In April, I had the opportunity to interview Coach Brock and AD Ziady in the AD’s office for more than an hour. They had agreed to give me about 30 minutes, and both had other meetings to attend, but we actually exceeded the time allotted.
One of my initial goals - and I explained this - was to establish some personal credibility with them, introduce them to the GoHens.net board, and provide an overview of our readership and the kind of information that the majority of our board is interested in. As I explained, we are UD Football “geeks” and, as such, are interested in much more nitty-gritty detail than the normal run-of-the-mill fan.
One thing that was apparent, and about which we will have to keep reminding ourselves, both these guys are new and can’t be expected to know everything from “Day 1”. They had no idea about GoHens.net (which was to be expected). But when I mentioned the Huddles, AD Ziady said he had just learned about them recently. There are probably a lot of things that KC, in particular, knew by second nature, having been a student and player at UD and having coached here for 11 years, that the new Coach and AD haven’t even heard about yet. Once I realized that, I tried to pay more attention to whether I got a blank look when I said something and then tried to provide more detail. I think it ended up being a half-way decent 2-way (or 3-way) exchange.
So, I’ll break this out into my Q&A with Coach Brock, which lasted longer, and then the follow-up with AD Ziady after Coach Brock left for a meeting (for which I caused him to be late).
First of all, when I mentioned GoHens.net, Coach B thought we were a more formal subscription board that charged subscribers like Penn State has with BlueWhiteIllustrated, which is hosted by Rivals. I explained that we are a fan-originated web site (I gave credit to HensRock, and AD Ziady took down his real name). I tried to have them open the home page to provide an idea of what the site looks like, but, unfortunately, this was during the time that access was down completely.
I took out my recorder and asked if I could tape the interview. Coach Brock seemed uncomfortable with that and, since this was our first chance to get to know one another, I though it would be best to leave it off and just take notes. So what follows is going to be somewhat different than my interviews with Coach Keeler, which I taped and transcribed verbatim with a few editorial comments and personal observations thrown in here and there. I did say to Coach Brock that, by not using the recorder, my article would likely have a lot more of my comments and observations thrown in. He asked if I could send him a copy of a past interview that I had done with KC, which I did when I got home – more on that later.
The first thing I will say is that every head coach has their own system of beliefs, philosophies, etc. and they tend to repeat the same mantra when describing their approach to coaching. That’s to be expected, because, if they truly believe that’s the way to do things, they won’t stray very far from repeating them any time they are asked. As you read this, you will recognize many of the same things you have already heard Coach Brock say during his introductory press conference, on signing day, at the huddle, and in various written and recorded interviews. I will refer to a number of them as “Brockisms”.
One of the first things I mentioned was that many of the things Coach B said when he was first introduced as HC made it seem as though he thought they weren’t being done here prior to his arrival – like emphasizing that we would be recruiting high-character kids. I said that my personal opinion was that we had done a very good job on that score. He said that it wasn’t his intent to insinuate that these things were not being done previously, and that he wasn’t trying to compare his philosophy to what was done before. All he wanted to do was emphasize what was important to him. He seems to be very much of a “look forward” guy - I think he just didn’t realize what it sounded like from the perspective of the listeners who had past history here. He was simply focused on the things that are important to him.
With that said, he then mentioned that there is a direct correlation between academic success, the caliber of the individual, and success on the field. This let into the first Brockism of the day that I think we’ll hear repeated over and over again during his tenure. He wants “… good people, who are good students and good athletes. We want all three, but if we can get at least the first two, we’ll be fine.” This led immediately into …
Brockism #2: “The best high school athletes are often not the best college football players. We want the best 20 year olds, not the best 16-year olds.”
Brockism #3: He then spoke about his very strong desire to recruit much more heavily “within a 5-hour driving radius.” Keep in mind that he was recruiting coordinator at several of his previous positions, so I think he has very strong opinions about what will succeed.
I asked him about his criteria for hiring the coaches on his staff. He said he wanted coaches who had previous experience at 1A programs and/or had success within our league. I noticed that he didn’t just say experience within our league, but “success.” He also wanted them to be people who he had worked with or known previously, or knew someone who had known them. As an example of the latter, he mentioned Coach Ginn. Although he did not know him personally, he spoke with Kyle Flood, Kirk Ciarrocca, and Jim Turner, all of whom highly recommended Brian.
I asked about his offensive and defensive philosophies and he said that (Brockism alert) – “It’s players, not plays. We’ll adapt plays to get the best player the ball the most often, the second best player the ball the second most times, etc. That player could be at any position – RB, WR, TE …” I heard that same comment from several coaches during the NFL draft as well, so it’s not something he originated, but an approach to which he definitely subscribes.
He then gave the example of Jordy Nelson at K-State. (He likes to give Jordy Nelson examples to illustrate several different points.) In this particular instance, he wanted to illustrate how, once K-State realized what they had in Nelson, they figured out a way to get him the ball more often. Jordy was a 5-year player and in his 4th year, he touched the ball 30+ times. In his final (5th) year, after they evaluated the previous year’s performance, they got him the ball over 130 times. And they did it without adding, or changing a single play in the playbook. They just figured out how to put him in different positions in those same plays to be able to get him the ball more often.
By the way, another story he tells about Jordy is that he came to K-State as a walk-on safety, and eventually became a star receiver and returner because of all the hard work he put in during the course of 5 years. So, any HS player who comes in on scholarship “thinking he’s the next Jordy Nelson”, is already way off base, because it took Jordy 5 years to get to the point these kids are visualizing themselves to be as freshmen.
