Below is the transcript of Baylor coach Matt Rhule’s press conference at Big 12 Media Days from Tuesday afternoon:
THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined at the podium by the Baylor Bears Coach, Matt Rhule. Welcome and your thoughts about the upcoming season?
MATT RHULE: Thank you very much. On behalf of our program I want to make sure I thank Commissioner Bowlsby, Ed Stewart, all the fine people here at the Big 12. My first of year in the league has been great and I think everything I’m come into contact with has been first class, including Media Day. It’s always great for me to represent Mack Rhoades, Linda Livingstone, our president, all of our fans that come and talk to you about our team. I want to congratulate Lincoln Riley, I think he’s one of the great coaches in our profession and the team they had representing our league on a national stage was awesome to see. Baker Mayfield and that entire Oklahoma Sooners team and I would be remiss if I didn’t say congratulations to them.
I want to make sure I address, my first year in the Big 12, just so impressed with the league, with the level of coaching, with the quarterback play. There’s so many well-run teams and it was really cool to be a part of the league. I didn’t obviously like our record last year but as a fan, as a person that loves college football I want to be one of the people that stands up and talks about just how hard it is, how impressive it is to do what Oklahoma did last year to win a match-up, not just 1 versus 2, but after having been in the NFL, knowing how hard it is to beat a team twice in one season for Oklahoma to be able to do that and for whatever team this year has to do that I think it needs to be said.
I’m proud to have four of our seniors here: Ira Lewis, Greg Roberts, Chris Platt and Verkedric Vaughns, all four great young men and all four college gradates. The only mistake they made is that they all outdressed me today and I’m proud to be here with those guys. One thing I want to say, I’m proud of our players and I would invite anybody to when you have a chance come to Waco, see our players, see our organization. Mack Rhoades is running as fine of an athletic department as there is in college football and I believe we are running off the field as fine of a college football program as there is in the country. We’re tackling issues and tackling character development, we’re mentoring, developing, educating and I’m proud of the things we’re doing as a college football program. I know we’re trying to move way from the past and learn from the past, but part of that is being really proud about what you’re doing in the present.
There are great things happening at Baylor and there are great things happening in Baylor football and in Baylor athletics and those four young men, those four college graduates, are all tremendous representatives of what’s happening day-in, day-out. Obviously the first year was not what we wanted and we’re looking forward to moving into year two. The players have worked extremely hard and right now we’re at a point where we have to learn how to win. We found a way to lose a bunch of close ball games down the stretch. We’re a year older, a year more mature and really our challenge is not to worry about anybody else but to find a way to learn how to win, to run the football when it counts, to play defense and that’s our challenge as we get ready to head into August. With that, that would be my statement. Hopefully it was okay.
Q. Coach, with talented recruiting class coming in and the new redshirt rule where you can play freshmen four games do you plan to take advantage of that and get those guys on the field early?
MATT RHULE: Yeah, and I want to make sure I thank Gary Patterson who in our conference has led the charge. I think it’s a significant rule change and especially in the situation we’re in as we’re replenishing the roster we have to take tremendous advantage of it really if a couple different ways. To give guys some experience moving into their second season. We have some guys that because of the things that have happened over the last couple of years have had to play and a redshirt year would benefit them both physically as well as academically and making sure we are healthy down the stretch. The situation we were in last year with all the injuries that we had last year we certainly could have used it.
So to me it’s not about getting each kid four games but making sure you find the right four games and use guys in a very systematic way. Like anything else, it’s new. I’m sure we will make mistakes, but it’s a seismic change in our world.
Q. Matt, just talking about last year and being forced to play as many true freshmen as you did. I always think the biggest jump you make, college or the NFL, is between the first and second year. What do the kids look like, Charlie, Jonathan, Jalan, all the freshmen you played last year, the difference physically between those kids right now?
MATT RHULE: I think our whole team has made a huge jump in the way they look physically, Charlie here is probably 208, 210, we have youthful experience. We’ve got a lot of guys who have played in a lot of ball games but they’re still young. They can go play in the game, but they can’t go buy themselves a beer after the game. They’re not 21 yet. We have 17, 18, 19 year old kids playing out there in the football game.
They’ve played a lot of football. They’ve seen how it felt. They know they can do it, but now they have to build their body. They have to take the next step. They’ve worked really hard, and these seniors, not just these four but the guys that are there, they’ve led the way. I think you will see a group that learned their lessons from last year. Last year stunk, last year wasn’t fun obviously. But you’re a fool if you don’t learn from it. I think the thing we try to do as a staff, especially going to Temple, going 2-12 but as a staff we tried to make sure we learned our lessons. So all those redshirt freshman, they went through the adversity and they’re a year bigger, a year stronger. They’re youthful, but they’re well on their way.
Q. During the spring drills you’re stressing, forcing more turnovers. Who do you feel can be defensive playmakers for you?
MATT RHULE: I think the thing defensively, one of the things coming into the Big 12 is can you play defense in the Big 12? I think TCU and Iowa State proved last year that you can play defense in the Big 12 and they proved it at a national level. So defensively for us, we have to eliminate some big plays, but we have to create turnovers. I think two of the guys back there up front, that starts up front, Greg Roberts, Ira Lewis, Tyrone Hunt. We have defensive linemen who have grown up in the trenches and now it’s their time to take the next step, and then you look at the secondary, Harrison Hand played as a true freshman last year, got some awards. Grayland Arnold was never healthy enough last year, he needs to step up. Verkedric has now had a full year. Chris Miller, Blake Lynch.
