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April 10, 2013
White settles in at Iowa
Chris White missed the college game, so when he had the opportunity to get back into it at the University of Iowa, he jumped at the chance. White is getting settled into his new job as Iowa's running backs coach and special teams coordinator and likes what he has to work with in Iowa City. He talks about the talent at running back and who might be returning kicks this fall.
Watch our videos and read the complete transcript below.
Q. Give us a little comment about getting settled at Iowa City and then go from there.
CHRIS WHITE: Good afternoon. Just real excited to be here. You know, I left a job at the Vikings, it was a great job. And I got an opportunity to talk with Coach Ferentz, and I think we just hit it off, our conversations about what he was looking for and what I was looking for.
I missed college football. I just missed the interaction with the players, the whole college atmosphere. And I came down here and I just got blown away. I've always admired this program. You know, I was at Syracuse for a number of years. We played, I guess it was '06, I believe, when they came to the ‑ Iowa came to the Carrier Dome, and we had that great game; and I can remember the goal line stand there that they had, and the thing that stuck out to me about that game was the crowd. The away crowd was probably the biggest away crowd that we had at Syracuse, and it was all Iowa fans. So the people here are passionate about their football, and it's very evident just coming for Sunday's deal at the valley and it sold out within how long.
And then the next year we came back and played here, and that was impressive, a night game, and we got whipped pretty good. And the other things, I think I worked with Chad Greenway. Chad Greenway to me epitomizes what Iowa football is all about, and you don't make them any better than that. And come down here and there's a bunch of Chad Greenways here.
So this has been a great experience for me. It's been a whirlwind just trying to juggle everything, but I'm really super excited to be here and I hope I can help out.
Q. When you kind of look through your career, you coached everything from receivers to defensive backs and quarterback. Is running back a different kind of challenge for you? What about that position drew you to it?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, I think if you coach football, especially, you know, like you said, I've coached offense and defense, and special teams I think kind of puts everything together, and to me running backs has been my special teams world.
I used running back drills to teach the returners, in terms of ball security, how to catch a football, how to tuck it high and tight. And I'm very fortunate that I have an older brother that coaches running backs at University of Florida. He was at Wisconsin for a bunch of years, the offensive coordinator. He coached Ron Dayne, and I may be biased, but I think he's the best running back coach in the country, and I lean on him for drills and really philosophy a lot.
Q. Just your thoughts on the running backs you have here. You've had a chance to look at them now.
CHRIS WHITE: My thoughts? I'm super excited. I think we have a great combination coming back with Mark and Damon. And they've bought in big time. It's been such a joy to watch both of them, and really the whole group, you know, we're working on some things with each guy. I think we're working on some things with Mark in terms of his flexibility. And what I look for in a running back are four things. It's part of our deal that we talk about with them. It's base, bend, balance, burst; four Bs, and we're working on Mark with his bending. And he made a couple of jump cuts the other day in practice, I was like, wow. I mean I didn't see that last year on film. And it just really ‑ it's step one here just to see the guys improving.
Damon, Damon is a really talented player, and what he's focused on right now is little things, exchanging the football, getting the ball high and tight, not loose on his body, really being a physical, complete player. He made a block on a blitzing linebacker the other day that the whole team ‑‑ he earned the respect of the whole team, including the head coach and the assistants. So that's been fun to watch.
Jordan, Jordan has a chance to be a really good back, and the younger guys, you know, Michael Malloy, unfortunately he had a little tweak right before spring, and he's ‑ hopefully we'll get him back before the end of spring football. And then Barkley Hill, he's coming back from an injury right now and he had a good practice the other day. I'm excited to see him.
And we have three young recruits coming in that I watched film on that I think that the future of the program is in pretty good hands.
Q. There's been sort of a lot of talk or a lot of thought of playing Weisman and Bullock together, what that might present in challenging the defense. What are your thoughts on that?
CHRIS WHITE: You gotta put the best players on the field. I mean I think that, you know, defensively, you know, you don't know if we're going to be in a two‑back set with Mark being the fullback and Damon being the tailback or ‑ you know, Damon's worked a lot of ‑ we're trying to get him spread out in space and see if he can play some wide receiver type of deals, you know, in formations. And with Mark being the featured running back and vice versa. I think the more we can do from one personnel package and get into multiple formations, I think that Coach Davis does a great job with that just trying to match up people, and I think it's a great idea.
Q. After coaching special teams in the NFL, have you had to cut back the sophistication at all or will you just go with your basic beliefs there?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, it's a different game. I don't know about sophistication. I'm trying to install pretty much the same stuff that we did at Minnesota.
There's things, rule things that are different, you know, for example, on punt, you know, this whole spread‑out shield punt deal you can't do in the NFL because they can't go down field. Only the gunners can go down field. So that's a whole different world. It's a huge adjustment for me. That's why I'm leaning on LeVar on a lot of things, too.
When I left college football, the shield punt was just kind of starting to be a new fad. Now it's the thing to do, and I don't know a great ‑ I don't extensively know a lot about it. So little things like that I think are different.
