An Extensive Q&A With Kenny Carter

So last night we did our radio show from the Governor's Cup dinner at the Muhammad Ali Center. I didn't know this was happening until about 15 minutes before the show started. The result was that I wore a blue and white button up and was sweating profusely while sharing an elevator with Lee Corso.

To Corso's credit, there was a big line to get into the dinner and when someone who knew him suggested that Corso should just cut it, the former U of L coach blew the idea off.

I then completely cut the line. I'm joking, but Corso did get swooped away a few moments later and left me feeling lonely in line.

Anyway, easily the most interesting part of last night's show was a 25 minute interview with running backs/special teams coach Kenny Carter. It was 25 minutes because when we tried to let him go after 15 he said he was having too much fun talking football to stop.

Carter's enthusiasm is unquestionably genuine and extremely contagious. My first thought after he walked way from the table was to drive over to PJCS and star tailgating. He spoke passionately about how great Charlie Strong is, how great Teddy Bridgewater is and how great this team has the potential to be. He also tossed in some interesting tidbits for fans like the fact that Charles Gaines is back playing offense and looking tremendous, that no one was aware how injured Jeremy Wright was last season, and that freshman running back Brandon Radcliffe is "a beast."

You can listen to the entire show - which also includes an interview with Mike Cassity - over at ESPNLouisville.com, but here's the full transcript of the interview with Carter:

Q: What are these next two weeks like as you get ready to start the 2012 season?

KC: We get everything squared away for the preseason before we leave to go on vacation. We feel like you can't rush when you get back. You want to be somewhat seamless when you leave spring practice and recruiting and get everything planned out so that when you go on vacation you actually can have a vacation. Your mind never stops, there's never really any down time for a coach, but you want to be somewhat refreshed.

What we'll do Friday and Saturday is we'll have a retreat where we'll go and grill each other about different kinds of things and fine tune our teaching. We'll teach each other the things that are specific to the positions we coach and then we'll break each other down on the schematics of how we want to attack certain things. It's really good because we feel like we have great resources right on our staff.

Q: How are things different now in year three than they were when this staff first arrived?

KC: The biggest difference is players. That's the biggest difference. The program is the same. We're trying to do things the same. Charlie is very big on continuity and we've only lost two people on our staff. Really we've been able to just ramp things up a lot faster as far as when we transition our guys from going from summer to the fall because they're older and our players are better.

Q: Four running backs are heading into fall camp competing for a starting job. What are you looking for from these guys to distinguish themselves?

KC: The first thing is that they're all going to contribute on special teams. Being the special teams coordinator, they know that that's the No. 1 thing that they're going to have to do. And it's across the board at all positions. Charlie's philosophy is that if you can't contribute on special teams, you can't play regular downs. So that's what helps us in tat phase of the game.

When you transition back to the running back position, what I care about is what production we get from the group as an entirety. If someone is able to step up and distinguish themselves, that's wonderful, but the competition right now is so even that it really pushes those guys to go forward. So I don't really try to take one guy and say 'look, you're gonna be the guy,' but if that happens, good for that guy.

What I do is I take them all individually, and I stoke their fires. I tell them all the time, the friendship thing - because they're all very close - the friendship thing matters not. What matters is who's going to smell the blood in the water and attack.

Q: Do the four running backs all do something better than the others? Or are they all all-around players?

KC: This is the first time I've had a group of guys that can all do it all. They can all pass protect, they can all catch the ball, they all run well after contact, they're all over 205-pounds, and that's different. They all have about the same dynamics.

Dominique Brown is the heaviest of all of them, but for the most part they all can do the same things. Now Senorise Perry and Corvin Lamb are the "big hit" guys because they're two of the fastest guys on our team, but for the most part they're all about the same.

Q: Do you prefer having the Kentucky game as the first of the season?

KC: It matters not. Doesn't matter who the first opponent is. When that game comes around, we're ready to play.

We love our rivalry against Kentucky because it's great for the state and it's great to have a rivalry, but our whole mindset as an organization and as a program is that the season is what matters. One game doesn't make or break a season. We have to prepare for every game the best we can, and then we have to go win it.

So Kentucky being the first game is just extra. But we don't make it the end all, be all.

Q: The fifth running back that Louisville fans are interested in is Brandon Radcliffe. How's he adjusting to college life?

KC: Really well. The academic side of the game for any freshman is the thing that's toughest. Because we're a West Coast Offense there's certain things - the intricacies of the run game and some pass blocking - that he's having to adjust to. He's getting peer teaching. We can't do a whole lot with him in the offseason for NCAA reasons. But the guys are really bringing him along and he's adjusting really well.

Now physically, he has been seamless with the rest of them. He is a beast.

Q: How different is this offense going to look with Shawn Watson now taking over as the offensive coordinator from day one?

