Coaches talk BCS, recruiting, climbing the ladder
Editor's note: ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel moderated three college football roundtable discussions during the Coaches' Tour 2008. The questions in the panel discussion came from Maisel and from the military personnel in attendance. The answers are condensed and edited for clarity. There are fewer answers from Richt than the other coaches because he missed one session due to a speaking engagement.
Three times in five stops on the Coaches' Tour 2008, Mark Richt of Georgia, Randy Shannon of Miami, Jack Siedlecki of Yale, Tommy Tuberville of Auburn and Charlie Weis of Notre Dame sat for a panel discussion of college football. There were a total of more than three hours of questions and answers from which these were selected.
What stood out about the questions from the enlisted men and women and officers is that not one question brought up next season. The military wanted to know about leadership, about strategy, about how teams and careers are put together.
Where do you stand on the BCS vs. a plus-one?
Richt: I think a four-team playoff, you could do it within the time frame that we have right now. I think you could keep the bowl system the way we have it right now. I think you could even keep the BCS National Championship Game as it is right now. ... But anything beyond four teams in a playoff is a long, long way off.
Weis: I think there will always be some subjectivity. But I think as coaches, I think we'd always like championships to be decided on the field, not by computers. So I think usually, almost every one of us would vote to play it out on the field rather than play it out in the media or play it out on the computers.
Tuberville: In the SEC, we'd like to see that because each week we beat each other up and we tend to knock each other out of the possibility of getting to the No. 1 or No. 2 spot. Probably in all of our [coaching] lifetimes, except for Randy Shannon, who just started as a head coach, we won't see a plus-one for a long time because the presidents and the commissioners right now are just not for it.
Tell us about climbing the coaching ladder. How did you get your start and how have the players have changed in that time?
Weis: We've been talking to a lot of these young kids, these 18- and 19-year-old kids that are in the service the last week. They're all asking questions: 'How do you become a head coach?'
I said, 'Well, how you do become a CO (commanding officer)? What's really the difference? You start at the bottom and you work your way up to the top.'
Usually it comes down to the same things: work ethic, doing things with integrity, using your brain more than your mouth and at the end of the day, usually when you get an opportunity, not screwing it up when it presents itself. In my case, I've been able to coach in high school, in college and in the pros and to be honest with you, it's more rewarding coaching in high school than it is in college or the pros for me because you're much more than a football coach. You're a guidance counselor. You're a second father. Sometimes you're a first father. You're a community leader.
Siedlecki: I started 33 years ago. Made $1100. Coached football and baseball, did a little bit of assistant athletic director work on the side. I think that's a typical start for a lot of coaches.
I'm 100 percent with Charlie. You work your ass off.
The funniest story I have: When I took the Amherst College job, the school I was coaching [Worcester Polytechnic Institute ] had beaten Amherst 56-14 that year. I came home and talked to my wife about taking the Amherst job. And she looked at me like I was completely nuts.
But it was a great job. They wanted to win. It was a program that had been a great program. I thought they were committed. I went there and that's how I got the Yale job from that job. You got to take some chances, too. You gotta have confidence in yourself and confidence in the people around you and hire great coaches.
One of the reasons I coach is I think kids stay the same, 18-to-22 years old. But there's a little different mentality now. And a little bit of entitlement. That's something we really have to battle now as coaches, teaching them responsibility. I take that very seriously. My coaches do, too. In the end, people are good people.
Tuberville: When I graduated from college, I went into high school and kind of worked my way up. I was fortunate to be around a lot of good people and other coaches. I tried to learn as much as I possibly could. There's always luck involved in some of it. But it's like any profession. You got to go out and do it, keep doing it, don't take no for an answer and try to make a positive attitude out of everything you do.
In 31 years of coaching, players haven't really changed. It's everything around that's changed. Politics, media. The things that we have to deal with outside of football is what makes it more difficult. I enjoy players, the camaraderie, being around them, watching them grow.
Shannon: My mentality was I can learn from anybody. I didn't have an ego. I humbled myself. The things that needed to be done, I would do them. Any task that I had when I was a graduate assistant, it wasn't going to take long for me to get it done.
