For ROBINSON’S RIDE: His two Super Bowls and Syracuse collapse, click here.
You have been coaching for over 30 years now. What has influenced your coaching style?
Coming back to college (after the NFL), it was very apparent to me, first of all, that I was a whole lot more compassionate to the life of a student-athlete, had a lot more empathy for the parents because I’ve had my own kids grow and go through college and be involved in college athletics. And I’m a lot more patient now with student-athletes than I was probably back in my earlier years coaching, because I see now how hard these kids are really trying to do what you’re asking them to do.
You were one of eight siblings in a family of lawyers. How does that affect you and play into what you do?
They all live their lives through me (laughs). But they all wish they were coaching. My dad was going to make sure that somebody was going to be a football coach, we just didn’t know it. And my dad was a lawyer and a judge. My uncle was a lawyer and a judge. I have a brother-in-law lawyer, two brother lawyers. I’ve got two nieces that are lawyers, a nephew that’s a lawyer. And I can keep going, there’s still more in the family. I was thinking I was on my way to law school, because I thought it was kind of what I was supposed to do, but it’s funny how it all plays out. I promise you though, they all do live through me and enjoy being a part of my little world. It’s amazing on Sunday mornings, or on Monday mornings when I was in pro football, how good they were at giving me advice after the game.
Oh yeah. My brothers, they played football. I coached my younger brother. I was a graduate assistant at Pacific and he played there. I was on the staff while he was playing so that was interesting. And my older brother played at Stanford. So they’ve been around football. Plenty of it.
So, then, how did you get into coaching?
Well really, Jim Coletto, my position coach (at Pacific), asked me. Pete Carroll and I were teammates, and Pete was a year ahead of me — I redshirted, he didn’t redshirt — but Pete was a (graduate assistant) a year before me, and so he and I would ride on the bus together wherever we went and we’d talk and talk. I used to think, this is kind of neat what he’s doing. Then Jim Coletto, my position coach, asked me if I’d be interested in coaching. I said, ‘Yeah, I really think I would be.’ So we went to my head coach, suggested that I get an opportunity to be a GA, so the rest is history. I took it.
What motivates you personally?
I don’t know if there’s one thing. I love what I’m doing. I love to win. I don’t like to lose. Those are the things that motivate me, I suspect. The challenge.
What are the core roots of your defenses?
I’m still a believer in fundamentals. You got to learn how to control your body. You got to be able to learn how to maximize your body as far as leverage. You have to play with great effort. I mean, those are core things. Enthusiasm. The fundamentals of the game are very important. The longer I’m in coaching, the more I believe that. John Wooden used to always say, ‘Great teams keep getting better.’ Because as some begin to fall off teaching their fundamentals as the season goes on and get more into the schematics, all of a sudden, you’ll see a decline in their fundamentals, where as those that continue to really hone in on the fundamentals, you’ll see growth as the season goes on. At UCLA, we always took great pride that we were a team that always, we won every bowl game when I was there. I think it was because Coach Wooden had such an influence on every program (at UCLA) and that was one of them, fundamentals.
In 20 or 30 years, when you look back at your time at Syracuse what do you think you’ll take away from that?
Oh, I worked extremely hard. Very, very hard trying to get the thing headed in the right direction. In my heart I think we were, and I believe that you’re going to see — there’s an opportunity for the new staff in there to reap the benefits. They still have a tough schedule. But anyway, I didn’t realize what a situation that I was in going into it and I didn’t realize how tough a schedule we were going to play. Really, for three or four years I think we had a top-15 every year toughest schedule in the country. That’s tough while you’re still trying to reprogram the program. The recruiting part of it had fallen.
There was frustration in that you wanted to get good quickly, but you just can’t do that. It’s hard to go “poof” and to have the talent and then have to develop it. It’s hard. Especially on offensive line — we had to recruit seven offensive linemen one year. But anyway, I could go on and on. But the bottom line is, it’s a great experience. I liked being at Syracuse. Good place, good people. Treated me well, really did. Everybody has their critics, but that’s part of the deal. It was unfortunate I couldn’t get it going fast enough.
It seems that throughout your career, you have had young players and a young staff. How do you go about bringing a staff together, especially coming in here as the one new person?
I did the same thing at Kansas City. I did the same thing at Texas. It’s identical, really. It’s important that you understand in your own mind, it isn’t just about you. I’m fortunate that these are three fine coaches that I’ve hooked up with here. So I think it’s just important that you communicate well, that you’re constantly trying to make sure we’re all on the same page, and make sure I hear them and hear what they have to say. That’s as much as anybody will ever ask for, is “can we talk,” “can we get it on the same page,” and have some fun doing it. I really enjoy coaching and I think there’s a place to be able to laugh and be able to enjoy yourself at the same time while you’re working your tails off. And these guys, they fit the part. They’re easy to entertain.
How would you, three weeks in, assess the defense so far?
We’re a work in progress, is what I would say. I think that our players are growing more comfortable in what we’re doing. It’s a process, that’s why you like to keep winning as the process goes. They’re beginning to feel more and more comfortable in what they’re doing. They’re not thinking as much, but we’re not there yet. We’ll continue to improve, I think, as the year goes on.
How does it compare to your expectations right now?
I felt like we had a chance at the end of spring ball to develop into a good defense. The key to us, and it still is, we need to develop depth. Where there’s young players that can go in and keep it rolling for a number of plays, because on defense we need to play, we want to play at a very high intensity level. And to do that, you got to be able to roll some guys. I think that we’re starting to build a little bit of that, but that’s still kind of a work in progress, is developing the young depth so that we can spell some people and not fall off.
You wear a “3 & out” shirt at practice. What’s that about?
Well, that’s critical stuff. Three-and-out is something that, as a defense, is a goal that you need to have all the time to get the ball back for the offense as quick as you possibly can. I like to believe wherever I’ve been, we’ve been good at that. Not just me as a coordinator. When we were at the Jets, we were good at three-and-outs. When I was at UCLA, we were good at three-and-outs. When I was at Denver, we ranked right up near the top of the conference, near the top of the NFL in three-and-outs. My last year in Kansas City we were very, very good at three-and-outs. (And) at Texas, we were good at it.