Can you update injuries, such as Tyler Russell? "They expect everybody to play for the game. We're going to shut a lot of guys down this week so you won't see a lot of the older guys getting lots of reps out there. But I don't think there's anybody really a new injury that is expected to miss the bowl game."
It's become a routine getting ready for bowl games, how big is that? "Well it's huge. You know, I don't want to make it routine; it's still pretty special. We're playing in our second New Years Day bowl game in three years. And I expect to have another home-field advantage for us, we did a couple of years ago down there, we did last year in Nashville for the bowl game. And I expect our fans to give us that home field advantage again as we continue to build the program. Those are special opportunities to get to play New Years Day."
"For our guys, it is. I always think of a bowl as a reward. The better the season you have the better the reward you get at the end. And playing New Years Day in Florida is a pretty darn good reward for the great season we had."
Will you use the same bowl schedule as two years ago? "You know, we're hoping for the same result! But very, very similar. I think there are some little tweaks with the Bowl, in different events that they have. But we're going to us a very, very similar schedule that we used from a couple of years ago."
Gabe Jackson tweeted about his future, can you comment on that and how you help other juniors in the next month? "I talk to the guys. I mean the first ones we sit down with, we meet with the seniors to make sure they're organized for their plans for the future. And then the juniors. None of them have said hey, they want to come out early; I said OK, who wants to research it? A couple of them raised their hands."
"So we're going to fill out some paperwork to the NFL advisory board. What we do is we wait, we get the paperwork back, we sit down with the players and families and try to give them the best advice possible. It seems to have worked out. I mean look at John Banks, he and I spent a lot of time talking about that, had the opportunity to come back, and he's done something special. What a special night that was last night, I think he's the first Mississippi (native) player to win a major award in a long, long, long time, right? Maybe since Hugh Green in 1980, is that what it is?"
One of the first Mississippi first-team All-Americans in probably a decade? I'm sure you guys have all that research done up. But to be a Mississippi-born kid and get all those rewards is pretty special. So it worked out very well for him, and I think because of that, those situations, I think our guys kind of trust us and know that we're going to try to help them as much as possible to become successful."
Who is looking into early entry; Gabe, Nickoe Whitley? "Gabe, Nickoe I know are going to fill it out. I don't know if Tyler ended up doing it; Denico Autry and those guys, I don't know if they did or not. But those were the two I knew were going to do it. Rockey Felker does a lot helping them out when I'm on the road recruiting a lot this time of year. He was helping them get all the paperwork filed."
How has the recruiting feedback been? "It's been great. I think people see the direction we're headed in. I mean when you're playing in the traditional New Years Day bowl games two out of the last three years; and last year playing in another great bowl game, I think everyone sees the direction. I've always talked about you don't just come out of nowhere to build a championship season. It takes that stability, that consistent winning and building the foundation of a program for the future. And I think everybody sees that's really what we've done here the last several years."
When the players go to Jacksonville is it like training camp again? "That's what is great. No, we make the bowl game enjoyable. What you do, it's regular game-week for us, except take out the fact they don't have any school to do! So we don't do more at the bowl site than we would in a normal game week. And the reason for that is like I said it's a reward for our guys."
"The benefit is you get two bowl weeks. We get kind of a game-week before we leave, is how we've done it. Before we leave we'll have the Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday practice like we're getting ready to go kick it off. Then we do kind of the same thing when we get to the bowl site."
How much do you focus on Dak Prescott this week? "A lot on Dak. A lot. When people look at it, this is the opportunity. The twos get some reps in practice but this is the week the twos go to ones, and threes go to twos. Everybody gets bumped up and you take guys that have played a lot."
"We'll let seniors do individual but when we go team and scrimmage and all that stuff. I don't let the seniors do much of that and a lot of the starters will get minimal reps to keep them going. But really let them get healed, let their body get to where they need to be and get our team back playing the way I want to see us playing."
