Exclusive Al Borges Interview
Feb. 28, 2001
Berkeley, CA - After nearly two months in his new job as Cal's offensive coordinator Al Borges can't wait for the start of spring football practice to being on March 19. Cal Associate Athletic Director Kevin Reneau sat down with the accomplished strategist to talk about various subjects during an interview on Wednesday (Feb. 28).
KEVIN RENEAU: Coach, you're seven weeks into the new job, tell us how the transition has been, how you've been received and your reactions about being at Cal.
AL BORGES: The main thing has been establishing our coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball. I toiled over that situation early on, but now that the decisions have been made and I know who we have, I couldn't be happier. Once we did that, things have really fallen into place. It's been incredibly smooth. Everybody is on the same page and the transition has been really good.
KR: You were given the authority to make any decision you wanted with your offensive staff and yet you made just a single move. Why?
AB: Well, I went in with the thought that Ron Gould has worked with me before, knew my system, is a great recruiter, and would fit very well. So, that was a given. I also knew I wanted to hire at least one of my own people and nobody knows my philosophy and what we're trying to accomplish better than my brother Keith Borges. Now, a lot of people will thing that's a nepotism hire, but it really isn't. Because of his familiarity, he's the best fit for us right now.The next quesion, became where does he fit in and how comfortable I was with the other coaches. I have to tell you, I've been very, very impressed with all of them. They're good football people. We didn't keep Shawn Kraft, but he's a very capable guy, somebody I would have loved to have on my staff. However, during the course of my interviews with Ed (White) and Kenny (Margerum), there was a real connection. Ed's a very refreshing guy and has obvious abilities. The only thing was whether I was convinced he was sold on our system and, after several lengthy convesations, there was no doubt in my mind. Ken has a great background in the passing game, coming from similar West Coast Offense roots. After talking with him, he was just a natural to have on or staff. My main thing was, 'Are they good coaches?' and 'Are they going to be on the same page with what we're trying to do?' Those two are good ones, guys we couldn't afford to let get away. They understand the concepts. They're going to be major contributors to our effort.
KR: What then is your overall evaluation of your offensive staff?
AB: No question in my mind, there's enough expertise on this staff to win. I can't work with these guys.
KR: Let's talk about your offense, what do you call it, how do you describe it?
AB: I hesitate to categorize it or limit it in certain ways. As a one-time West Coast Offense purist, there have been obvious changes and adjustments we've made over the years. I would still say the nucleus of our passing game, in particular, is West Coast oriented. It's now more of a hybrid. We've taken bits and pieces of many different styles of offense, not the least of which is the play-action game. The key is to take the offense and make the attack fit the modern defenses. For example, you have to make adjustment to the zone blitzing teams and the multiple pressures that you get from contemporary defenses. We still have the West Coast roots, but the play-action game is a big part of the evolution.
KR: What's your ideal ratio, run vs. pass?
AB: The best scenario is to be as balanced as you can, particularly on first down. I'd like to be a 50-50 team, at least for the first half of the game. And then it's a matter of how your adjustments fit what they're doing defensively and you may emphasize the running game or the passing game. It's all based on how you make your adjustments. I hate to stick a firm number on it, but 50-50 is a nice round number that sounds good.
KR: When you were cutting your teeth in this deal during the old days at Portland State and Boise State and even Oregon, weren't you throwing 70-75 percent of the time?
AB: No, never. That's a fallacy. The passing and scoring numbers were big, but that's wrong. As a matter of fact, during the years I've been a coordinator, I can't think of a year where we've had more passing attempts than rushing attempts. The thing that's somewhat incredible is the number of 1,000-yard rushers we've had. That never seems to make any of my bios, but we've always had a player hitting that number. That's because we preach balance. That's what we're going to do hear. We're going to talk about being able to run the football and be hard-nosed, and sometimes even a little hard-headed about it. Be that as it may, I think that's the only way you become a good rushing team. Be that as it may, the best offenses are ones where you have more than one dimension and we always want to have that threat.
