Quotes From ASU Football Coach Dirk Koetter's Monday Press Conference
Nov. 24, 2003
TEMPE, Ariz. - 'To start off with an update with where we are at schedule wise, we took Friday and Saturday off with the players. The coaches used our last two evaluation days with recruiting and coaches were spread out to watch high school playoff games and junior college playoff games. We returned to practice yesterday and treated yesterday like we treat a normal Tuesday during the week. I thought our players really came back with focus and fresher legs. We had an excellent practice in full pads yesterday and did a normal day. Players are off today as normal, and we'll treat tomorrow like a Wednesday and move on from there. We are going to have a short scrimmage at the end of practice tomorrow with our young guys. They had a great time last week and it turned into a blitz fest and we want the young guys to play some normal football and get a chance to watch it on tape and look at it before we break for finals. Schedule wise, we are back on track after today and it will be a normal week after today, just moved up one day.
'As far as the game goes, obvious this is the biggest game of the year for us. It's huge and everybody's excited for it. Our seniors have a chance to have won four out of the last five if we can keep that thing going and that's high on everybody's list, as well as sending our 14 seniors out on a high note for them. This group of seniors, these guys, you're going to hear more about it all week, what they've done, and I think the biggest thing is Senior day. They're going to be introduced, come out of the tunnel, their parents will be out on the field, and there will be a big section on them in the program. And as we've been putting this thing together all week, the thing that has been most impressive for me is that they are, all individually, on track to graduate. Of course, two out of the fourteen are graduates already, but the other 12 are all on track. Some of those guys have only had four years and the JC guys played in their first two years and never did get a redshirt year. All those guys are within their normal clock of being ready to graduate and as you know, some of that we'll be moved around based on playing in the NFL, because that will have to go into the fall. Right after the game on Friday, we have a banquet on Saturday to honor our seniors, which will be at the Phoenician Hotel. Of course, Sun day is the first day of the contact period, so we are right into recruiting. Our coaches have seven on the road as always. We have our visits planned out through the first three weeks of December. I'll personally be on the road those three weeks. We're going to have three recruits on official visits the weekend of the Arizona game and then we have two more major recruiting weekends in the first two weeks of December, before it goes dead right before Christmas. That is sort of a catch up for where we are at this far.'
Do you think everything Andrew Walter has been through this year will make him a better quarterback?
'I think, absolutely, Andrew will be a better quarterback down the road. He's had to totally change at two different times this year. First off, I think many people thought of Andrew as kind of the mad bomber. We didn't do anything to discourage that because that was the way he played. It became evident that it wasn't the way we were going to be able to play this year and we had to change to a kind of ball control, passing team. We haven't been able to throw it eight times a game for over forty yards, it just hasn't happened. So, in the first place, Andrew had to make that change and I think he did a good job of it. Then, second, he had to totally change his footwork in a way that I hope he doesn't have to go through again, but in almost a unique fashion, he's had to change his footwork to be able to play on one leg for the last month. That's really lingered and has showed how severe of an ankle injury he had at UCLA. If you think about, he only missed that one half against UCLA and has come back and been able to play on it. Mechanically, he hasn't been able to do some of the things that he's needed to do. When you look at it the Brett Favres and the Steve McNairs of the world. Steve McNair, in the last couple of weeks, has now gone over a year without practicing and Brett Favre, I caught a bit of their game two weeks ago when he was playing with a broken thumb on his right hand, I just think that quarterbacks, when they start to get hit they have to learn how to adjust. Very few guys have had to do that as high school players and a few as college players. I think for Andrew, the adjustments that he has had to make where he was everybody's pride and joy out of last season, this has been a rough year on Andrew emotionally, as it has been on everyone else, but Andrew's had to come up here and face the music every week with his press conference. Andrew is the poster boy for our program, so he gets way too much credit when things go right and probably way too much credit when things go wrong. I think all of those things combined are things that Andrew will learn from and make him better in the future.
Has some of what happened to the team in the past few weeks been because of Andrew's numbers being down from last year?
Some of it has been because of that, but also I think you have some drops in there and those numbers, you can make those numbers come out any way you want. For instance, his sack numbers this year are way down. He's been sacked less. I think one of the things we keep track of, besides drops, is throw aways. He's thrown a number of balls away this year, and I think that's one of the areas in which he's grown. Instead of trying to make a ridiculous play that he's not capable of making, he's gotten better at just throwing the ball away. It goes down as an incompletion in the stats, but it's a smart play too. Without going back and looking at each game, which is something we'll do in the off-season, I can't tell you exactly how many those are. But I know some people won't agree with me, but in a lot of ways, Andrew has played better this year than last year.
Have you been discussing Friday's game with your team, in terms of playing to stay out of last place in the Pac-10?
I think that there's a lot more at stake and a lot more positive things to come out of this than you'll hear either coach talk about undoubtedly other than 'Let's win this game to stay out of last place in the conference.' I don't think that's something that we'll talk about or have talked about, and I doubt if Arizona will talk about it either. When you're playing your cross-state rival in a game that has the history that this game does and it is the last game for your seniors, Senior day on your home field, I think you focus on those things a lot more than where we're at in the conference.
How do you prepare the team for a rivalry game?
