By: Ian Logue
Here is the complete transcript of Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz conference call, courtesy of the Patriots PR Department.
Q: The Patriots haven’t done this Thanksgiving Day game in quite a while. You guys have. How do you adjust the preparations? How do you handle getting ready for a game so close to another game?
JS: Well, a little bit like pulling an all-nighter in college, you just sort of have to go on fumes for a few days. Adrenaline takes over once you get past that, once you get to game time on Thursday. Typically, on Sunday the coaches come right back in after the game and put a plan together for the Thursday game. And generally, you do some work earlier in the season, earlier in the offseason on that game knowing you’re going to have a short week. Players come in on a Monday. You get a walkthrough, and it’s like a Wednesday. Come back on Tuesday, it’s like a Thursday, I’m sure the Patriots are on a very similar schedule. And then Wednesday is a day before the game walkthrough. And Thursday you get up, and you play. It’s a mental week. It’s really not a physical week. The physical stuff will come on Thursday, but it’s a short week, it’s a non-conference opponent, it’s a non-division opponent for both teams. And we’ve got a lot of work to do in those three days.
Q: When you do this every year, does the game hold the specialness for opponents when they play this game and think back on playing on Thanksgiving? Does it still hold the same uniqueness for you even though you do it every year?
JS: Well, there are a lot of Thursday games now in the NFL. It started a couple of weeks ago. And it seems as though it’s becoming more and more common for there to be games. There are going to be three games on this Thanksgiving. So, it’s not as rare for the other teams. This has been a tradition. It’s been a long-time standing in Detroit. There have been some memorable games. There has been a lot of magic involved in Thanksgiving. We need to pick that back up from a tradition standpoint and make it very difficult on opponents that come here to play on Thanksgiving. I think we’re on the right path there, but we need to get back on the winning track, and Thanksgiving’s a great day to do it.
Q: When you took Bill Belichick’s turkey sandwich back when you worked for him as a coach for the Browns was it on wheat or on white?
JS: I don’t know. I can’t remember that. But I do remember I used up all the turkey. I can’t remember. I don’t know. It was probably white. I don’t know how health conscious I am.
Q: On a serious note, as you face a Bill Belichick coached team, what do you see from the Patriots this year?
JS: Well, anytime a team has a quarterback that is in the discussion for best player of all time, that’s going to get your attention. Tom Brady’s that guy. When you have the Super Bowl wins that he has and the career wins that he has, that’s always going to get your attention. I think that they do a fantastic job of mixing veteran players and young players. They have a lot more young players than they have in the recent past. They’ve gone through a lot of draft picks over the last couple of years, but they also sprinkle that in with veterans like Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor. And they sort of bring along the Danny Woodheads and the Benjarvus Green-Ellises in the backfield. All those young tight ends they have – [Rob] Gronkowski and [Aaron] Hernandez both are outstanding. You get a guy like Alge Crumpler, who’s 10-12 years whatever it is in the NFL as a veteran player. You always have a good quarterback. They always have multidimensional players they can use in a lot of roles. For the first time in a long-time, they’ve gone through a pretty good youth movement, but they’re also balancing with some veteran players that are able to lead those rookies.
Q: Speaking of youth movements, what have you thought of Ndamukong Suh? Has he been able to come in and be like a veteran or have there been some growing pains for a guy who comes right in and has to play right away?
JS: Amazingly, there hasn’t been a whole lot of growing pains with Ndamukong. And that’s one of the reasons that we drafted him and gave us comfort to pick him No. 2 overall. We’ve had two very high draft picks the last two years: Matt Stafford, No. 1 overall; Ndamukong Suh No. 2. And you’re picking talent at those positions, but you’re also picking personality and character and work ethic and those things because you can’t afford to make mistakes at those positions. Both of those players gave us a lot of confidence in calling their name on draft day, and with the contract that goes along with it. One of the reasons is Ndamukong is very serious about football. He’s a very hard worker. He has a great temperament for the game. He’s resilient. He’s extremely strong, and he’s a great learner. He’s improved every week during the season. And he’s been a marked man since the very first game he played; the first preseason game he played they doubled him most of the time in that game. But he’s managed to not only be effective, but to be productive and get good numbers and things like that. Last week, there was a huge play in the game, it ended up not meaning as much because of the way the game ended, but early in the third quarter he forced a holding penalty in the end zone, and we get a safety and take the lead in the game against the Cowboys. So there has been a lot of things that he’s done that have been very impressive for us. He’s a great athlete, but I think the most impressive things that he does are things you can’t see when you’re watching TV. You can’t see him work out. You can’t see him in the meeting rooms. You can’t see him around the fans and things like that. He’s outstanding in all those areas.
