Since being hired as Tennessee's new offensive coordinator in January, former Richmond coach Dave Clawson has been a busy man.
First, it was jumping into the Division I recruiting pool with both feet. Since then, it's been endless hours spent preparing to install his offense when spring practice starts March 11.
On Tuesday, Clawson sat down with the News Sentinel to discuss those and other topics.
Q: You spent four years at Richmond, and you've been a lot of different places. How has Knoxville been so far?
A: It's been good. To be honest with you, I'm either in my office or in the hotel, so I haven't been able to get out and see Knoxville, learn Knoxville. I'm sure once my family gets here in the summer, there will be a time for that. Really it's just been pretty much working.
Q: Is that what you expected when you took the job? Did you think it would be hit the ground running and take a breath in June?
A: I think anytime you take a new job, you've just got to dive into it. There are certain things you have to get done. If you've been somewhere for three or four years, the preparation for spring's easier because you have an installation schedule and the players know the offense, understand the offense and the terminology. It's really a painstaking process to go through, 'What do you call a tackle on the inside shave? What do you call a tackle on an outside shave?' Once you get through that once, it becomes the language that you use. So much about football is getting people on the same page with terminology.
Q: Making the adjustment, you've obviously been a head coach for a while at different places, what's the adjustment like for you moving from a head coach to a coordinator?
A: You do the job you have. My job now is to not manage an entire program, it's to assist the head coach in those things. My primary job is to make sure the offense runs well. Some of the good things have been you can really spend more time with the players. You can spend more time doing football stuff. I've enjoyed that. I've enjoyed being able to go into a film room and watch film for three hours and to not be interrupted by other things that are happening. When you're a head coach, those other things really have to take priority.
Q: Talking with someone at Richmond during the hiring process, they said they couldn't wait to see what you could do with the chance to devote all your time and energy to planning an offense. Is that an exciting thing for you?
A: I did things a little unusual. Even in our conference, I think I was only one of two or one of three coaches that was a head coach that ran a side of the ball. I was always worried about turnover on my staff at the I-AA level. I had to worry about maybe the defense changing, the special teams changing, but at least I knew that one side of the ball would never change. But in doing that, you're really wearing two hats. I think anytime you have two jobs that require a full-time commitment, there's times you don't feel that you ever do either one as well as you'd be capable of if you could totally devote all your energy to just one of the jobs. It's been fun for me to go back and just devote myself to the one thing and not be responsible for all the other.
Q: I have this vision that the process of deciding terminology is like the French language. They have this group of about 40 people who sit in a room and decide what words make the dictionary.
A: It's almost like that. We'll talk about combination blocks. What do you call that double team? Do you call it a 'toy' block for tackle and Y? Or do you call it a 'tate' block for tackle and tight end? Why'd you call it that? Does this imply they're going to this backer or that backer? Sometimes you do two or three hours of it, you just say, 'Hey, we need a mental health break.' It's also fun because you get to revisit. I've been running the same offense for 14 years. Sometimes it's like, 'Why'd you call it that?' I'm like, 'I don't know. We just called it that.' You get caught in that trap of you just do it because that's how you've done it. It needs to make sense for an 18-year-old coming out of high school, not to a 41-year-old that's been coaching football for 20 years.
Q: I wanted to ask you about your philosophy of getting the ball to your playmakers. It seems like a pretty pragmatic approach. How did you arrive at that, and what were some of your influences in arriving at that sort of philosophy?
A: Everywhere I've been, to me there's been one or two skill guys that stick out among the rest of the group. If it ever came down to a play to decide a game, I wanted to make sure that one of those two or three guys was given a chance to make a play. I don't think it was any different in basketball. When the Chicago Bulls were trying to win a championship and they were down one with 10 seconds left, somehow, someway Michael Jordan was either going to take the shot or he was going to draw so many people that someone was going to be wide open. In football, you have the five O-linemen, you have the quarterback and there's five skill guys. To me it just makes sense. The best basketball players get the most shots. Well, the best football players should have an opportunity to have their hands on the ball more than the rest of the guys. I just think it's a philosophy of think players, not plays. Everything looks good on a board. But a lot of times we've run a bad play with a good player and it works. At times we've run the perfect play, but because we weren't running it with a good player, it doesn't work. When we had Brian Westbrook at Villanova, there were a lot, a lot of bad play calls that I made that ended up being long touchdowns. Think players not plays. Not that plays aren't important, but when the play's over, who has their hands on the ball is really a lot of times the most important factor in whether a play is good or not.
Q: I'm sure you've spent time watching film of this team from last year. What impressed you about this offense as you've watched film?
A: I thought the offensive line played well. They protected the quarterback extremely well. To me they seemed like they were an extremely well-coached group. Coach Cut was a good coach, a very good coach. Still is. It's not like you're taking over a situation that was disorganized or in disarray. Not so much any one particular offensive player, but just the amount of depth. You do have depth at the tailback position. You do have depth at the wide receiver position. I think the big thing I'm looking for during the spring is who separates themselves. We have all these receivers who played: Austin Rogers, Lucas Taylor, Josh Briscoe, Denarius Moore. All these guys played, but who in that group is really the one or two best? Who are the guys that are going to do things in the spring that are going to force us to gameplan for them?
Q: You talk about finding those one or two players, and I wondered if in watching film, have you been able to identify one or two of those playmakers or is that something you'll look toward spring practice when you see them in pads?
A: I don't want to go in, in my mind with a preordained idea of who those guys (playmakers) are. I want to see guys in spring practice distinguish themselves and separate themselves. Those are the guys that show up every day and compete hard every day. A guy can be a real good player, but if he doesn't practice hard every day, I'm not sure I want him to have the ball in the fourth quarter of a game.
Q: Generally, what do you think the most important factors are in finding a starter at quarterback? What are you looking for when you're evaluating those guys this spring?
A: Who moves the team the best. Good quarterbacks come in all different shapes and sizes. At the end of the day, who do you want in the huddle with two minutes left, and who does the team look at as the guy that's going to get us where we need to go? Part of that is a film evaluation, but again, it's working with guys on a daily basis and see how much they put into it and how much work they're willing to put into it. Not necessarily how much can they memorize, but how much do they truly understand? Do they understand the defense? Do they understand the application of the play to the defense? Is the ball going where the ball should go?
Q: When you look at the offense you're installing now, how much of a change do you anticipate for the quarterback from where it has been in the past?
A: There may be similar concepts (in the passing game), but the way that we teach it will be different. Not that it's better or not that it's worse. It's just there's a certain way I've learned offensive football and just a way that I've taught things that's going to be a little bit different for the quarterbacks. I think we'll look a little bit different. There's going to be similar principles of attack, but the way we look doing it and the way we go about it will end up looking a little different.