Q: Dick, how are you?
DJ: I'm doing just fine. How are you doing?
Q: Well, we're doing just peachy. After last weekend, everybody's a little more excited around here.
DJ: I can understand that.
Q: I'm sure you can. Dick, how did it happen? You had a really outstanding team last year, but year to year, it's different, isn't it. You start over and you can't guarantee that you're going to have an extension of the previous success, can you?
DJ: No. Oh, no. I don't think so and nobody ever thought that you could, I don't believe, particularly not in football today. Maybe 25 years ago when you could keep your whole team intact and keep them together from year to year and you knew what you were going to have, you could maybe count on it. But then, you also have the injury factor in our business that there's no way to control it.
Q: You have a team that's been very close, with two overtime games and another close game last weekend. What's missing that hasn't put you over the top compared to what you did last year?
DJ: Well, I really couldn't give you one answer. There's always lots of things in the course of a football game that determine if you win it or lose it. Certainly never a particular play in the contest, since every play is critically important. The bottom line is, whatever the reasons, and we can certainly cite a lot of reasons, but whatever the reasons, they're not good enough. We've just got to find ways to win and we haven't been doing that.
Q: Dick, defensively, just looking at … I'll admit, I haven't gone deeply into the numbers, but it appears you guys are giving up a lot of points, and I think that Chicago made its reputation to a large degree last year with having a stingy defense. Have you guys lost a little bit of that identity and swagger that comes from being the kind of defense that's just really a bear to play against, no pun?
DJ: I think when you lose, and we've lost a number of games in a row, you definitely don't have as much confidence as you had before. But, I would say that our guys – and I've said this all along – are quality guys, they're hard-working guys. I think they do have confidence, but I don't think I'm a fool, and like I said, when you lose games and you lose a number of them in a row, it does have to hurt your confidence some. The only way to get that back is to find ways to win games.
Q: Is a team's identity important, Dick? For instance, the Patriots were a ball control offense last year where they kept the games close and then they seemed to get away from their identity and went into a slide. Is an identity for a team important, like for instance, if you're a good defensive team that's giving up points, can there be a crisis sometimes?
DJ: The answers to all of the questions in our business are always wins. If you win games, you can change your identity and it's not a problem. That's the bottom line. That's not a specific answer to your question, but we would like to have, and I'm sure every team would like to have, our year go exactly as we planned it. We'd like to have our team play exactly as we put it together to play. We'd like to have everybody healthy for the entire football year. We'd like to play to the identity that we believe we are. It's almost like the first question. Year to year, you have to deal with what you have and who you are, and you have to find ways to get it done. Once again, we come back to the point that we just haven't gotten it done to this point of the season, and that's me.
Q: Dick, going back in the words of Coach Belichick "200 years," what was he like as a young assistant when you were playing for the Lions?
DJ: At the time, we were both very young. We were obviously in different areas of the organization, so I didn't spend a lot of time with him off the field, nor did he with me off the field. He was very dedicated. Obviously very dedicated. He was clearly a very, very bright guy and very focused on the game. He would learn everything he could about the game from the other staff members and would do everything he was supposed to do in terms of his responsibilities. He was clearly a very dedicated coach, very serious about what he did, and very smart. Very smart guy, and clearly that's what he is now.
Q: You were with him in special teams meetings, right?
DJ: Yes. I was in all the special teams meetings. Right.
Q: You were returning punts, is that correct?
DJ: If you're talking about my rookie year, I was returning punts, I returned kickoffs also, I covered all the kicks. So, I did all the things that rookies do.
Q: At that stage, were you ever considering coaching, or were you just figuring you were going to play the next 20 years?
DJ: I'm sure that I had thought about it. But, to be perfectly frank, that was a long time ago and I can't tell you exactly what I was thinking. But, I certainly as a 22-year-old, did not have a blueprint for the next 20 years of my life.
Q: When did you start to consider coaching as a career possibility?
DJ: When I retired from playing.
DJ: I suppose because I'd been around it all my life. I always thought watching my dad coach – he was a coach and a teacher – I always thought that it was a very honorable profession and I also thought if you coached at the high school level, maybe you could influence kids in the right direction. I never ended up there, but I had an opportunity to coach in the NFL. I think that it was just a natural progression. I'd been around it all my life. I love sports, I like being around teams, I like working with guys and I like watching them succeed and feeling like you have a little bit to do what that success.
Q: I've heard what a great schoolboy and college athlete you were. Did you play for your dad in high school?
DJ: No, I did not.
Q: Dick, a story that I'm interested in is your opinions in … There was a time – and my name is Ron Hobson – that you came to my room at the Orlando Quality Inn when you were with the [Boston] Breakers [of the USFL], do you remember that period of time? You came up and I was just doing a story covering the Breakers and I told you that Dick Coury had said that he put you on procedural waivers. This was at the end of your career and all. I think you acted surprised when I told you that. Did those kind of things indelibly etch into your career as a coach afterwards, to make sure that communication and things like that were important for you as a coach with your players?
DJ: Well, the honest truth is that I can't. I hadn't thought about that until you just brought it up.
Q: Well, I just remembered because you seemed so surprised when I told you, and that was at the end of your career … You didn't play with the Breakers at the end, did you?
DJ: No, I did not.
Q: Was that the official end of your football playing days?
DJ: Yes, it was.
Q: Why did you go to the Breakers? Did you want to play one more year and just didn't want to get away from it?
DJ: I think that's exactly right. It was something that I had done all my life and it was something that I really loved. For whatever reason, and I really don't know why this is, but as a player, I wanted 10 years. Don't ask why, but for some reason, I wanted that 10th year.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what sets Brian Urlacher apart from your average player?
