In advance of media day last week, we told you what questions Pac-12 coaches would be asked and what they should be asked. Well, that sort of tied us in to asking those "should" questions.
So we did, at least some variety of the suggested inquiries, And here's what we got, starting with the South Division.
How often at booster events this summer did you hear about being 0-2 versus Arizona State?
Rich Rodriguez: Oh, I hear about it everytime from somebody. They're like, “When are you going to beat ASU?” [I say] “When we're better than them.” That's the truth. When we are better than them, we will beat them. Because the chances of them playing poorly and giving us the game, that ain't going to happen. We played awful [this year but] two years ago we had our opportunites and screwed up in the fourth quarter. I don't worry about it. People say, ‘I think you should talk about your rivalry every day' and all that. Hell, I'm trying to get a first down against UNLV right now. I don't list goals. Is it important to us? Is it the most important game we play? Yes. Is it something I'm thinking about today? No.
You seem really comfortable at Arizona State. I know coaches don't think too far ahead, but is it possible that you could retire at Arizona State? Is that something you have considered?
Todd Graham: For me and our coaches, we are building it for the long haul. The kind of program that year in and year out is competing for championships. I absolultely love the community. I love living there. I've paid my house off. Absolutely. I'd love to have half the success [former ASU coach Frank Kush] had and have my name by his. I am thoroughly committed. I think we have a chance to build something special. Our goal, with Ray Anderson our athletic director and [ASU president Michael] Dr. Crow is to be a top-five program in the nation that wins and wins in the right way. Yes, I could see that. I'm very comfortable.
What do you guys most need to improve?
Mike MacIntyre: Wow. I think we can improve in a lot of areas. Specifically on the football field, we need to play better on third downs. That's not got to be unbelievable. You've just got to improve three or four percent from what you were last year. You get two more first downs per game and all of the sudden you're in a drive, going into the red zone, getting into the end zone. One more time per game. Two more times per game. A field goal. That's a big, drastic change. It changes momentum. There are little things. Red zone is an emphasis we have, third-down areas, we have. We need to definitely improve in those areas.
You've talked about your partnership with the administration at UCLA. What are some top things on the checklist that you need to improve the program, facilities-wise, logistical things that will make it easier for you to do your job?
Jim Mora: With facilities, we've moved down that path. That's happening. That's a given. There's no coming back from that. I meet with the architechs every couple of weeks. It's going to be an amazing, amazing facility. Really, just the continued support. Being able to keep coaches. Being able to provide the best environment for our student athletes to have success. We already have great academic support, so being able to continue down that path. I don't think we are lacking a whole lot at all. Once that facility is built, there will be no excuses. There are no excuses.
What are some of the lessons you learned as a first-time head coach at Washington that you are applying at USC?
Steve Sarkisian: Patience. Patience. Patience. Having patience with your players. Having patience with recruits. Having patience with coaches. Really taking time and not having knee-jerk reactions to things. Of really being patient with everybody involved in the program. It's something that has shifted in me. That's the first piece. The second piece is when I first got to my last job it was: Wins, wins, wins. It took a year or two to understand the whole responsibility of being a head coach. Of developing our players in the classroom, community, as people, forging those relationships with them. To be the best developmental coach I could be as much as it was to win as many games as I could win. This time around, I'm a lot more aware of that. And quite honestly it probably have a better relationship with my players (at USC) than I had early on at Washington. I feel very connected to this team. Our staff is very connected to these players. To me, that goes a long way.
Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?
Kyle Whittingham: I think some of the fans may have and some may not have. I can't give you an answer for that. I can tell you the fan support we've had has been phenomenal. Our season ticket renewal was 98 percent, which is where it has been the last four or five years. So the fans are excited about us being in the Pac-12 and are anxious to go to the games. [What the expectations were] as far as going to the Pac-12, I can't answer that. I know we had high aspirations. I think everybody has high aspirations regardless of the situation. We certainly are a better team this year than we were when we went into the Pac-12. The issue is how much better relative to how the league's gotten.
Whittingham earlier said this about the transition to the Pac-12 from the Mountain West: "The transition to the Pac-12 has been as expected. I don't think anything caught us by surprise. I can tell you what is very apparent is the Pac-12 now is far superior from top to bottom [than it was in 2011]. The progress this conference has made in the last three years is phenomenal. We've put ourselves in position where we're arguably among the top two conferences in the nation."