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Q&A with Coach Randall McCray

New defensive coordinator loves family atmosphere at MT

March 19, 2010 · Athletic Communications

Randall McCray joined the Middle Tennessee football staff in February as the Defensive Coordinator, replacing Manny Diaz. McCray came to Middle Tennessee from Wisconsin where he coached defensive line, linebackers and safeties and was also the recruiting coordinator in his four years with the Badgers. Here are his responses to questions in an interview during the first week of spring practice:

Q: After a couple of practices, compare the tempo of the sessions here with other places that you have coached.

McCRAY: I like the tempo; it's like the speed of the game. The game is moving toward where nobody huddles anyway. We have not been huddling on offense on any team that I have been a part of since 1999. That part of it doesn't bother me. You just have to get the kids lined up defensively a lot quicker. The kids have to communicate with each other a lot better now. The tempo is so fast at practice here that we don't have time to coach on the field at all. We do all of our coaching in the film room afterwards. You may have time to make one or two comments to a kid on the field, but that's it.

Q: Is that normal?

McCRAY: It is here.

Q: In addition to being defensive coordinator, you also coach linebackers. Have you had a chance to evaluate the talent here?

McCRAY: We have a couple of guys that stand out athleticly. Obviously, you have experience in Antwan Davis as a starter, and playing time in Gorby Loreus and Justin Jones, but you don't try to replace guys like Danny Carmichael and Cam Robinson. You build and coach and teach, and that is what we are doing right now.

Q: The red-shirt freshmen linebackers come highly-touted. Have you evaluated them yet?

McCRAY: Roderic Blunt, Craig Allen and Stephen Roberts are really, really athletic and can move to the ball. They are gifted. The good lord gave them some gifts, some tools to work with. Now we just have to get their minds caught up with their bodies, so to speak. It's a matter of can they learn the intricacies of the position, and know where to be all the time, and right now they are doing a pretty good job. The thing they need to realize is that they are not working on the scout team any more, they are competing for a job and playing time now. They have been on the scout team for a year, and didn't really learn anything about our defense, so its like they are freshmen all over again.

As far as talent, they are as talented as the linebackers we had at Wisconsin, by far, when it comes to sheer speed and things like that. But the guys we had at Wisconsin were experienced and they knew what they were supposed to do, where they were supposed to be. They were always in position. These guys have got to get to that level in their minds.

Q: What is your impression of the defense as a whole?

McCRAY: I think we run well. We've got some guys that are really gifted, we've got some leadership in the back end, and a little bit up front. Jamari Lattimore doesn't say much, but leads by example. Kevin Brown does a really good job, and the secondary communicates really, really well. Antwan Davis does a good job of leadership among the linebackers. My first impression is that we run well, and we are preaching getting to the ball. We are not big, but we get to the ball in a hurry and that's how you create take-aways.

Q: Now that you have had a chance to look at the personnel, what will be your defensive philosophy?

McCRAY: We have tweaked some things that we as a staff believe will make us a little bit more sound, but the calls are exactly the same as last year, the schemes are pretty much the same, the signals are the same. I told Coach Stockstill in the interview that it would be a lot easier for me to learn new terminology than for 32 players and three or four other coaches to have to change to my system, so all of that will stay the same. Coach Diaz did a good job here, it worked and the kids enjoyed it, so it doesn't make sense to change it.

Q: What are your impressions of Middle Tennessee, Murfreesboro and the surrounding area?

McCRAY: I played here at Middle Tennessee in a playoff game when I was a junior at Appalachian State in 1989, and we played at Vanderbilt when I was coaching at South Carolina, and I married a girl from Chattanooga, so I am familiar with the area. I have always liked the middle Tennessee/east Tennessee area. I coached at Murray State and my brother was head coach at Austin Peay where I visited him a lot. Now, Murfreesboro is totally different from Madison, Wisconsin. Madison has a "big town" atmosphere, even moreso than Nashville, but I like Murfreesboro, and it won't take long to get used to living in this area again. My wife will be here next week, and she is excited about being close to Chattanooga.

Q: Have you moved your family here yet?

McCRAY: Not yet. My family will be down here next week, during spring break up there, and will stay for a week. We are trying to sell our house in Wisconsin, and as soon as we do, we'll move down here. If we get a house here, they may come down beforehand, we just don't want to have two house payments. I just want to get them down here as fast as possible. My son, Matt, will be eight next month, and we'd like to get him in school here before the end of the year so he can start making friends before school starts next fall.

Q: Before you were in the running for a coaching job here, what was your impression of the football program at Middle Tennessee?

MCCRAY: My experience with the program was in the 1-AA period, when I played at Appalachian State, and then my first two years at Murray State, we were in the same conference (OVC). Coach Boots Donnelly was here then. My impression was that Middle was a big, hard-nosed 1-AA football team that had run the OVC along with Eastern Kentucky. They were a good solid football team that always did the little things right, special teams, and things like that. They were always big, and a really tough, physical football team. When they made the jump to 1-A, we didn't know if that would be a good move or not, because nobody knew then how things would work out for Sun Belt football. But I can tell you one thing for sure. We were happy to get them out of the OVC. If Middle had gone independent, I would have thought it was not a good move, but the way things developed with the Sun Belt Conference, it has turned out to be a great move.

Q: You were at Clemson when Coach Stockstill was there. Did that influence your decision to come here now?

McCRAY: I knew Coach Stockstill. I knew he was a good man, a good person, and I know he's a good family man, and that right there influenced me more than anything else. The 10 wins last year didn't influence me, but being a coordinator did a little bit. It was the kind of family man that he is. The way I knew that my eight year old boy could come to practice with me every day and stand on the sidelines while I coached, and I had never been able to do that in the past. I was worried that my boy would grow up and I would miss it. That was what influenced me to come here.

When I was with him at Clemson, he was solely responsible for me getting the job at Bethune-Cookman. He had been there in his early years, and when the job came open, they called Stock and he impressed upon them that they should hire me. And they did, so he's responsible for me getting two jobs now. When he called me about this job, I kinda felt like he had done me a favor and that this was the kind of guy that I wanted to have in my life.

Q: Last season, we scored several times in less than two minutes of possession time. Is it a problem for the defense when the offense scores that quickly?

McCRAY: It does put some pressure on the defense, but here is what I think some defensive coaches are selfish about. You hear some guys complaining 'you scored too fast'. I don't think you can score too fast, or often enough. That's like telling the offense that they got the other team three-and-out too quick. That's not fair. They are out there to score points, and I can kinda understand what they are talking about with a four-minute offense and things like that, but they still scored and put you ahead. Now its your job to stop the other team. And if you don't stop them, then you weren't good enough that day. Don't blame it on the offense when they score too fast. If they score a bunch, and often, and quick, then we are going to be pretty good. All we have to do is stop them once in a while and we'll win.

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