Do you entertain the idea of involving Prescott more in the offense? "We'll see. Tyler had a good year this year for me. I expect Tyler to have even a better year next year. I expect him to take it to another level. Him and Dak working together and pushing each other should be pretty exciting. With Dak, we'll have some packages and stuff ready for him but Dak has done a pretty good job for us this year with the reps that he's gotten. It's comforting. This is a great week right now to really let him to take another step forward in his career."
Do you expect more out of guys like Joe Morrow? "Yeah, that's what you're going to see. The two positions, when we take the seniors all out of the lineup, are going to be corner and wide receiver. That's where you really want to see a lot over the next week because when you take out those five senior wide receivers, obviously there's going to be a lot of holes in a lot of spots and a lot of opportunities to fill on the field. Bowl prep and spring is going to be huge for us at that position."
You were able to redshirt some talent on defense, like Richie and Beniquez Brown? "This is huge for them because we expect all of them to make significant contributions for us next season. The big thing for them this weekend is to get out of the red-shirt mode and get into competing for the starting job mode. There's a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball, we will have a lot of new faces on defense next year in the lineup and we need to see that start today (Friday). The biggest one for those young guys is to understand our expectations and have 11 guys flying to the football at all times and make sure they understand that in the next week."
When you talk to Pat Fitzgerald is it ever about changing the cultures at Mississippi State and Northwestern? "It's a lot of everything when you talk to him. Different programs, in a certain way, but a lot of similarities. Programs that don't have that long-standing, rich tradition in football that have struggled through different times. Look at what you need to do, what foundation you need to build as far as your players. Every program is different. Even though I see a lot of similarities in our programs, there's a lot of difference in the type of kids. But I know their kids have tremendous, tremendous pride playing for that team and playing for him and that program and their university."
"It's just the same as our kids do. We have a lot of Mississippi kids on our team that take a lot of pride in representing the state of Mississippi every time they step out on the field. Those things help but everything from when are you practicing. The funny thing is, I know they practice in the mornings but they're in a quarter system. I look at the schedule. Hey, how do you practice in the morning? What are you doing in the afternoon? What days do you practice in the spring? How are you running the offseason lifting? What days are you doing agilities and competitive drills, and weight lifting? What new motivation techniques are you using? How do you let kids be kids? How do you develop leadership on your team? Those are all the things we discuss a lot."
How was the experience of Banks winning the Thorpe Award? "It's unbelievable. As a coach, we do this. You want to see and you want to help young people develop them to be the best they can in life. And see them have their dreams come true. Here is a young man from Maben, Mississippi that believed in our program, believed in what we were doing right here, bought in 100% in everything he does."
"And here he is First Team All-American, Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in all of the country. One of the great players in Mississippi State history. I think that's pretty special. Just to be there, to be with him and a part of it knowing all that he has went through before he got here and all that he has gone through while he's been here to become the best that he can be is pretty special."
When practices are open what are players fans should watch for? "A lot of the freshman. We will do some experiments. Not as many this year. Christian Holmes, I think I am going to try him out at tight end, fullback, our motion back a little bit. He is the only main one right now look to be moving around. A lot of the freshman that have some talent are going to have that opportunity to get out there on the field. Some of the younger offensive lineman. I want to see really those young running backs jump up onto the scene. We're going to hand them the ball, time after time at practice and see them respond. The defensive side of the ball it's all those freshman. There is some solid defensive players that we are expecting some big things out of in the future."
How does it feel to be fifth-longest-tenured coach in the SEC? "Pretty sweet isn't it? How about that, I'm only 40?"
"It shows the stability we have here and we are building here in the future. You look at the four ahead, two of them played in the SEC Championship, one is right there on their heels all season and the other one, (Steve) Spurrier, is one of the greatest coaches in SEC history. Building up programs at both Florida and South Carolina. It just shows if you have the stability in the program, there is no one-year wonders."
"When you are going to build a football program there is stability in the program and you are building for long term. I give a lot of credit to our senior class. They came in four years ago and built a foundation that is going to give Mississippi State the opportunities to continue to compete and hopefully win championships here in the future."
Is it nice this year we don't have to bother you with job questions? "People tell me they see my name. You guys now know now; guess what this time next year my name is probably going to flash up again. It is nice I don't have to answer it on daily basis."