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December 30, 2006

Mike Cassity


COACH MIKE CASSITY: Our preparation started back home. We spent the first part of the preparation improving our fundamentals, techniques and getting back into football, and as time went on, just prior to coming down here, then we started focusing on Wake. Since we've been here, we've had energetic practices, and we don't play today; we've still got a few days of prep to go and looking forward to the game.

Q. Talk about your defense this year, just in general terms. The offense still gets an awful lot of attention. I think some people were surprised with all the losses off last year's team that you guys were able to do so well this year. Why do you think you were able to do it?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Well, first of all, since I've been here, I've always had to address the attention that our offense receives, which I always tell people it's a lot easier for me to dial defenses up when we're averaging 49 points a game than vice versa.
But with graduation last year of some pretty good players, there were a lot of concerns, mainly by outside sources.
We felt like the cupboard is never bare, and it was new guys' turn to step up and play like Amobi Okoye, Zach Anderson, Nate Harris, Will Gay and others. We've been pleased. We've been pleased with the progress. As a coach you always look to see if you're going to improve week to week, and I think we've done that.

Q. As a quick follow-up, is that something that helped, that people didn't expect a lot in terms of proving people wrong or giving the guys a certain mindset going in?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: You know, we never addressed that on the defensive side. But the one thing I did tell them is we're not going to live on last year's stats or laurels or whatever. The new football team was going to need to be determined by our first game, which was against Kentucky this past year. You know, each year a team makes a name for itself based on how they play.

Q. How about the loss of Gavin Smart? What's the situation there and what's that mean to the defense?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Well, obviously first of all I hate it more for Gavin than I do our defense. We've had injuries this year. At one time we had three starters out.
As cold-hearted sometimes as it sounds, I've told our guys in the past that when we have an injury, it's another opportunity for another young man to step in.
Obviously Gavin is a very, very solid performer for us, but again, we're not going to dwell on that. We have to move forward and we will have a good plan for that.

Q. I'm curious if you could share your views on Okoye in terms of his maturity level for a young man as young as he is to have accomplished everything he has so far, and also if you could address him physically. Does he have that much more room to grow because he's only 19 and entering the NFL?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: I'll tell you what, there's some high school guys that are 19 years old coming into our program this coming year. Amobi, I've been with Coach Petrino three years, and Amobi was here when I arrived, and you could really tell when you talked to the young man he was very mature for a high school guy but yet very immature for a college player. Slowly but surely, the maturity factor, both physically, mentally, et cetera, has really kicked in, and the difference between this year and one year ago when you just look at the muscle mass, and there's not the softness to him of some high school players, and he is really just starting to develop, and I just think, golly, what if we had had him for three more years.
I expect that he will do very, very well in his endeavors from here on, particularly if the NFL is a route that he chooses and they choose to go. I think he's the tip of the iceberg. He's just now starting to really mature at all physically.

Q. Three quick questions. One, kind of speak on the aggression that Nate Harris brings to your defense, and also, I know you weren't there when he first showed up, but kind of his maturity from when you started to now, and also giving him a chance at Louisville. Has that allowed you guys to -- has that opened any doors in recruiting in south Florida?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: You're talking about Nate Harris. I recruited Nate Harris out of Dodge City, Kansas. I wasn't here three years ago when Amobi Okoye was here. Nate Harris, I recruited him. I knew he was a very highly talented linebacker out of high school, had followed Coach Siegel who was at Dodge City and recruited him there, gave him the opportunity to come to Dodge City, and we were very, very fortunate. He came on a visit, visited our players. We have a bunch of Florida guys on our team, and he just really fit in with our players and the coaching staff.
As we went down and visited him at home, met his family, what a super young man. You talk about an ambassador for the program, Nate Harris brings that to the table, has a smile on his face, he walks in the room. He's going to pick everyone else up, and then you put him on the field, and he's just gotten better and better. As a matter of fact, when I first arrived, there were expectations he was going to come in and replace a guy named Robert McCune who plays in the NFL, and he didn't attain that initially. He didn't even start the first game.
He came and saw me, not disgruntled at all but saying, Coach, what do I need to do to be better, and the head coach even asked me, he said, we had these high expectations, and he just got better and better and better and yes, sir, no, sir, and did it to the best of his ability, and that's what you ask for as a coach. He has really become one of the mainstays of our defense. He possesses speed, strength, and he'll have to play well this come game for us to win.

Q. Who was that first game against?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Oh, it was against Kentucky, but he didn't even start that game, and I'm saying for us to do well in the Orange Bowl, he'll have to play well for us.

