Nov. 30, 2010
DEKALB, Ill. - Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill spoke at NIU's weekly press conference at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center to review the Eastern Michigan game and preview the upcoming MAC Championship game with Miami (OH). Quarterback Chandler Harnish (Bluffton, Ind./Norwell), linebacker Alex Kube (Cary, Ill./Cary-Grove), wide receiver Nathan Palmer (Elkhart, Ind./Central) and defensive tackle D.J. Pirkle (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln Way East).
Jerry Kill, Head Coach
"I think the big thing is that we were able to prepare a game plan when we got back on Friday and the coaches worked, and also Saturday. We got some work in on Sunday, getting preparation as far as the offensive and defensive game plan. Yesterday was unique because our kids were in so many classes and stuff, we really couldn't practice much. We were able to work in an hour. We worked in our kicking game, game plan. Thought our kids in both practices concentrated and focused very well. We practiced outside, basically in a heavy rain, and that didn't really seem to affect the kids. They just locked in and did what they needed to do. We had a solid workout yesterday, and looking forward to getting out there this afternoon and going back to work and see if we can get a little better."
On the challenges practicing outdoors this week
On if there was any thought of going to the rec center
"We would all like to have a facility to practice indoors, but I just think our kids, through the last three years, understand. I don't know what it is, the team chemistry, the culture we've created. We went out yesterday and it was raining, I never heard one kid complain. I think they said, `hey, we'll just do what coach tells us to do, doesn't matter what the weather is, doesn't matter what the conditions are. We just go out there and do what we're supposed to do. We're going to be playing in a dome anyways. We have a couple more days of this, we'll be alright.' They know we have to get our work done, we have no choice so why sit around and complain and worry about it."
"Absolutely not, can't do it. That's not big enough. We have to be on a full football field. We can't throw the ball. We can't do what we're supposed to do doing it that way. Only way we'd ever do that is if we had lightening or something like that. We're certainly not going to take any risks with our kids, but we're fortunate not to have that. It's going to be cold today, but we're the same group that practices at six o'clock in the morning because of spring ball because of classes, and it's cold and windy. It's DeKalb, and that's who we are. I think our kids have accepted who we are and how we do things."
On if he would rather play the MAC Championship indoors or outdoors
"I'd like to play at home. I'd like to play them all at home. You're talking to a guy that's been on the road forever. I feel like Willie Nelson, on the road again. I don't care, we're playing for the championship and if they said we're going to play in the North Pole, we'll go play in the North Pole. If we're going to play in an indoor facility, that's great. I'm looking forward to going to Detroit, that was the ultimate goal. This is the end of the race. Are we going to be able to finish it? We're there and have that opportunity. A couple guys that played for me that worked at Ford Field when I was there in Michigan, so I'm excited about seeing them and a lot of people I coached back in that area. It's going to be a good thing. We have Coach [Joe] Novak coming back so it's a good deal, a good thing."
On if the team could have a letdown
"I haven't seen it. Actually, it's been day by day. We just try to get better every day and we talk about that. The two practices that we've been involved with. Yesterday was the ultimate test because of the weather conditions or there's some kids taking finals. We had 25 kids leave here at 5:20 p.m. to go to six o'clock class. We had people going in and out. We were trying to do kicking game, if one person was in class, we used it just like an injury. Injury, next guy is up. I think because we do that as a coaching staff, Donna [Turner] taught me a little about that, the less you make of things, the better it is. So we just don't make a big deal out of it."
On where Miami (OH) has improved most since he last saw them
"I think it's like anything when you have done what a coach has done before is that it's becoming his football team. They have experience, a great staff. I think the personality of the team is taking on their staff's. They don't turnover the ball, they play smart. You put somebody in the box, they're going to run it. You put more in the box, they're going to throw it. They're going to throw the quick screens and bubbles. They're not going to take losses. They're not going to turn the ball over. They're going to play defense. They're going to blitz you, but when they blitz you, they're sound in the coverage. They're a solid football team and I think they're very similar to us. I think he's done a great job. They don't beat themselves, you have to beat them. They're not going to beat themselves."
