Previewing Ohio State (Nov. 17); Reviewing Wisconsin (Nov. 10)
Coach, just to be in a position to play for a Big Ten Championship here from the start your team had this season, can you talk about how this came about, the senior leaders Why are you in a position to win a Big Ten Championship... "I think our guys have fought through a lot of issues, particularly on the injury front. I think we've had great leadership from our seniors. And we've had a lot of different guys in the course of this season step in and fill the breach and compete and do the things that would help us to win. And I think that's been a special thing about this team."
With the starts and with the injuries and people stepping up, is this your best coaching job that you've done here... "Well, this team, I'm very proud of the way this team has fought and competed. They've been down on the road, they've fought back.
"So they've done a lot of things that, you know, that as a player and as a coach, they could be proud of. And they've put themselves into a position where they're not only playing for the greatest rivalry in sport, they're playing for a championship. They're playing for the Rose Bowl.
"So those are things that you come here to do. And they're in a position where they have an opportunity to do that."
Will Hart and Henne play on Saturday... "We'll have to see on Saturday."
With the injuries you've had on the line with Hart, how important has it been having Jake Long... "Jake of course is a two time captain here, which I think speaks to the respects of his teammates and the people in this program. He's tough, he's smart, he's durable, and he loves to win. He's a great competitor. Those are all I think the qualities that great leaders have.
"I think he's been a great leader, and I think he's been a great role model for all of the players who are young and just trying to figure out what this is all about."
What do you tell your players during this week Do you encourage them to soak it up and enjoy everything that comes with this week... "I'll save that for my team (laughing). I mean I think it's about opportunity. I think it's about appreciating the opportunity to represent Michigan. For many of them to play in their last game in this stadium against our great rivals.
"So, I think it's not what we're trying to focus on are the things we need to do to improve to play better than we have, to play our best game. And the things that we need to do to be able to execute on Saturday afternoon when that ball is teed up."
How hard has it been or what's it been like to not have Bo around this team for you personally... "I think I'll always have Bo with me."
What did you see from the film Saturday, and what do you want to improve on this week... "I think there are a lot of things we can improve on. We can improve on our tackling, we can block better and we can run harder. We can do a lot of things in every phase of the game. Because, certainly, it was not our best game."
The running backs or the running game, I guess, was it more the line or the backs Was there an issue with one or the other Which was it... "I think it was a collective issue. And I think we'll learn some things from it, and I think we'll prepare. I have every confidence on the guys on this team that they understand we did not play the game like we're capable and like we like to.
"And that's not to take anything away from Wisconsin who did a great job."
Does some of the shuffling hurt you a little bit... "In the last two weeks we've had the same starting lineup we started the season with. But any time you do change, it takes a while. And sometimes you're not as efficient as you would like to be.
"But going into this game, I think the truth is that there are no excuses. There's just the game. Everything will be dictated by what type of plan we come up with and how we execute that plan."
On Chad Henne being in one play and out for the remainder of the game Saturday... "He threw a pass to Adrian. He warmed up very well. He threw a pass to Adrian Arrington that was short, a third-down play. Then he came back the next series, and threw another pass to Adrian that he just lost control of it. And it was pretty apparent at that time to him and to everybody that it wasn't going to be his day."
Ohio State, both teams probably want to be careful with what they say. Has it always been that way Or is it the increased coverage, the hype with the 20 TV cameras here today that changes things more and makes you kind of more protective... "Well, I told Mike Hart (laughter) -- you know, this is part of the fun of it for the players, for the coaches. When you grow up and you're making a choice on where to go to school, a lot of times, particularly the guys that grow up here in the midwest, because of the national exposure, this is what you do. And it enhances the visions of the program, the university.
"And we want to do it and we want to represent our team in a way that will not hurt our chances to win. And we want to do it in a way that will help you do your job and yet there is a priority for us."
Last year I asked Bo when he was a coach, what did he do to prepare for Ohio State, and he said he did something every day to beat Ohio State. Do you follow that Do you do something every day Or does it just come this week and you do it... "I've also seen quotes from Bo that he did nothing special during the course of the season. So Bo was either being misquoted or he was being deceptive.
