"It's Homecoming week and senior day for our seniors. They always look forward to that and we are looking forward to seeing the parents. It's good to be back in Auburn. It will be basically 30 days, or four weeks, since we played our last home game. It's good to be back in the friendly confines. We are looking forward to getting back. Our players had a very good practice today. We had quite a few guys out. I won't go through all of them, but we are trying to get as many of them healthy as we can. Hopefully, we will have most of them back by the end of the week.
UT Martin is, I think, 7-2. They are on the verge of winning the Ohio Valley Conference. Looking at their statistics, there are a couple of games where they had almost 700 yards of offense. They average 40 points a game and they throw it around pretty well. They have a good running game and so it will be a good test for us. We understand that they are a 1-AA team, but again, we can't worry about who we are playing. We have got to play a lot better than what we have played. We have got to have a sense of urgency and we have got to continue to practice like we have been practicing for the past few weeks because we have been improving. We've gotten better and hopefully it shows on Saturday coming up."
Is it tough to see a lack of physical play by the offensive line?
"At times. I thought that last year, we weren't as physical as we needed to be either. Of course, we got away from the running game and we have gotten back to it. So, I think that will all work itself out with the practices that we've got coming up. I think that Lee (Ziemba) moving over has kind of affected him some, but he'll get better as we go. (Jason) Bosley has gotten beat up along with Tyronne Green. It is kind of hard when you don't practice and it reminds me back in the junior year of Marcus McNeill when he didn't practice during the week and played on Saturdays. He just couldn't go two days in a row. It was a little bit like this year. But I think that our offensive line has got a good attitude. We did not do as much today against each other because we are so beat up. We actually did more against scout teams because it would be more of a non-factor. We continued to have the injuries flare up as they flared up in the last few weeks."
A lot of guys have been talking about dealing with adversity. Is that
something that you approached them about?
"No. We talk about it every year. There is a time when you lose a game or two in a row and you talk about it. You are going to face adversity throughout your life and hopefully they learn from it now and how to combat it and how to overcome it and this is a tough time on them. Especially, most of the guys here have never lost this many games, almost combined for the whole time that they are here. So, it challenges everybody from within. As I told them, good leaders are built from within and not from without. If they'll understand that and believe in their values and what they're doing, then they will work through this."
You've talked all year about narrowing down the offensive book. Is
that over now and are you at a point where you can start expanding on
what you've come to?
"No. We expanded it a lot last week. We did a lot more of getting the ball down the field. Your running game is always going to be simple with five or six plays and formations. Your passing game is what is complex in terms of the different number of protections that you have, one-back in a game and two-back in a game. Those types of deals and it all goes back to your quarterback and he has to absorb all of that. You can only go the speed that the quarterback can take and Kodi (Burns) is a smart young man, but that is only his second full game. We changed things on him, as we did on all the quarterbacks and they are learning. We've got enough in right now to be a very good football team, but we've got to execute what we have got in. Now, we will change things each week. This week we dropped some of the things that we had last week, but we've also added some things. That's mostly formations. Your plays and your personnel are going to change, but those formations are what will give you problems on the defensive side of the ball."
Can you talk about how Chris Slaughter played on Saturday?
"Chris played well. You know, he came in for Rod (Smith). Rod got hurt on the second play of the game. Chris is the type of guy who has to learn to be more aggressive off the line of scrimmage and that's what he has really worked hard on. That was a good test for him. Ole Miss played tight and a lot of bump-and-run man coverage and I thought that he handled it well. He is a very good zone receiver because he's tall and he can get in the creases and make plays. That was a big test. They challenged him and he won most of his battles."
Do you still see the fire in the eyes of the players that they had
before the LSU game?
"Yeah, they're practicing hard. As I have always told them, no matter whether you won a game of lost a game, you have got to come back with the same attitude each week. This team has got a lot of pride and they'll work through it. We have got this game and the two biggest games of the season coming up. I can remember back when we won five games in my first year, and that was my first experience playing Georgia and playing in the Iron Bowl. It was like a new season. And so that comes at a good time. It comes at a time when you need a little pick-me-up as it goes through the end of the season. It's a big challenge always for the players, but they always look forward to that. Again, I learned that ten years ago."