On the team's current momentum
"I think that's a credit to the kids, that has nothing to do with us really, I think I kids like playing football. We went to Eastern Michigan, it was cold and windy, there wasn't a big crowd or anything like that. The way the kids went out there, shoot, they were excited, big ole smiles on their face, they were intense. I just think this group likes playing football. I think they do, to this point. We haven't finished the race yet. If we don't play hard on Friday or don't do what we're supposed to on Friday, then maybe not. If they can continue to do what they're doing right now, they've played hard all season long, they really have."
On Miami's offense
"I don't think anything has changed any. I think they've recruited quarterbacks to their system. It's kind of like us if Jordan Lynch is playing. If he's playing full-time, we're not going to change anything we do. He's a little bit different than Chandler [Harnish], but he can execute like that so that's the same thing I think they're doing with that youngster. I think they're taking advantage of what people do. If you load the box, they're going to throw it. If you don't love the box, they're going to run it so they put you in an awkward situation to where they make you play good solid defense, and that's good coaching."
On the team's running attack this season
"There's no question that we can throw the football, and we're throwing it with good consistency. But I think a lot of people have overlooked one thing, we've had great receiver play all year. We haven't dropped a lot of balls. We have guys that go up and get it. I just think there's a chemistry between the quarterback and receivers, and there's a confidence level. It's all just coming together. Success certainly helps that, but hard work also helps that and those kids work very hard."
On what the MAC Championship game means to the team and the program
"The thing about it is I've been asked, `hey coach, do you feel like you've had a good season?' You bet. Anytime you win 10 games that's a good season, but we talked all year about the journey we were on and we wanted to get to Detroit, and now you have to finish the journey. Nobody knows what's going to happen Friday, but I think the biggest thing these kids need to do is to enjoy the process, they don't need to play tight or anything like that, they just need to play like they've been doing and have fun playing the game. Let the chips fall where they may. If it works out, that's fantastic, if it doesn't, we'll all going to be here the next day. I think the kids have a pretty good perspective on it. I think they know they're playing good, solid football right now. They know why, because we concentrated and fundamentally have done things well. I think they're looking forward to going to Detroit and seeing if they can finish the race, and that's all we've talked about. The biggest worry for the week this week is that we have to finish the race. Can we do that or not, that's the challenge for this group of youngsters."
On the intangible qualities of this team
"I like our football team. I enjoy being around them. It's a joy to coach them. I like the way they play, they play hard. Every once in awhile, I'd like to get after them on a couple things, but overall, I've enjoyed coaching the football team. I enjoy watching them play. I've watched a lot of guys grow up, like Alex Kube and the change in him over the last three years. He's turned into quite the leader and things of that nature. You watch what unbelievable maturity that Chandler has gone through this year. It's been fun to watch, to be honest with you. I've really enjoyed watching the team progress. I think any time you have a good team, there are special intangibles, and I think Coach [Bill] Mallory is right. I think the intangibles of this particular group is that they have been coachable, they've listened, and they've tried to do what we've asked. That's not always easy to do. That's not easy to do at my house with two girls. So far so good, but again, we still have to play on Friday."
On the impact of Coach Jim Zebrowski on Harnish
"From my standpoint, a great impact. I think probably the bigger impact is the relationship coach Poore and Jimmy have working together. You have your receiver coach, who was the quarterbacks coach and those don't have any egos. The reason Jimmy is here is because coach Poore wanted him here so that's why we got him. It's a great working relationship and I think there's just great chemistry and I think the kids see that. We have an unusual deal, we really do. Our coaches our kind of like our players. They enjoy working. They enjoy coaching these kids. Both coach Poore and Zebrowski are about half a kid anyways. They haven't any bad days. All of you have had some bad days, and I've had a bad day or two. Jimmy [Zebrowski] and Pat [Poore], they don't have bad days. They think everything in the world is going to work and I think it rubs off on the kids."
