You went outside today?
“We went outside because I wanted to cut practice by 20 minutes. And what happens is when we’re inside, we alternate the move field periods the last third of practice. So the offense will have the move the field period versus the show team; then the defense has it; then the offense has it; and the defense has it which makes the practice go an extra 20 minutes longer. So I told them I wanted to try and cut it back. We did the same amount of plays without alternating it when we’re sharing one field in there.”
You called Tuesday’s practice very physical. The players seemed loose today.
“For a team with the record that we have, I’m encouraged by how our plan went this week. But it still really counts what happens on Saturday. I think the good thing is, I told them exactly what we were going to do each day. I told them, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do Tuesday. Here’s what we’re going to do Wednesday. Here’s what we’re going to do Thursday.’ And the trade off was, if we were going to go full speed - take ‘em to the ground - two-thirds of the practice on Tuesday, I didn’t want to see us playing powder-puff football. I wanted to see us playing at a very high tempo because, if not, you’re kind of counterproductive and you don’t get the things done. I wanted to make sure we went into this game knowing what to do, fresh at what we’re doing, so that we can get off to a better start than we did last week.”
You talk about consistency, have you ever changed your schedule as much as you have this year. Are you comfortable doing this?
“As soon as we win one, you can bet that the next week it will be the exact same schedule (laughing). We beat UCLA this week; you can already book what the schedule will be for next week because it will be identical.”
Tackling seems to be a big issue. Do you see this on tape?
“Unless you practice it, and that’s why Tuesday was so important, tackling is something where you can go and form them up all you want. But what if the guy breaks that formed-up tackle and you don’t know because you didn’t take him to the ground. That was the whole point of Tuesday. I don’t think you can really complain about the tackling and not do anything about it. The only way I know to fix it, besides stressing fundamentals and techniques, is to actually go out there and do it.”
Do the guys sometimes take tackling for granted?
“Only when it becomes several missed tackles; that’s when it really comes to the limelight. Usually, it’s not that big of a problem, but it has become a problem. Just like last week, you’d have to say our running game was a problem as well. I thought they got the best of us at the line of scrimmage in the run game. I thought we handled the pass protection fine, but I don’t think we handled the line of scrimmage very well. The opposite view, just like tackling, if you’re not moving the line of scrimmage that way, usually you’re not going to be very productive in the run game.”
Do you feel like this year has been like plugging one hole and then another hole pops up?
“I felt like that earlier in the season sometimes. That there were so many different areas to try and fix, you have to pick out the ones with the biggest concerns. But I think those problems are becoming fewer. So it’s becoming a little easier to identify the things you have to work on.”
It seems like you don’t know which team is going to show up. Are you a little anxious about the first series of the game?
“On the contrary, I’m going to be very disappointed if they don’t come out ready to go. I don’t think like I’m expecting like what is going to happen. I’m expecting them to come out well. I’m expecting us to come out of the gate with a fast start.”
It’s a long plane ride out there tomorrow. What do you want your guys to be thinking about?
“Sleep. That’s what I want them to do; I want them to sleep. I want to feed them right at the beginning and sleep for the whole ride out there. That’s what I want them to do. You really can’t appreciate their schedule in a week. You really can’t appreciate how tough this schedule is. Most of these guys go, before any additional studying, most of these guys go from about 6:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night every day. You think about that. They get going about 6:00 in the morning; finish football at 7:00 (pm); take a shower; go to the dining hall; and the ones that have study hall have it from 8:30 to 10:30. So they’ve been going from 6:00 in the morning until 10:30 at night; then you go back to your dorm room and do additional studying. I think the one area I would like to see them spend some time is getting some extra rest. They can worry about the game when we get there because when we land it will only be 3:15 Pacific time. So they’ll have plenty of time between then and 5:00 on Saturday Pacific time to concentrate on football.”
What was your reflection on last year’s UCLA game, especially with the way it ended?
