An interview with:
COACH NICK ALIOTTI
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone. We’re going to do the Oregon defense. It’s my pleasure to introduce defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Nick, if you could introduce your players.
COACH ALIOTTI: To my left is Taylor Hart, defensive end. Next to him is Tony Washington, outside linebacker. In the middle we have Brian Jackson, safety. I have Derrick Malone, Will inside backer. On the end there, that’s just Ifo, great corner.
One thing I will say, I’ve been blessed. These are not just good football players. A lot of times you’re around good football players. These five guys right here, these are great young men. They represent everything that you want in a college athlete. It’s been a pleasure to coach them.
Instead of getting too long‑winded, which I tend to do, ask them questions.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Nick, the announcement an hour ago that you’re retiring. First off, what led to that decision? How long was that decision in the making? When did you decide? What were the main factors?
COACH ALIOTTI: We’re going to try to keep this brief. I will try to answer this as succinctly as I can, then we’re going to talk about the Alamo Bowl because that’s why we’re here. I’ll give you the shortest version I can.
I was going to retire last season when we won the Fiesta Bowl. When the game was over, I went out to the middle of the field, grabbed some turf, put it in a plastic bag, it’s still in my briefcase.
When Chip left, I decided to stay along with Mark to finish up the recruiting because it seemed like a tough time. We were on 13 kids, wanted to finish the deal. I’m not trying to be a martyr or pat myself on the back. I believe in and love Oregon. I wanted to do a good job by Mark. I wanted to do a good job by these kids without having something to say.
This is something that was going to happen last year. I told Mark I would go one more year, and therefore I did. After 38 seasons, I coached the very first year after I stopped playing, and so I’ve had a good ride.
It’s not about me. Let’s move on to the Alamo Bowl. I’ll answer those at another time.
I’m at a good place. Especially when I have these five guys to my left, I’m at a better place.
Q. Taylor and Tony, can you talk about what you’ve seen from the Texas running game. Who would you compare it to in terms of teams you faced this year?
TAYLOR HART: Yeah, they obviously have a power running game. With that they’re very physical up front, the offensive linemen. They have multiple runningbacks back there that can do the job.
I would kind of compare them to Stanford in some ways. But for us, we’ve faced it all. We just have to figure out the ways to stop this run and go against Texas.
TONY WASHINGTON: Same thing he said (laughter).
Q. Ifo, since we’re in the spirit of making announcements, have you made a decision on your NFL future? Also, can you give us a memory of Coach Al, what makes him so effective?
IFO EKPRE‑OLOMU: At this time I still haven’t made a decision of what I’m going to do. I feel that I’m going to wait probably until I have a time to sit down with my family and actually think things through.
I’m really worried about the Alamo Bowl right now and that’s really it. I haven’t been worried about that too much.
For Coach Al, I’d have to say definitely his everyday work ethic. He comes with that relentless passion every day to get the best out of each player. Even when players might not take it for what it’s worth, he’s made everybody better at this program and he’s done it day in and day out. I thank him for that.
Q. Brian and Derrick, does Coach Al’s retirement add extra as far as sending him out as a winner?
BRIAN JACKSON: Yeah. About this, I feel if we wanted to make this about coaches, we wouldn’t be doing any game planning.
He just told us not that long ago. I feel like that’s his decision and I support him in every single way.
Right now he wants us to focus on this football game. That’s what we’ve been doing this whole time. We came here almost like it was a work visit. People who have conferences away from where they normally work at, they come there for a reason, they come to get some work done. That’s why we’re here.
I respect him. I’m glad he made this decision. Like he said, we need to get out there and play some football.
DERRICK MALONE: We’re here to win this game, no matter what happens. We all have the mindset, we need to get things done. No matter what happens, who is staying, from coaches to players, we know we have one common goal.
Q. Nick, because you knew this year it was probably going to be your last year, did you enjoy it more? What was it like coming back for the extra year?
COACH ALIOTTI: I might have been a little softer than I usually am, but they might not agree with that (laughter).
You know, I don’t think I changed in any way, shape or form. Coached the same, as hard as I always have. Same passion, same work ethic.
But I did enjoy this group of kids. This is a good group of young men. I know we’re going to put our best foot forward to try to beat a very good Texas football team. That’s what I hope we do on Monday night.
Q. What are you going to do now going forward?
COACH ALIOTTI: I haven’t really thought that far ahead, to be honest with you. Right now, just like my men said, the focus today should be ‑‑ I know this announcement came, and I want to squelch that. This is not about Nick Aliotti. This is the timing that Mark and myself decided on. This is not, Win one for the Gipper. I want to make that perfectly clear.
This is about trying to win the Alamo Bowl. We’ve worked toward that before we got here. We’re here to try to beat a very good, athletic Texas team. That’s our goal. That’s why we’re here.
