Dec. 18, 2009
What are your thoughts on the bowl game?
"We're very excited about this matchup. I said this Thursday in Atlanta; I view this as a BCS bowl. I look at the excitement and energy around the game, where we get to play, the stadium, and most importantly, who we play, Virginia Tech, ranked 11th in the country. They played in back-to-back BCS bowls. Coming off a BCS win, with a win this would be their sixth straight 10-win season. I think only Texas has done that over the last six years. This is a big time match-up for us and we love every part of it: going to Atlanta, playing there, and obviously it's critical for us in recruiting the state of Georgia, specifically Atlanta, and then to play Virginia Tech on national TV on New Year's Eve is perfect."
Now that Tyler (Bray) is here, what kind of benefit is that?
"It's a big time benefit, but the problem is he got hurt in his last game in the championship out there, so we're looking at him this morning to make sure he passed his physical. I don't know how much he'll be able to do, but even if he did nothing, just to have him here and sit in on our quarterback meetings and to see our installs today--he will go through our whole game week install with us, which is a huge benefit, especially for a quarterback."
Assuming he could go, how would you use him?
"If he's healthy, we'll put him through everything we can. We'll even keep him afterwards to do other things with him. We want to make sure we use this time to really develop those guys that are here."
How ready is Eric Berry to be an NFL contributor?
"I think Eric is extremely ready. If you look at Eric, one of the best things about him is his preparation for the game throughout the week and the way he practices. That's very critical. You see a number of players struggle in their first year in the NFL because they're not used to that. A lot of times in college you can get by on your speed and ability. When you get to that level, preparation is important because everyone is really fast, everyone is really talented. The difference between being good and great there is the preparation so that you can play extremely fast because you know what's going on around you. If he chooses to go, he'll do a great job. I talked to him this morning. We were going to have an announcement this morning but after talking to him we've decided to wait till after the bowl game. He wants to focus on winning this game and playing extremely well, especially because it's in Atlanta, then we will have an announcement for you guys right after that."
What was your initial reaction to Eric Berry's preparations?
"I did know a little bit about Eric (before I got here). When Eric was in high school, we flew out here and went to one of his practices to try to recruit him. We stayed around the school for a while talking to a few of his coaches. We thought he was a fantastic player and could play on both sides of the ball. Being here with him, what I didn't know at that time was how competitive he is. He's such a great competitor. He makes the players around him so much better by the way he helps them. One of the best stories to me this year was when Janzen (Jackson) was going through some things this year, Eric went and got him right in the middle of that stuff that was going on and took him and let him stay at his house so Eric could mentor him and keep him away from stuff that was going on and all the people asking him questions. We didn't ask Eric to do that. He did it all on his own. That describes who Eric is."
Having been an NFL coach and you could draft one player from Virginia Tech, who would it be?
"That's a good question. Their tailback (Ryan Williams) is only a freshman so he's not eligible, but if he were it would be him. Watching him, his mixture of speed and power is really incredible to see for a freshman. There's a reason he was freshman of the year in the conference. He had 1,400 yards. That doesn't usually happen for a freshman. I think I'd take him knowing how young he is and how much he could develop."
How big of a factor in a bowl game is the "who wants to be there most?"
"There's a lot to that. I think both sides--I don't know about them, but I know we are extremely excited to be in this game. This is a huge game for us to be in, in our first year, in a big time bowl like this, against a BCS opponent who's been to back-to-back Orange Bowls and 17 straight bowls. I think that can play a lot into it. But in this situation, I think both teams are very excited."
Did you feel you needed to hire Kippy (Brown) before the bowl?
"Not at all. I felt like I had to do it right. I had to make sure we got the right guy. I started at the top and I didn't really think we could get him. He's done so many things. Here's a guy that would be talked about in NFL and college circles as one of the best receiver coaches in all of football at any level. To get that done, here's a guy that a few years ago, Tennessee tried to hire him as an offensive coordinator and he didn't come. To be able to get him in this role is a grand slam. We started at the top and it could have taken a lot longer if we didn't get him as we worked our way down. To be able to get our No. 1 choice--I can't imagine it being better if I was somewhere else, let alone here, to get him coming back to Tennessee, in the state he played in and a place he's coached at for a while and turned into Wide Receiver U."
What did your dad (defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin) say about him?
"The same thing that everybody says. I do a lot of research and talk to a lot of people. If you talk to 20 people, I throw out the top two and the bottom two because they may have something against him for personal reasons, and take everything in the middle. With Kippy, I couldn't find one person that said anything negative about him. Every person, even at places that didn't win or things didn't end well, said the same thing: first-class guy, phenomenal coach and great with relationships with players."
Jacques McClendon said earlier that Frank Beamer was an old-school guy and you're a new-school guy. How familiar have you been with Frank Beamer and how would you compare your personality styles?
"First I would say he's one of the top five coaches in college football. What he's been able to do--17 straight bowl games and possibly six straight 10-win seasons--that and to do it there is just unbelievable. Anybody can do something once in a while, but if you can do it continuously, year after year like he has, he's done a great job. We have great respect for him. As far as old-school/new-school stuff like that, whatever he's doing we would love to do because it's obviously working.
What was the adjustment like for Montario Hardesty and his running-style changes?
"Our system lends itself to guys playing very well in their first year. If you go back to Oakland in Justin Fargas, it's a similar situation. I don't think he had a combined 500 yards in four seasons. Then he went for over a thousand yards. With Hardesty, I think he had a season high of 380 yards, now he's nearing 1,400. With this system, we don't do many runs so guys can get very good at it really quick. Hardesty is an example of that. Instead of running a bunch of runs, we primarily run zone. He's very good at that and very decisive with his reads. It's why he's done so well. Also, the way he's taken care of the ball. He hasn't had a fumble on a rushing attempt all year long."
What has Crompton done that's allowed him to get such great numbers?
"I don't think it's been as much of a change for him as far as him changing. The day we got here, he's been there with notebooks and he's spent countless hours of preparation. He had great spring and fall practices. I think the biggest thing that happened with him is that we got healthy around him. It's not just about getting healthy for the game; it's about having a few weeks with your guys. In spring, he was playing extremely well for us. I got up here and said he was going to have a great year and be one of the best quarterbacks in the league because it's what I saw. Then, all of the sudden, you have the injuries to the receivers. Now the timing's off. We're throwing in freshmen and moving players from other positions. Then we're forcing guys back. A lot of that is my fault, just trying to get the guys in sooner. I threw in Gerald (Jones) in the UCLA game when he wasn't ready and Jonathan had a terrible game. Then I got better. I got better around him and called a better game for him because I got to see what happened when he made mistakes. Going through practice is one thing, but until you're with a guy in a game as a play-caller, you don't necessarily know how to put him in the best position all the time.
Any academic issues going into the bowl game?
"I'm extremely excited about our team. I've talked about what they've done off the field before. To go into a bowl game and, the information I have now, is that every single player who played for us this season is eligible for this bowl game. It may not sound like a big deal to some people who don't follow it, but those of you who have been around, that hasn't been the case. I'm excited about what our academic people have done and what our players have done to put us in that situation.