Coach Coker's Tuesday Comments

Oct. 9, 2002

Coach Larry Coker Comments – Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2002

General Comments

“Good morning, want to welcome our viewers from cyberspace. We appreciate the opportunity of going live on the internet. It’s great to be here obviously and it’s great to be in the week for the Florida State game. Just briefly wanted to compliment our players on the first half of the game last week against Connecticut and also really recognize Brett Romberg for the great job they did in the opportunities they had against UConn.

“Obviously, the challenge intensifies and steps up a level this weekend with Florida State Seminoles, one of the great rivalries in college football. I made the statement before that this game two years ago, the first that we won since I’ve been here in the series, was one of the hardest fought games I’ve been around. Great effort by Florida State and a great effort by our team, and obviously we ended up winning the football game. Both teams played extremely hard. The Seminoles have a lot of outstanding players like us, we recruited a lot of those players, and they have great talent. They have certainly an outstanding quarterback in Chris Rix, their running backs have just been outstanding, and I tell you, for sure Greg Jones and Nick Maddox complement each other pretty well. Greg Jones is a very physical specimen and is running the ball extremely well. They have all of their offensive lineman back. They have wide receivers coming back, I think 17 starters of their football team are returning. And plus that’s not counting Anquan Boldin, who did not play last year. Along with Morgan, So I think again they have a good array of talent coming back. They have lost one football game in overtime and the rain was more than rain, that was a monsoon. So, again this is a huge week for us obviously, and a huge week for Florida State.

“Defensively, again, outstanding talent with Kendyll Pope, and also Michael Boulware, outstanding linebackers – All-American candidates. Their four defensive front people are all coming back and I know they have certainly talented players in the secondary, that we also tried to recruit. We had some nice battles there in recruiting, and we get some and certainly they get some. I’ll open it up to you and your questions.”

When we talked to the players yesterday, they said that this was just another game. Is that at your direction, and if so, what did you tell them?

“Well, we try to approach it that way each week and again I think we have played better that way if we prepare the same each week. And just another game, it is just another game, but obviously it is Florida State, and you can’t put that in the background and hide that, it is a very important game for us. But we’re not going to prepare differently for Florida State than we did for Connecticut.”

Could you talk about Vince Wilfork, 19 tackles this year, and some of them for loss of yardage.

“Yes. Vince, he is very talented. Vince has excellent size as you probably know. Vince is extremely strong, he’s got great feet. Vince has grown up doing athletic things, he can run, catch, all those things and really grew up that way. So he didn’t grow up like a big lineman, and I think the first day he walked on campus he set the school record for the shot put, threw the shot put, like, 58 feet. Just walked out and, ‘OK, we’ve got another school record’. And he’s extremely talented. I think, potentially, a great defensive lineman here.”

Was Bill Parcells watching Vince in the Rose Bowl?

“Well, more than that, he watched Vince the entire year. And he said he would start his team from the Miami team that would be one he would like to select, as a starting focal point from picking from our team.”

A lot of quirky things have happened in this series, some of the games have been routs, but a lot of them, of course, have been close and have come down to the end. Can you talk about the history of that, and how it always comes down and unpredictable things happening?

“It has happened that way, and honestly we haven’t been that competitive in a lot of my years here. In the game, they have dominated the game so it hasn’t been that way. As of late, we have recruited better, we’ve gotten awful patient, and it has been very competitive. Last year’s game was a very quirky game. Freddie Capshaw scores on a muffed extra point. We have a muff, and Michael Boulware runs it back for a score. And we block a punt, we pick up a fumble and score with it. There were a lot of crazy things happening last year. And then two years ago we’re ahead 17-0 and they come back, and we basically had the game won. We had it lost, they had it won, and we win it, and went ahead, and they tried to put it into overtime. And, yeah, it is crazy, it’s a crazy series.”

Previously their kicking game was a question, but now they have a very fine kicker. Could you talk about them a little bit.

“Well, they have their placekicker, and punter, and their deep snapper, all three are returning. And I think he’s missed one field goal this entire season and that’s been a huge plus for them. Remember the game that we won two years ago, I think they might have missed a couple of fairly makeable field goals and they had I think times they went for it on fourth down and didn’t make it because they maybe didn’t trust their field goal kicking. And even the field goal that they missed late, that was a 50-yard field goal, basically, so that’s certainly not a chip shot at any level so I wouldn’t criticize the kicker there. But, I think, they are much better there, much more solid now as far as their kickers are concerned than maybe they were two years ago.”

