Coaches Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel addressed the media for the first time in Arizona and answered many questions about the national championship game and more. Here’s a transcript:
THE MODERATOR: Please help me welcome the head coach of the University of Florida Gators, Urban Meyer.
COACH MEYER: Thank you very much. It is great to be back to Phoenix. And on behalf of the University of Florida, our coaching staff, administration, we are very excited to be here, very excited to put on a good show on January 8th and show the country what University of Florida has to offer.
Our guys are excited and, once again, thanks for having us.
I will answer any questions.
Q. Coach, a win would give your school both national titles in football and basketball. What would that mean and talk about that a little bit because it has never happened before?
COACH MEYER: It tells you a little bit about the leadership of our athletic program. If you did your research, at the University of Florida you would find our gymnastics program, volleyball, everybody, every sport is usually nationally ranked in some way or another. It just tells you the leadership of our program.
It tells you it can be done. We are in an era where people said it could not happen: you are either a basketball school or a football school. Our administration has done a great job providing the resources because our basketball team has a great team coming back this year.
I don’t know if you will see that happen very often.
Q. Coach, as far as preparation, how much game plan silhouette is left? What do you guy have to do here to get ready?
COACH MEYER: We have broken it into three phases. This is phase three and this is game week. The game plan has been in effect for over a week now. It has been shining up. Every team will have a couple new wrinkles for the game when you have this much time to prepare and you face such quality opponent like we are facing. Game plan has been in. We are going to practice. We have five more days of practice and we’re on.
Q. Coach, did you see last night’s Fiesta Bowl and can you make it three for three given the Fiesta Bowl’s exciting game?
COACH MEYER: I hate to say this, I fell asleep and my wife kept hitting me. She said it was the greatest football game she ever saw. I saw some of the coaches of Coach Petersen and Boise State. I followed them closely when Coach Hawkins was there and what a great game. To go for two at the end, I thought that was great. That’s what makes the Bowl games so special.
Q. Coach, you might have faced a lot of questions about whether your team was worthy to be here over Michigan, but with Michigan getting beat down pretty good yesterday, is that a good thing that now maybe the week goes a little bit smoother for you and your guys?
COACH MEYER: No. I thought that was a great game as well. And USC looked awfully good. I think right now college football has some great teams and those two have played well and has no bearing on University of Florida.
Q. Urban, now that you are out of the comfort zone of Gainesville, a new environment, will you have to remind the freshmen that, Forget all the hype, this is another football game?
COACH MEYER: Good luck telling them that after they saw the yellow coats. I warned them. The one thing we have an advantage, we have been here a couple of years ago, and I saw the reaction and the hospitality that the Fiesta Bowl people put on and it is second to none.
I have warned them and very leery of that. We will take all measures to make sure the guys don’t lose focus.
All the guys that I have had an opportunity to coach in a game like this, we make sure the team stays focused and we will do everything we can to keep that.
Q. Coach, how much of this week will be about business and how much is going to be kind of enjoying the festivities for the guys and soaking in the experience? Will they have an opportunity to get away from some of the madness?
COACH MEYER: I think that’s the question. It is a business trip. It is what it is.
However, we are also going to enjoy, once again, the hospitality of the Fiesta Bowl people and the great City of Phoenix and obviously the great BCS Bowl.
This is the first time this Bowl has been played—distanced itself from the other Bowls. We have an obligation to put a good product on the field. Make no doubt about it, this is a business trip and we will handle it as such.
Q. Urban, after what you guys did here two years ago with Utah and what Boise State did last night, how much does this prove that mid majors deserve a shot at a run to a national title?
COACH MEYER: I think that just shows you that there are great football teams out there. To be honest, I think those days are over. I don’t hear that as much as maybe the media, in the coaching circles in college football, everybody knew what Oklahoma was getting into. Everybody that knows football. Boise State is a excellent team.
I think that the separation of BCS, nonBCS, I think that era is over.
I think it is harder for some of the smaller conference schools to make it but the BCS committee and the whole process has made it easier access which is the right thing to do.
National title, I think it will still be some time before you see that, I do.
Q. Coach, have you had a month to prepare for Ohio State. Offensively, your thoughts on how well your team is prepared to take on Ohio State defense as one of the best in the country?
COACH MEYER: They are one of the best in the country, and our whole thing is getting healthy and execution of the game plan.
I really like our plan. However, the plan is not what wins games. It is the personnel.