KR: Your teams have always managed to put points on the board. Why is that?
AB: The answer isn't simple. In most situations, it's a matter of maturing in the systems. We have been able to get the players to understand what to do. The other big factor is taking care of the football. I've had very few years where we haven't been in the plus column in turnover margin, which is huge. Plus, I've been fortunate to play with defenses that have been able to get the ball back for us, even when they weren't all that good statistically. The two years when we averaged over 40 points a game, we were prolific on offense, but we also got some short-range opportunities through turnovers on defense.
KR: You also have a reputation of being able to pull out a bag of offensive tricks or gadgets on occasion. How does that fit into your system?
AB: I call it 'equipment' for your offense. They don't necessarily win the game for your team, but they give you an opportunity to get some quick strikes, maybe deflate your opponent a little bit. I think you need a few of those gadgets to keep defenses honest. But, if you depend on those plays, you're not going to be successful. They don't win the game for you. Also, the kids like that stuff, a little razzle-dazzle. Sometimes we'll use them in a game, sometimes we don't.
KR: In your recent time in the Pac-10, which were the toughest defenses you've faced?
AB: Cal. They're the ones who stand out in doing the best job of anybody we've played. Part of that is the familiarity Lyle (Setencich) has with me and what we're trying to do, because we've faced each other a lot during our careers.
KR: Is that exciting knowing that you don't have to face Lyle and Cal anymore?
AB: You aren't kidding. That's still another reasons why I'm here.
KR: What are some of the other reasons you're here?
AB: There really are so many reasons why I came to Cal. There's no one reason that really jumps out. A lot of people will naturally point to the money, but that was not the main reason. Anybody who thinks that is just plain wrong. They may call me a hypocrite for saying that, but it's just not true. I've been a Cal fans since I've been a little kid. I've always liked the place. I was fortunate to coach here before and, in the back of my mind, I always wanted to come back. The chance to coach with a defensive coordinator like Lyle is another factor. There are so many other things that makes me feel the fit and the timing is right.
KR: What are your impressions of your players at Cal?
AB: I can tell you our players are excited and optimistic, for whatever reasons. That's a good sign.
KR: Is it your gut reaction that they feel we're going to get it done this year?
AB: That's my sense. The best way I can explain it is that Washington won the Rose Bowl and they had no business beating Cal when the two teams played. Cal outplayed them. That's tells you right there. If you're that close, with supposedly the best team in the conference, why can't you win the conference? Or, why can't you compete for the title. Our players know that. They're not stupid. We are right on the verge of being what we can be. Now, we have to take the next step.
KR: What are your thoughts about the importance of the quarterback position.
AB: All you have to do to figure that one out is to look at who's been in the Rose Bowl, for I don't know how many years. Last year it was Tuiasosopo. The year before that was Husak, who had a monster year. The year before was McNown. The year before that was (Ryan) Leaf. The year before that was (Jake) Plummer. I don't think there's any question about the role the quarterback plays. I still think it's a team game, but I don't think anybody would argue about the importance of the quarterback.
KR: What's the early read on Kyle Boller? Is he ready to take the next step or is he going to have some growing pains with the new system?
AB: Until I've coached him, I can't tell you how long it's going to take. I can tell you this. He's a very ambitious kid. He's anxious to be a great player and he's lucky he possesses the skills to do it. Some guys want to be great, but really don't have what it takes to do it. He does. This kid has talent. But, he has to shore up the game. Right now, Kyle is like a golfer who can drive the ball 340 yards. But from the drive to the green, there's a couple mis-hits. We have to iron out the mis-hits and make the putts. When he does that, it's going to be over. It terms of what he's capable of, the sky's the limit.
KR: How have you evaluated him?
