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March 3, 2009Looks certainly can be deceiving, and a quick look at new USC quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates doesn't leave you all that impressed.
He looks more like a graduate assistant than someone with the reigns to the USC offense.
But once the young coach begins to talk football, his knowledge can't help but ooze out.
Tuesday, Bates spent 20 minutes talking to a few reporters, and USCfootball.com was there. Here is the transcript.
Q: You've been on the job for a little over a month. Does it feel longer than that? Shorter?
Bates: Your first month, wherever you are at a new place, you're always at a hotel, you're away from your family, you're learning new names and a new system ... it seems a little longer because it's not normal life. But it's gone really good. We've got a good coaching staff that has helped me along. It's going to be fun.
Q: What has been the biggest adjustment from the NFL to college?
Bates: The first month, just the recruiting process. I've never coached in college. I've coached seven years, and they've all been in the league. Calling these high school coaches, meeting the juniors ... that's been the biggest difference. It's been fun. But at the same time, it's a learning process.
Q: What elements are you bringing from Denver?
Bates: As far as the running game, the running game is a lot what we did in Denver - zone offense, the Alex Gibbs/Rick Dennison philosophy. That's going to stay the same. The passing game is a lot what Lane Kiffin and Sark (Steve Sarkisian) studied at Tampa when Monte worked there. I understand what they've been doing the last eight years. I feel real comfortable with it. I'm going to add a couple of things here and there, but I don't think it needs a major (overhaul). They've won seven Pac-10 championships in a row. If it's not broke, let's not fix it.
Q: Did you expect your career path to take you to college?
Bates: I grew up in a coaching family; I don't think you can really anticipate anything. Every 2-3 years we were moving; you had no idea where your next stop was going to be. It's tough to say this is my plan. It's the coaching profession - you're bouncing all over the place. ... The reason I came here, I looked at a lot of opportunities. The biggest thing that stood out is that Pete Carroll and the USC Trojans win football games. My first year at Tampa Bay we won the Super Bowl; the last six years I haven't been back to the playoffs. I wanted to get back and find the formula for winning. They understand how to win here. ... I need that. I'm 32 years old, and I want to be on a winning program again. That was the main reason I came here.
Q: How much do you know about the quarterbacks at this point, and what's your process for evaluating them?
Bates: I started looking at all the spring practices from last spring. I watched the game clips that they're in but mainly studied spring because that's when they got the most reps. ... But I think the spring's very important for all four guys. It's wide open for all four. I need to be with them. I need to be in the room. I need to communicate with what they're thinking, what they're seeing on the field, play by play, what their reads are, how they're going through it. I can only study so much on tape until I really get to know them as players. So the spring's going to be big. Everyone's going to get a lot of reps. We're going to see how everyone handles the pressure, handles the first-team unit. This spring's going to give us some answers. I think all four of them are great players. They did great things in high school. They've done great things since they've been here. So it's exciting.
Q: What do you want to see out of them out on the practice field?
Bates: Number one, I first want to see who's the leader, who's going to take charge. You're the leader of this offense - your command of the huddle, your command of audibles, play calling. You've got to be able to command the entire offense. Before we look at your playing ability, you've got to be a leader. The team's going to follow you. When you're fired up, they're going to stay fired up. You can never get down. ... Then just the execution -- who's making mistakes, who's not making mistakes, who's throwing the ball away when no one's open. Managing the game is huge. We have a great defense here. We don't want to put them in a bad situation at any time. Just understanding the game, and then just execution at the end of the day - who's moving the team.
Q: Mark Sanchez was a vocal leader last season. Have you seen any of the leadership qualities in the other guys yet?
Bates: It's kind of hard right now, going through these drills. ... It's tough to tell how they're going to handle the team. I think all four of them can handle it. They've proven it in high school. It's a process that's going to take place in spring. Who's going to step up, take charge and lead us?
Q: What's going to be the biggest adjustment for you coming to college? You'll have a lot less time to work with them than you had in the NFL.