We faced some very good defense throughout the year. Ohio State has to be one arguably the top defense we face. So how do we match up? I think it’s one thing we have is playmakers. We have to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers. That will be the key to the game for the Florida Gators.
Q. Coach, Nick Saban is at least toying with the idea of coming back to college football. I know you have never coached as a head coach at the NFL level. Is it hard for you to imagine there being anything better than where you are at right now as far as this level?
COACH MEYER: I think that’s to each its own. That’s for Urban Meyer and my family that there is no better place to be right now than the University of Florida. Coaching college kids, coaching guys that have taken a program that really has no limits. And to be able to recruit at a place like that, if you are asking me, it is the best place we can possibly be.
Q. Coach, two Earl Bruce proteges against one another. What do you think Earl is saying?
COACH MEYER: I know what he is saying, I just talked to him a couple of days ago. I will not tell you what he is saying. He is a Buckeye true and true but he is also a dear friend of mine. I am sure he will be sitting with the Ohio State folks. Kind of looking at Florida at a little different angle, too.
Q. Coach, most of the players obviously have a reason to be happy and everything. How is Reggie Nelson doing and how is his spirits? What has he said to you and what have you said to him to get through this time?
COACH MEYER: I appreciate the fact that the media laid off of Reggie there for a little bit because it is very personal. He is struggling like we all would, but he is around people who care about him which is the best place he can be.
Q. Coach, your thoughts on—your respect factor for Coach Tressel and what he has done at Ohio State?
COACH MEYER: The jets get in the way of these airports, don’t they? I have known Coach Tressel. I came into Ohio State the year after he left. I followed him through Youngstown State and then when I went to Bowling Green I watched him closely and watched a couple of practices. The respect factor is there, and I have known Jim for a long time.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach.
COACH MEYER: Thank you and have a great day.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, welcome back.
COACH TRESSEL: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: It has been a while.
COACH TRESSEL: It has. I think you know what we are doing so I will turn it over to you. Thank you. On behalf of our Ohio State football family, we would like to thank the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl committee and all of the great people here in the Valley of the Sun. It has been a great few days for us. We have had the opportunity to have our guys spend some time at home and then reconvene here and get back to work and the people over at the Fort McDowell resort have been tremendous in setting up our temporary headquarters, and Desert Mountain High School, those folks have been tremendous. And we move into our quarters at the Fairmount Princess later today as we begin game week.
It has been a few good days of work. I can’t thank John Junker and Ellie Ziegler and all the people, Dave Tilson and Shawn and all the group that have made our stay begin the right way. It has been a good few days of work.
Our guys have mixed in a little bit of relaxation and enjoyment along with their hard work and now we have a chance to get into our game week mode and head over.
We will be working over at Pinnacle High School, and those folks there do a terrific job. I guess the largest message I could send you about having the good fortune of participating in a Bowl Game here is no one works harder than this Bowl committee.
No one in a community cares more for making sure that the experience for the players, the coaches, the families, the fans—I’m sure the media is a top notch one and I guess every morning we wake up here, we need to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to be here and then obviously go to work and work hard to figure out what we have to do to excel here.
Q. Coach, you obviously know your way around the town and this game here. You have been here, like, four out of five years. Talk about the comfort level of your player and your coaching staff coming here and how that helps you with this game.
COACH TRESSEL: It was interesting. I was talking with Dave Tilson earlier yesterday and there are mountains everywhere, and to me they all look the same. So I don’t know my way around at all. I don’t know which is north, south, east or west. I don’t know where anything is, quite honestly, because they treat you so where, they take you everywhere.
I think our young people who have been here a couple of times have a comfort level of knowing their way around a little bit. They navigate maybe better than us coaches do.
But, you know, there is a comfort level, I think, from a people standpoint that you know you are going to get the tremendous treatment. Our guys work very, very hard to show their gratitude for that while we are here and the reality of it is when you land here, you know that you are going to be playing against a great opponent because that’s the way it has always been.
I think there is a little bit of reality when you get a chance to be here as well.
Q. Coach, can you talk about playing in the first-ever BCS national championship game? It is going to be just you guys. All the other games will be done. The whole nation will be watching. Can you talk about that?
COACH TRESSEL: It is exciting. It is what everybody in the country set as their goal going into the season, and I guess we don’t look at it quite as much as a first-ever because as our guys have been growing up and watching football there has been a BCS series and there has been a game that has ended up being the championship game and so forth.
You know, it was our goal to be here and now we have to make sure that while we are here we do the things that need to be done and be the best we can be.