I've talked to a lot of coaches about how they've handled that. For instance, I called Coach Doba at Washington State to thank him and others for visiting Riccardo and the way they handled that situation up there. Coach Doba told me and I hadn't, realized that Washington had beat Washington State five years in a row, and he told me that he was going to change some things from the way Coach Price had handled it because they lost five years in a row. He was going to do that because people asked all the time how do you handle the rivalry game and, guess what, I doubt if there is anyone in here that would have picked Washington over Washington State, I know I wouldn't have. There isn't a perfect formula for how to prepare for a rivalry game. I've read that sports psychologists say that you shouldn't get into the over-hate mode so that you get your guys so pissed off that the guys can't get their assignments right. I also know that there are people in this mode that believe you should go that way and if some coach knew the answer, he'd probably win 100% of the games. I'm going to speak with Coach Kush after this and see what he recommends doing because he's got a pretty good record in this game. I'm just saying, the way we've been playing, we need to focus on doing things right and taking care of ourselves.
Do you think playing hard in this game, considering that there is no bowl game on the line, will be an issue for your players this week?
You remember this game a long time. It's one of the top priorities of our underclassmen. This is part of next year, this game, how we play. I think that's something that you find out who's ready to paly and how's not. I really don't think that if we're playing hard, its going to be a condition in this game. It was very hard for Washington State in their game to just make plays. Four or five plays determined the outcome of that game, the ones you don't make, you could have made, or should have made. I don't think playing hard will be an issue.
Has Arizona's style of play changed since their head coaching change?
They're fairly different, from a schematic standpoint. If you remember last year on defense, for one reason or another, they had evolved into a team that was mostly a three-man line and dropping eight guys into coverage. That's how they finished the last two or three games of last year. When coach Hankowitz came in, they changed their defensive coordinator and had several staff changes and they're playing a totally different scheme from a defensive standpoint and they're actually playing 4-2-5 and they're playing their safety at what they call their rover, which is the equivalent of an up-safety for us. Offensively, midseason when they made the coaching change, you can really see how the offense has changed from the first game up through their last game, you can really see how its changed. And from what I understand, Coach Hankowitz is not involved in that, that's their offensive coaches that have done that. They've gone much more to spread type offense and lot more of the deep zone play out of the shotgun with the three wide receivers, the tight end, and Mike Bell, and all the plays that can come off of that type of spread. They've been using two different quarterbacks, the true freshman who is more of their drop back passer type of guy and Nick Costa who's very, very dangerous as a runner and has a real strong arm. He's has some real long runs this year. He was the state 100-meter champion at Oregon at one point during his high school career. So, schematically, they're totally different, their three coordinators are all different than they were last year.
What does this rivalry game mean to you as a coach?
I like it a lot more when the Territorial Cup and the Saguaro Trophy are sitting in my office. I missed them a lot that first year when they were gone. There was a big empty spot in my office. You can't have one day in my shoes where someone doesn't talk about this rivalry game and justifiably so, its huge to everyone in our program, from those who are here every day, the players and coaches, to the fans who come to only this game, to the people I see at Albertson's getting coffee on Sunday morning. There is not one day. I was at my kids soccer game on Saturday and there were probably 50 people who had their U of A stuff on and told me they were going to kick our butt or had their Sun Devil stuff on and told me to get it done on Friday. So, trust me, I go nowhere where I am not reminded of this game.
Is the rivalry game fun for you?
The press conference is hard. Coaching your players and playing in a game is fun. Being asked about it five million times is not the most fun thing.
What is different about this game, as opposed to every other game on the schedule?
The thing that's different about this particular game and that's unique to this rivalry, that none of the other games that I've been in, is that we have the bye week. The bye week means that we can do this press conference twice as often. Again, I'm not bemoaning that fact. But if you guys sat in my shoes and heard the same questions everyday, like when I talk about games like this, as far as right now, I could throw up. I have a knot in my stomach about this game. I don't just go home and read the paper at five o'clock. I'm nervous about the game right now because we're talking about. Here's the thing on a bye week, I've always believed as an offensive coach that you should have you're best gameplan of the year with the bye week because you've got two weeks to polish it and do everything twice as much. All the little things that you would like to make small changes on, you do it, we made some changes this morning on a game plan that we have already practiced for three days. The worry side says well guess what, the other team's doing the same thing, so if they want to change their whole defense and come out and play something else, they could be doing that right now. That's the unknown. They don't know what we're doing different and we don't know what they're doing different. We both have time to do it, so that makes this game even more unique in my opinion.
What one thing would you change from this year and what is one thing that you would leave the same?
The biggest thing that went wrong, if I could go back and wave a magic wand at one time, I'd go back and not have Andrew Walter get hurt at UCLA. I think that game physically and emotionally took a lot out of our football team. If I could change one thing, I'd go back and change that right there. One thing that went right was I think we've got a lot of young players in our program that even though we didn't accomplish what we would have liked to won-loss wise, we have a lot of young players that have gotten better this year that have shown steady improvement. Kyle Caldwell, Derek Hagan, Loren Wade, Andrew Carnahan started for the first time, Ishmael Thrower, Jamaal Williams. So, if guys can continue to get better through the adversity of where were at from a won-loss standpoint, I think the difference between right now and where we were a year ago is so small, and I heard Coach Bellotti talk after winning the Oregon State game, and hats off to him, because I think they've done a great job of coaching this year in the way they've come back. And mike said, and I thought he hit It right on the head with, 'the difference between being how they finished last year and how they finished this year was mostly between their ears. And I think that can be said of our team as well. It's a very fine line and last year, we were able to overcome some things that this year we couldn't for various reasons that I'll talk about after the season is over. But I think we got the chance to develop some very good young players.
How did you feel about the competition in the Pac-10 this year?
I think that overall it is a very balanced league, with the exception of one team. It appears that USC is going to get the chance to play for the National Title, and of course I thought that at the end of last season, I would have loved to see USC get a crack at Ohio State or Miami. USC is the best team in our conference right now and I think that the best team in the conference having a chance to play for the National Championship will be great for the Pac-10. Other than that, our league is very balanced.
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