I would be in a situation where Tommy [Tuberville, under whom Shannon played and coached at Miami] would say, 'Hey, Randy, I need you to pull up this, evaluate this and give me some information back.' Sometimes you tend to put it off as far as what I had to do. I was going to get it back to him within 10, 15 minutes of evaluating what he wanted me to do.
You guys [in the military] work hard. You get put in situations that are difficult, that are mentally tough, physically tough, but you get it done. You don't ever back away from it. That's what coaching football is about. We get put in situations all the time, not just on the field. We have to deal with the alumni. We have to deal with players going to class. We have to deal with off-the-field situations. We always have situations where you have to think about it, stay calm and do what's best for the program. But also you sit back and say what is best for helping this kid to be the best that he can be?
Times have changed. Players haven't changed. With the Internet, the Facebook -- what's the other Web site y'all got? MySpace -- y'all got some stuff that, whew, I would never think about. Those things right there, fellas, that's a lot of information that you're giving out that sometimes can hurt you in the future. I tell the players at the University of Miami, 'Be careful what you put on that Internet, be careful what you put on MyFace [sic] and Facebook because in the long run, three, four years, 10 years, 15 years down the road, 20 years, when you go interview for a job, you're sitting up there on MySpace or Facebook, you got a big bottle of vodka in one hand, a cigar in one hand and two women underneath your shoulders. Next thing you know they look it up on the Web site, that may hurt you. To be honest, that could hurt you.'
I did some stuff in my past. But I didn't have Internet, so I got away with a lot.
Richt: As far as getting into coaching: I tried to play pro ball, got cut by the Denver Broncos within a week's time. And then I tried to be a life insurance agent, and my boss got thrown in jail. So I quit that. I tried to sell memberships in a club, and the boss fired me for not being productive enough.
I started valeting cars. Got in real good shape, thought I could play ball again. Tried out for the Dolphins. Got cut real fast again.
And then I needed a job. I look in the newspaper and found a job as a bartender. Got fired about the second week of being a bartender. The guy who fired me, he told me to stick around at 2 a.m., he had a job for me. I started cleaning the bar after everybody left., from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. After I got really desperate doing that, after a week or two, I thought, there's gotta be something I can do with my skill set.
I said, I know. I'll be a coach.
That's about how it happened. I became a graduate assistant coach. Like Charlie said, you just work. You work hard at the right things. You hopefully have a passion for it. You try to live right. You try not to screw it up. More guys screw it up than make it.
One other thing about that kind of deal: Coach [Bobby] Bowden always used to say at Florida State, 'If you don't like the job you're in, and you want a better one, apply enthusiasm to the one you have.' A lot of times people want to bitch about the job they got. They want this other job. In the meantime, they're not going to do a very good job where they are. When people see you doing a good job, you get a chance to move up.
Why do you think college football is better for you as a coach than the NFL?
Shannon: I kind of like the college atmosphere because it's all about tradition and guys playing for pride. When I was in the NFL, it was guys playing for money and how much money can I make next year. Can I get a new contract? Every time I look at Coach Tuberville and Coach Richt, when they play each other, it's for pride. The guys go out there. They have a good time. They play all the time. They play hard with a lot of enthusiasm. You can never take that away from college.
Tuberville: You got to remember, we make our living dealing with 18- and 19-year-old young men that think they're men at 18. They find out pretty quick. It's a little bit like what you [airmen] do in terms of learning how to get up early in the morning, watch the sun come up for the first time. We really put them through it. I like to see guys start at 18 and finish, get a degree and see them change their lives because most of them really do change their lives if they stick with it.
Siedlecki: I think all five of us represent schools that have tremendous football tradition. We're going to play Harvard for the 125th time this year. That's pretty incredible. I walk into the Yale Bowl every home game that we have and just think of the people that have walked down that tunnel over the years. It's just amazing: 29 members of the College Football Hall of Fame. To be part of that tradition is just a great, great thing for myself and our players.
The other thing about a place like Yale? There's more to their lives than being a football player. Our Commander-In-Chief is a Yale grad. The President of the United States has been from Yale every year I've been there. That may change this year.
You never know. I might be coaching the President of the United States. I better watch what I'm doing, what's going on out there. That's what college football is all about.
