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ARIZONA: PACIFIC-12 CONFERENCE MEDIA DAYS

July 25, 2014
INDIANA SPORTS PAGE



Rich Rodriguez


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

COACH RODRIGUEZ: I could be like every other coach in America and tell you how excited I am to be here, but that would be lying. Truth is I'd rather still be on vacation or meeting with my coaches. But it's all good. I appreciate everybody coming out and giving some attention to our league and to our programs. We're going into our third season at Arizona, and we are pretty excited about where we're at and where we're going. We've moved into a brand-new facility from this time last year, which I think is a program changer for us. I have the entire coaching staff returning. I have some talented young guys coming back. We still have a few things we've got to figure out in August camp. Everyone's going to ask about the quarterback, and I could be coy and tell I don't know, but I really do know, but the truth is I really don't know. We'll figure that out.
But it's going to be a fun year. It's going to be a great year in the Pac-12. I think there are 10 starting quarterbacks returning and they're all good players. It's not like you have 10 returning quarterbacks and some of them can't play dead in the West or something like that. I mean, they're all good. So it is a talented league, maybe the best the Pac-12 has ever been.
So it's going to be a fun year for you guys to cover our league, and I think it's going to be a fun year for us at the University of Arizona. So with that, I want to introduce a couple of our players. Wide receiver, Austin Hill coming off an injury from last year. He's back for his senior year. We think he's one of the best in the country. Excited about him. And our safety Jared Tevis, who has been a two-year starter for us. Very physical player, very talented and outstanding representative of our program. So Austin Hill and Jared Tevis will be in the back there.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Not only from the standpoint of does he make plays and catch the ball – he proved that two years ago, but just from a leadership standpoint. We've got a lot of receivers
year and Austin's going to be one of the guys that can help teach them every position. So he's like a coach on the field for us, and I know he's hungry to get out there and play.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, when you have an injury like Austin did, particularly coming off such a great year like he did, you have to sit back and kind of evaluate, gosh, how much did I miss this game. And Austin, you could see it in his eyes throughout last season that he was hungry to get out there and it was hurting him not being out there helping us win games. But he's in good shape now. He's actually taken the knee brace off for workouts now, which is a good thing. And the good thing about it is, he's going to have a lot of talent around him so he won't have to play as many plays as he did two years ago.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, if he has the kind of year he did two years ago, he'll get drafted and be playing for somebody.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: I think we're getting better. Sometimes you're getting better and it doesn't show in your record because your opponents have gotten better too. But I think we're better as a program. We're better individually talent-wise, and I think our guys are growing up in a system, so to speak, where two years ago what we were doing was completely foreign to them, which is the way with any new staff. But they bought in quickly. Now the guys that have to learn our environment and culture are the handful of freshmen or transfers that are new.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Well, we won't have one guy that can carry the ball as much as Ka'Deem did, 30 or 35, or in the Oregon game, 48 times. We just don't have that one guy in our program right now that can do what Ka'Deem did. But that being said, there is some talent that can do it. And there are three or four, maybe even five different guys carrying the ball as opposed to what Ka'Deem did last year.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: I am. And the truth is, even if I knew who the starter was, I wouldn't tell you all. Why would I tell you and tell our opponents? Not that it's a big deal. But this is the truth, I really don't know who not just number one is, but I don't know who number one, two, or three is. But there is some talent there. There are four or five guys that will get a lot of rest early.  Then after the first two, two and a half weeks of camp, we'll pair it down to the two or three main guys. It may not be settled until after the first game or two. But I think the talent is there, and that's a good thing.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: They're all pretty similar. One or two of them run a little bit better. We like for our quarterback to be able to run a little bit, but he doesn't have to run a lot. But they all have a little bit of strengths and weaknesses. The biggest thing for us is who can run the system and make plays when plays aren't there, but also take care of the ball. So it's kind of a big equation to go through all of them. I don't know if we have enough time and it would probably be boring to y'all.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: I wasn't really happy with the way B.J. entered camp last year. I thought he should have been further ahead. But when I look back at it, he had still only been in the program one year, so I expect a lot out of him.  And we worked him really hard. But B.J. Denker, he worked as hard in August camp and Coach Smith did in getting him right. By the end of the year, B.J. Denker was a pretty good player.
