Jan. 5, 2014
As I stated yesterday, on behalf of our program and our University, I’d like to thank the BCS committee and Vizio for hosting us out here in Orange County. It’s been a tremendous experience. Everything has been first class, providing us with everything we need to do to have a wonderful experience for our players. Our players have truly enjoyed it and probably one of the best experiences as far as having things to do, have downtime, rest time, well organized, extremely well done.
It’s been 10 years since I’ve been in this game, back in this game in 2003, and sometimes you don’t realize how hard it is to get back. You think once you get here you can always get back. It’s very tough. There’s a lot of things that get involved with getting back to this game. It’s truly a privilege to be involved in this game, and I think our players understand that, also.
We have a special group of guys on our team. I’ve said that all along. We’re an extremely talented football team, but I think we have better kids than we have players, I truly mean that. It’s a group that on and off the field they do stuff the right way, they truly care for each other, they play for the right reasons. It’s one of the most unselfish football teams, organizations, period, in not just football, that I’ve ever been a part of. They truly love each other and play for each other. To me as a coach you love to see that. It makes it fun to go to work every day because we have a tremendous staff, tremendous players and they’re fun to be around. They’re fun to be around when you’re away from ball. They’re fun to hang around when they come in your office and hang out. It’s just a great group of guys.
And I want to thank some guys from the past. You talk about the building of a program and we’ve been here for four years, but guys like Christian Ponder, Nigel Bradham Rodney Hudson, E.J. Manuel, Xavier Rhodes, Dustin Hopkins. Guys like that who have helped put us where we are right now. Those guys are just as important as the guys on this team, laying the foundation for leadership and a character and the way things are done and how we want them done at a championship level that have influenced these young guys that are here right now, and I think those guys are as big a part of this as anything.
Our players have embraced all that. Our goal was to build a program. I said teams come and go, programs sustain the test of time. I think we’re getting in that category where we can each year be expected to compete and compete at a high level. Very proud of that, and the structure and the system and the process has been very good.
I still think our best game is out there. I’m looking forward to playing it on Monday night, and our kids are looking forward to the challenge. We’ve had a great week of practice. It’s been a wonderful experience.
Jimbo, the buildup for this game, the long wait, what was the biggest challenge? I think just keeping your emotions in check. I think the practices well, you have to practice well, you have to focus, but I think emotions are key to me in rivalry games and big games like this because you can get – you can get yourself dialed in on a day to day basis. That’s got to be a habit when you go to play and you play a certain way. But your emotions can only stay at that top level, that high peak far a certain amount of time. If you get ’em there too quick, I think it can be detrimental, it can wear you out, and I think just making sure the emotional part of it was peaked at the right time so when we come into the game tomorrow that we’ll be right where we need to be.
But everything else as far as the number of practices, what we did to game plan, and the other thing is not trying to do too much. Sometimes you know so much about your opponent and you try to do too much. You have to play five more games to get all the plays in you want. You have to make sure you keep doing things you do well.
You talked about chemistry within the team. What about within the staff and having six new guys? How did you go about putting that together? There was a lot of those guys I’ve known in the past. There was a lot of guys who philosophically believe a lot of the same things I do. Some came from very close to the same tree I do. And I think that was very critical because when you’re talking about how you want to establish the whole organization – now, whether you go to the right or left or an X and O here and there can be debated, but the philosophical part of your organization of how you want things developed from top to bottom, how there’s one voice, one heartbeat, I think that was very critical in bringing this staff together, and I’ve known a lot of these guys for a long time, almost every one of them, and to me they were from that same mold, that same belief, and I think that was the most critical part. I had to spend a lot of time into it. At the same time we’ve got great coaches and great recruiters. Not only do I love our players, I’d hate for our staff to break up. We first have our staff meeting in the morning and we have our 10 or 15 minutes together as an offensive, defensive staff to go over everything. I’d hate for it to break up. We get along. There’s a bunch of guys there that they truly like each other and hang out together and it’s been a tremendous group.
This is the first time that you will be the head coach leading a team on the field with a chance to win the National Championship. How are you managing that today? How do you think you’ll manage that tomorrow night? Hopefully I’ll manage it very well. I’ll rely on my experiences in the past and the folks that I’ve been around and the things that I believe. We have a core belief system of how I want things done and it’s worked all year, worked in the past three years and we’ll do the same things. To me whether it’s the National Championship Game or the opening game of the year, it’s still a football game. We’re going to do the same base fundamentals, put our kids at ease with the things we do and how we believe and our routine will stay exactly the same, and hopefully we’ll do very well.