On creating that atmosphere
"Just hire good people. I told you three years ago, I wasn't very smart. I'm just an old hard-working guy, but I'm smart enough to know one thing, I know I'm a pretty good reader of character and I'm a pretty good reader of people, and I know what my weaknesses are so I hire people to take care of my weaknesses. We fit Northern Illinois because we've all come up; we've all coached high school football. We didn't go right to the top of the mountain, we worked our way up, and our kids, some of them I'm sure had dreams of playing at Notre Dame and Michigan and they weren't quite there, so they come to Northern Illinois. I think it's a whole group of people that fit in together because they've had to work to get where they're at. We're not good enough to just go out and practice OK. We're not good enough to go out there and walked around at practice. We have to go out and give our best everyday or we're not going to win. We're not good enough to do that, we're just not. We have worked hard, the kids have. The kids have worked hard. They run around at practice. We don't walk around, we stay pretty crisp and I think that's helped us out with the way we do things."
On if Coach Haywood playing underclassmen last year has led to Miami's success
"I think as a coach, when you take a new job you have to make a decision on what you're going to do. All I can relate it to was when I first went to Southern [Illinois] and we went 1-10. I think we went 1-10, 4-8 and 10-2. I think that coach has done better than that. He's done a tremendous job coaching and I think he probably got there and said, `this is how we're going to do it, this is my plan, this is how it's going to work, and we may suffer at the beginning, but we'll be alright at the end.' His plan is working and he's proven that."
Chandler Harnish, Quarterback
On the possibly of the offense playing better than it has in recent weeks
"We don't come close to executing as well as we can every week. I think that's attributed to how good we can be. Coaches have done a great job putting us in the right positions. If we can execute to our fullest, they sky is definitely the limit for our offense."
On how far this team has come
"I think it goes with the leadership of the guys. We have a great senior class and we've had great leaders over the last couple years. We're finally starting to buy into Coach Kill's system. His coaches do a great job of keeping us in line and just making us better people and I think that shows up on the field.
Alex Kube, Linebacker
On having to practice outdoors this week
"I would much rather be inside, but I don't think any of us our complaining because three years ago we were practicing in this when we were practicing for nothing when were 2-10. Now we're out here practicing for something so you don't hear a lot of people complaining cause we're practicing for something."
On what the MAC Championship means
"It means a lot, especially from where we came from and where we've been, 0-20 something before and came and bounced back from that, and were 2-10 and bounced back from that. I think a lot of people outside of this program, fans and the people in this program have had a lot of faith and stood by us for a long time. I think this game is really up to us to win it. It's huge for us to show up and do this for the community, do this for the program, and then do this for ourselves because we've worked so hard. I know a lot of people are going to be rooting for us, and a lot are going to be there watching this game who have been waiting for this for a very, very long time. I know the guys around me are going to do everything we possibly can to win this football game."
Nathan Palmer, Wide Receiver
On being able to play the MAC Championship indoors
"I'm happy to be getting indoors. I think it affects us a lot with the offense, the weather and everything with it being cold. This last Eastern [Michigan] game, it was really tough being out there playing receiver, hamstring were a little tight, couldn't open up the strides as much, but it's going to be good getting some warm weather and get a little sweat going."
On the wide receivers mentality going into the game
"I think we just go out there and play. We're not really focused on how many points we're putting up or anything, we just go out there and let it all hang loose on the field. It's a product of coaching hard. We do so many reps in practice to where it just becomes second nature so we just go out there and play. Coach tells us don't worry about the scoreboard, whether it's 0-0, 40-0 or 40-40, just go out there and play so that's what we've been doing all year."
D.J. Pirkle, Defensive Tackle
On the seniors finishing the for season with a MAC Championship for Coach Novak
"I'm sure it will mean a ton to him. We were his last recruiting class and to come from when we came at 2-10 to where we are now, I'm sure it will mean the world to him."
On facing redshirt freshman quarterback, Austin Boucher
"He's been in there a couple games now so towards the end of the year he's not really, he's kind of on the next year already so we don't look at him like that. He is young and our goal is definitely to get him rattled early. Being young, that could cause some problems for them. Any week, our goal is to rattle the quarterback cause that just throws everything off for them."