Football

Big quotes from Big 12 coaches on the Media Days main stage

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The large setting press conference at Big 12 Media Days serves as the opportunity for coaches to provide their opening statement on the upcoming season.

It’s the beginning of talkin’ season, as Steve Spurrier would say.

Each coach only gets around 15-20 minutes on the elevated stage, and with such a wide variety of media in attendance, subjects the coaches are asked about range from recruiting a certain player from a certain area to the main story line of a particular team’s season from how a coach responds to their question.

I took one quote from each of the 10 coaches who made their way to the hot seat and added a few thoughts on each.

Tom Herman, Texas

“I lean on Coach Swinney at Clemson quite a bit. I think it took him, what, seven years? Something like that to win his first national championship? Coach Brown at Texas was the same. I’m not saying we’re setting the bar at seven years, but what I’m saying is we want to win championships and we want to win ‘em now, but we were brought here to rebuild a program and that takes time. We weren’t here to just have a really good season in year two. We’re here to rebuild a program that’s capable of sustaining success and we feel like we’re on our way there.”

Tom Herman’s longest stint anywhere as a football coach was at Sam Houston State as wide receivers coach and special teams coordinator from 2001 to 2004. From his first offensive coordinator job at Texas State to his most recent head coaching venture prior to Texas at Houston, Herman stayed at each respective stop for two, two, three, three, and two seasons.

In contrast, Dabo Swinney has been a coach at Clemson since 2003, and head coach since 2009.

The two career paths aren’t entirely similar, but they both share the same goal and Swinney has achieved it twice.

Herman is beginning his first third-season ever as a head coach. His above quote illustrates how much he obviously wants to succeed in that first third-season, but he also understands he needs to make sure he’s building for his first fourth-season, first fifth-season, and so on.

Seeking advice from two coaches who have reached the pinnacle of the sport this century is a wise move from Herman. The quote isn’t to say he’s trying to measure expectations this season, as the goal is a Big 12 Championship. But that’s the goal in 2020, 2021, etc. and any extra help to make that happen at Texas will benefit someone whose athletic director recently labeled as still being a “young head coach.”

Chris Klieman, Kansas State 

“It’s one of the most synonymous names in college football history not just at Kansas State but anywhere. What coach (Bill Snyder) did at Kansas State was nothing short of remarkable and I’m going to feed off that. We have great facilities. We have a great infrastructure. We have a great culture because of what coach did. I know I’m not going to fill his shoes, I’m just trying to continue in his legacy, but doing it our own way. We’re going to lean on some of the former people. We’ve got Collin Klein on our staff that I have so much respect for Collin and I’m going to lean on him for some tradition things, but in the same respect I’m excited about the challenge that we all face in following coach. I just want to make sure that he can be proud of the product that’s out on the field.”

When replacing the legend, it helps to have a similar approach as that legend.

And if you’ve watched recent Kansas State games as well as recent North Dakota State games, you’ll see the two share a similar approach.

The off-the-field transition from Bill Snyder to Chris Klieman might be jarring for the Kansas State faithful, but when they see the on-field product in the first game, it might look pretty similar to what they’re used to.

Reverence not deference is a smart approach and Klieman seems to know how to do that at this point in his first year.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State

“It’s really great to be able to build on a powerful and strong front seven for us and we feel like not only to have Mike (Rose) back up the middle and Marcel (Spears) back up the middle but some of those interior defensive linemen. When you talk about Ray Lima, JaQuan Bailey, Eyioma Uwazurike, I think those are great pieces and those are building blocks and what we have done is tried to do a great job. It’s like anything you want to be strong up the middle in any sport is to continue to create great depth around the strength in the middle of us. That’s an area we want to work on in this offseason and excited to see where these guys are at as we enter fall camp.”

This is a question I asked. Those players that Campbell mentioned combined for 251 total tackles last season and they’re all returning. Having experience in the trenches and proven playmaking ability from two linebackers will likely help Iowa State continue to put together a strong product on the defensive side of the ball.