Nothing has changed. Nothing will change. We’ll do everything as we always do till the final gun. But thanks for asking.
Q. Taylor, you’re an Oregon guy. You grew up watching Nick Aliotti’s defenses. What is it like to play for him? What is your favorite memory from being with Nick for the past few years?
TAYLOR HART: I mean, everything. Coach Al, he’s like a second father to me. It’s been an amazing experience. He always comes with the attitude that he’s just got the energy, we’re always going to find a way to win, we’re always going to struggle. He hasn’t changed at all.
That’s what we’ve done this week against Texas, to be able to prepare for them. I mean, I can’t say anything bad at all about Coach Aliotti.
Q. Derrick, you had the shoulder. Has this month of bowl practice been good for you? Do you feel ready to go?
DERRICK MALONE: Yeah, definitely. I feel real good, ready to go. Extra work in all areas with many things that I do, working out, studying film. I’m really excited about letting my preparation meet the field.
Q. Tony, what do you see as the biggest challenge with the Texas offense for you guys?
TONY WASHINGTON: I just think with so many personnel groups, they can give us a bunch of different looks. This past couple weeks, guys have been focusing on all possibilities, all different styles of plays, runs, passes, all different things. Just be prepared for everything.
They’re great at running it, great at throwing it. We have to be great in all phases.
Q. Brian, so much of these bowl games are about which teams want to be there. Oregon was a team that could have gone up to the BCS. Here you are playing an unranked Texas team. What is the mindset of Oregon right now? What’s the hunger factor for this game?
BRIAN JACKSON: I think that’s an easy question to answer. We’re here to play a good Texas team. This is more of a home game for them, if anything. Man, we’re coming out here into hostile territory. We’re here to do something we haven’t done before: play a great Texas team, play some great football.
These two styles of football really mix up well. We’re bringing the West Coast, ground and pound, throw some deep balls. I like the way this matchup is. I feel like it’s hard for anyone not to be excited to play in this kind of game of this caliber.
I was just cruising around the streets with my friend yesterday, just headed over to the mall somewhere. They’re advertising the game is sold out, four tickets left. I mean, people want to see this game. For us to not want to play in a game like this, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.
Q. Taylor and Tony, you guys play in a program where the offense gets a lot of publicity. Their style puts a lot of pressure on your defense because they don’t keep the ball very much. Could you describe how difficult it is to play defense at Oregon sometimes facing all those snaps from opposing teams.
TAYLOR HART: You know, sometimes it makes it difficult on us. But when they put up 60 points, it’s pretty easy.
For us to be able to stay out there, we rotate a lot of guys. That’s something that helps us out as a defense. For us to be able to play these high‑velocity snaps, play as hard as we can, the way we practice, prepare for these teams. For us, it’s just all about preparation. To have the offense go as fast as it does, it doesn’t bother us. It’s actually a cool deal the way they can do it.
TONY WASHINGTON: Off of what he’s saying, I think the rotation is always great. Me personally, I love how exciting our offense is now, how often we get in the end zone. Gets me an opportunity to go out there and play. I love playing this game. Any chance I get, I’ll take it. It’s great to be part of this team.
Q. Coach, how would you describe your guys’ run defense the past month? Do you feel the need to make any adjustments or tweaks since the last game?
COACH ALIOTTI: Obviously the stats bear that we haven’t played very well against the run the last couple games. Going back the last month ‑ I’ll try to make this answer short and sweet ‑ Stanford, I don’t care we played that bad against the run, contrary to what everybody might think. They ran the ball 66 times. They didn’t have to throw it.
Tough to answer it this way, but we didn’t play very well on offense. The fact we didn’t play very well on offense, they didn’t have to throw the ball. You run the ball 66 times, you get 200‑something yards, that’s the nature of the beast.
Utah we played well. It was over.
Arizona, for whatever reason, you can point the finger right here, we weren’t ready, okay? I didn’t have them ready. We didn’t play great. It’s probably one of our worst games that we’ve played that I can remember.
But it wasn’t because of these guys. Arizona had a good plan. They’re a good football team, too. They’re on scholarship last time I checked also. Other teams are getting scholarships, too. We just didn’t play very well.
Oregon State, didn’t want them to run for that many yards, but they throw the ball, so we wanted to make sure they didn’t throw the ball all over the place. Maybe to some degree the fact they run the ball helped us win.
As far as this game, we’ve practiced a lot of things. The thing about defense, the one thing that people don’t understand, on defense you don’t get to practice tackling live for a month before you play a bowl game. That’s for both teams. That’s always something that concerns coaches. You can’t tackle live for a month. You never really play a game without tackling live for a month except for a bowl game. That will affect both teams, who tackles well, who tackles in space.
