TELECONFERENCE: Wesley McGriff and Phil Longo
Dec. 16, 2016



DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Wesley McGriff

On making the return to Ole Miss…

“It feels great. It’s definitely in line with my career path. One of the best things about it is I had the opportunity to work there before and had an opportunity to work under coach Hugh Freeze. What a phenomenal leader he is and a great person. I always said if I had an opportunity to go back and work for anybody, it’d be Coach Freeze. To have an opportunity to go back to Ole Miss and work for him as the defensive coordinator, that’s phenomenal. I’m very excited and can’t wait to get back to Oxford.”

On his defensive scheme…

“We’re going to run the defense that’s going to stop every offense that’s playing football in America. We’ll run a 4-3 attacking defense. Here’s the biggest thing, that I have a lot of ideas from my past experiences in terms of what we’ll do on defense, but I think it’s all about the guys who are in the room. You have to formulate a plan based on the talent that’s in the room. You have to do a good assessment of who is in the building at what position, then you have to develop a plan that your assistant coaches are comfortable with. We’re going to install a defense that will make us successful based on the guys who are in the building.”

On his time in the NFL…

“It was a phenomenal experience being in the National Football League, at the highest level, and being in that room game-planning against some world-class athletes. Guys like Julio Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Ryan, it was phenomenal. I learned how you really break an offense down to prepare in terms of game-planning. What is their philosophy? Who are they trying to get the football to? The biggest thing I learned is you have to be really prepared for situational football. I thought Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints, and Rob Ryan, who was the defensive coordinator, I thought those two guys were really top in the business. They really understand football. They know way more football than I’ve ever learned, and it was great to work with them and watch them operate. It was a tremendous learning experience for me, to be with an organization like the New Orleans Saints, to help me improve my learning library and to prepare me for the opportunity I have here at Ole Miss.”


 

 

On coaching against Ole Miss this past season…

“I’m on the defensive side of the ball, so I’m just now getting to look at a lot of the personnel and plays and things they did well. They did some good things on defense. I’ve known Dave (Wommack) for quite a while. I had an opportunity to work with him. We’re going to build off some of the positive things they did and improve in the areas where they need improvement. I’m still in the early stages of dissecting the personnel and looking at who can get where. It’s one thing to have the right guys on the bus, but you have to get them in the right seat. We’re going to be diligent in doing that. I know one thing for certain—we have a quarterback in the building, and I’m glad I’m going to be on his side.”

On filling out the rest of the defensive staff…

“I think that’s more of a head coach question. We’re going to work hand-in-hand in trying to formulate his staff. He’ll direct us in terms of who we’ll visit with and when.”

 On what positions he’ll coach…

“I’ll be involved in the secondary. I’ll sit down with Jason Jones, and we’ll talk about and look at the guys on the roster. I think I’m comfortable going either safety or corner, so I think I’ll lean away from his comfort zone. Jason will be the primary secondary coach, and we’ll get in there together and get them on the same page and get them communicating together. I can go either corner or secondary, but I’m just excited to get in there and get working with them.”

On what he looks for in his linebackers…

“The No. 1 quality that you look for in a linebacker is a guy who has the character, the size, the placement and the fit to stop the run. When you talk about a middle linebacker, a mike linebacker, he has to have the physical attributes to quarterback the defense. That mike linebacker has to have enough football IQ that he can make checks on the field. He’s like your coach on the field. We don’t want to have too many checks. We want to get them lined up, get them set and get them moving forward.”

On what he looks for in a linebacker coach…

“You want to look for an experienced guy who clearly understands the run fits up front, a guy who understands that linebackers have to play the run and the pass. He has to do a tremendous job of not allowing us to develop a situation where guys are in a run-pass conflict. You want a guy who is experienced and tough. You have to have thick skin and fight inside the box, as well as dropping and playing in coverage. I’m sure that when we put our minds together, and the way Coach Freeze is going to lead us, that we’re going to find the right guy to help us win ball games.”

 

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Phil Longo

On coming to Ole Miss…

“I think the opportunity to coach in the SEC is something every coach aspires to do. I’m no less excited than anybody else would be to be coming to Ole Miss. My family is excited. I think when you’re a competitor, and I am, you want to have the opportunity to do what you do against the very best, and there’s no question that we’ll see the very best in the SEC. It’s a dream come true. I’m looking forward to it and I can’t wait to get to Oxford.”

On scoring touchdowns in the red zone…

“Red zone at one point, to be quite honest, was a real low point for us offensively. I didn’t like the fact that we spent so much time working on base downs and working on our game plan in the middle of the field, and we got down to the red zone and we wouldn’t finish drives. That can cost you a ballgame. Very early in my career, I recognized that it’s a point of emphasis all the time. We feel like third down, red zone, short yardage and goal line are key areas. I’m not saying anything that any offensive coordinator isn’t going to tell you, but I’ve been very careful to police myself and our staff with regard to game-planning in those areas. When you’re good in those areas, you’re going to provide your team with a better opportunity to win football games.”