"And the truth is I coached for 10 years with him. What you do is you prepare in terms of the culture you're trying to accomplish. The great work ethic. The trying to practice at game speed, and all the things that you're doing. So you're preparing for them on a daily basis.
"But in terms of doing things that are special on a daily basis, I think more than anything else, you know who the competition is. You're dealing with the competition on a daily basis in a lot of different areas -- every player, every coach. So from that standpoint, I think that's probably what he was talking about."
A lot of the guys said they want to win this game for you. How important is it for you to send them out as winners against Ohio State... "I think this program going back to Bo and probably before that, but certainly Bo built this program based on 'team.'
"And we share those great moments together, and they're special, and that's why you do all the work and put everything you have in terms of your heart, your mind, and your soul into trying to win. And if it doesn't work out that way, then you lose together.
"So for me, it's about Michigan. And I think for the guys on this team, on this staff, it's about Michigan."
Are you surprised at how Todd Boeckman is performing this year As a first year starter... "I think he's done an outstanding job. I've not given that any thought. I thought it was pretty obvious right from the beginning of the season that he was an outstanding quarterback, and I tried to recruit him. Offered him a scholarship early, and, so, I've had great respect for him since he was in high school."
What is your explanation why in the 1990s, Michigan sort of owned Ohio State. Lately it's kind of gone the other way a little bit... "I don't have an explanation, except to say on those given Saturdays, you know, the best team normally wins. And I think other than anything else, I don't have much to give you there."
Talk about the career on and off the field that Hart, Henne and Long have had... "We've talked about them really since they got here. They've all started as freshmen. Jake was a red shirt freshman. And they've been everything a coach could want and a player and as a representative of this program on and off the field.
"They've played the game as great competitors, and they love this school. When you look at three guys, all of whom could have left early to go on to the draft, and they all came back. To me, that speaks for the fact that they love their experience here, and they weren't ready to leave because they enjoy what they're doing.
"They're all going to graduate. And they're all going to be very, very successful when they leave Michigan."
When you use the fact of Ohio State as motivation for them at all, do you say do you really want to leave here without beating Ohio State... "What I tell our team I really don't have anything publicly to comment on."
Your team looked like all was lost early this season, is that message hard to get through..."What we talked about was trying to win this week. You know you can't change the past. And I think, you know, it was no question it was a very, very difficult time.
"That's why I credit the leadership, and the culture of this program is that you work hard, you practice hard, you play for each other. You take coaching you come out and give your best effort every time you get an opportunity to represent this program.
"So I think it was those things that enabled us. It's possible to crack under that kind of circumstance. But they never wavered. Were they disappointed Absolutely. But they fought. They fought hard."
There's quite a legacy about your offensive linemen. How much do you use that to recruit... "We have that type of situation in a lot of positions. Certainly going back, we have a wall over there with the All Americans on it. And an extraordinary number of those offensive linemen have been All Americans here. And it's something that we use absolutely, because it is part of the Michigan tradition."
I don't understand why the questions about your future persist. You want to be at Michigan next year, do you not... "The only thing on my mind is this game."
How much pressure do you find yourself under to win this game... "I think we put pressure on ourselves. The one thing I tell players when I recruit them is you got to want the pressure here. You've got to want it, because it's here. We want to embrace that pressure because we want to win every time we take the field."
The last three losses to Ohio State, is there a common thing that you really have to emphasize... "We need to play our best game. And this game is about this team. Part of the week is the tradition, all the great games, all the great players and coaches. Those things are fine. But the only important thing in our minds is this week. Today, what we do to prepare, what we do to give ourselves a chance to win."
If Henne can't go has your back-up Ryan Mallett been in the fire enough Is he ready for this... "I don't think you could be in more fires than he's been in. He's grown a lot. He's like any freshman. He's got a lot of things to learn. He's done some great things and he's learned from some mistakes and it's all part of the process that you go through that you go through to play that position."