Secondly, offenses can decide what personnel groups and what plays they want to run from those personnel groups. We have to prepare for war in time of peace. We have to be ready for everything. If they line up in empty, we can’t call timeout and say, Hey, we didn’t practice that this week, so you guys can’t do that. We have to prepare for everything.
This is not an excuse. I’m answering your question.
Thirdly, we’ve done everything within our power to get ready to stop this good Texas running game, okay? I have no idea what the outcome’s going to be or how it’s going to turn out, but in every game that we’ve played where it was a big‑time run team, that we weren’t going to stop the run, they were going to run all over the space, and they were going to score a lot of points ‑ Colorado, Kansas State, Auburn ‑ we stopped the run.
Q. Brian, what would a win mean to you personally being that this is Nick’s last game? Nick, what would a win mean to you?
COACH ALIOTTI: That’s a nice question, a nice sentiment. Obviously you want to win your last game or play well in your last game.
This is not about me, but it would mean a lot if we won the game. I’ll be happier to win the game for these guys. These are the guys that deserve to win the game.
I’ve played in a lot of games. I will feel good if and when we win. But I’ll feel better at how hard these guys are going to play.
BRIAN JACKSON: Yeah, you know, both teams come into this planning to win the game. We obviously want to win this game. It would mean a lot to me, especially being my last college game.
I came here, Coach Aliotti, we were talking the other day about how he went and ate at a restaurant for the first and last time when he came for my visit. I’ve been here with him the whole time.
It’s been a great ride for me. I want to come out here with a win, just something to help me remember this better by. I really enjoyed my time here. A win would be incredible.
Q. Ifo, Case McCoy is a different kind of quarterback. How would you describe his throwing style and how to defend him?
IFO EKPRE‑OLOMU: Definitely he can run. He’s able to extend plays. They have great receivers that we’re going to have to be able to cover and cover for a long time.
A quarterback that can scramble. They’re able to extend plays and create stuff that normally wouldn’t be there. Me, Terrance, Avery, Brian Jackson, we’re all going to have to play great defense every play because they have a lot of great athletes. They have players that are able to spread the ball around and make things happen after the catch.
Q. Ifo, after having such a great year, what aspects of your game do you think you can still improve on?
IFO EKPRE‑OLOMU: Every day I look at improving my entire game. I never really have been to a point where I thought, Oh, I’m good enough here, I’m doing good enough at this spot. I feel like every day I come with the attitude of trying to get better and trying to improve in everything I do.
I mean, every day I want to be a better player than the day before. That’s all I can really say.
Q. Derrick, we see Coach Al as this gregarious, out there, funny guy. What do you see behind the scenes that we don’t see?
DERRICK MALONE: That’s kind of hard.
He’s hard on us when we’re not doing things right. He expects a lot from us, everything like that. But he’s also there to nurture us and show us love when it’s needed. That’s what I truly reflect upon him.
He’s not going to let us fall short of our potential. He wants to maximize our potential and get the best out of each and every one of us, no matter if you’re a scout team guy, special teams guy, defensive team guy. He wants you to reach your potential.
He’ll get on you hard. When you do something great, he’ll be the first to high‑five you and jump up and down with you in our huddles with you and show you love. Behind the scenes you don’t really get to see that. That’s really what I respect about him.
Q. Nick, as a guy who just made a very big decision, what would you tell Ifo about the decision that he had to make about the NFL? Do you think he’s ready right now to play at that level?
COACH ALIOTTI: First of all, Ifo is ready to do whatever he wants to do. I respect that young man enough that whatever he chooses to do, I’m 100% behind it. Whether I stayed here or not, I would still be 100% behind Ifo because the young man has to do what’s best for him and his family.
When it’s all said and done, if you listen to him talk, he’s pretty intelligent. He’ll figure it out. I support him in whatever he chooses to do.
Q. Derrick, you go up against Marcus in practice. I don’t know how much you guys hit the quarterback, probably not much. How good is he as a runner, and what does he bring to the field?
DERRICK MALONE: He’s real good. Sometimes I sit back and just look. Marcus has the ball. He’s running like a runningback, he’s so fast, so elusive. He has so many weapons. He can run the ball, throw the ball, find open receivers, do it all.
It’s always a challenge when we go against our offense. It’s fun to try to chase him down, contain him in the pocket, stop all his weapons. He’s a really great quarterback.
Q. Coach, win or lose, are you going to grab some turf from the Alamo Bowl or water out of the River Walk?
COACH ALIOTTI: I’m not sure yet. I know this: win or lose, I’m going to make sure I see all our seniors, everybody on defense, and tell them thanks for what a great ride they’ve given me. I’m hoping it ends in a win so we’re all smiles. But so does Texas. They hope they end in a win so it’s all smiles.
We’ll see how that plays out at the end. The bottom line is I want to make sure I touch every one of my guys when the game is over and tell them thanks. I hope they all have a smile on their face when the game is over. That’s what’s important to me.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports