I hope everybody had a Happy New Year, happier than mine at least. Obviously the season didn't finish the way we would like. It did not fulfill my expectations or yours. I apologize to our fans. I'm disappointed for them because they continue to be just fantastic. They come out, and are supportive and loud. It's just an amazing turnaround. We need to continue the turnaround and play better as a team. That's our quest.
The word of the day, on Sunday with our players, was change. And that's very true. The biggest thing I would say to you is that there were some things I wouldn't tolerate in the first year or so, and I became a little bit more tolerant of them this year. And I think there's an outcry from our guys to go back that way. I hear it and see it, so that's my challenge, to go back to that. We've tried to allow guys to grow and mature as men and mature as players. But the thing we continue to find is they've got to be constantly coached, policed and corrected, so that at times of adversity, we can do the right things. That's my general theme with our guys as we finish this season, and I had a chance to meet with the guys (individually).
We have a lot of guys who will be here for the most part. They'll travel to their hometowns for a little bit, but we'll have most of our guys in and around for most of the month of February and March, prior to us getting started (with the offseason program), tentatively right now on April 2.
The season did not meet our expectations. We had many, many opportunities, and we just did not make the plays and do the things to finish it and get it done correctly. We had a number of players on Reserved/Injured this year. As the spring continues on in the offseason, guys will pretty much be cleared and ready by the time we have any on-field work. The only guy that probably will be a little bit longer than that would be Chris Perry with his ankle injury. Otherwise, we should be probably at full strength prior to any on-field work. We've got a list of about a dozen guys that will have some kind of cleanup maintenance surgeries here within the next two weeks, just the general maintenance stuff that needs to be done as we go forward.
Q: You once said you didn't like the meaning of the term "players' coach." Do you think you became that this season?ML:
I don't think I would term it that way. I don't think that's the significance of the problem. It's not a problem. We're a couple plays from still playing. They long for that from me -- to be, I guess, the hard-ass all the time in certain areas. So we'll make sure I give them what they want. It's important. We've talked about it many times. It includes things from where we park our cars, how we do other things. They are things that are easy to do, that aren't as hard as the 11-on-11 stuff that happens on Sunday. And as I told them all the time, I owe it to the Richie Brahams of the world to be consistent and fair that way with them. The money thing (fines), that doesn't deter the problems. I've found that. And so the only thing we're going to deter it with is play time. And that's a drastic step because that affects everybody in this building. But maybe it saves the other 52 guys. That's the next step. We've done it on occasion as you know. But that's got to be the way it goes. It's going to be unfortunate, but hopefully it saves everybody in the long run.
Q: Thoughts on discipline of team:ML:
I monitor it every day. I really do. But when you don't achieve your goals, then they've got to have something they can point to, and then they're going to get in line with you on that. When I tell them that daily, or weekly, after a win, after a loss, or before the Raider game for instance, as you all talked about, the significance is not the same. But when you lose, at the end of the year to teams you shouldn't lose to, then the significance is much greater in their minds.
Q: Is it troubling to step back?ML:
It's a step we've got to go through. Teams take these steps, and it's something we've obviously had to go through. We'll come out of it better. We'll come out of it stronger.
Q: Instead of treating them like adults, should you treat them like children?ML:
They do crave discipline. They don't want to hear it. But anyway, enough said on it. I think I've made my point, and I think you have an understanding of what I'm talking about. Let's not belabor it. We didn't win as many games as we should have won. We're not still playing, and so we're disappointed, and you're disappointed. I wish you all were still working. I wish we were sitting here talking about somebody else (next opponent).
Q: Do you expect your coordinators to be back?ML:
They're under contract. Our coaches are under contract.
Q: Of all the things that transpired, you still had Carson Palmer come back from the knee injury and start all 16 games:ML:
I told you guys that last year, and you thought I was kidding. I was told that from the beginning (that Palmer would be ready), so that didn't waver. I was told that from the time he was examined, the MRI, and the surgery and so forth. And even then after the surgery. I think people in here doubted me a little bit about that, thought I was blowing smoke, but I didn't ever waver or question that. The thing that we missed with Carson was some time in the offseason with him and his development. But he hit the ground running. His development as a leader on this football team was unparalleled by any guy I had ever been around in his situation. Coming back from what he was coming back from, and a player of his youth, it was just tremendous how he grew this season for us. He lost his right hand man moving on to Detroit (mentor Jon Kitna). So there was a lot he went through this year. And he did a fine job.
