Coaches Press Conference Transcript
MATT GARVEY: Coach London, talk about your experience thus far during Chick fil A Bowl week and maybe how this week compares to other bowl experiences you've had.
COACH MIKE LONDON: It's been an exciting week for our players, for the program, for the opportunities that have been extended by the Chick fil A Bowl committee, the community of Atlanta.
It's been a learning process for them but also entertaining. Also understanding a football game has to get played. I think the whole experience, it's hard to believe that today is Friday and we got here Monday. At the same time it's been very productive. Guys are very excited about the opportunities that have been presented to them.
MATT GARVEY: Coach Chizik, talk about your bowl week experience thus far and how it compares to other bowl trips that you've had.
COACH Gene Chizik: I don't think there's any question, it's been a first class trip for our football team since we arrived Christmas night. The hospitality, the people has been second to none. I feel like the events for the players have been really, really fun. In all the bowl games I've been to, this has to be right there at the top in terms of the hospitality, the organization, just the way the week has flowed for our players.
I think they've really enjoyed it. At the end of the day, this is a reward for our players and our coaches and their families as well. We had a lot of little kids on our staff. They've had a ball. It's just been a great experience. We're just very appreciative of everybody.
We understand this doesn't just happen overnight. There's a lot of planning that goes into this, a lot of people that spend a lot of energy and time to make this what it is.
On top of that, just what this bowl means in terms of how this bowl is different than most in terms of what you do with the scholarships and things of that nature, the giving part of this bowl. We've told our players that. They understand the meaning of it. I think that's been big.
Overall it's just been a tremendous week for us.
MATT GARVEY: At this time we'll go ahead and open it up for questions from the media.
Q. Coach Chizik, all the distractions you have had, losing the two coordinators, your top runningback, how has your team handled it? And having gone through this, how do you think it's going to help them deal with distractions next year and years to come?
COACH Gene Chizik: If you date back two years ago, we had a lot of distractions as well. One thing about our football team that has been true, and we really talk about it on a daily basis of always being steady, always being steady in terms of what your goals are, where you're headed, putting your eyes on that specific goal, not deviating off that path which it takes to achieve that goal.
There have been some distractions, there have been some things that have been tough. One thing I have to say about our young guys is they're very resilient. A lot of our young guys were around last year when we had to deal with a lot of adversity and different distractions as well on a championship run.
Definitely the distractions are there. Our guys know that. In terms of how they handled that, how our coaches have imparted to them the importance of staying on track, I think it's been really, really good.
Q. Your bowl record is pretty incredible, undefeated. What makes you so good at post season play?
COACH Gene Chizik: I don't know if 'what makes me good' is the right word. One of the things that I think, whether I was an assistant in being part of the decision making process or I've been the head coach, also been a part of the decision making process, I think there's a lot of moving parts when it comes to preparing your team.
You have a lot of hours you have, and you can use those very wisely. These are young men that have a life as well as playing football. They have a life outside of football. You can over prepare them, you can under prepare them. You have anywhere from, depending on what bowl game you're playing on, three weeks to five and a half weeks to get your team ready to play.
I think the most important thing that we've done or been able to accomplish thus far in the previous games that I've been a part of is getting together as a staff and really deciding, you got to know the personality of your football team, you got to know what they can and can't do.
Some teams are to the point where they can't stand any prosperity, you have to grind them a little bit more, some are a little more mature. I think you have to know what the temperature is of your football team. You prepare your practices, how much time you're going to spend in meetings based on that.
I think we've been over the years pretty accurate in terms of what we need to prepare. At the end of the day, I think that's the most important part: how are you going to use your time that you have available. And the times change, how are you going to use that time to prepare your team.
I think I've just been part of a lot of people that have had a lot of great thoughts about that. We've been pretty accurate up to this point.
Q. It's been said Michael Dyer, two Arkansas State players tweeted he was going to Arkansas State. Can you talk about that at all?
COACH Gene Chizik: As I stated, Michael Dyer's status with Auburn has not changed. If it does, I will let you know. I'm not aware of any of that.
