Q & A: WARRIORS FOOTBALL
STAR-BULLETIN FILE / APRIL 2008
Greg McMackin says he is excited entering his first camp as Hawaii head football coach.
McMackin sees talent
Greg McMackin sat down with Star-Bulletin sportswriters last week for a question-and-answer session heading into McMackin's first season as Hawaii football head coach. Some of his philosophies are very similar to those of his friend and predecessor, June Jones. Some are quite different.
Q: People have commented that you appear fit and relaxed and continue to be personable and friendly despite a hectic schedule. Any secret?
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These past six months have been fast and fun. I've really enjoyed meeting the people, speaking at things, getting to know everybody. I've enjoyed meeting with the coaches, spring ball, everything we've done. We've done a lot of things in the past six months. I'm really proud of my staff and our players. I've been meeting a lot of people of Hawaii.
Q: Did you have any time to take a breather and get away from everything?
A: Not really. It's been good to get the family here. Shannon, my daughter, is coming in August because the animals are still in quarantine. The horse is here, another animal is finishing up quarantine. They have three dogs and one cat. We have one cat. And they have a horse. We found a really nice place for them, so everything's really set that way. We haven't really been able to get away or anything, but that will happen later on. There's too much to do to get away now.
Q: Have you ever been more excited heading into a season?
A: You know, I'm excited about it. But, to me, I'm doing the same thing I've done for a lot of my career. There are just more kids involved. We've got a good system, I've got a great athletic director. It's been a pretty good transition. I've wanted to be a head coach at the Division I level. It's a blessing because not only do I get to live in the best place, but I've got good coaches, I've got a lot of respect for the players. We've got great fans and the administration's been very supportive. Summer school for the players. Getting video equipment that's up to date. The money is there for the (practice) field.
Q: What's your philosophy regarding contact heading into this camp?
A: I've always believed in practicing pro style. I believe you have to practice full-speed. You'll remember in spring we were in full pads often. You need to practice full-speed because you practice how you play. I still want to protect them. We lost Karl Noa last year with a shoulder injury when we went out with just helmets. It's important we save their legs, too. As far as practice goes, everything's going to be full-speed, no tackle.
I feel we're a good tackling team. We'll always work on tackling, fundamentals, offensive blocking. It's all not-to-the-ground. When you go to the ground that's when you have guys falling on each other and hurting each other, knees. Even our one-on-ones. We'll go full-speed in pads or shells, but we don't go to the ground. That's the key. In the games you go to the ground. I believe in a lot of reps. We're going to get a lot of reps. Everything we do is a system, so we need to get a lot of reps. The more reps we get the better we're going to be.
We're an attacking package, offensively we're attacking. We're going to be a big-play offense. And on defense we're looking to make plays. Make big plays offensively and defensively. It's what you've heard me say before defensively. The big things are tackles for loss, interceptions, sacks. I'm not as concerned about yardage. It depends how much somebody has the ball. Scoring and keeping the (opponents') score down. But I'm not a big yards guy.
Q: What did you learn from spring practice and the summer that you can apply now?
A: Obviously our veterans are back on defense. We lost some good players, but we really have all of our starters back on defense even though we lost some good players. Offensively we lost some quality players. I think the strength of our offense is the offensive line. I think John Estes is one of the top centers in the country. He makes us so much better because he sees things and calls things. Guard is more of a natural position for Keith AhSoon. (Keoni) Steinhoff was excellent last year. He's a solid, good player. We want to get more players in the game, as we did on defense last year. We want to get eight or more offensive linemen who play in a ballgame.
We want to always play our best players, not just because a guy's a nice kid.
We want to play more receivers in a game because their legs will go if they're running full-speed the whole game.
If a guy can help us win the game, we're going to get him in the game at a certain point, and in the fourth quarter we're a lot better.
Q: How about the receivers?