Q: Are you willing to admit the offseason arrest problems had an effect?ML:
I don't think that had any effect at all on this team. Chris Henry's offseason problems made him miss two ballgames for us, and his in-season problem had him miss another one. So for that, there are three games we miss without him. But other than that, I don't think anything that occurred in the offseason affected the football team. We missed four games, I guess, 3 from Henry and 1 from Deltha O'Neal (coaches' deactivation) for something he did. But it was mostly guys that aren't necessarily starters, though they're contributors to our football team.
Q: Thoughts on Odell Thurman:ML:
Odell is not a member of this football team. He's on suspension by the NFL. He's got a long road to go. I'm not going to spend any time talking about Odell. We didn't talk about Odell since the summer training camp, so I'm certainly not going to talk about Odell now. We're talking about our 2007 season. He's not a part of this football team. We don't need to talk about it.
Q: Could he be a part of the team?ML:
I don't know that. I don't see it on our horizon. It would be speculative.
Q: What is David Pollack's situation? Is he due for surgery?ML:
He'll have some surgery here in a short period of time. Then they'll be a period of recovery. I think it'll be twofold. It will first be, what actual surgery is done, and what the surgeon feels about repairs that are needed. From that, David will have to make a decision on what is in his future as far as football.
Q: Can you point to areas on the field that you did well in, vs. areas that need work:ML:
Due to injuries, we had guys that had to play. We could have come into this press conference today, and without those circumstances, we wouldn't have known as much about Eric Ghiaciuc. And I think we know a lot more about him. We know about Stacy Andrews. We know about Andrew Whitworth. There are some guys that we know more about. We know a little bit about Ahmad Brooks and about what he can do for us. We certainly know about Johnathan Joseph. We know that Domata Peko can play. So we've got some young guys quite a bit of playing time this year that made a considerable amount of difference. Guys like Kenny Watson and Tony Stewart raised their level of play, as well as Kevin Kaesviharn.
We're talking about guys who are currently going into that free agent category, who coming into this year, you didn't know what kind of contribution they were going to make, and I thought they did a fine job in that area. If Chris Henry can continue to improve socially, he can be a major contributor. T.J. Houshmandzadeh continued to develop into the player that we felt like he could be. And I think those are big things. I think our tight end position, Reggie Kelly and Tony Stewart, did a good job catching the football down the field. Because of what we're in a lot, three wideouts, some of those balls get spread around a little bit. And they got spread around this year and that's big. Rudi (Johnson) had that transformation of his body and his life. I think that's a positive as we move forward.
Defensively, I think the thing we really have to do is develop an identity. I think if you said, 'What's a disappointment?', that's a disappointment. We didn't develop an identity. We had a good start at it, but we had a little blip in the middle and I don't think we finished it off very well. I know we didn't finish it off very well. That's something that I've got to look hard at. It's not where we want to be.
Special teams wise, we continued to develop and play at a high level in coverage. Our return game continued to improve a little bit despite having all our returners injured. I thought Glenn Holt stepped in and did a fine job in filling in for Tab Perry and Chris Perry (injured kickoff returners). I think we found a guy in Glenn, and a little niche for him. I thought he did a fine job, and the guys did a fine job of blocking. I thought we eliminated some of the silly fouls in that area. The last couple of weeks, we struggled in things I didn't used to worry about, and that's placements. I still have extreme confidence in that group of guys and won't waver in my confidence there. But obviously, we count on them to very quietly and silently go out and do the job. We had a couple of breakdowns at the end of the game that cost us a couple of games.
Q: Are you talking about defensive schematics or personnel?ML:
Everything. Just like we'll look at things we can do better offensively.
Q: Would you revisit the 3-4 question?ML:
I just said we're going to look at everything. I'm not going to talk about scheme with you. We're not good enough. Point blank. We've got to be better.
Q: Any self-examination on your own performance?ML:
Bad. Very average. Worse. You've got to improve.
