This past Monday the Michigan Sports Center interviewed Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko. It wasn’t too long until another interview came about. This time MSC talks with sports writer Jim Carty. In the interview, Carty defends his criticism of Tommy Amaker and Jerrett Smith, and also talks about his thoughts on the upcoming football season.
Here’s the second MSC interview.
Michigan Sports Center: In a recent interview on WTKA-1050, you criticized Tommy Amaker for the way he went about shaking up his staff by calling it gutless. For those that may have not read the transcript or heard the interview, why did you make that statement?
Jim Carty: After denying multiple times that he wouldn’t shake up his staff, Amaker changed his mind and did so. That’s absolutely within his right. But he then announced the shakeup when he was out of the country, because he knew it would be newsworthy and — in my opinion as columnist — didn’t want to answer questions about it. He met with the media only days before and could have easily made the announcement there, answered 5 minutes worth of questions, and been done with the whole thing.
Amaker likes to say he’s a teacher, so what’s the lesson that he’s teaching here? That when the going gets tough, rather than face questions about your decisions, you should hide.
Obviously, I felt he should be called on it.
MSC: Another statement you made in that interview was this: “We all know Lester can play … we all know Jerrett Smith can’t play. If he lays off the donuts, maybe he can be a nice backup” Although he struggled a little bit last season, don’t you think that’s a bit harsh to say about a player that only has one year of experience?
JC: Well, let’s take the donuts issue first. Amaker criticized Smith’s weight as recently as the Monday before the Australian Tour. Now, did I do it in a less respectful, more irreverent manner? Sure. That’s why the hosts laughed. It was funny. Now, would Jerrett Smith find it funny? Probably not, but I would think he’d be more concerned that his coach thinks he’s overweight and played a walk-on over him last year in the Big Ten Tournament.
As for the actual basketball analysis — he can’t play — no, I don’t think that’s harsh. I don’t think Jarrett Smith, at best, will ever be mentioned among the good point guards in the Big Ten, let alone among the best. If I’m wrong, I’ll say so in the column.
MSC: Dealing with the hiring and firing of Michigan coaches can be tricky with A.D. Bill Martin. There’s a huge difference between if a coach should or will be fired. In your honest opinion, do you think Tommy Amaker should be fired if the Wolverines don’t make the NCAA Tournament this season?
JC: I not only think Amaker should be fired if he misses the NCAA Tournament, I think he will be fired. Bill Martin has to support Amaker now, it’s part of being a good AD. But if this team doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament, it’ll be obvious to everyone that Tommy Amaker’s not the guy to get this program to the next level.
MSC: Getting onto the topic that will be the biggest in a couple weeks, let’s talk about some football. After a 7-5 season in 2005, what does Lloyd Carr realistically need to do to get Michigan fans off his back?
JC: I think every program that’s been as successful as Michigan has a decent-sized segment of fans who’ll criticize anything short of a perfect season regardless of the situation. They’ve become so used to winning, and their image of how easy it is to win so distorted, they lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of very good teams out there.
That said, I think the rank and file Michigan fan — and the team and coaches — can’t consider 7-5 a successful season, or be happy about the recent track record against Ohio State and Notre Dame. Realistically, Lloyd Carr needs to beat Ohio State and Notre Dame (and continue to take care of business against MSU) to really get fans off his back. If he does those things, the final record will be very good and they’ll play in a BCS bowl.
MSC: The Wolverines first big test will come on September 16th when they travel to South Bend for a matchup with the highly-ranked Fighting Irish. As a true freshman, Chad Henne seemed to be rattled a bit by the environment at Notre Dame Stadium. After two full years of experience he should be more-adjusted to playing in games like that. Do you think that Chad will be able to go out there in front of the Notre Dame crowd and lead Michigan to a much-needed victory?
JC: I don’t think Henne was rattled by Notre Dame, I just think he was rushed into the quarterback’s job by the Gutierrez injury and suffered through the growing pains any QB goes through in his first tough college road game.
Do I think Chad can win at Notre Dame? Certainly. What he’ll see there will be no tougher than what he’s already seen at Ohio State and MSU and Wisconsin. But the running game and defense will have a lot more to do with the game’s outcome than Henne IMHO.
