"Extremely excited to be back here at my second SEC Media Day. Extremely excited to be up here representing Auburn University. Just a great, great time for the Auburn fans, our football team. This time of the year is obviously exciting for everybody.
"We're looking very much forward to the 2010 football season. I want to thank you guys for the positive spins that you put on our players, what you do for our league. It really means a lot to us with what you do for our football team, but specifically for our league. I just want to talk a little bit today, before we open this up for questions, about last year, knowing that we've moved ahead. But I think standing up here a year ago, just my first-- going into my first season at Auburn, there were some things that we really felt like were critical to what we were trying to do with our football program. Probably the most important thing that we felt like needed to happen last year was for us to build a foundation for what we're trying to do down the road.
"This is a long-term plan. This is a long-term vision. We feel extremely, extremely excited on the fact that we feel like we have the football team based on last year going in the right direction. That doesn't mean we've arrived, and we know that. But going into the season, you know, the question was, What's a successful year? How many wins? How many losses? We'll never try to pin success on a number of wins.
"Obviously we want to win as many games as we can. We want to put a championship team on the football field. That's the goal of Auburn University. That's been the goal of the place long before I got there and will be the goal long after I leave. But the foundation of what we are trying to do is extremely important. We had to come in last year and win the trust and respect of our senior class first in terms of building that foundation. We had to recruit a class in that once we gained that trust and respect of our football team, add to that with a new recruiting class that we felt like was the right men for our program. I feel like we did that.
"If you go back and look at the wins and losses of last year's season, you always look back and you can always look at the games that you would have, should have, and could have won. We certainly look back at last year and see a football team that at times played well, at times didn't play well. But what we did at the end of the day, with eight wins, we had an exciting Bowl game, New Year's Day Bowl win against a very good Northwestern football team that kind of catapulted us into the off-season for our eighth win of the year. Again, as we look back, we just feel like there were a lot of things laid in place for what we're trying to do down the road. The next thing that I thought was extremely, extremely important was that we have some continuity in our coaches staff with being able to hold on to our coaches. I just felt like there's guys on our football team right now that for the first time in their career, and a large majority of them, for the first time in their career have the same coordinator, offense or defense, for the second year in a row. You've got guys that have position coaches that are really sitting in the same boat. So it was extremely important for me to give some continuity to our football players with having the same coaching staff. So we were able to retain everybody on our coaching staff.
"There's 119 football teams across the country that play football, Division I. Out of those 119, I want to say there's a very, very small handful, probably less than 10 percent, somewhere around 10 percent, that kept their coaching staffs intact. To me, that was another part of the puzzle in trying to build a foundation for what we're trying to do down the road. We were able to do that. We were able to keep all of our coaches intact.
"We've spent the majority of the off-season trying to figure out how we can be a more consistent football team because, as I said earlier, there was times when we really played well, and there was times when we really didn't play well so we had to go back and really evaluate. It's been an ongoing process, in terms of going through last year, all the way up to where we are now, and trying to evaluate what is it that we have to do to become a more consistent team. That's everywhere on our football team. That's on offense.
"If you look at our offense last year, there was a lot of things we did well. I think we set some school records. I think some guys for the first year being in the offense, we had a tailback that rushed for 1,400 yards; the year before, he rushed for 600. He was a second-round draft pick. We've had some landmarks with our offense in terms of some things that are glaring. But what was glaring to us, we went back and watched, we were very inconsistent. There were times when we couldn't run the football, which in our opinion, in this league, is something that we have to be able to do a better job of this year to win more games. We feel like, you know, first downs, there's just times where we put a lot of pressure on our defense because we couldn't get first downs.
"When you commit to a fast-tempo offense those are the challenges for your defense. So we've got to figure out how to be more consistent on offense in a lot of ways. If you go to our defense right now, there was a lot of pressure put on our defense. There's times on our defense, we played really well. There was times when we played very poorly so we've had to go back and really kind of reevaluate. We've reevaluated everything. We've reevaluated players. We've reevaluated scheme. We've reevaluated everything that we need to try to become a more effective defense, taking all things into consideration.
