"The approach will be just like the approaches for all of our ballgames as far as practice is concerned. I think one thing happens when you play Miami – it does get your players' attention. And I'm sure it gets their (Miami's) attention. I think you'll have both teams working very hard to try to win the ballgame. If we were just playing somebody else with no title on the line, there might not be a little more looseness among the players. Coaches would work just as hard."
You've been here twice before, rematching with Florida in bowl games in 1994 and 1996. In those two games, you were coming off the epic tie in 1994 and one of the biggest wins in school history in 1996. How does this compare?
"Where this fits in by comparison is that the last time we played Florida twice, it was for a national championship, and we had beaten them the previous time. They were No. 1 in the nation, and I think we were No. 2. And they beat us pretty doggone bad, although it wasn't as bad as the score would indicate. At the half, we were behind by four, or something like that. Then we lost (Warrick) Dunn in the second half, and didn't pose much of a threat after that, I don't think. And they beat us pretty good. Then the tie, we went out there, and they beat us by a touchdown. I don't like to play my rivals in a bowl game. I don't know if anybody does. I don't think Michigan wants to play Ohio State in a bowl. Unless it's for a national championship. If it's for a national championship, yeah. But that's not true (here)."
If you beat Miami, wouldn't that be a pretty meaningful win for your players, going into next year and that season-opening matchup?
"We haven't beaten them in four years – that would be very meaningful, but it also means that they've got revenge on their minds when we open up with them."
You say you don't like to play your rivals in a bowl game. What about the possibility of having to play Miami twice every year, if the two of you meet in the ACC Championship game?
"Well, it could happen, but that'd be for a reward. That'd be for the conference championship, to be represented in the BCS, if we had to play them twice. If that's what it takes for us to get there, if that's what we do, then that'd be a little bit better."
What was your initial reaction when you heard that this was your bowl matchup, after everyone had assumed that that wasn't possible?
"You know, when a team beats you like they beat us earlier in the year, you want another shot. And then, you want to open with them next year. But now, my next two games are with Miami. Thank you. (laughs) So anyway, as you begin to hear the prognostications about the bowl games, you hear nothing of us going to Miami, unless Miami doesn't go. So if you go, you'll be playing somebody else. So anyway, we got the Orange Bowl with Miami. Once our kids saw it, I thought they adapted pretty good to it. Because now we know we've got a task on our hands. We've got a tough ballgame. We could win, but still, it's not like playing people – I was just looking at film of them yesterday, and you see so many players on their team you tried to recruit. You see players on their team that your guard played with in high school. Or they played against each other for the state championship. And now they're going to play each other again. You see so much of that, that's what makes it a natural rival, I guess, but also throws probably a bit more pressure on the game."
Where would you rank this rivalry in the history of college football?
"Well, it probably would rank pretty high, based on the results of the winner of this game, what has happened to them, the national championships that Miami has won, the national championships that we have won, the national championships we nearly won, but they knocked us out of them, and knocked them out of some. So it's been a great national game. As I've come up, watching football, I can remember when Alabama-Auburn was a great national game. I remember when Pitt-Penn State was a great national game. I remember when UCLA and Southern Cal – great national game. Because they both were powers, where there'd be a Top-10 or Top-5 ranking based on who won that game. So Miami and Florida State has become that too."
What's the biggest difference in your team now since the middle of October, when you played Miami the first time?
"Well, not a lot."
Is health a running back a significant change?
"I don't think (Leon) Washington even got in the game, did he? I guess he did, but he'd been out two or three or four weeks. One big difference is you've got your running backs back, if they can stay healthy the next week and a half."
Some of their players, after that game, said that they felt that they could attack your offensive line. Since that game, your offensive line seems to have turned a corner.
"I hope so. Because they do attack. They don't just attack Florida State's offensive line – they attack everybody they've played's offensive line. They might have five first-rounders on defense. If (Sean) Taylor comes out, if (Antrell) Rolle comes out, (Jonathan) Vilma, and (D.J.) Williams are seniors, plus Wilfork – I'm going out there against five first-round draft choices on defense."
