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Q&A with Arizona running backs coach Clarence McKinney

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Hear what the new coach had to say after Arizona’s open scrimmage

The Arizona Wildcats have concluded their 11th practice of the spring now. The latest practice was open to the public and media. Our notes from it can be found here.

New running backs coach Clarence McKinney spoke with the media for the first time after practice. Here’s what he had to say.


Arizona Football running backs coach Clarence McKinney discusses his position, the spring scrimmage, recruiting, and more

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, April 7, 2018

Opening comments

I’m loving Arizona weather. You know, it’s nice and warm, kind of like back home. Not as humid, though.

What did you think about the running backs today?

I thought they ran the ball hard. You know, they’ve been running the ball hard all spring. Learning a new system, doing the things we’ve asked them to do and getting better at it.

Anthony Mariscal moved over from safety, had one of the longer runs today. Was that his idea, coaches idea to move?

I had no idea he was a safety. When I got here he was in the running backs room. I just coached him up, tried to get him to know what he was doing. As you’ve seen today, he had a pretty good day. He’s been pretty consistent.

Nathan Tilford had a play where it was kind of a swing pass to the left and cut all the way to the right, that’s kind of the gliding way about him. What have you seen out of him?

He’s talented, he’s really talented. We just got to get him to understand where his weapons are. He’s the biggest guy in the room, we just want him to be more physical. He’s good some really good abilities.

Do you kind of envision him as your third down back?

I have no idea. Hopefully all those guys can be a third down back. You’d like for a big guy like Nate to be to be your goal line, short yardage guy, but when it’s third down, whoever is out there on the field has to make a play.

Did you have those kind of designations in the past or just a rotation based on series?

We used to have a rotation based on series. One guy gets hot, he could be the third and short guy. It could be JJ (Taylor), because he gets hot and we want to keep feeding him.

As a running backs coach when you have a guy like Nate and JJ, two very different backs, is that kind of what you want?

Yeah, we tend to recruit a little different back each year than what we got in the previous year. So I mean as you guys know, when you look at the history of running backs, would you rather have Barry Sanders or Earl Campbell? Both guys are effective, different styles, so you just want a guy who can get the job done.

There’s only one running back in the 2018 class, do you want to bring in at least one every year.

Well these guys are all in the same class as Brightwell, Tilford and JJ, so we’ll kind of see how it goes. Eventually those guys will be moving on and we gotta build the stable of backs to take over after those guys.

What’s the number of scholarship guys you like to have on the roster given what you just said?

We’d like to have six guys. It doesn’t always work that way but we’ll see what happens

How much are you trying to get running backs involved in the pass game?

Oh they’re very involved whether that’s protection or running routes. Those guys we like them to be a triple threat. You gotta be able to run the ball, of course. You gotta be able to protect for the quarterback and you gotta be able to catch the ball out of the backfield.

The guys you have worked with during the spring, they’ve all been able to do that?

Sure, we’re very fortunate to have those guys, they’ve been a bright spot all spring. They’ve all competed, competed well and we’re looking forward to what happens in the spring game.

Is Gary Brightwell okay? (he was on crutches after the spring game)

I have no idea. They told me he was done for the rest of the day. I let the medical staff take care of that part of it.

He’s another guy who kinda played slot last year now he’s running back. You didn’t know that either?

He was in the running back room when I got here and we’ve been impressed with him for the past what 10-11 practices.

Are they where you expect them to be?

Yeah they’re where I expected them to be. Like I said, it’s a totally new system, they’re trying to learn that we’re asking them to do. The thing that they’re doing well is putting forth great effort.

Is the defense a little ahead of the offense because of the scheme familiarity?

We hope so. You know, if the offense is ahead of the defense it would be a long season. But yeah of course with Coach Yates and his scheme, been here the last couple years, those guys are a little further along right now.

So do you and Coach Yates while coaching talk about Montana State?

Not much, because my time was different than theirs, my experience was different than theirs. I was a player, they were there as coaches. So it was a little bit different. But I’ve worked with Coach Yates before and we talk about that time together.

