"I'm excited to be opening the season with a very good and very talented North Carolina team. Everyone you visit with that has played them says that. Watching them on tape, that certainly is the case. Our team likes the fast that we have a big challenge to get the season started, and we're excited to be playing at home to get the 2001 season started."
In what areas does North Carolina have an advantage?
"I guess one obvious one is that they know what we do offensively, defensively, and on special teams from watching all our tape. They have a new staff, and we haven't had the advantage of watching them on tape to see what their schemes will be, outside of the fact that we know where their coordinators all come from and we have a decent idea of what they like to do."
What are the logistics of preparing for a coaching staff that is new where you don't really know much about the head coach? Do you go back and watch the schools where the coordinators came from?
"Yes. Certainly, you watch Carolina's film to watch their talent, speed, and the way their players play, but we do pay close attention to where their coordinators have been and what their backgrounds have been in running their offense, defense, and special teams."
A lot of people are amazed at how quickly you've been able to turn things around with a national championship last year. Has it amazed you, or did you see this coming?
"I don't know. When you're in it and you're persuing it and digging from week to week, going after each victory, you're not amazed by it because you feel you've prepared and you've worked [for it]. But after the fact—looking back on it—certainly I realize how special it is for a university here with such a great tradition to do that again.
"To do it in just a couple of years is special. You look around the country, and there are so many coaches that have never won not just a conference championship, but especially a national championship. I appreciate it, and I feel fortunate to be with the group of coach and players of the caliber that we have."
Julius Peppers is one of those players that you have to account for on every play. What have you seen from him, and what do you plan to do in that regard?
"Certainly he is an exceptional pass-rusher and defensive player. Without question we will pay very close attention to where he is all the time, and I'm sure our offensive line coach, Coach Mangino—and our offensive coordinator, Coach Mangino—will certainly be aware of that. Whether we adjust our blocking or not will be something that we determine as we go through the week."
You come from a pretty good football city, but is Norman more intense because there are fewer things to do there than they had in the Sunshine State?
"I guess you are comparing Gainesville and Norman? Certainly, they both love their football and are passionate about it. That's what's fun being in that kind of environment—they are very similar that way.
"Out side of that—I don' know. Sure, here in Oklahoma there aren't any pro teams. In Florida, you've got Florida State and Miami as well. We have Oklahoma State and Tulsa here. The people here really do gravitate to OU, so it is exciting to be in that kind of work environment, with that kind of following."
Have you taken a different approach to this season, since you are defending national champion, or is it the same as it was last year?
"It's relatively the same—our process and how we go about things. I don't think there's any question that, if anything, we've worked harder this summer. We've been more demanding on the field in what our expectations are. Our summer work was more difficult, and our players really embraced that and accepted the challenge. Outside of that, our processes and how we go about practice is pretty much the same."
Would you address how your running game developed last season, and how have those backs looked in camp, so far?
"The way the running game developed last year was an improvement from the year before. We continue to work it hard want to continually improve it.
"It was a major factor in us winning a year ago. If you think back, in all of our big wins—look at both championship games. If you look at the national championship game, the only touchdown scored was a run.
"If you look at Quentin Griffin in the Big 12 Championship game has a run for a touchdown. The game at Kansas State, he has a great run for a touchdown. At Texas, he rushes for six TD's. Texas A&M—our comeback in the fourth quarter, he breaks a long run for a touchdown. So many times, people just want to look at total yards, as opposed to 'How effective was the run game?' He had touchdowns and big runs in all of our big games that made the difference in us winning.
"He's stronger—Quentin is—and our backs are more powerful this year than they were a year ago, and I'm hoping we'll continue to improve that way."
When you were hired, were you immediately embraced, or was there any skepticism because you hadn't been a big-time head coach before?
"I'm sure there was skepticism out there. For the most part, I felt like I was embraced by the fans and people here, but I know there are always skeptics out there. I'm sure there were a lot of people that were questioning [the decision].
"I admire Joe Castiglione—the courage it took for him to hire me. Here we are at the bottom of every category of the Big 12 offensively, and he hires the defenive coordinator from Florida. That took a lot of guts. I'm sure there were skeptics, but they weren't very vocal."
Could you address the quarterback situation and what the determination was on your starter?
"The quarterback situation is very good. What I like and what's been great about it is we've named Nate Hybl as the starter, but it hasn't been through default. It hasn't been through poor play of Jason White. Statistics in all the scrimmages and team situation and pass scale situation have been very impressive.
"I don't think there's any question that having them compete for for it through the spring and all through the summer has made them both much better. They both have dealt with pressure that goes along with the challenge of competing for that positon. They both are good in the huddle, well-liked, and good leaders on the team.
"It just got down to [the fact] that Nate was a little more successful—overall a little bit more consistent and had fewer bad plays. Watching these guys, neither have had a bad scrimmage or a bad day at practice."