Texas fans and Inside Texas readers know about the defensive innovation that began in Ames and made its way to Austin two seasons ago. Texas’ depth at safety and the wide variety of skillsets available to Todd Orlando made the defense work, as well as two extremely athletic linebackers.

Iowa State may lack the defensive back talent Texas has, but there’s a good argument to be made that the combination of system experience, returning production, and two All-Conference caliber linebackers could have Iowa State competing to be the conference’s top defense, if not rivaling Texas and Oklahoma in contention for the Big 12 Championship.

Matt Rhule, Baylor

“I think Charlie (Brewer) is a natural quarterback. The game comes easy to him. He’s accurate. He loves to play, loves to compete. What I’m excited about is his commitment to learning the game at a higher level, understanding the run checks, the pass checks, the protections, making himself a pro quarterback as a junior. I’ve seen great work from him and that to me tells me he’s ready to go be a great player this year.”

I don’t think there’s any question that Rhule has helped Charlie Brewer become a capable to very good quarterback in the Big 12.

I do wonder if Rhule’s commitment to multiplicity on offense (lots of I-Form and spread concepts) limit what Brewer, a skilled passer from Lake Travis, will be able to do.

Brewer will have a premier pass-catcher in Denzel Mims available to him, as well as what should be an improved run game buoyed by several options including Media Days attendee JaMycal Hasty.

What I do wonder about is if the speed-oriented class Rhule signed in the 2017 cycle has translated their excellence on the 400m oval into ability on the 100 yard gridiron? Baylor’s success or failure will be determined by Rhule’s ability to develop the pieces around Brewer, who should be able to handle anything thrust upon him.

Neal Brown, West Virginia

Last time I called plays in this league was in 2012 at Texas Tech. We’ve evolved. We’ve changed. We’re probably a little bit more balanced now than we were at that point. I think regardless of the conference you’re in it’s about taking the players that you have and taking their strengths and attacking the defensive weaknesses. So I think that never changes, regardless of level and regardless of conference. I think that’s what the best offensive play callers try to do.”

Neal Brown seems to bring a similar air raid-but-run-the-ball offense that Dana Holgorsen utilized during his years in West Virginia. Is he as adept at calling that offense as Holgorsen is? Probably not.

Four coaches are entering the Big 12 this year. Two, Brown and Klieman, are bringing similar systems to what was already in place to their new destinations.

With Austin Kendall at the helm, I don’t expect WVU to be bad on offense, but they won’t be as good as when Will Grier, David Sills, and Marcus Simms were running things.

Frankly, the adjustment from the 3-3-5 stack defense to whatever Brown wants to run will be the biggest growing pain, and it could be pretty painful this season.

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

“It’s complacency, not letting it set in and for returning guys not assuming it’s going to happen because it did before. And for new guys, not assuming it’s going to happen because the players did it before when I wasn’t there. It’s a new team, a new challenge. I think the expectations and standard of Oklahoma football are so high that it almost helps a little bit in a funny way. It almost helps you refocus in that ‘yeah, the last four were great, but what about the fifth one?’ That’s the mindset around the program. I think we’ve got a good culture. I think our guys understand and have a healthy respect for how difficult each and every championship has been, each and every win has been. We have had to play our tails off and coach our tails off to get it done, and that’s how it should be in the Big 12. To make another run will be just as difficult if not more difficult, and it will take everything we have.”

It seems that in the last 10 years, Texas fans have expected a dip in the performance of their rivals to the north… and have only been correct once in the 2014 preseason.

Last year, there was solid reason to believe that the polarizing Kyler Murray wouldn’t be able to overcome Oklahoma’s shoddy defense and lead them to success, especially one year after Baker Mayfield’s Heisman campaign.

All Murray did was replicate and possibly even surpass Mayfield.

Might the Sooners drop off from being a top five, playoff team while remaining in the top 10 and near the top of the Big 12? Sure, but that’s not what they want to do nor what they plan to do.