You got way back with Coach Sumlin, how did that relationship get started?

It started, you guys probably know a couple of guys that played here, Clarence Farmer and Lance Relford, I coached them in high school. Coach Sumlin was at Purdue and he was recruiting those guys and we built the relationship, I believe that was mid-late 90’s, and we’ve known each other since then.

So how did it get from knowing each other to hey you wanna join my staff here in Houston?

Well he went to the University of Houston, I don’t know if you guys know or are familiar with Houston and there’s a high school kind of like Tucson High that’s right across the street. I was at Yates High School which was right across the street from the University of Houston and he asked me if I would come over and join the staff. It was a no-brainer for me. I didn’t have to change my route for work.

Is Houston gonna be your main recruiting area?

Yeah I recruit Houston, I recruit Dallas and you know where ever the running backs are that we’re trying to get. That could be San Diego, California, Washington D.C., it could be where ever the running backs are.

Do you guys kind of recruit your own position?

We have an area. And of course I want to take care of my position as well.

How do you see Texas fitting into the whole recruiting puzzle here at Arizona?

I think Texas has been good to the University of Arizona when you look at the past. Earl Mitchell, I coached Earl in high school. He was a kid, a Houston kid, came out here and had some success. I take you back even further with a high school teammate of mine, Zeno Alexander, who played linebacker here. I think Texas has been really good to us and hopefully we can get back and get some of those fellas.

Not to generalize, but with Texas kids, is there a love for football that is maybe greater in that state than you’ll find anywhere else?

I’m not sure about the rest of the country, I just know when you grow up in Texas, football is what you do. You know, the structure of the high school programs as far as what they do during the off-season and the organization of how they run it is second to none.

Were you a running back when you played?

No, I was a quarterback.

Did you always want to go into coaching?

I know I wanted to get into coaching for a long time. A group of friends of mine we were talking recently. When we were little kids everyone would talk about how they wanted to play in the NFL and in the NBA. I knew then that I wanted to coach. They looked at me like you’re crazy.

Where do you think that came from?

I have no idea.

Where there certain coaches you would see on TV or read about and be like oh that’d be cool to do?

My dad was always into sports so we’d sit and watch the game and he would teach me things about the game. Then along my path of playing sports, I’ve had some really good coaches that influenced me.

How would you describe your style as a coach?

I just try to teach guys what will help them. In my position, it’s a lot of ability. You want to give the guys the tools to be successful out there on the field.

A lot of high school coaches out here yesterday and today. How important is that especially early on?

Oh it’s very important for them because high school coaches are the life line of our program and we want to build those relationships. I’m a former high school coach so I understand from this side as well as that side. We learn from those guys as much as they learn from us. We want to build those relationships, especially within the state, so we want to build those relationships and hope to keep the best players in the state and come here and play for us.

At positions other than running back, who some of the other guys who have just popped off on film after reviewing spring practice?

I barely watch other positions. They have coaches at their positions. I try to focus on my guys to get them ready to play.

So even when your guys are going against the defense, you’re not like oh hey Colin Schooler looks good, or Tony Fields?

It’s the little things in my group that I’m trying to get those guys coached up on. We’ve only had 10 practices. I don’t want to waste time watching other guys. I have to get these guys ready to go.

Circling back to Nathan Tilford, what are some of the other tools you’d like for him to add to his tool box?

Just be more physical, right now. We want him to be more physical when runs the ball.

After the spring game, you guys are going out recruiting. Where you kinda going first?

I believe there is a kid in town I need to go see. There’s a kid in Phoenix I need to see. So we want to take care of the state of Arizona first.

How would describe Kevin Sumlin’s managerial style?

He’s been great. I think the thing that he does really well is he gets the players to buy into his philosophy and his scheme of things and he’s a players coach and they love him.

Yeah he didn’t seem to be doing a lot of yelling and screaming out here during the scrimmage

Yeah I don’t remember ever being around him when he’s done yelling and screaming. I don’t know if that’s coaching or not. Coaching is getting guys to do certain things together and making it become successful. However you do that is how you do that. His way of doing it is not yelling