Q. Mike, talk about where you have derived your bowl game preparation. Is it from your experience at Richmond in the playoffs? How did you formulate your strategy as far as preparing the team for the ball?
COACH MIKE LONDON: Like Coach Chizik just said, most of it's through your accumulated amount of opportunities. Boston College, Tom O'Brien, also with Coach Groh. But also the journey through the FCS playoffs, having to go those rounds, prepare those practices, your players' bodies, how much you need to push, how much you need to take off their plate.
You take all of those, you try to culminate it with a plan because you have to know your team, you have to know from your strength coach, you have to know from your position coaches where they are mentally, physically.
You try to keep a sense of normalcy as possible. With all the great events at the bowl, you want to keep the times they get up the same, the times that you practice, the times you that meet, you try to keep as much of a constant as possible, even though there's so many opportunities here that are presented to them.
I think that's part of it.
Q. Mike, your team is unfamiliar, until this week, with a bowl stage. How much encouragement do you draw from your team's performances, particularly on the road at Miami and Florida State, night, national TV, pressure games, how they respond? Do you draw on those experiences as you prepare for tomorrow night?
COACH MIKE LONDON: I think the biggest thing, what is tells you is that those opportunities that were presented were opportunities we were able to capitalize on minimizing turnovers, on converting third downs, capitalizing on big plays and not having so many big plays against us.
I think it's a learned experience that when you play well on the road, crowd noise, weather, whatever it is, that it becomes kind of a boost for you mentally. We always hear that we're all ruled by the psychology of results. If you can win games wherever you're at, whatever the crowd, the situation, that helps young men as they go on and they try to forge whatever the next game may be.
This is another game. Again I keep saying, this is last year's national champions, a very good team at a venue that's going to be very noisy, sold out.
You hope the experience we've had during the season, that it's not kind of a 'shock and awe' to them, but it's like we've been here before but now you have to compete. You have to compete and play at your best because you're going to play a really good team.
Q. Mike, comment on the new five year contract you've agreed to and what it means to the program.
COACH MIKE LONDON: At this time my focus is on the game. I know Craig Littlepage, President Sullivan are working on those things, talking about those things. That's something that's happening, that's going to go down. I'm all happy about it and for it.
At this point, as far as making public comments about what's happening, what they're doing, I'm just excited about the opportunity to stay at Virginia for a long time.
At this particular event, as we're talking getting ready for this game, this is one thing that I'll let the powers that be continue to discuss.
Q. Coach Chizik, you said earlier this week you're not used to being defensive coordinator from the field. Have you decided how you're going to handle both duties this game?
COACH Gene Chizik: I have. I'm going to stay on the field. That will be a new experience for me. I think we got it worked out. There will be a lot of moving parts but we'll figure it out as it goes.
Q. College football is really the only sport where you have a hiring cycle that coincides with teams still playing. You have coaches leaving, some of the difficulty and awkwardness of coaches still on your staff coaching knowing they're leaving. Is there a better way to do it? Is there an aspect of this that disturbs you at all? And Coach Chizik in particular, the decision to let Gus coach this game, what went into those conversations?
COACH Gene Chizik: To address the first part of your question, it's part of the business that everybody knows and grows to understand. Timing is not always the greatest in terms for either side in many ways. But it is what it is. It's not going to change.
One of the things that I've always said for my assistants is that if you have a better opportunity, I want you to be able to do what's best for you and your family at the end of the day.
Obviously as the head coach, your number one priority is your own team and your players. But with the realities of college football, that's the way it is.
Gus staying to coach in this game was something that I felt very strongly about, and so did he. So it was a very short conversation.
When we talked about the dynamics of it, it can be really, really tough. But what we've tried to do is we've really tried to set the schedule where the priority for us is game plan and practice this part of the day, meetings this part of the day, trying to get that and being very judicious with how we move forward with that so when we're done with that part of the day he can work on the things he needs to in putting a team together, recruiting staff, things he needs to do for Arkansas State.
Little tough dynamic, no question about it. I think we had a plan going in on how it would work. We've been flexible with each other. Certainly you have to be.
But I'm appreciative he's staying for the bowl game. I think, again, he would have it no other way himself, and I think it's worked out well.