Bates: I've studied the last month, the passing game, the running game. I'm very impressed with how much they can handle. I'm going to find out in spring just how much they can. Right now, looking at it, these kids are studying the game, they like the game. They're putting the work into it to handle everything. What I'm witnessing is, these guys are smart kids. ... So I'm going to throw it all at them. ... You kind of understand the 20-hour rule and worry about it, but right now it doesn't look like there's any limitations as far as how much knowledge you can give them.
Q: What's the biggest difference in dealing with 25-year-old quarterbacks vs. 18- or 19-year old quarterbacks?
Bates: We had Jay Cutler as a rookie. You're going to draft a kid that's 20, 21, 22. I don't think there's a big difference. These kids love football. I don't care if you're 10 or 25. Brad Johnson was 35 when we coached him at Tampa. It's football. Nothing's different. They love the game; they want to study the game. The more information you give them, that's going to make them successful, they're going to take it and run with it. You've just got to handle them the same. I understand school and all that - that's a little different. But ... it's still football. It's the same game you played in high school and Pop Warner. I don't think there's a big difference as far as coaches. You're still coaching football. It's still 100 yards. I know the hashes are a little different. But other than that it's still 11 on 11.
Q: Does your own youth help you to communicate with these young kids?
Bates: My dad is 63 years old, and I think he's one of the best coaches in football. Coach Carroll is ... help me out, fifty-seven? He acts like he's 18 years old. I think you're a football coach or you're not. Young or old, if you give these guys information to help them be successful and help the team win, then they're going to respect you and follow your lead.
Q: How much of the playbook will be stuff you're bringing from Denver versus stuff that's already here?
Bates: I'm not going to change this offense much. It's been very successful. There are going to be a few tweaks here and there. At the same time, USC has been in the top 10 of offense the last seven years.
Q: Will it be your terminology?
Bates: No. I've been studying for the last month. That's been a bit of a challenge. I've been feeling like I'm a freshman myself this past month. I've used the same terminology for the past seven years. I've always had the true West Coast, even with Coach Jay Gruden With New York and Mike Heimerdinger and Denver and Coach Mike Shanahan, it was the same protections and formations. It's been a little challenging for me, but I get to use that side of my brain that I haven't used for seven years. It's been good. I've been using flash cards and everything.
Q: How well did you know Pete Carroll?
Bates: I'd met him a few times when he would come down to Tampa with Coach Kiffin. I had met him a couple times there, and that was maybe the only two or three times we'd met. But in the NFL, we study USC. There will always be six to 10 guys coming out for the draft. It's always one of the first tapes I'd put in - USC's. There's a bunch of players, and they run a pro-style offense. It's easy to imagine what Steve Smith will look like as a wide receiver in your offense because USC runs a pro-style offense. I've always admired them and they're success. The guys play hard. From a distance, I've always respected USC's success.
Q: Did it make the decision easier to take the job because USC runs a pro-style offense?
Bates: There's no question. There are some teams out there that do some great things offensively. But, it's hard to study, and if you're not from the family, it could be a major challenge. Part of the reason for coming here was that I could teach the same routes I was teaching for the past seven years. I just have to learn the new terminology, which isn't a problem. 20-something kids have to do it every year when they come in. As far as the routes, to drop-back passing game and the routes, it's all pro style. That's really easy. Once I have the terminology down, it'll be the same thing I was doing for seven years.
Q: If the NFL came calling, how serious would you consider it?
Bates: Man, I'm going to enjoy my time here at USC. I'm going to try and help this team win as many games as we can. What happens after that happens. It's football. You have no idea what will happen the next day. I'm just living for the moment.
Q: Is that one of the many things you learned from your father being in this business, that you can't predict the future?
Bates: No question. It's a great business but at the same time, it's a tough business for the family. Coach Carroll's been very fortunate to be here for eight years. Coach Shanahan was in Denver for 15 years, but that's odd. Most of the time, it's a three-year life span at a club. You have to work your butt off and do the best you can, and at the end of the year, you see what happens.
