Dec. 11, 2013
"It's really good to be back. I'm back in a different role this year. I was kind of a watching head coach last time, and this year I will be a coaching head coach. I'm excited about coming back and brining our team, Dr. Santa Ono, who is a huge sports fan and will be here at the game, our Athletic Director Whit Babcock, and the 43,000 students and the community of Cincinnati. We're excited about coming because it's important that teams like us have the opportunity to go places, whether you go back-to-back it doesn't make any difference, go and enjoy an atmosphere like this once a year. I'm excited for the fans that are coming because it's more than a football game. It's kind of a celebration of the end of the year of college football, which I think is one of if not the best sport we have going now for young kids.
I'm proud of our football team from this past year. We went through a very tough time in transition with a new coaching staff and system, but I'm proud of our seniors. I've taken over three or four different teams in my career and the most important thing you have going for you are your seniors on your football team. They're the ones that will make a decision whether you're going to be successful that year by accepting the change and new ideas, and I had 14 or 15 guys that were an absolute blessing for the University of Cincinnati and for me as a head coach. They've done an outstanding job of accepting what we're doing. We had a very good spring and fall camp, and I think we could have won a few more games this year if the ball had bounced our way. Also, we had 15 surgeries on our football team, but luckily, we have had a little depth, and I'm proud of our staff and our players for persevering through it all.
We went through a tragic situation with one of our players being killed in a tragic car accident that will really humble you as a coach and as football team. Also in that same wreck we had a young man that was in critical condition for almost two months in intensive care fighting for his life, so our team and our community and school persevered through all of that. It takes everybody on the same page to have success, but when you go through something like that and everybody kind of gets knocked to their knees, it's a situation sometimes that you don't realize what you have to go through until it's over with. I'm proud of the entire family for working through that and getting to nine wins and being offered this invitation to come here and being able to participate in a great bowl game in a great city with a great sponsor in Belk.
I was just telling the group here that I think I have now had the opportunity to coach in almost every bowl game as an assistant or head coach. It's so important for our sponsors, and they're the ones that make it happen. I want to thank Belk for doing what they do to make this bowl game a success, from what I saw last year and the excitement they are going to bring to Charlotte going into this game coming up here in a few weeks. For both teams, for both universities and for the people in this area, we're excited about being here, looking forward to coming and spending Christmas and brining our families and 71 young kids and our coaching staff that will spend Christmas here looking for Santa, I know he will be here somewhere."
On what it was like being a watching coach last year and if he watched film and took notes from last year:
"Yeah a little bit of both. I spent most of my time looking at players at practice and the game was more fun for me, just kind of sitting back and watching it unfold. It was one of the more exciting bowl games last year, and I enjoyed the week here. It was probably an advantage for me to be able to look, watch, and practice; kind of take notes on recruiting what we need what we didn't need, talk to the players, and talk to the coaches that were coaching the game. It was a different experience I've not done that before of going to a bowl site that a team was already in."
On when the preparation will start for North Carolina:
"We finished last Thursday night, four days after recruiting started. We are kind of at a disadvantage of having home visits, going to high schools, and talking to players one-on-one. Now we are all out this week talking to players. We have a lot of commitments. All of our young coaches are back breaking down film. I have been the gamut on coaching for bowl games. I have been on a staff where one time we had 33 practices for a bowl game. That is too many. I want to make sure the players have fun. North Carolina has great tradition. I know Larry Fedora, I have coached against him. They will be well prepared. They are a lot like us because they had a slow start and then won a lot of games in the end. We are probably a much better team now than we were at the beginning of the year, as they are. It is always good to go up against a team that you know nothing about, didn't watch them at all during the year, and didn't have a plan in the spring for playing North Carolina in the bowl game because you didn't know it was going to happen. That is what makes it fun. We will practice about ten times. Our younger guys will practice more than our older guys. We will use it as more of a spring practice. We will have a good game plan in and we will have fun. I like coaching bowl games. Not a lot of pressure. Both teams are already winners and you obviously want to win the game, but you want to come have fun, enjoy the holidays, be around your seniors for the last time, and let them enjoy probably the last time that most of them will ever put on a helmet and a pair of shoulder pads as they go off into the real world as we know it. Then we will start for next year. I am excited about playing North Carolina. I coached against them once in the Chick-Filet Bowl years ago. They had a pretty good defensive lineman that we couldn't block named Peppers. I saw him in my dreams for about two weeks after that game. It was a good game, we had a good time, and I am sure they will bring a lot of fans. Sometimes you worry about going into the home state of the team that you are going to play, but we will have a lot of fans too. They were excited about coming here last year and are excited to be coming back."
On how the BCS shook out this year:
"I think we are graduating. We spent a lot of time with the BCS and got educated. It was good for awhile. I know when I was at the University of Miami and we didn't have the BCS, and we needed it. One time we played Penn State. We were one and they were two. We got the right matchup, but there were times that we won the National Championship, and we didn't get to play the team that was number two. It was a vote. BCS worked and I think it was a good progression of how we did things. After 2004 and I got left out at Auburn going undefeated, I thought it was time to move on up. I have been on the bandwagon to get it changed. I think the plus one is good. I am really not for an 8 or 16 team playoff. A lot of people are. Everyone says well you are going to have teams five and six complaining next year that they aren't in, but what we want to do is make sure we don't leave undefeated teams out, teams that go all the way through. Undefeated teams should not be kept out of a chance at a National Championship because you can't do anymore. I think that is the reason that we had the plus one. The BCS worked and you are going to see a lot of changes for next year. It will be interesting how it works. This year was an interesting year and because of how we do college football, we have a playoff every week during the regular season. It makes it a lot of fun. It keeps everybody interested. It keeps people reading magazine, watching television, listening to radios, and given the opportunity to have a lot of talk in some things that enhance college football. I am anxious to see how the plus one works."
On if he would be concerned about what an expanded playoff would do to a bowl like the Belk Bowl:
"I have always been an advocate of bowls. It brings money to different cities. We have 129 Division I teams. This year is the first time in a long time that I have noticed that we have more bowl eligible teams than we have bowl games. It is a reward for a lot of players. There are a lot of winners at the end of the year. You are a winner if you get to go to a bowl game. You are really a winner if you win it. There has to be that next step to have a champion of everybody. There is a lot of money that goes to charities. I have made a lot of friends during bowl games. I have learned a lot more about a lot of our players being around them for a week in a hotel. You build some great relationships and that is what college is about, so I hope we always keep the bowl system. I hope this new system, how we have it, there is going to be a lot of winners."
On his time in Charlotte last year watching the game and how it is going to be this year:
"You never know. This is a lot of the same team that we had last year here, of course, with a new coaching staff. I told our players the other day when we talked about the bowl game that I don't want them to dread it. Obviously, we do have to practice. Football is a hard sport. The games are fun, but it is the practices that you have to go through to get ready for that game. I want our guys to really enjoy it. We are going to have a lot of fun. We are going to do different things; we will have different meals before we get here. As a group we will do different things in practice. When we get here, I will try to change the routine up from last year. I will try to make it fun for them. I want to give the seniors a lot of leeway on what we do and how we do it. This is their football team. This is not mine. I want them to understand that hey, let's do things that you want to do. Last year there were a lot of good things that were on in Charlotte, the NASCAR adventure and the Belk shopping spree. The players loved that. That is an awesome deal. They are looking forward to coming back. It should be a fun time."