Pac-12 Media Day is a pre-season event unlike any other. It’s the rollout before fall camp, knowing that we’re all on the cusp of the new football season. Everything is bright and new, every team is still undefeated, and coaches, players, and fans alike are filled with hope.
Today we’ve taken snippets of what the head coaches had to say about themselves and their teams. I have intentionally stayed away from any comments as they relate to the current conference chaos (the CCC) that is underway in college football.
Arizona coach Jedd Fisch began his discussions with the media talking about recruiting.
“We’re excited here at University of Arizona to be back here and to be here in Southern California. This is a huge part for our recruiting. We are a California-based recruiting program. We have committed as much time and energy as possible to recruit Southern California. That is our goal moving forward... As we’re building our program, it was really important for all of us to make sure that on November 26th of last year, when our season ended, we needed to get better, we needed to get better in every way. It was our first opportunity to recruit. It was our first signing class. According to Rivals, I think we finished No. 1 in the Pac-12; according to 247, I think in the top three. We’re very proud of that.”
“1980 to 2000, University of Arizona football won 63% of its games. They were third in the Pac-12, tied with USC, during that time. From 2001 to 2021, we did not do that. We’re sitting in a situation where we were winning about 45% of our games. We need to change that, and that is our goal, that is what we’ll do. We believe that this year is the first year of the rebuild, and we’re really excited about how that’s going.”
And an excerpt from the Q&A session:
“Q. How do you feel about the roster today compared to how you felt about it a year ago?
Fisch: We’re better. We’re a better football team. The players that were on our roster last year that are on our roster this year have improved. They’ve committed to being better in the weight room. They’ve committed to being better in film study. They’ve committed to being better fundamentally. The players that we’ve been able to bring in, we brought in some good football players. What it looks like come Saturday, September 3rd, is very different than how I feel right now. We’ll have to see. We’ll have to see if our team can come together in this training camp and how well we can play as a team. If we can do that, then I think we’ll be a better football team as well.”
Arizona State coach Herm Edwards did not have much of an opening statement. After a handful of sentences, he dived straight into the Q&A:
“Q. I know you’re used to smaller rosters in the NFL. You’re thin in certain spots, on scholarship numbers. What do you think about that challenge, needing guys to stay healthy?
Edwards: Well, you’re right, we lost 11 guys last year off that team. Some of them drafted, others were signed as free agents. All of them graduated, which is really good. But the receiver corps was hit some. Some guys decided to go other places. It’s a group of not a lot of experience. Some talented players over there now. We brought in a couple guys with some playing experience. That will be interesting how that kind of facet of it comes together.”
“Q. Any particular areas, secondary, passing game, that you are sort of really focused on that could have a big determining factor in whether you can play to your expectations?
Edwards: Well, I think a couple positions. You mentioned wide receiver corps. The corners, two of our corners were drafted, as you know. Who is going to man those positions? The offensive line, we lost some guys, but we brought in some guys with some playing experience, which I think will help us. How that gels together. Brought in a fantastic runner. How do we get that going, right?
At every position, linebacker, you got three guys that have played, now the Soelle brothers are all of a sudden playing together. That’s unique. They’re excited about that.Defensive line, we’re pretty stout up there if we can stay healthy. So I just think — the tight end position, we brought in some tight ends. That will be kind of fun to watch and develop.”
California coach Justin Wilcox was also brief in his opening remarks.
“Well, it’s great to be back. Going on year six at Cal. We will be kicking off training camp this Thursday. Actually bringing back about 150 to 200 alumni to send us into camp, which will be really exciting. Looking forward to a very, very competitive fall from our team.”
Then on with some interesting questions:
“Q. I wanted to touch on: How do you approach the season with only 18 returning players from the previous season?
Wilcox: There’s going to be a lot of new faces playing for us. There’s going to be times you’re going to be inexperienced at certain positions or units. However, we feel really strongly about the talent on the team. We have some inexperienced guys, but we have some really talented guys. They’ve had a really good off-season. Now it’s about putting it all together, creating some rhythm and getting into the season where we will be tested each and every Saturday.”
