Dave Serrano Press Conference (3/10)

March 10, 2014

Tennessee Head Coach Dave Serrano

(Opening statement)
"I don't know if I can sit here and say I thought we would be 14-1 after the 15 games we've played. This doesn't surprise me that this team is having success. This coaching staff felt that. We saw it in the work ethic, we saw it in the athletes we have and the players are playing. That's what it comes down to. The players are playing. They're having fun doing it. All you have to do is spend a few minutes around this group from how they act on bus rides, how they are around each other in the hotel, how they act around each other in the dugout. They love each other. They have a fondness for one another and they're playing for each other. That's the sign of a great team going in the right direction. The record, I'd say it surprises me, but the way we're playing doesn't surprise me. Probably the greatest thing for a coach to think is that we can still get better, too. There are areas that we can get better.

"It was a great weekend to be a Vol. It's always great to be a Vol, but this weekend was special. Congratulations to women's basketball, to Holly (Warlick) and her group. I wasn't able watch yesterday's game because we were playing but I heard it was a nail-biter and they ended up winning by a point. I couldn't be prouder of Cuonzo (Martin) and men's basketball. They're playing their best basketball at the right time of the season. I think they're going to make a good run in the SEC Tournament, and I think they're going to make a good run in the NCAA Tournament, too. That's just my prediction; take it for what it's worth. And the continued success of the softball program. I know they lost a game on Saturday, but they continue their success. I texted Karen (Weekly) last night and said we're just trying to be copycats and follow their lead. It's a great weekend for all the good things going around here on Rocky Top."

(On winning the close games this year on the road compared to last year)
"We're growing up. Like I said, every year is different so I don't want to compare this year to last year, nor the first year. Every team is different. We'll have a lot of our guys back next year, but next year will be different. It's just a different personality that it takes upon itself. These guys have a will to win. I said to a few people this weekend it really wasn't about the results on the field or how we did. I wanted to see how our team reacted, if their personalities changed since it was the first time going on the road. At times, Arizona State can be a hostile environment. Their fans can really ride you. Luckily for our players, they rode me for a little bit. That's fine, I'll take it. Their personalities didn't change at all and that was a great sign. Whether we would've won or lost yesterday, I'm proud that we won, that's big for this team and this program to beat a historical program like Arizona State. I would've been proud coming home last night because we passed the test in my mind. Our character and our personality didn't change at all. That shows maturity, it shows growth, and it shows that we are headed in the right direction."

(On what's attributing to the team's success)
"First and foremost we're throwing a lot more strikes than we have in our first two years. We can even get better. Secondly, I didn't coach any differently. We have better pitchers. We have better arm strength. I figured it out. It isn't all about coaching. It's about the players and what kind of players you have. It's about the talent you have. Yesterday on a Sunday afternoon game, I was pretty confident that we were going to swing the bats. We had a lot of pitching left that hadn't been used over the weekend and it paid dividends for us in the victory yesterday. It's the quality of the pitching and first and foremost, we're throwing strikes. If you look at our numbers, we're not giving up a lot of hits. That's due to the fact that we have some guys that have good stuff."

(On the playing level of Arizona State compared to upcoming SEC teams)
"To some extent, yes. I think the atmosphere helped our guys. The program tradition helped our guys. I don't want to sit here and say what Arizona State would finish in the SEC, just like I wouldn't want someone to say what we would finish in the Pac-12. We're not in that league. They're not in our league. It definitely prepared us for what's to come starting next Friday in Missouri, and the 10 weekends beyond that. That's why we played series like UNLV, who's won a lot of games since they left here. And Arizona State who is going to win games as they go on, too. That's why we play those games. This coaching staff learned a lot about this team this weekend. A lot more than maybe we knew from the first 12 games, even though it was an unblemished record. We learned a lot about these guys, even with the loss. You have to give credit to our guys. We lose a tough game Friday night. You can look at it - could've, should've, would've - but Vincent Jackson hits a ball and the second baseman makes a catch. Otherwise, we're a hit away from maybe sweeping that series. To lose your first game when you had a 12-game winning streak coming out of the gate, and to recover by winning two games on the West Coast with all of the travel we had to do, is really a tip of the hat to our players and what they did."

(On Andy Cox's season)
"Andy Cox has just been spectacular. You really never know how a guy is going to react once the season starts. You can put them through all the tests in the world and scrimmages in practice, but sometimes the light just goes on for some guys in certain times of their career. I believe this coaching staff saw that in Andy when we recruited him here. He's very athletic, a left-handed pitcher with a quick and good arm. But last year he played the part of a freshman. At times, he looked good and at other times, he looked scared. He doesn't look scared anymore. He looks good most of the time. We're going to ride that wave as long as we can. Andy has served many roles - starter, first out of the bullpen, middle of the game, late innings, closer yesterday - we're going to ride that. Andy deserves to be a starter in this program. I would not be a very intelligent man if I took him out of the role that he is right now because he's helping us win a lot of games in the role that he's in right now."

(On psychology of pitchers)
"No, but I think if you're Andy Cox, unlike our starters, Nick Williams knows he comes to the field every Friday right now and he's pitching that day. Andy Cox comes to the field every day knowing there's a chance he's going to pitch that day. I don't know which way I'd rather have it, to be honest with you. Knowing you get to help the team one day a week or knowing that you may get to help the team four or five days a week. I don't know which one's better to be honest with you. He's handled it extremely well. He loves the fact that he knows he's going to get the ball many times and he's going to get the ball right now, for sure, when the game is on the line. Who would want it any differently than that?"

