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One-on-one with Scottie Hazelton

3/1/2012

New USC linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton made quite the jump this offseason.

After previous coaching stops at North Dakota State, Michigan Tech and Missouri Southern State, among others, the 38-year-old was hired by Lane Kiffin and the Trojans earlier this month to replace Joe Barry, who left school for the NFL's San Diego Chargers.

There was speculation Kiffin would go for a coach with NFL experience to attract high-school kids looking to get to the next level. Instead, he went with one of the freshest faces available.

Here's an ESPNLosAngeles.com interview with Hazelton following the Trojans' team conditioning session on Tuesday.

Question: You've been here now for a little longer than two weeks. How have those two weeks gone?

Answer: It's been great to meet the kids. They're good players who understand the game well and they're hardworking kids too. It's been a pleasure to work with those guys. The linebackers -- the three guys that are returning starters -- all know what they're doing. We're blessed to have them.

Q: How did the job-accepting process go for you? I know Tee Martin said no at first and Marvin Sanders' situation was complicated by his new job. What was it like for you? How quickly did you say yes?

A: I got a call on a Sunday from a buddy of mine who asked if I'd be interested -- he'd been talking to Coach Kiffin about me. I was like, "Yeah, of course I'm interested," but I didn't think anything of it. I said for sure, that'd be a great opportunity for me and my family. Coach Kiffin then called me on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, I flew out on Thursday and interviewed Friday, stayed over until Saturday, got offered the job, flew home and came back on Sunday. It was a little whirlwind.

Q: Have you had any feelings at all that this is too big of a jump for you to handle? There aren't too many coaches who move from the FCS to the top of the FBS in one swoop.

A: Right now, you just say that football is football. It's on a bigger stage, but coaching football players is coaching football players and coaching defense is coaching defense. Everyone has their challenges; everyone has their benefits.

Q: You mentioned the three returning starters earlier -- What do you think about the talent you're taking over?

A: When you have an opportunity to coach young guys that have played and have proven to be good athletes, it's always exciting, because you have a chance to develop them a little bit. They've been through it. And their sophomore seasons, I think, they tend to pick up a lot of things. Their freshman years they make a bunch of plays, but their learning curve is steeper and they're still learning what to do. Their second go-around, you can really teach them what to do and start to teach them things that the offense does instead of just what they're supposed to do.

Q: You won the national championship last year with North Dakota State at the FBS level. Do you think you can bring anything from that to this team's inevitable national-championship chase this fall?

A: I know that there's more than just me who have won national championships here. There are guys who have won national titles at this level. For me, I'm taking a step to learn from Monte Kiffin and Lane Kiffin and I'm just going to do my best to learn from them and make this place better. About winning those here, that's definitely Lane's vision, and we're going to follow it. That's what the team does.

Q: What's the biggest city you've lived in before Los Angeles, and have you gotten to the point where you feel comfortable here yet?

A: Denver, and no, I haven't even moved yet. My family's still selling the house in North Dakota. It's one of those deals where, whenever you move jobs, your wife stays back and she sets everything up to move and they come later. And it's kind of good, too, because it takes so long to catch up when you move jobs anyway. You need that time as a coach.

Q: How helpful is it to at least have a few weeks to get acclimated? There was a thought that with the three coaching openings, Lane wouldn't have time to find all three by spring practice, let alone two or three weeks before. Would you have been able to do this if you were hired this week?

A: That would be hard. It's been done before, there's no doubt. But it's one of those deals where you have to get in with Monte and learn the new terminology. A lot of the stuff is the same, but the terminology is different.

Q: Is you getting this job an example of a well-functioning coaching tree? Monte knows Gus Bradley and so do you, so Lane came calling. And what does that mean for the job?

A: That's right. It's good for discussion, because we all come from the same family and we can all use ideas that everybody else understands. It's not like a foreign concept to anybody.

Q: Where did you recruit for North Dakota State?

A: Well, I've recruited all across the country at my different stops. But the last place was South Dakota and Minnesota.

Q: What are you going to do now?

A: The Midwest and the northern states.

Q: Including the Dakotas?

A: Oh yeah. (laughs.) Every kid in the Dakotas that we want to take, we'll probably get. But there'll probably never be one.

Q: Is that maybe the biggest example of how big of a move this is -- the area of kids you'll be recruiting?

A: There's no doubt. You just take on a different role. Now my role turns into one with a big area and a lot of kids to recruit.

Q: How much did you know about, say, Dion Bailey, before you took this job? You knew his name, probably. But how much more did you know about him?

A: Not a whole lot. You know the players from watching on TV and hearing people talk about them, but other then that, I didn't know a lot.

Q: How much do you know now?

A: A lot more. I talked to his mom and tried to get a hold of those guys. Call their parents and get a chance to introduce yourself, talk to them if they're around and learn a little bit about them. It's hard to speed that process up but you want to be able to do it as fast as you can.

Q: What is it about those guys, Hayes Pullard and Dion? They had similar success last year but aren't really similar players.

A: No. 1, they're good athletes. No. 2, they work tremendously hard. Their attitude is not that of how can I get out of things but how can I get better, and when you have those type of attitudes, you say you can do a lot with those guys. They want to know all the small details. And they're great guys to have because they can help the younger players too.

Q: Did you get any warnings from coaching friends about player attitudes at this level?

A: I asked those things to guys that I know who went to the NFL. I mean, Gus went from NDSU to (the) Tampa Bay (Buccaneers) and coached linebackers. That was one of the things I asked him. And he said, "Listen: Guys are guys. Guys want to be coached, they want to be as good as they can on the football field. It's your job to coach them. Take it like that and everything will be fine."

Q: What about personality-wise? Joe Barry was known to be very friendly and maybe the biggest jokester on the staff. Have you gotten to the point with the players where everybody feels comfortable in meetings and all?

A: I don't know. It's one of those things where you try to but they're still trying to get a feel for you as a coach. We're still in that process.

Q: Did you meet with all the players privately when you first got here? Or some of them?

A: We got together as a group and I said, "This is all about me. This is who I am." I had a couple guys stop by and just try to get know me better. Change is always hard on everybody in those situations. Some guys want to seek you out. Some guys want to stay away until they feel comfortable with you, and you try to let them go at their own pace.

Q: Your new boss doesn't have a positive reputation nationally. What are your first impressions of Lane Kiffin and do they conflict with what you had heard about him from afar before he first contacted you?

A: I think Lane Kiffin's an awesome guy. Every experience I've had with him has been tremendous. He's always positive. He's a great guy to be around, going to be a great guy to work for. As for those outside things, I learned a long time ago to not listen to all that stuff, because you never know. Everyone's in coaching and everyone will talk bad about somebody at some point. You just learn not to listen to that stuff and wait to make your own decision as a man.