But I think we're further ahead, our quarterbacks are because of the competition, because they know if they slacked off in the summer when August camp starts, they'll be behind the eight ball, so to speak. So I think our guys have worked harder because of this competition.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: We weren't around when they went through. I can't judge where the quarterbacks are at, but as far as in the weight room and running and condition-wise, when we got to see them in June, I was pretty impressed with where they were at.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I wish it wasn't the case. It would be nice to have everybody back in position. But the receiving crew last year, with Austin getting hurt and playing August fresh, we were really nervous about that. We like to play at least seven or eight in every game. And we thought, oh my gosh, those true freshmen with Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant, and Trey Griffey really played pretty well. Now those guys are back a year older with some other guys that sat out and we're going to be so much deeper there that we'll be able to play seven or eight easily and not worry about the quality of play.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Trey [Griffey] needed another year to get stronger and know what we were doing. But by the end of the year, he was a guy that could play consistently on the outside. He was a great worker. But Trey, you could understand growing up the way he did, some people say maybe he's entitled or something. But there is no sense of entitlement whatsoever in Trey Griffey. His parents raised him right. He's a great young man and he has three years left for us to play.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: You know, it was good that we were able to, but in the month of June it was helpful. But still you've got to give the coaches, especially the assistant coaches, a little bit of light. So really the three weeks in July when we could have spent the time with them, they were on vacation. They were back and forth, and I think sometimes it's good for the players to get away from the coaches. Lot of times it's good for the coaches to get away from their players just for vacation time. We've got a great group of young men. I like being around them and love being around the coaches. But I think it's been helpful.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Well, to answer your first question, no, I never thought that, because this was at Glenville State in 1990, and there were 500 people in the stands and I'm related to 490 of them, and that's before social media. So for seven years we loved it. I don't know if anybody else is doing it, but then we went to Tulane and games came on TV and now every other school and high school, college, and even in the NFL are running some version of it, but that's a good thing because we can learn from it.
But the uniqueness of it has worn out. So you as a coach you better stay on top of it. But I think schemes are overrated. But I like what we're doing because it's what we know, how we teach and I think the culture of our programs around it. But if it's something that can help us, we can learn from it, install it and teach it, we'll put that in too.  It's fun to coach, I know that.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: I call it a farce. That's just my opinion. No, but I can tell you, you can read long and hard, but if you think pace of play has anything to do with injuries, you drank the wrong poison. It's actually silly I think to treat injuries, but, again, that's been there, done that. I think it would be hard to find any hard data that shows the pace of play contributes more to injury, but that's my opinion.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: No, we did make a movie. I don't know if you saw the latest video about doing everything fast. But our speed video with Sandra Bullock. Everybody asks me what's she like in real life, oh, she's a great gal. That was a great editing by our video staff. That's what that Pac-12 with nine conference games and a championship game, and then to go to two more to win a National Championship. I know the SEC and rightfully so, they should claim themselves as the best league in the country because they've earned it and they've done it. But to go through the Pac-12 and win a National Championship may be the most difficult thing to do because of the way our schedule, the non-conference games and the championship game as well. So a lot of teams have a championship game, but they don't have non-conference games. We have both. So I think it makes us unique. That on top of the fact that every program in our league, I think, has gotten better or getting better than they've ever been before makes our league a pretty good spot.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Hell, yeah. You want to improve more than that. That is the key. Everybody's proven there are a bunch of good coaches and programs in our league. So how do you make that league over improving with someone else? You've got to get the right players and do a really good job as a staff. But I think we're there. I think our facility being done last August helps us, because it's going to help us in recruiting. There is a commitment that's never been made at Arizona from that standpoint. But still as a staff we talk about we've got to crank it up to another level because the teams in our league aren't going back.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I would hope they'd think that. That week before we played really bad, but that week we played really well. From our standpoint, we have to recruit so we get more competition, which we do. But I give our guys credit. They know in the last two years where we've really been at and we're not where we need to be. But they still practice and play really hard. I think we're in a good spot work ethic-wise. Our players understand in our league, there is nobody we can go out and play poorly and win.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, he was still learning. But Gerhard [de Beer] is really hungry. He's got a chip on his shoulder to prove himself. But it's going to be a big camp for him. Gerhard's going to be in the mix. He's a talented guy, but he's got to learn what he's been doing. But his attitude has been super.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: It's a fair question, but it's probably not as fair to him because Dennard and Pat were so explosive, and Gerhard can run too. But he's not as fast as Pat or as fast as Dennard. Those two were different. Those guys were freakish fast. But he's got some of the same skills that they do, but we're going to see what happens. There will be 3 of 4 guys that get some rest the first two weeks.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think so, simply because I think it's fun to practice him and fun to play in. But nowadays I think it prepares the kids for the next level. I get a kick out of some guy or quarterback saying we're a pro-style quarterback system because we go under center and we take three steps, five step drops. I mean, that is the funniest thing I've ever heard. You watch the NFL, 65, 70 games in shotgun. Sometimes more than that. So to me, shotgun spread is a new pro-style. I can teach a third grader to do a three-step drop in five minutes. But to teach a kid to grab the laces and the gun, that's a learned skill. So we tell our guys you'll be more prepared for the next level playing our system as a quarterback than any system you could be in.