I asked how he was evaluating the players (this was before practice started). He said it’s hard to evaluate players on film because you can’t tell what they were told to do. “Can’t and won’t are two different things.”
He also said (as he has numerous times since being hired) that we will attack in all 3 phases of the game.
I found both of these last two statements interesting when taken in comparison to my interview with Coach Keeler at this time last year. When I asked KC a question about blitzing more in 2012, he said, “That’s a good question. If you look at a team like New Hampshire – they had a lot of sacks the last couple of years and there are times when they have no rules. That’s not who we can be … I’m just not comfortable with that. They’ll give up containment. I don’t want to give up containment. We’re going to stop the run on first and second downs, and make you throw on third down. Sometime teams are getting more sacks on first and second down because they’re blitzing more. We didn’t blitz a lot last year.”
KC also pointed out, and rightly so, that in 2010, when we led the country in defense, we were 97th in sacks. Looking ahead at 2012, he still wanted to get more pressure – just in a very disciplined scheme, one in which the word “attack” does not immediately come to mind. I also asked Coach Rapone, during pre-season practice, about blitzing more and he basically said we wouldn’t be blitzing any more in 2012 than we had previously. So, even though KC sent the whole defensive staff to Michigan State to study how they had led the country in sacks the year before, our Def. Coordinator didn’t seem inclined to want to change his philosophy very much, despite what KC’s intent may have been.
There have been many comments on this board about our lack of pressure on the opposing QB and some posters have questioned whether we have the right kind of players on the D-line. But go back to Coach Brock’s comment about watching film – you can’t tell what the players were being coached to do vs. what they were capable of doing. For all we know the scheme could have been a huge constraint on the D-line’s ability to get after the QB. It will be very interesting to see how the “attack” approach plays out in all three aspects of the game, but particularly on defense.
One more observation is that I don’t know that Coach Brock’s philosophy is significantly different from KC’s about letting his coordinators determine how we’ll play on both sides of the ball. When I asked him about this, he said that he is responsible for how we play and the final result. The coordinators are responsible for what we do. (Of course, Coach Brock will still be responsible for all the normal game-day decisions – like punt or go for it on 4th down, accepting penalties, etc.)
Another comment Coach Brock made, that we should keep in mind when watching the Spring Game, is that it is very difficult to make a complete assessment in the Spring, when we have so many players out.
Other random thoughts and observations:
Coach Brock appears to really not be concerned about his public image at all, or how the public perceives him, so he does not appear to be motivated by the need to provide information, except as minimally required by the responsibilities of the job. He certainly doesn’t care what’s on our board. I would not say that he doesn’t care about the fans, but I think he feels the best way to take care of the fans is to create a winning team and his perspective on one of the ways to ensure a winning program is to make as little information available to the opposition as possible. So, less info to the fans is a byproduct of that approach not a goal. Hopefully, as he grows into the job, he’ll be more forthcoming.
I think it was interesting that he wanted to see what I had written about last year’s interview with KC. After I sent it, he replied, “Thanks for the articles they are helpful and certainly provide some context and frame of reference.” So, I think he has a better feel now for the kind of info we both like to get, and were given in the past.
Whether that has any influence on him at all moving forward, will be interesting to see.
AD Ziady was easy to talk with, and seemed very at ease and forthcoming and interested to learn about the web site. One of the first things he offered up was that we need to work on facilities. There will be some short term, smaller initiatives to help the student athletes.
We are nowhere near close to having the money needed for the project for which preliminary design sketches were released. He would not have put out anything like that – doesn’t believe you do that until you have the money to go forward.
I asked for his view about conferences, “levels” of college football, etc.
He definitely believes there is a significant change coming. I asked how soon he thought – 3 to 5 years? He said, “No, much sooner than that.” He believes that going to an FBS mini-playoff will accelerate the process of separation of the major conference FBS teams from the lower conference teams, because under the mini-playoff, the lower conference teams will not share in the revenues generated as they have in the past. The major conferences will hold that all to themselves. That will accelerate the next phase of consolidation in college football, which he feels will include a group of schools made up of what are currently lower-level FBS schools and higher-level FCS schools. Although we didn’t discuss it directly, I don’t get the feeling he is at all averse to moving into a new league or classification – just that he thinks it makes sense to wait a year or two because the change will becoming sooner rather than later, so wait to see what that change will be.
Regarding the seat license program UD put into place, he said he’s probably heard at least a hundred times since taking the job that people were not as offended by the need for creating such program, but how it was rolled out/communicated/ “It’s not what was done, it’s how it was done.”
He said it is important to understand what happened, but he has to focus on moving forward. His real objective in tweaking the program this year was to encourage new fans to come and make it more affordable for them. I asked for his thoughts concerning student apathy for UD football. He says it is perplexing. He and Coach Brock have met with the group that represents fraternities and sororities to get their input. He said at BC, with an enrollment of 9,000, more than 6,0000 would come to the games, not because they were all fans, but because it was the thing to do. So, this is something they will continue to pursue.
I asked to what degree UD football revenue helps support other sports here. For some reason, I thought I had heard that was the case in the past. He laughed and said that football only supports other sports at the very highest levels of FBS play. Below that, football generally doesn’t even support itself.
All-in-all, it was an interesting and enjoyable hour-plus conversation, and both Coach Brock and AD Ziady were more than generous with their time. Time will tell if their approaches will bring success, but I, for one, have to keep reminding myself that they are still brand new at their jobs and deserve an opportunity to put their stamp on the organization before their efforts can be evaluated.