Do you think splitting the carries between Mario Fannin, Brad Lester
and Ben Tate has kept the running game from getting into a rhythm?
"Well we would have loved to play one running back more, but we haven't been healthy enough. With Mario and the shoulder injury, we finally started playing him mid-season at running back. Brad got hurt the second week against Mississippi State and then got hurt against LSU so he hasn't been 100%. Of course Ben was out for about three weeks during practice. The consistency hasn't been there. Now their efforts have been good, but you'd like to have one of those guys step up and have 20 to 25 carries, but it hasn't happened."
How important is it for something good to happen this weekend?
"We need to get back in the winning column. You want the players to have fun. It's not a lot of fun to practice, but it is fun to play. It's not fun to play and go out and give the effort that they have given and come up short. It's important that we go out and get that back because they are going to have fun the last two games. They look very forward to those as I said earlier. They need to have something good happen to them. We need to have the ball bounce to us. I think we had seven or eight fumbled punt returns (by opponents) this year, and we have recovered none. It's just been one of those years where we haven't got the ball to roll our way. You have to make those and each week I tell our players that. You can't expect anything to happen unless you make it happen. You just keep working with them."
What was your reaction to the news of Phil Fulmer?
"You know, it's tough. That is part of the business. Phillip has been there a long time and is a good friend. He's worked hard and won a lot of games. That is his alma mater and (he's) been there 35 years. It's hard to imagine being part of one program for 35 years, but there will never be anybody that does any more than what he has done for his program. He worked very hard at it, and we've become good friends the last 15 years."
With the firings of Tyrone Willingham, Phillip Fulmer and Tommy Bowden
in the middle of the season, do you think that will be more of the norm
now in college football?
"I think everything kind of evolves from pro football. I think that's how people look at it. I'd hate for us to ever compare pro football to college football because it's not even in the same category in terms of what you are trying to get out of young people and teach them, and all those things. I think you see some of it more years than not. You see a little bit more of it lately. That's part of it I guess. You evaluate all those guys and what they have done. I've known each one of them. You feel for them because we are all in the same business."
Have the characteristics that you might have wanted in a new offensive
coordinator changed over the past few weeks?
"You know I have had the chance to watch a few games and you kind of look at what is going on in college football. Look at the NFL for instance; they are struggling finding NFL quarterbacks because everybody in college has kind of gone away from the drop back game and what they do in pro football. What I'm looking for is somebody who fits in to what we would like to do, but also give us a future in being able to recruit. That is 99 percent of it. You've got to be able to get players to buy into what you're doing on defense and on offense. Then you have to have a good salesman and it starts with the head coach and then it obviously goes to the offense or defensive coordinators. I've got a stack on my desk that I get every day of resumes, but I won't do anything till the end of the year. Obviously first with recruiting because all of our recruits are asking. I talked to almost all of our recruits last night on the phone and they were asking, ‘Coach what are you going to do on offense?' We are not going to change much of what we are doing. We are still going to be multiple. It's always that one guy and they want to know who is going to be in charge of what they are going to be doing."
Will you evaluate the assistant coaches also?
"Well of course I evaluate each one of them at the end of the year. I evaluate them No. 1 on recruiting because that's what you have to do. You have to have players to coach. That is the most important thing other than what the coordinators do. At the end of the year, I will evaluate the recruiting from last year and what they have done this year. It's pretty easy this year because we have got so many (recruits) committed. Then what they've done and how to evaluate them through that and then we'll evaluate their coaching. We always do that at the end of the season."
In light of Phillip Fulmer, is there any uneasiness with recruits when
"I don't think its uneasiness. It's like anything else – buzzards start flying from the other schools. You've got somebody committed and the other schools go in and start feeling them out with, ‘Is there a chance you might change your mind?' You have that every year. Whether you change a head coach or are changing an assistant or coordinator, it's no different. That is what we have to do right now, just kind of work through that."