Q. Coach, do you see any similarities between this team this year and the team that won the national title back in 2002?
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, there are some similarities, but certainly a lot of differences. A lot of people asked us that throughout the course of the season. I think the sum total of your experiences and the experiences our guys have had at this moment were a little bit different than the ones leading up to ‘02, that those guys had at that point, so there are some similarities. They are a good bunch of young people that prepare hard. Football is important to them, teammates are important to them. They want to represent Ohio State. That’s very important to them. They want to represent the game of football.
So there are some similarities but there are some differences of experiences.
Q. Coach, can you talk about your philosophy in coming here earlier than Florida did and switching around a little bit there with the high schools and everything, with practice fields?
COACH TRESSEL: We didn’t have any chance from the standpoint of switching around because the hotel that hosts us and the high school that hosts us for the game week was busy hosting Fiesta Bowl teams.
And, so, that was just pragmatic from the standpoint of where we were preparing.
Why did we come out here earlier? We wanted to get good, solid practices back in Columbus, but as important, we wanted our players and coaches to have a chance to be home for the holidays and enjoy some well-deserved time with their families and prepare themselves to then come out here. We just didn’t feel as if going back to Columbus and then traveling again—because our kids went home.
And so we just decided that rather than doing that, why not come out to paradise a little bit earlier.
Q. You went to the Fiesta Bowl last night, right?
COACH TRESSEL: I didn’t. Our players did and some of our administrators and so forth. But the coaches were working.
Q. Did you watch the game at all?
COACH TRESSEL: You know, I got to watch a little bit of the end.
Q. What did you think of the ending?
COACH TRESSEL: Two teams that wouldn’t give up, two teams that wanted very badly to win the game. It was a great demonstration of football and a great—you have to tip your cap to both teams, but also Boise did what they had to do from an execution standpoint when at one point the odds weren’t looking that great, and tremendous respect for that.
Q. And do you have any—last thing, do you have any plays like that in your book? (Laughter)?
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, let me get a chalkboard and I will show them all to you.
Q. Coach, can you take us back to your early days at BW and talk about how your dad, Lee Tressel, and Coach Packard impacted you and how that plays out today in your coaching philosophy?
COACH TRESSEL: Maybe Jude could come up with the ball and wall, and we can do a two thing or whatever.
As we talked about in discussing our ‘02 team like our ‘06, in my mind, they’re different because it is different experiences. Well, the experience I had growing up at Baldwin Wallace and watching football every day and our house was next door to the stadium and got to watch my dad do what he loved and my position, Coach Bob Packard ending up being the head coach for 20 years after my dad’s passing.
Being around guys like that who were so successful just accidentally maybe you pick up some good things and if you are paying attention at all.
Like we wake up every day here hopefully counting our blessings about being in a situation like this. The same is true and you reflect a little bit about the sum total of your experiences, and blessed to be where you are from a career standpoint.
A lot of it began right there with my dad and Coach Packard and it happened to be Baldwin Wallace College.
Q. Jim, two questions. Number one, Antonio Smith, what’s his status? Does it look like he will get to play now? Number two, what are the lessons learned from, like, yesterday’s Bowl action that maybe will transfer to your players today? I mean, especially that comeback last night?
COACH TRESSEL: Well, Antonio Smith, I’m anticipating he will be fine to play.
As far as what lessons, if you watched that game last night, the game is never over. That’s the way Boise State played. In fact, I heard the one kid say after the game, Until there are all zeroes on the clock, the game is not over.
The reality of college football with overtimes, there were all zeros on the clock and it still went over.
They just kept playing and playing and it is a tremendous lesson for football, for life, and for everything.
Q. Jim, there is no way Boise State can prove it on the field now but next Monday there is going to be one 13-0 team or one 13-1 team. Do they deserve a shot at winning a national championship?
COACH TRESSEL: Oh, gosh, I suppose in a perfect world there can be a lot of things that can be different. We have a tremendous system. You all are enjoying it this week. And so are we and I know boys see enjoyed every moment.
I heard one of their kids say after the game when asked a similar question, he said, We had our Bowl game, we are excited and we are proud of ourselves and let us enjoy that.
Q. Coach, I know you just said that you were comfortable coming back to Arizona so frequently. But is there ever a point of burnout particularly with your fans and the alumni and the boosters?
COACH TRESSEL: I think you will find out that there isn’t because they will show up, I think.
You ask a question that really can’t get answered until you see if we do show up and get here and have fun like we always have and if we do come here and do a good job doing what we need to do as a football team. But how could you get burnt out coming out here? I couldn’t see it.
