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20 January 2016

Transcript: Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith Introductory Press Conference: Wednesday, January 20, 2016

(Opening statement)
“Good afternoon. I want to first start off by saying I’m really excited to be here in Tampa with Coach Koetter. Dirk is an outstanding football coach and even a better man. I’m looking forward to working for him.”
(On if Tampa Bay was the only team that he considered working for as defensive coordinator)
“Absolutely. This would be the one place that I would come. I’m very excited because of my relationship with Dirk. We had an opportunity to work in Jacksonville together, as coordinators, and then he was my [offensive] coordinator there in Atlanta. This is really the only one that I would have considered, getting back in it. I’m very excited about the opportunity to work with the staff that Dirk has put together and some of these guys on this team.”
(On what drew him to Tampa Bay)
“Well you’ve got a good quarterback. In this league, it’s about quarterback play, there’s no doubt about it. Jameis had an outstanding rookie season. I think he’s going to be a great quarterback. When you have a quarterback, that makes your chances of being successful much more. I also think there’s a core of players on the defense that are very good football players and have a chance to be outstanding players. You’ve got to start up front, with our defensive tackle Gerald [McCoy]. Lavonte David had a great season. I’ve had an opportunity to talk to a couple of these guys that have been in the building, here in passing. It’s exciting to see, here in January, that there’s players that are here in the building, when they don’t have to be, so that’s exciting. I’m looking forward to working with the coaching staff that Dirk put together. There are some really fine coaches that I’ve had an opportunity to work with in the past.”
(On what he sees in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy)
“Well, he’s a Pro Bowl defensive tackle, there’s no doubt about it. I think his work speaks for itself. He’s a guy that can be disruptive from the defensive line position. Most of the time, in the scheme that he’s played over the last few years, he’s lined up as a three-technique. He gets a lot of one-on-one opportunities and when he gets those one-on-one opportunities, he’s made people pay. His explosiveness probably is the thing that stands out the most. He’s a very explosive player. He’s athletic. If you’re going to put together a profile of what you wanted a three-technique to look like, that’s the kind of guy that you would want to have.”
(On what the defensive scheme will look like)
“It’s going to be very flexible. I think in this day and age, you have to give different looks. You can’t line up in the same look, in the same front every time. We’re going to have a lot of flexibility and we’re going to identify what the players are capable of doing and try to give different looks to the quarterback. If the quarterback has time in this league, he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be able to cut you up, so we’ve got to do a very good job of putting together a package that is flexible, multiple, yet simple for our players and complex for the quarterback and the opposing coaching staff.”
(On how often he will go with different defensive fronts)
“We’re going to base out of a four-man front, but again, when you play with a four-man front, you over shift and you’re in a 3-4. You start in a 3-4, you over shift, you’re in a 4-3. There’s not a whole lot of difference in terms of what you do, it’s a matter of how you’re going to put your shell in the back end. And I think that’s the thing that you have to do, is you have to give the quarterback different looks. Your front, there’s only so many things that you can do. In terms of what you do on the back end, you have a lot more flexibility and I think that’s one of the things that we’re going to look at as a coaching staff is to put our guys in the best position and, in turn, try to make it difficult for the quarterback and the offensive coordinator on the other side.”
(On if he thinks Coach Koetter will rely on him for advice as a former head coach)
“Well, I want to say this: Dirk was a great resource for me when I was in Atlanta and when I was in Jacksonville. Dirk’s got a lot of experience as a head coach. You can say that this is his first time; he’s got head coaching experience at Arizona State and Boise State and was very successful. So, I’ve relied on Dirk for many things, from different viewpoints, and he was a very instrumental part of our staff there in Atlanta.”
(On if Koetter showed signs of becoming a future NFL head coach as the offensive coordinator in Atlanta)
“Oh, absolutely. In fact, when I first met Dirk, I was an assistant in Baltimore and had an opportunity – we had won the Super Bowl here in Tampa against New York – and we went out and spoke as a defensive staff at the Arizona State clinic and was very, very impressed the first time that I met Coach Koetter. You could see that he was very organized, he had a great understanding of interaction with his players – we got an opportunity to spend time with his players – and I think Dirk’s philosophy aligns with the philosophy that I have had for many years: You want to put your players in the best position that you possibly can. That’s what coaching’s all about, it’s about putting them in a spot where they can be successful and be the best version of themselves.”
(On the day-to-day differences between being a head coach and a coordinator)
“I think there is a difference from the head coaching position and then being just the defensive coordinator. I was not involved in calling the plays on gameday [as head coach in Atlanta], but in terms of game planning and putting the game plan together from week to week, I was very involved as the head coach. I feel like you hire your coordinators to call the game. I can tell you this, I am so excited, the last day and half, where I’ve had nothing but sitting in the staff room talking about football and talking about how we’re going to put the best defense out there that we possibly can in 2016.”