Richt: When I first started coaching, it was mainly about loving the strategy, loving the competition. That's what got me excited about wanting to coach. The longer I do it, it's like Tommy says, it has to do with the relationship with the young men now. That's really what I'm in charge of, to make sure the experience for these guys is a good one. I've got great assistant coaches that are doing most of the technical aspect of the game now. I kind of keep an eye on that. I really and truly am there to make sure that the players are blessed by being at Georgia. That's the whole plan, so I enjoy that a lot.
Weis: The major difference between coaching in the NFL and coaching in college is that these kids have a full plate. Not so atypical to what you're dealing with. We don't get them until mid-afternoon. They go to class. It isn't like the olden days -- that dumb-jock mentality that used to be in college football. That's gone out the window. The game has become much more cerebral.
In my case, probably the best part is the fact that I get to coach at the school that I went to school at. And any time you can coach at your alma mater, it doesn't get any better than that.
Tell us your favorite win and the toughest loss of your coaching career.
Shannon: All wins to me are my favorite. As a coach, you don't have many opportunities to win games and get the fan support and everybody behind you.
I try not to think about the losses I've had as a head coach and an assistant coach because you try to wash them out of your mind real quick. Negative things tend to linger along and fall back to the next game.
Tuberville: My biggest win goes back to the year 2000. We had not played Alabama in Tuscaloosa on their home field in 100 years. It had been played at Birmingham in a stadium there for years and years and years. It's been played at other places but had never been played in Auburn [until 1989] and never been played in Tuscaloosa. In the year 2000 we took our team there. We weren't a bad team. We had Rudi Johnson at tailback but he was injured. We played our second-team tailback in that game. We played Georgia always the week before the Iron Bowl, which is pretty tough for us. We lost our fullback in the Georgia game, our quarterback went about half-speed ... and we won the game, 9-0. It just proves to you that no matter what you do, if you put your nose to the grindstone and believe you can get it done, there are always possibilities.
Every year, if you lose a game, it's like taking a knife in the chest because you know how much the players and coaches put into it. My first year, Auburn had never lost to Alabama in Auburn. We lost to Alabama by seven points in 1999. They had Shawn Alexander at TB. We led the entire game. We weren't very good. In the last four minutes, Alexander decided he was going to play some. I think he rushed for 150 yards in the last half of the fourth quarter.
Weis: My biggest win as a coach at Notre Dame hasn't occurred yet.
At this time, when I go recruiting, I wear these gaudy Super Bowl rings. The reason why I wear them is all these impressionable young men all have aspirations of playing in the NFL. It's kind of a signal or a reminder, 'Look it, fellas. I've been there done that.' And I think that one more message you're trying to give them subliminally [is] you're trying to let them know, 'Come with us. Be a part of something special. And you'll get an opportunity, if you're good enough, to play on Sundays.' I wear those rings only because I don't have a national championship ring. The day I get the national championship ring, I will never wear one again.
As far as my worst loss as a head coach, all losses are bad. I hate every loss. I'm miserable by nature to start off with. I'd say if I had to pick one, I'd have to go back to my first year. It's 2005 and we're playing against USC. They're the best team in the country, and they came into our place. It went down to the very end of the game. ... It was a very disheartening loss for my team but probably the person who gained the most out of that loss was probably my own kid. I have my kid with me on the sidelines.
We go in the locker room after the game and I have to talk to my team. You have to talk to the press. That's always great, talking to the press after you lose a game. That's my favorite thing in the whole world. But I'm in the coaches' locker room. I'm sitting in there with Charlie. I'm sitting there. He's in tears, and I said, 'C'mon Charlie, let's go.'
He says, 'Where we going?'
I said, 'C'mon, let's go.'
We walked over to the USC locker room. ... I walked in and I just congratulated them on winning the game. I walked out, and I had my kid with me. We walked back to the coaches' locker room, and he said, 'Dad, what's wrong with you?'
I said, 'Charlie, I did that for you. You think I wanted to walk over there to go congratulate the team we just lost to for beating us, you're wrong. But I wanted to teach you a lesson about class and dignity and respect and how to handle things.'