FSU has struggled against the pass. Do they play differently in the secondary and how would you expect them to play against your receivers?

“Well, they haven’t done as much press-type man coverage as they have done in the past, and they have played a little more zone, they have played a little more off coverage and some of those things. And, I really don’t know how they are going to play us, but it’s really been their forte that they have been really in your face, and really very physical. But they have changed that style a little bit, I think this year a little bit more this year than in they have in past. So I think we’ll probably see some of both, I think we’ll see some off coverage, I think we’ll see some zone and I think that they would like to get some long yardage and play a little bit more zone defense.”

Reflect back on the 2000 game and how that was a turnaround for the program.

“I don’t know if it was a turnaround for the program but it was a turnaround for me. We had lost to Washington two weeks prior and for us to have the year we needed to have we needed to beat Florida State. So that was a huge turnaround for that season and maybe a turnaround for this program. Until you beat really good teams then you’re not on their level and I think certainly Florida State was number one in the country at the time. So, yeah, they were a very good team, but it was a huge, huge win for the program, there’s no doubt about it.”

That being said, do you think FSU players are thinking “we’re the underdog and their the top dog and anything could happen”?

“I think that is possibly so, and I think because that’s right. I think that’s why you play the game and play it out. I think it’s the first time in the eight years that I’ve been in this series at UM, I’m assuming we’re going in favored, and the other seven games we’ve gone in as underdogs.”

Did winning the way you did in 2000 add more momentum to the program’s rise back to national prominence?

“Well, it really did. I think the main thing is I was really impressed with the poise the offensive team had and the offensive coaches on the sideline had. Because it could have been a situation where the dagger is in your heart, because you virtually had the game won the entire game and then, all of a sudden late in the fourth quarter, you allow it to slip away from you. When I look back on it, I get so nervous I can’t even watch it. But during the course of calling the plays, and the course of the two-minute drive, you’re hopefully in the zone, and I think they were. I think Kenny was five out of six. We had one break down in pass protection that probably would have been an earlier touchdown sent to Reggie Wayne. He was open, but Kenny got hit just as he threw the ball and the ball sailed out of bounds. Which was fortunate, because if that would’ve happened we probably would have scored too soon. And Florida State, again, we could not stop them and they moved the ball down and had a chance at, of course, a tying field goal. Had they had two or three more snaps, they could have won the game in regulation play.”

On Miami’s use of the tight end

“We’ve always tried to use the tight end. He’s always been a factor and I guess coming here with Rob Chudzinski we were together in the offensive room. Of course, being a tight end, he’s always had these nice little designs to get the tight end the football because that’s what he played. But even throughout my career … I remember one year we finished fifth in the country at Oklahoma State and we beat South Carolina and on the winning drive our tight end caught three passes and that drive went for a score. It’s kind of been that way throughout my career. At Oklahoma, we had excellent tight ends. Here, I’ve just never had anybody like Jeremy Shockey. You just don’t have many like that. And when he’s gone, it’s now what do you do because some of these things aren’t nearly as good. But then you have Kellen Winslow, who’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body, which we’ve been unbelievably fortunate enough to have a player like that to be able to step in. Now he doesn’t have the experience that Jeremy had, but to have the abilities that he has … we can still do the same things with Kellen and, even more so, because with Kellen, we can actually split him out. We don’t need to go four wide receivers. We can move Kellen around. We have a personnel group that they have to match up with, but other than that, we’re in a four wide receiver (group). So it really gives us a lot of flexibility.”

On whether or not the tight end presents new challenges to opponents

“A player like Kellen, you can sometimes get mismatches, because, well, do I put a defensive back (on him) or do I let my linebacker cover this player. If that’s the case, then you probably have a mismatch. It does cause some defenses problems. It would cause us problems on defense.”

