As I tell my editors — “Why would I use quotes? They only take away from MY words!”
I’m, of course, completely kidding when I say that.
But not really.
Anyway, the English column is pretty straightforward, but here are the raw quotes. It wasn’t a particularly long chat, as it was conducted by phone on Christmas Eve — and we both were pressed for time.
EC: Well, maybe let’s start by having you tell me just in general about your U of L experience.
RE: The hard truth was we knew in the spring we didn’t have a bunch of experience. We were playing with linebackers in the spring who were walk-on kids. And so we didn’t have a lot of experienced scholarship players.
The thing I enjoyed about the season was — it’s interesting, you feel terrible about the way the season ended. The second half of West Virginia and the first Rutgers game you just feel bad. But if you go back and work all the stats, first off, we returned only 45 percent of the players who played snaps on defense the previous year. They ran the numbers and with 13 minutes and change left in the tenth game of the season, we were 27th in the country in total defense and 7th in rushing defense. That’s a lot of time to play decent defense given our situation. At the same point last year they were 84th in total defense and 61st in rushing defense, and that’s with a bunch more players. . . . The scoring defense is skewed because we gave up 70 or 80 points when the defense wasn’t even on the field, or had short fields and all that crap.
When Woodney Turenne went down he was our fifth starter lost with a season-ending injury. And in the end, there’s just not a lot of depth there. That’s the reality. I thought the kids played hard for me and we played well at times. The favorite game for me was Pittsburgh, because the kids played hard no matter what happened from the start to the finish. I told them, you guys are working hard and it’s a shame you’re not getting the fruits of your labors. But you are laying the foundation in how to prepare and give your best efforts.
EC: You came here from Michigan. I don’t know what you expected to find here, but describe a little of what you thought when you got here.
RE: Honestly, I watched Louisville for years and from a talent standpoint they were easily a Top 20 talent team and even Top 10 at one point. And I was kind of surprised when I came here. The big time schools win because of depth. You can’t win playing 22 guys. Honestly, you need 18 guys on defense who can play. I don’t know about offense.
But right now, this is a building deal. It’s not even like you’re in the back end of a deal where you were rolling. This is a flat-out building phase. That’s just the reality. You just don’t have the players. But I like the kids. I thought they worked hard for me and did what I asked them to do. I really most of all appreciated the players and had a lot of fun with them.
One thing I’ll never forget. One scrimamge we gave up 11 touchdowns. And to come from that to the point where they believed in themselves and had some pride, that to me is what I’m proud of.
EC: What are your thoughts and impressions of Steve Kragthorpe and the job he’s doing?
RE: What I liked about what he did was he never really panicked and never really fluctuated. Steve’s a pro and has been around a long time and he knows the situation. It’s just a shame that the perception is so different.
EC: So given that, why the tough times?
RE: When you have attrition like they did, you can’t have that and not take a step back. From what I know they have lost a bunch of good players, not only to graduation but to transfer or guys who were good players but weren’t doing the right things and he had to dismiss them. We weren’t playing with a loaded deck, now.
EC: On the way home from Rutgers I wrote out a list of what this team’s roster should have looked like, if not for guys getting hurt or losing their heads and getting themselves kicked out. Even if you’d have had a Peanut Whitehead or some of those others, it could’ve been a much different result.
RE: Imagine if we even had the one experienced linebacker like (Lamar Myles) or even had a Rod Council. Then you can do a few things. We were playing three guys who just walked onto campus. They couldn’t even set the front half the time.
EC: I want to ask you about the mood of the team, in practice, in the locker room. When things get tough there tends to be a lot swirling around a team. I wonder how this team handled it?
RE: On defense, I know, we just igonored it and kept plugging ahead. Tough people justkeep moving forward. Those guys didn’t quit on me. But now, when we’re all the way banged up, I didn’t watch that Rutgers tape and I ain’t going to watch it.
I’ll tell you this. We had a meeting to get ready for a walk-through and I’m getting upset. I’m asking, ‘Where is everybody? This thing starts in 30 seconds and people aren’t here yet.’ I was getting ready to lay into people, then somebody tells me, ‘Coach, this is everybody. They’re all here.’ That’s when it hits you the situation you’re looking at.
That number the media had for the Rutgers game of 25 or 26 didn’t take into account that five or six of those guys were walk-ons. The real number of guys we had was around 20, and you just don’t see that in Division I football.
EC: I know this is a touchy question. Do you think this program is going in the right direction, from what you’ve seen?
RE: Well, I thought recruiting was going well, particularly defensively. We were getting good players, and I don’t look at rankings. The response out there was very good, the student-athletes were very receptive. And so, with that being said, really that’s what you judge your future success on, and kids were receptive so I thought we had a chance. You just have to ignore the negative stuff and just keep putting building blocks in place and, eventually, you’ll win if you do it the right way.
EC: Anything else you’d like to toss in here?
RE: Yes, I just would love to thank the people of Louisville and our fans. People were so good to me here, and I was shocked, really at the response. I just was walking into the house and my neighbor comes running up to congratulate me and say I’ll be missed. It has been a wonderful place for me and my family, and I really appreciate the way we were welcomed here.