I turned what was my greatest defeat into a great father-son moment on how to do things the right way.
Siedlecki: Worst loss? Three years ago. We were up on Harvard. Let's stay aggressive, stay aggressive. We threw an interception for a touchdown. They tied it. We lost it in triple overtime. Longest Ivy League game in league history. And it had to be against those guys.
My best win? We weren't very good when we inherited the program. We went 1-9 and Harvard went 10-0. Won the Ivy League championship. Two years later, Harvard came to the Yale Bowl. We were 8-1 and we had the opportunity to win the first Ivy League championship at Yale in a long time. We started out that game, our quarterback had been in the hospital on Thursday and Friday, sick. This story is right out of the storybook. Came out of the hospital on Saturday morning. The doctor told me about 1:30, 2:00, he's going to feel a lot better because they had given him the antibiotics the night before.
We went out the first half, we were down, 14-3. Came out the second half. The second half kicked off at about 1:35. We threw the ball 54 times in a row. He completed 42 of them, and we won the game with 17 seconds left. Drove 80 yards. He went seven for eight and won that football game and won our first Ivy League championship. That's definitely the best win I've ever had.
The offensive game has gone so much to the spread. How much will defenses catch up to it?
Weis: I think that football is cyclical. That means both offensively and defensively, when in Rome, do what the Romans do. I think that's true on offense and defense. Whatever's working. We're a bunch of copycats now.
When you got something going that people haven't figured out how to stop, then you go ahead and use it until they fix it. I think that by nature -- I hate to admit it -- we all take a look at each other's stuff. And if I'm watching Coach Richt and what Georgia's doing, and they're running up and down the field against everyone, well you're going to have to take a peek at that to see until someone can figure out what to do. Go ahead and do it.
Richt: Some of the things that defensive coaches are talking about and thinking about are just trying to change personnel a little bit. Making sure your front four can run. A lot of people have had that philosophy for years. If you've gonna play in a league where everybody's going to pound the ball down after down, you better have some big strong interior defensive linemen and your middle linebacker better be a big, thick joker that can take on a fullback and knock him back.
But if all of a sudden those guys get spread out and there are some really quick cats running around there, you want to have some defenders running around, too. I think people will even get to run more light defensive personnel, their quicker, faster guys that can keep up with that.
Once you put these great athletes out in space -- most coaches will say space is the enemy of a defender because it's tough to wrap up a guy where there so much space to deal with -- you better have a bunch of quick guys who can pursue and close in on those offensive players. I think that's part of what some of the defensive coaches are going towards, just recruiting the type of personnel that can run with those guys.
Siedlecki: I'm the contrarian in the group. The last two years, we have the best tailback in the league. We gave him the ball 400 times last year. It's kind of worked to our advantage. What Mark's saying, defenses are standing more guys up, getting more guys with speed that can spread out and line up with all these teams. It's kind of worked to our advantage that we're at the other end of the spectrum right now.
We're a conservative, by modern standards right now, running football team with the best back in the league. He was the player of the year in the league and we got him back next year. I think it's worked to our advantage that people have gotten smaller, quicker, lighter. We're going after them. We're trying to knock them off the football and give the ball to the best player on the field.
Tuberville: If you're going to win championships, you have to play defense first. Then you have to run the football. Auburn's always had a great running back. At present time, we have six NFL running backs, and five of them played for us just in the last nine years at Auburn. We got a pretty good reputation of running the football. If you go back and look at teams that have won the national championship, you have to have a great defense. If you don't have a great defense, it doesn't make any difference to me, just looking back, how many points you scored. You gotta be able to shut somebody down every once in a while to be able to win and win consistently. Along with a good kicking game.
I changed the offense this year before the bowl game to the spread, spread meaning that you're going to play four or five wide receivers, [with] one back in the backfield, from a shotgun position probably about 75 percent of the time. Spread the field and make the defense adjust and make them try to figure out what you're trying to do. Get them in certain situations where you might get a mismatch.
We're doing that to try to score more points. We averaged 18 points a game last year and still won nine football games. We're looking for a way to score a few more points to have an opportunity to beat the Georgias or the Tennessees or the Floridas and get to the championship game. That's what it's all about.