“Q. What is a lofty goal that (you’ve set for) this senior class or a goal that you’ve pressed to the team?”
“Q. As long as you’ve been running the show in Berkeley, defense has been what this program has been able to hang its hat on. How do you stack up this defensive unit against some of the others you’ve had? How big of a role is Daniel Scott going to play?
Wilcox: I think we have a chance to be pretty good. The interior of the defense, the defensive line, the inside linebacker positions, we feel very strongly about. We also have some younger players that we feel like have an opportunity to step up on the edge and in the secondary. But ultimately time will tell. It’s hard for me to judge one defense against another when one of them that we’re judging hasn’t played yet. So we will see.”
Colorado coach Karl Dorrell expanded quite a bit in his opening remarks:
“Challenging season a year ago for us. We played with a lot of young players. I believe we had 68 freshmen and sophomores on our football team that were playing primarily ... we’re very disappointed in the results of our season. The way that I operate as a coach, in my 34 years of coaching, is when things aren’t right, you have to make things right. I don’t ever try to celebrate a lack of successful season, so we had to make some changes.
I made changes primarily on the offensive side, four new coaches there that are here... Along with that, the developing of the quarterback position I think was very critical, too, for us to have more competition and more suitors for that position... We did change our offense completely from scratch. It’s a new system. We’re excited about that process of how the players have taken that information, the offensive players I’m talking about, and digested it and performed it, continue to do that during a time in the off-season, spring, now finishing up the summer.
We do have a couple new additions on the defensive side as well. New corners coach. We have a new defensive line coach. The other two, three coaches are still here... I feel like from the process of the off-season and spring and then a great summer that we just finished up today, we’re ready to go for 2022.”
Highlights from the Q&A session:
“Q. As you enter year three of your tenure, what are some of the things you’ve learned about yourself as ahead coach strategically, culturally, recruiting-wise, that maybe you could take from your first go-around int he conference?
Dorrell: It’s actually tremendously different than that go-around just because with social media, which wasn’t prevalent at that time, that’s the major draw that’s going on now... The other part, too, is that I’ve learned in a great deal of time since my UCLA experience, a great deal of information about coaching. I would say going into year three for me right now... I don’t rest on things that aren’t successful; you have to make changes.
We need to challenge ourselves year in and year out about being successful and trying to put your best effort forward year in and year out. That’s what our players are expecting (from) us as coaches to be, and that’s kind of how we are charged as a program, is to be in the competitive marketplace in this sport... We think this year is going to be a good testament going into year three of really showing some of that progress that has been made over these last couple of years.”
“Q. When you look at teams that you’ve coached in the past that have maybe exceeded expectations, or even historically, like your UCLA team that went on to beat Oklahoma, had all that great success - what do you see from this team that compares to past teams that you’ve coached?”
Oregon coach Dan Lanning talked at length in his opening remarks:
“Since 2010 there’s been nine teams that have played for a national championship. Fortunate enough that Oregon has done that twice. Multiple conference championships have been won at this place. Obviously we had 2.57 million viewers tune in every single week to watch our games, which is top 10 in the nation, best in our conference. We’ve continued to recruit at a really high level. Excited to continue to bring great recruits to our place. We have an innovative approach in the way we do that.”
“Q. What is the biggest thing you took away from finally beating Alabama? What’s something you’ve been hammering home to your players?
Lanning: Obviously I’ve had great experience in the last several years of my coaching career. I spend very little time talking about the past. I’m really focused on the future. The one thing I’ll say about that game, the national championship game, is (about) our ability to adapt and change. You have to go back when you lose to an opponent; it gives you an opportunity to really reassess yourself.
“Q. When we were at this point about a year ago heading into fall camp, the previous coaching staff was talking about getting to a dependable two deep. Obviously you’re familiar with the roster now. What does that process look like for you now?
