"Yeah. This year's been a little bit more peaceful. We've been able to concentrate on the ballgames a little bit more."
You talked about Chris Leak, and how his work ethic impressed you. What were some of your other impressions of him?
"We looked at quarterbacks last year – there were about three that we had pin-pointed, across the country, that we were after. All of them visited us. I think Chris visited us. I know I visited him. I went up there one day and watched him practice, went by his house that night. Of course, everybody wanted him. He broke about every record there is in passing. It was very obvious how committed he was to it. I remember, the day I went up there, they practiced, and then everybody went in. And he stayed out there at least an hour. I know it was an hour, because I was freezing to death. It was cold, and I was freezing. He wouldn't go in. That just showed me how committed he was to it. And I think they won the state championship the next day, or next weekend, or something like that. So anyway, when he went down there (to Gainesville), I knew that whenever they started playing him, he'd get better. It was whether somebody would beat him out or not. I didn't know."
What's his personality like?
"Quiet. Very quiet, very reserved. Polite. Very polite."
He has already played in some big games, but this will be different, because of the rivalry. Isn't it a tall order to expect a freshman to perform in this game?
"Some of them can do it. It's very difficult. (N.C. State QB Philip) Rivers didn't do it his first year. The kid is – he looks cool as he can be. I don't think he'll panic. I know he won't panic. It's a matter of, does he have enough experience to read what he's going to have to read."
"That's one reason that'll help him. I mean, gosh, he played at LSU and won, didn't he? He played at South Carolina and won. He played Arkansas and won. That's pretty hot country there, now. So, playing at home, that'd be a snap to him."
After nine games, your defense was giving up 10 points per game. But in the last two, you've given up a lot of points and a lot of yards. How much will this week off help? Are you worried about your defense?
"I don't think it's a matter of refocusing. I've never seen our defense play any better than they played last week, and give up that many points. If they hadn't have played pretty doggone good, we'd have gotten beat. But they made enough plays to win that ballgame. I know the point thing throws it out of whack. But if you took your objectives of the game – stop the run, make them throw – maybe you ought to change your objectives, I don't know, when you face him. But they have that great runner who can kill you, if you don't stop him. Again, I think you've faced – I've said this many a time, and I quoted it to our kids Monday. ‘Men, I've told you before, and I'll say it again, there's no defense against a perfectly thrown pass,' – and there ain't. When you can hit people in the hands, you ain't going to break them kind up. You can get all over him, and if he can stick it right there, you can't get it. That was a case of a quarterback just – we've played against Marino, we've played against a lot of great quarterbacks – I don't ever remember one ever being that hot. Ever. We slowed Marino down a little bit."
Would you attribute the big plays in the last two games to pinpoint passing?
"Yeah. Oh yeah. Locating receivers. When a guy drops back and starts scrambling around, and he's about to fall down, and he sees a guy way over there and puts it where that guy don't even have to break stride – whew! That's a perfectly-thrown pass, again. That kid can do that. Most quarterbacks can never do that. But our big breakdown Saturday, defensively, was – what'd they have? Three long ones? One touchdown pass, and completed maybe three long ones on us. That's what we try to eliminate, and we didn't."
What could this game mean to Chris Rix?
"It could really be another experience, to prove that he's getting better. Still looking for the consistency of making good plays and don't make bad plays. It'd just be another. He beat them last year."
"Oh yeah. He's played some big games. He's been in so many big games. He's going to have to have support, though."
He may not have had a huge game statistically, but he played well in the last game against Florida, and didn't make big mistakes. Is that all you're really asking for from him?
"Yeah. I think that would probably be the biggest one thing you would want of him. Don't make any big mistakes."
Doesn't he have to be a little bit of a playmaker for you?
"And he is. I don't worry about that, because he'll make some big plays. Just got to be sure it outnumbers the bad ones. He don't make that many bad ones. When you watch other quarterbacks, you watch other teams, they've got the same problem. Not all of them. North Carolina State doesn't. But you watch the kid struggle over here, and this kid struggles over here – not every week, but sometimes, they struggle."
Can you point to one thing that's turned around Florida's season?