Your team this week has just been amazingly poised, speaking with one voice, basically the same thing, even keel. How difficult will it be in this next, less than 24 hour period to keep them on that same level of calmness and confidence and ready to play? I really don’t think it’ll be that tough because that’s the way they’ve been all year. That’s the way they’ve prepared. It’s not you’re trying to keep someone where they don’t want to be. That’s who they are. That’s what they truly think. That’s what they truly believe, and they trust and believe in each other and they trust and believe in the coaches, and we believe in them. So from that standpoint I don’t think it will be hard at all because that’s truly who they are.
I just wanted to ask, one of your players was talking about Auburn’s running game and how there’s some smoke and mirrors involved with the way they run people across the faces of the linebacker and the corners to distract them. Can you explain what it is about that offense that makes it so difficult to handle? Well, you have to have eye discipline. Any time you have moving parts, any time you bring something in front of you, just like when you’re driving, if somebody flashes a hand in front of you while you’re driving down the road it makes you blink, it makes your eyes distracted and you get off of what you’re looking at and then at the same time they become very physical with how they play, and you get yourself out of position, the knock you out of the way, and there’s a four, five, eight, ten or they break a run right up the middle. At the same time they may hand it the next time.
The key is you have to know what your assignment is, be disciplined, trust your eyes and not vary from that. Have the discipline to keep your eyes where they need to be so you can play with technique and use your abilities, and they do a great job of disguising all the things they do.
Everybody knows the SEC has won seven straight national titles and you have your SEC roots. What would it mean to you to not only win the national title but to end that SEC streak? You know, I don’t look at things that way, I really don’t. I just control what we can control and that’s how we play. I want to do it for our kids and our fans. I want us to play well and have success for the kids and how hard they’ve worked, what they’ve put into this and our fans that have been supportive of us and let us bring this program back. To me that’s the key. Whether it’s SEC, Big Ten, Pac 10, Pac 12, whatever it may be, it doesn’t concern me of who we are playing. I just want us to play well and be happy for our folks.
I just wanted to ask, also, Jameis Winston obviously has a tremendous amount of poise. How much does that account for the fact that you haven’t been pushed in these games and that nobody has been able to be close, and what happens if Auburn is able to make it a tight game? How do you think Jameis will react? I think he’ll react the same. When he walked out there at Pittsburgh with all the expectations things that went on at the beginning of the year, the hype he had coming onto a national stage with a national game on the first game, and going 25 of 27 I believe it was, he always played – he plays with pressure on him every day. He played with pressure that every play is the National Championship. That’s how he goes about his business every day. He puts that pressure on himself the way he prepares every day. We go against our defense. To him if we lose in two minute drill or we lose in team or we do our good on good periods, to him that is competition every day and it’s close because our defense is a great defense, and we create that atmosphere every day. I don’t think it’ll make him blink one bit.
When you’re doing homework and research on the team you’re playing and the coach, how far back do you go to look at tape? Do you go to Gus’s high school film? We see everything. We have a lot of guys on our staff that have played against Gus for a long time. They know a lot of his high school roots, they know a lot of people he was around and things he did. He affected Chad Morris, that’s who Chad learned that offense from when he was at Clemson. You see a lot of the Gus stuff Chad did at Clemson, he’ll have all those trick plays and different things in which they do and they’ve run them tomorrow night just like the defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. I played against Ellis for a long time back when he was at Mississippi State, when he was at South Carolina, we research all the way back on all those guys and I keep a running record of all the guys we’ve played against and books all the guys we’ve every played against for the last 10, 15, years. We’ve got a running record of all those guys and we check all that stuff.
Talking about Jameis again, we tend to forget how young he is, but he exudes such confidence. How would you describe that personality, that confidence, that swagger almost? Well, I think he has tremendous confidence without arrogance because he truly loves the game. He loves what he’s doing. He loves his teammates. He plays to win. He doesn’t play for individual accolades. He just loves competing and everything that goes with it, and he’s worked at it his whole life and he truly believe he belongs here. When he hits these big moments he truly believes that’s where he belongs so they don’t overwhelm him. He just has an infectious attitude that affects our team, and he affects our team – everybody on our team, offense, defense, special teams, he has an affect on every one of them, and it’s fun to watch and be around, but it’s just an inner confidence that he has and believes in himself.
