On the addition of Jerry Kill to the staff…
I’ve known Coach Kill for a long time. I’ve coached against him when he was the head coach at Southern Illinois, and I was the offensive coordinator at Illinois State. Then, when I left there, I took a job at TCU for Gary Patterson, and Gary and Jerry just happened to be best friends. So, we kind of continued our relationship through our time there. Coach Kill would come down to TCU sometimes to visit and that sort of stuff.
We’ve just kept in touch. When he was out of coaching, I thought it would be a good idea to ask him if he had any interest in coming down during fall camp and just watching and observing. He just stayed at our house. I’ve done this in spring ball before with other coaches, I always think it’s good to get another set of eyes on everything; what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, to evaluate our practice schedule and players. He agreed graciously to come spend a couple of days, and we got to spend even more time together and hit it off really well.
I didn’t think there was any way that this would actually happen. We had some preliminary conversations about that, and he expressed some interest in possibly doing it. He was the athletic director at Southern Illinois where he took that program from nothing to national prominence. He’s very well respected. He has a lot of friends and family in Southern Illinois. I finally just said that I’m going to go to Whit and see if we can create a spot here for Coach Kill and see if it’s something that he’d really be interested in.
We went back and forth about what it would look like and what we’d like to do. Eventually, I talked to his wife Rebecca a little bit and what the plan was. He graciously agreed to come, and I think it’s an unbelievable resource for all of our coaches and our staff to have someone with his credentials, somebody that’s coached on both sides of the football, somebody that’s been a nationally recognized head coach. I’m not comparing my career to Coach Kill’s, but I’m just saying that we have similar ideas of what it should look like. Having another set of eyes there and input there for me and our coaches is going to prove to be a very valuable asset.
On Coach Kill’s honesty…
When I was at Memphis, I hired a guy named Darrell Dickey, who had been the head coach at North Texas for many years. Him and I had many conversations leading up to that about, ‘Listen, I’m going to ask for your input and your opinion on things and I need you to feel okay about saying exactly what you think and letting me disseminate the information and figure out which way to go. If I go a different direction, you can’t get your feelings hurt. I can’t get my feelings hurt if you say something that I don’t like.’
I had a similar conversation with Coach Kill. I don’t need him to come in here and just slap everyone on the back and give the old thumbs up. I need us to take a good look at a lot of things and for him to understand that I value his input, and then we’ll make decisions and move forward. I know he’s not afraid to speak his mind, but I think it’s going to work out really well. He’s got a little bit of that small-town Kansas, like Gary Patterson, he’s straight-forward. Let’s try and do the best job that we can with what we’ve got and shoot straight.
On Coach Kill’s role…
He’ll start here shortly as soon as he gets here. Obviously, he’s still wrapping up some loose ends back there. This is not a normal move. We talked about possibly doing this later, but it was something that he was really drawn to. I was really excited that he ultimately decided to do it now. We’ll see when he finally gets here.
He should be here this week; I’m looking forward to that. You start with him as a great resource and knowledge base. He’ll be touching everything. This is certainly not an ‘ops’ situation with travel and that sort of thing, but there won’t be many pieces of our program that he won’t touch.
On the team’s first half struggles and second half rally…
It’s awesome that we pulled ourselves out of the situation. That’s the positive. The key is that we shouldn’t find ourselves in those situations. I am still really proud of the way they responded, the vibe in the locker room, and the way we came out and started the second half. We just didn’t play very well. Furman deserves some credit for that, and we deserve our share of blame for that.
The thing that you get into at halftime is that you can’t do anything about what’s already happened. What you can do something about is the future. Nobody liked the situation that we were in, but we deserved to be in that situation based on how we’ve played. It was our turn to try and rectify the situation, and that’s what we went about doing.
On whether he ever gets a sense that the team isn’t ready…
I think each team is different. Figuring that out is a process throughout the season. I felt like the guys were still anxious to play, and it wasn’t a flat warm-up. It wasn’t a deal where guys were kind of walking around, which you can get when it’s a little bit flat. It also wasn’t a deal where guys were out of their gourd either. I’ve seen that too, when guys are doing stuff that you’ve never seen them do in warm-ups. You’re thinking, ‘Who are you? What’s going on?’ I felt okay about that, we just had a hard time finding any rhythm.
There are a few guys on our team that are playing for the first time in more prominent roles, or playing for the first time, period, that are having a hard time getting settled into playing the game. They’re either pressing too much, or having a hard time with some of the basic fundamentals, or not trusting their fundamentals. We’ve always talked about, you don’t rise to the level of the competition, you fall to the level of your training. We’ve still got some players that are working on trusting that training. We’ve seen that from some guys that had really poor technique, which was really unlike them. We hadn’t seen those things before.
That’s what we’ve got to get to. We have to continue to push them through that and continue to do a great job teaching. We have to own that part of it and recognize it, so we can move forward and eliminate those things.
