July 31, 2013
"Well good afternoon, it's good to see everyone. Hopefully everyone is well rested from this summer. It's getting close to being football time. I think you can understand there's a lot of excitement right now starting a brand new season with Team 117.
"Our players are very excited and I think very rightfully so. I think we've had a productive off season program. Our players to this date have answered every challenge that we have given to them. I think I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about winning in the classroom. You have the best semester that you have academically in the history of the program with 46 individuals with a 3.0 or higher, a 2.82 accumulative GPA, and then you follow that up with your first semester of summer school that's even better than that.
"Then I got a report yesterday which made me exceptionally proud of our young men in our program, since this staff has walked in on December 7th, our team has done 1,322 hours of community service. 1,322 hours of community service. To me, we talked about before we could even think of winning on the field, we had to win off the field and it started with the way we conducted ourselves in the classroom, our academic expectations and how we represent this program in class.
"Everyone is excited, but for me, I'm more interested in how this team is in week two, week three, as we continue to progress throughout training camp. It's easy to be excited now, but what happens when you go through the long days of training camp, and every day seems the same and you're hitting each other, that's when your team is really born, that's where your toughness is born, that's really where your leadership is born. When we step out on the football field for practice-one, I'm very, very interested to see how this team has progressed since spring football.
"You know, the challenge for a new coaching staff is developing your style of play and your expectations. You have 15 practices and that's it. With the NCAA calendar, it really limits you in how you can develop your football team. Then you look at non-padded practices, and it's not much of a gauge or a tool to really see where you're at. So the big thing is as we continue to move forward is, how much have we improved our strength levels, how much have our conditioning levels improved, our leadership, our team chemistry, our togetherness.
"Our overall fundamentals and meticulous attention to detail that it takes to play winning football. That's what I'm excited to see and I think the big thing as we continue to move forward is retention. We cannot start from ground zero, we have to take what worked to build upon with those 15 practices of spring football, and continue to progress. We can't be starting back. We have to continue to move forward, and also individuals taking pride in their performance, our style of play.
"Every great team has a unique style of play that makes them different from all the other teams in the country. We continue to develop our group reputation as a football program and then power the unit. Is each position group taking pride in their performance? I think the overall mentality of really what it takes to play winning football day in and day out, the mental preparation, the mental intensity that it takes to win at a very consistent level. The team chemistry. The fundamentals.
"I've said it and I'll continue to say it that I think this team will be defined by how we handle adversity, how resilient we are and as we know the schedule is a great challenge. And I know you guys get tired of hearing me say it, but it's all process oriented. Everything in this football program is process oriented. We're not going to worry about the end results in camp. The only thing we can control is being a better football team minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day. That's the only thing we can control and we have to focus on the things that we can control.
"I think the big thing though, is our players understanding that this is what championship teams do. We always talk about inches make the champion and everyone is searching for the inches. I'm a firm believer in team chemistry and I think we all know this, it's not a secret. Are we going to be the most talented team this year? No we're not. We all understand that, but talent doesn't win championships. Teams win championships.
"Last place I was at we won two championships in a row and I believe we were voted fourth or fifth in our conference but I thought we had the best collection of individuals who bought into a goal and they held each other accountable to the standards and expectations of the football program.
"So again, I'm excited to see how far we've come from spring and then you add another element with the component of incoming freshmen. I'm excited to see where those individuals are and watch them progress throughout training camp and see which ones will be game ready. If you ask me right now which freshmen I anticipate playing this year, I don't know. I haven't seen them in action.
"What you have to understand is that these are still 17 and 18-year-old young adults. They're like our children. You raise them the same way, they all develop at different paces. When you throw in the physicality of the game, you throw in the practice structure, you throw in the competitive environment, you throw in the systems, you throw the functional intelligence it takes to play at a high level, so that will be an ongoing progress as we continue to go through training camp. So with that I'll answer any questions that you may have."