"I can see a lot of things. Number one, they've gotten better as the year's progressed, no doubt about it. From Day One to now, they look like a different football team. Their linebacker, (Channing) Crowder, definitely makes a difference. They definitely play better when he's in there. It's kind of like having a void, and he can fill any of them. He can fill that void in. Wherever that void is, he can get there. When he wasn't in the ballgame, they were lacking that. And offensively, they've just gotten better. The running game's gotten better. They've discovered some more runners, and they've just gotten better with it."
Florida seems to have a similar situation at tailback – they use three guys back there, and each one brings something a little different to the table.
"Well, they've got very good runners, very dangerous runners, with different abilities, like ours do. You've got the big ol' strong kid in there running, and you've got the little breakaways, and you've got the good solid backs. That's probably the biggest improvement I've seen over them since (Errict) Rhett was there. When Steve (Spurrier) first started coaching there, he featured Rhett a lot. Since then, he didn't get all excited about running. But now, they're running again."
How different is it without Steve Spurrier in Gainesville?
"Lovely. Steve would have had me irritated by now. He'd find a way to do that."
Do you miss coaching against him?
"Do I miss coaching against him? Not the times we beat him, I don't. But the times he beat us, I didn't enjoy it."
Are you surprised he's not had more success in the NFL?
"No, I'm not real surprised, because the question is, can you do the same thing on that level that you're doing on that level. I didn't know the answer to that. He still could work that thing out, by continually adjusting, you know? But it hasn't happened yet."
"I think Fason committed real early to Florida. Fason committed real early. We would have been after him and Leon, but he immediately said, ‘I'm going to Florida.' I think right off the bat."
Does Leon's success last year against Florida make you feel like you ought to give him a similar opportunity this season?
"To play a whole lot? I wish we could approach it like that, but we feel like we're better if we roll them, because we think they're all good. We think they're all good. Every one of them brings something different to the table. Every one of them brings a different headache to the defense. We'd still rather play all three of them."
Is there a disadvantage to going with a tailback by committee approach?
"Is there a disadvantage? No, I don't think so. The thing you have – the other night, against N.C. State, wouldn't you say there at the last, we had fresh legs, and they didn't. You know, you're rolling those guys, fourth quarter, tight game, your kid's still got the fresh legs. The bad thing would be if one of them couldn't play good. But all of them contributed."
Doesn't that take a certain type of player? You've had years where you've wanted to use a committee system, and been unable to.
"No doubt about it. They have to be very unselfish. Greg Jones has been very unselfish. But I told Greg, back a couple of games ago, I said, ‘Greg, probably the best thing that happened to you is that these other guys can play, where you don't have to go out there and run the football 20 times a game.' I don't know if that would have been good for his knee. The fact that he's been able to not have to get fatigued out there, and hammered, and hurt his knee – it's probably the best thing that's happened to him. But I think his knee has gradually gotten stronger and stronger and stronger."
How much pressure is on the receiving corps, with Craphonso Thorpe out?
"Well, you know, we use so many receivers. We've been playing eight receivers, and in a tight ballgame, maybe five. So they've all seen action, and we all know that Cro's missing. We also know that Cro was probably the most dangerous receiver we had. We also know that he was probably the fastest receiver we had. Anyway, the next guy's got to step up. It's not like we've got to change our offense completely – Cro's out. No. We'll do the same thing. We just won't do it as fast as we did when he was in there."
Have you seen enough from the other guys at that position to give you some peace of mind?
"I've seen enough that they'd better cover them. They can't turn them loose. Cro ain't there, but if we get none-on-one, baby, we're going to do some good stuff. I think they'll cover them, though. Ours are good enough they'll have to cover them. They might have to cover them a little tighter."
In the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma a few years back, you were missing the playmaker you had relied on all season – Snoop Minnis – and it showed. Are you confident that won't be the case in this game?
"Well, that is true. That played a bigger role (then). We are playing more receivers now than we did then, but you're exactly right. It'd have been interesting how Weinke would've performed with his guy there. I think Chris has spread it around pretty good."
Do you feel any different about this team than you do the last two teams, at this point in the respective seasons?
