Tulane Head Coach Curtis Johnson
Aug. 8, 2012
"Good afternoon. Sorry about the weather. I have a coach who has a rain dance, and the best thing about the rain dance is that it only works for practice. We got the practice in before and now it's raining. Sorry about that, but thanks for coming out this afternoon. It's great to see everybody out here."
On defensive lineman Michael Pierce, Jr.
"The one note that I'd like to announce today that is unfortunate is that Michael Pierce will be academically ineligible for this season. We hope to have him back. As you know, our policy here is academics first. This is an academic institution...an institution of higher learning. This is just unfortunate. He's not eligible and we've got a motto, `next man up.'"
On what he's seen during preseason practice so far
"Thus far this year, we've started fall practices. This was our third practice today and it's been good. Our quarterback play has been good. It's been well documented that Ryan Griffin is playing well. Also, Devin Powell looks good. Leon is doing well also. Offensively, it's going to depend on our quarterbacks. We're going to heavily lean upon those guys to get us to where we want to go. I think they'll do a great job. We're stocked at running back. We've got real good running backs. Offensive line will be a question. We lost Zach Morgan (due to injury) and he's probably out for the season. The receivers are doing better. The tight ends do a pretty good job also. I'm not going to call any of those receivers' names because I'm not pleased with any receivers - I'm not pleased with the Saints' receivers right now - but they are getting better. On defense, our defensive line is doing well. We're a little thin and don't have the depth right now, but we're good. Our linebackers - Trent Mackey, Darryl Farley and Matthew Bailey - are doing an excellent job thus far. The secondary is very competitive. I don't know who is the best. I don't know if the younger guys are the best or the older guys. Those younger guys are making plays. The older guys are playing good, but the younger guys are doing well. In the kicking game, I like this punter that we've got now. We did our punting drill for the first time. This new punter - (Peter) Picerelli - has done a whale of a job. The kicker - (Cairo) Santos - is also doing a great job."
On what he does on defensive line now that Pierce is out
"I think what you do is just go to the next man up. I can't trade and I can't sign another free agent. Here's what we've got to do. We've got to get Royce (LaFrance) together - the freshman from Helen Cox. He's got to get ready to play. We've got to shift the line a little bit. We've moved (Andre) Robinson from linebacker down to the defensive line. You've just got to keep going and keep moving with the guys that you've got. I think we'll be fine."
On if he is worried about the size factor moving linebackers to defensive end
"Absolutely not. I'll sacrifice speed for size. They're quick. They're fast. They're aggressive. We'll probably do a little more 3-4 stuff where you put four linebackers on the field, and that will help us also. I think we were prepared for that. We did some of that in the spring. Gregg Williams used to call it his `elephant' package. We'll do some 3-4. I like what we've got and I like what we have. We're doing all of those things."
On what challenges he faces as a new head coach
"I think the biggest thing is getting acclimated to the every-day routine. It's not just your position. On the first day of practice, the funny thing was it was like I was lonely. I'm so used to having my own guys and my own group, and isolating myself into my group. Now I've got to walk around the field to get a little piece of every ground and see who's doing what. That was one of the biggest things. And recruiting is on-going. When I left (college football) six years ago, recruiting was this time. Now, we've got kids coming up all of the time. Now we've got social media. There's times when you can call and you can't call, and times when you can't visit and can't visit. Just keeping me in line with those rules is probably the biggest thing now in the era social media with the kids on Facebook and Twitter. It's just something else now."
On if it is feasible to start a freshman at quarterback for game one
"Competition is open everywhere and I love it. Like I've said before, we're not running a freshman redshirt program. No one is redshirting. We're playing everyone. It is conceivable that we can start Powell as a true freshman. We'd be limited but we can start him. I like Griffin and what he's doing. Griff is playing well. He's doing awesome. He's doing better than I ever thought he would do."
On if he is pulling from anywhere else for defensive linemen
"We've searched the roster, we opened the board, we closed it, we looked at the media guide, we looked at last year, we looked high and low, and we looked on campus. I just think that what we have to do is we have to go into this thing with the right 85 guys for this program this year. However we do it, we need to get them on the field. I think we're going to do that. We've got some great coaches and I think they'll do that."