Q: How are you adjusting to being on a college campus and to being around a brand new staff?
Bates: This is my fourth club, and I grew up around it. The whole moving thing, it's an easy process especially when you're in a room with guys who love football just like you do. They've been great.
As far as the college atmosphere, man it's neat. I went to he first basketball game I've been to in 15 years. Everyone's excited here. The students are excited about the football team, about the Trojans. It's just neat. You get to deal with 18 to 21-year-old kids who don't get tired. They just work their butts off. There's no complaining. They just want to get better every day.
Q: Is there a possible scenario where Matt Barkley is the starting quarterback next season?
Bates: Anything is possible. All four quarterbacks are going to get the same shot. No one is ahead, and no one is below. They're all even going into it. I don't know them on the field and won't until spring practice. I think all four of them are very mature. They study the game. I think they're all ready to be the next starting quarterback at USC. We'll just have to see in spring who deserves it.
Q: How much does it help that when you are grooming a new quarterback, you return virtually the entire offense?
Bates: I think more importantly, it's the offensive line coming back. When you have your entire offensive line coming back, it makes life a lot easier. I don't care what level you're at. You can always establish the run to start the offense, and we have all the running backs too. With that being said, it's always easier for any quarterback when you can establish the running game, when you can get four or five yards running the ball. That opens up the passing game.
When you're going into it without a running game and a young quarterback, that's a challenge. The weight would be on his shoulders, then.
Q: Coach Carroll always mentions balance. Is that your philosophy too?
Bates: No question. It makes things much more difficult on a defense. In my experience, last year we lost five running backs at Denver, and we had to throw it every time. I'm a quarterback, and from when I played, you always like throwing the ball. But when you get dealt that hand with five running backs down, you have to throw it every time. That's a challenge. The defense starts playing just the pass, and you can't balance the defense out. You have to be balanced. You have to run keepers and do everything that makes the defense have to guess and play on their heels. It's a chess match.
Q: Do you have a timetable for naming a starting quarterback?
Bates: I don't have a timeline, but I would like to come out of spring with some kind of depth chart so everyone knows during summer what they're working for and what the vision is. Then the whole team knows. If it doesn't happen then, it could happen in two-a-days. I don't want to set a firm date, but I think with 15 practices, someone will take the lead.
Q: Are you able to give them any instructions now based on what you've seen on film?
Bates: No. We're just out there doing some drill work right now. We'll start that March 28th.
Q: How much play-calling experience do you have? What was that like?
Bates: Just last year. Personally, it's what you dream of as a coach. I always wanted to call the plays. I played quarterback, and that was one of the reasons I became a coach. Last year was fun. You work six days, and on the seventh, you're calling the plays and the whole world gets to see what kind of execution your team and you are capable of. It was awesome. It was a great year. I wish we could've gone to the playoffs and all that. I really respect Coach Shanahan for letting me do it.
Q: Were you in the press box or on the sideline?
Bates: I was on the sideline. I like being down there just to talk to the quarterbacks. A lot of quarterbacks, you see them on the phones and stuff. That can be kind of a hassle. I like being on the sideline. You can look at them in the eye, and you can get a feel for them. Sometimes a guy might get rattled, and you need to run the ball a few more times to settle him down. Or other times, a guy might have that look in his eye where he wants to throw it every time. You can get more of a feel for them as a person and what their state of mind is. You practice every day, and you're on the field. You start working your eyes and training your eyes to see coverages and blitzes from the field. It's not a problem.
Q: What will your working relationship be with offensive coordinator John Morton? Who is going to do what?
Bates: Last year, Rick Dennison was the offensive coordinator in Denver, and I called the plays. I think we're all going to work hard and try to win every game. By the time we get to the field on Saturday, we'll all have a plan. We'll meet together and come together on it. On Saturday, we'll all have the idea of what's going to work, and we'll go with it.