"Well, yeah. They're superior to the last two years' teams. They've had great morale, and have given great effort. Even in the game we got beat by Clemson, our kids' effort was not bad. It was good. But theirs was better. Clemson's was better. They outplayed us that day."
This team has a chance to win 10 games – your first team to do so since 2000. Have you addressed that with the team?
"I think if, if we win our 10th game – if – then you'd have to say, ‘Well, they're back in the old grind. They're back in the same level, about like they were."
For the first time in many years, neither Miami, Florida, or Florida State is going to contend for the national title this season. How surprising is that?
"That's a good question. The parity thing just keeps breaking in there. If we're not in there this year, we'll be there next year. I'm talking about all three of us. One or two of us will be in there again next year. This year just happens to be one of those years – first time in a long time, isn't it? We went to the championship game five times. Miami's been there – they've won five times."
"This rivalry? It fits in there. It's just newer. It's younger. We started it in '57 or '58. These other guys have been going at it since before World War II."
The home team has won eight of the last nine regular-season games in this series. Why is the home-field advantage so big in this rivalry?
"Well, most people play better at home than they do on the road. They're comfortable, they have the crowd with them to cheer them on. I think that's probably one of the big reasons. If they're both equal, the home field can be an advantage."
How has this rivalry grown since you got to FSU in 1976? When you started, nobody outside the state of Florida really cared.
"No. And nobody outside of Florida State cared about it. Florida didn't care. We were their doormat. They beat us 10 years in a row. But now, now that we've won some – it's like anything else. If one team beats another one all the time, there's no rivalry. But one team starts beating the other, and it starts getting equal, it's a rivalry. It has become a great rivalry, and one of the great things about it is all of the great players it has produced. So many pros have come out of this series, just like the Miami-Florida State series. So many pros came out of there. So ours, if there were not national championship implications, people'd rather just as soon watch this as Oklahoma-Texas, or Michigan and Ohio State. They'd probably just as soon watch this one. They know the ball's going to be thrown all over the field. They know there's going to be a lot of skill, a lot of excitement over there. But the fact is, everybody now would rather watch Oklahoma play, and whoever's got a chance to be in the championship game."
When FSU won four in a row in this rivalry, from 1977-80, did that change the complexion of the series?
"Yeah, I'm sure it did. That woke them up. Of course, then they came back and beat us six in a row, and then we came back and beat them three or four more in a row. That's the way that series went, back in those days. When Steve was there, it was kind of – we went back and forth. The home team would win. It's a bona fide contest now."
What's your favorite moment from the series?
"Ever since I've been here, what would be the favorite? Probably the first time we beat them, in '77, down there. The first year, we played them out here, I think they beat us (by) eight points out here. We were on the 11-yard line at the end of the game. Then the next year, we played them, beat them down there, beat them pretty good. The first time we'd beat them in a long time. That'd be one I'd have to point out. Probably the greatest one was when we beat (Danny) Wuerffel out here. I think both of us were undefeated. We beat them, and they killed us in the bowl game."
Was that Sugar Bowl, after the 1996 season, the low point in the series for you?
"That was awful. That was a nightmare. You couldn't go to sleep at night and wake up in a cold sweat, fear, worse than knowing that Florida is going to play us again. Nebraska got beat, somebody else got beat, and we ended up playing Florida. You don't like to play people twice if you've beat them. Now, if they beat you, you don't mind as much, because you've got a chance to revenge it. They killed us. It's just like right now. When Miami beat us, your thinking is, ‘I'd like to play them again. Boy, I'd like to play them again.' But now, I would not like to play them. I would not like to match up with Miami. Why? We open with them next year. And then, also, when you play Florida or Miami, there's more pressure. There's just simply more pressure. We play somebody that nobody ever knows about, there's not as much pressure. Boy, you play those two teams – I mean, sweating them one time a year is probably enough."
You had an awful lot riding on the game in 1993, when it looked like Florida might make a comeback.
"Oh, yeah. That was a mighty good one. We were probably favored that day – we won the national championship. And we had them 27-7, looked like we had it won, and they took Wuerffel out and put in (Terry) Dean, and he brought them back. It got to be 27-20, and we hit Dunn for that touchdown and broke it open."
