Ole Miss beat writer Parrish Alford recently sat down with the Rebels’ new coordinators and spent a few minutes talking football and life with defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez.
Q: You left the Colorado job not of your own will. How has that experience changed you?
A: Both my experiences as a head coach, at San Jose State and Colorado, were awesome experiences. We went to two programs that by far … San Jose State was the worst program in America when I went there. We built it into something they’d never reached before. Colorado was the worst BCS program in America, and we built it into the best record they’d had in a long time. Last year didn’t go quite as well as we’d like, and they decided to let me go. Any time you go through those things you look back say, ‘What could I have done different? What could I do here?’ I’ve learned quite a few things from that. Most of the stuff I would do exactly the same. There are always a few things you would do different. Every situation is different. I enjoyed my time at both places, loved it. It was a great experience and great opportunity for me and my family.
Q: You were a member of David Cutcliffe’s staff here when you left and went to the Dallas Cowboys in 2003. What was that experience like?
A: David Cutcliffe gave me a great opportunity here 20 years ago. I came in here in 1999, really 1998 for the bowl game. I learned a great amount from Coach Cut. We still stay in close contact. He’s my main mentor. I think the world of him. To me, he’s the best college football coach in America. He really is, when you’re around him and around other people. Going to the Dallas Cowboys was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down at the time, to go work for Bill Parcells. He’s in the hall of fame in the NFL. I learned a great amount from him. Some of the things I learned were how to build a team, now they do it a little different with the draft, and also his ability with how he did practices. That was one of my jobs. I sat down with him every day going over the practice schedule. I would have to get it out to all the guys. I would ask him questions. He’s been a great influence on me also, and I still stay in touch.
Q: Your dad, George MacIntyre, was coach at Vanderbilt, but you guys were here when he was an assistant coach and you were in the eighth grade. How has Oxford changed?
A: When I was here in the eighth grade it was a great experience. I played junior high football and junior high basketball, and then we left in the middle of January for my dad to go be the head coach at Vanderbilt. We really enjoyed it here. Oxford has changed tremendous amount even from when we left then and came back the next time. All the stores on Jackson Avenue, it’s kind of crazy. We’ve always loved Oxford and are excited about being back here?
Q: How did your conversations with Matt Luke about this job begin?
A: I talked to Matt through the years. This is our third time to work together. That’s exciting to me. I know him really well. I know what type of person he is. I know about his passion for Ole Miss, his passion for coaching. He’s an excellent coach, a great person. He called me it seemed like right after I got fired, about a week later, and said that he wanted to talk to me about being the defensive coordinator. At that time I was very honored, but I was still trying to sort everything out. I said, ‘You’ve got to give me a little bit of time.’ I said, ‘Now if you need to hire somebody else I understand, but I need to take time to make sure this is what I want to do so I could give him my full energy, my full attention.’ A little time went by, we came up here and visited. I felt like this was the opportunity I wanted to take. There were other opportunities that we had. The main reason I wanted to do it was because of how much I think of Matt, to help Matt be successful, because we need men like Matt being head coaches in this country, and then second, our experience at Ole Miss before was so awesome, and all our family lives in Nashville, so there were a lot of combinations to be able to come back here.
Q: What is your philosophy on teaching tackling?
A: Great question. That is something we do every single day. Even when we’re not in pads we do some form of tackling. Well, how do you do that? There are to dummies to use. There are approaches you have to take. Leverage is a big deal in tackling, knowing how to use the leverage, how to understand it, where your help’s coming from. We do all forms of tackling. We do it every single day. We’ll do it individually, as a group, there are a lot of different things we have to do there. Tackling’s a lot harder than it used to be. Everybody’s like, ‘What do you mean? It’s always been the same.’ Well, you can’t hit them in the head. You can’t target when you’re coming at receivers. You have to teach all these things. We don’t want to see guys shy away, and you always want to teach them how to see what they hit. The other thing that’s made tackling harder is the game is so much more in space. Now guys are having to make one-on-one tackles in space with really nobody around, and there’s an art and a skill to doing that. We teach those skills on a daily basis.
Q: How important is it for your junior college transfers to make a quick impact?
A: Jonathan (Haynes) Sam (Williams) had excellent springs, and they’re doing really well. We expect them to help us right away. Lakia (Henry), we’re going to rapidly push him to see if he can. We believe he can. We feel like all three of those guys are going to be big in our situation, but we’ve seen Jonathan and Sam on the grass in practice, and they’ve responded really well. They’ve really taken great strides. We definitely hope Lakia does the same thing.
Q: What do you see for this defense in the opener and what might it look like a month later?
A: Well, Memphis is going to be a strong test for us, not just because it’s our opening game or because it’s Memphis in Memphis, all those make it tough as well, but Mike Norvell is phenomenal offensive coach. I went against him when he was the offensive coordinator at Arizona State, and we were at Colorado. I think they had the fourth-best offense in America. They’ve got their quarterback back. The test they’re going to give us … he does a lot of different formations. So to be able to line up correctly. That’s an easy thing to say, but it’s really hard to do if we’re not precise at it with our coaching and our kids aren’t buying into it. Well you say, ‘You could just play a couple of defense.’ Well, yes you can, but he’s such a good coach that if you’re just playing a couple of defenses he’ll figure it all out. You have to have a little bit of an arsenal. There’s a fine mix there on what’s too much and what’s too little. I believe we’ve got it down, and we’re going to rep it and practice it. The good thing about playing him early is he has a lot of different formations which will help us as we go along. As the season goes along hopefully you’ll see more crispness. There are always a few mistakes early in a season. Hopefully those will correct themselves as we go along. I hope that you see an energetic, physical, powerful team that pursues, tackles well, has take-aways, that type of thing.