(On the depth chart)
"I've said it from day one. A depth chart in our program is irrelevant. All a depth chart means is who takes the first rep and then it's up to everyone, I told them, you are responsible for creating your own identity. The way you go to class, the way you represent our program and our institution in the community. How you're able to take the classroom setting to the field and how you compete. That's your identity, so the depth chart will change. The only depth chart that we really pay attention to is special teams, but the depth chart's not a big deal."
(On what a freshman quarterback would have to do to push for a starting position)
"I don't think it's unrealistic. Is it difficult? Absolutely. We're going to play the quarterback who can manage the game for us, take care of the football for Tennessee, and put us in the right situation. We expect our quarterback to be the alpha male of the offense. He is the leader. When things start going array, they're all going to look to him. He's the one who is in control. We talk about being in control and a commanding presence in everything that you do and I think the thing that our quarterbacks and every position group will understand is every rep is being evaluated. It doesn't have to be a team setting. It doesn't have to be a 7-on-7 for the quarterbacks. It may be as simple as run frames with the running backs or an individual rep in practice. We're going to totally evaluate every individual, and the quarterback that will play on Saturday will be the individual that we think will have the best chance to lead us to victory."
(On if he would like to name a starting quarterback early in training camp)
"Yes, I would, unless it's really, really close. If someone comes in and distances themselves and really takes hold of this football team and is their leader, we're going to name a starting quarterback. I'm not an individual who likes to play a number of quarterbacks but I do think that you always look at past history. We have a system in place offensively that will play to the strengths of whoever is the quarterback. You look at last year, we went from a dual threat quarterback and three-quarters through the season we made a quarterback change to a drop back passer and we won a championship. So I think our offensive system lends itself to that, but I'm the type of person that if a person distances themselves we're going to name them the starting quarterback."
(On if all four quarterbacks will get equal reps until a decision has been made)
"It goes back to the previous couple questions. We will evaluate them in everything. That's a good point, the freshmen quarterbacks will probably have limited reps starting off, so every rep is critical. Do something to catch the coaches eyes. The other thing with great quarterback play is a high level consistency. Consistency in your performance day in and day out."
(On what prompted him to make the quarterback switch last year)
"I think it just goes back to the fact that we're going to play the player that we feel will put us in position to win football games. Who gives us the best opportunity to win football games? At that particular time we just felt that it was the best decision for our football team and looking back at it, it won us a championship. Every situation is different. A lot of times different situations dictate personnel changes. Obviously, this is a new year, and I'm excited to see what all four quarterbacks bring to the table."
(On how quickly the team has bought into the program both on and off the field)
"This team has probably bought in more quickly than either of the other two stops. And that's taking nothing away from the individuals at the other two places because at Central Michigan our first year we won a conference championship. This team has answered every challenge to date, but I don't think for us it's not a new thing because we're a new coaching staff. Those are the standards and expectations of our football program. It doesn't matter if it's year one, year four, or year 10 -- you guys are hopefully going to be stuck with me for a long time -- so it doesn't matter. That's the standard and the expectation by which Tennessee Football is going to be run and that is the standard."
(On if he's surprised that they've gotten to that standard so fast)
"No, I'm not. I think it speaks volumes of the character of our players, but I think the other ingredient is our coaching staff. Again, when I stood before everyone on December 7 and we talked about compromising and the composition of the coaching staff, I said I was going to bring the best coaching staff to the University of Tennessee that I felt would help us implement our program and I think the transition has been seamless because we all know each other. We've been through it before so I didn't have to take my time of coaching coaches. They understood the standard and the expectations so they can now go coach our players up and recruit that much faster."
(On what unique aspect he wants people to see in this football team this year)
"Well first of all, our style of play is our discipline. Good football teams take care of the football, they take the ball away on defense, they don't have untimely penalties, they're disciplined in everything they do. Effort, you know every coach talks about effort, but I think everyone in this room knows, that it's coached on every single snap. Again, to overachieve, you have to play with tremendous effort. Team chemistry, you win with team chemistry. You're talking about 105 individuals coming together. We talk about it all the time, one wrong, all wrong. That's what makes football the greatest team sport. It takes 11 individuals doing their job, executing their assignment and then with the physicality and the mental approach, and if 10 guys do their job but one individual doesn't then you aren't going to have success. That's why we talk about all that and that's why team chemistry and trust is critical."