Q. Gene, who is going to be your eyes up in the press box as defensive coordinator to tell you what you're seeing up there?
COACH Gene Chizik: Dustin Landry has worked with us now three or four years. He's my graduate assistant. He's been to every meeting. He's on top of it. He's done a really great job for us. He's my personnel guy. He does the things that information wise I'm going to need him to do. We've been working together now for three weeks on exactly the plan and how it's going to unfold.
He's going to be my main guy.
Of course, we have every coach that we have looking at different things on the field as well, gathering information. Again, we'll have to get used to it in the first quarter. It will be a little bit different, but we'll make it work.
Q. Coach Chizik, coming from a Virginia reporter, could you talk about the decision you made about the change you made at quarterback toward the middle part of the season.
COACH Gene Chizik: I felt like at that point in the season we needed a spark offensively. It was in the middle of the Florida game where we were playing good defense. Offensively we were struggling some. It's kind of one of those things when you just know when it's time. You feel like you have a good idea when it's time to make a change, if for no other reason just to give your change a spark. That's when we made the change at halftime with Clint. We came back, won the football game, named him the starter the next week.
I think it's one of those situations where if you're sputtering some, you need something different. You know when that is. You know what it looks like. You know what it feels like. I think we're all in agreement it was at the right timing at that point in the season.
Q. Mike, as far as Chase goes, he wasn't out there yesterday. What is his status right now?
COACH MIKE LONDON: Chase will be a game time decision. Obviously through the course of the season, there were a couple guys that get the nicks and bruises, stuff like that. His lack of not practicing, with all the accumulated amount of reps he's had, is not that much of an issue. We'll make a game time decision with him as well as a couple other players.
Q. If you could comment specifically on Atlanta as a host city and on the facilities this week, everything from the dome to the hotels.
COACH MIKE LONDON: I have a grandmother that lives here and three aunts. They swear by Atlanta being the best city on the planet earth. I'll go with that.
It's very, very hospitable. Large city. World's largest airport. Industry, music, your pro teams that are here. It's a thriving environment for businesses, entertainment. This part of the Chick fil A Bowl, who they're involved with, makes for an exciting time for a young man that comes here.
As coach mentioned, they do a great job and they do it right. Our players have been very excited about the events but also excited about the game and just other things. The visit to the Children's Hospital, those are the things that they keep the perspectives together. I think that's what we try to do in our program, family, football, your involvement in the community and all that. What better firm or business than the Chick fil A organization that particularly believes in the same thing.
Q. Coach Chizik, comments on the facilities in Atlanta.
COACH Gene Chizik: I would echo that. Mike hit it on the head. A lot of our kids have familiarity with Atlanta. It's a great city. I mean, there's so many different things for our young guys to do. The hospitality at the hotels. One of the things I will say is you're looking at mostly I believe I'm right when I say this you're looking mostly at volunteers when you do this.
The guys at our hotel have been absolutely incredible, unbelievable. The guys that have volunteered, the hospitality, the hotel has been very organized, the meeting rooms. There's really been very, very little, if any, glitches in the armor of bowl games. Sometimes that's not the case.
You have a transportation issue, a timing issue. It's just been very, very well organized. Again, this is a great city. We're an hour and 15 minutes from here, so we get over here quite a bit. Like Mike, we have relatives, sisters, in laws, brothers, brother in laws that live here. We love Atlanta.
I think that's why you have over 25,000 Auburn alumni that live in the Atlanta area and the surrounding area. Just a great venue because of all the different things and all the different opportunities that our guys have. Again, the hospitality has been outstanding.
Q. Gene, when you play outside the SEC, do you have to spend any time at all with your guys addressing any sort of overconfidence or lackadaisical attitude toward a team that's not an SEC team?
COACH Gene Chizik: No, we don't. Our deal is every week the way we structure everything that we do is almost robotic to a certain degree and we never deviate off that path.
Our guys know the significance of big games because we're in so many of them, okay? They also know that the ones that aren't considered in the outside world big games, because in our box, in our world, every game is a big game.