But as far as in style, we're going to run the same returns that we ran with Percy Harvin. I hope Jordan can do the same things Percy did and I know Jordan did a nice job on kickoff return last year.
Q. You mentioned shield formation. Is that something you contemplate installing here at Iowa or are you going to stick with the basic?
CHRIS WHITE: We're going to stick with what I know and what the kids have known. You know, we're going to change up some fundamentals a little bit here, tweak a little here. Like LeVar said, I came ‑ before I got to the NFL, I thought I knew a lot about special teams. I didn't know much. You know, in the four years that I've been there, I learned a lot. Mike Priefer is special teams coordinator with the Vikings, and LeVar mentioned his dad. His dad is a legendary special teams coached, retired a few years ago for the Lions, and some of the things, just the little nuances that he taught me are invaluable. And the kids love it. They love watching NFL tape anyhow.
Q. With all the running backs healthy this spring, this was a big thing last year, how exciting has it been to have them healthy and see the different packages that you can use with Weisman having to take most of the carries last year, now with Damon healthy, how exciting has it been to see the combinations you have?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, I have nothing to compare to from last year, obviously, but I'm just excited about the whole group. You know, I mean ‑ and that's not ‑ this is really. I mean every day has gotten better, and they see themselves, to me they carry themselves in a different light. You know, they're walking around with a little bit more confidence. And that ‑ to me that makes me proud. And you know, stay healthy, that's football. We need to stay healthy. We need depth.
We got some young fullbacks, Adam Cox, and we moved Macon Plewa over, and I'll tell you what, those guys are football players, and they're making an impact. So it's been fun. And then we're going to continue to get better each day until spring ball ends.
Q. The special teams, the specialist kicker punter, young guy last year punter, I think it's Mike this year, kicker, is there competition in those spots?
CHRIS WHITE: There's always competition. There's no doubt. I mean you gotta start with someone taking the first rep, and Mike and Conor, I think have earned that throughout their play last year. We need ‑ I think if you ask Conor, obviously it was growing pains for him at times last year, and we're trying to get him to be more consistent. You know, he has a really strong leg. He's a big kid. He's flexible for a big guy. Working on a few techniques and fundamentals just to keep him nice and compact and really driving through the ball. And we want to just eliminate the miss‑hits with him and really just be more consistent, because I think he's a very talented kicker/punter.
Q. How much easier would it make all this talk about opening up the offense and creating those matches, if Weisman can prove to be that sort of north‑south swabber‑knocker type of guy that he was last year?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, I think he's proved it. I mean I watched the film. I mean our offensive line does a great job, and Mark ‑ swabber‑knocker I'm trying to make Mark a big‑time back, and he's buying in. He's not just a swabber‑knocker. He's going to knock it full. I want Mark to break arm tackles. I want Mark to really stick his foot in the ground and run through a guy or run around a guy or stiff‑arm a guy or break a tackle. That's the thing that I'm challenging Mark to be, a complete back and catching the ball out of the back field. He's perfectly capable of doing that.
Q. With the injury history does it affect how you guys go through practice this spring a little bit, not that you take it easy on them?
CHRIS WHITE: The history of it?
Q. Not only the history with Weisman and Bullock, but with the eight running backs in the last four years, just different injuries and leaving the program. Does that affect how you approach the spring at all?
CHRIS WHITE: As far as I'm concerned, no. You know, you need to be smart about how many times you tackle a ball carrier, and we are very conscious of that. But it has nothing to do with the history of the running backs here. It's about being smart in general.
And you know, I firmly believe you have to learn how to ‑ you have to learn how to fall with the ball in your hand. So there's times where we need to tackle the guy to the ground. But there's also times where, you know, the defense needs to be smart too. This is a thud carry, don't take the guy out ‑ don't take his legs out.
Q. If you coached special teams in the NFL, a lot of times the camera is focused on the special teams coach in the NFL, good or bad, it seems like ‑‑ I don't think Kirk has had sort of a quote, unquote director of special teams. Do you like that hat? Do you like that sort of spotlight? Are you ready for it?
CHRIS WHITE: Well, yeah. Special teams has been kind of what I've been known for since I've been coaching, and I'll tell you what, it's a different deal when you need to punt the ball back in your own end zone and get the ball out of there. There's a different feel, butterflies going in your belly. But it's exciting at the same time.
The thing that excites me about special teams, okay, is that they can galvanize the whole football team, and I saw it happen last year at Minnesota. We went from a 3 ‑ I think we were a 3 and 13 team - to a playoff team and we ended up being ranked the No. 1 special teams in the NFL, and it had a lot to do with our kicker. We had a great rookie kicker. We had a really good rookie class of guys.
But they bought in. And the special teams here have been pretty good over the history of the program, and I think what Coach Ferentz wants to do is make sure the emphasis is back to where, you know, he always says this is how we win here. We're tough. We got the best strength coach in America, special teams, Chad Greenways of the world. They've worked their way up, okay. And we're smart, tough, disciplined and play great special teams, and that's why I'm here.