Q: Do you think it's important for the organization to have an indoor practice facility?ML:
It's important that we have good practices. I think we were very fortunate with the weather this year. We were able to practice. Our guys do a great job. We had a couple of cold weeks, and ironically that's when we played those warm weather teams from San Diego and Oakland. And we had the two coldest weeks of our season this year. Then on Sunday it was great weather. That's something as an organization they continually look at. But that's above my head. I just worry about trying to coach these guys better and improve my performance.
Q: You have about a dozen unrestricted free agents. Do you anticipate some of these guys coming back?ML:
Yes. We anticipate trying to sign all of our guys.
Q: How are you going to communicate being tougher to your players? Will you have a list of guidelines?ML:
Well, we have a list of guidelines. It's already been discussed. They know what I mean.
Q: We've talked about character issue. How much effect does that have, compared with other issues like injuries?ML:
Within the season of football, you've got so many of those things. I mean, it was funny, I was signing something today, and it was from September, and you know what? Everything was great. And then you go through the dips. Through the football season, there's going to be a lot of change. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs. And I think injuries play a part. I think the selfishness that exists in the NFL is always going to play a part, and it's always going to be a part. I had a guy sit in here and debate with me a couple months ago about how many yards Chad Johnson was behind his totals of last year. Remember that? And how did Chad end up this year? (NFL leader in yards). You just keep playing. And I think that's always the case. If Rudi doesn't have as many carries, you just keep playing. At the end of the year, he ends up the same. I think the selfishness is part of this game. It's my job and our job to try to diminish it and make that secondary to winning as much as we can, just like the things you're talking about off the field. They can't get in the way of winning. My tolerance level has got to be pretty, pretty, pretty, low right now.
Q: Is there more selfishness here than the norm?ML:
It's no more than any other place, but when you don't win, the glass is half-empty.
Q: People look at Chad, but he seemed to be more in check this season:ML:
Well, after we got through the Mohawk thing, and the Degree checklist thing, and Ocho 'Psycho,' and all that stuff, we were good. And you know what? Things went up, and that's the thing. Obviously you guys don't see other things, and he's just got to make sure that all the time he's being the right guy for his teammates. And I think that's important to them. And it's important to them that I don't have a double standard for Chad.
Q: You say it's no worse here than anywhere else, but you have Willie Anderson and Carson Palmer saying this:ML:
But how many other teams have they played on?
Q: They say it's a major problem:ML:
It is a major problem if you don't win, no question. If you're not Super Bowl champions, it's a major problem. And I'll take their experience on other teams and understand that every team goes through the same things.
Q: You're getting criticized for timeouts and clock management in some situations:ML:
Well, if we call timeout, we call it for a reason. It's my job that if we're going to have a bad play on offense or a bad play on defense, we're going to probably take a timeout. I don't remember all of what you might be referring to, but I won't change. If I get a chance to ice their kicker when he's kicking the tying field goal in our stadium, we'll ice him. And if he misses the field goal, the game's over. We sit on it, ballgame done. So that kind of thing we'll continue to do if I think it has an effect, and that won't change. We can go the length of the field with one timeout. That's all I needed to have in my pocket. We practice that every week. We give them one timeout and Carson can take us the length of the field, particularly when we need a field goal. Had we needed to score a touchdown, maybe I would have kept the second timeout. Otherwise, I'm not worried about that. So if we use a timeout, it's important that we use it, otherwise we wouldn't do it. We don't play for the next play, we play for this play and the next play will take care of itself.
Q: Is this team on the ascent?ML:
We didn't take a step forward. But again, next year we're going to have a new team. That's the best part about it: We get to have a new team in 2007, and that's the way it goes. Last year's team is unfortunately gone now, and that team will never be the same. So next year's team is a new football team.
Q: Willie says you know what the problems are; you talked about character even before the draft:ML:
But your interpretation of character and my interpretation were two different things, and I clarified that of times for people, and that's what's important to me. You can look as far down as you can, and you're not going to see what can occur. And we had a couple of guys unfortunately do things that you're not going to know. But anyway, enough of that.
Q: Will your coaching staff return?ML:
Everybody's under contract here. You've asked that same question for four years the same way. I can't tell that at this point.