a little better probably than I thought we'd be, but maybe a year ahead of schedule.

Q.  When you mentioned the defense, obviously Spence Nowinsky took over as defensive coordinator, you gave up some of the play calling on defense.  Can you talk about that, just the transition and the job Spence has done?
BROCK SPACK:¬† Spence has done a great job, along with obviously the rest of our defensive staff.¬† I kind of weaned myself away a year ago from it.¬† It was quietly I did it, and Spence started calling defenses in 2013.¬† I just felt the team needed‑‑ there were some things that needed my attention and I wasn't giving it the right amount of attention, if you will, and so I started weaning myself away from it then.
We have a great group of guys, all our staff, they get along very well.  But defensively Cody Deti was a coordinator at this level and was a GA for me for five years when I was at Purdue and Wyoming, and Spence has been here now six years with me as well as Jay Schoonover has been here at least four or five years now, I think, and Khenon Hall has been here since we've basically been here.  He left for two years to be a GA at New Mexico and came back.
So the guys understand the system, they understand there is a protocol which we install our system, there's a protocol how we game plan by day and all that and how we game plan, and I've kind of stuck to that, and they learned it, and now that's kind of what they do.
They have their own little tweaks to things, as they should, and they've done a great job.  The system is in place, and I felt that I could step away, and I'm still in that room almost exclusively, but I'm in the room a lot.  They lean on me for advice, and I'm there if they need it, and I'll chime in when I feel it's necessary, but I've enjoyed being a head coach, this is my sixth year, more than I have the five previous years.  I've been able to oversee the whole program a little bit better than I have in the past, and that's probably coming with being a new head coach.  I've had to learn how to do that, and there's some things you've just got to learn on the job, and that's kind of what's happened.

Q.  You mentioned the defense came together quicker than you even imagined.  Can you kind of break it down with some of the players and just what's really worked well?
BROCK SPACK:¬† Well, I think‑‑ our coaches, Spence and our coaches have used the term a pack of mutts, and that's really apropos for our defensive kids.¬† I think when we play together, we're very good.¬† If we don't play together, we're just average.¬† We're a pack of mutts, we're not a bunch of purebreds.¬† I used a different term at Purdue.¬† I had a team in '98 that was very good.¬† I called them the land of misfit toys.¬† We're just past the Christmas season, but the same type of deal, a bunch of guys that played really hard and they're really good when they played hard, and this group is a lot like that.¬† Just have kind of embraced that role as a unit and have played very well.
I will say the last game we played at New Hampshire our first two quarters we didn't play very well, didn't tackle very well, so that needs to improve, or else we're going to be in deep trouble in the championship game on Saturday.  Other than that, I think they played pretty well most of the season.

Q.  I know you guys didn't play this year, but the previous three years, three losses to them.  What kind of experience can your guys gain from playing those games against North Dakota State going into this one on Saturday?
BROCK SPACK:  Yeah, we played them five years of five years prior to it.  We won the first two times and then they got on a roll and they became really a special team in the last three years.  What we can take away is they've been very competitive games, and physically I think we've hung in there with them.  I thought the '12 game here we had a lead going into the fourth quarter and I thought they really established their physicality in the fourth quarter and took the game over.  More so than any year that I've been here, they were very, very good, and they're good every year, but that was probably the most disappointing loss to them because I thought we were a better team than that, and we lost a fourth quarter lead.
Other than that, we've played well, and just haven't‑‑ we've been able to make some mistakes, turn the ball over, not finishing drives offensively, some gaps in the kicking game, and then a misfit here or there or not playing a ball correctly in the secondary, give up a big play, and we've got to stay away from those things if we're going to have a chance to win.
And we're going to have to match their physical play because that's what they hang their hat on.  That's the Missouri Valley, and we're a little more equipped to do that I think than we have been in the past, but we'll see on Saturday.
You know, that's what we bring‑‑ with that, that experience, the physical play of North Dakota State, their conference and what they do, and just their execution.¬† They execute very, very well.¬† They do the little things very, very well, and they cause you issues that way.
You're going to have to beat them.  They're not going to beat themselves, and that's kind of what we take away from it.  They're very disciplined, very tough, very physical, very good execution.  That's the kind of team they are.

