Opening comments: ML:
As far as practice goes today, there were two guys who didn't participate. They would be Willie Anderson and Rashad Jeanty. Otherwise, we were full go.
As we look forward to San Francisco, obviously they got off to a good start, and then have not won as many games as they would have liked recently. Defensively, they're playing pretty consistent and not allowing a lot of big, explosive plays. Offensively, they can run the football. They've got a fine runner, a couple of runners, actually, in (Frank) Gore and (Maurice) Hicks. They've got some athletic wide receivers and tight ends, so it's a very talented skill group.
They'll probably, I guess, be with a different quarterback (Shaun Hill). He played last week and handled himself very well in his first real action. He led them on a touchdown drive and had some other productive plays in there. So obviously with a week of practice and so forth, he comes in a little bit better prepared than he was the week before. And special teams wise, this is a group that's right up there in leading most of the statistical categories in the NFL. So that's a big challenge for us as well, to win that phase of the game.
Q: How well-versed are you on the history between these two clubs, the Super Bowls and Dave Shula coaching his last game out there?ML:
I was aware that this team lost to San Francisco in two Super Bowls. Last time we played against the 49ers, I think we played them here and we won. So other than that, that's all I know. I was not aware of Dave Shula's deal. I don't think it was called Monster Park then, either. It was Candlestick, so I think we're starting fresh.
Q: What were your Impressions when you first met T.J. Houshmandzadeh?ML:
The guy with the ponytail? My first experiences with T.J. were - I probably shared this story with he and Chad both - was taking them over to Winton Woods High School, and them explaining their story to me. And how they got to the NFL. I was like, 'Oh my gosh. You guys ought to can this. This is why we're going over doing what we're doing, so these young people understand how fortunate you are to be sitting here as NFL players.'
My second opportunity to be around T.J. was when we went to California to work out Carson Palmer before we picked him in the draft. After every play, I had to remind T.J. that you catch the ball and you run. You don't catch the ball and stop. We had to get a little laziness out of our wonderful number 84. Obviously, he has some ability because the first year he injured the hamstring. First he broke his hand and then the hamstring. So he's had to overcome a lot. He had shown enough spark for us to keep him around that first year when, basically, he was injured.
He's worked his tail off now to overcome some of the things that were setbacks for him physically early in his career. He's done a good job, and it was great when we were able to re-sign him a few years ago. He brings a lot of fire, grit and attitude to the football team. He works his tail off every day he can. That's what I like about him. Sometimes we've got to control the rage a little bit. But you know he's got it in him. He's going to fight them to the end.
Q: He talked about that at Pittsburgh. Is "rage" good and bad?ML:
It's a good thing and a bad thing. You've just got to keep channeling it the right way. We've said that before. He's just got to keep it channeled positively and in the right way so he doesn't unnerve the guys around him or himself. Because unfortunately, when these guys get into those tirades and just get so bound up with themselves, the next thing that happens they don't do very well at. The ball goes off their hands, or they're not quite right on a route or assignment or whatever. We flinch. You've got to play this game with a calmness and an edge of knowing what to do and how to do it at all times, and be able to make the critical plays at critical moments.
Q: Do you see similarities between the 49ers and St. Louis, since you're again playing a team with an established running back and a new QB?ML:
Well, I'm not going to compare players. But Frank Gore is a good running back, a fine running back who makes people miss. I think their quarterback comes in a little bit better prepared because he knows he's going to be the guy, a little different than last week. They come into the situation a little differently. They're preparing one quarterback, while last week St. Louis was preparing two. So they're going to do what they think they can do in their offense with him as the quarterback, and then move forward.
Q: How important is winning back-to-back games for the first time in a calendar year?ML:
I don't know what more can be said other than it's important.
Q: What do you think about the college coaches leaving the NFL? There have been a lot in recent years -- Bobby Petrino, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier ... Do they not know what they're getting into?ML:
I think you're making a huge generalization, because Bobby (Petrino) had coached in the NFL and Nick Saban had coached in the NFL, so I think both guys knew exactly what they were getting into. I think Coach Spurrier had many opportunities to get into the NFL, and when he decided to do it, he did that because it's what he wanted to do, and he understood what it was going to be like. So that's a generalization.
When a guy goes back and takes a job as a head college football coach, there is a big picture, and he's looking at the big picture. He's looking at his family, his health, his well-being mentally and physically, and maybe his family's. I think it's hard for you to generalize and put those three guys in the same situation. I just think it's hard because I think they do understand and they do know, because two of them had a lot of previous experience, or enough to understand it.
Q: Is it tougher to be an NFL coach, with all the commitment you put in?ML:
I think they all have their strain. In college, the season is shorter, but then you have to try to recruit. You're on the phone recruiting and doing those kinds of things. I think that's a strain; it puts a strain on your family. I think the NFL has a strain in the length of the season, the ups and the downs of it. I think the salary cap has made the NFL more tedious with things, because it's not as easy as people think it is, that you can just go change that guy out and bring that guy in. It doesn't work that way. You don't want to bring in a spoiled apple into your bushel, no matter how bad your bushel may look.
I think that's important, and I don't think people have quite the perspective on that. We hear, 'Ah, you've got to go out and get this free agent.' You tell me a free agent that works. Again, every year they go through that list, and where does it really happen and make a difference? Because it's hard, because you're talking about personalities, you're talking about half a season of getting things and understanding the right way and how you want it and through the mental strains of a game, and so forth. That's what I think a guy goes into. I think they both have their strains.
Q: How much has not having Willie Anderson affected the team?ML:
I thought early on it affected us a lot, but I think our guys grew through that, which was good. But when you have the presence that Willie Anderson had and has, it means a lot. It means a lot to the football team as a whole, the defensive guys and the offensive guys, because they don't want to let Willie down. I still feel that. I thought it was great on Sunday. I thought he was as good of a guy not playing in the game as I've ever been around on Sunday. He's good for everybody and he understands the game.
When I go in there, like against Buffalo, and I tell them we're going to be playing against the leading kickoff returner and punt returner, Willie Anderson is taking notes. When that happens in the game, and we're going to go kickoff or punt, he's reminding the guys of that on the sideline. I think that's what a pro is about. For a period of time you miss a little bit of that, but what was great was Willie having the gumption and the ability not to shy away from it, from his role and the respect that people have for him here.
Q: How did Willie contribute Sunday against St. Louis?ML:
Just the way, when the ball goes back the other way for a touchdown, that ne encouraged both the defense and the offense. He said, 'Hey, that's one play and now we have a chance to go get it back. And you're not going to get it back in one play.' Willie is a guy who has been in this business for a long time and understands the importance of it. When he sat at home and watched us play at Kansas City, he had a meeting he had with the team after the game. His emotion of watching his team without him was tough on him.
Q: You're giving him the benefit of the doubt because you don't want to put him on IR, or because he's a veteran?ML:
For a while there, we were getting the right signals. He came out and he practiced, and he's had a little setback. We'll go and we'll see what happens.
Q: Is there any doubt in your mind that he can still perform?ML:
He's dealing with some things physically that he'll have to overcome. There is no question about that and he understands that. But to answer your question best, he really believes he'll be fine.
Q: I know this is two weeks down the road, but would you prefer Miami win a game before you have to go down there?ML:
Yes, I'd like to see Coach (Cam) Cameron win a game, win some games before our game.