MSC: Sizing up the rest of the 2006 schedule, there are two other very big road games where Michigan will have a tough time winning (PSU and OSU). What do you think the Wolverines’ record will be in those two games?
JC: I’ve predicted Michigan will be 2-1 in the big three road games, with wins over ND and PSU.
MSC: Just as Chad Henne, Mike Hart is entering his third season as a Wolverine. Hart suffered injuries for most of 2005, but was very good when he was healthy. If he can stay healthy all season, what do you think his chances are at making a run for the Heisman trophy?
JC: It’s hard to win the Heisman without a certain amount of preseason momentum, and Hart doesn’t have that right now because of his injury-plagued sophomore season. If Michigan wins the Big Ten, and he leads the conference in rushing, he’s got a shot. But I’d view him as a Heisman longshot this year, with a chance to set himself up nicely for 2007.
MSC: The biggest move in the offseason was undoubtedly changing the offensive and defensive coordinators. How different of an offense and defense can we expect to see with Mike DeBord and Ron English at the helm?
JC: I don’t think there will be big formational or philosophical changes in either unit, but I think both will be a lot better, the offense because it will be healthy, the defense because I think Ron English is a great motivator and a very good teacher.
MSC: The recruiting class was very solid, and many true freshman coming in have a chance to make an immediate impact. Of the newcomers, who do you expect to receive the largest amount of playing time?
JC: Carlos Brown has become a little over-hyped IMHO because of his early enrollment (see Grady, Kevin), but I expect he’ll find a role. Justin Boren would have played, but was injured early, which often results in a redshirt, especially for an offensive lineman. Carr has talked up offensive tackle Stephen Schilling, but I think they’d still prefer to redshirt him. Brandon Graham will find a role, even though Michigan is stacked at linebacker.
Greg Matthews has the best chance to grab a big role, because wide receiver is such a question mark.
MSC: There are many players on this year’s team that are explosive and have the capabilities of being some of the best in the entire nation. Who do you think will be the MVP of the Michigan team?
JC: If healthy, Hart or Jake Long will be this team’s MVP. Both are very special players and leaders.
MSC: When it comes down to it, any thoughts on what the final record of the ’06 season will be?
JC: The road schedule is so tough that I’ve ruled out a sweep, so the final record comes down to whether they drop a game people don’t expect them to. I’m going to predict they will (Iowa or MSU) and finish 10-2 overall. If it goes down that way, with two Big Ten losses, I’d expect they’ll play in either the Capital One Bowl or get an at-large bid to the BCS.
Thanks again to Jim Carty for stopping by the Michigan Sports Center. Only two weeks to go until kickoff tomorrow, it’s hard to believe that college football is almost here.
As the football season becomes closer and closer to arriving (less than three weeks), we start to get a little anxious. The NFL preseason is underway, as is the training camp for college football. This is one of the busiest times for college players as twice a day they have practice to get ready for the upcoming season. Practices at Michigan are no different, but nonetheless, punter Zoltan Mesko took some time out of his very busy schedule to answer some questions from the Michigan Sports Center.
Mesko was redshirted in 2005, and has a leg that is equivalent to a cannon. Although Ross Ryan had the starting job last season, Mesko is working very hard to have that role in 2006. All that and more is discussed in the interview, so let’s not waste any more time and get to it.
Michigan Sports Center: Growing up as a kid, what led you to playing football, and at what age did you first start punting?
Zoltan Mesko: Growing up as a kid I was always playing soccer. Living in Romania, that’s all I ever played with my friends. Soccer is really popular in Europe so it wasn’t an option, and I would say that that is the way I learned how to kick the ball. My gym teacher first noticed my leg strength while we were playing kickball in gym class (8th grade), and he ended up recommending me to the high school football coach. The next year I was playing high school football.
MSC: Many Michigan fans out there are wondering this, so I’ll just get it out of the way and ask it now. Where did the name “Zoltan” come from?
ZM: Well my name is Hungarian and it was originally derived from Turkey (the country) when the Ottoman Empire attacked Hungary. My name is derived from “Sultan”….which is a King in Turkey. You may recall they called Babe Ruth ‘the Sultan of Swat’. So Zoltan, a little variation from ‘Sultan’, means King.
