Dec. 29, 2010
"We are excited to be here. The Music City Bowl has just been phenomenal and the hospitality has been great. It's been a little more special that we are in Nashville, so our players are seeing a lot of family, there are Vol fans everywhere and that's a nice thing to see at a bowl site.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for what North Carolina has done this year, given the adversity they had. It would be a little bit frightening to see what their team would look like had they not had the adversity they had. They have done a remarkable job of recruiting and they have size, speed and athleticism across the board. But more than anything, you see phenomenal coaching when you look at all three phases. They are very sound, very advanced in a lot of ways, and it's going to be a big challenge for our football team to go against this caliber of squad.
"This is our fourth different stadium (this year) in the state of Tennessee and we're hoping there is a lot of orange there, but I think none of that matters if your team doesn't come out and play well. I've told our team that the home field stuff only helps when your team plays well. We hope we are going to play our best football game of the year, but we certainly have a big challenge in front of us."
Tomorrow night's game is on national television and the only one in that time slot. Can you comment on the exposure both teams will receive tomorrow night?
"It's why going to a bowl game is a bench-mark of every program. You do get a lot of exposure. All the recruits are out there watching all these bowl games and so it's another opportunity for your program to put on another show about where you're headed, where you are and where some of those recruits would fit in. But it's only good, the exposure, if you play well. The thing about these bowl games, these things are crazy. You see some blowouts, you see a lot of great games and I think how teams manage the time off is just so critical in what the outcome is going to be."
Last year after the bowl loss, it seemed like the Vols had underachieved. This year you have a chance to finish with that same record and the vibe seems to be totally different, that you guys have come back from the ashes almost. Can you compare and contrast that, or have you talked to the guys from last year and did they feel they left a lot on the table?
"It's hard for me to speak on last year's team because I wasn't here. What I'm really proud about this team is the makeup. I've never been around a team with this kind of makeup, where we had a nice core of seniors - a group of seniors who, when they signed on with Tennessee, got a different deal than what they thought they'd get. They got three head coaches their last three years, and a whole bunch of different position coaches and strength coaches. And that's a tough thing for them.
"Then compound that with a giant group of freshmen who had never played. And because of the coaching changes, we didn't have a lot in the middle. So our seniors and our freshmen had to learn to come together and form a team, and that was a little bit unique. We were sitting there 2-6 and it could have gone either way.
"It turned only because those seniors made a commitment to turn it. It wasn't anything to do with coaching, it was just our senior class committed itself to finish out the right way and they did it. And I'm proud of them for that, but I also hope they know that their work isn't done. As much as everybody loves a bowl game, I know it's no fun losing because your whole off-season is affected. So the season is still on a it would be a little premature to comment on what the legacy is going to be until we see how we're going to compete this week."
Compare and contrast the signal-callers going into a game like this, one side having experience and the other a lack thereof.
"I never know what Tyler's going to do and I don't know how he's going to perform tomorrow night. He's got a very confident swagger about him, which he has had since he stepped on campus. Sometimes I wonder why he has that swagger when things aren't going well and he's not doing anything right. But I think it's a good quality to have.
"I've been really impress with the commitment he made, really about the middle of the season where he just started committing himself to working and preparing better. He needed to do that. He's got a long way to go as a quarterback, but there are certain things he does exceptionally well that have allowed him to function.
"As quarterbacks go and at this stage of his game, you never know what the game's going to bring. It could be a game where he's just seeing everything the right way, or it could be a game where something isn't right and he's not on throwing the ball, or they're doing a lot of things to confuse him or they are hitting him. There are so many things that can affect a quarterback's play, especially a young guy. This is his first bowl experience and you always worry about that. It's a team we're not very familiar with, so you always worry about that. And it's a team that has had a lot of time to prepare for him. We will see how it goes.
"On the flip side, they have a veteran quarterback and he's had a great season. They do a lot of things formationally to give good windows to throw the football, and he's delivered the ball well. I have a lot of respect for what he's done because I know, like a lot of quarterbacks, he hit some bumps along the way and there's probably criticism, I'm sure. He stayed with it, kept fighting and it shows a lot about his mettle.
"Every game, every team tries to go in and affect the other team's quarterback. We will do the same and I know Butch (Davis) will do the same with us. We will see who gets affected."
Having only started four games, have you noticed with the extended practice period a change in Tyler as he continues to grow?
"We have seen it all season, and it's a slow progression as quarterbacking is. Those quarterbacks in the NFL don't start peaking until the seventh or eighth year. It's a long process and 12 practices help, but it's not going to transform him into a superstar quarterback.
"We've seen him improve each week, we've seen him improve over the bowl practices but there is nothing like game experience and that's ultimately where quarterbacks grow up the most. They are out there, they're under the gun, they have a pass rush coming at them, there is a lot of disguise and confusion on the back end, defenses play their leverage so differently week to week - you just can't mirror what they go through in a game. The only thing that's going to keep helping him grow is to get out there and go play."
Do you have a feel for how your team has handled the distractions this week and have you had any curfew problems?
"No, we didn't, and I've been really proud of our team. We talked a lot before we came about what our expectations were and what they represented when they come here. And knock on wood, we haven't had any issues. They've handled themselves in a real professional way and I have appreciated that. I'm not sure it's going to help us play better but at least we didn't have any newspaper articles to this point."
What is your impression of your own team?
"I'm proud of how we finished. We came into this season with a tremendous amount of youth and a tremendous amount of inexperience across the board. It took us awhile as coaches to really get to know our personnel. We had so many players who we didn't know how they were going to perform when the lights went on. There wasn't a lot to draw on from the year before except for a few skill guys and that was it.
"So it was a work in progress for our coaching staff and a work in progress for our players to keep improving each week, and that's all we emphasized. The one thing I think our team did is we kept improving, we kept getting better and we kept changing a lot of personnel trying to get it right. We feel like we finally settled in. I'm proud of their resiliency and their focus on the process and not on our results. Because it's really easy at a program like Tennessee to really go in the tank when you're sitting there at 2-6, and they didn't do that."
Did you commiserate with Butch over a couple of tough losses to LSU?
"I think all coaches watch other programs and I've always had a lot of respect of respect for Coach Davis. I've watched his teams over the years and he's always done a remarkable job. I think every coach out there probably has some sympathy for what he went through during year. It's like atomic bomb after atomic bomb hitting your program at the wrong time, and it takes tremendous leadership from coaching and tremendous leadership on the team to be able to do what they did.