What would it mean to you this week if you win without Hart and Henne... "I just look at what we have when we go in there on Saturday. And making sure every guy who gets an opportunity is as prepared as he can be. You can't worry about things that you have no control over."
About Hart's toughness... "He's as tough as they come. When you play against Mike Hart you know that you're going to get his best. He's a high energy guy and he's extremely tough. He's got all the characteristics that enable people to be successful. He's passionate about the game, and takes great pride in the way he performs. He can perform with or without the ball. When he gets the ball, he's going to find the way to do some things to help his team win."
A few seniors today said they were tired of hearing how they lost to Ohio State and it's time for them to change that.... "I don't know. I don't worry about anything except the way we prepare and the way we approach this game. The focus it stakes to win, and that is really the key.
"If you can use every moment, every second that you have this week outside of the classroom to focus in on the things that you need to do; for some guys that means they have to be healthier. For some guys it means they have to improve their technique. For some guys that means they have to do a better job in terms of executing. So there are a lot of things that go into it.
"But it comes down to being able to go out there on Saturday when that ball is kicked off and play your best."
Do you feel not getting the ball is enough is still issue... "I think in the first half we did not play well defensively. We had penalties, the penalty where we intercepted the pass and gained great field position for us, it's an inexcusable penalty, and that caused us to take that stadium on the road, and Tyler Donovan had a great day. He's going to make some plays, but we missed them some assignments there where we allowed him to get outside. And probably more than anything else, that led to too many big plays in the passing game. So when you do that, you're going to pay for it, and we paid for it. And obviously on the other side of the ball, we didn't run the football in the first half very well.
"And in the second half we were behind, we were in a hurry up mode, so the game changed."
In your experience, what has this game usually come down to over the years... "All those games are different. But inevitably there is always something in the kicking game, penalties. Penalties, always play a big role. Turnovers. How well you take advantage of your opportunities in the red zone. Offense, defense. (laughter)"
You guys have been so good on takeaways. The last few weeks haven't been that way... "Well, we lost one because of the penalty. That would have helped us."
It's the Big Ten Championship mean more to this team and to the program than to win this game... "I think that's fair to say. Yes, I do."
Did you have any more conversations about that penalty and your interpretation of it... "It wasn't an interpretation, it was a bad call. And anybody who thinks it was a good call is either uninformed or not informed. I mean look at it on film, I've looked at it on tape, it's one play. It was an important play.
"I don't want to get off on this, but the rules were changed to protect quarterbacks in the pocket and quarterbacks who were scrambling. That's an option football play. He was not hit in the head. It was just a bad call. And the reason, if I might defend my behavior, the reason I was so adamant was because I was certainly expecting that play to be run again.
"So what, are we going to have a 15-yard penalty every time they run the option That rule was misinterpreted. And I would hope that for the future that be clarified. Because when we run the option this week, I do not want Henne hit like that."
What did you and your staff do differently in the game that can turn things... "We've got a great group of people here on our staff. And, you know, you've either got a choice, when you're down. You can lay down and stay there, or you can get back on your feet and fight. And that, to me, is really the essence of competition. You know, there's going to be days out there where you get beat up. And they're no fun.
"So, like my dad told me one day after I got beat up, you got to go back on that playground, and you've got to fight."
How old were you... "11 years old. I didn't want to go back."
Did you get him... "He was a bully, you know. I was afraid. But I did what he told me, and it was one of the great lessons of my life."
What was the result... "I was not afraid again."
What is your opinion of Ohio State... "I think you ought to ask Coach Tressel. Have you seen him yet They're a typical well balanced team. They're well coached. They play hard together. And that's who they are."
Who is responsible for getting this team up emotionally... "I think that's a challenge for every guy. I think leadership is important. But I think it also comes down to every guy making sure that he, himself is ready to play. You can't get somebody else ready to play. Now you can inspire people with your performance, with the way you compete and with some of the things that you say. But ultimately it is up to the guy that's there to compete with the best of his ability. And I think that's the way we approach it. Next man up."