But to the world outside, if we're playing a game that is not considered a big game, we never talk about it. It's the same preparation, the same everything.
So when we play outside the league, it doesn't matter whether we're playing Clemson or Virginia or whoever that we know are really, really good football teams, or we're playing an FCS school, we never talk about that. That's not the issue because the reality of what we believe at Auburn, it's not about the opponent, it's really about us.
If you kind of move forward with that mantra all the time, that being who you are and what you're trying to do, then it doesn't really matter about them, it only matters about you. That's how we try to proceed no matter who we play.
Q. Gene, could you reflect for a minute, being a year out from the national championship, a transitional season, you lose coordinators, how much have you thought about what the program is going to look like going forward, whether it might be different in some way now that you've gone through this transition.
COACH Gene Chizik: Well, it's certainly going to look a little different. I've put a lot of thought into what the whole Auburn football picture is going to look like. I'm really excited about it. I have a great idea of where we're headed.
Look, here is the thing. Auburn is Auburn. That's not changing. So it can be Joe as the coordinate, Jim as the coordinator, Frank as the coordinator, Auburn is Auburn. It's great tradition, passion. It's in an unbelievable league. The rivalries will always be the rivalries. So that's always built in. We'll always be able to recruit kids to Auburn because it's Auburn.
In terms of the personalities of the people that come and go, I said numerous times that I feel like continuity is an issue. For three straight years if you look around in this league, we've had less turnover than anybody else in the league, and it's probably not even close.
This year we have a little bit of turnover. That's not a red flag of any sort. That's college football. So I'm excited about what lies ahead. I feel like we've got not a good plan, I feel like we've got a great plan.
It will look a little different, but again, Auburn will always be Auburn.
Q. Coach London, you haven't shied away from some of the big games this year, what that can mean on the recruiting trail. Does a win in this game make a significant difference in that?
COACH MIKE LONDON: I think anytime you can play on a national scale with a team of a national reputation as Auburn, compete and play well, it's always going to help you. It's always going to help any program through the media exposure, through coming into the game, having a winning record.
Our fortune is that we haven't been in this situation for a while. With young players that are presented an opportunity like this, I mean, it can do nothing but help us.
Once you get a taste of it, you start tasting what it feels like as opposed to last year after the last game, that was it, you want to continue to keep building on these opportunities.
As I told them, these are memories that are made that you'll remember for a lifetime, all the events that took place during the course of the week. The seniors that are going out, their legacy will be that this is what we started and this is what is expected in this program year in, year out.
You hope that some of these younger guys that are now basically sophomores now when it comes to football eligibility, that they pick up on that. It starts in winter conditioning. It starts in the film room. It starts in summer. It starts way, way before you walk out on the field and play your first game in September.
Q. Gene, now that you've stepped into the defensive coordinator's role, when you look at Virginia, the way they shift in motion, that stuff on the offense, does it remind you of any SEC teams you play?
COACH Gene Chizik: Actually it's a little bit different than anything we've seen this year. 'That stuff' is pretty good stuff (laughter). It's won a lot of games for them. It's very sound. It's very problematic in a lot of ways because you have to in some ways limit what you can do.
The thing that's the most impressive about the offense is that the execution, even after all the moving around, the shifts, motions and trades, things of that nature, the execution of the offense is very glaring, and they're very good.
You can tell there's a great mixture of how the offense plays in conjunction with the defense to win games. That's very evident. But the offense, you know, it's physical. They're definitely intent on running the football, no question about it. They do it very, very well. Their pass game with their play actions, their boots, even throwing the ball vertically down the field is very challenging.
We got our hands full, there's no question about it. It's very effective. It's an offense that takes a lot of time and a lot of work on trying to solve the puzzle, if you will.
Q. It's been a really eventful calendar year for you starting with the national championship for the team, ending on the last day of this year. Ups and downs, successes on the field. Talk about the year, the way it's gone. You have had some pretty big highs and some lows as well.
COACH Gene Chizik: I'm blessed. Let me start out by saying that. I'm blessed. We, not me, but we have been able to accomplish a lot of great things in a short period of time at Auburn. We've been able to bring a national championship to our fans, an SEC championship to our fans in our first two years, something that hadn't been done in 57 prior to that.