“We were very fortunate to win the game. It was a back-and-forth game and anybody could have won. When they stopped us with around 2:30 to go on the 800th quarterback sneak I ran in the game (that we had converted on all the other ones but that one right there) when they stopped us there, if it wasn’t for very good time management by the team, I think we won that game by plays that were made but a lot of it had to do with time management. We did a very good job with time management down at the end, including having to burn a timeout in the transition from them getting the ball because they had that rule last year where the clock would start and they would run down 25 seconds. We got Brady the ball with over a minute in the game. Even though there were no timeouts left, because the clock stops when you go out of bounds or get a first down, we were able to make three big plays and Jeff got it in the end zone. It was a big uplifting win for us and very depressing for them. But just like it was uplifting for us, it was also a teaching tool for them because they remember where they were. With a minute to go in the game, with us having the ball on our own 20 yard line and no timeouts, they looked like they had a legitimate shot at being the victors of the game.”
Toward the end of that game, there was a shot of you and Brady looking sort of exasperated. Was the BCS bid sort of flashing through your mind?
“I wasn’t really thinking about the BCS at that time. But anytime you win the game in the last 30 seconds, especially on a play where the quarterback steps up a little bit and Jeff runs the end cut and keeps going, makes a couple guys miss, and gets it in the end zone, anytime you win a game like that, it’s exhilarating.”
What’s the status of Dan Wenger and David Grimes?
“They’re both going to the game. Wenger looks like he can play more reps than Grimes. I’m not sure if Grimes will be ready to go. It will go right to Saturday. He’s looked better every day, but he hasn’t gotten meaningful reps in practice all week long. He’s come out late every day because he’s been in there getting treatment.”
What is the status of Justin Brown?
“Justin’s a go. He’s a go.”
Has Brandon Walker been pretty consistent kicking the rest of this week?
“He had a pretty good week. As a matter of fact, I think he missed only one more kick the rest of that week. On that kick, not to make excuses, he stepped in a hole with his plant foot when he did it and he started to slip a little bit. He had a pretty good week kicking field goals.”
I understand Jimmy still talks to his former coaches and you’re in his ear and so is Coach Powlus. Is it good to have so many people talking to the quarterback?
“It depends upon what you are talking about. Like in my case, I’m working on the development of a quarterback’s mind. That is my greatest forte, developing the quarterback’s mind. That’s why, when it comes to mechanics, I’ll stand over and watch and correct something that I think is major. But for mechanics, I let Ron spend a lot of time there. Steve and Jimmy have had a relationship for a long, long time and I’m not offended when he talks to somebody he has been working with a long, long time. Anything that makes him better is fine with me.”
Do you ever have to worry about information overload?
“He is a gym rat. He’s one of those guys that wants more. And it’s not just the three of us, he has two big brothers that he uses as confidantes too and they give him a whole bunch of advice too. He’s gaining a lot of information from a lot of people, but I think he’s pretty level-headed for a freshman.”
Notre Dame is all about history. Do you talk to the players about making history or ignoring history?
“Well, the last time we went to the Rose Bowl was 1925 and we didn’t play UCLA; we played Stanford. So I don’t know how much relevance any of that stuff has going into this game. We’re just worrying about playing UCLA, and we’re not worrying about the last five games. We’re not worrying about last year. We’re worrying about UCLA. And because we seldom played them, and we’ve never played them there, there isn’t really very much history. For these guys, the only thing they remember is last year when they played them. That’s what they remember.”
Off camera you said you tried to stay away from making the national news. Are you doing anything differently this year to stay away from distractions from the outside?
“I have a no-media, no-screens that’s my policy (laughing). No computer, no TV, no screens. It’s great; it’s the best. Try doing it. It’s pretty tough to do now. Try putting yourself on a month-long screen ban (laughing). It’s pretty tough, but that’s what I do and it’s the easiest thing for me. When you’re not watching TV or looking at the computer, what is there?”
Is that just for you or does that go for all the coaches?
“I’m not worried about what they’re doing. You asked me what I do, and that’s what I do. It’s pretty good; try it some time.”
Notre Dame is honoring Fr. Hesburgh next Tuesday. Aside from what you mentioned in your book, do you stay in regular touch with him?
“After that incident, I tried to stay as far away from Fr. Hesburgh as I could.”
He doesn’t remember that incident.
“That’s a good thing (laughing). When I first got the job, I asked for an appointment to go up to his office; and I sat there and was almost in awe as he rattled off Notre Dame history sharp as a tack. He can sit there and talk and you don’t say anything. You just listen because he can tell you the whole history of things that you didn’t even know you didn’t know. That’s probably one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had since I’ve been here.”