Q.  Earlier this year you played Northern Iowa, lost to Northern Iowa and then came back and beat them.  Is there a lesson you can take from the differences in those two games than you can go and apply in this one obviously because North Dakota State has only lost to UNI?
BROCK SPACK:¬† Well, I never want to compare scores, but it's a really good question, and I think it's very apropos.¬† I think what happened to us the first time in the game when we played Northern Iowa earlier, we turned the ball over, we gave up 21 points where our defense wasn't even on the field.¬† We had a kickoff returned for a touchdown.¬† We had a blocked punt for a touchdown.¬† We threw an interception for a touchdown.¬† That was kind of the game in a nutshell.¬† You can't turn the ball over, especially on the road, but when you're playing a great team, a team that has very good players, as well, where the margin of error is very slim and you turn the ball over, you put yourself in grave danger of losing, and we are uncharacteristic‑‑ we had two really bad plays in that game, catastrophic plays on special teams that we haven't had all year, and that was kind of the difference in the game.¬† They made those plays and we didn't.
You know, that's the difference.  And then the second time around we played much better.  We protected the ball.  We had good ball security.  We ran the ball well.  We ran the ball well in the first game but we got behind.  We didn't allow any big catastrophic plays in the kicking game.  We played well in the kicking game, and then played solid defense, and we played very well offensively, and, like I said, took care of the ball the second time around.
If there is something to learn from those two games, it's protecting the ball, no catastrophic plays in the kicking game, and playing good, solid defense.

Q.  I know some FBS coaches will refer to when a school plays an FCS school they call it something like a glorified bye I believe is the term that Brian Kelly used.  When you look at the strength of your conference and these two teams playing for the National Championship here, is this a conference that you think if given an opportunity could actually compete pretty well at the next level?
BROCK SPACK:¬† Absolutely, and that's a really‑‑ another good observation.¬† I think if you took our league and we all moved up to FBS or 1‑A, I guess, if you will, got 85 scholarships, I think we'd be very competitive, because I can tell you I spent 22 years of my life in FBS football and the majority of it in the Big Ten.¬† I would not want to schedule one of our teams if I was one of those guys.¬† It's a dangerous game because we have‑‑ there are good players and good coaches, and this is a tremendous league from top to bottom.¬† This is a football league that you have to‑‑ every weekend feels like a playoff game because it's that important no matter who you play.
Our league gets us ready for the playoff scenario because of the competitiveness of the conference.  I don't think there's any doubt that this conference given the funds could move up and be competitive, no doubt.

Q.  You talked about maybe being a year ahead of schedule.  At what point of the season did you feel that this could be a team that could make a run like this?
BROCK SPACK:¬† I thought probably after the South Dakota State game.¬† That's a very good program, and we played very well here at home, and they didn't have their usual game.¬† They turned the ball over a little bit in that game. ¬†But I thought we played very well in that game, and that was kind of a telling sign that maybe‑‑ I thought we were pretty athletic, playing a very physical team like they are, and being able to win the game the way we did, I thought maybe, hey, this team has a chance.
And then we went on the road and had two tough games at Western Illinois and at Indiana State.¬† Indiana State was a playoff team, and we had to‑‑ we went on the road and had to find a way to win when we maybe didn't play our very, very best.¬† We played well, I thought, all around in certain spots, but we were able to find a way to win and win tight games on the road and be able to pull it out in the fourth quarter.
I thought the team had a little different vibe about it and a different attitude.  They're very, very focused and very competitive.

Q.  Talk about Roberson.  Did you expect him to have as big an impact as quickly as he has, and why do you think the transition for him has been as good as it's been?
BROCK SPACK:¬† I was hoping he would.¬† I think Kurt Beathard and our offensive staff have done a great job of doing what he does well and trying to figure that out.¬† We didn't have him for spring practice, and didn't have him for much of the summer.¬† We had to kind of do that during training camp, and as we went through the season we just started throwing things out, anything that he didn't like or didn't feel comfortable doing, and adding things that we felt he was good at and was comfortable.¬† He had to learn our system, though, a little bit.¬† It's a little different than a no‑huddle system, and he's done a great job of that.
I've been impressed with‑‑ most impressed with him with his attitude.¬† When he came in here, he didn't have an arrogant attitude.¬† He understood he had to win the job, so he came in as a second‑team guy.¬† He competed.¬† I've been impressed with his work ethic and his approach to games and getting ready to play games and his preparation, the way he prepares.¬† I've been very impressed with his attitude.¬† He loves football and really does a great job of preparing.
And he's been a really good teammate.  I've just been very impressed with his whole approach.
From that standpoint, that's been very, very pleasing.¬† Obviously I was hopeful.¬† I knew he was very talented because we knew about him through recruiting the Indianapolis area a couple years back.¬† We knew he was very talented and we didn't have a chance to get him coming out of high school, but knew his high school coaches and were able to‑‑ when he expressed he wanted to leave, we tried to throw our name in the hat and he took a long, hard look at us and came here because I think he felt‑‑ he believed in what we were going to do and wanted the opportunity to win a National Championship, and lo and behold, here he is.¬† I think that's a credit to who he is.¬† He's a great kid and a hard worker and tough and great competitor, everything you want in a quarterback.