Q: You left Arizona not on your own terms. How does that experience change a head coach?
A: Well I think for me personally it puts a little chip on your shoulder. I wasn’t ready really to retire, and you want to prove yourself all over again. Sometimes it bothers me if I hear a coach or an athlete say, ‘I have nothing more to prove.’ I think if they’re keeping score you do. I certainly have a lot to prove, and I’m grateful for this opportunity.
Q: We hear this offense described as a run-based spread option. Is that accurate?
A: Mostly. I think that might be simplistic, but at the same time simplistic is not all bad. Back when we first started doing it 25 years ago it was a pass-based spread, two-minute drill type of pace. Now our tempos are a little bit different, our run game looks different. We try to be multiple in that respect.
Q: You were telling me there are multiple tempos within the offense. How many are there, and how do you decide what to use and when?
A: We have several. We put them all in on the first day of practice, and that’s a big point of emphasis for our guys. Offensively you know where you’re going and when you’re going, and we want to try and use those two advantages on every snap.
Q: How did you talks with Matt Luke begin about this job?
A: Well I first talked to Mike MacIntyre who I knew and competed against when we were both in the Pac-12, and he said, ‘They’ve got an opening at the coordinator position. Would you be interested? Are you like, retired?’ I said, ‘No, not really.’ Then Matt called, and we had a great conversation, probably talked for 20-30 minutes the first time, and I didn’t know Matt. Then he called, and we talked again a few days later. I came out for an interview, and I could just tell in 20 minutes of meeting with Matt Luke and the offensive staff and the offensive staff that this is a great group of guys to be with, so it’s worked out well.
Q: There was a photo of Rich Rodriguez and Matt Luke having dinner in Oxford that kind of made it’s way around the internet. Was that intentional?
A: We were in a corner having a cold refreshment, capping off a day of interviews and talks. It was good. Like I said, I didn’t know Matt Luke until I came here. Not only is he an outstanding football coach, he’s a great person. He’s all Ole Miss. It was fun to spend a day with him in that process.
Q: You were at Clemson with Tommy Bowden, and you’ve compared Oxford to Clemson. How are they similar?
A: Very similar, college towns where the focal point of the entire town is the university. Kind of a quiet place, very family oriented, and we had two great years at Clemson, loved it there. We have the same vibe here in Oxford, and I’m really appreciative of that.
Q: When you leave the football building where do you go eat?
A: Everywhere. I don’t want to name just one (restaurant) unless they want to give me a deal. It’s funny. We have a couple of guys on our staff, they’re experts on the best places to go in Oxford. I haven’t been to a bad place. They’ve all been good to me.
Q: Your daughter is a television news producer. What’s it been like to watch her in the journalism field?
A: The dark side, where you are. It’s been neat. She majored in journalism. She spent most of the time in her undergraduate in front of the camera and did some interviews, volunteered, and now she’s (in Tuscon) producing a local news show at the 5 o’clock hour, so she’s getting great experienced with that. She loves sports. Sports is obviously where she’s gearing her future to.
Q: At what point in your career do you feel like you experienced the most growth as a coach?
A: Good question. Probably, I was a head college coach at 24 years old, but I was a fired coach at 25 when they dropped football. So it would probably be that the most growth was when I was the head coach at Glenville State, a Division II school at 26 years old. I spent seven years there, the last three or four as head coach at athletic director, so you had to wear a lot of hats. I learned a lot there, and that really helped me in the future.
Q: There are a lot of days between now and Aug. 31. What expectation do you have for the offense in that opener, and where do you think it might be in a month?
A: Well it’s a huge game for us, a huge game for both teams, but we’ll have a lot of guys, particularly on offense, that will be the first college game they play. We have to get really well-trained in the next 3 ½ weeks so that the execution is there, they understand the game plan, and we know we’re playing our best guys to give us a chance to win.
Q: I’ve had players tell me that Rich Rodriguez is very intense on the field, that he presses the tempo, it’s go, go, go. How do you see yourself on the practice field?
A: I don’t know. It’s hard to look at myself. I just view every play and every rep, whether it’s an individual rep or a team rep as the most important thing that day. I don’t know if it’s competitiveness or just for guys to have focus, but I think that was a little different for some of the guys to say, ‘Hey that was just one little practice rep or one little individual rep.’ To me they’re all pretty important.
Q: You will have a redshirt freshman quarterback starting against Memphis. What do you tell Matt Corral before he goes out there?
A: Well he’s played a little bit, which has helped. I have to remind myself that he’s not really played a whole lot of meaningful time. We’ve just got to get him ready. Knowing Matt Corral, as competitive as he is, he’ll work like crazy to get himself ready, but we’ve also got to get a couple of those freshman (backups) ready as well. That’s our goal during camp.