Photo: Malcolm Roach (Valero Alamo Bowl)
The Texas Defense took part in a press conference on Saturday in preparation for next week's Valero Alamo Bowl. Taking part in the press conference were Interim Defensive Coordinator Craig Naivar, Caden Sterns, Malcolm Roach, Joseph Ossai, Brandon Jones and Keondre Coburn.
CRAIG NAIVAR: Just had practice this morning, a really good round of work. Had some good work done in Austin before we came down, and putting the finishing touches on the game plan, guys running around excited about what we’re doing this morning, and excited for the activities these guys are doing as part of the bowl game and earning this reward for their season.
Q. Coach, how invigorating, how different, how seamless has it all been for you to take over the interim D coordinator spot this month?
CRAIG NAIVAR: Todd did such a great job of setting up our system and what we do and how we go about doing things, so it’s just following up with the things he’s laid before us. These guys have done a tremendous job of responding to that situation. It’s not an easy one, not a fun one. You lose a family member, and we all understand that we were a part of that. It wasn’t just Todd Orlando. We had a gigantic hand in everything. You could make — build a million excuses and reasons why. We’ve got to accept it is what it is, and respond the right way and go forward from that.
The staff that’s with us now and these guys have made it really easy.
Q. Coach Naivar, what has been your message to the defense in light of the coaching changes and possibly future changes? And how has that impacted your bowl preparations?
CRAIG NAIVAR: Good question. As I just mentioned, the night that everything happened, we had a defensive team meeting, and as I just said, you lose family members, other coaches on this staff were loved by the players, and it’s tough. Like I said, you take ownership in why it happened and move from there, and then the biggest part of kind of the message is we as coaches are now faced with a ton of adversity as far as what are the future changes, what happens. And we’d be complete fakes and phonies to sit there in front of these young men and lecture them on being mentally tough, responding to situations, fighting through things like this and kind of mailing it in and not having a great demeanor in how you go about doing things.
I think that’s really, really important as far as that goes.
The message has been exactly what Coach Orlando would have said: Let’s bust our tail, work hard, we’ve got a tremendous opportunity, we’ve got a chance to send some seniors out with a bowl win with three straight wins in bowl games, and I think that’s important.
And the other thing that I shared with the group that sometimes they fail to realize is yes, we didn’t meet expectations, yes, we had problems. We weren’t as good as we wanted to be and we didn’t hold up the standard we needed to. But in the last four ballgames, I believe the number is — we held opponents’ scoring offenses to an average of 11 points under their scoring average. Three of the four teams are bowl teams that has a pretty good offense. Once Coach Orlando was able to get some pieces back, although not completely healthy but got pieces back, we were making strides, and we’ve got to continue to do that.
The young guys, the guys gained experience this year, need to continue to build on it and work on it in these bowl practices and continue to attack it. Like I said at the end of the day, we as leaders, we as people that sat in these young men’s living rooms or know their families very well would be a disservice and be phonies to not bust our tail and do everything we can to not send these guys out the right way regardless of our situation. That doesn’t matter. Winning a football game on New Year’s Eve is what matters.
Q. Keondre and Joseph, a lot of these bowl games come down to who really wants to be here and is motivated to play. Why is Texas motivated to play? Why is this important?
KEONDRE COBURN: I mean, it’s just another opportunity to play football. Playing in December is very huge for players in college, period, even high school. So just to have the opportunity to play again is really huge for us.
JOSEPH OSSAI: We’re all motivated to play any chance to go out there and showcase your skills and have fun with the people you work so hard with is a blessing, I think. The other teams — there are a lot of other teams out there that their season ended early. Very appreciative to be here, and we’re ready to get to work.
Q. Craig, you’ve got a couple guys up here that are definitely coming back next year. What would you tell Keondre or Caden or Joe or anybody that came to you, because in some cases this is their first reality of how this is a business. What do you tell them going forward?
CRAIG NAIVAR: Well, I think it’s accountability and ownership. We as coaches have the biggest brunt of that accountability and ownership of what happened. There are very high standards in what we do, and it’s life lessons when you don’t meet certain standards. There are results, there are consequences, there’s positive and negative consequences. Holding the trophy up in the Sugar Bowl last year was a positive result. Not playing in the conference championship game and reaching some of the goals we wanted to is a consequence. It’s part of that. It’s part of life.
One thing that I think that’s important in all of this, not just winning or losing football games but learning life lessons. You’re going to face adversity. Sometimes it’s created by yourself, sometimes it’s not. But you’ve got to learn how to respond, and how you respond is a thousand times more important than actually what happened to you.
Photo: Texas defensive players (Valero Alamo Bowl)
Q. Brandon and Malcolm, y’all committed to the previous coach, played y’all’s freshman seasons and then this current staff came in. What were some of the first things that this current staff said to you to engage with y’all and get y’all rowing the boat for them and now that this is your last game for this staff, what are your thoughts looking back on that process when they came in?