(On how he spent his time in 2015 while not coaching)
“I did a number of things. I spent a lot of time with my family. It was great to recharge my batteries. I did a little project in the offseason – I co-wrote a book with Jon Gordon. It’s a leadership book. That took about six or eight weeks; we knocked that thing out and did that. And then, this offseason, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I was doing some consulting at the league office in the officiating department, which allowed me to have access to all of the game tape. So I had my office set up with game tape from the league office that they were allowing me to use and then I would spend time with [NFL Vice President of Officiating] Dean Blandino and his staff. So I got to see it from a fan’s perspective, in one sense, but I also still had the opportunity to see it from the All-22 and the close line [film views]. It was very enjoyable, but I can tell you this: I am so excited about having the opportunity to work here in Tampa for Dirk Koetter. Dirk is going to do some great things here, I have no doubt.”
(On the process of being contacted by Koetter regarding the defensive coordinator position)
“It was kind of a unique situation in terms that Dirk was in conversations with other teams and that I was in conversations with other teams, so when that was going on, we didn’t have a whole lot of conversation. But I think both Dirk and I knew that, however this thing played out, that if I was not going to be a head coach, Dirk knew that I had interest in being the defensive coordinator. It was not a tough decision to come work for Dirk Koetter and come to this organization here in Tampa.”
(On building a winning locker room)
“Dirk has got great people skills. That’s, I think, one of his strengths. Dirk has a great understanding of what it means to be a teammate, and I think that’s important. Dirk is going to be leading this charge in terms of what we want to get accomplished, and we’re going to get it accomplished, I have no doubt. Again, I’m excited about having a team that has a quarterback and I’m excited about a team that has some quality players on defense, as well. When you talk about leadership, it’s really about relationships, and I think that’s the one thing, through the years that I’ve watched with Dirk Koetter, is that Dirk has great relationships with all the players that he comes in contact with. And it really doesn’t matter if it’s sports or business, it’s really about the relationships that we build. That’s what strengthens an organization and strengthens a team.”
(On whether a team having a “singular focus” on one goal to measure success can be a detriment)
“I think everyone has to have the same agenda and I think, most importantly, it’s about the process, and you don’t go away from that process. I know that Dirk is very in tune with the process. We’ve got to take certain steps for us to get to the next step. Dirk and I have had lots of conversations philosophically. I’ve leaned on him many, many times in terms of, ‘Hey, this is a situation that arose, can you give me some insight? How did you handle it at Arizona State when you were head coach, or how did Jack [Del Rio] handle it?’ That’s one thing, you’re always learning as a coach and once you think you’ve stopped learning, that’s when you’re going to have failure; you’re not going to have success.”
(On if he has learned new things just in his first few days in Tampa)
“Oh, absolutely I have. Getting in and having an opportunity with the defensive staff to have one meeting, and the meeting lasted about two hours this morning – they’re waiting on me to get right back up there. In those two hours, it was just so invigorating to interact with those guys and talk to them about some of the things they do. This is not going to be Mike Smith’s defense. This is going to be Dirk Koetter’s defense. He’s the head football coach and the guys that are on our staff are going to be integral parts of what we put together and how we identify the strengths and the weaknesses of our players. Once we identify those strengths and weaknesses, our goal and what we’re charged to do is to put them in the best possible situations. That’s what coaching is all about.”
(On new defensive assistant coaches Jay Hayes, Mark Duffner and Jon Hoke)
“Mark Duffner, to start with, just because of the familiarity, Mark was on our staff in Jacksonville. Mark has been a head coach in college football, very successful linebacker coach in the NFL, and he understands not only Dirk’s system and how we’re going to do things, but the things that we’ve done in the past. So there’s some familiarity there. Jon Hoke is someone that I’ve admired from afar and competed against him. He was in Houston when I was in Jacksonville, so I watched his secondary play. He’s an outstanding secondary coach. And Jay Hayes, just look at the numbers [for] what Jay’s been able to do with his defensive line in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback and stopping the run. And if you really investigate, he hasn’t had a whole lot of first-round draft picks on that defensive line. He’s done it with some mid-round guys and some late-round guys. All of [the position coaches] are teachers first and I think they are very good evaluators, as well.”