Lanning: Yeah, in the spring obviously we were down some guys. We had some injuries. We didn’t get to see every single player on our roster go through the spring... Like I said, we have 54 newcomers. Some of those guys were able to practice with you, some weren’t. That being said, that’s our job as coaches, right? We’re tasked with getting our guys ready to play, making sure we ask them to incorporate systems that they can execute.”
“Q. How would you describe the last seven months as a recruiter now that you are a head coach?
Lanning: Yeah, it’s been a whirlwind, a lot of fun. It’s fun piecing together the talent. Obviously we can recruit at a really high level. It’s also about bringing in coaches that are about relationships and development. I feel really strongly we brought in a great coaching staff that is built on relationships, not just effort, not just a sales pitch. That’s not our approach. It’s built on real relationships. When you have that, I think you can recruit at a high level. Certainly there’s a lot of pieces that go into being a head coach. You wear a lot of hats. When you have a great team around you, it gives you a chance to be successful.”
Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith had some nuggets in his opening remarks.
“I will tell you at Oregon State we’re proud of the progress we’ve made. We’re not a finished product by any stretch. But over the four years being here as the head coach, (I’m) really proud of the development we’ve had... competitiveness, winning more games than we lost last year.
I feel good about this roster that we’ve come coming back. We have a lot of returning players on both sides of the ball. Actually return all our specialists as well, long snapper, punter and kicker. We feel like we have a veteran group that has learned now what it takes to win. We’ve got a lot of those guys back. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do this year, understanding how competitive — especially this league -- (football) is.”
“Q. I know it’s been a process building your alma mater back up to respectability. Last season you won five of your first seven games, team went to a bowl game. Is it safe to say that the Beaver’s program has arrived and ain’t going nowhere no time soon?
Smith: We’re definitely trying to make it that way. We’re continuing to rise, we’re not going anywhere. You’re right, we won five of the first seven. Learning experience: we didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish. This year is an opportunity to improve on that.
Again, I go back to this idea that each year is new in college football. Just mentioned with players leaving, players needing to develop and get better. So there’s nothing guaranteed just because we did such and such last year; it affects the next year. It’s really the same mantra I had from year one to year two: What we did last year wasn’t very good (and) doesn’t say anything about the following year. Each year you got to come in and grow, develop, compete. I feel like we got a mature roster that’s all about doing that. Now we got to go prove it and show it each Saturday.”
Stanford coach David Shaw was another that spoke at length with his opening remarks.
“We have age and maturity on the offensive line. Excited about that group as well... We have an aged secondary and experienced secondary, a group that will play together, a group that has been a good leadership group for us on our football team, not just on the defense... Our linebacker corps, last year anytime you watched us, you saw three out of our four inside linebackers playing with, as I call it, a Q-tip on one hand or the other. The injuries were really difficult last year. A lot of them were bone injuries - broken hands, wrists; things we couldn’t avoid. Our linebacker corps is aged and experienced.
As a football team, I think we’re much better than we were a year ago. Definitely much better. Excited to get going.”
"I try not to look back too much, think too much about legacy... I'm coaching leaders. For us to focus on playing great football and graduating our guys, that's been what we've done. That's what I'm really proud of."— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) July 29, 2022
: @CoachDavidShaw | @76 pic.twitter.com/zT6OeoExWE
“Q. How do you overcome the bias against West Coast teams when you look at the Associated polls when it comes down to a 10-win Pac-12 school vs. an SEC team that maybe has eight wins? You guys dealt with it when Christian McCaffrey was here with the Heisman voting. Some people would say he should have won. But then you look at Alabama, they get the rub.
Shaw: I’m one of those people.
Q. Yeah. How do you overcome that rub of the West Coast bias no matter what your record is at Stanford?
Shaw: The biggest thing is we’ve got to win, you know. That’s the thing. We’ve got to win... That’s where we as a conference have fallen short here and there. Now, I will say built into that, this conference has been really deep, and it’s really hard to run the table in this conference.