"When we were playing in the Bowl game, we had defensive players, because of lack of depth, some of the issues last years, that ended up playing 140-some-odd plays. You'd like to get away from that a little bit. Special teams-wise, there were times when we were really good. We returned kickoffs for touchdowns. Then we've returned kickoffs for an 18-yard kickoff return average, which is not acceptable. We've had to go back and look at our special teams to see where we are in those phases. All things being told, consistency is going to be the name of the game with us in terms of us being better and really laying the second brick in the foundation of what we're trying to do. Again, you know, wins and losses is not really something that we can pin a number to, to say this is going to be a successful second year, because I know some of you are going to ask that. It's more of, we want to be a more consistent team and we want to, on a consistent basis, play better than we did last year, then the numbers work themselves out.
"We brought three tremendous young men here today to the Media Day that I would like to spend a couple of minutes talking about. We have Lee Ziemba, our starting left tackle. Lee is a tremendous Auburn man. He had a chance to come out and be a high draft pick this past year, but he loves Auburn. He made the choice to stay at Auburn. Him and I talked numerous times. He's as happy as he's ever been. He's a great Auburn man. I think he's a great story. He's probably going to break most of the records for consecutive starts at Auburn University and has played extremely well last year and we're expecting a big year from Lee.
"We have Josh Bynes, who is our leading tackler from our defense; last year, a guy that didn't have any choice, he couldn't come off the field. Played relentlessly all through 13 games. Didn't miss a snap, didn't miss a practice. Played beat up, tired. Just showed a lot of kind of the Auburn way. It's just what you do. You keep working, and you keep working through all the adversities that he went through. Great to have Josh here, too, as one of our players on defense. Obviously our middle linebacker.
"Then I thought we would bring a third young man that I think is a great story, and that's Aairon Savage. He applied for a sixth year. It's unique and neat because I recruited Aairon before I left Auburn as an assistant, then have an opportunity to come back now and coach him is neat for me personally. But just really blessed to have a young guy like that on our football team that brings so much leadership. Has been the epitome of a guy that's been persistent and fought through so many things in his career that could potentially bring you down.
"I mean, this guy was a starter three and four years ago when he walked on campus as a true freshman and played very well. He gets a knee injury. Last year he's trucking along during summer workouts, he has an Achilles tendon problem. Just a guy that, bless his heart, has done everything we've asked him to do. He's a great Auburn man, great football player. I'm just glad we have him back on our football team and the leadership that he brings to our team is second to none. Those are the three young men here with us. Very proud of all three of those guys. Just wanted to mention them. That's kind of the state of the union address of where we are at Auburn. That's where we're going. That's the direction we're headed in. Again, I think the Auburn family is extremely excited about the future of Auburn football. I've went and talked to a lot of different clubs as we've made the trek over the last few months. There's a great excitement from the Auburn family. That's a good thing. Without any further ado, I'm going to open this up to questions. We'll hit the ground running.
Right off the bat, you said a long-term plan and long-term vision. Given how impatient everybody is these days, new cycles go faster, how can you afford to think long-term?
"Well, I don't think you can do this job without having a great vision for what you want to get done down the road. Obviously within those plans, you know, you're in a continuous evaluation process of what's happening now. I mean, it's not like you just lose sight of what you're doing now. Everything is an ongoing evaluation, trying to get better at what we do now. When I talk about long-term vision, it's not just how we recruit players and how we manage our roster, it's the whole department, starting with our president, Dr. (Jay) Gogue, with our athletic director Jay Jacobs, with our board of regents. I mean, our trustees.
"Look at what we did with our facility upgrades, where we're going with those with a brand-new indoor that our trustees approved. I just think everybody's on the same page. I think everybody has a great vision for what we need and where we need to get. Whether it's facility improvement, whether it's recruiting, we've got a commitment from our administration that's second to none. We're all on the same page.That's a great thing to know as a head coach. It's a great feeling. So when I talk about vision and future, that's really what I'm talking about."