Though Tom Herman is known among Texas fans for saying “winning is hard,” Riley seems to agree. It’s not easy to win and it takes consistent motivation and execution in order to do it. Oklahoma is just really good at doing it.

Will Jalen Hurts be Heisman caliber? I personally doubt it. Will he, and the rest of his offense, be really good? More than likely, yes.

The defense remains the question and Riley’s choice to find a defensive mind known for operating well opposite an air raid offense proves he knows both sides need to have success in order to reach the national championship and not remain “stuck” in the semi-finals betrayed once again by their woeful defense.

That’s the standard at Oklahoma, and the trajectory of the Sooner defense will be pivotal in determining whether “that fifth one” happens.

Les Miles, Kansas

“The key piece to this is how do you play to win with your talent. If you have quarterbacks like I think we have, I like our receiving core, we’re going to throw the football. Obviously if we have a great running back or two we’re going to throw the football. It would seem that we would be a team that would be balanced, run and pass. I think we will take it to the field and see what we have and then make those adjustments as they go.”

Kansas should have hired a triple option coach.

Balance and execution without a strategy better than “line ‘em up and let the best man win” doesn’t work when you don’t have the best men. Will Miles recruit better than David Beaty (or be able to get out of the hole Charlie Weis left for both of them)? To be determined.

Prospects for this season look grim.

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

“We didn’t play as well last year as we should have, in my opinion, and it was the result of me not doing my job and holding coaches and players accountable. We weren’t a very disciplined football team. We weren’t a very tough football team. Those are two areas that we can control the outcome. I feel like we need to be a more disciplined, physical, tough football team. So I’m going to make a point as I did in the spring and hopefully it carried on this summer when the players were working out, and obviously we’re not out there with them, to be a more disciplined, physical football team. I think that will help our team, so I’m excited about just seeing the results.”

Gundy’s honesty is part of what makes his press conferences so enjoyable. Gundy with a killer instinct should make for some entertaining quotes this year.

On the field, if they can continue to excel in downfield passing and improve their defense, that killer instinct might make the conference race even more interesting. Just have to figure out QB first.

Gary Patterson, TCU

“I always found when you have a high competition level as a general rule you end up with a better product, and our competition level going into camp this summer is already at a high level. The best part about it is they all get along. They all want to be the guy and I don’t think you want it any different than that. I like guys that have stories and all six guys have a story. When you have a story, usually they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and really all of them have a chip on their shoulder. So just like you, I’m kind of excited to see how everybody does. I judge quarterbacks on Saturdays, but at some point in time out of that group we will have to get down to three pretty quickly because you can’t give guys enough reps to get where you need to without doing that.” 

Matt Wells, Texas Tech

“It’s a challenge to play defense every single Saturday in this league and I know that’s something that Keith Patterson and our defensive staff are excited to do and our players are excited to do. I think that’s also a little bit of a misnomer, if you will, in the Big 12 because there are certainly great defensive coaches here. I think at the top is Gary Patterson. TCU has been doing it for a long time. Todd Orlando at Texas. Jon Heacock at Iowa State. There are a lot of great defensive coaches that have major challenges every Saturday and I respect the league and I respect the challenges and I respect what has gone on before me. I’m an offensive guy. I like scoring points more than anybody but I like winning better and I think part of winning is great defense.”

Matt Wells’ football style and philosophy seems to be very, very similar to Tom Herman’s.

As Ian might expand on in the coming days, it’s possible to win the conference without having a good defense, but that might be as far as you’ll get.

Texas Tech should know that concept, except for them it becomes ‘it’s possible to win games without having a good defense.’ Possible, and that possibility vanished multiple times in the course of the last few seasons because of poor defense.

Wells isn’t the offensive savant his predecessor was, but he seems to have a better grasp on what goes into making a successful program. Multiple 10-win seasons at Utah State appear illustrative of that.

While Wells might have been an under-the-radar G5 hire, he could be setting up for an improved Red Raiders team this season.