Good morning everyone. For us at Notre Dame, we’re certainly humbled to be here at the Sun Bowl. There was a time we were in a position where a bowl game was not a certainty for us and to have the opportunity to be here in El Paso, I can tell you that our entire football team, everyone that has traveled with us, has really enjoyed the experience thus far.We’re into our second day of practice today. I’ll give you a little bit better feel for where we are after today’s practice. Again, from our standpoint, we are excited about the matchup with the University of Miami, two teams that have got great traditions, but also wanna look towards the future as well. I think you’ll see that both football teams playing a very competitive game.
Again, from our standpoint at the University of Notre Dame, we’re really excited to be here and play a great program like the University of Miami.
Coach, a fill in the blank question: if we don’t avoid “blank,” Miami will win. How would you fill in that blank?
Well, I think there’s probably two things because it works on both sides. We have to be able to protect Tommy (Rees) and that’s absolutely crucial. We can’t put this game in a situation where he’s gotta go out as a freshman and decide the outcome. And then defensively, find a way to balance stopping the run with the ability to play the ball in the air down the field because they are going to run the football and they are take some shots with some skilled players. And so that balance, in other words, can’t sell out against the run or you are going to get into one-on-one matchups that Miami can exploit so I think it’s balance on defense, stopping the run but being balanced, and don’t put Tommy Rees in a position where he’s gotta make plays to win the game.
Miami’s run game against Notre Dame’s run defense? Do you look at that as their strength against your strength?
Well, I think at this point it’s what you do. You are who you are so you don’t go into a bowl game and change your demeanor. Miami has shown the ability to be very effective running the football. They run a number of backs, a well-coached football team. Clearly that’s who they are as a personality and I don’t think you depart from that when you go into a bowl game.
Another fill-in blank question: can you fill in the blank as to what happen to Duval (Kamara)? Did he get stuck in a snowdrift in New Jersey?
Personal reasons is the reason why he is not here.
Will he be here? Will he show up in El Paso?
I would not know as to whether he shows up in El Paso or not. If he has plans, he’s made them on his own but he is not part of our official travel party.
What is the next step for Manti (T’eo)? You like to ascribe this leadership mantel to middle linebackers all the time and he’s only a sophomore. What’s the next step or him going into next year?
I think it’s off the field. I think it’s continually leading and learning how to lead. He’s certainly a very good football player. He’s gotta hone his craft because as you said he’s only a sophomore so it’s not like he at awry from that standpoint. I think where you’ll see Manti’s presence being felt even more is now taking over a leadership position on the defensive side of the ball. As a sophomore you feel your way out a little bit as you move into the season and now as he’s emerged as obviously one of our leaders on defense, I think you’ll see a bigger presence from him in the weight room, in the off season conditioning in the summer. I think that’s where he grows more.
What’s different about coaching Notre Dame in your first year? Has there been anything that surprised you compared to other places?
That’s a long list. Ask Jeff (Stoutland). I think he learned in a very short time there are no surprises anymore when you’re a head coach. I think you have to deal with the things that are presented to you and you use your experience to set the course for where head coaches need to take their football team.
For me, there’s no job like the University of Notre Dame and given the circumstances of this year, we had to overcome a lot of adversity. I think you try to use your experience to make good decisions during those periods of time.
I couldn’t say anything surprised me as much as there were a lot of things we had to deal with that required a lot of our time this year.
What is it that makes the job so attractive to coach? You have so many expectations on a national level, not just local.
Well, taking over the position of the head coach at the University of Notre Dame there’s a great tradition, there’s a great following from coast to coast. I don’t think it was ever so clear in my own mind as when we went back to New York and played in Yankee Stadium, the support we had from coast to coast. There’s such a passionate following for the University of Notre Dame so you’re carrying that with you on a day-to-day basis. There’s a lot of scrutiny on the position. I wanted to go somewhere where football was very, very important as well as academics and that stands to be true in my first year here.
If this is Mike (Floyd’s) last game, how do you think he will he be remembered? Along some of the same lines as Manti (T’eo), if he does come back, where does he go from here?
Well, you know these decisions that are made relative to whether they come back or not, I really don’t spend much time on them. I look at the present and in the present Michael Floyd is somebody that impacted our entire football team. And he impacted them every day by the way he worked every day in practice. He set a standard from my perspective, of how you want champions to practice and prepare. A great work ethic and great with understanding what it takes to be a great player and we see that in practice. If he does decide it’s in his best interest to move on to the NFL, whether I agree or not is really immaterial. What he leaves is a standard of what I can point to moving forward. That’s how you prepare, that’s how you practice. Look at Michael Floyd.
Notre Dame has won three in a row and Miami has lost two. How does this game serve as a bridge to next season?
I think anytime you take two weeks to practice, you’re always thinking about the preparation for the opponent, but you always have an eye towards the future. Like anything else, you are going to live in the present, but you are going to have an eye for the future. I think clearly for both teams, there is 2011 is out there as well. We want to win this football game so the most important thing is the present. But in the evaluation process over the last weeks, you’re gonna look at the guys that might impact you for 2011.
If you lose this game, does it negate the momentum you’ve built over the last three seasons?
No, I don’t think it wipes clean the slate relative to what we’ve done in the month of November. But certainly you don’t want a loss lingering for a long offseason. It’s very, very important to our players, our coaches and everybody associated but I don’t think we go into this saying we lose this football game, we’ve lost all the traction that we’ve gained over this entire year.