Shannon: With the new spread offense, everybody looks at it like you're throwing it down the field. Me being in the Big East and playing West Virginia for a couple of years, West Virginia was a run team. But they spread you out, looking like they're going to throw the ball. Next thing you know, the running back has 100 yards, the other running back has 100 yards, the quarterback has 100 yards. That's 300 yards rushing and they're scoring 28 points and taking time off the clock.
You've got to realize what the spread offense is trying to do to you. You can sit back and say, 'We're going to line up four and five receivers.' But if you have a great athletic quarterback, you can put five receivers in the game and run the ball with the quarterback. He's still a threat. ... Like Coach Richt said, you got to get speed guys that can run. Like every coach on this (dais), we want guys 6-foot-3, 6-4 that can run 4.3, 4.4.
What are your keys to get the kind of recruits that make your program successful and allow you to succeed within the context of the university that your represent?
Siedlecki: Our biggest advantage is also our biggest disadvantage. Say the word, 'Yale,' I can go into almost any high school in the country and they know who we are. We are a nationally known school. It's a tremendous educational opportunity.
But as a football coach, that's also one of the tougher parts of it: how selective we are. Academically, the type of kid that we have to recruit is off the charts. Honestly, our average SATs at the school are 1490. It's ridiculous. When we go out and recruit football players, one of the reasons our kids are from all over the country is there are very few kids who have the academic qualifications and are good enough football players. That is definitely our biggest challenge, to go out and find those guys.
I say to my assistant coaches all the time, 'You can talk to the greatest high school players in the country and many times that isn't doing us any good at all.' We've got to find the guys who are recruitable for Yale and then bust our ass to get those guys. If we get the best of that group, we'll be competitive in our league and we'll be able to put a team on the field every year that can contend for the championship.
Weis: I'm going to speak for Notre Dame but I'm sure I'm speaking along the same thought methodology as both Tommy and Randy. All three of us at the [I-A] level ... I think we all look for the same kid. We all want three things.
The first thing all of us want is people of high character. The last thing we want to do is go bring in some guys that are just bad kids. Because then what ends up happening is you end up having to deal with a whole bunch of problems that you'd rather avoid.
Second thing, we all want kids that are not hypocritical about academics. When a kid tells me, 'Hey, Coach, I'm only going to be there for two-and-a-half years and then I'm going to the NFL,' I tell them they probably should go somewhere else ... somewhere easier than Notre Dame. We don't have Basket Weaving 101 as one of our majors, OK? So I tell them it's probably not in their best interest to go to Notre Dame.
I think if you're recruiting high-character kids that aren't hypocritical about academics, that understand the importance of education, then the only thing that's left is to evaluate players that put you in the best position to win a national championship.
So I don't know how that would be any different than it would be at Auburn, then it would be at Miami. I think we all kind of look for the same type of guy.
Tuberville: My recruiting philosophy is we take a 200-mile radius, which covers most of Georgia, all of Alabama, parts of Mississippi, and the northern part of Florida, and we recruit the heck out of it. My belief over the years is, the closer a player you get is to your campus, the better chance you got of them staying and being a part of your program for four or five years. The farther away you take them, the harder it is.
We don't go out and look for five-star players every day. I could care less what their stars are. We look for guys that want to work, want to be at Auburn, want to play, want to go to class. ... But you look for that consistency. I'll take all the three-star players I can get that have work ethic and great attitude, and you'll beat those other guys every day, if you'll work at it. Those five stars tend not to be five stars. [They're] ranked by somebody if they knew anything about football, they wouldn't be ranking players anyway. They'd be coaching.
Shannon: I'll give you a situation that happened to us at Miami a long time ago. Me and Coach Tuberville worked together. We'd go out and get guys who worked hard, not worrying about the five- and six-star rating guys, just the guys who want to get a degree and work hard.
It was in the month of May, the heavy time of recruiting for the guys in the upcoming class. Coach Tuberville went out to Fort Myers, right outside of Fort Myers, and he saw this guy who was a free safety, tailback kick-return guy. He had just passed his test score. Hard-working guy. We brought him in. It was between us and Tennessee. It ended up that that guy was Ray Lewis.