BRANDON JONES: I think the biggest thing that we took from the coaching staff, obviously they didn’t recruit all of us, and just how the situation was. I think we ended it the right way. I think the biggest thing that they brought to us which kind of opened our eyes was how close knit and when you’re a close knit team and when you really trust the process and just being a part of that whole culture shift really opened our eyes.
I know personally just being around the type of guys that have came in with me and the guys that came behind me, just how important that relationships are, and just being real all the time. Stuff doesn’t always go your way, obviously, and sometimes you don’t — you’re not able to — you’re not put in the situation that you want to be put in, but these coaches really strive to make us — have taught us a lot of stuff in football that also goes with stuff in the real world, and I think it’s made me and a lot of the other guys better men at the end of the day.
MALCOLM ROACH: Can you restate the question, please?
Q. Malcolm, when the current staff didn’t recruit you, you had to basically — when they got here, they kind of had to reengage y’all. What was that process like, and then looking back on it, what are your — just your reflection on playing for this staff even though they didn’t recruit you?
MALCOLM ROACH: You know, everything wasn’t smooth sailing from the beginning. But just like my parents always tell me, everything happens for a reason. You know, one day you’ve just got to look at yourself and say, you know, nothing is going to happen, the old staff is not coming back and you’ve got to work with what you have. Before you know it, you just been around each other so long you start having love for one another, and things just start clicking. You know, we just realized that we just had to work, and we work hard, and this staff pushed us more than I’ve ever been pushed in my life, and just like Brandon said, they just didn’t prepare us for football, they prepared us for life with just things we did within practice and things we did within being accountable, being on time for things like that.
That was basically the biggest thing. Time was a big factor in that. You just can’t adjust overnight. But we learned that things weren’t going to change, and we had to fall in love with it, and that’s what we did. We gave this staff our heart. We opened up to them. We had a lot of good results from that. You know, like I say, everything happens for a reason, so I can’t complain at all.
Q. Craig, two questions for you. First one, you mentioned the last four games of the regular season once you guys started getting some guys back. A lot of those guys were in the secondary, where you’re coaching. What were the strides that you saw made and how important was it to get those bodies back and how important was the health of this defense to having success? And then also, you’re a Taylor guy, you talked about growing up going to Texas baseball games and being a UT fan. I know this isn’t the way you wanted to be in this position, but what does it mean to you personally to be in such an elevated role as defensive coordinator of the University of Texas, a school that you grew up loving?
CRAIG NAIVAR: Sure, I’ll answer your second question first or second statement there. I’m blessed every day I get to wake up and represent this state and this university, so yeah, things don’t always go the way you want them to, but there’s also been a lot of positives in our tenure here and things like that, so excited about that. Excited to be with these guys this morning and all that good stuff like that.
You know, that’s a positive.
Going back to the injury part of it, we can give a million different excuses of what and why things happened this year. When you take the final look at what led to everything, Coach Orlando had a really tough task every week of going through the injury report and who’s playing this week, who’s healthy, who’s not, who can do this, who can do that, so the inconsistencies were one guy is not playing maybe a specific position continuously so you can build upon prior game plans and do those things, then it creates a challenge.
But it’s something we’ll respond to and do the best we can with that. But it’s been fun to get those guys back, guys that are leaders back there, guys that can get guys lined up and allowed Coach Orlando and ourselves to do more things versus sometimes with a little bit less experience, try not to ask too much of a guy that was not yet ready to do that. That’s through experience, that’s through confidence, that’s from getting on the field and playing, and that’s the only other way you’re going to gain experience is doing that.
Q. Brandon, curious what you were thinking during that initial team meeting when you guys learned that Coach Orlando had been let go. What were your thoughts and feelings, and did that make it sort of initially difficult for you to focus on this game with everything that was spinning around the program?
BRANDON JONES: It was definitely tough. I know some of the older guys, we, I think, knew how to handle it a lot better just because we’ve been in that situation before, obviously.
But we have total faith in Coach Naivar, and we knew that if anything, with Coach Orlando not being here, he would want us to finish the way we knew he wanted us to finish. I think we handled it a lot better than I initially thought, and we really just came together as a defense. And like I said, we have full faith in Coach Naivar, that he’s going to be able to get us in the right place at the right time, execute it at 100 percent and do whatever we can to win. But you know at the end of the day, I think with Coach Orlando getting fired, it just kind of gives us some fuel and motivation to have a bigger reason why this game is so important to us.
Q. Malcolm, a lot was made of Georgia not wanting to be there last year in the Sugar Bowl when y’all handled them so well. Utah is in a very familiar situation. They were left out of the playoff when they lost their last game. What do you think their motivation will be, and do you think you guys will be more motivated than them?
MALCOLM ROACH: I can’t answer that, what their motivation will be. I’m not in their locker room, so you’ll have to ask those guys.
But I know we’re going to be motivated. We always are. Like Keondre and Joe said, it’s another opportunity to play. It’s me and Brandon’s last opportunity to play with these guys. We work our tails off together, so we’re going to have the same motivation we always have playing for each other, and that’s the biggest thing that’s going to drive us.