(On managing who gets reps in training camp)
"Every rep counts, no matter if it's an individual rep or every rep in practice, they'll have plenty of reps. We're going into camp with four quarterbacks. I worry about sore arms so they're going to have plenty of opportunity. Everyone talks about team situations and all that. Some of the best practice occurs in routes on air with the quarterback, just ask Peyton Manning. That's his best part of practice because you're earning that trust with your receivers, you're learning their body language, how they speak to you non-verbally when they're coming out of cuts and breaks so every rep is going to be very detail oriented and focused on greatly."
(On if younger players understand that every rep counts)
"If they don't, they better in a hurry. And they will. When we start our team meeting on day one, everyone's going to know. It's not just the quarterbacks. We have to find out who the next offensive lineman is. Unfortunately, we may have to rely on some true freshmen to play up front on the line of scrimmage. I'm more concerned about that, knowing who is number six and who is number seven so our players will know and if they don't, they will understand that every rep is critical as we continue to grow and develop Team 117"
(On Curt Maggitt)
"Curt's been through a long haul, and I say it all the time, we live in such a SportsCenter society, and you go home and all you do when you put the TV on is you see all the highlights. What you don't see is the resiliency and the perseverance that individuals like Curt Maggitt have had to work themselves back into playing shape. I learned very early on in being here that Curt is one of our leaders on this football team and it's hard to be a leader when you're not in the fray with your teammates. It was hard on him staying back in the spring but he still led. He's the one that's leading our football team. He's one of our leaders. I'm excited to get him back on the field. I do think we have to be patient with him. It's going to be a process of going through what he's been through but I know he's excited to get back out there on the football field."
(On Justin Worley)
"He's consistent. You know, we talk about consistency and performance. I always say `I want a McDonald's team. What's a McDonald's team? You go anywhere around the country and you order a No. 1 meal, you know what you're getting. That's what we want out of our quarterbacks, consistency. Day in and day out and our entire team. I don't like teams that are emotionally up and down. I just want teams that come to work every day and Justin has been that. We've challenged him and you know what you're getting every single day."
(On Marlin Lane)
"Marlin will be back and he has done everything to warrant reinstatement to this football team, but he also understands the expectations and the standards and he is going to have to earn his way back. Nothing in this football program is given. It's a right, it's an honor and it's a privilege to play for the University of Tennessee, so he understands that and he has to start rebuilding that trust with the coaching staff, his teammates and that started this summer. He's done a great job and moving forward now into August camp."
(On Brian Randolph)
"Again, I go back. All great players have it. He has a very high level of consistency. You're knowing what you're getting with Brian: very positive, hard worker, can take the classroom setting to the field. Again, is he 100 percent? No, he's probably 92-93 percent, but again everything is about competition and you look at the safety position, I feel like that's one of the positions right now where we are going to have great competition, but also Brian improves our special teams. For this team to excel, we have to play great special teams. Great special teams, I think, tell you the make-up of your football team. They tell you your toughness, they tell you that everyone's rolling or standing, have they bought into the program, and there may be individuals that take five reps and that's it. But, if that left guard and that punt team, and that's the only thing he does, then that's going to be the best left guard in the country, and that's the mindset that we take with special teams. So Brian adds a whole other element in all factors with our program."
(On Dontavis Sapp)
"Absolutely. Love him. He's done anything and everything that we have asked of him and it started from day one. I thought in the spring, he was one of our most consistent players. He could start on every single special teams that we have and make an impact in the game that way. He's one of our starting linebackers. I think he's explosive. We've really challenged him in the strength and conditioning area with the neck and the traps, and I don't know if you brought it up, but I joke with him all the time, but he's really answered a challenge. He's playing right now and he's leading the way a senior should."