On facing criticism as a coach or a player…
Everybody talks about the Mike Gundy rant. I’m forty and I’m a man, but all of the coaches knew what he was saying. He was saying, ‘We’re supposed to be able to handle this. We’re adults who are married and have kids and we’ve been through this stuff. We can keep it in perspective, we should be able to. If not, we’ve got real issues.’ For us, nobody likes it, and nobody craves it, but it’s part of the deal. We should keep perspective on what we’re doing.
What you don’t want to do is have uninformed opinions influence informed opinions. You have to make sure you keep things in perspective and continue to make decisions and work in a manner that benefits the whole. It’s much harder to do when you’re eighteen years old. I told our kids, ‘You guys don’t understand. You guys were raised with this phone. It’s so much a bigger part of your life than it ever was mine or ever will be for me.’
I told them a story. I remember being a college graduate sitting with a group of friends and they all pulled their phones out. They showed me a text message and I said, ‘Nobody will ever use that! Why wouldn’t you just pick up the phone and call somebody?’ How asinine was that comment? For me, it’s never been that big a part of my life and it never will be. Some of our kids had them in elementary school.
There’s the same amount of opinions in the world, there’s just now a platform for those things. Trying to help our kids keep those things in perspective is very difficult. It’s the same way on the good end, too, as it is on the negative end. When you’re not doing well, it’s the same inflated opinions as when things are going well. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. For us, if we can’t handle it, then we need to go do something else. We should be old enough and mature enough to handle all of that stuff, but for the young people, I get a little defensive of our kids when I hear about those things. I know how much those things actually mean to those kids, when I know that it doesn’t mean very much in the big picture.
On Keshawn King…
I wasn’t privy to the pep talk or direction that Keshawn was giving to the offensive line, but I do know this, everybody really likes Keshawn. He’s got something special about him from a personality standpoint, he’s always got a huge smile on his face. He’s always very happy. It was great to see him have some success.
When you think about the start of the second half, the defense gives up a first down, then gets a stop. They punt the ball down there somewhere back in our own end. Keshawn breaks three or four tackles on the first play for a ten to twelve-yard run, then on the second play busts a long run, makes a guy miss, and runs out of gas. He told me that when you break that many tackles, you get really tired, really quickly.
It was really fun because we know he’s coming along; he’s continuing to get better and improve. It was fun to see him go give us a spark. He is different, he’s at a different speed, elusiveness, tough running that was on display there.
On Tre Turner…
When we make something important, it becomes important to Tre. So, taking care of the ball is a big deal and is very important to Tre. He views himself as, and he is, a very good practice player. He’s becoming a very good leader, not only is he a talented player, but he has great leadership skills that are blossoming. He goes and fumbles on a relatively routine play that should have been an eight- or nine-yard gain and we should have gone up and played the next play. It was on the heels of another Keshawn run for about fifteen yards. We were finally going to get a little something going here and quit messing around. When he fumbles, he takes that to heart.
He comes over to the sideline and he’s torn up about it. It’s visibly upsetting to him. Immediately as a coach, I’m thinking, ‘We need Tre back and going.’ I just tried to talk to him about it. ‘We know as coaches that it’s important to you, you’ve proven that time and time again. When we get upset is when we don’t feel like you think it’s important. Tre, you don’t have to prove that to us, but this team and your teammates need you to go back out there and face the music and go play.’
I tried to lighten the mood a little bit once I got him back up and looking at me, I just said, ‘I’ve thrown a lot more interceptions in my career than you have fumbled, so get up and go play.’ He kind of gave me a look like he couldn’t believe I said that, and then went out and played his tail off. I’m just happy for him that he was able to respond. I still want us to hold onto the football, but you can’t go into a shell when something bad happens.
On the defensive effort…
We had to dominate the line of scrimmage in that game because of their skill. They had really good skill players. Their quarterback is a very good player. We thought that was important and I do feel better that we are able to play, if we get TyJuan Garbutt back, we’re going to be able to play more people on the defensive line. I don’t know that there is an all-star out there, but there are eight guys that are working really hard and trying to improve. That’s giving us a chance moving forward. I was pleased with that.
We do have to handle the sudden change part of it better. We’re not so talented in any part of the game that we can ease up at all. We have to be at peak performance whenever you’re out there. Sometimes, you have to be at peak performance when you didn’t expect it. We have to be able to get back to that level when those sorts of things happen.
On Chamarri Conner…
Chamarri Conner continues to improve. I think all the way back to his high school film when he was just a physical presence on the field all of the time. That can translate into college, but you have to become more comfortable with what you’re doing and play anticipatory football. He’s getting to that level now of being a little more of a physical presence. I thought he was getting more and more comfortable.
