Sept. 1, 2009
Gene Chizik Press Conference Quotes
"This is a great, exciting week for us. Obviously, we've been waiting a long time for game week. To be honest with you, it's been a long eight-and-a-half months, but we're really excited. I think our players are excited. We as coaches are certainly excited to really embark on a new year. We've got a great opponent, a great challenge in front of us with Louisiana Tech. What coach Dooley has done with that program in two short years is really amazing. It's going to be a great challenge for us, and it's going to be fun. Like I say, we're really looking forward to it -- our whole football team and our coaching staff. It's one of those first games where you get a lot of questions answered. So, it's going to be fun. It's going to be challenging for us. We're ready to start football season and are looking forward to it.
Q: How much more will you know about your team, especially the offense, after Saturday as opposed to right now?
Chizik: "I think it'll be different. You know, in two-a-days it's different because all you know is going against each other all the time. And to be honest with you, it's going to be very interesting. I don't know; it's going to be a great first challenge. As I've said, they have seven returning starters coming back on defense. The great thing about the first game is you always get a starting point. You know where you are going to be starting it. And to be honest with you, I don't know where we're at right now. You go against each other for almost a month now, but we'll get a great starting point from there (first game). And of course we will strive to get better every week, but it's going to be interesting."
Q: Looking at the depth chart, what did Darren Bates do to get the starting job, and how long is he going to have to hold the fort until Mike McNeil is ready?
Chizik: "The thing we look for in young guys is their being able to come in and grab your attention early -- to do something right now that separates them from all the other guys. As I've said earlier when asked questions about Darren, you know he came in late -- he was a few days late -- and immediately when he got on campus here, he got our attention. He did some things that kind of make you go `wow,' and he has continually gotten better every practice. And we force-fed him football in two-a-days for a long time, just to see what he could mentally handle. There are some challenges for any freshman that plays at this level in this league, but we just thought he could handle it. And we thought that he was our best option back there right now, with a guy that's aggressive. Mentally, he gets it for a young guy. He's going to make his share of mistakes, and there will be growing pains with that, we know that. But all the indications that we get from a young guy, we feel confident about it. We're going to go with it. And again, we'll see how he operates under pressure, but we've been really proud of him. And it's a move that we're not concerned about. We feel good about it, but again, it will be challenging for him."
Q: A lot has been made of the wide receivers at this camp, how do you think they are performing heading into this first game?
Chizik: "You're going to see a lot of new faces at that position. If you just look at our depth chart, that stands out. You're going to see a lot of new faces, but you're going to see a lot of new faces everywhere, really. You know the question that was posed earlier was, I think, how do you think the offense is going to be the first game? I think the receiver position is going to be a huge part of that equation. Can they catch the football? Can they run their timing routes? What can they do with the football once they get it? Are there any yards after catch? Things of that nature. But we've got some young guys that you're going to see play a lot. Again, they are being kind of thrust into a position right now that we wish we didn't have to play this many young ones, but it is what it is, and that's where we're at. I have a lot of confidence that they are good football players, but I also know again, you know when you talk about playing with young guys, that there are a lot of things that are yet to be seen and we'll know more after Saturday night. But, they've all done a really great job of really coming in here and trying to run the offense, going to work every day, and trying to get better at it. We're going to play our best ones that give us a chance, and if one of them is on the field playing, then it's because they give us the best chance we have."
Q: How much do you lean on the more experienced parts of your team like the offensive line, running backs, and the guys who have been out there a lot. When you game plan, do you take that into account?
Chizik: "Absolutely. There's no question about it. Obviously our offensive line, because you've mentioned it, has got some experience. I've said this since day one; we know that we have to run the football. We've got some experienced tailbacks, some experienced guys who've had their hands on the ball. You know, we've got to run the football, and those guys have been there and done that. So, that being said, that's going to be a big part of what we're trying to accomplish. And that's the more experienced part of our team, offensively speaking. So, we're going to lean heavily on that. I say that, but we also know that we're going to have to throw the football as well. We feel really good about our offensive line right now in terms of where they've come in the last month. So, we are going to lean on them, and not just because of the experience. Because we think they have a chance to be a good offensive line, we're going to test them the first game.
Q: A couple of freshman wide receivers are not on the depth chart like Anthony Gulley and Travante Stallworth. How have they done? And do they have a chance of playing this season?
Chizik: "They do. Both of those guys do. I'm very, very proud of both of those young guys. Overall, there are probably going to be 10-12 freshman names that you are going to have to get used to seeing. If I'm a betting man, 10-12 is going to be the number that you are going to see through our whole football team, offensively and defensively. But those two guys are certainly going to get some opportunities to play Saturday. So, again, they kind of get thrust back into that category of a bunch of young guys that you are going to have to get used to their names."
Q: What do the freshman defensive linemen (Nosa Eguae, Dee Ford) as second-teamers bring to the table?
Chizik: "Both of them, obviously, are young guys, being true freshmen that we are talking about; guys that we just think are going to give us a chance to win. (They are) both young guys who we think have bright futures that are different kinds of players -- one's a little bit bigger, one's a little bit more sleek and brings a little bit more of the speed element to the game. Nosa's a little bit bigger but very athletic. But we feel good about both of those guys. They are going to have to help us in special teams; they are going to have to help us on the defensive side of the ball and give us some breaks, depending on how many plays we play. Again, they are guys we're going to have to count on to help us win games, and again, not just on defense, but on special teams as well.
Q: Is there a danger of people reading too much into an opening game, especially with a new head coach?