Could you elaborate, you have a book on every coach you’ve faced? What does that look like? Just every practice schedule when we face somebody, everything we did, every film breakdown, every analogy, and we do a thing at the end of the game, things we’ve done well, things we’ve done poorly, things we’d do different in the game, big plays in the game, critical plays in the game, what that called when the game was on the line, what did that coordinator call, you have a list of those things and we keep on file on everybody, offense, defense, we’ve done it for years and you file them away and when you play them again you pull them out and see how they change or what they’ve done and things like that just to keep a running record of guys you play, because – whether in the conference, in this business you cross over so much.
Could you look into the future a little bit and imagine having to play I wish I could.
Playing another game eight to ten days after this? Yeah, it will be. It will be a very tough thing because the mental capacity to get up that many times, but it’s what we’ll have to do, and kids will adjust and they’ll adapt. But it’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be that much harder to get to where you want to go, that’s for sure.
You talked about keeping emotions in check and we talked about Jameis’s age. He’s an excitable kid, too. Tomorrow is his birthday. Do you talk to him beforehand to try to keep him from being too excited? We always have our ways, the same routine we’ll go through and what we’ll do. He’ll handle that. He’ll know. It’ll be his birthday but he’ll let the game override everything. We’ll go through our same normal routine, the same talks which we always have.
You’ve talked about how leadership can come from any class, but this senior class and the way some of those guys have in some cases stepped aside and let younger guys play and still been good teammates, could you talk about that class? Like I say, it’s one of the most unselfish football teams I’ve ever been around, or any team for that matter, that they just want to be success, and whatever their role is and whatever the roles the coaches and we suggest, that’s what they’re willing to do, and that’s very rare, especially in today’s times with the entitlement of kids and if Johnny doesn’t have success right now, he’s leaving, he’s transferring, all those types of things. It’s a special group of guys who truly care, and I think it goes back to how much they love each other and the trust they have within each other and the trust they have in the coaches and us and them. I think they know when we communicate with them it’s the truth, and we’re not going to do anything that’s detrimental to them and they trust us in that regard. That’s a great point.
I want to follow up on something that Dennis said. You don’t have to worry about this until a future year, but the reality is if we’re in a four team playoff and you’re playing a semifinal you’ve got two teams that are lurking out there, as part of your preparation you’ve got to prepare in advance for two teams, right? How would that work?Well, you would have two or three weeks that you’d have your GAs break down both opponents and have them ready when you go back just like you would during the season. Those guys prepare for the next game just like our GAs are breaking down the future opponents two and three and four weeks ahead of time and we keep a running tab and see how they change. So we would do it just like the regular season, and that’s where your infrastructure, your organization, have enough people to be able to do that and that’s what you would do. You would break both teams down and when you come back on that Sunday and ready to play, you’d have the report of the team you were playing right then.
How focused have you seen Jameis over this past month, especially considering he’s playing a team from his home state and also he’ll be playing this game on his birthday? He’s been wonderful. Since he’s been out here, the first give practices were good. We come back from Christmas, like I say, most of the guys took about a day to get back into the groove of things real quick after they ate a bunch of turkey and ham I guess, when they went home, but after that they practiced well and he’s been laser focused, he really has, in the mental and physical preparation this week. He’s been accurate with the ball, great decisions, being very decisive in everything in practice, and he’s been very good.
Obviously Auburn gets a certain amount of respect for turning a 3 9 season over like they have, but this time last year you lost that game against NC State, you had gotten rolled pretty good by Florida, you had the turnover in the assistants and your schedule was being questioned, the fan base was a little bit edgy. Talk about your comeback from that. Even though it was a pretty good season by most standards last year, you guys have come a long way from last year, haven’t you? I think so. We never went anywhere, we never had to come back. We won the Orange Bowl and won 12 games. Could we have won another game or two, yeah, but you can say that every year. When 12 2 doesn’t become good enough, we’ve got issues in this business. Because when you are winning 12 games a year and winning Orange Bowls and BCS and conference championships, you’d better appreciate those because it was about 10 or 12 years you couldn’t have one of those. So I think that’s ball. Other guys are on scholarship, other good players. We didn’t go anywhere. We’re the same team. We keep building. We learn from little mistakes we had and continue to grow.
