“Concluding the season, it’s a tough day regardless. Yesterday just sucked (laughs). It was horrible. It is, it’s horrible. I told the guys that. Unfortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to lose in the first round of the playoffs, the second round of the playoffs, the championship game and the Super Bowl, and it all feels the same – it’s all horrible. It doesn’t matter when you lose in the playoffs, it’s not a very nice day the next day.
“A couple of the guys, when I said that to them. said ‘You know what, that really puts it in perspective.’ That’s the kind of football team I think we have – one that’s very concerned about the future, the big picture and not the small picture. That was an incredible atmosphere that they had an opportunity to experience on Saturday in Houston. It’s our goal and job to re-create that atmosphere here at Paul Brown Stadium as quickly as we can, because it was unbelievable. They should be commended for it. That team has not been a successful team, but they’ve just kept adding pieces and pieces and pieces until they got to where they are now. Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak and their coaching staff have done a fine job in doing that. So we’ve got to get on that trail.
“But that was an incredible atmosphere, and our guys got into it, and they handled it very well. With five minutes left to go in the third quarter, they were one big play ahead of us. There were a lot of good things back and forth on both sides. It was a battle, and that’s what a playoff game should be. At that point, we got a little wormy and let things get away from us a little bit. We tried to do a little bit too much at times in different situations, and we gave up some plays that eventually got us beat and we weren’t to pull back into it enough. But boy, we were battling our tails off and it was going back and forth. They were one fantastic football play ahead of us.
“But that’s over now. We’ve got a lot of positives to build upon. The thing that I know our players are anxious about is the opportunity to re-start again. We’ll get away from here – some will be here in town, some will go on their way to different places. We have some guys that are going to go to school to finish their degrees, which is good, and we’ve encouraged them to do that. When we get started, we’ll have a new focus, more on the detail.
“I think our guys are hungry, and they understand what to do. Now we need to learn how to better apply what we do to how we’re going to play and the opponent. That’s what we have a chance to move forward on. With our guys, just as I heard their voices last year at the end of the season, I heard their voices today that way. They’re all singing from the same hymnal that way, and that’s good. That’s what you want to hear. They understand now the difference between being good and great, and that’s it.”
You’ve talked about the character of this team and how it’s a fun group of guys to be around. Does that make this loss even tougher?
“It is. It’s a great group of guys to be around. You’ve got to look at guys like
In your nine seasons as head coach in Cincinnati, was this the best group of guys you’ve been around, attitude-wise?
“I don’t have that long of a memory (laughs). When you go back to my first year, the 2003 team, I think you had a group of people hungry to have success. They were led by some guys that had been just working their tails off and not maybe enjoying the success, and then they got to experience a little bit of it.
“We went through a progression of 2003 to 2004 to 2005 that led to the division championship. Then we took some steps back, then we got back there again. It’s a challenge. Again, this group is very good to be around. I felt like there was a great mesh between the returning team. They embraced the draft picks initially, and then they embraced the guys that we brought in during free agency.
“I thought they collectively shared a lot of the same disciplines, which was good. Those are the things that guys coming from different clubs recognized, that, ‘You know what, there’s a group of guys here that are much like me.’ So they felt good about that. They shared the same goals, they shared the same work ethic, the same no-nonsense approach to what they were doing. That was good. I think guys reflected that, they felt good about that and they look forward to that for the future as well.”
You mentioned how yesterday was difficult. Was that because you were watching other teams play who you have been in games with?
“No. Yesterday was just bad because it wasn’t us. We weren’t coming to work. We didn’t come to work here yesterday.”
Did you watch the games?
“Kind of. I watched the games because I had friends coaching in every game.”
Does that make it even worse?
“No. The finality of it always makes it (worse). It’s an interesting profession. You work harder to work more. That’s what you try to do.”
Was there more of a sudden finality given how fast things went from lockout and into season?
“One of the players said to me today, talking about how he'd been on the team in '05, and how he talked to the young guys about how quickly the playoffs get upon you. And mentally, the speed of the game, how urgent the game is, the urgency between series to understand the adjustments and to understand the preview of the next time out. If you can impart that upon more of the players next time around, that makes a big difference to me. Hearing that from a player's perspective was really, I thought, interesting.”
Is it satisfying to have had success this season, given that the consensus among experts was that your team would be among the worst in the league?
“You guys in the room here weekly know I shouldn't answer this question because no matter what I say, it's not going to come out right, so I'm going to have to preface it. But (if it mattered), then I'd have to listen to the experts year-round (laughs).”
The NFL allowed teams’ medical staffs to use replay in the playoffs to help identify injuries. Did your staff use it at all on Saturday?