Q: On the Patriots top draft pick Devin McCourty, what did you see of him coming out of the draft and what have you seen this season from him?
JS: Well, he’s been another guy that’s been productive this year. I think he has three picks.
JS: But the thing that really stood out about him when he came out of college was he was a leading tackler on his team. He was outstanding, very physical corner that likes to mix it up. And you don’t find that combination very often — a guy that’s a tackler, that’s a physical corner, but also has cover skills. Generally, they come in two different packages. McCourty carries both of those. He didn’t have a lot of interception production in college, mainly because people didn’t throw at him very often. He’s been outstanding for them. Like I said, that’s been a big youth movement for them. A rookie playing corner in the NFL, that’s tough business. They have a couple of very young corners that are seeing significant playing time.
Q: Bill Belichick talked quite a bit yesterday about his relationship with you and when you first came in the league. Could you talk about what you learned from him in your time in Cleveland when you were with him?
JS: Well I probably owe my entire NFL career to Bill Belichick. He gave me a start when I was very young and very inexperienced, but willing to work 18 hours a day for not very much money. And just a chance to learn from Bill and the way he prepared his teams and the way he ran the whole structure of the club. From the way they traveled to the way they practiced and preparation to the way he handled the coaches to the draft and free agency. Every single thing was important to Bill Belichick. And I learned that at a very early age. [I] also learned how to deal with adversity. We had ups and downs in Cleveland. We had a very successful season in ’94, a very disappointing season in ’95. He had to steer that team through an announced move to Baltimore, a very difficult situation. [He] steered the team through changing the QB from Bernie Kosar, a local icon. And Bill never lost faith in his ability and his vision for what the team was going to be. And I owe a lot of that perseverance in my career to Bill Belichick. I’ve tried to take a little bit from every coach I’ve been around, and I’ve been very fortunate: Bill Belichick, Marvin Lewis, 10 years with Jeff Fisher down in Nashville – all three very excellent coaches. Being around Bill Belichick in the beginning of my career, getting that opportunity to not only work for him but to learn from him, has probably guided my career the most along the way.
Q: As of last night, I’m a follower of your twitter account, so congratulations for that.
JS: Yeah, I haven’t been posting a lot lately.
Q: You’ve got to get back into it. Have you enjoyed that? Was there something in particular that led you to start that? You don’t see too many coaches on Twitter.
JS: We started doing it in training camp just with an idea of trying to find another connection with the fans, another avenue to the team for the fans, and for some reason, people are interested in what kind of music I like. We sort of did that. [And it’s] not only football. We’re not breaking any news on Twitter; we’re doing a stream of consciousness thing. But just giving them a little of bit insight into the matchups each week, maybe, different things like that that just give people another personal relationship to the team. The NFL is such a great team. People have home town teams that they live and die with. People read everything they can. You guys are all in business because people love the NFL. They love to find out everything about the NFL. When you make that connection personal, you keep fans for life. And that’s what we try to do here. Our team is very good about outreach to Detroit, being around in the community and things like that. They don’t just work here, they live here. Every chance we have to touch a fan, even if it’s just something as minor, whatever you say, as Twitter, I think that helps us in the long run. We need our fans; our home field has been a much different experience this year compared to the years in recent past. I think they see what we are as a team, and what we can be as a team. And they’re generally excited about that. We need to keep connected with our fans.
Q: The offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus played at Boston College. How would you assess his body of work in your time with the Lions?
JS: He’s still a young offensive lineman. He has a lot of starting experience now. He has become a much more consistent player this year. He came out as a rookie. He came here as a rookie before I was here, got some experience, got some playing time a little bit. Injuries set him back. [He] had a knee that set him back and caused him to miss a lot of time, practice time, preparation time, developmental time in his second year. And he didn’t have as consistent a year as he would like to have. But he bounced back this year and has been very consistent for us. He’s a massive man. He’s very smart. He takes the job very seriously. Playing offensive line is a difficult thing. The only way to get experience is to play. And experience means a lot on the offensive line. You look at the Patriots. You look across the board with those guys. Matt Light is 10 years. And Dan Koppen is 8 years. And [Logan] Mankins is 6. That experience means something. And you can mix in some young guys like [Sebastian] Vollmer out there in his second year. That’s sort of the way we are with Gosder, Jeff Backus brings us a lot of experience. Gosder is able to learn from guys like Jeff Backus. But I think Gosder has an outstanding future. I think he’s been able to put his injuries behind him. I think he’s on his way to becoming a very consistent player for us.
Q: You mention seeing the Patriots and a line like their offensive line. What’s the difference you’ve seen in them with Logan Mankins in their lineup? How does he change the look of that line?