In the pre-season you and Arkansas are the two teams everyone are picking to ascend in the SEC. Can you compare and contrast your team and Arkansas?
"Well, you know, that's hard to compare. I know Arkansas is returning a very, very good football team. Obviously, we went to Fayetteville last year and we saw that firsthand. I think Coach Petrino, who obviously I've been on the same staff with, is a great football coach. He'll have that team ready to play. He's going into I think his third year now. When you've been to a place three years, you have the opportunity to have really laid down, for the two previous years, you know, what your expectations are, guys buying in, things of that nature. I know they're going to have a very good football team. I just don't have time to really evaluate, continually evaluate, other people. I do that on game week. We do some of that in the off-season.
"All my time and effort goes into what Auburn does. Those things that other people do, I can't control and don't try to. I got my hands full trying to obviously move Auburn football in the right direction so I don't know what people are saying. I'm not sure of what everybody thinks about the status of Arkansas, Auburn, everybody else. I don't really have time for that--and I mean this--I'm very focused on what we're trying to do at Auburn. Comparatively speaking, I don't know that I can do that and be fair. I just know they have a very good football team, and our job this year is to have a better team than we had last year.
You brought in a pretty highly regarded recruiting class. The NCAA is proposing legislation that would limit a school from offering a scholarship until the summer before a recruit's senior year. Does that limit what you can do on your recruiting plan? What are your general thoughts on that?
"Well, you know, everybody knows kind of where recruiting has evolved, how it's evolved in the last two years. It's the way recruiting is right now. I think technology has a lot to do with it. You have all these different ways, there's more ways to communicate with all these guys so it's sped up the recruiting process. I would have no problem with that because I think a young guy deserves to be able to kind of go through the recruiting. I think that's a neat thing. It's backed up to the point now where literally you're looking at and evaluating sophomores. They're visiting your campus or camps, and you're sitting there talking to a 15-year-old what it's going to be like three years from now. That's a little bit of a weird dynamic when you really sit down and think about it so I don't know how that would be regulated.
"Obviously, you couldn't send them a written piece of paper if the legislation goes through. That could be regulated. In terms of the verbal offers and what you say, that could get a little tricky. I think the concept of it is really something that I would be in favor of. I don't know exactly what direction you would be able to move into to be able to regulate that. Obviously, like I said, you would, something on written paper. But I think it would be good for the young man if the process were slowed down. But that's like trying to put sand back into the sand glass. I mean, it's out. It's hard to go backwards because we've kind of moved in the direction of being ahead of the game when it comes to recruiting younger guys because that's where it's gone. In theory, probably a good thing."
Talking about the facilities upgrade you mentioned, can you talk a little bit about how that affects recruiting, the advantages the facilities give you in recruiting athletes. Also looking at the class of 2011, can you talk about the depth of that class both in state and around the region?
"Well, number one, when you talk about facilities upgrades, that's where I think administratively we have a great vision, starting with our president, Jay Jacobs, everybody involved. I think obviously it's huge. It's huge. You only have one time to make a first impression. When somebody comes on your campus. When we walk in and have the 'wow factor' with whatever they're looking at, it's big. The things we're going to do is not only just for recruiting purposes. We want them to have a lot of function for what we're trying to do. The indoor is going to look nice. It's going to be state-of-the-art. There's no question about that. We're going to do that right. But also it's going to be very functional for us, which we're going to get a lot of use out of that.
"We've got plans to do so many upgrades with Auburn athletics, but Auburn football specifically, there's a plan to continue to upgrade everything that we can, again, because you have to. That's where the league is. Obviously recruiting is one of the major reasons that you do that. In regards to the 2011 state of Alabama recruiting I'm assuming is what you're asking me. Again, the state of Alabama always has a tremendous amount of talent and we'll always do our best to recruit this state first and foremost. We'll continue to work in that direction. But we're really happy with just the relationships we built with all the high school coaches and how they've been with us in terms of treating us when we come to their campuses and things of that nature. They've been great.We'll continue to recruit the state as our number one priority, and we'll move on from there."