KC: What Shawn has been able to do is put his stamp on it. The nomenclature has stayed the same for the most part so that the kids are able to understand what we're trying to do. But from a scheme standpoint, we're going with more heavy two-back sets, which is a big part of the West Coast Offense. This gives us an opportunity to not have to fret about people inverting safeties into the box because we have another guy back there. Now we don't have to throw bubbles and throw hot when you're doing zone reads and things like that out of the spread. Now we can just get downhill without having to worry about a hitman we can't account for with a blocker.

Q: Pundits are pretty optimistic about this Louisville football team. How has the coaching staff gone about managing expectations with this team?

KC: We remind our players that pundits are somewhat like sunrise and nightfall: it happens very quickly. I think it's Shakespeare who says, "the mob is fickel." They understand that that means nothing. We still and have to play and you still have to work. Wins are based on work. They aren't based on anything you see or hear, and they stay true to that.

Q: Jeremy Wright has been electric at times but has also had an issue holding onto the ball. What is he doing to get over his fumbling problems?

KC: He's been straight out told, 'get over it, or you won't play.' It's that easy.

He's got the ability. The thing that people don't understand about his scenario is that he did play injured last season. The injury that he has last season, his knee would actually catch, and the condyle defect that he had in his knee was almost as big as a quarter. So when they replaced that, he had to play through that the entire year. It was really amazing that he did what he did two years ago with his knee injury.

It was just a mental hurdle that he had to jump, and he finally jumped it. He had a great spring, he's had a terrific summer, and I'm really excited for him to see what he's going to bring to that position.

Q: So the knee's completely healthy now?

KC: Oh yeah, he's completely healthy. He's done a great job in summer school and we're real pleased with all those guys. They're going to be a really fun group to coach and to see them gel together and be a difference make for out program in a lot of different ways.

Q: Have you ever been on a team with this few seniors? And what do you guys do to try and create leaders?

KC: I think the thing that Charlie has done a great job of making our players understand is that if you have good players and they work, experience is also a part of the coaching staff's responsibility. If they believe in us and trust in us like they did last year, then we'll help bring them alone and their maturation process will be sped up by the fact that they'll be extensions of us. Look at all the freshmen that got game experience last year. Now, they're no longer young because once you're put into the fire, you don't come out un-burned.

Q: We've seen a lot of freshmen get experience in each of the past two seasons, should we expect that again this season?

KC: If you're ready, you play. That's our whole thought process. There are no restrictions on redshirting at Louisville. If you're ready to play, you'll play. If you can beat someone out, you'll play. Period. It's really black and white. There's no grey, there's no political things; the best players play.

Q: This is the first season Dominique Brown has been able to fully focus on playing running back. How much is that going to help him?

KC: That was the biggest transition that he had to make last year. In the Kentucky game last year, he had a couple of long runs where he got to the sideline and the quarterback mentality kicked back in and he went out-of-bounds instead of challenging the defender. I was like, 'do you want to stay on the sidelines with me? We can continue to do this. You can chill out over there, put a hat on your head and continue to play quarterback again, because we're not gonna do that.'

But as the season went along - and the West Virginia game was a great example of this, my man had to make a man miss and then jump over another guy to get a yard for the first down in what was probably one of the most pivotal plays of the game. Had he not been as big and as agile as he was, I don't know if anyone else would have gotten that first down. So he had grown as the season went along, and now it is coming to the apex to what he needs to be a very, very productive big back.

Q: Is there an area that you think is the strength of this team?

KC: I think we're very solid at running back. We still have things to prove because as a group we haven't played all that much even though we've done some great things on special teams. But I love our offensive line coach and I love our offensive line. I love our defensive line coach and I love our defensive line. There are some young guys that are powerful and athletic and can run. Our linebackers, especially our young linebackers, are so athletic. I mean in spring practice, they're getting downhill and they're turning helmets sideways. It's so much fun to watch those guys play.

Our guys just love getting after it. We have a team that, from top to bottom, just loves ball. They love ball. And when you have that, you have a culture that gives you a chance to have success. That's probably the thing that's more important than anything else when it comes to coming together as a group. They have a love for what we're trying to do as an organization, and they've taken that and really wrapped their arms around it as a total team.

Q: So should we expect the offense to be completely different this season?

KC: I don't think that it will change that much in the sense that we're going to try and be balanced in the run and in the pass. Like I said earlier, the biggest change will be that we'll have an extra blocker in pass protection in certain situations.

The training of the quarterback is different. We're going to throw the ball deep. We're going to be a little bit different in that sense. We're going to throw the ball deep and stretch the field because we've got guys that can run people. We've got some guys that can do that. You're gonna throw the ball to 9 now, you're gonna let him run down the field and go get it. You know? And then Charles Gaines, you're gonna throw the ball down - Charles Gaines is one of the fastest people in college football. My man can flat out fly.