Do you struggle with the decisions to play Hart or Henne and whether or not it was the right thing to do... "Well, with Chad it really has been easy and with Mike, Mike wanted to play Saturday. But I didn't what I saw in the pre-game warm-up, I just didn't like. And so that was my decision."
Do you think it's fair to judge the senior class on this rivalry... "I think the record in this game, you know that you carry that forever. By the same token you don't judge, I don't judge a player on his record.
"I judge a player by the way he competed. By the way he represented this program. By the things that he did in terms of his development, academically and in football. And I think that's the only fair way. But that is certainly everybody is judged, there are a lot of people out there watching. That's why it's an exciting game to play in. There are a lot of people that are going to write about it, and talk about it. And that's the way legends are made.
"So, you know, it's a great environment to be in. You just have to understand that you have to be able to cope with all the pressures that those things create."
The coaches, too... "No, we're immune to that. I think it does, absolutely."
In the BCS, sometimes the Rose Bowl is not the grand prize. Are you glad that it is this weekend... "If there's a greater bowl than the Rose Bowl, then I'd like to see it. I'd love to be there."
Can I get your impression of Wells and the Ohio State offensive line... "Very well. A great line. I mean, he's a threat because he's got great feet, and he's got great explosiveness, and he runs very, very fast. And he's big. So if you've got another quality you like in a running back explain it to me."
Do you have to coach the guys that did not grow up on the rivalry to understand this rivalry... "A lot of guys come here for that game when they're in high school. They grew up watching it on TV, they read about it. And from the moment they get here, they know that it's the game. So if you're a freshman, you don't know what a senior knows, but I think you learn quickly."
About comments made in the Ohio State series that pump the other team up... "I think there are a lot of comments that sting both ways. So it's all part of the week, you know. What some guy said 25 years ago, I've got it up over there on the board. You don't forget."
Do you remind players at all what about watching what they say... "Well, I did have a conversation with them, I talked with Mike. And he said, Coach, I'm not dumb. And he isn't.
"What I've tried to do is deal with the issue of the media in the preseason and in the beginning of the season and the spring. And at this think there are essentially some fundamental rules. Respect the game. Understand that when you say something don't say it unless you want to see it in print. And we want to talk about a game in a way that we can answer questions. But we want to do it in a way that we respect our opponents.
"I think that's the essence of competition. And sometimes guys that are this age, they say things that may be misconstrued or aren't construed properly, and it becomes an issue but that's part of their education. Because when they do say some of those things, it's helpful to the other team, and it's a lesson for everybody else for the future, so."
About not allowing doubt to creep in players minds... "I think the way you deal with competition is through hard work and concentration and playing to the best of your ability, your role. If you can do those things, you can prepare for the pressure, and for the opportunity that is coming your way this week. I think that's the deal."
Do you have fun this week... "Yeah, I guarantee you. Except for a few minutes in the week on a Monday around noon, 1:00 o'clock (laughing). I mean, look you have a game that everybody that loves this game cares about. They may not care as intensely as some.
"But they all want to know what happened. What happened in Ann Arbor Michigan, Ohio State. So when you're playing for a championship, when you're playing for an opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl. When you're playing against your fiercest rival, that's fun, except, if you can't enjoy that, then God help you."
Do you get consumed by the pressure of this game... "Well, the pressure, you embrace the pressure because the competition is why you play. It's why you coach. More than anything else, it's about competing to the best of your ability in a game you love. And to try to do something and achieve something with a group of people that you care about, and in this case, that represent the University of Michigan in a way that we can all be proud."
Talk about Mario Manningham, and his career... "I think Mario's a guy from the very beginning he did some great things as a true freshman. A year ago, he really began to display the unique qualities as a receiver that he possessed. He's got a great burst. He's tough, he loves the competitive part of it. And he's, you know, in terms of all the things you want a wide receiver to do, he can do them.
"Of course, a year ago he got hurt and he was not the same after his injury. And he came back this fall, and I would say in the last six, seven weeks, he's been unbelievable. He's been sensational. He's a threat every time touches the ball."
Media Contacts: David Ablauf (734) 763-4423