Q. Coach, we have seen two post-season matchups between the Big 10 and SEC so far. How much insight can you gain from those outcomes?
COACH TRESSEL: Well, I think the insight, again, I didn’t get to watch a whole bunch of any of that because we were in a preparation day. But those are two good conferences and there is some excellent football teams.
I think everyone knows that. I think you just probably reinforced the insight that you already have. It is the top of the college game when those conferences get together.
Q. Yeah, Coach, you guys have as long a break as anybody in the country, your conference. You had such good luck in Bowl games. What’s the key to staying sharp through the lay-off?
COACH TRESSEL: Well, if I knew for sure, we would do exactly that. But I think just like anything, you look at what the situation is and you say, okay, what needs to be accomplished? What’s the right thing to do? What’s the proper blend, you know, of rest? There are so many things involved in the end of the Big 10 season all the way to your Bowl game. There is final exams, there is rest, there is time with family. There is preparation. There is travel. All of those things. Hopefully you do the best you can possibly do to use that time and prepare your plan the best you can.
And then like you said, we have had good luck. There is luck involved as well.
Q. Jim, you were asked about Antonio Smith. I just wonder if there were any other people with health or disciplinary or academic problems?
COACH TRESSEL: Nope. Knock on wood, we are doing good.
Q. Secondly, over this next week, what do you need to work on the most and what will your focus be during practice?
COACH TRESSEL: You know, there is nothing that we are sitting here today saying that’s squared away and we won’t work on it anymore.
So we will work on it like we always do. But I think you have to, as the game week happens, you have to tailor and use your practice reps for the things that you think you are going to employ.
So tailoring down after you have had so many days, all of us geniuses put in all these different ideas and plays and so forth and then you have to get it tailored down a little bit.
So I guess formulating your game plan is the biggest thing you work on, offense, defense, and special teams.
Q. Jim, not long ago the Big 10 had this “three yards and a cloud of dust” reputation. Just out of curiosity, given the way you guys play, how long has it been since you have heard that phrase in Columbus?
COACH TRESSEL: We left on the 30th. I don’t know that college football, period, you hear that much anymore.
But ironically, there is going to be auto a time when you will need less than three yards and there will be a cloud of dust and you better be good at that, too.
Q. Jim, I am wondering about with classes starting, this is kind of a unique situation, I don’t think you have ever had a Bowl where you had to go with classes in session. I know you brought some academic-type people. How are you working that out and balancing the both?
COACH TRESSEL: A year ago if you recall we played on the night before school started and we left right after the game so we could miss as little as possible.
We did bring—or they are arriving later today our academic support system and we will have a chance—our kids have done a lot of emailing and so forth to professors for syllabi and so forth and whatnot.
We will have a little bit of time just to make sure that the reality that tomorrow the people you are competing with in class are sitting in class and just like tomorrow at practice, the people you are competing with are practicing as well.
And so, again, it is a matter of blend. We are not going to come out here and have 18 hours of study hall a day and so forth. But we are going—we have an academic plan, and I think it will be good.
Q. Have you set aside time specific for that?
COACH TRESSEL: Yeah, mm-hmm.
Q. Jim, can you just talk about how Jim Heacock has looked getting ready for this Florida offense and speak generally to the job Jim has done with his defense this year?
COACH TRESSEL: I think Jim Heacock has done a terrific job ever since he has been at Ohio State, whether it was when he was a D line coach or the defensive coordinator.
There was a lot of discussion about the amount of youth on our defense coming into the year and I think they have worked hard to be good teachers and prepare the kids to do the things they know what to do.
And preparation for Florida, I think, is tough because Florida does a great job of changing things up, they bring so many weapons at you, and I’m sure Jim and his staff have worked long and hard to figure out what’s the right kind of approach against a offense that gives you so many challenges and creates so much pressure for you.
Q. Coach, so often in big games, it is special teams’ plays that can turn things. As you have had a chance to look at the University of Florida and the special teams’ plays that they’ve had, what concerns do you have and what strings do you see as far as the Gators’ special teams?
COACH TRESSEL: We always think there are a few things involved in good special units. One is having good specialists whether they are punters, kickers, returners, blockers on protection or whatever. And having speed.
And when you have the kind of speed that they have and the specialists that they have and the creativity that they have, it is a tremendous challenge.
You know, I think anyone who has watched them over any length of time knows they have done a great job in that phase of the game.