Has your offensive line played better down the stretch?
"Yeah, we've improved. No doubt about it. We started off the year, that was a big question mark. We were lucky that we stayed healthy, very lucky, because our depth was mostly freshmen, totally inexperienced. We stayed healthy, and they're supposed to get better."
This rivalry seems a little different than the one you have with Florida, and the buzz around this game seems different than your previous bowl rematches with Florida. Why is that?
"It is different. No doubt it's different. I think it's different for anybody who ever went to Florida State, and probably for anybody who ever went to Miami. We both look on Florida with the same eyes. I think our boosters – most of them do. Not the boosters that live in Miami – they'd rather beat Miami. But there is definitely a difference. It's just a different feeling when you play Florida than when you play Miami."
Your fans seem to have embraced this game – you might have half the crowd in the Orange Bowl on your side, which is different than it was in the Sugar Bowl against Florida. Will that make it easier?
"Yeah. They do. Of course, we hope we have a good turnout down there. And we have a chance to have it. Every time we've played Miami at Miami, we've brought a lot of people. Of course, a lot of them already live there, too. That'd be good."
In the last few weeks, Alex Barron has been named to three All-America teams. What are his strengths as a player, and where has he improved?
"Well, he's got the physical tools that everybody's looking for. He's big, he's tall, he's just a good athlete, outstanding athlete. He was an outstanding basketball prospect – could have gone to college and played basketball, too. Just an outstanding athlete that's big, which they love, and he's a good kid."
How far has he come, after having to deal with injury problems early in his career? Has he matured?
"Yeah – he played all year with a bad ankle. Not real bad, but he's had kind of a slight sprain all year – he's played with his foot taped on it all year. That's part of growing up. When he was a sophomore and a freshman, he probably couldn't have handled it as well."
The way you played in your most recent game against Miami, what kind of lessons can you take away from that?
"Well, you've got the film of the last game to study, to see how they played you, but they've got the same thing. Usually, in a bowl, you're playing somebody you've never played, so you have to break down all the film on them and try to work up a gameplan. This one, it hasn't been a week, and you've already got a gameplan. Just look at the last time we played them. Then we study four or five other games they've played, try to make some decisions about what to do and what not to do, and they'll do the same."
How much of the gameplan from earlier in the year did you have to basically scrap because of the weather? Does that put you ahead of the game, in terms of not having to come up with a new plan, since you didn't unveil much of it?
"Definitely. When you're playing in the weather like we were last time, field position means so much. There are some things you wouldn't attempt. And if the weather was terrible again down there, it'd be the same thing again, just like us throwing the interception for a touchdown. If you had to go over it again in that kind of weather, you wouldn't throw that kind of pass. It's too dangerous. There are some things we could have done, probably some things they could have done."
How different was that game from what you intended to do, in terms of play-calling?
"There's probably some things you wouldn't have called in that kind of weather. You couldn't call the same thing."
What has Kevin Steele meant to your coaching staff? It seems like he's connected well with your players.
"Well, the good thing is, Kevin brought a lot of experience with him when he came, a lot of knowledge, a lot of stuff that would fit in, blend in with what we're doing. He and Mickey (Andrews) were able to work good together with the coaches. Sometimes, when you bring in a new coach, it's a learning process of getting along and seeing exactly what they're thinking and trying to get cohesion going. He seemed to fit right in. That's just him, his personality."
"That's one of the pluses of playing in that ballgame. There's probably not a bowl game in the country that we could have gotten into that would have been better for public relations or better for recruiting than to play in Miami. Because now you're visible, and your kids' pictures are in the paper, and the writeups are in the paper, and in our state, and that is a plus for both of us."
How much of an additional emphasis have you put on recruiting South Florida?
"Well, we've put two coaches in there, rather than one. We do want to try to stick to that."