“Our staff has been so far ahead of the standards set by others, I've seen little or no adjustment whatsoever to anything we've done over the last two years. And when I was copied on that email when this was going on, that was my response back to our people here: ‘You should be commended for the standard that you've already set.’ I've seen little or no adjustment at all in anything that we've had to do over the last two years, as far as the care of our players within the game, after the game, etc., to do with concussions or other injuries. That's as honest an answer as I can give to that one. I know every club has handled it differently.”
Mike Zimmer is reportedly interviewing with Miami and Jay Gruden is being mentioned for a head coaching job. What do you think about the future of your staff?
“I feel really good about the future of our staff. We'll have a really good coaching staff. If Mike gets an opportunity, that would be fantastic, and we'll do nothing but be very supportive of him and any opportunity he gets a chance at.”
Are there any of your other assistant who could possibly be getting permission to interview for coordinator jobs?
“Most of them are guys that are signed. As we treated that in the past, it would be on a case-by-case basis.”
You mentioned your other playoff losses here as a head coach. What's the biggest thing you need in order to get over the last hump in the playoffs?
“You can't go there, because we've got to start from scratch. If you worry about that last hump, you’re never going to get there. You’ll never get to that first hump again.
“What we needed to do better Saturday is just detail our work. We did a lot of good things, but we've got to detail our work. We've got to make the third-down completion, we've got to continue to make the third-down stop, we've got to play the double move, we can't let them get outside leverage on the run at the goal line.
“There's some things there that we can do better. We unfortunately tried too hard and tried to make the super play when we just need to make the play that we're supposed to make. There will be good things, when we get back together and get started in April to do football, there will be a lot of good things to draw from. We'll create some of this last game a little bit, because there are a lot of good things that will aid this football team in moving forward in the future.”
How do you feel about
“Rey going forward will continue to develop. He’s still a very young player and one that’s switched positions again. This year he got off to a really good start and then the ankle injury slowed his progress a little bit, and then he did a lot of really good things on Saturday. We’ve just got to keep doing things and doing them all of the time and doing them correctly. But he’s a conscientious guy who wants to do so well, that’s almost a fault at times.”
Is this a position where he will be helped out more by having an offseason, as opposed to last year?
“It’s going to benefit a whole lot of guys. It’s going to benefit our tight end. It’s going to benefit Rey. It’s going to benefit all of these guys who have been picked over the last couple of years, because they haven’t had that opportunity. I felt sitting here a year ago that the offseason for
You say you’re not surprised by many things, but did the performances of
“The approach taken was that the offense would grow through Andy, and I think that was the best approach. I think we saw it happen that way. The things we opened the season doing in Cleveland, and where we finished, were much different. I think that was a show of his abilities and the growth of him, and the players around him.
“A.J. is just scratching the surface, and I think he realizes that. Both of those guys just spent this last offseason training to get to the league. Now they can train for their second seasons. You can see the gleam in both of their eyes about that, because I think they know now what they’re doing about it and can get to the preparation to who you’re playing against week-in and week-out and what you have to do physically and mentally. That’s the exciting part, just like
A.J. Green is going to the Pro Bowl, and Andy Dalton might be going as well. How much can they learn there?
“Oh, you can be a sponge. They can be a sponge there. I used motivate Ray Lewis every year that way. Don’t go there to hang out by the pool. You go there and come back learning. You learn how other people do things and what makes other people great year after year after year, and that’s the opportunity they’ll have.”
Along with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, Jay Gruden also started new before this season. How much will it help given that he, as well as guys like Dalton and Green, have a foundation to build upon?
“We'll look at things we've done. There's a little bit of a transition from where we've been to where we're headed. That's what all of our linemen realize. They look at their jobs differently because it's changed a little bit. We go into this season knowing that now we have a right tackle. We went into last offseason not sure of that. I think there's a lot of things that way to feel good about. To move forward, it's not how much you do, it's how you do what you do.”
Considering everything that has gone on last 12 months, with the lockout, the rushed preseason and now a playoff run during the season, do you feel like this is chapter closing or an entire book closing?
“If we were having this conversation Feb. 6, we would have closed a book. So, we are just closing a chapter. The book is still being written. But we’ve got things to do, and it’s with a group of guys that I think just scratched the surface a little bit this year, and they realize that. They are not beating their chest. They realize we didn't quite get where we want to finish. We've crossed some hurdles, but we’ve got more hurdles yet to make.”
Going into the offseason, is this the best position you have been in during your time here as head coach?
“We're in a great position. Just because of the attitude of the guys. That to me is what it is. You just kind of dip your finger in the deal; we are not satisfied with that. That is going to be the key. We can't be satisfied with where this season finished. We’ve got to keep going. We’ve got work to do. We will add new players, and as we know, it always changes. We'll add some new players through free agency, and we’ve got some of our guys to get resigned. Then, through the draft. So we get a chance to look forward to both of those.”