Q. Coach, do you look at the result from the Rose Bowl yesterday afternoon and say, Well, maybe the press did get it right and that Florida did deserve a shot to be in the title game over Michigan?
COACH TRESSEL: The press got it right, is that what you said? Is that how it was determined who is in the game? Florida, I think, earned their way in the game and I don’t think it has anything to do with Rose Bowl. Florida is very deserving of playing for the national championship. Their schedule is excruciating and their preparation and play has been outstanding.
They certainly deserve to be here.
Q. Jim, it appears that Nick Saban is at least entertaining the thought of leaving the NFL and going back to college football. After the game last night, the great game, and the kid proposing to his girlfriend afterwards—I know you have never coached in the NFL—is it hard to imagine anything better than where you are at right now?
COACH TRESSEL: Very hard. Just like being here in Arizona is being in paradise. Coaching college football is like being in paradise. You have great kids. They are at a time in their life when they are really growing. And there is no question. It would be hard to imagine anything better than this.
Q. Jim, just from your past experiences here, have you taken anything away from that preparation that’s inspired you to change how you are preparing this week?
COACH TRESSEL: I think you learn a little bit every time you are anywhere and any situation some of it has to do with logistics. And Bob Tucker, our director of football operations, does a terrific job of setting up our logistics.
And the Fiesta Bowl committee and, what, 2,600 volunteers, it is incredible. And also from your game preparation and how you played and so forth, I think you always learn lessons and it is ongoing, I don’t know if there is anything earth-shaking. But I think day-to-day hopefully you pay attention and learn.
Q. Troy Smith was the last player to sign with the Buckeyes in 2002. Can you talk about his evolution as a quarterback and as a player?
COACH TRESSEL: Troy really wasn’t the last guy that signed. There has been a little bit of folklore. I don’t know when his fax came in or what time he signed or whatever, but we recruited Troy in the summer before his senior year and offered him scholarship and all of those things well in advance to the end of recruiting.
So that’s been a little bit, I think, turned into folklore. You know, I think Troy has prepared himself every day and learned lessons each and every day he has been here. Every day in practice out here you can see him just focusing on what he feels he needs to do to get better and what his coaches feel he needs to do to get better and what is it that he needs to do to help this team.
And we have been so proud of his growth and many, many other people. But it just so happens that position gets the microscope on it maybe more so than someone else.
But Troy embodies the improvement that we have been very proud of with a lot of our guys.
Q. Coach, what sticks out the most to you about Florida’s team?
COACH TRESSEL: You know, I think their speed, their preparation. You know, they play together. All phases are in concert, their offense, their defense and their special units really complement one another. They have terrific preparation and they utilize their talents.
Many, many of the things that you’d hope for as you are working with a team. But to single out one or two, you don’t become 12-1 on their schedule with just doing one or two things well. They do so many things well.
Q. Coach, in this matchup of Coach Bruce proteges, what do you think Earl is thinking about this?
COACH TRESSEL: We were talking about it in the preholiday practices. Has there ever been anyone who has had two of their former assistants then later on playing for their national championship? You have to be so proud, and he is. I know Urban has taken great lessons from Coach Bruce as I have and many, many other coaches.
Pete Carroll is one of his guys who was coaching there last night. And Earl Bruce is in the college Hall of Fame. Those of us who have had a chance to learn from him are very fortunate.
Q. Coach, you have more than a handful of players from one high school, Glenville High School. Can you talk about that connection and how it has boosted Ohio State over the last few years and describe how that’s evolved?
COACH TRESSEL: Well, Coach Ginn and his staff have done a terrific job since he took over the program there. He had been an assistant there and they were doing pretty well. When took over and really put his signature on how he helps kids grow, their program took off.
He has been very fortunate to have outstanding athletes. I don’t know the exact number of Division I football players he’s had, but there was one point in time when his high school had the fourth most Division I guys. This was a few years ago and he signed 20 guys last year. He has done a great job.
There are a lot of teams around the country that have gotten better because they have had his kids and we certainly have been fortunate because our kids have done a great job that have come from Glenville.
Q. Jim, if you have studied Florida and Urban Meyer. What do you and Urban Meyer have in common?
COACH TRESSEL: I think we have had excellent upbringing and who we have worked for and what we have learned. I think, too, obviously he must have a great coaching staff as we do as Ohio State. And allowing your coaches to create the atmosphere and the creativity in his particular case, you know, you have to have a good staff.
I would guess our backgrounds and our staffs would be somewhat similar.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
COACH TRESSEL: Thank you.