MSC: What was it like to be recruited by some of the most-prestigious colleges in the entire country?
ZM: It was definitely an exiting feeling to be given all that attention, but since then that hype has been really settled down.
MSC: Living in Ohio, was there any pressure to attend Michigan arch-rival Ohio State?
ZM: There was a huge amount of pressure from my friends and even random people that I was meeting every day, but I didn’t make much of it. Michigan caught my attention real quick after I saw what a great place it was and still is.
MSC: What was the biggest reason you chose to commit to Michigan?
ZM: Michigan was the first prestigious program to notice what I brought to the table, so I honored their interest in me. I couldn’t turn down Coach Carr…he’s a great coach.
MSC: Did you learn anything last season when you were redshirted that will help/better prepare you for this upcoming season?
ZM: Yes, I have learned numerous things. I believe I have become a lot more coachable, more humble, and I have also gained a lot of irreplaceable experience from the past year.
MSC: Describe the feeling of running out and touching the banner in front of 110,000+ fans before a game at Michigan Stadium.
ZM: It is one of the best feelings you can feel. You get such an adrenaline rush from those 110,000 voices in the Big House that it just overwhelms you. It’s something that cannot be put into words.
MSC: Ross Ryan was the starting punter in 2005, and is returning again this season. As of right now, is he still the starter, and if not, what did you do in the offseason to overtake him for the starting job?
ZM: Ross Ryan did a great job for us last year, and me and him have become great friends. We are in a tight race right now in camp, and I without a question in my mind believe that this competition is going to make us both better, and whoever starts will be more than ready to handle the job and help the team win.
MSC: Kicker Garrett Rivas has one year of eligibility left. Have you ever had any thoughts of becoming the place-kicker after he graduates?
ZM: I don’t believe that I will try and kick FG’s because we have some excellent backup kickers that will follow in Garrett’s footsteps. But if I get called on to do it then I will.
MSC: What is it like to punt to the explosive Steve Breaston, who is one of the best returners in the entire country? Is there anything you do to try and limit a long return with someone who has so much speed?
ZM: Steve is unbelievably athletic and that is obvious. He’s got the speed, the vision, and the agility to take it to the House on every punt. So I just try to hang it up as high as I can, which is something I did not do last year. He’s great to practice against to get Ross and I ready for that speedster from the Buckeye state.
MSC: After a disappointing 7-5 season, what has the coaching staff done to try and get that record back up near the nation’s best?
ZM: The coaching has changed up quite a bit this year and I believe that they have committed themselves fully on improving on last year. Another thing we have become is a much better conditioned team. This year we have the confidence that we will be able to finish the game and then some (if we go to OT).
MSC: Talk about what type of coach Lloyd Carr is.
ZM: I believe Coach Carr is a really great Coach. He’s a very intelligent person, who emphasizes academics fully. He is a great motivator and leader. I am honestly proud to be coached by him.
MSC: What games catch your eye on this year’s schedule?
ZM: Probably the three away games we have…ND, PSU, and of course OSU. But we cannot just focus ourselves on these games, and the coaches have emphasized that, because any opponent can be a dangerous one.
MSC: What is the longest you’ve ever punted a football in your career?
ZM: I had a 71 yard punt from the line of scrimmage in HS, but my mindset has changed from getting those long booming punts. The coaches want Ross and I to put it as high as we can while still getting 40 to 45 yards on our kicks. What good is it to punt the ball 71 yards when it’s going to go 80 yards the other way for a score? I want to do as much as I can this year to improve this team.
MSC: After Michigan, do you plan on playing in the NFL?
ZM: Well it would be nice, but I just got to focus on the present now at U of M. #1 is winning and getting my degree….the rest will take care of itself.
MSC: Last one. Has anything interesting happened so far in this year’s camp?
ZM: I would say nothing too interesting has happened in this year’s camp so far, but I can definitely feel that we have all have a more focused and enthusiastic approach to the game this year. We are hungry to get back to playing Michigan football. We are hungry for that Big Ten Championship. GO BLUE!
Thanks again to Zoltan Mesko for the interview, and good luck to him in the 2006 season.