Our conference, if you slip up, you’re going to get beat. Doesn’t matter who it is, where it is. You have to play your best football and play nine conference games... (That you also play) a difficult out-of-conference schedule is something that maybe the entire country doesn’t understand.
For us to play six, seven, sometimes eight conference games in a row, sometimes without a bye, that’s a tough, tough, difficult thing to do. So for us, we have to find a way to win - win those big games, win the out-of-conference games, win the bowl games to truly have a balance. Some people’s opinion you’re not going to change; I’m fine with that. We need to be able to have something to say here is how we compare to those other schools around the country.”
UCLA coach Chip Kelly was typical CK.
“Always an exciting time of year to be here. Season starts for us next Friday. We get a chance to get back on the field. I’ve always said the best part of football is actually football... We finished up last year strong, three big wins in conference to finish the season, plus-81-point differential. We had six players drafted off of last year’s team - the most in the conference. Had another six players sign free agent contracts. So we have to replace twelve players that are now on NFL rosters.”
“Q. A couple key transfers added to the secondary. On paper this feels like it’s going to be a secondary that’s going to make some plays this year. What have you seen thus far?
Kelly: Very competitive in the spring. I think we got size now in the secondary with Kirkwood and some of the guys we have on the perimeter. 6’3”-plus corners. Mo is a 6’2” kid. Kenny Churchwell played really, really well for us in the spring at safety. Kenny is a 6’2” kid. Blay is a big, solid, downhill, physical player. Azizi Hearn is a 6’2”, 205 kid. From what we came into to where we are now with our secondary, our secondary looks like what a secondary should look like.”
“Q. With the eight wins, historically UCLA has had moments where they’ve captured national headlines. When you look at your coaching career, the teams you had at Oregon, where do you feel this team is going to establish itself amongst all the teams you’ve coached?
Kelly: Teddy Roosevelt said comparison is the thief of joy. I’m never going to compare this team to a team I coached 10 years ago. Had some special teams when I was there, special memories with special players. I’m really excited about this football team because of the type of kids we have in our program right now. They excel in the classroom. They excel in the community. They finished the season off very strong last year. We’re just excited about getting an opportunity to get out on the field and getting going this year.”
“Q. We hear a lot about chemistry in the locker room. You guys have six new assistant coaches. Is there such thing as chemistry in a coaches room?
Kelly: Yeah, there is. I don’t think we have that many. I think it’s five. [Ed. note: It’s six, Kelly forgot OL coach Drevno.] I think we’re very conscious of who we bring on staff, the same way as the players we bring in. To add a UCLA legend like Ken Norton Jr., get a chance to get Ken to come back home, I think everybody in Los Angeles knows Ken, and to add him to staff was awesome. It was neat for me to watch our defensive staff with Billy McGovern and Ikaika Malloe and Chad Kauha’aha’a all jibe with Brian Norwood. Then we added one on offense. We lost our special teams coordinator to be the offensive coordinator at Nevada. Bring Jeff Farris in who we knew had been recruited from the West Coast a long time for Duke. I really enjoy our staff. I think we have a bunch of men that are great mentors, leaders and teachers.”
“Q. Focusing on this season, your first three are at home, non-conference. Looks like an easier non-conference schedule compared to the past.
Kelly: Do you know why? This is ironic.
Q. Michigan was dropped.
Kelly: The game got dropped, so... It’s crazy how the world turns around, huh?”
USC coach Lincoln Riley before getting to the Q&A:
“Yeah, been a very interesting last seven or eight months. Been a lot of fun. I’ve really, really appreciated the support that we’ve had from so many as we kind of got started here on this journey at USC. From building a staff, building a roster in a very unique way, to a tremendous spring, a great off-season...now time to put some of the talk and all the hype and all the other things going on behind us and go play ball. It’s a great feeling, something we’re very much looking forward to.”