Q. Coach, a question for you. When Coach Herman told you about the changes that were going to happen and he told you you were going to be the interim, what can you say about what that conversation was like? And the second question is are you trying to carry on Todd Orlando’s defense, or are you trying to do different things and add maybe a little bit of your own spin to it?
CRAIG NAIVAR: Sure. The initial response was anger and disgust at myself for things that I could have done better to help Coach Orlando and still be here. He’s one of the premier defensive coordinators in the country, and that hasn’t changed just because he doesn’t have that job. I consider him a very, very close friend, but he’s a damned good ball coach, and he has a great system in place. We would be foolish as ever to try to reinvent the wheel and try to create something different than what we’re doing.
As every game plan has, you do specific things for that opponent, but we have a system in place. It’s a great system, and we’re going to execute it to the best of our ability.
Q. Coach Naivar, what stands out about Utah offensively, their biggest strengths?
CRAIG NAIVAR: Yeah, any Utah team you’ve ever seen play, they’re a physical, tough oriented team. They do a tremendous job coaching their kids to be tough, and they get the right type of guys that do that. They’re equally as good at running and throwing the ball. If you’re going to load the box up, the quarterback can do good things with it. If you want to sit back there and keep people over the roost they run the ball down your throat. They’ve got a lot of experience on offense, at the skill positions especially, and they have bred upon the success they’ve had this year. They present a task that’s not just one-dimensional in what they do.
Q. Joe, I know that you have expressed a lot of admiration for Todd Orlando. For you, how difficult was learning a new —
JOSEPH OSSAI: It was tough, especially because I haven’t been through anything like this. But like Naivar said, it’s hard when you lose a family member. We had our differences, but it was all love at the end of the day.
But we’ve got to move on, and we have a great, great system in place. With Coach Naivar, we trust him, and he trusts me, too, so we’ve got to do what we can to win this game.
Q. Caden and Craig, Caden, I know you talked throughout the off-season of the frustration of dealing with the ankle injury and the surgery and coming back. What was it like dealing with the knee injury and how much are you looking forward to getting on the field for this game and putting some good tape out there? And Craig, when Caden is healthy and right, what does that do for this defense?
CADEN STERNS: So yeah, obviously dealing with all these things, I was very — was really draining, mentally and physically, and just to get back on the field as much as I can because I love playing with these guys next to me and for the dudes in the locker room.
But again, just to also be in this game, to come back home and get back to my roots and play in a place I’m familiar with means a lot to me, as well.
CRAIG NAIVAR: Obviously he’s pretty damned good when he’s beat up. He’s really good when he’s not. I think what’s really — things that will never be said or known, which I have the utmost admiration and love for these guys like they are my own sons is what they have gone through physically and what some of these guys have fought through, from early in the season, not just mid-season, not just late. You guys will never know some of those things. But it’s pretty damn amazing what some of these kids have done, and I say kids, young men have done.
Again, I get up every morning fired up that I get to be around these guys, knowing what they’re about, knowing what they fight through, knowing what they’ve gone through. It motivates the heck out of me to be my very best for these guys.
Q. Malcolm and Brandon, we’ve talked a lot about how you guys were here when Texas didn’t go to bowl games, and I want to ask you both, what is it like to maybe finish with a three-game bowl winning streak, and where do both of you think this program is headed into the future with all these coaching changes that are coming?
MALCOLM ROACH: You know, to be able to go out my freshman year, not make a bowl game was disappointing. But I mean, you learn from it and you just try not to let that happen again, and we didn’t let that happen again.
To go out and win two straight on the verge of trying to win three straight, you know, it’s exciting. That’s something that we want to get done. I don’t think it’s been done here in a long time, I think. But you know, just trying to go out there and win another game, that’s what it really comes down to. Just trying to go out on a high note with our careers and trying to send these young guys out with a lot of positivity going into the off-season because it’s always big coming off a win at the end of the season.
But I just see this program going up, you know. Just had a nice recruiting class come in. You know, a lot of guys who wasn’t supposed to play this year got a lot of playing time, especially in the secondary, and you know, losing a guy like Brandon back there, it’s a lot of guys that played a lot of downs this year, and I feel like they’re going to have a lot of experience going into the next year, even being sophomores and some juniors coming up.
I just see this program going up even more.
BRANDON JONES: Yeah, I would say just being — not being bowl eligible our freshman year to making a bowl the next three years, the biggest importance that comes with playing in a bowl is the extra practices and how important those are and getting that chance. I know me and Malcolm spent like a month at home just watching the games and stuff, and having those extra practices really develops, and it kind of builds that overall experience, and getting those extra days of practice.
I definitely see Texas, obviously we’ve made a bowl the last three years, and it’s always, I think, since this coaching staff has been here, it’s been going in the right direction, obviously. Like Malcolm said, it’s just exciting just to be able to play another game with these guys. I love them like they’re my real brothers, and we’re just going to do what we can do.