Q. T.J. Watt went to Wisconsin as a tight end recruit, but after an injury he was asked by Coach Paul Chryst to switch to linebacker. When did T.J. first cross your radar as a college player, and in that initial exposure to him, what did you see in him that you found intriguing?
A. They were playing LSU in one of those Kickoff Classic Games at Lambeau Field. It was the first game of the season, and it was Wisconsin vs. LSU. I watched that game, and the intensity with which he played, the emotion he displayed in play really captured my attention. That was the same emotion and intensity that he plays with now. I think it's a catalyst for a lot of production.
Q. When you look at his college statistics, he really was a one-year wonder in terms of production. Often, those kinds of players are viewed skeptically by the NFL. What made Watt worthy of a first-round grade during your evaluation process leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft?
A. Quite frankly, he checked all of the boxes except the box you just mentioned in terms of having a three or four-year body of work. But in terms of being productive in his last year: yes; in terms of football intellect and intensity and feel for the game, he checked all of those boxes. And then, the genetic aspect of it, knowing the level of success his brother had and maybe the exposure and knowledge maybe that provided him made you extremely comfortable as well.
Q. Was it ultimately an easy pick to make?
A. Easy. I think we were on the clock for about 20 seconds. We kind of high-fived around the room for a little bit and then we said, "Let's get him on the phone."
Q. It has been said that T.J. was more buttoned-down than a typical rookie when he first got here. Do you agree with that?
A. I think that still describes him. He's a lone wolf, if you will. He doesn't have a lot to say. I enjoy that aspect of his personality. He's just all business.
Q. Obviously, T.J. and his older brother J.J. are different physically and play different positions. Are they similar personality-wise, in their approach to their profession, in demeanor, things like that?
A. Without a doubt. Just from what I've heard about his brother, their willingness to work. Forget their capabilities, what they're willing to do. The way that they train. The way that they prepare themselves. They're all in. When you have that level of commitment and preparation, the play just falls down like dominoes, and they share that trait in terms of enjoying the process of preparation. And then, the energy and urgency they play with is very similar.
Q. How do you expect him to react and respond to Bud Dupree's season-ending injury?
A. I expect him professionally to go about business as usual. That's him. I was asked that question earlier in the week, and I've got a lot of respect for what T.J. and Bud have been able to do as a tandem and the closeness of their relationship, and that's real but those are personal things. T.J. is the type of player whose play stands on its own. He needs no assistance from anyone. Others benefit from his presence and his style of play, and so I don't expect that to change.
Q. Based on his play, I would describe him as an alpha on the field. What is his fit in the locker room?
A. T.J. has an older demeanor. For a younger guy, his locker room relationships are like those of an older guy. People seek his approval, they like to make him laugh, they like to include him in on the reindeer games whether he wants to be or not. It kind of reminds me a lot of old James Farrior, the way people loved to draw James in and wanted to be around him and get him engaged in whatever was going on. T.J. has that type of a locker room personality.
Q. Why is he a worthy candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year Award?
A. Because he's just simply one of the best in the world. I would imagine as long as he has his health, that's always going to be a discussion. He has that talent level. He has that type of will and drive and determination. He's just a really, really unbelievably consistent and good player.
Q. Your postgame comments following the win over the Ravens made a big splash with the media, and what got the most attention was the criticism of the team's performance. Was that planned, in the sense that you wanted your displeasure with the team's performance out in public?
A. I don't know that it was planned in that it was choreographed. I just told the truth. I just think it's important that we always tell the truth. We were fortunate to win that game. I'm appreciative of the efforts that allowed that to happen. We didn't win the lottery, we won the game. We made the necessary plays, but our performance was the type of performance where we very well could've lost that game. They need to learn that, they need to understand that, they need to understand there's a standard of expectation in terms of our performance that has nothing to do with game circumstance or who we're playing or what have you. There's a certain expectation I have for this group in terms of our play when we step into a stadium that's independent of all of those other variables.
Q. After you had a chance to study the video, was it as poor as you initially thought?
A. No, it wasn't, but that's almost always the case. The performances are never as bad as you think they are, and conversely, they're never as good as you think they are when you have dominant performances. As you comb through it and you really look at the minutiae, it's always somewhere in the middle in terms of the performance. There were a lot of positive things on that tape, and so it was also appropriate that I double back and acknowledge those after having the opportunity to digest the tape. And I have, and I do with our football team.
Q. What really stuck out to you about that performance as being poor?
A. Just the situational failures. The dropped balls on possession downs and in the red zone. The giving up of big plays at the end of the first half in terms of the run on third-and-long by RG3. The big play on the pass late in the game to Hollywood Brown. Those are things that are pet peeves of mine, and the guys know it. So why hide that?
Q. Is what you say to the media after a game the same message you deliver to the team before you meet the media after a game?
Q. When you speak to the team – immediately after a game, on a Monday at the start of video review of the last performance, on a Wednesday when the week of preparation begins, the night before a game – do you plan what you're going to say or is it more off the cuff?
A. I just go in and speak, because those conversations are always a culmination of performance and other conversations. It's a really fluid thing. It's not something that needs to be scripted. It's whatever hits you in the face in terms of what needs to be said based on our shared experiences. Almost all the time I'm speaking to the media, I'm simply speaking to the football team, or it's a rehash of what I say to the team because what I say to the team is extremely important, and what I say to the media simply reinforces that.
Q. Are the speeches a coach gives to his team as significant and as motivating as they are thought to be and also as they are portrayed to be in movies?
A. They lack cinematography. There's no background music like you get in "Rudy," and things of that nature. So, no, they're not what you envision them being, but there's an intensity to them, no doubt. You have to be a part of the group to really appreciate it, and I think that's the difference between those intimate moments and what you see in movies. It's meaningful to those involved because of the shared experiences and the understanding and the depths of the conversation. From an entertainment standpoint, the movie stuff is a little bit different in that regard.
Q. Is anger a useful emotion in your job?
A. Man, there is no doubt when it's properly directed, and that's something that I'm cognizant of all the time. Football is an emotional game played by emotional men, and so I try to be what my group needs me to be. That means I need to be in control of my emotions regardless of what they are. I have to weaponize them. They have to be a tool in terms of helping our group.
Q. Is anger different than criticism?
A. Sure it is. There's substance to criticism. Criticism is done in a corrective way. There's an end game in criticism. Sometimes anger just blows in like a tornado.
Q. In your mind what should you dispense more conservatively in your job – anger or praise?
A. Praise. Because I think that when you're talking about dealing with athletes at this level who have experienced a lot of success to get to this point, they've gotten here and they've gotten to the place they are because they've been able to absorb negativity and criticism, and they've overcome it. The things that truly define these guys as they move forward in their careers is their ability to handle success, and how do they stack success on top of success and how do they find rhythm in that? I'm very conscious of that. The fight or flight mentality is a very natural one. These guys are here because they've overcome criticisms and critiques and adversity.