“Q. On the defensive side of the ball, all the talk this off-season was about the transfers coming in. You did get a big defensive transfer in Shane Lee. How has the defense come along in the springtime?
Riley: I think our defense has done extremely well... I have a lot of confidence in the players we have there, the coaches that we have there, the scheme. I think all the makings to have an outstanding defense.”
“Q. Obviously it’s been guns blazing right out of the gate in terms of talent acquisition. It seems like SC is getting their pick of the litter from a skill position perspective. How are you seeing talent acquisition in the trenches, offensive line and defensive line? How do you feel about those two units this year?
Riley: I think the first key for us in the trenches was making sure we hired the right guys to coach them. Getting Josh Henson on the offensive line from Texas A&M, bringing in Shaun Nua from Michigan, Roy Manning from Oklahoma, that was important to us. Yes, recruiting them, the talent acquisition is obviously important, but you got to develop ’em... The defensive line we were a little bit more aggressive, added a couple of big inside guys. We brought in Romello Height on the edge, Solomon Byrd on the edge. We were a little bit more aggressive there immediately in the portal to try to beef that up, to try to add a little bit more quality depth. No, I think we have the makings of very good offensive lines and defensive lines this year. It’s important. It’s obviously going to continue to be important for us.”
“Q. The buzz this off-season has been overwhelming, the expectations through the roof. Almost CFP or bust for this team this year. Do you embrace those expectations? Are they fair?
Riley: Not my place to say whether they’re fair or not. Like I said in my opening press conference - before even one of these players had come in - I mean, you don’t come to USC and you don’t come to Los Angeles to do things small. You’ve got to set your sights big. I don’t think it’s too much. I don’t. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in what we’re teaching. I believe in the people that we have in there.”
“Q. During the spring you were pretty candid about the fact that you felt NIL did not have a place in recruiting in terms of recruiting high school players. Over the past few months, have you seen it directly impact recruitments that you’ve been involved in? You can’t name names. Wins or losses, has it been a factor that you feared or thought it would be?
Riley: Absolutely it has been. I think we all predicted it pretty quickly, as soon as they instituted NIL with not much legislation around it. There’s a lot of factors right now. Number one, when I took this job, NIL obviously had already started. Everyone knew it was going to be a part of college football going forward, building rosters going forward. It’s going to be a factor...As it’s evolved, I think what we’ve seen is, as a lot of coaches have said, we have rules that are not being enforced. One of two things is going to happen: we’re either going to start enforcing the rules that are there or we’re going to create new rules. I don’t know which one is going to happen. I can’t predict that. One of the two will happen and needs to happen.”
Washington coach Kalen DeBoer with some opening commentary:
“We’ve had a great off-season from winter workouts to spring football, now summer workouts. I think we’re certainly a team that is a lot stronger, faster, leaner. Those are things that in the development of our current roster were important. We brought in a few players that I think will be difference makers. Looking forward to really bringing it together here this fall. I think every day we continue to grow and to have a mindset we’re gaining or confidence and belief in what we’re accomplishing, doing, who we can be down the road.”
On to the Q&A:
“Q. What have you seen from your quarterbacks, all three of them, this summer?
DeBoer: Michael Penix comes to us from Indiana where I coached with him for one year. Systematically he understands what we do. That was an easy transition for him during spring ball... As far as the other two that obviously were already on the roster, Dylan, again, I have only got the 15 practices to go off of and the film. But he’s taken a lot of snaps in a Husky uniform... Then you got the up-and-comer. You got Sam Huard. Took a few snaps last year or last year. His ceiling, he’s probably the furthest away from his ceiling because he’s younger, hasn’t taken as many snaps that the other two have... It’s fun seeing those guys. They’re great high-character guys. They understand it’s a battle amongst all three of them. But first and foremost our team comes first.”
“Q. I realize this is going to sound like a silly question, but I promise it’s serious. If an opponent withheld the heights and weights of their players, how would you view that as a coach? Game week against this opponent, you look at the roster, it’s just names and numbers, how would you feel about that?