Q. How do you envision Iowa running the ball? Now that you're here, is it kind of what you thought it was on the inside?
CHRIS WHITE: It's even more impressive to me, I mean just being here and seeing ‑ Brian Ferentz is an outstanding offensive line coach. I mean just how he teaches and his knowledge. And a lot of people think this is a vanilla offense. This is not ‑ this has a lot to it. And we're going to be exciting to watch next year, just watch.
Q. You've been away from recruiting for a while. Is it like riding a bike?
CHRIS WHITE: Oh, my God. No. Yeah, kind of, but I didn't know what huddle was. I came here, it was like everything's on, you know, the computer age now, which is a great thing. I had to open my first Twitter account, and then the people here, I mean within hours I had 500 followers. So I'm like, what the heck's going on here. So you know, I gotta do this, and that to me is the biggest thing.
When coaches say, would you prefer to be in the NFL or college, recruiting is why most coaches want to be in the NFL. My phone's ringing off the hook. I got 3,000 emails. That's the part that kind of wears you. You gotta juggle that with the special teams and the running backs.
You know, I think I've lost seven pounds since I've been here. My wife's not here yet and we gotta get our house settled. So I haven't been eating well.
Q. What's your philosophy in recruiting? What's your approach with kids?
CHRIS WHITE: I don't know if I have a philosophy. I think I just try to ‑ my deal is everyone has a story to tell. I don't care who you talk to. And I don't try to pitch myself. I don't try to pitch really the program. I want to see if it's a fit for the kid, family and Iowa. And if it's not a fit, then you know, you don't try to force that fit, because it's not going to happen. He's either going to transfer. He's going to get in trouble, those type of things. We need the kid who fits our profile and he wants to be here and I'm going to go out and attack that guy.
Q. Fullback's been on the field about 25 percent to a third of the time during the last couple of years. Has that position been de‑emphasized a little bit or do you expect the percentages to go down or will it stay about the same?
CHRIS WHITE: I don't know. You know, first of all, I think it's hard to find fullbacks nowadays because they don't exist. Offenses in high school and college, you know, they're all spread deals, you know, and I think we have a couple good candidates, but to get back to your question, now you're seeing hybrid tight ends and we got some good tight ends here. Let me tell you something, these tight ends are impressive. We have the swabber knocker guy, CJ, and then you got a couple other guys that are really good movement tight ends who can insert like a fullback does.
So that's the dilemma that we're going to have. Well, not dilemma. It's the good problem we're going to have of figuring out which do we want the tight end in there or do we want the fullback in there.
Q. Maybe the wide back kind of replace some of the stats where it could be like offset high.
CHRIS WHITE: Yeah.
Q. One thing that Coach Fraser ‑ you talked about the 3 and 13 team, once he knew the starting possession, was it a big thing for you guys, like you said, you went off the (indiscernible) and you guys were No. 1 in that. Is that something you want to bring to Iowa, too, talk about starting possession?
CHRIS WHITE: That's all I care about. I'm not a stat guy at all. I could care less, you know, where we rank in terms of in the Big Ten. I want to know where the defense gets the ball, all right, where their starting position. I want to know where our offense starts the drive. It's all what we call complementary football, and that's all the job is with special teams is to complement your offense and defense.
Q. Coach, on Twitter you said you have the success of one‑two candidate in the country.
CHRIS WHITE: Well, I just think that, you know, first of all, they're experienced players coming back, and you know, the way that you can use Mark in terms of like his physicalness and Damon's speed and elusiveness and combine them, putting both of them on the field at times, okay, and then giving one a rest and the other comes in and there's no dropoff, I really believe that we're going to wear people out, you know, just with the style of our offense, the tempo of our offense, and you know, we got two guys who can come in there and you won't see any dropoff. Their production is going to be that high.
Q. You mentioned Jordan being one of the return guys. Who else are you looking at kickoff, punt return?
CHRIS WHITE: There's a whole list of candidates, and to be honest with you, I'm trying to learn everyone's name. I think Kevonte has a chance to be a guy. Little Riley McCarron, I tell you what, he catches punts great. There's a couple defensive guys that catch the ball pretty good. Fleming. That's just off the top of my head right there. Jordan Canzeri is a punt return and kickoff return.
What we're doing, like LeVar said, is we're trying to put the guys in competitive periods. At the end of practice everything's going to be a compete deal, and for the returns as well. We're either going to punt it or shoot a jug there and there's going to be guys flying at them. I want to see who can catch it with bullets flying at them, who can leverage the ball, who can get off a block and make a play. So we're finding out a lot about the guys who can play in space and the guys who can catch the ball and who are not afraid to catch the ball.
Q. Barkley Hill and Jordan Canzeri are both coming off injuries, how much contact are they dealing with at practice now and how are they looking in their return?
CHRIS WHITE: To me, you'd have to ask Russ and everyone else, but from my observation, I think Jordan is like ‑ I don't see ‑ I wouldn't even know if he was injured. He's full. He's nothing. He's gone and he's done really a nice job. He's got some skills, a skill set that we can use.
Barkley, I think, is more in the we need to make sure that you don't give him too many reps, make sure that he's ‑ I think he's still kind of feeling his way through that injury. And he's fighting it, but it's good.