I'll start there because those are facts. That was a lot of fun for a lot of people.
With the departure of a lot of older, more experienced players, we embarked on a new season with some inexperience. Not an excuse. It is what it is. Had a lot of great moments in that year, as well. Had some down moments, some of the lows were low.
That's the thing about college football. When you're a college football coach, you've really got a way out getting too high with all the highs, getting too low with all the lows. We try not to do that. That doesn't mean we disregard any of the very disappointing games that we were involved in this year. That's right there at the top of our list. We know that. We understand that. We understand that isn't acceptable.
But we've done and been able to accomplish a lot of great things for our young men. They've learned a lot.
Off the field we've had an incident or two that obviously we took quick action on, and it was very disappointing. But I'm going to say this about the young men we have an our football team. As a whole, they're great young kids. They all are very intent on getting a degree and playing football at Auburn University. The high, high percentage, majority of our young men are exactly what we thought they would be when we recruited them.
So we're looking forward to the future. We don't look back a whole lot. Doesn't mean we forget, but we move forward. We feel like the future's extremely bright with our young football team moving ahead and we're going to continue on the same path every day and we're not going to change it.
We're going to continue to try to improve and strive to be better people on and off the field every day, every week, every day I'm the head coach at Auburn.
That's where we're at. Again, I'm going to say I'm blessed to be part of that. I'm going to be blessed to continue to be a part of that.
Q. Gene, as head coach your name is associated with everything as Auburn football. With you as coordinator, do you feel more invested with the defense?
COACH Gene Chizik: I'm the head coach. My job is to win games at Auburn. I'm invested heavily in every game. Doesn't matter whether I was going to serve water on the sideline or call the defenses. My job is to be the head coach and be responsible for winning games.
Being the defensive coordinator in this one particular game is just what I have to do this week to be a part of trying to win another football game.
If you're asking, do I feel more pressure, things of that nature. No, I feel pressure every week because I feel responsibility to the Auburn family to win. Whatever that entails in terms of the job that I have to do to do it, then that's what I'm going to do.
Q. Mike, the improvement that you guys made defensively this season, do you at all rate that as maybe the most outstanding improvement that the team made this year? Do you rank that kind of thing?
COACH MIKE LONDON: I think when you go back and you look at last year and you look at this year's defense, what stands out is the significant improvement that was made. When you're playing well defensively, you can keep your offense on the field. When you do well in your third down percentage, get the other team off the field, you limit their opportunities for possession.
When you start adding things up, overall defensively being able to play much better, Coach Reid, the staff, stuck with the system and the scheme, taught it over and over again. That's always big.
Two years ago when you change from a 3 4, you go to a 4 3, you move your safeties to linebackers. LaRoy Reynolds, last year's defense, Will linebacker, former safety, 197 pounds, now he's 220 plus and he's playing like a linebacker, a linebacker in a 4 3 defense.
I think the more familiarity with it, the experience these guys have had a chance to play in it, their knowledge of it, your pass drops, your understanding of gap recognition, I think all those things add to the development and improvement. I think we were afforded an opportunity to bring the guys that played the year before to come back and play in the same positions. It was evident because they played much better.
Q. (Question about living with a lot of mistakes with the changes.)
COACH MIKE LONDON: Obviously some of the mistakes were the physical mistakes of it which required weight room, our strength coach. Some of it was just through repetition and recognition, which required more reps at it.
I think the biggest sign of improvement was coming out of spring practice when we talked about not just being able to go from being lined up, to understanding concepts, schemes, high lows, in and outs of routes, different things like that.
When you get the players to another level of understanding, not only technically what it takes to play the defense, but why you're playing the defense, why certain formations and things happen, you become a smarter football player.
I think physically we became better. I think mentally we became smarter. And then you rely on the other part of it, and that's recruiting, going out there, finding players that can fit that scheme physically and mentally, to be able to do the work that the University of Virginia requires.
It's been kind of an all encompassing approach to the last couple years. As coach, we're excited about our future as well recruiting the University of Virginia brand in terms of the school and the national recognition it has academically. Truly the best of both world opportunities.