Q.  Talk about your offense matching up with NDSU's defense, and while you haven't played them this year, is this defense similar to the ones you've seen in previous years?
BROCK SPACK:  Yeah, very similar.  They've got a great player in Kyle Emanuel, very physical team, extremely well coached, they know their system very well.  They've been doing it for a long time.  The staff is a little different, but there are guys there that have been there, including the head football coach, has been there for a while and know what they hang their hat on.
You can tell they believe.  They're very comfortable within the system, and they trust it, and they believe their technique.  A term I use, they trust their training, and it's very, very evident.  They're a fun group to watch.  Being a defensive coach by trade, I enjoy watching them play because they are very disciplined and just do a great job of playing with technique and toughness.
How we match up, until you play them, we haven't played them this year so we don't know what the differences are from last year.¬† There are a couple differences there with personnel, but there are a couple of the same guys, but we're a little different than we were last year when they played us, as well.¬† I really couldn't‑‑ it's hard to answer that question.¬† I guess we'll find out on Saturday.¬† I'm curious to see how it all works out.¬† I think we're a little bit more explosive than we were a year ago, but I still think they're a tremendous defense, a great defense, and that has not changed, so we'll see.¬† We'll see how much we've improved.

Q.  Chris Klieman has been saying kind of throughout leading up to this game that he was cheering for Illinois State to make the National Championship game because they were a Valley school and he wanted to show or at least have Illinois State be represented in that sense.  Did you have that feeling, too, going through the playoffs as you continued to go along with your success?  Did you look and see how NDSU was doing and kind of hoping that this meeting would happen between you and NDSU?
BROCK SPACK:  I've got to be honest, I was hoping back in August that that would happen because we weren't going to play each other.  I knew NDSU would be a very good team, and Coach Klieman is a great coach, and I knew he would do a great job there.  I didn't know if we were going to be good enough yet to get to that spot, but it's proven that we've been fortunate enough to stay healthy and our team has developed over the season and gotten better, and here we are.
But absolutely, we've cheered for them, and I can tell you our players, we have a deep respect for North Dakota State, and I know my son was‑‑ my son plays for us and he stopped by the room before I forget which game, which playoff game, and NDSU was behind early in the game, it might have been close, and he was just cheering his butt off hoping that NDSU would win the game, and they obviously did.
When you want to‑‑ to be the best, you've got to play the best, and right now North Dakota State is the best.¬† Our conference is‑‑ what happened to us last year with a team or two that I felt should have got in or we all felt should have got in, I felt in '11 we should have got in and didn't, I think it validates what our conference has been saying the last four or five years, ever since I've been in the league, in that this is the best FCS league in the country, and to have us in separate brackets and now to meet in the finals, you're darned right we were cheering.
I'm happy to hear that he was cheering for us because I can tell you that the whole football team and the whole football program was cheering for North Dakota State because we wanted to play a Missouri Valley team, and we didn't play each other.  We tied for the championship, and this is the way to settle, I guess, but you're absolutely right, we were cheering for them on our end, as well.  It's exciting, there's no doubt about it.  I've had my eye on this game for a long time.

Q.  I'd like to follow up on I guess the last thing you said about playing North Dakota State.  Although you didn't play them this year, at what point did you start thinking about I may have to scout these guys, and when did you start giving some active thought to that?
BROCK SPACK:¬† I thought after our first Valley game, our opening game, we had a tough‑‑ South Dakota State game was our opening Valley game even though we played them here at home, and I started thinking, well, we have a chance to do that, but maybe we caught them at a bad moment, and then we pulled out two victories on the road where we didn't probably play particularly well but were able to find a way to win.
Roberson was starting to get better and better and better the second half of the season.¬† I thought this was going to‑‑ we have a chance now to make a run if we can get in the right‑‑ if we can finish it out strong and get in the right bracket.¬† We've had a tough road to get there.¬† We've had to go to Eastern Washington and had to go out to New Hampshire, the No.1 ranked team, and then obviously playing Northern Iowa here was tough.¬† Three power programs at our level that were three tough wins and two of them on the road.¬† I think we've earned our way there, but I felt pretty good about halfway through the season.

Q.  Secondly, I guess an individual question about one of your defensive guys.  Pat Meehan is statistically your defensive leader.  Can you talk about the impact he has on the field and also what kind of guy is he?
BROCK SPACK:¬† Pat is a great kid, a tremendous competitor, tough, smart.¬† He's our leader out there.¬† We have a lot of good leaders, but he's one of our leaders out there on the field, is just a physical‑‑ what you think of a south suburb of Chicago kid.¬† Pat's father passed away about a year ago, and Pat has really fought through that situation that was very difficult for a young man his age.¬† Pat's dad played at Pitt, and I know he passed on his toughness to Pat because there's no doubt that he has that.
In some way I know Mike is looking over us and over him, and he's had a very good year.  Pat has had to fight through some injuries, as well, and some nagging things, and he's been able to do that and have a great year.
Big fan of Pat Meehan; I can tell you that.

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