AB: I've looked at every play from last year, including the spring. A lot of what we have to do is start with fundamentals. We have to concentrate on moving his hips into the target, weight transfer, good follow-through and finish. He has to understand touch, knowing that passing is not just about putting the ball from point A to point B, but also understanding more than that. A quarterback has to take into consideration that somebody has to catch the football. It's not a javelin throw. There aren't many javelin catchers out there. Receivers have to catch the ball and run with it. I haven't been able to coach him any yet, but he has been a sponge. He's taken the material I've given him and studied it. He can't wait until spring football.
KR: You seem to be equally anxious to see him on the field in the spring?
AB: Oh yeah. It's like you have this beautiful canvas, but you want to put a good painting on it. One thing, I've learned about teaching and coaching is that 90 percent of it is believing in the pupil. When you're sold on the pupil, it's not hard to coach and I believe in Kyle.
KR: What are the completion percentages you want?
AB: I'll say this. A lot of this will depend on his yardage per attempt. If he's throwing for 9 or 10 yards per attempt, then his completion percentage doesn't have to be off the charts. He can be at 54 or 55 percent. Now if he's throwing the ball for less than that, then his percentage has to be higher. You always want 60 percent or more. The problem is that you don't want to be at 60 percent at the expense of throwing into coverage and having more than your share of interceptions. As much as I'd like a player to hit 60 percent of his passes, I'm more interested in his efficiency.
KR: Do you have the tools on offense here at Cal to be successful?
AB: I want to coach these guys to tell you for sure. But, I know there's some skill. Particularly at the tailback position. Those three guys have some ability. We have to tap into that, give them the opportunity to make some plays. The speed at the receiver position isn't what you're looking for, but speed is relative. It's productivity. This isn't track, it's making plays. Let's see how things developed, but I'm confident we can score some points. If we can take care of the ball and get some consistent quarterback play, there's no reason why we can't score the 30 points or more a game we always have. If we can get some turnovers, and the Cal defense has proved it can do that, there's no question we can get our 30 points a game.
KR: What about your system, how big a change is it?
AB: We're changing a lot. The old system was based on numbers, my system is based on words. The guys have to learn. My initial plan was to change everyyhing, but the one thing we have decided to maintain is on the line, making the calls. After thinking about it, I thought it may be until mid-season that our line was comfortable, so we made the adjustment on our end. That will help the offensive line.
KR: Changing gears, how was the move from L.A. apartment life to buying a house in the Bay Area?
AB: Los Angeles is pretty expensive, but it doesn't have anything on property values up here. We are moving into our new house in Pleasant Hill this week and my wife and I are really excited. It's where I want to be. I'm living a dream. I'm at the school I want to be at, living in the area I want to be and have a wonderful wife who is so great.
KR: What about the lawn-mowing skills?
AB: I can do that, but the rest of it is for the gardener. I have some football issues at hand.
KR: Any surprises thus far?
AB: If I hadn't been here before, then maybe I'd be surprised about how dosh garn enthusiastic people are about Cal football. People really care about Cal football and can't wait for us to be successful.
KR: Have you thought about what things may be like nine months from now in mid-November?
AB: I'm a guy who's looking at March 17, really March 1. We have to focus on learning the system and getting ready for Illinois. I want to beat Stanford as much as anybody, but right now that's not the goal.
KR: Will you be up in the press box or down on the field during the games?
AB: I'll be on the field. I want to have communication with my quarterback and not over the headphones. I'll have Ed and Ron down on the field and the other guys will be up in the box feeding me information.
KR: You said the Cal offense may look a little more like your days at Portland State or Boise State, more so than more recently at UCLA, what did you mean?
AB: It may not be anything dramatic, but we'll probably do more shifting during our offensive sets. We won't be afraid to shake things up a little bit and present some motion.
KR: What are some of your final thoughts?
AB: It may sound like I'm kissing up, but I want to help Tom Holmoe wins some football games. He's a guy who deserves it. Just a class act. He's been close and I want this to happen. It will benefit all of us, particularly me, but Tom's someone who we all want to see win.
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