(On true freshmen)
"Well again, I wasn't able to watch summer workouts, but I think that's the position to be in. It's like I told everyone, everyone had 15 practices to prove themselves. If they didn't prove themselves in 15 practices, we're going to look to true freshmen coming in, because they haven't had those 15 practices to prove themselves. So, I think some of it is where we're at and the program, in terms of depth. I think that's probably the biggest thing."
(On team competition)
"Every position. I think, make no mistake about it, you win up front. It's a line of scrimmage league. And I'll say it, we'll be as good as Dan McCullers goes. It is what it is, and I think Dan has had a great summer strength and conditioning season. You look at his body, I think he's a very, very slim now, 360 plus. He looks great. We talk all the time. I'm excited for him because he's worked himself into having that opportunity to really make an impact. The impact, the biggest story align with our defense is how we hold up inside at the defensive tackle spots. I think that's the whole key. Everyone wants to make it to the back end of the defense to the secondary but really it stems with winning up front, being able to win your one-on-one matchups. Then it's a compliment if you're double teamed and then whoever is double teamed, it's up to them to win their one-on-one matchups. The defensive line is going to be big. I think the development, also for future years to come, with all of our freshmen there, and like I spoke earlier in the press conference, is finding out the depth in the offensive line, and obviously we have to replace a ton of production outside the numbers at the receiver position. So, I think the competition there and seeing what some of our true freshmen can bring to the table."
(On Brendan Downs )
"He's back full strength. We thought he was one of the most improved players we had in the spring, from the moment we started our standard periods, our morning workouts. Unfortunately his spring was cut short due to some injuries, but he's back and he earned that right to start off, rep No. 1 at the tight ends, but I do think that that is going to be obviously another position that is going to have great competition. All good football teams have competition across the board. There are no off days and they'll learn the Wally Pipp story and all that, but I really believe, you take a day off or you're not mentally focused, you're not tuned in, that's somebody's opportunity to come and take your job."
(On wide receivers)
"You know that's a hard question to answer because we were so banged up. I got really really excited the way Jason Croom was progressing and then he was set back with injury. Cody Blanc was set back a little with injury. I wasn't pleased with the overall consistency with that unit from practice one to practice 15 and a lot of that was due to injury, and that's where we have to take the next step."
(On beginning of the season)
"I think that's going to be an ongoing process, but we don't have time. Every rep is critical because, and that's what makes college football different than any other sport, every game matters. The regular season matters. One bad day can take you from your dreams, goals and aspirations. You work exceptionally hard for 12 opportunities, working to get to 13 opportunities, working to get to 14 opportunities. Really that's why we're doing that open practice.
You talk about relying on individuals, that idea was born in my office talking to Peyton Manning. We're talking about the NFL. They have the luxury of preseason games so a coaching staff pretty much knows everything you're talking about. They understand how they're players are going to perform in stressful situations. I've seen this team 15 times and we're going to be a different team in training camp than we were in spring football.
Why the open practice? We're going to treat it like a preseason game and I want to create pressure situations. I want our offense to have to execute one-minute drill. I want our kickers to execute when there are people in the stands. I don't want us to perform the first time, August 31, against Austin Peay. I don't want that to be the first time that this team. That's really where the idea was formulated and born with having an open practice. Both of ours. I think we all know when Peyton Manning speaks, we all listen, because he can bring a lot to the table. He liked the idea.
This is the first time for me in a number of years that we're not going away for training camp. I kind of like the change of scenery. I kind of like getting away. We have tremendous facilities here at Tennessee. We have a dormitory complex that's right across the street, so it's kind of like being away, but I think, you know, you have to do a good job as a coach to stimulate your players and not become routine oriented when you come into the second or third week of training camp, so I think to have the ability to go into Neyland Stadium, compete in front of our great fanbase, kind of treat it into a game atmosphere. Plus, for the freshmen, you know and everything is new. Even what a lot of people don't think about is the way we travel. Our first night in the hotel before the Austin Peay game will be a completely different routine for these kids. Change is good, but everything is new as we continue to move forward. That's why you have to do your diligence. You have to pay attention to the small details."
