Monday, December 30th, 2002
LSU Head Coaches News ConferenceOpening statement:
“The first thing I’d like to comment about is the Cotton Bowl has done just a marvelous job of the hospitality and making our fans at LSU, our players at LSU and our LSU family feeling very welcome here. I think the city of Dallas has done the same thing. We’ve had a fantastic time here and our players really appreciate that, our staff does and I most certainly do.
“The people at Texas Stadium, the facility that we’ve used, have done everything they possibly could to satisfy our every need and we certainly appreciate that. It’s always really a privilege to play a program like the University of Texas that has such a great tradition almost as a dynasty type of school in the Cotton Bowl. Mack (Brown) has done such a fantastic job there in the five years that he’s been there building a great football team. He’s got a lot of good football players. They play well in every phase of the game: offense, defense and special teams. This is probably the most talented, best football team we’ve had the opportunity to face all year. I think it’s going to be a real key for us to play one of our best games from a competitive standpoint. But as always in bowl games, I think probably turnovers, big plays and good tackling, when you haven’t played a game for a long time, are going to be real keys in the outcome of the game. So we’re very pleased and happy to be here. We’re hopeful that we’re going to be a part of an outstanding game come Wednesday.”
On how this game is similar to the 2000 Peach Bowl when LSU played Georgia Tech in its home state:
“I think there are some similarities based on the fact that we’re kind of in enemy territory. But the hospitality we’ve received since we’ve been here has kind of has overcompensated for that. You’ve just focused so much on the team that you’re playing, the players that they have and what you need to do to try to be successful in all phases that you really don’t notice things like that. I think it’s important to try to notice what you don’t notice sometimes when you’re coaching and that’s what we tell players sometimes; to see things with their eye controlling their discipline that they don’t see. That’s what we’ve tried to focus on here by playing such a good team in Texas. They’re a lot of challenges for us to focus on their team. That’s what we have been able to do or try to do.”
On the status of C Ben Wilkerson:
“Ben Wilkerson is probably out for the game right now. He sustained a low back injury when he was working out between the end of the season and actually the start of bowl practice. He hasn’t responded like we’ve hoped. He’s a fine player and leader in our offensive line and certainly will be missed in the game. We haven’t been able to get him to be able to practice without having some pain so we’re going to re-evaluate him when we get back home and see what we need to do to try to rehabilitate him.”
On the finish of the Kentucky game tabbed “The Bluegrass Miracle”:
“We actually did all the things that we had practiced in those situations because we practice that every Thursday at the end of practice during our normal preparation. We had the timeout. Kentucky helped us a little bit because they called timeout with 15 seconds because we were trying to call timeout so they wouldn’t take the clock and the game. Had they been able to do that, we probably wouldn’t have been able to get two plays off. When you make plays like that, somebody upstairs is certainly blessing you. But we did the things we wanted to do in terms of how we fielded the kickoff and got out of bounds immediately, completed a pass for about 15 or 17 yards, called timeout and took the one shot. The ball got tipped around and our guy ended up with it.
“But as a coach, I think one the toughest things that happen to you is when you win a game like that and you don’t really feel like your players competed in the game for 60 minutes like you’d liked and didn’t dominate and control the other team. Even though you win the game, sometimes it sets you back in terms of how you’re able to get your players to respond to things that they need to improve on. Everyone seems to be more willing to make changes in what they are doing and how they’re doing it when things aren’t going well but it’s more difficult to do when you’re winning. You have to have a mature team to do that. We didn’t play well the next week (vs. Alabama) and maybe it was because we were blessed in that game. We didn’t learn our lessons in retrospect because we lost a game like that to lose the west championship and go back to the SEC championship game.
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned in all of athletics. We’ve certainly had some adversity to overcome this year and some great lessons that we can learn by competitive situations that have occurred in our games.”
On the expectations at LSU:
“I’m sure that fans have expectations everywhere. I would not like, and I’m sure Coach Brown would not ever like to coach at a place that didn’t have high expectations for what they wanted to accomplish. But I think when you have high expectations in any situation and in any circumstanceÑwhether you have it for your children at home, whether you have it for your wife, whether you have it at your job for a certain amount of productionÑ whatever it is, you set yourself up for a lot of frustration and a lot of disappointment. As coaches what we have to do is to try to take what we have every day and make it as productive as we possibly can. Sometimes things don’t always go, as we would like for them to go. You have to be able to overcome adversity and teach those lessons.
“We’re not really pleased with after being 6-1 this season and at one point winning 12 out of 13 gamesÑthe last six games last year and six out of seven at the beginning of this year---the way we finished the season. But I am very proud of the way our players overcame all of the adversity
that they had to overcome relative to the stability, the chemistry and how it was affected by who played, who didn’t play and who was lost. Sometimes when those things all fall into place like they did last year, you end up strong and have a chance to win championships. Sometimes it happens for you; sometimes it doesn’t. We’re not pleased of where we are in terms of this year.