(On returning to coach in the NFC South)
“Let me say this about the NFC South: Look at the four teams. Look at the four quarterbacks. Is there any other division in the National Football League that has quarterback play like you have here in the NFC South? So as the defensive coordinator, you’re going to have some sleepless nights and some long game planning days to prepare for the other quarterbacks that we’re going to be playing, but the great thing about it is that those defensive coordinators on those other teams are going to have the same thing with Jameis and Dirk putting together a game plan. So I am excited; there is familiarity in terms of having played these teams twice a year.”
(On how quickly coaches can change the culture in the locker room)
“Well, I think you can change it very quickly. I think there, in Atlanta, we were able to do that. The thing that happens – I believe this – is that it can change for the good just like that and it can change for the bad just like that. That’s one thing, as leaders and as coaches, you’ve got to always be feeling the heartbeat of what’s going on in the team. I think when you go away from that, you can lose the culture very, very quickly.”
(On how good the overall talent is on Tampa Bay’s defense)
“I’ve been here a day and a half. I’ve watched from afar, but until we get an opportunity to really look under the hood and get a chance to evaluate what the players were asked to do – sometimes if you don’t know what they’re asked to do, you might not get the right evaluation. So, I’m excited. I think what you have to have to be successful on the defensive side of the football is you’ve got to have the ability to stop the run when people are trying to run the football, because if not, it’s a slow death. The other thing that you have to do is you have to be able to take the ball away and you have to win on third down. Ultimately, as a defensive coach, you’re going to be judged on how many points you give up. That’s the bottom line. It’s not yards, it’s not rushing yards, it’s not passing yards, it’s not sacks – ultimately, it’s about keeping them out of the end zone. But we’ve got to focus on getting off the field on third down and taking the ball away and stopping the run. Those would be the three things that I would be talking to our guys about from the very beginning, because a third down stop is like a turnover. You get the ball back for our offense. If you don’t stop them on third down, you’re out there playing another series of downs.”
(On the importance of pass rushing and if you can manufacture a pass rush without the talent)
“Absolutely, rushing the passer is so important in the NFL. The level of quarterback play over the last seven years has changed dramatically. It used to be that there were two or three ‘elite’ quarterbacks. Now, there’s probably 10 to 12 that are playing at an elite level in this league at one time and if you don’t affect the quarterback and put pressure on the quarterback, they’re going to cut you up. They’re going to make plays. So it’s going to be imperative that we get pressure on the quarterback. In an ideal situation you’d like to be able to do it with a four-man rush, but if it doesn’t work with a four-man rush then you’ve got to add people to the rush. And then you’ve got to be able to scheme as a coaching staff and put those guys in some situations where if they don’t get free runs, which don’t happen very often in the NFL any longer, that you get the nice mismatch where you might get a defensive lineman on a back, you might get a defensive end on a back. You might get a linebacker coming free. So it’s going to be imperative for us to be able to create pressure and generate pressure. Ideally, it’d be done with the four-man rush but we’ve got to have the ability to do it with five, six-man rushes as well.”
(On if there are any insights he gained as a consultant with the league office that will help him as a coach)
“Absolutely. One of the first insights is it reinforced that being an official in the NFL is a very tough job – that’s first and foremost. But yes, I got an opportunity to see how the game is officiated and I think that it’ll be an advantage, give us a little bit of an advantage. One of the things that I think is very important is that you strive to play penalty-free football and, on defense, you have to play penalty-free football because if you don’t, you’re getting a lot of opportunities to have the spot fouls. The things that really hurt you are the defensive pass interferences or the silly, dumb penalties. As a defense, we’re going to strive to play on the edge but not over the edge, and that’s a fine line. When teams play on the edge they’re ready to play and they’re ready to play the way the game is supposed to be played.”
(On his success reducing penalties as Atlanta’s head coach and what the keys are to doing that)
“Well I think it has to be an emphasis point from the very beginning, and that was one of the things that we did in Atlanta in terms of talking to the players about how important it is to play penalty-free. And, especially on the defensive side when you have the spot fouls. The defensive pass interferences are probably the toughest ones to deal with, and then the egregious late hits and things like that. And again, you want guys to play tough, you want them to play smart, though. We want to be tough, we want to be aggressive, but we’ve got to play smart. And we always talked about taking it right up to the edge, but let’s not go over.”
(On if there’s an understanding among coaches that it’s a “win now” league)
“Well I think that the league is always evolving. Every business is always evolving. I don’t think we’re any different than any other business and it’s about win and win now. That’s what the fans want and, believe me, that’s what we want as coaches as well. But it’s about winning and I think we have in Coach Koetter a great leader that’s going to lead this football team in the right direction – I have no doubt about that. And I’m very pleased, again, to be here in Tampa. I’m a native of Florida so it’s great to be back in the sunshine state.”

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