Q. Would you comment on Rod Council and how him starting, how that maybe changes things, if at all, and also on Wake Forest's offense, what they do and what you have to do to stop them?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Sure. As I've had a lot of players, players that do play in the NFL, Rod Council possesses all those skills, speed, quickness, ability to time a jump, aggressiveness, and he's going to be a great player. He's got to be a great player this coming game.
But Rod Council possesses all the qualities you look for in a quality cornerback. It's like I tell our cornerbacks, they're going to make SportsCenter one way or the other when we isolate them out there so much on the island, and I think Rod Council will do fine for us.
As far as Wake Forest goes, first of all, having coached in the ACC and knowing that they won the ACC and watching the video on them, they're a very, very good football team. It'll be a tremendous challenge. They have great speed at the wide outs, two guys that were on the four by one ACC Championship relay team. They've got a quarterback that has just gotten better each and every game. They took the receiver, moved him to tailback. I think that's really helped them.
Number one thing we'll have to do is be able to get aligned. They're going to be on the line, no huddle, look from the press box, see our alignments and then possibly call and change the plays. They do a lot of misdirection, a lot of the fly sweep with their receivers, the reverses, and things to really neutralize your aggressiveness as a defensive play caller.
But it'll start with us getting aligned.
Number two, it's going to start with us being great tacklers because they do have very, very good skilled athletes, and then our defensive front has got to control the line of scrimmage, and they have a very, very good offensive line.

Q. Can you point to any players that maybe came through for you this year that you didn't expect to that have helped your defense? And also, did you change the defense in any way, maybe some of the players have talked about being a little more aggressive and so on and so forth.
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Well, Malik Jackson is a guy that really surfaced. He started coming on this spring. Malik really surfaced as our Sam linebacker. Abe Brown had played the position the past two years, but with the departure of Brandon Johnson, we moved Abe to Will linebacker. So I'll start with Malik Jackson.
I think Amobi Okoye, everybody said how are you ever going to replace Montavious Stanley and Elvis Dumervil and everyone wanted to talk about that, but you look at Amobi Okoye and you look at Zach Anderson, those two have really, really stepped to the front.
Will Gay is another guy I think that's played very solid for us. And the other guy in the other room that emerged was Brandon Sharp. Brandon Sharp has taken some lumps and bruises last season, has really come on this year along with John Russell. As we look at our highlight video, you keep seeing John Russell.
So we've got a lot of guys. Any time you have 17 individuals with sacks, you are coming at offenses from a lot of different directions.
And as far as changing the defense, we really haven't. I think last year, whether it was a four-man rush or a five-man rush, Elvis Dumervil was right there making a sack or forcing a guy to flush out and somebody else getting the sack, and I think we've spread the wealth this year if you want to call it that.
But I'll just go back to the Miami game since we're down here as an example. We started out in some base zone coverage, and their quarterback just threw a couple of darts right to their guys, and we said the heck with this, and we ended up pressuring 60 out of 67 snaps.

Q. With different people?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Different people. If it's not broke, don't fix it, and we've sort of continued to work along those lines.
And when we say pressure, we're not a man coverage blitz sell-the-farm type team. We run a lot of just bring a fifth guy, avoid a zone, we run a lot of what people call fire zones, and we feel like we have adequate speed on our defense, and we try to take advantage of it.

Q. Would you talk about Coach Petrino, why you think he's been able to be so successful in a relatively short period of time, especially at Louisville? He's just gone meteoric and might win 12 games this year with you guys.
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Well, there's no question in my mind. I'm glad you asked that. I've been at 12 different universities and coached under a lot of great head coaches.
Coach Petrino, first of all, as you look at our football team and what we stand for, there's two things I always talk about, is discipline and toughness. I think that starts with the head coach. A lot of people that don't know Coach Petrino think he's very mild mannered, and he is. He's a soft-spoken family man, but when we walk on the football field, and our players can attest to this, he is a hard-nosed disciplinarian, and we're going to do it this way.
We set standards for our guys, we don't compromise our standards, and it's been expressed to our players. Their job is to raise their level of play to our expectations, not vice versa. We've held the rope to doing that the whole time I've been here, and I think over the long haul that pays off.

Q. Is it part of the development of this program that -- when we talk about the biggest recruits that you all have gotten Brian Brohm, Mario Urrutia, Michael Bush, guys like that. Now are you starting to get in with defensive players who can come in right away and play like Peanut Whitehead and guys like that?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Well, you look at Peanut Whitehead, you look at Latarrius Thomas, there's guys out there that we're targeting the best possible recruits that we can recruit, and we're starting to land some of those guys, and I think when you start looking at success as a team, as an offense, as a defense, then guys want to be a part of that.
When I think we finished second or third in the nation last year in sacks, and we're like third right now in the nation, and those are things that we use as recruiting tools, hey, be a part of this, great program, great team, great offense, great defense.
I think Coach Petrino has said it in the past. He said our goal offensively is to be the number one offense every year in the nation, and then he asked me one day, that needs to be our goal defensively, also. We're not there yet, but I think slowly we're climbing the steps.