"Well, I will tell you this: in today's world of recruiting and the age that we live in, that's something that has kind of been important to programs. I respect the great tradition that we have here. I think I've proven that. Everything is about our tradition, but we will continue to look and evaluate that. If that's best for us, we will do that. There may be something coming, but everything that we do and if we do it, will respect our traditions here at Tennessee."
(On player leadership)
"I think you can build upon it. I think before you can be a great leader, you have to be a great teammate. You have to learn what it takes to be a great teammate. I do think there is some inherit to being a leader, but leadership is a skill that has to be practiced every day. Before you can be a leader to everyone else, you have to lead yourself. Really, leadership is influence. That's why there are good leaders and that's why there are bad leaders and not everyone can lead. Also, with being a leader, and it talks right from the head coach to the quarterback, these are usually the two, is called responsibility of command. There's a responsibility that comes with being a leader. In our program, we practice leadership every day. We have a leadership training session that will be yearly, that our players will go through. It's developing leaders. I do think there are some traits that may differentiate other human beings, but it is something that can be practiced and if they can't, then be a good teammate."
(On AJ Johnson)
"High level of consistency with AJ. Everything that we have challenged AJ with, he has responded. I think he's in the best shape of his life. He plays exceptionally hard. He's really bought into the standard. Now AJ has to do a great job of improving his leadership skills. Just like the quarterback is usually the alpha male of the offense, the middle linebacker is the alpha male of the defense. I think him continuing to work on that part of his game, you look at his body, he's had a tremendous offseason. I'm encouraged, just like Dan McCullers. Now if you can get Dan to say more than five words, you've done a great job. Dan has a quiet confidence about himself right now."
(On communication between coaches and players)
"Well everything starts with the head coach and the coaching staff. The head coach, this is why I love being a head coach. You get to paint the vision for what you want. You create the environment. You create the atmosphere. You create the morale. That's just like, we had an organizational meeting of every individual in our football program that has an impact on the daily lives of every football player. We had almost, I believe we had over 150 individuals at that meeting and it all connects. It doesn't matter if it's the individual that is in the cafeteria serving our players, or the custodial staff, recruiting department, head coach, assistant coach, Jimmy Stanton, it doesn't matter. It all connects. So, it stems with us first and I think if you have a staff that has great chemistry and loyalty, kids are smart. They can feel it, and I think when they see it, it fosters that environment throughout your program and it permeates everything. I think our players can feel it and it's just us being who we are. We work exceptionally hard. We spend 80 hours together with each other. We better like each other. We better respect each other. The great thing is our families. You know, maybe it's irrelevant, but one of the great things for me to watch is, back in 1998, John Jancek's 16 year-old, my 16 year-old and Willie Martinez's 16 year-old, back in the day, were best friends. Through coaching transitions, they're not together and now they're back together. They're all going to school together and to me, those are the things that are rewarding when you have that family atmosphere, is just watching all that. Hopefully our players can feel it, because it's genuine and it's real."
(On Eric Gordon)
"Unfortunately Eric is no longer part of our football team, but he will always be a part of our football program. The big thing for Eric is, we are working on, he is real close to graduation, so we are going to do everything we can to support Eric."
(On team chemistry)
"Yes. That is a big part but it's also with the individuals. I think it's them understanding. They're earning trust amongst their peers. Trust is earned over time, but I think it's doing different events. When we first came here, we did a name test. The guys had three minutes and there was a picture of names and their first and last names. Then we charted what names were missed but also the individuals that were missing those names. That's all part of a family.
"The Volympics, it fosters team chemistry. It also fosters leadership. I think everything we do in our program is about the personal development of our players. It's not just football. When they leave the University of Tennessee, they're going to be the best person they can be, the best student and like I told them, whether it's your first day in the NFL mini camp or whether it's your first board meeting, your first job, you're going to be different the way you walk in that room, because you were developed in our football program."