Can you sort of reflect back on when you took the reins from Bobby, and now that you’re at the championship game, how does the timeline compare to what you expected back then, the timeline you set for yourself to get them to a championship game? I don’t know if I ever set a time to get to a championship game, but I wanted – I set a timeline that I thought within four to five years that we could be one of the teams competing for championships year in and year out because of our recruiting and having the type of team that we’ve become, a program and not a team anymore, and that’s what I wanted, and it’s right on schedule for where I wanted to be, hopefully by our first senior class, that we were one of the teams that if we weren’t in it that you would be talking about being in it or playing in a major bowl game and competing year in and year out, and that’s kind of the timeline we set which we needed to be. But our staffs and the people that have worked here in the past and the guys that are here right now have done a tremendous job of getting players in and developing them, and we’re very happy with where we’re at.
I don’t know if you followed the Texas coaching search at all (laughter) I tried not to. I tried to coach.
I was curious if I could borrow your book on Charlie Strong, and what are your impressions of Charlie? I went against Charlie a lot of years in the SEC and Charlie’s an excellent coach, a very good guy, a good recruiter, I think he’ll do an excellent job. I think he had done a tremendous job at Louisville turning those guys around. They’ve won, what, 23 or 24 games in the last two years. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but they’ve won an Orange Bowl and they won the Champs Bowl this year in a great game and played very well, or the Sugar Bowl last year, we won the Orange Bowl, didn’t we? (Laughter).
I think Charlie is an excellent coach, excellent guy. Great guy to talk – when you’re out on the road, very personal guy. I think he’ll get along, I think he’ll interact with the press very well. I think you’ve got a very good coach. I think you’ve got a very, very good coach.
You were talking about yesterday sort of when you took over modernizing the program somewhat. You said something about your mental conditioning of your players. Do you have mental conditioning coaches? How do you mentally condition players? Well, you have to teach guys how to think and handle and deal with situations. Yes, we do. We have guys who come in and talk to the guys. It’s not just a game time thing or it’s not just a during the season thing. This is a year round thing. You wonder why – when you talk to guys about how they believe and they to become unselfish and how they handle and do things, it’s all integrated in our player development through the off season. We have a person in Trevor Mowat with API who does a tremendous, tremendous job with us developing our guys in the off season, we have sports psychologist guys which we also talk with, who are even above that, guys dealing with issues, family issues, how to deal with pressure, how to deal with different things. We have a group of guys just like a team of guys, just like you have tutors for a class, we have guys that teach our guys how to think, how to handle pressure, how to deal with things and how to develop their attitudes and priorities in life and how to structure themselves so they can think the right way. To me you talk about destinies and you talk about what a guy does, it’s all about decision making. He has to understand how to make decisions in his life because if you make the right decisions, good things happen to you. We tell our players every day the most powerful thing you have, you control what happens to you. Nobody else controls in this world every controls what happens to you. You control what happens to you by the decisions you make on a daily basis. Those create habits and your habits create your attitude and in turn that’s who you become as a person because that’s what you do. We believe in developing that in the off season so our guys can make the right decisions on and off the field and they can be more consistent on how they do things.
I think that’s a huge part of what we do. It’s been a key to our success.
Going back to Coach Bowden, this is your team, all your players, but it’s been a difficult week for Coach Bowden with loss of his grandson. He is here, doesn’t know whether or not he’ll go to the game. But talk about the foundation he laid for Florida State, and what part or piece if you win a National Championship is a piece of Bobby Bowden? I think Bobby Bowden will always be a piece of Florida State. He made Florida State a national brand name. That’s the brand that the Florida State became was because of Coach Bowden and it has allowed us to have the successes we’re having right now. Someone had to start this things and build it up and he took it and did it, and I like to say, I have the most respect for him. He was at practice yesterday, we talked at the AFCA breakfast, and my heart goes out to Jeff and his family, Jeff Bowden, as he lost one of his sons, TJ. Jeff was my coach. He coached me. We coached together. I remember when TJ was born, we were together at Samford University. I go back with that family a long time, and it’s a great tragedy. It’s a terrible tragedy what’s happened to them, and for Coach Bowden to lose two grandchildren like he has in the past years and to lose a son, it’s devastating.
So much has been made about you having time with Nick Saban and the comparisons there and obviously with Bobby. Who else sort of influenced you in your time coming up as a coach? I think everyone. You love from everyone. Terry Bowden was with him for a long time. Les Miles, I was with for two years over there and learned things from, other assistant coaches year round you pick things up from. There’s a lot of people. But I say also as a coach, and I never say this and this sounds crazy, my father and my mother, how to deal with people. They were leaders, they were teachers, my dad was a boss in the coal mines but he still handled people. When you’re a coach you’re in charge of people, how you deal with people and how you handle people. Those two are my two greatest influences in life with my mother and my father, without a doubt, but I’ve learned from all the other guys I’ve been around.