DeBoer: I mean, I think it’s helpful, additional information we use to understand what we’re going to be up against. I mean, nowadays you can find the information you probably want someway, somehow. It’s probably just a little more digging that we’d have to put in finding that information out so...”
“Q. This was a team that two years ago was set to play in the Pac-12 championship game. Last year, obviously, (there was) a lot of turnover off the field. When you look at your roster right now, do you feel this is a team that’s closer to what it was two years ago or last year?
DeBoer: I think the biggest thing... the biggest difficulty has happened, is you got guys that have been through a lot, right? I’m the third head coach since really 2019. It’s turned over. You got some guys that have had multiple position coaches. If there’s anything that’s been hard, it’s just really understanding that these guys have been through a lot... (the players) know what this program stands for, what the expectations are. They know what it takes to get there... Simplifying it down, just trying to focus on winning that day is what we are trying to do, worry about the things we can control and make a name for the 2022 team.”
“Q. Pretty big last month recruiting-wise. What has been the process of establishing your staff on the recruiting trail and the response you’ve seen so far?
DeBoer: Just really proud of our staff having the vision, going back to when we first got together (in) the first weeks in January. We had to put together first of all your 2022 roster, filling in the holes, but then we really put our heads together and really did a great job of being thorough and understanding what we needed for 2023 and how we were going to do it. We’ve had a lot of success. I think it’s obviously come down to the relationships that you build with these gentlemen, finding the right fit that you want in your program.”
Washington State coach Jake Dickert had the most (words) to say in his opening remarks:
“I’m excited to be part of my first Pac-12 Media Day. It means college football and the pageantry and traditions of college football is right around the corner. I’m humbled and honored to be representing Washington State University, an amazing land-grant research institution... Everyone really has a valued place in our program. I just really appreciate all those people.
I had an opportunity to bring 22 new staff members into our program; men and women that are amazing mentors for our players, and they’re all servant leaders to what our players need.
I think we stand on the doorstep of new challenges, but I’m really excited about the future of the Pac-12 and Pac-12 football...We’re excited about our ‘22 football season.”
Highlighted Q&A remarks:
“Q. Washington State have had success past five, six years. There was a time where they were beating down USC at home. What makes this time different for Washington State?
Dickert: Say that one more time. I didn’t quite hear you.
Q. Washington State has had success in the past. In terms of this time, what makes them different?
Dickert: Like I said, the new Wazzu hopefully is going to be about stability. Our players need stability, they need continuity... There’s a lot to having that team mentality that each and every one of our guys know they’re playing for the man next to them. I can’t speak to the other regimes on that, but I know that’s what our guys will hang their hat on each and every week.”
“Q. When you decided to hire Eric Morris, what kind of made you connect and realize that he was interested in potentially leaving in head coaching job to become an offensive coordinator?
Dickert: The biggest decision at first was we had to make a change. I think there was one of those things where just my vision of offense is multiplicity. You need a tight end to do that. I think in college football, you need to play with a pace. I looked at it more from my defensive lens (in terms of) what gives us problems. You create your lists of what that looks like. I know the air raid-ish offense has been very successful at Washington State... I’m a firm believer he was one of the best young offensive minds in college football.”
“Q. You mentioned rivalries, how special that is. Some of those rivalries nationally have gone away. How important is the Apple Cup to Washington State, keeping that as a foundation in the state?
Dickert: Well, I think when you walk through the door at Washington State, the first thing you hear about is the Apple Cup. But you don’t fully understand it until you go through it. It was taken away from us in 2020. To have the opportunity to play that game, just walking to the stadium, you understand it. Then obviously having the opportunity to bring the Apple Cup back into our building. The alumni, the faculty, everyone involved with Washington State, the calls, the texts, the emails; there’s just such passion in it. I know our people’s food tastes better when we win that game. That’s how much the Apple Cup means to us.”