DJ: I think a number of things [do]. Number one would be the person. He's a very high character guy, and he's a very hard worker and he wants to get better. He knows he's not as good as he can be. I think that's the number one thing with him. Right behind that is obviously that he has been gifted. I have certainly never been around a linebacker that's gifted like this young man. So, that's a real good combination. You have a guy that has unique skills for the position and then you have a guy that has a unique work ethic and knows that he can improve all the time. That's a real good combination for us.
Q: Coach, what challenges do the Patriots present to you both offensively and defensively this week?
DJ: First of all, they're the defending world champions, so they're an awfully good football team. They're coming off of a big win in Buffalo where they played like they looked early in the season. They moved the ball a lot of different ways. They're very well coached, I believe. They're very sound, and they've got big play capabilities. They have speed outside and a young quarterback that plays with great confidence. On the other side of the ball, they have multiple looks and talented players to carry out those looks. That's why they won it last year. They 're sound, they're smart and they're talented. It's the same thing on their special teams. They're solid and they're good. They have speed and toughness and they're a tough football team.
Q: Did you ever see a defensive front like they had last week where they had no down linemen?
DJ: I played for Hank Bullough and I coached with Hank Bullough. Then, Dick LeBeau was my secondary coach. We used a lot of stuff that was very unusual. Hank as a coordinator was very innovative and he wasn't afraid to try things. We had what we called the 'Backer' defense.
Q: Dick, is Bill as creative and innovative defensively as arguably any coach in the league?
DJ: I would say that was true, yes. Absolutely.
Q: Your path has crossed with a lot of guys who have had some great experience. When you went to Jacksonville, you made the playoffs three out of the four years you were down there.
DJ: That's right.
Q: Was that the best part of your coaching in terms of developing as a head coach during that period of time?
DJ: I wouldn't say that. I'm a big believer that every place a person has been contributes in some fashion if you let it. Everybody you touch, everybody you watch, everybody you see somehow affects you one way or another. I will say this about Jacksonville, because it's the absolute truth, and of course I think a lot of Tom Coughlin anyway, and we're friends. He gave me a great opportunity to go to Jacksonville and to be a defensive coordinator. So, in that regard, the normal progression to even be a head coach in recent years is to be a position coach, a coordinator and then get the shot if you're very lucky. So, without Tom and the opportunity that he gave me there, I never would have had this opportunity here.
Q: It seems, Dick, that one of the realities but strange things about coaching is that … you mentioned Tom and there's a little bit of heat on him and maybe more than a little this season. If memory serves, going into last year, there were rumblings in the Chicago papers about you, yet you go on to have a truly tremendous year. Now, obviously with the injuries, you're struggling a little bit. Do you pay much attention to that, or do you just coach the way you coach and … I can't imagine you're much different at 2-6 than you were at 13-3 as a coach.
DJ: I don't think so. I had a lot more better days. You're a lot happier and days are easier when you're winning, obviously. You've got to – I shouldn't sat you've got to, because you can do whatever you want to do – coach for a reason. I really like this. I've always really liked it. I feel very fortunate to be in the National Football League, both as a player, an assistant coach, a coordinator and as a head coach. You've got to take the good with the bad and keep working through it and believe that it will change. Just keep doing what you believe in doing and you'll come out the other end of it.
Q: As an offensive player back in college, you made the transition to defense. Can you talk about Jerry Azumah?
DJ: Jerry's really done a great job for us. He was a terrific running back with a lot of talent. He's a very, very talented athlete in terms of speed and explosiveness and strength. He's also a very smart guy. It wasn't easy. It was not an easy transition. He's really worked at it, and of course, this year, he stepped up to be the starting corner and he's really gotten better on a weekly basis. He's another guy who's got tools to work with and he's willing to work at it. He's a very, very hard worker.
Q: Having made that exact same transition yourself, have you done anything special with him?
DJ: No. I need to point out that it was not exactly the same. I went from running back to safety. Jerry Azumah went from running back to corner. As a corner, he's out on the edge of your defense. He's really on an island. I think it's more difficult. Clearly, Jerry's a superior athlete. He's a tremendous athlete and he deserves a lot of credit. Vance Bedford, our secondary coach, has really done a good job with him.
Q: Dick, why are the Patriots so effective in running screens?
DJ: I think a lot of it has to do with the quarterback. He just has a feel for it. There's a knack for getting the ball to the back at the right time. Obviously, the whole thing is well coached, with the timing of the line and the back leaving the backfield area, but it's a sense of for the quarterback how to deliver the ball, when to deliver it, and the timing of it.
Q: What is the best way to defend a team that seems so adept at throwing screen passes?
DJ: I don't think there's any one answer to it. In the course of the game, there is give-and-take and there is a cat and mouse game. You don't always make the right calls. You can call to it, whatever you think is your best stopper for that particular play, but you don't know when they're going to run it. That's true of every play in the course of a game. Guys just have to make plays. You have to get great reaction and you have to have players make plays in the open field.
Q: Given the fact that you went to Yale, did guys ever give you a hard time about that coming into the league, being an Ivy Leaguer or an elite?
DJ: I would say no. I would really say no. I think once you make a football team … There wasn't much of that, for me anyway.
Q: Do you make anything of the fact that we've got Belichick, a Wesleyan guy, going up against you, a Yalie? It kind of takes the dumb jock thing out of play, doesn't it?
DJ: With him, maybe, I don't know if it does with me.
Q: Dick, thanks very much.
DJ: Hey, I'll see you all on Sunday.