Q&A: Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville

Cincinnati opens spring practice today under new coach Tommy Tuberville. I had a chance to catch up with him to preview the spring earlier this week. Here is a little of what he had to say.

Before I ask about spring, I have to ask about some of the negative press you got after taking over the job. Why do you think some kids lashed out against you?

TT: It’s never easy going through a coaching transition. This year, we came in and there were probably 10 or 12 kids that had committed to Cincinnati and there were all kind of rumors that I didn’t talk to them, but I did. We visited with them and I told them we were going to evaluate film, that in the present time everybody needed to look at their situations, look at other schools. Some stayed with us, some went to other places. So a lot of that gets blown out of proportion of how it works. It just happened to be some of these kids said we pulled scholarships. There were some guys we did tell we’re going to be full at this position because of the offense or defense that we’re going to run, we don’t have that position that they were recruited for, and you don’t want a player coming to your school that is going to be unhappy.

It’s not easy. But everybody got scholarships and it all works out for the best. You have to do it the right way for the right reasons. And there’s obviously going to be some publicity sometimes. But you’d rather have it for a few weeks than for four or five years when players come in and don’t fit in to what you’re doing.

Were you frustrated that there was this negativity out there when you’re trying to build your program?

TT: I’ve been in this business a long time. No matter what you do, there’s going to be some negative, but there’s going to be positive. You try to be truthful, and let it pass. That’s the way I’ve handled it everywhere I’ve been. There’s a lot more avenues for people to express their concerns, Twitter, and emails -- these days it becomes a lot more attainable, the things people can read or express frustrations, but again that’s part of it. That’s the generation that we live in now, and it’s not going to change. But as long as you’re up front and make decisions based on what’s best for the players and your school everything works out.

How have the players responded to you and the new staff so far?

TT: It’s worked out well. I had the opportunity to come here in December and watch bowl practices and then some practices at the bowl site. During that time, I had a chance to meet with all the players, mostly one-on-one and got to know them some and put together what we needed to put together before the coaching staff got here. Even though we only had three weeks to recruit, our guys did a very good job. We filled a lot of needs. It’s been a good transition. The first six months in a new job for a coaching staff and the players is difficult just knowing names and faces and getting everything organized for our offseason programs. There’s a lot going on. It’s very stressful.

Now that we have that all behind us, we’ve dug in and everything’s going like clockwork for us. We start the last step with practice. Then we’ll have seven or eight weeks of lifting or running along with the recruiting, then we’ll start putting the team together for next year. Somebody asked me, ‘What’s your philosophy in spring?’ Make sure at the end of spring you’ve got everybody in positions they want to play. So when they get here for two-a-days, they’re off to a better start.

Are Munchie Legaux and Brendon Kay your top two guys competing for the starting job?

TT: Yeah they’re the top two. That’s not to say the other guys aren’t going to get a shot. We told them all, ‘Hey get in there and show us what you can do.’ The biggest thing is learning the offense first and being able to change a play at the line of scrimmage, learning protections, getting us in the right play and also being a team leader.

What type of offensive philosophy are you going in with and how will it look different for Munchie and Brendon?

TT: We’re going to be a multiple offense. We’re going to do a lot of different things. In the past they’ve been a team with one back. We’re going to have two backs, we’re going to play two tight ends some. We’ll have a different type of running formation, different types of running plays, different types of pass protection. With the quarterback, it’s not a lot different, it’s like learning a new language, though. It’s like every day you have to start back at step one and learn how to communicate. That’s the big thing for the quarterback.

Speaking of two-back sets, you have some junior college transfers coming in later this summer, you have Ralph David Abernathy IV coming back, Tion Green. How do you envision using the running backs you have?

TT: We went out and signed two junior college running backs because we needed the depth. We lost a very good running back last year, but we have Tion Green coming back, who has a lot of potential. Played some not a whole lot. Ralph Abernathy will be the heir apparent but he’s not a guy who can carry the ball 25 times a game because of his size. He’s a different type of back. We’ll throw him the ball, he’ll run the ball. But the whole key to running the ball is your offensive line and we got them almost all back. That’s going to help any running back. We’ll build our running game off our offensive line and fit our running backs in.

What about at receiver, this has been a position with a lot of inconsistency the last few years. How do you feel about this group going into the spring?

TT: I think we’ve got some very good receivers. Most are possession receivers, catch the ball well, run good routes. We need somebody who can stretch the field, more deep speed. We signed a junior college player, Johnny Holton out of Chicago, who has a lot of speed. He’ll fit in nicely but he won’t be here until this summer. We have a good number of receivers that we’ll look at. The big thing is we are not going into spring saying we’ve got outside receivers or inside receivers. We have receivers. Then after the spring when we see what they can do, we’ll alter everything.

How much do you have to work on developing depth up front on defense, having lost some of your top players?

TT: We’ve got some good prospects. I noticed the one thing we needed here is a good pass-rusher. We lost a good one, so we signed two junior college defensive ends we’re very familiar with. One’s here (Jerrell Jordan) and one (Terrell Hartsfield) will start in the summer. Like every position, we’ll find out whether they’ll play an inside tackle position. The guys we have here after going through offseason, some have gained weight so we have to evaluate even some of the linebackers who might be defensive ends, guys that have speed who can rush the passer. It’s a big experiment on both sides of the ball.