Athens, GA - The media got a second chance in just over a week's time to speak to Georgia's coordinators on Wednesday. That meant a second opportunity to talk to Oregon's new head coach, Dan Lanning. After four years at UGA and three as the defensive coordinator, Lanning will be transitioning into his first head coaching job next season. But he's also staying on with the Bulldogs to help finish the job. Below, Dawg News Daily provides everything Lanning had to say in unedited format.
Q. I know you don’t care much about what outsiders say, but a lot of people were talking about your defense being historically good before the Alabama game. What have you got to do to kind of cement its reputation the second time around?
COACH LANNING: Just play the brand of football we’re able to play. Our guys take a tremendous amount of pride in the way we work and the work we’ve put into this season. But it doesn’t take anything exceptional or extraordinary, just do what we know how to do.
Q. You dealt with this some at the Orange Bowl, but obviously the no sacks against Alabama last time, and a lot of the narrative was that Georgia didn’t try to pressure the quarterback that much. But I certainly don’t look at it as educated as you do, but it looked like you guys were trying to do some stuff to get to him and just couldn’t get to him. How important is it to get pressure on Bryce Young this time? And what about just the whole factor of it’s just a month later; do you do a lot of different things or do you try to do the same things better?
COACH LANNING: Ultimately we want to create pressure. We want to be able to get after Bryce. As far as how to do it, I don’t want to give away our secrets yet, but wait until the game to figure that out. We want to generate pressure.
And certainly there’s a lot of different ways you can do that. And he’s really good at avoiding the rush. And they did unique things to protect him. We have to attack it a little bit differently, but how we do that, there’s a lot of different ways we can do it.
Q. When you’ve been at a fair amount of different places, small-school guy as far as football yourself. When you’re at Alabama for a year and now at Georgia, it’s going to sound silly, how much do you notice how much better the players are, but when you see, when you get to a place like Georgia and you’ve been at other places, what’s that moment of like, oh, my, this looks different from some of the other places I’ve been? Obviously you know that going in, but when you actually see it and are part of it, does it sort of hit you in a way that’s a little different when you get there?
COACH LANNING: Yeah, I mean there’s a big difference. There’s a big difference. Ultimately I think one of the biggest things that’s different, especially in our league and playing against a team like Alabama, is in the trenches, up front with the defensive line and offensive line, the speed on the field.
It’s all relative because every football field is 100 yards, right? But the size and the speed is a tremendous difference.
Q. Nolan Smith was on here earlier and shared how emotional he got losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Is that the player you know that pours a lot into what he does? And at the outside linebacker position, kind of a second question, what are you leaving behind when you go to Oregon, the guys coming up that can take the next step?
COACH LANNING: Nolan is an emotional guy, but that’s one of his greatest strengths. He takes so much pride in what. He does cares so much. That’s one of the things that’s made us unique this year is how many guys on our defense and our team that care. And obviously you want people on your team that care.
I’m excited about what that room will look like going forward. Probably not for the first game next year, but they’ve got some good guys in there — Chaz Chambliss, Nolan has a great opportunity to make a decision on what he wants to do going forward. MJ Sherman, and obviously there’s some young talent that’s getting brought in there as well.
Rob Beal has a decision to make as well. So some of these guys have tough decisions to make. I know that’s not their focus right now. And we signed some young talent in that room also. So it will be a good room.
Q. How do you go about preparing for Alabama’s wide receivers, the younger guys who don’t have a lot of film on them? And how do you adjust your defense when John Metchie was injured in that last game?
COACH LANNING: They have talent at wideout, even loading Metchie, those other guys have come in, have shown they’re obviously really capable and successful players. But it does change your plan. You’ll have to do some things differently.
I know we brought a lot of speed over from the offense at times. We’re able to use guys during certain periods to extend the field and push it down the field. And we’re getting a really good look from our look team because we’re able to use those guys.
So, ultimately it doesn’t change everything you do when they have different people plug in and playing, but there’s an awareness on where certain guys line up and what they do when they line up there.
Q. Nakobe Dean told me you were the first-ever coach to see him when he was in high school and you were at Memphis. He said you told him you just wanted to put eyes on him, probably not gonna get you here but might get you down the road. What do you remember from that first meeting with Nakobe?
COACH LANNING: Ultimately, I was at Memphis at the time when I first learned about Nakobe Dean. He had a great head coach Brad Boyette, who I was a big fan of. That was my area, recruiting Mississippi when I was at Memphis. Got to go down there see him.
