Thursday, December 30th, 2004


Opening comments: “It has been a great week. Our players have had a great time. Our coaching staff has had a great time. We’ve had a special season in a lot of ways. This is a great place to be to finish this season. Hopefully, it will be something that will springboard us into next year. The guys have worked very hard. We’ve had good practices both at home and here on site. I think they’re a little anxious to get to the game now. É They’ve been very appreciative of the activities they’ve had, but they’re anxious to get to play in the Cotton Bowl and look forward to the game.”

On the development of quarterback Reggie McNeal: “Reggie is a very talented athlete. I think we all put a lot of pressure on Reggie early. We certainly, as a staff, needed Reggie to play well last year. He has grown in the system, matured , become a much better leader. Reggie is a very intelligent young man, a very intelligent quarterback. His good junior year, I think, is a direct result of being in the same offense for two years, growing up, maturing, understanding what he needed to do and the direction he needed to go. É He has always been capable of making plays. I think one of the areas Reggie has had to learn a little bit is that he can’t just rely on his athletic ability at this level. I think in high school, Reggie was the best athlete on the field a number of days. He has learned to be a true quarterback and be a smart quarterback in the last year. He has a phenomenal record of not turning the ball over, of not throwing interceptions. That’s a credit to a lot of people, but certainly to Reggie’s decision making. I think it’s a great example of just how far he has been able to come.”

On the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry when Franchione was head coach at Alabama: “It is as intense a rivalry as I think there is in college football. It’s a great one. I know both schools really, really want to win that game. Both states are really caught up in it. É It has been a rivalry of streaks as I look back on it. It’s one of the great college football rivalries that there is. It was really an honor for me to get to coach in it.”

On the Texas A&M secondary: “The two corners, Jonte Buhl and Byron Jones, have played pretty solid. I think the key for our secondary is that when we are behind on the chains we’ve had a little more problem than when we’re ahead on the chains. É Jaxson Appel (free safety) has certainly been a rock back there for us the last two years as a tackler, as a leader, as a communicator. We’ve made some tweaks and changes here and there, and we’ve been able to play more nickel and dime coverages, which has helped us get a lot more speed on the field for games against teams with wide-open offenses. But we’ve played a lot of young guys. É We’ve had a few growing pains along the way, too, with the youth that has been back there. For the most part, if our front seven has played well, then our secondary has been pretty solid.”

On the defensive changes that were made after the 4-8 season last year and the 0-1 start this year: “We had really good fall practices. Our young players were really closing the gap between our older players. When we did not play well in the Utah game, we all had to come back and reassess and re-evaluate who was going to play good in games. We don’t have the benefit of a scrimmage against another team or an exhibition like the NFL. You learn a lot about your team in the first game. And we learned some things that night (against Utah) that we probably didn’t like as well as we had hoped we would. We made some changes in personnel. We talked with them at great length and tried to make sure we didn’t overload the young players, but put them in a position to have success without getting them too far mentally into the tank. É And the junior college linebackers that we brought in had to make an impact. One of the keys to our whole season going in was how soon we could get those guys ready to play. É Our concern was that if we were too complex in September, that it might be October or November before they were ready to help us. And so we had to spend a lot of time deciding just how much we could do with them and how much we could enlarge the package each day where they could be aggressive and play the way we knew they could play. We got a shutout the next week, the first time in a long time for one of those. Our guys got a boost of confidence and things started to feed off that shutout. We got on a nice little run. Those young guys certainly became key factors in our success. There were some days they made some young guys’ mistakes, too. But there were a lot of days that their energy, their enthusiasm and the way they played the game offset those things.”

On input in setting up the schedule: “None because we played the toughest schedule in the nation, according to records. I think when you’ve been in a program as long as Phil, you have an opportunity to look down the road and evaluative your team and when you’re going to be young and when you’re going to be more experienced. É We always want a key non-conference game against a team like Clemson, as we had this year, and also a way to find some success early in the season. Whether you have two of those games or one of those games kind of depends on where you are with experience in your football program. You don’t want to go into conference play not having some mental confidence about where you’re going. É We never overlook that this is a physical game, obviously. But the mental side of this game and how you’re feeling, in self-esteem and in confidence going into your schedule, is really vital, too. I think you have to consider all of those factors as you look at what you’re going to do in your scheduling.”

On if what Coach Phil Fulmer has accomplished at Tennessee is a blueprint for stability: “I envy Phil. I think a lot of us in our profession really admire what he has been able to do, the longevity he has been able to have at his alma mater. It has had to be very special for him. In this day and age, as coaches, Phil is becoming the exception to everything with what he has been able to do there. And certainly my hope would be to have that kind of tenure at Texas A&M. É That’s what our plans are, to work in that direction. I think a win over Tennessee is a game that qualifies as a significant win, just for us as Texas A&M, having lost the last four Cotton Bowls that we’ve been in. As a football team, you get a chance once in a while to be a special team in the history of your program. Obviously, A&M has a rich history. To win the Cotton Bowl would really stamp this 2004 team as kind of a special football team. I think in coaching your players, you’re always looking for something that can separate this team. And this team has done a nice job of having a special season in a lot of ways. This would certainly be a game that if we’re able to win would be something that could set them apart from all the other teams just a little bit.”

On how preparing for a bowl game is different: “We all have a lot more time to work on a game plan for a game like this. I think you have to be cautious putting too much in. It’s a little bit different than August camp when you’re installing your offense and your defense, and you’re not going to go into a first game with a lot of it because they’re not ready for it that early. Here we are, we’ve played 11 football games and had more than a month to get ready for this game. The thing I’ve had to work with our staff on and make sure that we define as well as possible is what we actually need to have in this plan and where we’ve crossed over and gone with too much. The other key factor is practicing in a manner that you’re able and ready to play well after having almost a month away from a football game. É This is a little bit like the first game in that respect.”

On what he would change about college football: “I think we all, as coaches, would like to see the BCS come to a little bit more of a position where there maybe is not as much controversy. I’ve liked the concepts that I’ve heard about the committee selecting the teams. I understand you all (media) don’t want to vote anymore. I don’t particularly want to have my vote scrutinized all the way through, either. É We’ve been able to select 64 basketball teams with a committee. I don’t know why we cannot come to an agreement. É That would finally put some of those things, maybe, to rest with the BCS. There’s never going to be a complete answer to all of that. But I don’t think we’re that far away from getting to where it is going to end up. É We may never satisfy the public and their thirst for what they would like to have. But I think that we, as presidents and college football coaches, will be able to put it in a perspective that is best for the student-athlete and the university.”

On the atmosphere expected for Saturday’s game: “Kyle Field North. I think we’ll have a large contingent of Aggies there. This is a special bowl for Texas A&M and our former students. I really believe that if you polled our people and asked them what bowl they would like to play in, they would say the Cotton Bowl. And our players said that, too. They grew up in Texas, they grew up dreaming of playing in the Cotton Bowl. É I know we had a lot of people concerned when we were maybe going to San Diego about how to get there. É This is a special place, and I think we will have a good contingent of maroon in that stadium on Saturday.”

On the plans for the night before the game: “I think we can sacrifice the New Year’s Eve celebration in light of the opportunity we have to play on New Year’s Day. The best celebration

will be after the game, hopefully. I think we want our players to be able to celebrate that way. We’re pretty much in our routine as we get toward the end of the week and we’ll stay there.”

--69th SBC Cotton Bowl Classic--