I think it's pretty clear to a lot of people that you did lay a foundation last year with the things that you did. With Coach Malzahn in particular on offense, you scored points, won games, but it seemed at times you scored so quickly, you put a pressure on your defense at a place where you had a lack of depth. Can you also talk about the things you have to do to play more consistently as far as specific variables for your team both offensively and defensively?
"I think the point is well taken. With our offense, one of the things you go into, you sit before the season, you talk about, What do you need to do from an offensive standpoint? "One of them is have explosive plays. When you have that--in our case last year, it was a little bit of a different dynamic, simply because we had plays where we scored fast and quick. We're good with that. I'm good with that. That's not a problem, but with that offense there are big-play and big-strike capabilities. What we need to address that we saw in the off-season as we evaluated everything is, how can we sustain longer drives? That was where we felt like, from a team concept, we needed to, you know, continue to improve so that means getting first downs. That means driving the football, running the football, doing the things that can keep our defense off the field a little bit more.
"When you talk about what specific things defensively can we do, I think we just have to play more disciplined football and we've got to continue to--which we're working on now--continue to build the depth of our defense. I think there was a significant dropoff at positions last year between the first and second guy on defense. Not an excuse. Doesn't mean we're not expecting to play better defense this year. Then from the standpoint of our special teams, as well, being very consistent with what we're trying to do there, it's execution, it's discipline, it's accountability. All those things I think add into the dynamic of our team being a better team next year."
I want to ask you about Cam Newton. Short on experience. In terms of the raw physical skills that you see on the practice field, what are his greatest strengths and areas he needs to get better at?
"Cameron, he is a phenomenal young man, first of all. He's done everything we've asked him to do both on and off the field. You can just see Cameron physically when he walks through the door, you know he's a very athletic, very talented young man. It's a good thing that he's had a little bit of experience in this league just traveling around and being in different stadiums, seeing it, knowing it. I think that little thing in itself is big. The fact that he went to a junior college, was able to lead that team to a national championship, I think that was big. I think that's all kind of in the recipe of getting Cameron ready to play in this league consistently.
"There's question marks in terms of what's he going to do and how is the function of our offense going to be when you're playing in front of 90,000. Obviously that's the question. But everything that we have to base our idea on right now, with what we've expected him to do, what we've asked him to do, he's done everything we've asked him. He's really, really worked at it, and a lot on his own. That's the thing that excites me about him. He wants to be a great football player. He really, really does. As we've told him, I've told everybody else, he's got to get on the field now and deliver. That's the last piece of the puzzle and the most critical part. He can do whatever he wants in practice. He's got to take that to the game field and deliver. We're excited to see Cameron in action in the first game, see how he responds."
You talked about laying the foundation, setting offensive records. With your type of offense, do you think that's the best way for you to sell your product to a recruit, to compete against Nick Saban of Alabama, like you mentioned about the state of Alabama recruiting? Does that help you out selling a different product? Is that the best way to compete against Nick Saban, who has had top five classes since he's been at the University of Alabama?
"Well, we recruit against everybody in the country. As we know, you can tell by how many players got drafted in this league, arguably there's a ton of talent that everybody's vying for every year in this league. That doesn't include all the people that come from different leagues to this region of the United States to get great players. So we recruit against everybody. I don't think there's any question that the productivity of us on offense helps us sell Auburn University to a young man that wants to come in and play who's an offensive guy. In one football season, you know, you can look on paper and see touchdown passes.
"There's so many things that I can go into, I don't want to go into them all, but there's things we did last year that are just a glimmer of how good we can be. That's where we're working. If you're a young guy wanting to come in and play right now, there's not a lot of long lines to stand in at Auburn to play. The fact that there's opportunities, the fact that we're gonna be an explosive offense, hopefully, more so than we were last year, I think those are all intriguing things. But we recruit against everybody. Hey, you know what? We just sell our product. We sell our product.