Everybody talked about what kind of player he was. That was evident on his film. He played the star position, outside linebacker as a freshman. Played really early. But what was impressive was all the things off the field for Nakobe. His academic standing, the leader he was in his community. This guy did homework nonstop. When you talked to him recruiting, he’d be, hey, coach, I appreciate it, but I’ve got to get off the phone. I’ve got to get back to homework.
And it’s just his work ethic. He’s a great example the way you do anything is the way you do everything. Nakobe really lives by that standard — the same way he gives off the field, the same way he is in the classroom is the same way he’s on the field.
I have a lot of fond memories of going, of recruiting Nakobe. And now having him as a player. And I was excited to get to Georgia where we had a chance to get him.
Q. You don’t have to worry about going against Brock Bowers for another nine months anyway. But as a defensive coordinator, when a team has a tight end as good as Brock Bowers, what does that do to your mindset and to your scheme heading into that game?
COACH LANNING: Brock’s a headache for the other team. I’m glad he’s on our team. In a lot of ways Brock is like having another wideout out there on the field, obviously. He’s extremely talented, does a great job catching the ball in tough situations.
I think he’s developed a great amount of trust with Stetson and in the offense. And he’s really done — Coach Monken has done a great job moving him around and using him in a lot of unique ways. You definitely have to treat him different. You can’t treat him like your standard tight end.
Q. We hear a lot about Kirby Smart and his ultimate competitive side. Any memories you have of him, anything behind the scenes that you can tell us what he’s like in practices or in games?
COACH LANNING: It doesn’t matter what it is for Coach Smart. I love his passion. And I’ve also said that I think your players take on the energy that you put out as a coach. And Coach Smart has tremendous passion, whether it be team run on a Tuesday in practice, or if it’s Saturday out there on game day, he brings it every single day. There’s never been a day I walked off the field, well, Coach really wasn’t really out there. No, that’s never happened.
And you see the same thing around his family. Whether he’s playing basketball with his son or whatever it is, the guy just likes to win. And that resonates through our program.
And he prepares to win. It’s not something where you roll the ball out think you’re going to show up. He’s willing to do the work it takes to be successful. So I think he realizes that when you compete it’s not just you compete on game day. You have to compete in the way you practice. You have to compete in the way you prepare, the way you analyze data and results.
And you see that constantly from Coach Smart. It’s something certainly I’ve learned being here, but he wears it on his sleeve every day and I appreciate that.
Q. Going back to Nakobe Dean for a second. We’ve seen him recognized for what he’s been able to do on the field this year. And it seems like every Saturday or Friday, for that matter, that he’s playing he shows up. What have you seen in the evolution of him as a player throughout this season?
COACH LANNING: I think he’s attacked a lot of things that we thought he could get better at. Coach Schumann does a phenomenal job with that linebacker room, not just Nakobe but Channing and Quay Walker. These guys have played at a high level all year.
Nakobe has improved in his coverage ability in my mind. He’s really taken pride in being an explosive blitzer. And he’s created a lot of havoc plays with that, the way he’s played. The physicality that he plays with, this guy tackles in practice and he works really hard to practice to be a good tackler. I think that’s something he’s improved on and you seen.
But he’s just a lot more efficient overall with his movements. And that comes with reps — the more you play the more successful you’re going to be. And I think you see that with him.
Q. Is there a position group that traditionally shows more leadership than others? And who are some of the best leaders you’ve had in your career on that side of the ball?
COACH LANNING: That’s a good question. Ultimately, I don’t. I don’t think there’s one. Leaders — a lot of times you can say you want to identify them as a coach. But the reality is it’s the players who identify them. It’s who they follow. It’s who they see do it each week, each day.
I’ve been here before where we were really led by guys in the back end like J.R. Reed. It’s been every position group that I’ve been around. We had it, last year I think, we had a little more leadership there at the corner position. Right now you’d say really, we have leaders there on the defensive front with linebackers and the D line.
But every year it’s a different group and the reality is the players follow the guys that lead. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be around a lot of good ones. This team has as good as any that I’ve ever been around.
I think Coach Smart mentioned it earlier this season, but it’s the first time I’ve ever been a part of a team where we came off after a big win and our players in the locker room talking about what do we have to do better literally right after the game. Call the entire team up and I think that’s unique. That’s certainly special.