Being on the spotlight, being on the stage, Chick fil A Bowl, playing a great team like Auburn, is where you want to be. That's the goal of the program.
Q. Gene, Mike Dyer, have you had a chance to talk about what you expect out of him?
COACH Gene Chizik: I'm not going to get into the details of my discussions with Michael Dyer. I already told you the status, and the status hasn't changed.
Q. Gene, when Ted left, you could have said it will be a collaborative effort, I'll work on the defense. Instead, you stood up and said, I got this, I'll be the coordinator here. Did you feel like it was an important stand to make and say, I'm in control here?
COACH Gene Chizik: No, I didn't. I just like I'd done it for 13 years prior to being a head coach and I felt like I was probably qualified to do it (laughter).
Q. Coach London, what is the injury that Chase is dealing with and when did he do it?
COACH MIKE LONDON: Again, I'm not going to get into the specifics of these guys. The bumps and bruises occurred during the course of the season. Their ability to heal, their ability to play is what is is paramount.
Rather than talk about what it is, what is this, what is that, we'll find out on game day if he's able to play.
Q. Did either of you get to watch the Baylor/Washington game last night? As defensive coaches, does that kind of make you cringe? I assume we won't see another repeat of that tomorrow.
COACH MIKE LONDON: Well, I tell you what, the style of offense, maybe it's the style of offense. You look at Baylor put up points. You look at Missouri. They do a great job at Auburn offensively. You see a few wrinkles of what they do. Obviously you're like, Oh, my goodness, putting up points all over the place. Even absent the young man, Dwyer, the other runningbacks and skill players they have attracts me. They were scoring points all over the place.
As a former defensive coordinator yourself, you're trying to figure out different things, This is what I would do. There's smart coaches all over the country defensively that are struggling with that offense.
COACH Gene Chizik: I did not actually get a chance to see anything on the game until we were standing in the room over there and I saw a couple of the highlights. So I'm not really sure exactly how everything unfolded. But, yes, as a defensive coach, that is probably the biggest nightmare. If that happens to us tomorrow, I guess I am not qualified to be the defensive coordinator (laughter).
Q. Can you give your thoughts on what stands out in a positive manner about your opponent, the program they've built, how you're looking forward to playing them in the game tomorrow.
COACH Gene Chizik: I've got to know Mike over the week on a couple of different occasions. I want to start out by saying what a class act. I can tell obviously the team that plays for Mike and his staff reflect that. There's no question.
You can watch film. I've been doing it enough years where you can watch film, and the personality of the team comes out. It's usually reflective of the head coach. The job that Mike has done there in taking this program over in two years, the significant landmark wins that Mike has been able to accomplish over the year in a very tough league against very tough opponents that have great athletes I think is second to none.
This is going to be an extremely challenging game for us against a very physical, well coached football team. There's no question about it. You don't get to this bowl game by not being that.
Mike, my hat is definitely off to him because in two years he's done a terrific job of getting Virginia to this point. I think it's evident for even in the room that's watched them play.
COACH MIKE LONDON: I would say that obviously, again, I've said over and over again, one of the goals in college athletics is to win championships. Coach Chizik has done it at the BCS level. He's been National Coach of the Year. I think last year's recruiting class was the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Obviously there's something that's gone on there that's right.
Coaches are having opportunities to move on because they're bringing in quality people. Again, coach and I have been together in a couple social events, and our wives, athletic directors, have had a chance to talk to each other.
You talk about teams kind of reflect the mentality and approach of how you want to play the game. You can see that very much in Coach Chizik's team. Very physical, very fast, very confident, very confident. And you should be when you have the opportunity to bring your league, the SEC, to continue to play well as last year's national champion, having young men that are very attracted that you have won at the highest level. They want to be associated with that.
Again, very impressed with coach. I know he's done a tremendous job being a head coach and coordinator at these times. That's a tough thing to do. At the same time much admiration for the Auburn football program. Again, we're excited about Chick fil A, Virginia and Auburn having a chance to play.
MATT GARVEY: I think that's a great place to leave it. Thank you.
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