Q.  Do players worry about playing at the next level?
COACH RODRIGUEZ: As far as? Oh, no. You want to be worried about getting injured, go somewhere where you have to block the iso and the power, and get the snot knocked out of you every day in practice. That's when you have to worry about it. You won't get hurt in practice in up-tempo because of the schemes. It's usually something else.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Oh, hell, it's all personal agenda. Why try to defend it when you can just change the rules? I don't blame them. I would do it too. I don't want to have to teach our guys how to substitute fast, let's just change the rules. That's all it is. I don't see any guys that are running the fast no-huddle saying we have a problem with injuries and pace of play. If it was, as a coach, if you have true concern with your players, which we all do, if you thought that was an issue, you'd change your system. I think it's just the opposite.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Concerted effort? Oh, I think there is a concerted effort by every coach in America to try to make things easier. Hell, I don't blame the coaches for doing it, but good luck trying to find data on that.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I liked it when it was unique, but it hasn't been unique for five or six years. But years ago it was more unique, so it was a lot more fun then. On the flip side of it, your defense when you go good on good, we're at least more prepared for that. Now when you play a team like Stanford or something, and it goes too tight and fullback, now that's more unique, and that makes the challenge from that standpoint.
But it's harder to be a defensive coordinator now than it's ever been in the history of the game. Now because of the schemes, well, because of frankly the talent of the skill players now is keeping preaching. All this stuff, kids playing football year around and all that, all that's done has increased the talent level of the skilled players coming out of high school, so it makes it harder to coach defense. That's why I still play with the offense.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: That's a good point. I think you do somewhat. I'm not going to be the one saying we're not concerned with the number of points allowed. You want to lead the league in scoring defense and all that. But your goals as far as we're not going to let them get five first downs or something like that. That's crazy nowadays. Again, the offense has become too good. But I do think as a head coach you have to realize it's tougher to shutout anybody or shut people down.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think they should come to Arizona rather than USC anyway so it shouldn't affect it at all. The reality is they've got a pretty good brand name and they're going to get their guys. But I subscribe to the theory that there are players everywhere. In Southern California, it's a big area for us, so they can't take them all, so there will be plenty out for Arizona.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, you can watch the Super Bowl. When you can lineup and match-up one-on-one across the board and your dudes are better than their dudes, you can still dominate on defense. That's what happened in the Super Bowl. They matched up, and those dudes from Seattle that were covering those dudes from Denver won that game. That's why they won the Super Bowl. So I still think there is that. But I think you have to recruit more DBs. You have to get more people that can play in space than you ever had to do before defensively, and coaches are making that adjustment.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: As a coach you can't sit back and say, well, we've got all the answers. You've got to come up with new answers to new problems. I think that is the one by product over the last 10 years of the evolution of the spread. We have forced ourselves as a staff to look at it, okay. Now used to be teams defending the front side one way and the back side one way.  Now they can defend the front side one way. Defend the backside two different ways.
So you've got to be in tune with that offensively and know the answers to it. So as coaches it's forced us to get better and learn new things that can add to our package, yet still keep our core and our base so we don't deceive our kids.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: I need to go back to being a prick then.  I'm getting soft.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Well, that's a good question. Now that Jared said that I'm not going to be soft on you. But truth is the first year we didn't really know our guys. The more you're around somebody, the more you know them and you can adjust a little bit. Like some guys react to hard motivation and it fires them up. Some guys, they go on the shelf, you get on them. You coach them all fairly, but you don't coach them all the same from the standpoint of how you motivate them.  Also to be part of it now, the culture and environment and how we're supposed to work has been established. Our guys know that we don't practice long, but when we go, we go. It's as intense and fast as anybody in the country.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: It feels good. I said earlier, the commitment to football is at an all-time high in the Pac-12. From the student standpoint, the staff standpoint, support staff point.  