Jeff Hafley: I figured before we start, I’ll talk a little about North Carolina. They are obviously a top 11 team certainly with top 10 talent. If you look at their roster and watch their tape closely, I know they’ve only played one game, but if you look at who they have and what they’ve already put on tape they’re a top 10 team if not more.
Obviously Coach Brown, as a younger head coach, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Brown and what he’s done. A guy I’ve looked up to when he was at Texas and then certainly I watch him when he’s doing TV so it’s an honor for me to have the opportunity to go and coach against him. I know Coach Bateman and Coach Thigpen on defense as their coordinators, and they do a really good job. They have a great scheme, and Coach Bateman actually was my head coach my senior year in college, and then actually I coached the wide receivers for him in the spring. I almost stayed there to coach but I chose to go to WPI. He’s had a lot of success, he did an unbelievable job at Army. I’ve kept in touch with him, I have a ton of respect for him.
Coach Longo on offense, same deal. If you look at his resume, what’s cool about him is that he’s climbed his way up in the coaching business. He coached division three football and worked his way up. He really knows football, he’s succeeded everywhere he’s been. Then on special teams, Coach Dewitt, they do a really good job. I know he was at Nebraska. Really good coaching staff, really good talent. The O Line is enormous, a bunch of 6’7” guys who can move. They’ve got two really good backs in 8 and 25. Very patient, very good runners. 25 is a big kid. Their wide receivers can make plays down the field. 5,2 and some other guys that might be some of the most talented guys in the ACC. Then their quarterback, really good football player. He gets the ball out of his hands, he’s thick, he’s strong and he makes the right reads. He’s young, and he’s only going to get better. Offensively, they’ve got to be one of the most talented teams in the ACC, if not the entire country.
Defensively, they’re big up front. Their nose tackle is a really good player. Their linebackers are fast. I think they have a corner who will eventually be a top pick. I know one of their safeties was hurt, I’m sure they will have a really good back up, and their other safety makes a ton of plays. So again, this will be a great challenge for our team. Another opponent we respect, out guys are excited for it. They’re excited for a chance to get better and play another football game. But I figured I would start off, and now you guys can ask me some questions.
Q: Jeff, you kind of touched on it. I was going to ask you about Mack Brown. It just doesn’t look like there is a hole in that resume.
JH: No, he’s got to be one of the best college coaches of all time. The cool part is, he’s such a good ambassador for football. When we sit in on those Zoom calls, as a new coach, I kind of keep my mouth shut and listen. If they asked me a question or asked my opinion, I certainly answered it. Seeing what he has brought to college football and how much he cares about the game and loves the game, and wants to protect the game. I just have so much respect for him. He’s done an incredible job everywhere he’s been.
Q: Do you see a little bit of him in the North Carolina program?
JH: Yes, I think so. I see a lot of talent. They’ve recruited well, and the staff before them recruited well. They got a really good roster and they play really hard for Coach Brown. They execute well and they put up good fundamentals and techniques, so it’s everything you would expect from him.
Q: When you’re coaching against a guy like Mack Brown, how has he changed from what you knew about him with other personnel to where he is now in terms of his style, and what you knew about him and how he approached the game?
JH: The game has evolved, right? So, now everything is spread out, the ball is in the air, and the offense and defense are totally different. But you see a well-coached team, you see guys who play really hard and you see a very disciplined football team. I’m sure that is how it’s always been for him and will continue to be. I’m sure the players and coaches all have a ton of respect for him just like we do.
Q: We’re looking at Phil, and Phil did during the two minute drill. I was just curious from a defensive perspective; how do you defend against the two minute drill when the other guy has the ball? And you have to protect a three point lead?
JH: Yes, it’s hard, and that’s a good question. In the National Football League, just about every game comes down to two minutes. It’s constantly a challenge in your head. There is a fine line between being too aggressive and giving up the big play, but then being too soft but then letting the team dink and dunk and go right down the field. I always think it’s good to have a little bit of both, have the ability to bring pressure and bump people, and then have the ability to drop. Whether you drop eight or play softer zones. But that’s tough, two minute drills on defense, you’ve got to decide, do you want to go after them and try to win it? Or do you want to try and make them earn it? I thought our offensive staff and players earned it, and they took what they were being given, and they made them pay for it.
Q: What did you do with McBride on their final three and out? Were you kind of in prevent for two plays and then send the army to get the sack on three?
JH: No prevent. We were just playing our base defense and we just sent a five man pressure on the last one. Really good call by Tim, really nice mixture from him of base defense and pressure. He picked a great call at the right time and our players executed it.
Q: So what, if anything, can you learn in two weeks after winning two games in very different circumstances?