(On how the conference stands)
"I could sit here confidently and say we stack up fine in our conference. There are some elite, but the elite can be beaten too. I feel like, I'm not going to say where I feel we should belong, but I feel like we will belong and that's for sure.

"It's hard to say because a lot of teams have played different variations of schedules. I think Vanderbilt has played a very good schedule and has been tested.

They've put up a good record. South Carolina, I just saw today, has a 74th strength of schedule. Their numbers are unbelievable and they're a good team. Have they been truly tested yet? I don't know. That's soon to be seen. I think LSU has played a good schedule. They're a good team. I think those three teams are really good teams this year, probably three of the favorites. How can I not, I'd be crazy if I wasn't saying we had a chance to win this thing too. I don't want to put that pressure on our players because we're building. But, why not us? No one is ever going to tell me we can't do it until the final of the season and I see the standings. We have room for improvement still and that is what's so encouraging to me as a coach. We have not peaked as a team. There are some guys in the lineup that I think can continue to do better. There's pitching that can continue to grow up and do better. We have a lot of improvement. It's the perfect storm because we're winning a lot of games. I hope by April, May and June that the Vols are playing their best baseball and hitting on all cylinders."

(On Nick Senzel)
"I'm going to reiterate what I said about two press conferences ago, Nick Senzel is a beast. I think he's proven that on the field. I just saw some numbers- he's walked 11 times already and only struck out five times. That's pretty amazing for a freshman. I'll go back to an at-bat yesterday at Arizona State. he showed extreme discipline on some pitches to get a big walk in an inning for us. I think that's where success is coming. He's a very confident kid. A lot of our freshmen are. Our freshmen don't act like freshmen. They may not be performing at the level that we want them too, but the game isn't beating them down right now. They have some arrogance to them. They play the part, of `hey, I'm part of this team too.'[Nathaniel] Maggio is doing the same thing. Hunter Martin is doing the same thing. Kyle [Serrano] is showing at times the same thing. Jordan Rodgers, when he has the chance has done that. Our freshmen have contributed to the success and are going to contribute even more as we continue to go even further down this journey."

(On the depth of the pitching staff showing power in Saturday/Sunday games)
"Well I think what it says loud and clear is that the bullpen is winning a lot of games for this team. Like I said before I build a pitching staff from the bullpen out. Games in college baseball are won by the bullpen, won and lost by the bullpen. Our bullpen is not disappointing me at all. It hasn't been perfect. It never will be perfect, but that is where the strength of our pitching staff is right in the depth of the bullpen. We can run some arms out there now that are going to give some teams some trouble. You are right. That is a great question. The depth has come out now in a Saturday or Sunday where we didn't pitch that great but we kept the team at bay. We were able to keep the down enough to allow our offense to have a great day in numbers. We just didn't put a lot of runs on the board. We had some opportunities. They made some big pitches. We gave away some at bats. We hit some balls extremely hard yesterday. If you look at the scoreboard at certain part of the game I think we had ten hits and maybe four or five runs. While they had two or three hits and they were right there with us. That is how baseball is. We give some opportunities or some walks and they took advantage of it, but we hit the ball extremely hard yesterday. The scoreboard just didn't show it. We didn't get a running score when we needed it."

(On a fan at the airport wanting to donate to the team after speaking with the players)
"Thanks for asking that question because I love to brag about our players. First my wife said it to me as we were sitting at the airport when that man came up. She was with me on three different occasions but not every occasion where three different people came up to me this weekend that absolutely 'ga-gaed' over our guys about how they can't believe how classy, professional and respectful your kids are and you should be proud. I am very proud. The coaching staff is too. It culminated when the bus driver got on the microphone. He dropped us off that the airport and he wanted our guys to know that out of all the teams that he has travelled, professionally, minor leagues and college he has never had a better, classier team than our team. If he could put his bus in a suitcase then he would come back to Knoxville and be our bus driver each and every day. Then at the airport a man who was a UT Martin alumni came up to me and he had some ties at the University of Tennessee. He came up to me just to introduce himself and to tell me that he is just a guy at the airport that was asking questions to a bunch of guys that all had on white Tennessee polos that they could have easily blown off after a long weekend with a lot of travel ahead of us and ignored. However they continued to talk to him and answer his questions talking about our program. He walked away, thirty minutes later he came back and kudos to our guys for knowing the rules. He asked our guys if he could buy them dinner. They said no that is against the rules. We can't do that. So instead he wrote a check to our program as a donation because of how respectful he thought our players were and how honored it was to get to know them. That just tells you everything about our guys. Again I compare it a lot to raising a family when your kids do the right thing and how proud you are as a father. That is how I am about these guys. My feeling is not going to change if we do start losing games. These guys do it the right way. We got back to Knoxville at 4:30 in the morning and I feel pretty good that every guy went to class this morning. They have fun on the bus. We have our own little clicks that they do on the bus with different songs. It is a fun group to be around. It is actually hilarious. That is what builds championship mentality. That is what brings success to groups when they can let their hair down a little bit to be themselves around their teammates and brothers, family, however you want to put it."





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