As far as your evaluation and negotiations and signing of the different free agents on this team, is that something you start now, or will you wait and see how things play out?
“That can be an ongoing process. We have some exclusive time right now. I think a lot of that starts with the conversations I have had (with players) today, because I don't like talking much about it with players prior to today. Then there's a chance to see what we can get done between now and the start of free agency.”
“I feel I've had to worry less about this or that – stuff that I can't figure out what is going to happen here or there. But Nate shared that with me. That's a great thing. That was his concern. He had been in one place for a while. He wanted to go some place he felt like, No. 1, he could make a contribution, but No. 2, they had an opportunity to be successful. Because of him, both things occurred. That's good.”
Going into the offseason, where do you stand injury-wise?
“About as good as we can be. When you asked me about going into the offseason, that is the first thing that came to mind, because I think we are about as healthy a group as we've been going into the offseason that I can remember. We'll have a few things to get, but nothing that looks as though by the start of training camp anybody would not be ready to go.”
Does that include
“Yes. Unfortunately Leon got hurt, but fortunately it was early enough that he should be back and ready to go. All things are going good now. That gave him a great opportunity for a great mend for the injury he had, and to be as good as it was where it was when it happened. All that has been positive so far. He is looking good, he is feeling good, we look for a great mend and a great rehab and for him to be out there ready to go.”
Nothing has been announced yet, but do you anticipate training camp being held here, or again in Georgetown, Ky.?
“Chances are we’ll have a little bit of a change to training camp. With our players, I thought they did a great job (this season at training camp). It was different, it was new and they did a great job of adapting to that. When we opened up the season, they didn’t fall into the same ‘I should feel like this’ (attitude). No, you shouldn’t, because it is different. You’ve only done this much work. And the other thing they realized is what we were doing in the past wasn’t much different from what we were doing now with the rules. We weren’t very far from that. It wasn’t like we had to shift or change that much. It gave them some confidence in things. I thought we were more efficient in practice, and that helped with things. Jay (Gruden) understands how I want to roll through practice, because it’s different from what he knew in Tampa and how they ran things. I’d rather err on our guys being fresher and feeling good about themselves come Sunday. That’s good. It was a good transition that way, and learning a new offensive scheme, we did things well. There were a lot of moving parts, and we move in the right direction a good bit of the time.”
Is keeping guys fresh, plus staying on track in the strength and conditioning program a balancing act?
“While we were out there, we practiced hard. We’re not walking anywhere, we’re moving. The plays we’re doing, we’re going to compete, which is helpful. Guys made a conscious effort and reported in better position than others. When we go, we go hard, which helps and enables them to be ready to play the game and understand things. Nutritionally, our staff has done a great job. We want to feed guys nutritionally, which is great and can fuel their bodies, but secondly with things that look appetizing, and that can be a hard balance. I think the people have done a great job through food service and the menus. It’s all been a step up, and we have to continue that way.”
Do you anticipate training camp being held here, or in Georgetown?
“I’m probably not the one to make those announcements. Training camp will be different. That’s a good thing.”
Have you and Mike Brown discussed a contract extension?
“No, we haven’t.”
This can almost be like a few years ago, when we kept asking and kept waiting on an extension for you:
“I don’t know. We’ll see. Not trying to put a curse on me, are we? (laughs).”
On being presented with team MVP Award from Cincinnati chapter of Pro Football Writers of America:
“It’s been a crazy year, and just to get the opportunity to come in and start right away was great. I felt like this team knew that we had potential. Our goal was to be able to make it to the playoffs, and we were able to do that. We would have liked for it to end a little bit better but there is a lot to take away from this season. There’s a lot to improve on, and I feel like there is a lot of potential here and we’ll keep getting better.”
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been mentioned as a possible candidate as a head coach for several NFL vacancies. What do you think about the possibility of him leaving after just one year here?
“Obviously we’d love to still have Jay here. He’s done a good job and I think he’s really helped us all out. I think what we were able to do this year would give him that opportunity. I guess that’s part of it. Everybody is trying to move up. He’s done a great job.”
You weren’t able to have an offseason with the team last summer due to the lockout. What will it mean this year to be able to have an offseason that you can spend with the team?
“It will be good. You get to come back and critique all of the little things that you did in the season. You get to work with the guys and not just come into training camp where you have two weeks before your first preseason game. It will be nice to come in and watch stuff, try to get better and do a few things with everybody and make sure everybody is on the same page.”
What is one area of your game that you felt you improved most from last year at TCU to this season?
“I felt like I got really comfortable with all of the protections and understanding what teams are doing and where I’m hot and all of that stuff. I think that’s one area that really helped me out this year, just having that understanding, and now I feel that I can keep getting better at seeing looks and being more efficient out there.”