Florida State’s status

“I think from their expectations a year ago (maybe they’ve fallen), because if they don’t win 10, 11 games and play for a national title, I guess for them it’s a short fall from grace, but you look at the reality of where they are this year: They’re 5-1, they lost one game in overtime in a monsoon. They’re not in bad shape at all. Again, obviously they’d rather be 6-0, but if you look at where they are. Again, they lost a game similar to the one they lost to us two years ago and played for a national title. They’re probably not exactly where they want to be, but they’re not in bad shape.”

On Florida State’s talent

“I think their talent is comparable (to Miami’s). You look at their recruiting classes. Several of those players we tried to recruit. They’re playing with excellent talent. I think the talent level is there. I don’t know what their perception of themselves is, but if you watch them on tape and you look at who their players are, I don’t see a lot of drop off there.”

On whether or not he has coached a superior or comparably talented defensive line

“No. Not at Ohio State, not at Oklahoma, not at Oklahoma State. We had some good front-line players and occasionally a player that you could fit in, but not players that you could put in like a Vince Wilfork. Losing Santonio Thomas hurt us, but Orien Harris has stepped in and done an outstanding job in his role. And of course Matt Walters and William Joseph and then the four defensive ends. I haven’t been around that kind of defensive line depth at all. I’ll tell you something else I like about that group it’s that they’re unselfish. It’s not a situation where (they’re asking) ‘Well, why are you putting him in? I need to get some slack so I can stack up my statistics’. They’re all effective. They have their role. They have their responsibilities. It’s a fun group to be around.”

On depth

“It’s a good problem to have, but it is also a danger, because when selfishness sets in I think you have some problems there because you’ve lost focus of the main objective. You’ve lost focus of the team. It becomes now ‘What can you do for me?’ and, again, that’s when you have problems and we talk about that. Some great teams maybe have fallen into that trap of ‘I need my catches’ or ‘I need my carries’ or ‘I need my playing time’. Again, I thought that was something that we did well last year. We shared things. We weren’t a selfish team. And hopefully we can continue that this year.”

On avoiding that trap

“You avoid it, for one, by hopefully having intelligent players who understand that if you’re unselfish, good things are going to happen for all of us. You look at last year’s team, I looked at all the all-star candidates we had and you’ve got two sheets, you’ve tight ends, you’ve got kickers, you’ve got punters, you’ve got running backs … just go down the list. I’m getting awards. Randy Shannon’s the assistant coach of the Year. You win and those other things take care of themselves. Just like with Kenny. We don’t really go into a game thinking ‘Well, we’ve got to get Kenny three touchdowns and 500 yards passing’. We’ve got to go in thinking that we’re going to win the football game. If we do that, I strongly believe that the awards will take care of themselves. Or they should.”

On Miami’s highly touted defensive line going up against Florida State’s highly touted offensive line

“I think it’s good, because they are that. Not only that, they have one of the best running backs in the country that’s carrying the ball behind them. They’re a veteran group. Going into the season they thought that all five starters returning might be the best group to ever play there. They’re very good and I think the depth is going to be a key because they’re going to wear on us. It’s going to be a 12 noon kickoff and we’re going to have to share the responsibilities of putting pressure on Rix and obviously being able to contain him because he’s an excellent runner and also being able to tackle Greg Jones and get off blocks and those types of things.”

On Miami being praised as an NFL caliber team

“I say ‘Don’t do that to me’. I mean, I think it’s a set up. I hope that people are saying that two years from now, five years from now. Right now, we’re where some other teams were a year ago that we were chasing, because we were fifth in the BCS or whatever. UCLA was way ahead and it was, ‘My gosh, Miami’s going to be in the same situation they were in a year ago. They’re not going to make it. UCLA is so good. Nobody’s going to be able to beat UCLA’, and they lose, what, four or five of their last six. Just look at the great teams that fell. Look at the very end … and they talk about our talent. We have excellent talent. But so does Florida State. So does Florida. And go to Austin, Texas, and go through their dressing room and see what they’re playing with. Oklahoma … among the top teams in the country, everybody has talent. We do have talent. But to say that we’re on that ultimate next level … if we go to Phoenix, Ariz, and we dominate that game then I might say that, too, but we’re not there yet by any means.”