As I said earlier, I just want to thank the Hyundai Sun Bowl and all of their staff for being so kind and nice to the Miami Hurricane football family. They’ve gone way out of their way to make us feel welcome. This town is an incredible town. My wife just said to me, since it’s her birthday today, she said ‘there’s no better place to be on your birthday.’
She said, ‘we have to bring some of these people back with us; they’re so nice.’ It’s unbelievable, and I mean that.
Our situation is a little bit different right now. This game, right here, that we’re about to play will be the last game, not only four our seniors, but for many of or staff. And that’s hard. It’s been an emotional couple of weeks for a lot of the coaches and some of the seniors. Every day is a new day for us. (Monday) was a great practice. We got a lot of enthusiasm; guys were having fun. To me, when you can have fun playing this great game, you’ve got a good chance of being successful because unfortunately you do it so much it becomes monotonous at times.
I saw a lot more competitiveness, guys having fun, receivers and defensive backs got after it (Monday); we had a real competitive drill. We actually had to do one more rep in the redzone. … They were all tied up, so we couldn’t stop there. They wanted to go again.
It’s been exciting in practices. Hopefully we can carry that in (Tuesday) and then right on into the game on Friday.
It’s been nearly a month since coach (Randy) Shannon has been let go. Do you think enough time has passed for those distractions to have, sort of, gone away with the players? Is any of that still lingering?
I don’t think that’s gone away at all. Coach (Randy) Shannon, when he came and started this whole thing, he became very close with a lot of our players. Obviously, as a head coach, you’re in the homes of every one of those recruits and a lot of those guys are having a tough time. I talked to quite a few of them. That’s the thing with me that’s different. I’m used to just coaching the offensive line and dealing with the issues that those players have. Now I’m dealing with issues from all positions. To be honest with you I really what that has because I’m a people guy, and I like listening to the other positions and what they have to say, what their needs are.
Has the last month made it more or less likely that you’d seek a head coaching job?
No, I think this opportunity has provided me with some opportunities later on. This is something that I had never done before. It’s like being on a roller coaster and there’s no stopping it; it just keeps going. I think that in the last three to four weeks, for me, I’ve learned a lot in terms of the things you can do to prepare your team. And I’ve done this for a long time in coaching, and I’ve had a lot of my own thoughts and ideas but sometimes you’re not able to implement those thoughts. I’ve tried to do some of those things now, in the last couple of weeks, and I’m enjoying this. Although it is bittersweet. Like I said on Day 1, the man that brought me here is no longer here. And after this game, a lot of the coaches that are coaching in the game will not be here. So for that part of it, it’s been difficult.
Has it been encouraging or maybe a validation for some of the guys that newly hired Miami coach Al Golden has retained them?
When I first started coaching, there were no cell phones, there was no Internet. You use to have to pull up to the telephone at the gas station, roll your window down and make your calls that way. Coaches back in those days, the Nebraska staff, the Penn state staff, even the Miami staff; coaches were at those programs for 25 years. They coached there forever. There was some continuity, and I think that’s important.
I really do think that’s important; for the players, No. 1. When I first went to Michigan State to coach there, I was their fourth (offensive line) coach in four years. The offensive lineman looked at me like, ‘Oh, here’s just another guy.’ I ended up staying there for seven years, but I could just see the look on their face; ‘Oh here’s another coach.’ Players need continuity, they need consistency. I think coach (Al) Golden saw that opportunity to keep a few of us, which personally I’m very happy that he did that. I know the other coaches are as well.
What do you have to do in order for Miami to win or what do you have to avoid in order for you guys to win?
That hasn’t been an easy thing for you guys to do this year?
No, no its not. And it’s really hurt us. We’re a good football team but that’s kind of taken the thunder out of it for us, a little bit. We’ve worked on that and we’ve been doing really well during the bowl preparation. Like I said, our guys have been real competitive. We’ve minimized that part of the game right now. So hopefully when the game starts we can do it.
Have you told your team is going to start at quarterback?
We are not going to announce that (Tuesday) or maybe even (Wednesday). There’s still a couple of practices left and when I tell you it’s close, it’s real close between the two players (junior Jacory Harris and true freshman Stephen Morris). We’re monitoring a lot of the things we just talked about. There might be times in the game where we might play both players based on what we’re doing schematically. We have not announced it to the team. We have not announced it to the media.
Is it important for the team to know who’s starting at quarterback?
Not really because every day in practice, every day they’re rotating with the 1s and 2s. There’s really been no one guy playing with the 1s all of the time. I think the only person, sometimes, that really knows is the center.
Did sophomore running back Mike James make it in? (James’ mother died in a Dec. 21 car accident)
He’s in New Jersey, right now. He had to go with family to New York, and I talked to him last night. He, literally, can’t get a plane out. Those airports were closed down. We’re trying to get him on anything (to get here). If not today, (Wednesday) for sure.
Have you thought about a pregame speech and thought about what you’d like to say to the team?
That’s never been a problem for me. When I write things down, I screw it up. I just let it fly, and honestly I want our players to be that way. I want them to let their hair down and just play. I think that’s when Miami is at its best. I’m not looking for robots. I told them that. I want us to have fun. I want us to play hard, and let’s see what happens after that.
Do you think it’s especially awkward for people that do or do not know their status right now? Do they know really?
I think everybody knows their status right now. I don’t really read the newspapers, I really don’t. I don’t know what’s been released, what’s not been released. I just know this: I know that there are three coaches that have been asked to stay.