Have you noticed any changes? It's early still, but is there a different feel?
"I expect it to be positive. I haven't done a poll or anything yet, but I expect it to be positive."
You're nearing completion on the Moore Athletic Center. The training center's done. The weight room is basically done. What will it mean to the team to have everything back together for the first time in basically three seasons?
"It's a plus. It's going to be a plus to get everybody inside the same building. It's accessible. Easier to find. Easier to get a training room accessible. That's got to be a plus."
Dave Hart has made it a priority to make the facilities better. When you were winning in the ‘90's, and you'd go to other places and see what they were building, like North Carolina, did it hurt a little bit in recruiting?
"It might. I didn't notice it in our recruiting, but all of those are good if you can have them. That's one thing about this conference. People ask me, ‘Once you got in the conference, did it get any better?' ‘Go around and look at the facilities of the other schools.' North Carolina passed us all, and now everybody's trying to catch up to North Carolina. Now Georgia Tech's built this, Maryland's built this, N.C. State has built that, Virginia has built that, we've built this. Look at stadium sizes and facilities based on when we joined, and you'll see a whole lot of emphasis."
You had an award announced, named after you, by the FCA. What do you feel about it?
"Well, Vince Gibson, he kind of spearheaded that. I don't know if y'all know Vince. He's the Tulane head coach, and I coached with him at South Georgia College. Anyway, he kind of spearheaded that thing, and through the FCA, they came up with this, and I guess Jan. 2, or whenever it is, I'll go there to present somebody an award."
What does it mean to you personally to have an award named after you?
"It means I'd better watch out what I do. (laughs) That's the biggest thing. I appreciate them doing it. I didn't ask them to. They did it, and I believe so much in the FCA that I would do anything for it. If they want to use my name, good."
When you look at the parameters of the award – achievement on the field, in the community, and in the classroom – it sort of distinguishes itself from all the other awards in college football. Is that significant to you?
"I think it's good. I think it will be good, to reward kids for that. It's for character in every way – academics, athletics, and character, the three hearts of man. I hope we get some good young man – I know they'll get some good young man who'll be very deserving of it."
Going into this game, you know that your next two games are against Miami. Is there any temptation to hold back on this or that for the next game, because you know you may need it?
"That's a good point. We're not going to play this game like it's the national championship. We're not going to throw all our eggs in one basket that might hurt us next fall. We're going to go out there and – No. 1, that's not the way you beat them. They are so sound, especially defensively. They are so sound defensively, forget your trick plays. You can forget about them. They are going to be in the right place – you can count on that. That's the way they play. And they're playing with great athletes out there. You'd like to play a lot of young guys (in the Orange Bowl), because you've got to play them next year. Whether we'll be able to do that, I don't know, but we might attempt that."
How do you view that balance, between giving your seniors one last hurrah and preparing the younger guys with experience to take over?
Well, if a senior's a starter, they're going to get all they want.
There should be plenty of motivation, with this senior class having never beaten Miami, right?
"Yeah. We'll try to win the game. It would be nice if you could play some more guys and get them ready for next year, but because of my loyalty, and our loyalty, to our seniors, we're not going to exploit them."
Would a victory in this game be more important in terms of next year's game? Or would it not really carry over, despite a five-game losing streak against the team with which you open the season?
"It would be. It would also be a big challenge for us. If you beat Miami, they're going to be a little upset about that next fall. But you want to win. You want to win the doggone game. We don't want to lose to them either. Neither one of us wants to lose a game, and we we'll do everything we can to win it. But I'm sure there'll be some side issues, with an eye on next year, with us playing. Give this guy a little bit more action, or this guy a little bit more action, or this, or that, or don't show this, or don't show that, because this game, other than being Florida State versus Miami, ain't nothing riding on it. No national championship, no conference championship, just the pride of these two teams."
What has Michael Boulware meant to this team over the last four years?