JH: Yes, you keep talking about the process and how it starts on Sunday after the game. You start looking at what Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday need to look like. It’s interesting, all of our games have been at different times, and it looks like it’s going to continue to be that way. So every Friday night is a little bit different. Every Saturday has been a little bit different. The first week we wake up and we play. The second week we kind of have a lull in the day, we meet, we have a walk through, and we have a little extra time and then we go play. Well now we got a 3:30 game so it’s a little different, next week we got a 4:00 game so it’s a little bit different. Who knows, maybe we’ll play an 8:00, 9:00, 10:00. It would be nice if we could kind of get on a schedule, but that’s college football, right? We learned that we need to be more consistent. If you look back to the Duke game there were times we looked really good. Then there were times when we made mistakes. The same thing in the Texas State game, there were times where we looked really good and there were drives where we just had lapses and we weren’t consistent, we didn’t do our job and we didn’t look that good. And right now guys, we can’t afford to have these lapses and to make the mistakes if we are going to win football games, especially against a top 10 opponent like we’re going to play on Saturday, we need to be more consistent. It starts with practice and it ultimately starts with me, so I need to find a way to make us play more consistently for four quarters and I’m working on it, and you can be sure of that.
Q: How do you think the guys responded, especially with the way that game ended? Is it played out in the second half, there was no crowd and they did have to feed on each other and find some way to pull it out. How do you think they handled it?
JH: I think they did an incredible job collectively. They didn’t flinch, no one pointed a finger. It wasn’t offense versus defense versus special teams, it was keep fighting and keep doing your job, and don’t stop playing until they blow the whistle. Don’t stop bringing your energy until they blow the whistle. We’ll look up at the scoreboard at the end and whatever it is, it is. That’s how our players played, it’s interesting. I think once the game starts, you put on your headsets, you put on your helmet, you put on your chin strap, I don’t even think you realize that the crowd is not there. It’s when you take it off and you walk off and you look around that it kind of hits you again, and that is the mindset that we have to have.
Q: Obviously, we have talked at length about how hard the program has worked to stay safe and to do things the right way. I am just curious if you had seen or heard about some of the criticism that the guys received for celebrating the other night after such a big moment?
JH: That’s on me. That’s not on the players. These kids have done an unbelievable job. Since June, 3500 straight tests and we haven’t had a positive, knock on wood. They’ve done everything we’ve asked. I got caught up in the moment, it was an emotional game, and I got back in the locker room and I should’ve had my mask on and I should have had the players have their masks on. As safe as we feel when we just got tested, I’ll learn from it and I’ll take responsibility for it.
Q: Just curious for a game like Texas State, where you’re the big favorite and then UNC, where you’re the big underdog. Obviously your approach day by day is pretty similar, but in terms of the message pregame or things like that do you change what you say it all? Or do you approach it like they’re exactly the same game?
JH: I’m going to approach it the same way, I know this is a big challenge with a great team and our players know that. I’m not going to make it about the opponent this year, we have to get better. I said the same thing to you guys going into that Texas State game. I respect every opponent we play. They are a good team. We just need to focus on ourselves and get better and that’s how we have to approach it. But our players understand what’s ahead and so does our staff. I need to focus on our football team right now.
Q: Any follow up status or updates for Deon?
JH: No, we’re still waiting. We’re still waiting to see more. We are hoping that he’s going to be okay, hopefully will have more information to you but we are hopeful that he will have a chance to play for us.
Q: Luc and Max, how do you get them ready and get them on the field? Are they already ready? Because they’ve had so much game experience already how do you make sure that when they get here they’re ready to play?
JH: I think when we saw Max he could barely practice, so we couldn’t really use him that much. So it’s a credit to Coach Vince for getting him ready in a short period of time and we got to continue to do that with Coach Matusz, the strength and conditioning. And the same for Luc, those guys haven’t gone through a training camp so they’re rusty and they just need to continue to play football. We need to continue to have their back and let them go out there and let it rip.
Q: Sam Howell, a quarterback with 3600 yards last year, I know that people were talking about him like he’s the heir to Trevor Lawrence in the conference in terms of number one quarterback. First what does he do that fits his player profile? And second, how do you defend against that, knowing that’s a guy who’s probably going to be able to do some pretty magnificent things?
JH: He throws the ball really well, he’s got a good release. He’s got a really strong arm, he’s faster than people think he is and he’s tough. He plays with such a good command of their offense, he keeps his composure and he can make all the plays. I think he’s a sophomore, so he’s got time to develop and he’ll get better. We just got to play good defense and get to the passer. We’ve got to give him some different looks, we’ve got to play tight coverage, and we need to do our job every single play and just make him earn it. We just need to make them earn every single one of them. If our defense can go out in force a team to drive the ball and earn every single yard they get then we are doing a good job but we don’t want to give them any free ones.
(Transcript provided by Boston College)