He's a workaholic. He's a guy who's top-notch, who accelerates what he's doing. His mind-set was to come in and be the best he can be at Miami. When he came there as a true freshman, he made a statement to the media that he was going to be the best linebacker ever to play at Miami. And he lived up to expectations when he played the game. He was a guy who was a lay-it-on-the-line type of guy.
You ask Ray to go run through that wall, he'd say 'OK, I'll go through that wall.'
You said 'Ray, go get the team going,' Ray will go get this team going.
You say, 'Ray, go talk to this guy about the right things off the field,' Ray will go talk to this guy about doing the right things off the field.
He did everything that the coaches wanted him to do, and he exceeded even more. We're going to try to find those guys all the time to be the best that they can be.
Describe the best part of your jobs and the worst part of your jobs. Give us a sense of what your jobs are really like.
Shannon: Probably the best part of my job is working with the athletes, the student-athletes, the 19- , 18-year-olds, 20-year-olds, to have the opportunity to really mold them into the people they can be. ... Any time that we can make a difference in guys' lives, that's the best thing I like about coaching college football.
I don't think that everybody understands the importance of how much that football player or athlete needs in college. ... [There are] about 18 hours a day that a football player is actually responsible and doing a lot of work. That comes from lifting in the weight room, study hall, going to class, film room, practice. Really the only time they have for themselves is maybe eight hours out of the day. That's really rest time. It's a full load for those guys. A lot of people don't understand how much that it takes. That's probably the most disappointing thing about my job.
Tuberville: We all like the games, Saturday. That's the fun time. That's the reason you're in it, to compete. We compete 365 days a year. ... We're competitive. Coaches are people that just never have grown up. We just didn't want to give up athletics when we got out of high school or college. We wanted to stay in it. Thirty-one years of coaching for me has been very enjoyable. It's been a lot of ups and downs but so is life. You learn a lot from it.
The one thing I don't like a lot is the media. There is a lot I don't like because they really don't have a clue about what they're talking about most of the time.
College football is very hard. Our football players are very proud of what they do because of what we put them through, I wouldn't play for us. We get them up very early. We keep them up late. Academics is number one. They don't have much of a life. When they come, we expect them to do two full-time jobs: football and the academics, and they both go hand-in-hand.
Weis: The things I like the most are really twofold. One, I like the camaraderie that a team is made up from, where people learn how to suppress their egos and be part of a team and realize that the most important thing they can do is [to] do their job and do their job well.
But more importantly, the thing I like the most, you'll hear a constant theme with all four of us here is watching 18-year-old kids ... come in as wide-eyed kids and leave as young men that are ready for the world. Because out of every 100 college football players, only one of them makes it to the NFL. That's one out of 100, and those guys, the average life span of somebody who plays in the NFL has now just gone under three years. They're going to go to the NFL and play for three years one out of 100 times. So the most important thing they can do is matriculate through college and get a degree so that when they're done playing football they can set themselves up and be successes in life. ... That's probably the most rewarding thing we see.
On the downside, the thing that bothers me even more than the media is the scrutiny that our players fall under and families of both coaches and families, not just by the media but the public. These are kids that aren't getting paid to play. For them to be scrutinized as if they were NFL football players, I don't think is right.
Siedlecki: I think the biggest positive is definitely the players. I like to talk about our football team in terms of, we are a national school. Our team is from all over the country. I love to say to our players every year, we're building a football team, and you're going to hear every accent in the country in that huddle. It's a tremendous thing to do in an Ivy League school. We've got kids from all over the place, and we bring them together and create a football team. I think it's one of the greatest life lessons for those guys. It's the world they're going to live in. it's the world they're going to work in. It's tremendous preparation for them, and I think it's a tremendous responsibility for me to make sure we develop them in all ways.
The downside, I think we're all involved in tremendous rivalry games. Sometimes, I think the importance of one game -- I know with my job, our Harvard game -- for maybe the majority of the people, that's it. They don't even know we played the other nine. It's that game. ... It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players. It's a tremendous experience for them. But on the other side of it, when you lose that game, sometimes that's the whole identity of the season. Sometimes, I think that's a really hard thing for guys to bear.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at email@example.com.