On the way he put his coaching staff together
"I tell young guys all the time: sometimes you don't marry the prettiest girl. I'm not saying my wife isn't very pretty. She is. That was my best recruit and I outdid myself on that. Guys sometimes come up to me and ask me, `CJ, when do you think we should get married?' It's not about the prettiest or the worst. It's about trust. You marry the person you know the most and the person you trust. I'm married to these guys because I trust them. I think first and foremost with this staff, they're good human beings. These guys are classy individual. They understand loyalty. They are loyal to this president, to this athletic director and this University. They're loyal to me and I expect them to do the right thing. I also know that these guys have football knowledge. They're knowledge is a little bit beyond what you would expect. Most of these guys on the staff have NFL experience - playing and coaching. They've all been in situations where they were coordinators, the head of their position, recruiting coordinators or whatever. I wanted to pick the most experienced staff and I also wanted to pick a staff that had a lot of experience. For instance: Mike Neu. I never was a head coach before, but Mike Neu was so he helps me so much with the head coaching daily activities and things like that. (Eric Price) coached with the Jets and with Kansas City. Lionel (Washington) coached with the Raiders and he coached with (Green Bay). Those experience helps those guys help me where I'm weak."
On his expectations for the upcoming season
"First of all, I don't just want to build a team for this year. I want to build a program. When you build a program, what you start off doing is putting one foot in front of the other. When we run onto the field and I want to look like a picture of what I'm accustomed and everyone is accustomed to seeing. I want to look like a program that makes people say, `These guys practice and they work hard.' If we do lose, they were just better than us. I just don't want to lose games to teams that we are equal to or better than because we give games away. I don't want many turnovers. I want to take the ball away from them. I want to move the ball consistently. I want to look like a picture that when people around the country identify Tulane football with this brand."
On the comments about the freshman class so far during preseason practice
"The thing about the freshman class is that they are skilled. I think those DBs are something else, now. They can run. If you look at their numbers, this reminds me a little bit of what we did when I was at the University of Miami with guys like Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne were freshmen. The thing is that Santana, Reggie, Ed Reed and those guys had other guys around them. Darion Monroe looks like a college football player and he's just out of high school. He's big. He's physical. He's fast. He's athletic. He has great balance. He can cover. He can catch. Jordan Batiste, who was probably the star of last spring, is another freshman. Then I see (Lorenzo) Doss pick off a ball, jump over a DB and a receiver, land on his feet and continue the run. We did a great job in about two weeks of picking up the best and most athletic guys we could find. There are some athletes in the class. We just have to coach them."
On what aspects of his new job have been easy to transition into
"I think Dr. Cowen made it really easy. You sometimes hear horror stories about him. He's big. He's intimidating. He's something else, now, but he's made me feel more comfortable. Rick Dickson has been great. We've asked for certain things and he's bent over backwards helping us turn make this team turn into a great football program. The biggest thing about it is that when you come into a job like this, the unknown is your biggest fear. They've made me feel so comfortable. The staff, the assistant ADs around here...I can' tfind a complaint about Tulane in the building. I think that's the best thing about this job."
On being picked to finish last in Conference USA
"Being picked last is great. You know why we were picked last? That's probably where we deserve to be. Coming off whatever the record was last year and what we did, we should be picked last. The thing is, that's why I love predictions. All it is is a prediction. I predicted sunshine and blue skies all day today and we got a monsoon. I love the challenge of being picked last because what we do now is play with a chip on our shoulder. We have something legitimate to prove. They've got to prove it to themselves and they've got to prove it to us."
On if he can win playing freshmen right away
"I think playing freshmen is good. I think it's the best thing you can do. You play the best players, whether they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. If these seniors are the best players, you play them. Of course you can win with freshmen. It's no different than rookies in the NFL. They're freshmen football players and you've got to play them. You've got to play the best guys. Then all across the county, all of a sudden you hear `Freshman Sensation.' The dumbest thing we ever did - and it was myself, Bret Ingalls, Barry Lamb and Sean Payton - we didn't start Marshall Faulk his first two games as a freshman. If we start him the first two games, we probably would have been in a bowl game and maybe a national champion. At San Diego State, we were so young and so dumb, we didn't know how good he was until after he rushed for 300-something yards in two quarters."
On how much the Marshall Faulk scenario shapes his approach to playing freshmen
"It made it so much easier for me to go into (former Miami head coach) Butch Davis' office and say, `Hey, I'm starting Santana and I'm starting Reggie Wayne.' It made it easier to start guys like Ed Reed and Jon Vilma. When we were coming up and I was young, you had to redshirt. Everybody was redshirted. Now, it took the blinders off. Then you're saying, `Now wait a minute. These guys can play. Let's play them.' I don't want guys standing next to me that are better than the guys that we're playing. It doesn't make sense."
On the difference between the challenges that he experienced at Miami and now at Tulane
"This program really reminds me of Miami. My second year at Miami, we went 5-6. We were on probation and it was almost starting over. Prior to that, Miami thought about dropping the football program and three years later they won a national championship. This reminds me so much of Miami. Here's where the similarities are. 1) Miami is a private school. 2) Miami is in the inner city. What we did at the University of Miami, and they did it back then, is they started recruiting kids locally. In Louisiana, there are more players in the NFL per capita than anywhere else. There are a lot of players that are going all over. If we can keep all the players that LSU doesn't want here (at Tulane), I think we'll do great."