"Recruiting's about relationships. At the end of the day, recruiting's about relationships. We try to work really hard and make sure that nobody out-works us. I said that from the day I came there. We want to make sure that nobody is out-working us in recruiting. I've got a great staff that has really bought into that. They are right there with me on it so those are all things -- I'm not trying to get into a recruiting pitch, but those are the things that are important to us. If you're a young guy on offense, that might be intriguing to you."
Zac Etheridge was officially cleared to play this week. Talk about how much that means to the team and the safety position in general?
"Well, let me first start out and talk about Zac as a young man. This is a tremendously, tremendously blessed young man. What a great kid. He's put so much into Auburn University. He's put so much into football. He eats, sleeps, and drinks football. Last year when the injury occurred, obviously the only thing that mattered for the Auburn family is that he was healthy again. Football was not in the equation at that point. It's been a journey for him that's been very emotional. There's been a lot of ups and a lot of downs, wondering what is my situation, what is going to be the final verdict. You're looking at a young man that just dreams of playing football since he was three and four years old. So to be able to get the news.
"Let me tell you something. Our medical staff, our doctors that are associated with the care of him, have been absolutely phenomenal. Our medical staff is the best in the country, I really believe that. We've all been on the same page all the way through. That means coaches, family, training staff, doctors. It's just been an incredible journey in how it unfolded. To get that news the other day that he was able to play is just an incredible feeling for our whole football team. Everybody has an extremely high level of regard for Zac as a player and a member of our team. It was great for our football team. It was great for him. So we're excited about the prospects of having him back."
You spoke earlier this morning about talking to the folks, the Auburn people. They were very excited about what they think is going to be coming. Does that translate into pressure for you? Do you feel that?
"You know, more pressure I think for coaches is self-imposed than anything else. I'm just excited about the fact that the Auburn family is really--as I've gone and I've talked to 11 or 12 different clubs, however many it's been, it's the same passion and energy and excitement at every place.
"That's really cool for me, because that was one of the things I wanted to do as well, is really pull the Auburn family back together. I feel it and I sense it when I go talk to people. It's really a neat thing. But the pressure that's involved, you know, there was pressure when I was a defensive coordinator. There's pressure when you're head coach. There's pressure when you're a position coach. Bottom line, we're in a day and age where everybody wants to win. That's not gonna change.
"Again, I think guys that are very competitive and head coaches, position coaches, everybody else, when you're in this profession, I don't know that your self-imposed pressure is maybe the most pressure that you feel.
One of the big statements you made last year in recruiting was getting Trovon Reed, the number one player in Louisiana. Can you describe what you see maybe his role being for your team this year?
"Well, it's going to be really interesting because Trovon is one of those guys that can do so many things. We know that he's a very talented young man with the ball in his hands. He can do a number of things. That's why these two-a-days coming up, fall camp, is going to be extremely critical because we have young guys like Trovon that we have ideas of where he can fit and what he can do and what he can bring to the table. We're going to have to get out there and really work with him and see.
"Again, we know when he has the ball in his hands, he's a threat. Whether that's at wide-out, whether that's at a wildcat position, wherever that is, I don't know. I know we have ideas of where we're going to try to go with him and how we're going to try to get the ball in his hands, but we got to see how fast he develops. And we got to see what he feels comfortable in and where he fits best with our offense. But very talented young man, great kid. We're very blessed to have him at Auburn."
In recent years, it's been Alabama and/or Florida SEC national championships. Looking forward, how difficult is it for other teams in this league to catch those programs?
"I think it's obvious, if you go back over the last few years, it's two great programs, but if you look at this league from top to bottom, you've got great programs everywhere. I mean, if you look over the last however many, eight, nine years, you've got three national champions from the SEC West, you have a 2004 undefeated Auburn team that was 13-0 that I was blessed to be a part of that was one of the greatest teams that Auburn has had. It's the whole league. I don't know that you can pin it on two because there's been so many other great football teams and players that have come throughout the league top to bottom. So, you know, obviously Florida and Alabama have done a really nice job over the last couple years, both recruiting and coaching. But the whole league is that way. Hey, we're going to continue to fight every week in the league no matter who we're playing. But the league is challenging itself. That's from top to bottom."