I thought it was really cool, I showed the whole team this on Sunday, versus ODU, he had a couple of blitz opportunities where he didn’t make the sack. One of them, he didn’t defeat the block very well. He was picked up by a back and didn’t combat the block. Coach Hamilton taught off of that. Seven days later, he was in the same situation and physically dominated the back and got to the quarterback. The message to the team was, this is how to accept coaching.
Chamarri didn’t go in the tank because J-Ham corrected him and tried to teach him how to do something better. He didn’t take it as a critical assault; he took it as; this coach really wants me to improve. He put it into action and now we have visual evidence of him doing what we’re asking him to do and having success. I thought that was a cool teaching moment. Chamarri was all over the place, a really good tackler. He’s going to have to wrap up a little bit more. He’s a little more of a thud tackler right now, and he has to do a better job. He had some open field tackles, was a really physical presence, and really, really played well.
On the fumble Conner and Dax Hollifield forced in the second half…
The defense got a stop and the offense went down and scored. Then, the defense came out and forced a fumble and the offense went down and scored. Just like that. Really big momentum swing. That started to create the turnovers that we’re looking for. It was a really good hustle play by Dax chasing the ball and delivering the hit that ultimately jarred the ball free and set everything off.
On the onside kick…
You’re always uncomfortable when the hands team is on the field. We work it, and our kids, for the most part, executed it pretty well. To say the kick was unique would be an understatement. If we knew that the ball was going to be kicked in that manner, we could have done a better job of preparing our kids for that type of kick. I had never seen it before in many years of coaching, and our special team’s coordinator had never seen it before. It was on its side and my initial thought was that there was no way it was going ten yards. I hope it doesn’t hit one of our guys.
Then, all of the sudden, it was like it picked up speed. Then, it got to ten yards and caught Hezekiah [Grimsley] by surprise and he tried to get on the ball. They recovered it and were called for blocking before it went ten yards. That’s being reviewed, they’re going to talk about whether it was the right call or not. I’m not sure, but it was an interesting turn of events to say the least.
The second time, Hezzy said, ‘To heck with this, I’m not giving this any chance and I’m jumping on this right now.’ He was more aggressive to the ball. As a coach, I was thinking about what I could have done to help us out there and I knew we had never drilled that type of kick. Hezzy was kind of in no man’s land there, but it was good to see him be aggressive towards the ball on the second one.
On the bye week…
Sometimes when you have those late bye weeks, you’re just trying to get guys back so you can go. You may practice with all of the redshirts and give the older guys off. We’ll have a couple of guys that we’ll protect early in the week who have gotten a lot of reps. We’re going to get after it Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Tuesday and Wednesday will be more focused on ourselves and some things we need to work on with both sides of the ball and special teams.
We’ll also evaluate some guys and try to bring them along, particularly in the kicking game, to see if we can get some help. We know we’re going to need them as the season goes along. Thursday, in practice, we’ll turn our attention towards Duke. We’ll still do some good versus good, but we’ll turn our attention towards Duke. We won’t practice on Friday, the kids will lift and run. Then, Saturday, they’ll have off. Sunday morning, we’ll be back at it trying to get ready for Sunday’s game. The coaches will be on the road recruiting. Some will leave on Thursday and everybody will be on the road on Friday.
On his early impressions of Duke…
They’re doing some unique stuff. They’re running some triple option stuff. They’ve been very productive. I really thought last year was going to be the year for Duke. Just watching them over my couple years here, I thought it was their year. They had a lot of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, particularly. As of now, this looks like the best Duke team we’ve seen since we’ve been here. I’m talking about their personnel, they’re big and athletic and always well-coached. It’s going to be a heck of a test for us.
On getting guys healthier during the bye…
I hope that we can get a couple of guys back healthy. TyJuan is one that we haven’t had since really early in the first game. We’ve had a couple of offensive linemen that we’d like to get back healthy in Zachariah [Hoyt] and T.J. [Jackson]. It was good to get Quillen back working, but Jeremy Webb is a guy that we need to continue to bring along, particularly in the kicking game.
Damon [Hazelton] is another guy that hasn’t even stepped on the field yet. We’ve got plenty of work to do. Then, there are plenty of young guys that we’re going to need with that four-game buffer. There are a handful of guys that we’re hoping to continue to save and push them back through the two bye weeks that we have so we can use them when we’re a little bit thinner at the end of the year.
On Kaleb Smith’s speed on King’s long run…
He was trying our new high-screen block that we’ve implemented because of the blindside block rule. We actually teach and have a drill where you try to cut the guy off and throw your hands up in the air. We call it high-screen, I don’t know if that’s a basketball term or not, but I know that you’re not allowed to smack those guys anymore. He has to get in front of the guy before he tries it, but what a great hustle play. He was really moving to go get caught up there and help Keshawn out.
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— Commonwealth Cup (@CommonwlthCup) September 16, 2019