Q: Louisville fans will be excited to hear that he's back at wide receiver...

KC: Oh my God...

Q: Yeah, we got to see him a little bit a couple of springs ago and he looked very good. This is our last questiona and then we'll let you get back to the party...

KC: This is more fun than the party. We're talking about ball now. This is more important than the party.

Q: You've been a lot of places with a lot of great quarterbacks. Compare Teddy to the other quarterbacks that you've been around in terms of both playing ability and leadership ability.

KC: Teddy is very smart. He really kind of let the leadership thing come to him. He let his play do it all. The thing that I love most about Teddy is how respectful he was to Will Stein when he won the job. And then that goes back to Will Stein and just how great he was in helping Teddy continue to develop. That was a tremendous, tremendous situation for our team right there.

As far as comparisons, he is as competitive as Tebow. He's that kind of competitor. He is unbelievably smart. He is a gym rat like Jay Cutler was. Jay knew everything that was going on. He knew every part of the passing game.

Teddy, I remember his second practice, we were in an inside drill that we don't change the play. But because he takes training and listens to what Shawn tells him, they walk up a linebacker onto the line of scrimmage in the same direction that we're running an outside zone and Teddy spins the play and runs it in the other direction. He wasn't even supposed to do that, but it was the right thing to do. We just kind of looked at each other like, 'oh my God, this is phenomenal.' We thought it was Christmas already.

But that's the kind of player he is. He just continues to hone his skills. He's always watching film, they're always throwing. He is as gifted a player from top to bottom, mentally and physically, as I've ever been around at such a young age.

Q: Who are the guys who Louisville fans don't know about who are stepping up as leaders or who are being asked to step up and become leaders?

KC: Alex Kupper has done a great job of transitioning from being a walk-on who's now played every position on the offensive line. He's a local kid and people have that respect for him and understand his climb to get to where he is. He's done a great job of rehabbing himself to get himself into a position to do what we need to do as a team this season.

Michaelee Harris is another player who our guys have tremendous respect for. They love Michaelee because he's a steady, steady guy who works incredibly hard. He's had two unfortunate injuries, but he's still a great leader.

Hakeem Smith, because he's so consistent. He's done a terrific job for us and we think he's going to be a guy who helps steady the waters on the other side of the ball. And they've challenged, as a defensive staff, they've challenged Preston Brown. He's out Mike linebacker now, so he needs to step up and be that guy. He's extremely intelligent and he has that ability to be a tremendous player for us.

And Brandon Dunn is another guy, a local guy who has played a lot of football for us. If you wanted to say, who on your team exemplifies "Mr. Louisville?" That's Brandon Dunn.

Q: How are Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers doing with their injury rehabs?

KC: They're on track. I was talking to our trainer today and Kyle was really excited because everyone who had an injury in the spring is either healthy or on track. We will go into the fall very healthy and every excited for what we're going to get out of our guys.

Charlie's an old school guy now, he may be the junction guy too, now. We don't hold back on no contact, but we're still going to manage that the right way.

Q: You were with Charlie at Florida, how has he developed going from being an assistant to the head guy? And how have you enjoyed working for him?

KC: Love it. Love it.

We kid him all the time, Vance Bedford and I, about how few people go from being an assistant coach to a head coach and then don't take the head coach pill. He hasn't taken that pill. Obviously there are times where he has to handle different situations as the head coach, but for the most part he has stayed true to he is. He hasn't changed, and we love that about him.

There are times that we're like, 'Come on now...it's good to be the King. You can do this if you want to.' But he's so gracious to the staff and so gracious to our players. He's a fun, fun guy to play for and a great guy to work for...and with. And that's how he sees it. That's probably the best way to convey how he is. He doesn't see it as this is you working for me, it's you working with me.

Q: We've seen him get emotional a number of times and that's really endeared him to Louisville fans. Is he like that all the time?

KC: Absolutely. He's unscripted. He cares about the community, and you know he cares about the community because of his actions.

When we went to help the tornado victims, he made sure---he threatened our kids to not tweet or say anything or Facebook about it, because he didn't want anyone to know. He didn't want it to be a big, grandiose deal. He wanted us to go out there and just show that we care.

He does things all the time. As a staff, he'll send us to do different things all the time to make sure that it's not just him doing this. He wants everyone to understand that it's not about him, it's about the program. It's mandatory for our player to have ten hours of community service time. They have to have it. If you get to the end of the year and you don't have your hours done...God bless ya.

It's a big deal because there's more to life than just winning games, and he wants our players to understand that. Just last night, we had a job employment forum for our guys to teach them how to interview and do resumes. There were 12 different companies there, and this was at the end of the day. Our guys had to dress up and it was awesome. Larry Slade is in charge of these things and he did a phenomenal job.

It's what it's all about. It's the total experience. And that's Charlie. That's Charlie.

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