So I think we have a lot of good players. It’s just are they going to step up to that level of expertise where they’re not just doing their job anymore, they’re doing their job and ripping the ball out. My experience working for Coach Phil Snow it usually takes two years for guys to get it. My first year at Temple there was a Fire Phil Snow Facebook page, and year two everybody wanted to hire him. So it takes a year to learn our system and I’m expecting we have guys that will go out and try to get the ball back especially against the great offenses in the Big 12.
Q. You mentioned the redshirt rule, but what are you are threats on the transfer rule and how will that affect your program as well as college football as a whole?
MATT RHULE: I don’t have issue with the transfer rule. My thing has always been very simple. I’ve never blocked a kid from transferring. I know in our program that our coaches, our players, our coaches’ wives, we wake up every day bent on making sure that our players are the best they can be, that they have everything they need to be successful. I probably spend more time with our players than I do with my own kids and I don’t say that proudly. I was just on the beach with my kids, I want to be a great dad. I spend a lot of time with our players, so if a player comes into our environment and it’s not right for him, then he should go. He should have an opportunity to go somewhere else. I think it’s great. I think it gives kids an opportunity to make a decision. Now, I don’t think you should be able to say you’re going to transfer September 1 and have three months where you can be on scholarship. None of us in life get to quit our job and get paid for three more months.
So we have to make sure we teach responsibility. We want to fight entitlement everywhere, but I do believe that if a young man does not want to be in our program he should have the right to go wherever he is going to be successful. I was at Temple and I made the decision to come to Baylor. So I had that right and I had to pay a buyout and I had that right. So I think our young people should have the ability to go where they think they can be the most successful.
Q. You hit on this a little bit earlier, but with Charlie and his development, where do you expect him to develop most in year two at quarterback? Where does he need to still progress?
MATT RHULE: So, you know, June Jones years ago taught me when you play a quarterback as a true freshman, they’re playing on instinct, you slow the offense down, they’re whipping it around, and the next year they try to learn the system and they have a tendency to maybe dip a little bit and they have so much expectation it looks like this. So the key is to keep Charlie, is to have him continue to be the guy that’s laughing at me in the huddle, telling me to calm down. He’s a true freshman telling me to calm down in the middle of a game. He’s got that to him. He’s got that “it” factor to him, and keeping that and making sure he grows as a quarterback.
With the receivers we have, Chris Platt, Denzel Mims, Jalen Hurd, Tony Nicholson, Pooh Stricklin. He needs to grow as a passer while at the same time keeping his energy. And he has some threats behind him. Jalan McClendon came in behind him, had some great moments at NC State. Gerry Bohanon came in this spring and whenever he is ready he’s going to be a tremendous force in college football, great person, great athlete, great arm. So there are guys in that room that will keep Charlie sharp and I look forward to the competition. As you know, I believe in competition every day. So it’s his job. If we played today, we will see what happens comes September 2nd.
Q. At Baylor there is a term “To You I Hand the Torch”. I was curious if you’ve had much reflection on that phrase, terminology as you lead the Baylor program and continue to shine the light on Waco, and if there are any examples of how your players have taken that moniker and continued to lead?
MATT RHULE: I think I will always start with our players. I spoke to alumni base last night and I brought up the fact that the four young men here today are four future pro players and all four college graduates, not just to talk about the fact that they graduated. But in today’s world those four guys graduated and decided to stay at Baylor. They decided to not say, hey, we be went 1-11, I’m outta here, or hey it’s been a rough couple of years, I’m outta here. Their legacy means a lot to them and I’m talking about a lot of guys in our senior class, I think we will have ten college graduates. We will have four, five, six, depending on how things go, guys in the graduate school this fall which is important to me.
But those guys understand that, you know what, it’s not just about how many sacks I have or how many carries I have. It’s also about the way that I lead the young guys. It’s also about, you know, the way I move the program forward. Taylor Young, all those guys last year moved the program forward by staying and by standing for something. It doesn’t matter what people think you stand for, right? Doesn’t matter what people think you are about. It matters when the lights are off who you really are, when you’re laying in bed who you really are. Our players, those seniors are leading that young group and we’re going to wake up, going back to Baldy’s question, we’re going to wake up and there are a lot of kids that got their teeth kicked in last year, junior and seniors, and they are going to be winners and know how to do it on the field and off the field. But they will only get there because of the seniors from last year and these great seniors this year. I think we have a tremendous group of young men, a tremendous group of leaders, a bunch of guys that have stood in the gap and stood for Baylor and I’m grateful to them and that’s why I always try to make sure I talk about them because they’ve done something that not a lot of people would do.
Q. So you kinda touched on it a little bit but you’re a year into a tough rebuild following many transfers. How close is this team realistically to where you want to get it eventually?
MATT RHULE: I’m going to go to coach speak now. It’s all a process now. I think we have a team that if we stayed healthy, we’re going to be a pretty good football team. I think if we had wrong injuries, I don’t know how it could go. We had a lot of injuries last year. But we played a lot of guys that weren’t ready for college football yet. I like our team. I like our mix of guys. There are some areas like I talked about, being able to run the football, we have to make some steps. The roster is coming around. Is it a year too young? Is that youthful experience going to step up and play like grown men? I put my money on our players all the time. I believe they’re going to step up and they’re going to play and I even felt like at the end of last year, while we weren’t winning games yet we were still a team that was, we weren’t an easy out. We were going to play you tough and take you down to the wire. Can we be a touchdown better? Just be 10 minutes of good football better? That’s my job. That’s our job. Year one was year one to build a foundation. We have to go out and win football games. We have to go out and play good football, we have to go out and challenge people. I expect our guys to do that. Where exactly that means, are we 6-6? I don’t know that yet. I don’t always think that way, but I do know that we are light years ahead of where we were last year.