JS: He was their franchise player, wasn’t he? He was first round draft pick. He’s a guy that has a lot of starting experience. He’s a versatile player, can play a lot of different positions. The one thing that the Patriots pride themselves on, and we try to build the same way here, is having multidimensional players, guys that can fill in a lot of different spots and you don’t have big drop-offs when you do have guys go down. And with Logan gone with his contract situation earlier in the season, they did a great job of plugging in guys like [Dan] Connolly. He fit in very well for them. But there’s nothing like having the guys that you’re building around. The guys that you draft, that are the guys that you evaluate and say this guy fits exactly what we do and have experience and you put them in the lineup. There’s nothing like having that. They’re an offensive line that very rarely makes mistakes. They’re very well-coached by Dante Scarnecchia. They’re very tough. They have a lot of guys that look very similar off that line. They have the profiles that they like. And all those guys look very similar. They play very well as an unit. I think that’s the biggest thing. Anytime you talk about offensive line, you always talk about how they play as a unit, not how they play as an individual because that’s the main thing. One guy playing poorly on the offensive line can make the other four look bad. The Patriots have been very consistent on the offensive line, and you better be when you have a Hall of Fame-type quarterback in Tom Brady back there. You need to protect him. You need to keep him healthy and keep him playing for 16 games a year.
Q: (On what he thinks about Poison and 80’s rock music…)
JS: Love that stuff. How can you not listen to Poison and have a smile on your face. You’re taking yourself way too seriously if you’ve got to be critical of stuff like that. I’m not a music snob. I listen to a lot of different stuff. I listen to country, I listen to rock and roll, I listen to heavy metal, I’ll listen to hair bands, I’ll listen to Christina Aguilera, I’ll listen to anything you can put on a CD player. That stuff puts a smile on your face. When I grew up my dad always played ‘50s music in the station wagon and that’s the only music I knew when I was a kid because that’s what he grew up with and that’s what made him feel good. He’s riding down the road he remembers being 17 years old and having the top down in his convertible and riding around town. I think the people that like those ‘80s hair bands, it’s a lot of the same thing. They remember where they were when they heard that song. It makes them feel good, makes them feel young, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Q: Could you comment on three coaches on your staff who have ties to the Patriots or this region: Sam Gash, Shawn Jefferson, and Matt Burke. What type of coaches are these guys? What do they bring to your staff?
JS: I’d love to comment on all three of those guys because they’re all outstanding, and they all have great futures in the NFL beyond being position coaches, beyond being coordinators. I think all three of those guys bring a little different personality. They each bring something different to the party so to speak. I’ll start with Sam Gash. As a defensive coordinator, I went against him an awful lot of times, and there was nothing like having that battering ram back [in the backfield], and you knew you were going to be in for a long day in the run game when Sam Gash was out there. He was tough as could be. [He] layed injured, was a very, very consistent player for a long time, and that’s the way he is as a coach. He’s tough as can be. It’s no nonsense. [He] has a great relationship with the player. They respect his toughness, they respect his playing experience, and the way that he prepares them. Shawn Jefferson is…a lot of wide receivers coaches are laid back, Shawn Jefferson is not. He’s a guy that’s in players faces 24/7. The thing that’s great about Shawn is he can turn around and really be critical of a player and really chew him out on one play, and then turn around and high-five him on another. [He] just has a genuine enthusiasm, a genuine wanting for his players to do well. He doesn’t play any favorites; [he] coaches Calvin Johnson the same way he coaches the guys on our practice squad. He brings energy to the practice field every day, and another guy that has a great future in this league. [He was] also an outstanding player for a long period of time [and] the players respect that. Matt Burke I hired when I was in Nashville as a defensive assistant. I was looking for a guy that had a background that could help us in game preparation, and happened to find a guy that had an Ivy League education that was committed to coaching. That’s very rare to find. Generally those guys are scooped up by everybody else, but you knew that Matt had a passion for coaching. The fact that he was a [graduate assistant] at Boston College, he coached at a post-graduate school in Maine, coaching at Harvard as a part-time coach. When you’re willing to do that when you have a Dartmouth degree, it says a lot about your passion for the game and how hard you’re willing to work. We gave him an opportunity in Tennessee and everything we gave Matt he did a good job with, and he got more to do. He became a very, very valuable member of the staff that was very fortunate. I was very fortunate when I got the job here to be able to bring him up here as linebacker coach. He’s very good at preparation, outstanding at evaluating the opponent, and giving the players what they need to do their jobs on Sundays. He has great potential for a career as a coordinator and also as a head coach. He has a great relationship with the players. I’m very fortunate to have those guys. Sam Gash and Shawn Jefferson were here on the staff and even though we turned over most of the staff, those were two of the few guys that I kept on the staff because I respected their body of work so much. They’ve been able to fit in with the new staff, and they’ve been outstanding.