Q. Do you take it as a challenge, the fact that their defense has plus 14 takeaways and you guys going into this game would like to outshine their defense?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Here again, there's some things we talk about and we don't talk about, and us comparing their defense to their defense, we've never addressed that once. We do address that the turnover issue for us to be successful in every game, we've got to create turnovers. Turnovers don't just happen. Offenses are too good.
It's our job, and we work -- believe it or not, we have drills each and every day and we call it a turnover circuit where all four groups will work on stripping a ball, tipping a ball, getting the tipped ball, creating turnovers. Hopefully that pays off.

Q. Is it hard to -- initially when you guys found out you were playing Wake Forest, was it hard to kind of get the guys to buy into just how dangerous they are because they didn't know a lot about Wake Forest when you guys received the bid?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: First of all, absolutely not. When you take one conference champion playing another conference champion and you put the video on and you watch them beat a Florida State team 30 to zero, that gets their attention real quick. And then the more we had studied them, the more we see the quality of their skill guys and their offensive line. It'll be a great challenge.

Q. Are the defensive guys comfortable playing in the, quote-unquote, shadow of the offensive guy? Do you challenge them and say, hey, look, let's steal some of the headlines; the offense is so dynamic. Defense is pretty good but people don't know that.
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Well, I think that starts with the head coach, and the head coach has been outstanding about talking about three phases of our football team, the offense, the defense and special teams. We've had games where possibly our special teams didn't play as well as our offense and defense did, had games where the offense struggled a little bit and the defense came on. So he has used those examples to really tie this in as a team effort. We never talk about the offense or the defense. As long as I've been here, it's all been about the team.
You know, I know that the defensive guys with Mario Urrutia catching those balls, we're his biggest fans, and vice versa.

Q. Everybody thinks of Coach Petrino as an offensive guy, innovator, the offense is his. How involved is he with the defense in terms of determining what coverages you all play and philosophies, and once the game is underway is he hands-on?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Well, he is very, very brilliant offensively, and I think just the sheer fact that we have to go against him every day in practice and all spring long and they give us multiple formations, and it's great for our defense. He has come in our room before and had suggestions, possibly as the head coach but possibly as the offensive coordinator saying, hey, look, this gives us problems when people do this. When he says something like that, we find a way to work that into our game plan, and it has really, really helped us.
I'm sure like every head coach there have been moments when he's come in and addressed this as not being done right, and that's part of being the head coach, and I think Coach Petrino does a great job of that.
I think he has a lot of confidence in our defensive staff, Kevin Wolthausen, myself, Joe Whitt, Reggie, Tom McMahon. That's a tribute to our defensive staff. But no, there have been times where Coach will come in and say I don't like what I'm seeing here, and it's our job, just like our players', to raise our level as coaches to his expectations.
But as far as him sitting there on every play saying we need to do this, we need to do that, he doesn't do that, no.

Q. How did the co-defensive coordinator situation come about? How does it work? Why did you do it?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: I think it's been a great deal. What it's allowed us to do is Kevin can really focus on the 1st down call, the run tendencies, and it allows me to really spend time studying the 3rd down, 2nd and long, down and distances to get ourselves off the field. It's been very beneficial. I think that's been reflective in the 3rd down tendencies of being able to get ourselves off the field this season.
As far as it coming about, I think Kevin is a very, very quality coach. I've been a coordinator at nine of the 12 schools, and I think that people that let their egos get involved and things like that, shoot, it's about us as a defensive unit stopping an offense. It's not about Mike Cassity or Kevin Wolthausen or any one coach. I think it's been a tremendous thing this year.

Q. How do you divide up the responsibilities during practice and during the week and all that?
COACH MIKE CASSITY: It's pretty much we sit in there as a staff and devise a game plan, and then it's no more than putting the calls down, matching the personnel by down and distances, so it's a group effort.
And then on game day, like I said, initially we'll start out if there's a 1st and 10 call that he feels is very, very good, then that's what we're calling. At any time if one of us feels strong one way or the other, then we address that and make a quick decision and go with it. I think it's been very, very good.

Q. Are you in the box and he's --
COACH MIKE CASSITY: Yeah, I'm in the box. I can just see so much better from up there. I think 28, 29 of my 30 years I've been in the box. It's a Catch 22. I'm a very, very motivational, fire-'em-up type of guy, but I can do a lot better being in the box.

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