What did you think of the speed of the game, and specifically the change in that area from college to NFL?
“There is definitely a speed of the game change. The speed is a lot faster, but I felt for me that I was able to adjust right away. You get around it once you’re playing with it. You adjust and you start playing at that level.”
What are the things this team needs in order to take the next step?
“I think we’ve got to be more efficient. We can’t have the mistakes that we had. We have to work on the little things, whether it be footwork or that kind of stuff. We have to be more effective and go out there and put a whole game together. This is something we didn’t do this year. We never put a full game together. We had good quarters, good halves but we never had that one full game, and that’s something we’re going to have to get better at.”
What’s missing for this team that would help executing for a full game?
“It takes a lot of focus, and you’ve got to take the attitude that you’re going to beat the guy in front of you.”
(Was presented with team’s annual “Good Guy” award for media relations, from Cincinnati chapter of Pro Football Writers of America)
Are you optimistic about the future going into this offseason?
“Yeah, you could say that, being optimistic, because we’re a much younger team, and it’s got to be a positive when you go to the playoffs with a quarterback that’s a rookie and a Pro-Bowl wide receiver that’s a rookie. You have all types of weapons, with the young guys that are coming back – Shipley, Gresham. You have some bright spots to look forward to, and defensively we’ll have a lot of guys come back also. The future is bright around here. It’s tough to look forward when you lose in the playoffs, because it’s like you fall off a cliff, everything just comes to a halt. It’s very tough to lose a game and be optimistic, but all you can do now is move forward, get healthy and have a good offseason.”
Personally, you’re in a much better position this offseason than a year ago, when you were dealing with rehab from a knee injury. Where do you think this secondary goes, because you guys have a lot of free agents in that position?
“You really don’t know yet, because you don’t what’s going to happen everywhere else. Coaches could possibly be gone. I think you have to put those things into place first. I’m sure our scouting department and coaches will form a great plan of areas we need to address and the players we need to fill that. But it’s so early. You still have the combine, you have the draft. There’s so many things that are going to happen before you worry about our free agents right now. You just really don’t know. You just have to have the best offseason you can have and get those bangs and bruises healed up.”
Do you feel like you and
“Yeah. I think we did. We had our ups and downs. We had great plays together, we had bad plays together, but we’re still two guys who like to be very active and have played well in this scheme. Hopefully Reggie will be back and we can play together next year. But this game is about parity so other teams will have their pick at him. He’ll have to make that decision, as well as the Browns (Brown family) ... So we’ll see. I hope for the best for him, and I’d definitely love to play with him. This secondary collectively can be better, because we’ll get Leon (Hall) back and we’ll be able to play together with the same guys. Anytime you get a chance to play with the same guy throughout seasons, you form a chemistry and a bond that is hard to explain.”
What has Coach Mike Zimmer meant to you?
“He’s meant a lot, because I played with him for awhile now. Just getting here and playing with him, and him helping me get my career back on track and helping me become the player that I wanted to be. It’s been very good. I’m appreciative of everything. Beyond this game, we consider each other friends. It’s just one of those things where you know that he’s very, very brute and brash and can be harsh, but at the end of the day he really does care about his players. I think that’s the reason why guys will run through a wall for him. It’s easy to respect a guy who will tell you the hard truth. We hope for nothing but the best for him. Hopefully one day he will become a head coach in this league.”
There are some teams in the NFL who are in contention every year, but there are also some who have one good year then fall back again for a few years. What’s the difference between those two, and what does this organization have to do to become a perennial contender?
“That’s a hard question, that really is. Every year is a different year. I guess that question is asking, ‘Where do I think we are right now?’ I really don’t know. You look at the ’08 season, which was very bad, then we came back and had a great year in ’09. 2010 was a bad season, then we came back this year with a lot of youth and a lot of new pieces, and we had a great year. Next year, the difference is that we’re much younger. A lot of these guys in this locker room will play in a lot more ballgames just like we played last Saturday. I think that gives us hope that we’ve kind of turned the corner.”
How do you think Mike Zimmer would be as a head coach?
“I think he’s going to be the same person he’s always been. He’s going to be in your face, and he’s going to be a realist. He’s going to tell you the facts, and he’s going to have a system, a format, of how he wants things to be done and how they should be done. He’s always been about doing things the right way. Any coach like that, they aren’t going to be showing favoritism. Things won’t slide with him. I think that will be the good thing. He can’t be any different than he is now, because this is who he is. This is why he’s got to where he’s gotten to. This is why he’s won Super Bowls and won playoff games and had perennial Pro Bowlers. That’s why he’s coached the way he’s coached, and I’m sure he won’t change.”