In Part I, 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald discussed leadership, his team's Leadership Council and his method of selecting that group of 10 players he meets with weekly. Here two from that group, senior quarterback Dan Persa and senior superback Drake Dunsmore, discuss some issues raised by their coach and so much more.
Q: What is their goal as a leader?
Dunsmore: I have one goal for the whole team. That's to win the Big Ten Championship. I'm new to this whole Leadership Council thing. I'm new to being in a leadership position at this time of the year (the off-season). Because of all the surgeries I've had, I never had the opportunity. So I'm still trying to figure it out. But, like I said, I have one goal right now and that's to win the Big Ten championship. I feel I know how to work hard and push myself. I think the next step is to try and get people to understand how hard they can push themselves and push each other and push me. That's what we need to aim for. That's how we'll get to where we need to go.
Persa: The biggest thing we're focusing on is personal
accountability, holding each other accountable for every action and
everything you say. We have one goal. That's to win every game and win
the Big Ten championship at the end. We'll do whatever it takes to get
there. So push everybody to their limit, whether they like it or not.
That's what we're trying to do. Calling guys out if we don't think
they're working hard enough. It's our last year. We won't be able to
change it after January of next year.
D: I have. I don't know if I've done it enough. But I have before and it's a very, very difficult thing to do especially when they're friends of yours. Even if they're not, even if it's not someone on the team you're close to, you get in their face, that can be a bad way to start a relationship.
P: Earlier in my career, I wouldn't have done it. But now I'm fine with it.
Q: Has he done it?
P: A little bit, a little bit. Asking guys where they are, why they're not doing the stuff everyone else is doing. I think we're doing a lot better job of that this year than last year. Maybe last year I'd think, "OK, that excuse is all right." This year, it's "Naaah. You got to get here. I don't even want to hear that."
Q: Can they explain what happened at the end of last year and is that poor finish now playing a role in the way they approach their role as leaders?
D: Obviously, everyone could see we lost a leader in Dan. That was tough. Anytime somebody in his position goes down, that hurts. That was a big thing. It put a lot of weight on Evan's shoulders (backup QB Evan Watkins) and I think for the most part he handled it well. But I don't think the rest of the leadership, especially on offense, stepped up to fill that void as much as we could have.
P: It's tough for me to say because I was in a different situation. But from my standpoint, it seemed we got deflated somehow. Obviously it hurt not having me out there. . . Some other guys had to step up leadership-wise because I wasn't there. I don't know. We weren't very happy at all the way the season ended. It was out of our characteristics as a team the last couple of years. That's why it was so frustrating.
Q: Fitz said he thought the team lost its attitude. Agree?
D: Yeah. That might be true.
P: I agree with that.
Q: Is that what he means by deflated
P: Yeah. It didn't feel the same. I can't explain it.
Q: Is that memory serving as motivation?
D: I think so. I don't know that it's explicitly been said. But you just have the feeling that people are more motivated, that there's something driving people, that people are trying to get better, that teammates are pushing each other.
P: I think it has.
Q: You talk to your teammates. Are they embarrassed by what happened?
P: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Especially Wisconsin. To me, it was tough to watch from the sidelines. But everybody was embarrassed the way we finished. We had a chance to win, the Wisconsin game got out of hand, but we hand a chance to win every other game we played in. That was the most frustrating thing. Even when I was in there, we lost three games when we had leads in the second half. That was most frustrating. Just looking back on that, looking at how I played in those games and wishing I could go back and change some of that stuff. I should have called somebody out or called myself out. That's a motivation. To not have that feeling of regret. If we lose a game, we lose a game. But I want to know I did everything I could to win it.
Q: Does he feel he didn't do all he could have done?
P: I don't know. It's tough looking back on the film. Mentally, I gave everything I had. Physically, I gave everything I had. But maybe I missed a throw, or didn't say something when I should have said something. I thought I gave my all. But at the same time, it's like, if I would have done this different, if I would have done that different, we probably would have won. It's easy for me to say that looking back. But I just don't want that feeling anymore.
Q: Their program seems to be right there, just below the elite level. Do the players sense that?
P: Yeah. It's been obvious the last couple years, especially last year. Going out of Iowa, we should have won every game we were in. That was the most frustrating thing. We were right there. The staple of our program is we finish, and for some reason, those couple games, we couldn't do that. That was frustrating. It was really frustrating. That's what we pride ourselves on. That's what we focus on all off-season. So were getting back to that.
Q: So what needs to be done to get to the next level, to get the championship they both covet?
D: The first step for us is to get to the point where we can push egos aside, push egos aside to the point where we can hold each other accountable. When we can do that, teammates will start pushing each other, they'll start driving each other, they'll compete against each other at a level we've never done here before. If we can get to that point, once you do that you develop a trust both on the field and off the field, you develop bonds that we haven't had before. If we can get to that point, I think we'll take the next step.
P: I think play with a killer instinct. When we have teams down, just bury them. We can't wait and let them hang around. We can't say, "All right. We're good. We're up 21 against Penn State. We're up 17 against Michigan State." We can't be, "All right, they can't come back." In reality, everybody in the Big Ten's pretty special. They can come back in three plays if they want to. So we've got to keep doing what we'd been doing up to that point. That's the thing that's missing. That killer instinct to just put teams away.
Q: Do they get satisfied?
P: Maybe. Or become complacent in those games we get up 21. "All right, we're good, we're good." Maybe it's subconscious too. It's not like, "All right. We don't have to score anymore. We can run the ball out, run the clock out for the second half." Maybe it's not consciously, but subconsciously.
Q: Is that instinct a learned trait?
P: I think so. Our team was unique last year. We had a pretty experienced team, but we still had some key pieces we had to replace. I think this year guys are really trying to take the next step. Especially the senior class, we were Coach Fitz's first class, we've been here for five years and we want to do something special. We have all the talent and all potential to do it. We just have to do it now.
D: I think (it being their last year) has something to do with (their shared sense of urgency). But I think a lot of it also has to do with the type of guys who are seniors this year, the type of competitive attitude we have collectively around the whole team. Even the young guys, not just the older guys. We have just tried to center ourselves around one goal of being champions next year.
P: I always prepared really hard. But maybe I have a greater sense of urgency as well because it's my last year. So why wouldn't you do everything you could to help this team win?
Q: There's an axiom that says if you have a coach-directed team you have a bad team. Do they, as leaders, believe that?
P: I definitely think so. This team is going to go where we take it at the end of the day. The coaches can scream 'til they're blue in the face. But if we don't change it, it's not going to change. I think we realize that. At the end of the day, we're the guys on the field, not the coaches, and we've got to take personal accountability and not make excuses for ourselves. Just own it.