I think the results of that are being shown on the field. From all the 12 schools in the Pac-12, to the facility upgrades, to the talent and everything else you've got going on in this league, the Pac-12 is probably better than it's ever been and it's not going backwards. It's forcing all of us as coaches to keep making sure that we're pressing the envelope to keep our program up. That's the way it is at U of A. We've got a brand-new facility that's great, but everybody's got new stuff. Oregon changes it out like Porta-Potties.  Like every four or five years like we need a new this, and they go do it. But it's a challenge to stay up with it.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: The style of play is unique and everything too. But I think from a skill standpoint, a purely wide receiving quarterback, talent, skill standpoint, I think the Pac-12 is second to none, to none. With the kind of guys that pitch and catch. And a lot of it is true out here on the West Coast. There is a lot of talent on the West Coast. The key is finding the guys that are talented and love the game. You're seeing that in our league.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Well, I mean, as far as the NFL, I hope every one of our players want to play in that league, if not, I'm recruiting the wrong guys. So I don't think there is anything wrong with our guys wanting to play in the NFL. To me there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But they have to realize very few of them make it, and when they do make it, they're only going to play a couple years at the most.
So we better be prepared for the transition outside of athletics. That's for all athletes not just football players. We try to educate our guys on, there is going to be a day, probably a day pretty quickly, certainly in the next five or 10 years that you'll no longer be playing football, so you better think about what you're doing next and be prepared for that transition. But student-athlete welfare, there is more talk about it. But we don't need to be paying these guys. Now could we give them more of a stipend, a couple thousand dollars? Sure. Should we feel them every meal every day? Sure. I think that's all great. The life of a student-athlete will be better going forward, but it ain't that bad right now.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: There are probably more similarities than differences. So that's a good thing. But our thing is what we have to do as coaches and whoever the best quarterback is or best quarterbacks are, we can cater our play calling to what they do with that. So we have to have enough flexibility on offense, which we do and we will have to fit those two guys or three guys that are our best ones.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, be good. Well, I don't have Ka'Deem. At quarterback, if I knew that, he'd be my starter, right? But the guys that have the most confidence that we'll have set are the seven or eight receivers. Those guys are coming back. DaVonte' Neal, Cayleb Jones, David Richards, all those guys are for us proven commodities. But DaVonte' and Cayleb had to sit out, but we feel confident they can play too. That is the crew we feel most confident we're at a true can win the Pac-12 level. I don't know about the other positions yet.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Well, we thought they'd play a little bit because we haven't had them. But they played at a higher level as a true freshman than we could ever imagine. Not only did they learn all four receiver positions as true freshmen and played all four positions, which is very, very rare. So intellectually, football intellectual-wise, they were perfect. Production-wise they were great, and they'll be better this year.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: You know, I don't know yet. Kind of sorting it out, and we'll wait to see who our quarterbacks are going to be. But we still want to do what we do. The biggest thing for us is two years I've been on the staff about playing more guys.  We play so fast.  We get more plays in and all that. I want to play more guys.
Well, this year for the first time we'll be able to do that. At running back, we have to do it because we don't have a Ka'Deem. At quarterback we have to do it because we don't know who is starting. But it doesn't bother me. We may be playing 25 guys on offense every game.

COACH RODRIGUEZ: The first year we were celebrating every time we gave up a field goal. I mean, we were giving high fives to stop anything. Last year we had a few stops. But our staff has done a really good job putting this whole thing together for two years. Now we'll have a little bit more depth and defensively a little more talent. And we better be because the quarterbacks we're going up against this week, they're pretty dang good.  Night and day, really he is. That is one of the keys. That's why I give our guys credit. We wouldn't let them just kind of give it, if it wasn't competition, we wouldn't anyway. But players know when there are other players at that position and from a motivation standpoint if they slip up, somebody's going to take their job. I tell guys, you may start on Tuesday and not on Wednesday. We love the competitive situation. And we're not where we're going to be, but we're more (No microphone).

COACH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, we didn't have much. Sometimes you can bring pass rush pressure. But you'd rather have it where you can rush three or four and still get it. I think we're better there. A couple guys that can bring the pressure, but still we don't have that one scary, pass-rusher guy yet. We're still looking for that.


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