You don't seem too concerned about replacing Craphonso Thorpe. Will your gameplan change at all?
"No. You don't have to. If you lost a running back, you'd go with your second-team running back. You wouldn't change anything. We can't spend 11 games doing this, and then all of a sudden, we lost a wide receiver, and change our offense."
You have a pretty good opinion of this team, with the way they've been able to bring the program back after the last two seasons. Will your opinion change if they can't win this game?
"As long as they do their best, it won't. All I can ask is that they do their best. If the kids play the best they can play, that's all I can ask. If their best is not good enough to win, then you don't deserve to win."
You lose 12 seniors after this season, but you'll have a lot of young guys coming back.
"Yeah, we really have. We've had some young guys come in and play for us, especially in backup roles. Of course, that's what would be good next year. We lose some defensive starters, but we've got guys behind them that have played just as much. Those kids have come in and done a good job."
What sets Leon Washington apart?
"He's just got some things that you can't coach. He's got a heart about that size (gestures). You know he's going to give you everything he's got every play. When he practices, he's going to give you everything he's got every play he runs. If he's blocking, he's going to give you everything he's got there. When he plays, he's going to give you everything he's got there. He's got some exceptional running ability. It's amazing how much difference Greg, and him, and (Lorenzo) Booker are different runners. Just entirely different runners. But their style is, all of them, you wouldn't change their styles for anything. But he's got something they don't have, and they've got something he don't have. Which one I'd rather have? I might rather have his. He's got some good stuff."
He's also willing to play special teams.
"Oh, yeah. The first year he was here, he was the most valuable guy we had going down on punts, going down on kickoffs, and kickoff and punt returns. Most valuable man we had. Then he got injured, and he couldn't go down on kickoffs anymore, or punts. Then, he was called on to play tailback. He's probably about as underrated a back as there is in the country."
Are you happy to have an open date?
"I'd rather go ahead and play (the game) without an open date. There are times when you do appreciate an open date, and I appreciate this one, because we've got so many guys hurt. We've got so many guys that can't play this week, that will have a chance to play next week. If I never got anybody injured, I would never want an open date. Let's play 12 in a row and get out of here."
Is that the toughest stadium to play in?
"No. But it's one of them. The ones that were the biggest impact on me, personally – first was LSU, back in the old days. They're probably still that way. Auburn. Clemson. Clemson's as loud as any of them. Notre Dame. Miami has gotten that way. And Florida can match any of them. But I won't say they're any louder than – to be honest with you, they're not louder than Clemson."
When you get true freshmen out on the field, like Ernie Sims, Antonio Cromartie, Channing Crowder, Chris Leak – are these guys playing more now than they would have in years past? What has changed? Is it the skill level of the kids? Or the game itself?
"The change is this – if they've got outstanding talent, then you're not going to have them five years. So don't waste your time red-shirting them. Now, if they happen to get an injury, go ahead and try to red-shirt them. If you don't, you waste it. I think that's what's happening. If you see a young man that's got some National Football League talent, you might as well go ahead and play him, because he's not going to wait around five years to make a million dollars."
What are your impressions of Florida's star cornerback, Keiwan Ratliff?
"He's sure caught my attention, I know that. He has a great judgment of breaking on a ball. As good as I have seen. You'd better know where you're throwing it when he's out there, because he has got great judgment of what's happening out there. It's amazing – I heard about his stats, and then you look at him, and you say, ‘He's as good as his stats are.' Some people luck into interceptions. He don't. He goes and gets them."
Do you think the rivalry is as bitter as it was when Steve Spurrier was around?
"I don't think so. I sure hope not. It don't need to be that way. It simply does not need to be that way."
You often say that the Florida State-Miami rivalry is characterized by mutual respect. Why is there that difference with the Florida-Florida State rivalry?
"Probably 250 miles. One of them's 500 miles away, the other's 150. So you're a little closer to this one here. Plus I think it gets into an alumni and fan thing. Our fans, I think, would probably rather (beat Florida) – if you took the majority of them. Now, the ones that live in Miami would rather beat Miami. And our players – how do they feel? Well, it's whichever one's beaten us the most. That's the one we'd rather beat."