Chizik: "Possibly, you know, I don't know how people read into things. We feel very good about where we are. Obviously this game is going to tell us a lot more. We are going to have a starting point and that's the bottom line. Whether it's going to be good, bad, or ugly, we have a starting point, and our goal is to get better every week. There are a lot of unknown factors. You have to throw in new offences and new defenses and on top of that you got to throw in 10 to 12 freshmen that are going to be playing, and I mean playing not just hitting two snaps a game. A lot of unknowns, but we have a starting point and we feel good about that starting point and we are going to get better every week after that. I don't know what people read into or what they want but we are excited about getting started and figuring out where we are."
Q: Along with that starting point, how important is it to be patient with a young team with not much depth?
Chizik: "Well for us as coaches right now, we have a great idea of where we are and we've done this long enough to know that there are a lot of growing pains that go with young teams and there will be growing pains that go with a new staff. For us, we have a good head on our shoulders about how to manage our football team. We are going to be very demanding on them, there are things that we expect and we demand. But, we also know what comes with the newness of all this and that's certainly not an excuse because we will never use excuses, and I'm very certain that we will manage this the right way."
Q: Is this an ideal opening game? You are favored to win, but at the same time this is a pretty good football team on paper that can really test you?
Chizik: "Absolutely. As I said earlier, I think Coach Dooley has done a great job with Louisiana Tech in two short years. Now think about this, they went to a bowl game and they won the first bowl game that they probably have won in the last 20, 30 years. They are 8-5 in a really good league. They beat Mississippi State, an SEC team. They beat Fresno State, who typically is a good football team year in and year out and they won their bowl game. This football team is really good and then you compound that with the fact that they are returning nine starters on offence and seven starters on defense. Last year they probably had on special teams the top three on special teams if you take everything in to consideration on the "four bigs", that's what we call it, kickoff, kickoff return, punt, and punt return. They are probably top two in the nation with their starting returner coming back. So, this is a great challenge, and that's one of the things that I am looking forward to because I think it is a great challenge. We are going to find out where we are at, this team has been together for three years, returning a lot of good players from a team that really has a lot of confidence on where they have been verses where they are now and are bowl game winners. So, this is going to be a challenging weekend for us without question."
Q: On no particular side of the ball, what grabs your attention about Louisiana Tech?
Chizik: "I think that you see two things, to be honest with you: One, I think that you see a very physical football team; Two, they are very well coached. Those are the two things that stand out to me. They are very physical and very well coached. Let me give an example, defensively right now they are probably somewhere in the top 15 in run defense. You can pretty much look at a defensive unit and you can find out how physical they are by just looking at their run stats, usually, that's not every time, but you can do that. You can look at there special teams and if they are good in special teams then you are looking at a very well coached football team, typically. Go ahead and check their special teams, and then just look at where they have come in two years. Again, Coach Dooley has done a great job with them so that grabs my attention. When you are really good on special teams and really sound and your returning all these guys on offense and defense and a team that is very well coached, then you got your hands full."
Q: How much of a danger is a guy like Phillip Livas, who is young and playing on special teams like that?
Chizik: "It's huge. From on offensive standpoint, they do a great job at `catch me if you can,' you never know where he is going to line up. If you look at what I call, explosive plays, that's passes over 16 yards and runs over 12, somehow or another he is involved in a lot of those whether its off a trick play, whether they just threw the ball up to him, or whether he caught a five-yard ball and turned it into a 30 yard ball. They do a great job at just moving him around. Of course he is what he is on kick returns. I think they returned three kicks for a touchdown last year and that's not including San Jose State where they got one called back. He is a huge challenge. He is a very good football player, and they do a great job at moving him around, so they have a good idea at what they're doing and it's obvious."
Q: How do you compare the feelings of this game as compared to two years ago when you were heading into your first game at Iowa State?
Chizik: "Yeah, a lot different simply just because two years ago it was the first time I had ever gone into a game as head coach and all that stuff is behind me now. I'm excited because this is my first time going into a game as the head coach at Auburn. That's what excites me, also to be back to a place that I consider home. As far as the head coaching thing, and the way I feel now verses two years ago is night and day, but really excited to be back here."
Q: How much do you expect to use Kodi (Burns) for this game?
Chizik: "We will use Kodi a good bit. Kodi has really adapted well to the role that we have set forth for him. He is going to be in the game, he is going to be playing different spots, but he will definitely have a role for us to be winning many games."
Q: Does it concern you (in reference to Alabama's defensive end being shot) or do you worry about your player's safety?
Chizik: "Well, as the head coach at Auburn right now, I have 125 guys that I worry about on a daily basis in every way, shape, or form. I worry about them mentally, I worry about them physically. I don't know if worry is the right word, but they're mine so am I concerned about them on a daily basis, yes, absolutely, every one of them. So, yeah I worry about everything, like them going to school and getting an education. I worry about what they do on the field and off the field. It matters to me, but we always got our players in mind."
Q: Do you think its going to be a challenge to keep your players well this year, and with the Swine Flu going around, are you taking any extra precautions?
Chizik: "We have a great training staff. Yes, as far as the overall health of our players, yes, absolutely I am always concerned about that as far as the practices and games are concerned. As far as the outside external factors that we can't control, you know we got a great training staff and they handle all of that. They have taken every precaution that they know how to do and we do too. We talk to them constantly about the things that are going to keep them out of harms way. Our training staff does everything we can do to make sure we have the best of the best and that our guys are healthy."
Q: When you first came here, you made a reference saying how this team needs to get its "swagger" back. How far has this team come, confidence wise, in the last eight months of you being here? Is it possible to get that back before you play your first game?
Chizik: "I don't know. I think that you find out on game day. I do, because there are a lot of things that happen on game day, good, bad, and indifferent. It's not necessarily about what happens at that moment, but it's more of how you respond to it after that moment and that's how you find out if you have any swagger or any confidence as a football team. I don't actually think that you can find that out before you get on that field as a football team and play."