On selling his offense to running back recruits…

“I really feel like we have a great product to sell running backs, because I’m 100 percent air raid when it comes to the philosophical approach to throwing the football. With all the coaches I’ve met and talked to and researched and evaluated, I’ve gravitated toward the approach that I think is most beneficial, and that’s chasing space in the air raid. The difference is, I still believe, in order to win championships at any level, you have to be able to run the football. I want to run the football downhill. I want a very physical aspect to the offense. I know that’s a priority for most OC’s, and it’s not rhetoric with me. In 2014 and 2015, we rushed just under 4,000 yards. I’m not saying that to brag, I’m trying to prove my point that, we’re going to run the ball when we can and we’ll run it as a necessity to win football games. This year, it became apparent that passing was going to be our strength. I’m always going to run an offense that emphasizes the talents we have on that particular squad in that particular year. It’s going to be more about when we run it and when we pass it, not running it or passing it 40 times a game.”

On his rushing philosophy…

“The offense is not nearly as dominated by the run-pass option approach as some people might think. We have four or five base plays that are true run-pass option plays, but that’s not as great a percentage of our system as people think it is. There are no plays with regard to the offensive line where they have to pull up after three yards. The offensive line only believes they’re running power when they’re running power, and they’re blocking it that way. It’s my opinion, and our philosophy talking with Matt Luke and those guys, is that it takes away from your aggressiveness up front, and we don’t want to do that. When we call a run play, that’s what the O-line knows, and that’s what we expect from them.”

On letting receivers make calls…

“Nowadays, in an offense, we have more options in terms of what a quarterback can do. It adds responsibility to the quarterback from the time he gets the signal from the time he snaps the football. I call it the ‘twilight zone.’ What does the quarterback do during that time? He has to make some important decisions about where to distribute the ball, whether it be in the run game or the pass game. I got to a point about eight, nine years ago, where my quarterback needed to get the signal, tell the receivers, get the running back in the right spot, identify the mike (linebacker), identify the coverage and communicate the play to the offensive line. You put it in a list, and he had seven or eight things to do every down. This is the most important position on the field with regards to orchestrating the offense, and I just felt at that time we were handicapping the best player on the field. We just decided to go in a different direction to delegate some of the responsibility we were giving the quarterback to some of the other positions. It’s a lot easier for a receiver to ID a soft corner or different coverages and make an adjustment with his route. It’s a lot easier for us to communicate to some of the players what the play is by signaling to them, as opposed to the quarterback having to do that. We just wanted to simplify his world. Right now he’ll receive the signal, quickly ID the front coverage, snap the football and let a really good athlete go play.”

On the Ole Miss offense…

“There is a really, really good foundation here. Coach Freeze, Coach Luke and the rest of the guys on the offensive staff are very good football coaches. I’m not coming in here to teach anybody anything. Looking at the offense that they’ve run here, there is a lot of overlap. It’s a matter of putting everything into a system. I think the system I’ve been running has allowed me, wherever I have been, to be real flexible with regards to emphasizing our talent, and it has allowed us to piece together different aspects of the offense to best attack the defense we are playing that week. As corny as it sounds, I’ll give you a quick example. It’s just like looking at a puzzle on a table. All of those pieces are specifically designed to fit the two or three surrounding pieces, but they all fit within a framework. The problem is the puzzle is very rigid. You can’t take a piece and put it somewhere else. You can’t put together any two or three pieces you want to. If I were to use that analogy to describe offense, we have the same puzzle, except all the pieces are squares. So when we need to take any three that we want for a particular play or attack that week, we can put them together and they fit nicely. We can be multiple and flexible, but it’s all going to fit into our offensive framework at the end of the day.”

On Shea Patterson…

“Jeremiah Briscoe, the quarterback I had this past year, is an athletic quarterback. He’s a guy who can trigger the ball all over the field. So the offense this year allowed us to quick-trigger and allowed him to be an asset doing what he does well. Two years prior, I had a more athletic quarterback. He wasn’t as clean a passer, but he did a good job and was a much better runner, and we were able to emphasize that aspect and take advantage of his talents. The exciting thing about Shea Patterson and quarterbacks that fall into his category, is that Shea is blessed on both ends. He can throw the football and he’s very mobile. He reminds me of Johnny Manziel, and I’m sure that comparison has been made before. I’m extremely excited to have a guy who is extremely well-rounded, and I’m also looking forward to teaching him the system and taking a look at what I think he can get done.”

On combining his system with Coach Freeze’s…

“Coach Freeze, based on what he expects of me, he wants me to come in and put the system in. Because there’s so much overlap, there may be some terminology to learn, but at the end of the day, there are a lot of things we both do. I’m going to rely very heavily on the entire offensive staff because there are a lot of good coaches in the room, and they have some SEC experience that I don’t have. This isn’t an ego deal. This is going to be five offensive coaches in the room working together to put the best product on the field. We’ll do it within the system coach has asked me to run, and we’re going to do our best to prep us for next year’s schedule.”

On the returning players…

“The offensive coaches have really given me a pretty good overview of the talent that exists at Ole Miss right now. I’ve had a number of conversations with Coach Freeze about what exists. We’re aware that there’s a young offensive line that Coach Luke is working to develop. Obviously, we talked about Shea Patterson and the other quarterbacks who are coming in. I know there are a couple of running backs returning. I know from watching film that we have a crew of very talented receivers. To me, doing a very quick once-over evaluation, I feel like I’m walking into a situation that already has some existing talent that can be very productive. My next step is to recruit and evaluate what’s here so we can make the plan for installation during spring ball.”

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