A: Our slots, I really feel good about. They've been there three years, and adding (Kealoha) Pilares to them. Aaron Bain made catches all over the place against us (in practice). These guys aren't bad. They know the offense and can make plays.
(Ryan) Henry will be special, and (Dustin) Blount and (Jovonte) Taylor can flat out run.
Q: There seems to be a lot of confidence. After last year is there a different feeling?
A: Every team has its own personality. That's why after (last Thursday) I'm not wearing this (2007 WAC championship) ring. That was last year's team. This year's team, our saying is be humble and be hungry. That's what this year's team has to do. What people don't realize, they don't think much of us, there's a coaching change, we lost a lot of players, is that we've still got a large portion of our team is defending champions. I think there's a great confidence. The other thing is it's a large senior class. A lot of leaders.
Three goals. Graduate 100 percent. Win the WAC every year. Go to a bowl game. That's what (the players) say. They're going to win the WAC.
Q: Can you talk about how you approach the season strategically?
A: I look at us as a team really getting better the first three games and then we have a bye. It's really important that we get better, make decisions and then go into the WAC.
I look at us really getting better every week.
We've already in the spring worked on Weber State and Oregon State.
It doesn't matter who we're playing. When we get our base packages in, then we'll start working on Florida. We worked on them a little bit in the spring, we're practicing to get our packages in on all three phases of our game. Then we start game-planning after that.
Q: Taking snaps under center was a problem in the spring with John Estes out. With John back are you much more confident in that area?
A: We played six quarterbacks under center, and John wasn't there. That's regular football. The offense really moved the ball and played well the last two weeks of spring. I have complete confidence in our coaches and personnel.
We're going to be an attacking offense and a big-play offense.
Q: Can you talk about the key position battles?
A: I think our special teams are really solid. We've got the best snapper in the country, we've got one of the best kickers, Dan Kelly, a punter that's very good and a bunch of returners.
The offensive line, we have three starters back. The other two positions are wide open. Three guys going for left tackle. Two for guard.
Quarterback's wide open. Running back, really everything's open. When guys show they can play the game, competition is what makes you better. Even at middle linebacker. We've got to find a way to get Brashton Satele on the field. Outside backer. Just like we did with Brad (Kalilimoku) last year and I did with those guys in San Francisco. Rest Solly (Elimimian), play him outside and rest Adam (Leonard).
It's more finding the two best at each position and then playing the best player.
Q: Very deep at safety. How do you see the secondary?
A: I think we're really sitting good. We've got Keao (Monteilh) and Desmond (Thomas), E-Rob (Erik Robinson), and the guy, Silva. Mana Silva. I was really impressed. Kenny Estes. He had a good spring and he's a smart kid. And Vili. He's in the mix.
Dane Porlas, too.
Since I've been here, it's the most talented group of corners we've had. (Ryan) Mouton and Jameel (Dowling), a 6-3 corner who can run. He's quick, smart. J.P. (JoPierre Davis) and Calvin Roberts. I feel like we have depth at corner for the first time.
Q: Will the players be living in dorms or in the dance studios like recent years for fall camp?
A: I was thinking of the dorm, but the players bond by staying together. We're going to stay in the dance studio. At first way back, it was a financial thing. This puts them all on the same level.
Q: Is Leon Wright-Jackson ready to live up to his potential?
A: I think he's an outstanding player. Every time I'm making adjustments (in practice) he's getting a big gain. I think he'll be one of the top backs in the WAC. He, and (Daniel) Libre's a changeup, then we got a couple of power backs.
I'd like to have one or two guys be the guys. I don't want to be predictable, and I don't want to play a bunch of guys to play a bunch of guys.
Q: How would you describe your in-game demeanor?
A: You have to stay calm. I've found if you're a crazy guy on the sideline you don't know what's going on. If you lose it arguing with the refs you don't call the game as well.
Of course, it's different when I'm talking to the team (before the game or at halftime).
That's my responsibility. Get the team ready. The whole team ready.