On Miami’s pressure as a defending champions

“We don’t really talk about defending champions. We don’t really talk about national champions. Again, last week it was Connecticut and this week it’s Florida State. If we keep winning … I don’t even know what the winning streak is. I really don’t. I think some of our players probably do, but I think this: obviously, I’d like to add one more to it. And I think that’s the main thing. If you get too concerned with winning streaks and statistics and those types of things, I think you lose focus of what you’re really trying to achieve and really you can’t do that. You have to really play the game. It literally is one game at a time, one play at a time. I’m glad this game is here, because it’s really a great venue for our people to see a great Florida State/Miami matchup.”

On Florida State giving up a high number of sacks

“I think that is a lot of sacks and I think that’s too many and I’m sure they’re addressing it. But, no doubt about it, of course the other part of it is they’ve created, I believe, 18 turnovers and they’ve sacked opponents 17 times.”

On Miami “catching up” to Florida State

“I think that one thing that we’ve caught up with is in the offensive and defensive line. Just looking at the year that they beat us 47-0 and at some of the players that they played. It was not a talented group that we were playing. That’s not anything derogatory towards anybody, they just weren’t at the level of Florida State, let’s put it that way. I think of one area that we’ve hopefully caught up and made a lot of strides in has been the offensive line and the defensive line.”

On recruiting

“There are players that grow up and they want to play for Florida State. We recruited Craphonso Thorpe last year. We thought we had him. We thought he was coming here. But as it boiled down to it, he grew up he wanted to go to Florida State. That’s where he signed. And we won the game last year. The ones that want to come here, I don’t care what you say, they’re going to come here and they’re going to play. But I think you maybe have some that are on the fence or on the bubble a little bit that maybe look at the outcome of the game and say, ‘You know what, Miami’s pretty good so maybe I ought to take a look at them over Florida State or whoever’. I think it can influence those types of players.”

On what the coaches told the players regarding dealing with the media

“I told them I thought that they were intelligent players, lets make intelligent comments. That’s really all I said. I didn’t give them a list of ‘These are the things you say and these are the things you don’t say’. Make intelligent comments. I don’t really like the (bragging) about ‘What I’m going to do’. I’ve been around some great players. I mean great players. I never heard Barry Sanders say ‘Well, I’m going to maul your linebacker today. I’m going to run for this yards or that yards’. Eddie George. Edgerrin James. Those players really didn’t. You just look at the end of the day and say ‘Well, my gosh, Barry had another 300 yards and four touchdowns’. And you really didn’t say much after that. I think the great players don’t really have to say a lot. In fact, Clinton Portis was here yesterday and we talked a little bit about that and I think it upset his head coach a little bit. I want the players to be able to talk you. I think that’s part of the college experience. I think that’s part of growing up and, again, I want them to be open. To feel like they can communicate and talk. And hopefully they say the right things, obviously. But, you know, I’m 50-plus years old, so I think differently than a 19-year-old. But, no I don’t put any restrictions on them, but I do encourage them to make intelligent comments.”

On special teams

“Special teams are always a concern because you look at last year’s game and some of the things that happened with their special teams and with our special teams. And we’ve had two punts blocked and we’ve had a change with our deep snapping situation and hopefully that will help us. Again, we’re going to make sure and put our best players on special teams. We try to work as many as we can and we want to find roles for different players. Special teams will be a key. Any time you have a push. If they beat us badly or we beat them badly, special teams are probably not that big an issue, but any time you have a close game, that’ll be the difference.”

On playing Florida State

“We try to respect everybody. We don’t fear anybody. We gave Connecticut a lot of respect. We try to put so much emphasis on us. It’s really not about Florida State. Let’s play as a good as we can be and if that’s good enough then we’ll win the game. But if it’s not, we won’t. But we can’t sit here and worry about Florida State. “Well we’ve got to play really hard against Florida State, but against Connecticut we’ll win that easily. The thing I told our players is this: Don’t let the media and don’t let our fans dictate who’s good and who’s not good. I heard comments like “Well, you better get to the Connecticut before the half.” Those are things we can’t let happen. Usually not many of you have watched Florida State’s six videos that they’ve played, so we know these teams a lot better. We want to make sure we’re honest with our players. We told our players against Connecticut, we play well, we’ll win the game. We have better players than they do. Against Florida State, I was asked “Well do you tell your players that they have more talent than they do.” No, we don’t. Because, they’re as talented as we are.”