“From a program standpoint, I’m pleased with the way our players have progressed as people in terms of how they represent themselves, their families, LSU and the state of Louisiana. I’m pleased with the way we have been able to improve the graduation rate and get our players to get an education and develop a career outside of football. I’m pleased with the way we’ve been able to compete on the field even though we haven’t won enough games to satisfy. I think as coaches we have to look sometimes at the process, not just the result. And the process hasn’t always been exactly what we wanted it to be, nor have the results been but I’m very pleased the way we’ve competed through adversity. I’m not disappointed at all where we are and where we are going. We’ve got a lot of good, young players in the program. I think when you have problems at quarterback, it creates a lot of instability on your team. That’s something we had to overcome this year. Marcus (Randall) has done a fantastic job of winning his team over on offense and winning our team over as a leader. And I think in the last two games, we played better because of that.”
On his stance for a playoff in Division I college football:
“I think the health of the bowl system is very important to college football because I think it reinforces a lot of players, a lot of teams that have good seasons. I think we have a unique situation in college football. I go around and call the high school coaches in Louisiana who lost in the championship game. Everybody call the ones that won. It’s amazing how disappointing they are after 15 games that they lost the last game and had great seasons. In the NFL, where I’ve coached, everybody is disappointed unless they win the Super Bowl. You make the playoffs but then you’re disappointed when you lose because only one team has a chance to be rewarded in a positive way for the accomplishments of their season. I think the health of the college bowl system is really, really important to college football. I think, if there was some kind of better way to determine who are the top few teams were and they had a game, I think that would probably be good. I think the logistics of having a playoff in college football with (conference) championship games and all of that would not be as good.
“I used the example of last year: we go to Atlanta and play in the SEC championship game. We were fortunate to play in our home state in the Sugar Bowl but what if we’d played in the Orange Bowl? Then what if there were a playoff and we had to go to San Francisco to play somebody? It’s not logistically (good) for your fans and those types of things. What I have always proposed is that we play the college bowls like we do now, BCS or not, pick eight or 10 teams; pick two or four teams after that to have a game or two. I’m only for that if they give the money back to the players. I’m talking about all players.
“We played 12 games this year. I’ve never been in favor of playing 12 games. I’ve sat in two meeting rooms, with 11 coaches in the Big Ten and 12 in the SEC, not one of those coaches out of all of those guys voted to play in 12 games. And now we’re playing 12 games. Our players are not professionals. They are student-athletes. They need to go to school. We have two bye weeks. We play for 16 weeks in the season and now we’re going to extend that even more. The reason we made freshman eligible was to limit the scholarships now to 85 from 120. So we’ve made a lot of cuts in football but we need to take, I think, a lot greater look at the players and how what we do affect the players.
“I think the quality of life of all people on scholarship, male and female alike, if we have a championship game in football, I think it would create about 24 million dollars in revenue and they should give 200 dollars a month for their scholarships. I’m talking about the women’s volleyball team, the women’s basketball teamÑeverybodyÑbecause we have some guys on our team who they don’t live a very good quality of life relative to the NCAA rules and regulation for going to college and all of that. I guess I’m for a semi-playoff but I’d certainly like to see some of the money get back in the hands of the people who make this game so exciting, which are the players.”
“If (media) continue to push it like they do, we’ll eventually have some type of playoff system. I think it’s healthy for college football to have a legitimate way to determine who are the best teams. If you look back through the years, if we had played all the games like we haveÑwhether it was Michigan and Nebraska sharing the national champion in 97 or 98, whenever it wasÑwhat if we’d had one more game to let those two teams play the next week. School’s not in; finals aren’t affected. If we have a playoff system, you’re talking about playing some games when people are taking finals and all those types of things. I just feel like it’s important but I think the logistics of how it gets done needs to be something that takes the players’ well-being into consideration.”
On his team not finishing games, especially in the Kentucky and Arkansas games:
“I think as a coach, you don’t want any of it dictated by what the other team does. Maybe you can understand the boxing match analogy a lot better. You can’t box for 15 rounds and not get punched a lot even if you’re successful in the bout. Your ability to respond to the punches I think is the most important thing. I oftentimes tell the story of Joe Lipsey, who was a middleweight contender in Michigan who went and fought Bernard Hopkins in 1995 or 96, something like that. He won the first three rounds of the fight then got pummeled in the fourth round. When you asked him what happened in the fight, I expected to say the guy hit me and hurt me and I couldn’t defend myself but he said ‘I hit him with my best shot and it didn’t faze him.’
“So if you’re talking about competition, what the other guy does can’t affect you. You have to be able to focus on the next play and continue to compete at the same level. The ability to manage the success (and) the ability to manage the failures are upon the most important things competitors have to do. We didn’t manage those things very well in those two particular games. It affected how we played and it also affected the outcome of the game. We’re playing against an awful, awful good football team that we’re going to have to compete extremely well and will have to overcome a lot to be able to have success. Players have to have the right psychological disposition to be able to do that.”