Q. Not to relitigate the pass rush strategy too much, but it seems like you all had a choice of do what maybe what other teams have done against Alabama to success earlier or kind of stick with what had worked for you all the first 12 games. Is that too simplistic a way to sum it up or is that close to what you saw it as?
COACH LANNING: I don’t know. I think we watched film pretty close and tried to see what’s successful against a team. And I think they had good answers and played better than we played that day.
I think we’re always pretty multiple and have a variety of ways that we can attack teams. I think we’ve carried that into every game.
To go back and look at that game, we tried to attack in a lot of different ways and they were more successful than us. You’re going to have answers, and they had better answers that day than we did. But we’ll build off of that.
Q. Wanted to ask about Travon Walker and the defensive end position. It doesn’t seem to lend itself to the same sort of sack numbers. I know everybody kind of plays their spot. But could you share the importance and responsibility of that end position in Georgia’s scheme? And if you could elaborate on just Travon and what’s made him so special?
COACH LANNING: I mean, ultimately I think one of the things that makes our defense special is they’re willing to accept whatever role it is for that game for us to be successful. And Travon is a great example of that.
That being said, what makes Travon special is his athleticism. He’s got special talent. He’s very unique. I think we’ve all mentioned several times that he was a high school basketball player and really successful.
But his ability to move. I think you saw in that last Michigan game, he’s starting to play with another brand of physicality as well, and that’s starting to show up. And that ultimately, to me, was one of the pieces of his game he can improve on. And he’s done a great job of that, embracing that challenge to the physical of point of attack.
But he’s got speed. He’s got the ability to drop in coverage, he’s got the ability to rush the passer. And I think that production comes with that over time.
I’ll say this most team knows where he’s at. And there’s probably something to be said about that as well.
Q. With this being your last game at Georgia, what are you going to miss about coaching at this place? And specifically with this defensive group, what are you going to miss about coaching them?
COACH LANNING: Ultimately, for me, coaching is about relationships. And I love these players like I love my family. They’ve just been so good to me. I wouldn’t be near the coach I’ve been or had the success I’ve had in this profession if it wasn’t for these players. So I’ll miss that a lot. I’m going to miss the coaching staff. There’s a great bond on our staff.
I really enjoy the guys I get to work with every day. I don’t feel like I go to work; I feel like I’m going to do something I love each day, which is a pleasure. But to me the people, ultimately I’ll miss the people.
Certainly excited about new adventures and really excited about the group of men and caliber of men that we have on our staff and the players.
These players are great kids and super talented. So excited about that situation, but you’ll always miss the people you work with and the people who helped get you where you’re at now.
Q. I know you can’t move the Atlanta Metro area to Eugene. But what can you bring with you from your time at Georgia, philosophy, strategy, maybe apparatus, that you can rebuild at your Oregon as far as recruiting, as far as recruiting is concerned?
COACH LANNING: One of the big benefits of Oregon is it’s a national brand. We can go anywhere in the nation and be able to sign players. But I think you can just bring that relentless pursuit that we operate with day in, day out here and the organization behind it. We can bring the mentality of how we play football to a certain level.
I’ve been fortunate to have high-quality experience in my team here, whether it be at Georgia or Memphis or Alabama or some of the other places I’ve been able to visit and coach. So taking all that out there I think will be really important. The biggest thing is just learning from that experience. Not any situation is the exact same. But recruiting ultimately, at the end of the day, comes down to work. And it’s going to take work to get great players at Oregon. And we have the ability to get great players there and great players should want to come there.
Q. It seems like in the past few years few people have been able to solve Alabama. LSU and Clemson had their chances to get one over Alabama. But does it feel like there’s almost this accumulated pressure on Georgia given how many swings this team has had against Alabama in consequential games, and also just the added pressure, it’s happening again in a national championship, and there’s that whole 41 years thing hanging over your head too?
COACH LANNING: None of that is hanging over our head. At the end of the day, we want to go perform to the best of our ability. We want to execute at a really high level. But ultimately it’s not about them. It’s about us. We want to go play our best game. If we play our best game, we feel confident that we can win that game.
That being said, they’re a really good team and they deserve all the credit in the world for everything they’ve done over time. But so are we. So we expect a good game. We expect a tough challenge, but there’s no more pressure outside the room than the pressure we put on ourselves to perform at a high level. I know that. I know how much our players care, how much our coaches care. We have a great plan, and we need to go out and execute, and I think we can do that.