On Jamar Thomas moving from running back to receiver
"Jamar was a back coming out. I wanted to see him at safety because I wanted to put more speed on the field. Then I moved him to an `F' position. When you look at the Saints, you're looking at a Dave Thomas. Dave Thomas is a tight end. He's a fullback. He's a receiver. Jamar is that type of player. He can fill a variety of different positions for us. He's a smart guy. He's this `F' position. He's an everything."
On if he is prepared for any criticism that may come if things don't go well during his time at Tulane
"It's coming. The criticism is coming and we know it's coming. I know I'm going to make some mistakes. I've made some already. But when criticism comes, what you do is you wake up the next day and you put one foot in front of the other. It's one day at a time. I can't make what I can't make. We're going to run. We're going to hit. We're going to play hard. We're going to be smart. And we will make mistakes. When we do make mistakes, we'll take our lumps. I told the team the other night, this is a no-excuse program. We're not making excuses. I'm not making excuses about the talent. I'm not making excuse about anything. There was a Michael Jackson song that I was tell them that you can blame on anything you want - `Blame It On The Boogie'. We're not doing that. We're blaming it on us, we'll get it corrected and we'll move forward."
On how the experience of safeties Shakiel Smith and Kyle Davis has helped the younger defensive backs
"These two guys are very smart. The one thing I can say about this program and this school is that this is probably the smartest collaboration of guys that I've ever coached. I've coached some guys that were challenging for me. But those guys are smart. Those guys can line everybody up and get the defenses right. They remind me of two Ed Reeds back there. So if you've got two guys like that back there, you're cooking with gas. I'm not saying they are talent wise, but they just know everything. They're smart beyond their years. I think they can get everybody else playing faster.
On being a part of the Sean Payton coaching tree
"There is always a certain amount of pressure when you want to please the guys who help you. Mr. Benson and Mrs. Benson were great doing what they did for me. Mickey Loomis, I thought for a minute that he was my dad. Sean is like a brother to me. Our relationship has been great. There's always pressure. It's like that mean face he has on that board. It's embedded in my mind that I'd better do good. You want to please the people who help you. It adds a little bit of pressure, but I think I'll make them proud."
On if he'll give Ryan Griffin the opportunity to check out of plays at the line of scrimmage
"We're not a big check system. We're more of a kill play. We're giving him two plays and we're setting parameters for when he can kill it to the second play. He's smart enough to do that. The first day he came out and on the first play, he came out checking something. I blew the whistle and said, `Hey look. We're not a check program.' I want to reel him in and say it's either this or that. If it's a bad play, we'll come up with the next play. We've got another good play. I've got tons of good plays. What we don't want to do is put it all off on Ryan and all of a sudden Ryan is the scapegoat. It's not Ryan. It's us. We'll give him this or that most of the time."
On if he has a number of freshmen who will play this year
"Probably all of them. We were talking about this this morning. We're thin on offensive line. The DBs, some of them will be starting. I love the punter. I can't think of a player that I would say `this kid is not ready to play.' There's not a kid who I say, `He's redshirting. He needs another year.' They're playing. Every one of them are playing."
On if he has seen a freshman step up and become a leader.
"I would say (Devin) Powell is the one guy who is leading this little herd of guys coming in to watch film. They're so young, they don't know what they're watching. They're watching highlights. They're not watching film, but they don't know that yet. We'll teach them to watch film. I see him kind of herding everybody in, and he's doing the things that he thinks he should do as a leader."
On if he feels redshirting is necessary to build a winning program
"No. If we have to redshirt guys, we will. What I'm trying to do- and I tell them every day when I'm recruit them - I'm going to go out and get better players next year. The next year, I'm going to get better players than then. The next year, I'm going to get better players than them. That's what LSU did. That's how they build their program. They just kept getting better and better players."
On how soon he feels Tulane will factor into the mix of landing an elite player from Louisiana
"Right now. They've got some battles going on right now. I can't mention any players' names. I've got some connections and they want some of the guys that I've got. It's starting now. How can you do something special that's already been done. It's like the Saint in 2006. Before we got here in 06, nothing was ever done. In Dallas, it wasn't special. Dallas would win a Super Bowl and you would yawn at that. In San Francisco, you would yawn at that. But the first one is special. This will be the first one here. We're going to do something special here and the only way you can do something special is you've got to kind of be the underdog. They're loving it because they want to do it on their own. I had a coach tell a recruit, `Why would you want to go somewhere else where the wheel is already fixed.' The recruit came back and told me, `Coach, I want to make my own wheel.'"
On what does Tulane do when its wheel is fixed
"We keep on fixing it. There's always another challenge around the corner. There's always another one."