"Mike has been one of those guys that's good on the field and off the field, in the classroom. I've never had somebody come to me and say he's not going to class. I've never had somebody come to me and say, ‘He's flunking this.' I don't hear ‘he's in trouble here, or he's in trouble there.' It'd make coaching mighty easy if everybody behaved and applied themselves like Mike Boulware. We've got some others, but he's one of them."
When you recruited him, because of your prior experience with his family, did you know what to expect from him?
"Yeah. His family is such good people, and they set a good example for him. Then, the success of the other children. One graduated form Georgia Tech, played football, one graduated from Notre Dame, a girl, I think ran track. Then of course Pete Boulware, here, played football. Then Mike coming along in his footsteps – they've all been good citizens."
Your team has put a crown on a sort of rebound season. But you've been in the position where Miami is now, where they've played in two straight national championships, they were in the hunt down the stretch, and now you have identical records and are just playing for pride. How difficult was that to go through for you in years past – like having to play Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl after the 1997 season?
"I think it's difficult if players don't respond. That'd be very difficult. If your players didn't respond, if your players were self-satisfied, if your players had gotten all out of college football they wanted to get out of it, that'd be a bad sign. I know Miami hasn't recruited that kind of player, and I don't think we have either. I think you're going to see two teams playing as hard as they can play."
How is the mental preparation different, facing Miami in this game?
"The thing about it, is when you play somebody that beats you, you don't have to try to get your kids up. We've already seen what they can do to us. Of course, how will they approach it? They'll approach it as ‘Well, we beat them one time, and if we go out there and play as good as we can, we'll beat them again.' Everybody's looking for something for motivation, but I don't think you need it when you play Florida State versus Miami. It's kind of like Florida versus Florida State. These kids have known each other forever, played against each other – they'll all be motivated to play."
It might be early yet, in terms of grades, but do you expect all of your players to be eligible?
"We still haven't gotten all of our results yet, but as of right now, I don't know of anybody we're losing. We've still got – it might be the middle of the week, might be Thursday before we know positively."
Do you have a different feeling going into this game with Chris Rix than you did going into your last game against Miami with him, because of the way he played against Florida?
"Well, the one thing good about Chris – he has been in the big games. He's played Miami in the rain. He's played Florida in Florida. He's played Notre Dame at Notre Dame. He's had wins, he's had losses. That just makes him a better football player. Their quarterback (Brock Berlin) is the same way. He's got 10 or 11 games under his belt now. Both of them are just getting better."
He's had some very bad games against Miami in his career. Do you trace that to anything?
:Miami. Miami's good. Did you see the Virginia Tech game? Virginia Tech intercepts a couple of passes for touchdowns, but they couldn't do nothing on their defense. Tennessee? Two yards in the fourth quarter. Two yards, but they beat them. They didn't turn the ball over. This is one of those teams – it's the things behind the scene that make you win. It ain't yards gained. It's not passes completed. It's you turning the football over. That's something we've done against them, and it's suicide. It's suicide if you turn it over. And it might be suicide for them if they turn it over."
Do you think Chris has finally learned that lesson?
"Oh, yeah. He's been learning it all through his career, and I think he's much better at it. He still has a hard time when he runs with the ball, of being careless with the ball. He's not as bad as he used to be, but that one against Florida was scary."
How impressive was Miami against Pitt in their last game? Pitt scored first, but it was totally one-sided after that, and they dominated Larry Fitzgerald, Pitt's star wide receiver.
"Yeah. They're – like I say, when you look at film on them, you say ‘How in the world are we going to ever score?' That's what you wonder – how in the world can you score on these people? That's where Chris can be the most dangerous, when a play breaks down, and he starts running and finds somebody. He had a couple against them where if we'd have caught the darned ball, it might have been a pretty good football game."
Have the fans turned a corner with Chris? Has their low opinion of him changed?
"It's changed until Jan. 1. It's kind of ‘what have you done lately?' Lately, he's done pretty good. But that's a kind of game-to-game thing."