We've finished our preparations here for Tennessee. This football team is excited about the opportunity to go play a brand name football school like Tennessee, a school that's won a national championship, has second most wins in Southeast Conference history. It's a chance that we look forward to playing against a great football team.
What would you consider your greatest challenge heading into this fall season?
Well, I think if you look, we've had to replace all three linebackers. We have three new kids starting on Friday night. They've been in football games, but none of them have started, none of them have been asked to play multiple snaps like they're going to have to Saturday night. I think that's one of the concerns for us.
I think offensive side of the ball, even though we have a lot of experience back on the offensive line, we only have two starters back at their spots at center and right guard. [Mattes] moves into left guard, [Crisp] moves to left tackle, and Wallace moves to right tackle. Those are key spots in the football team that are going to have to perform well for us if we're going to have success. We're not going to know how these guys work out until they get into the heat of battle on Friday night.
Who would you consider as your most talented player that's currently flying under the radar?
Geez, I don't know who that would be. Not a lot of our guys get national attention so it would probably be our whole football team.
What concerns you about Tennessee as you prepare for this game?
Well, they've gotten starters back on offense. Their whole offensive line is back. Tyler is back at quarterback. He was playing exceptionally well till he broke his thumb last year. People think if he comes out this year, he might be the first quarterback taken. Lost a wide receiver, but they get one back in Justin Hunter. They're big, they can run, they have good speed out there at the wideout spot.
Certainly a very capable team.
Defensively just the unknown. They ended spring with a four-down linemen team. When they released their roster, they're a three-down, four-linebacker type team, similar to what Coach Sunseri coached at Alabama. The unknown on defense, exactly what we're going to see, what packages of personnel we're going to see as we go through the game.
You mentioned the passing game. With your great secondary, when you go into a passing game like that, are you thinking you don't have much to worry about them there?
I don't think I've ever thought that in 38 years of coaching, so I'm not going to start now. There's no way. They have great skill kids. Tennessee has always had great skill kids. It doesn't matter what we did last year, it's going to matter what happens Saturday night, and our kids better be ready to play.
I know you're primarily concerned with your own team and success. Over the last few years the SEC has become the heavyweight; everybody is measured against them. Do you look at this at all for the ACC to change the perception a little bit, raise the quality of the league a little bit?
Well, I don't think there's any question that the ACC has had bragging rights for the last couple years, as many national championships as they've won, and deservedly so.
Certainly we haven't had much success going in this Chick-Fil-A game against the SEC.
It's incumbent against us to end up winning some football games. We're going to play this for us as the coaching staff, for the people here, for our school, the state. Certainly the ACC does come in to play.
We know we're going in there underdogs, not getting a lot of respect out of the Tennessee people. I guess you could be that way when you win all the time.
When you look at the pro draft over the years, the gap between the SEC and ACC has been narrow in terms of the talent. Why has there been a bigger gap on the field?
Because to be a great football team, even a good football team, the core of your football team doesn't have to be draftable guys, they have to be really good football players. That comes down to the numbers.
You need many, many, many guys that are just really good football players. When you surround them with great football players, then you have a great football team.
Trying to figure out what your relationship with Derek Dooley was during his playing career? Forget when you were the offensive coordinator. Talk about what you remember about him.
Derek came into school. I think Coach Walsh personally recruited him. He deserved to get a scholarship, got a scholarship. One of the things about quarterbacks, they throw to guys that are open and catch the ball. That's what he was able to do consistently. That was on a really good football team.
I think the best relationship was, I was coaching the offensive line, he used to live with those guys. He said they used to come home and complain and gripe about me all the time. He said he stuck up for me, so I'll take him for his word.
Did you think he would get into coaching?
I was surprised. I knew that he was going to law school and got his legal degree. He ended up marrying Patrick's sister. She was a doctor. All of a sudden, like my son, he loses his mind and gets into coaching.