“First, I want to tell those seniors, those 26 seniors, that walked off that field for the last time that I want to tell them thanks for what they’ve done for this team, for what they’ve done for this university, for what they mean to this program. We talked all week, this was History Week. They had an opportunity to make some history today, and they’re one of only two teams in 125 years to win seven games on that field. It was special. There was a tremendous burden of responsibility for all of the guys to make sure that happened, that they went out as winners on that field for the last time. So it’s very bittersweet for them, lot of tears after the game, and I asked them to not think about it during the week and prepare for Miami. And I said after it’s over, then it’ll hit you. And it did. It hit them all in that locker room, and it is bittersweet. It’s a special place to play, and they know it, but we’ve got a lot to play for now, and this football team just played really well tonight. Really well in all three phases. And I can’t say enough good things about them.”
How did the defense respond to a rough outing against Duke last week?
“I don’t know if it was a letdown as much as, and Gene and I talked about this, as much as we didn’t—the techniques and fundamentals that we taught, we just got away from them last week. The defensive staff re-emphasized that this week. Much better tackling in the open field, held them to less than 100 yards rushing, which they wanted to do, and I just thought throughout the game that they played really well until towards the end there.”
What was the difference between the ground game against Miami and the ground game against Duke?
“One thing I can tell you is this team offensively feels like they can do either one (run or pass), and they take pride in being good running the football and take pride throwing the football. And we understand that a defense can take one of them away from you. They can load up for the run or load up for the pass, and we feel like we’re good enough to beat you with the other. Last week, we threw the ball all over the place, this week we ran the ball close to 300 yards rushing. I think we’ve proven that we can do both. It’s hard to take both away from a team, you’ve got to be really, really good to do that.”
How much has your team grown over the past three games?
“If you look at it, we haven’t turned the football over in either of those games, and we’ve now created six in the last two weeks, so that’s a big part of it, right there. A big, huge part of it. And then this team’s playing as a team. Everybody’s there to pick each other up and ‘I’ve Got Your Back,’ and they’re doing the things that a team does, and this is a damn good football team.”
Is there a sense that this team has gotten even better?
“I think we are. That’s a tribute to our staff and the seniors and that we are getting better every week. Our team is getting better every week. It’s because of the leadership, it’s because of the way they come to practice, it’s consistent week in and week out, and we get better. We’ve had some hiccups and haven’t played well at some times, but as an overall team we’re getting better every week. “
We know you don’t focus on making statements with games, but it seems like these scores making a statement in themselves isn’t avoidable, doesn’t it?
“It’s not something that we’ve talked about as a team. It’s not like we’re gonna go in and try to make a statement. We prepare every week, we want to win the football game, and whatever happens, happens. We really feel like if we just keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll look up at the end of the year, and we’ll get the recognition that we deserve. Whether that happens at the midpoint or when that happens in the season, if we just keep taking care of our business, and stay focused on what we need to do, it’ll come, I promise you, it’ll come.”
Was there any change in the focus of the team today than any other day?
“Never once did I hear somebody say anything about Pitt-Duke. Not once. Maybe they were saying it all behind my back because they knew I’d be in their grill, but nobody said a word. Not one person said anything. (They handled this the same as) every single game. No change. Again, these seniors have provided such great leadership. They’ll come out to practice tomorrow, and they’re gonna be the same way they were three weeks ago, eight weeks ago, however many weeks we’ve been doing it, they’re gonna come to practice on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the same way. And that was in the very beginning when we started talking about being consistent, and they’ve done that. That’s hard to do. That’s hard to do.”
It really seems like your kick and punt coverage teams have improved like you’ve asked them to. Thoughts?
“We finally started making some game-changing plays. It was great for the punt return team to get another one, and (Ryan Switzer) to add another one to his resume, and it looked like kickoff coverage was tremendous throughout the night. I think our punt coverage was great. Joey (Mangili) hit some great balls tonight. Our kickoff return team had some really good returns, so I think overall, and we know going into the game, we felt like we could play on special teams and we would be better in special teams than Miami was. We just felt that way, and it was the same amount of work, all of those things, and it was just about guys believing.”
What’s been the biggest reason behind the success of your offensive line?
“I’d say first, Landon Turner, just because he runs that group. He runs it. He’s made them more consistent. His leadership alone, and the way he runs that group—again, those guys, all of them, have done a great job, and Coach Kap has done a great job with them, and they come to work every day. They come to work. They don’t say a whole lot, they come to work. Landon’s the one that does all of the talking, and the others listen and do what he says.”
Have you ever had a team this talented?
“From top to bottom? This is a pretty talented team, now. Really talented. In a lot of spots, we’ve got some really good players. And again, that’s because of the staff, and the job that they’ve done recruiting, and it’s just gonna get better.”
Is a moment like this what you envisioned when you came to coach at UNC?
“I would have to say so, yes. I’m really happy for this team, I really am. I’m happy for what’s happening to them, and it’s pretty special. For me, it’s really about these kids. To know what this group has been through, and what they’ve had to overcome, especially the senior class, it is special. But has nothing to do with me, it has nothing to do with this coaching staff, it’s really about them, and seeing them have success. And seeing the bond that they’ve built with each other because of the adversity that they’ve faced and overcome. That’s special. That’s why you coach. It really is.”
You’re now one win away from clinching the ACC Coastal. Are you going to talk to your team about that?
“I didn’t know that until you just told me, so I doubt we’ll talk about it. Now on Sunday, I promise you the first thing coming out of my mouth will be ‘Coastal Division Champs,’ because that’s our goal. They know that I’m gonna say it first in the meeting, and that’s where our focus will be. From that point on, I’ll say it in just about every meeting, that’s the way I’ll start the meeting, because they know every day we’re always, when we meet, we talk about what our goal is, so we don’t lose sight of it. Again, there will be more obstacles this week, you guys will provide a bunch of them, but we’ll overcome them. We’ll overcome them.”
When did you decide to send your seniors out for a curtain call in the fourth quarter?
“It was really in the middle of it, you know, and I didn’t do a very good job of it. I really wanted the same thing for those defensive guys, and I did a poor job of communicating that to everybody. I really wanted those guys to come off the field together, but I don’t know, I didn’t do a very good job of it.”
How important is it to frame goals in the context of history, as opposed to making history itself?
“These guys, it’s funny, because we re-emphasize the goals every week. Mack Hollins was like, this week he started yelling out in practice all the time ‘History Week!’ That’s just Mack, you’ve gotta know Mack. So then everybody starts, it’s History Week. They have a chance to make history, and that became the focus. That’s why everything in practice, they were just going as hard as they could because it was history week. They had an opportunity, this senior class had an opportunity, to do something that only one other senior class has done. In 125 years, that’s pretty cool.”
What has Marquise Williams meant to this program and to you as a coach?
“Was he emotional before the game?”
“He was? I didn’t know that. I’m glad I didn’t know that, actually. He was very emotional after the game, I know that. It means a lot to him, it really does. He has come so far, as a football player and as a man, and I’m really proud of him and what he’s accomplishing with this football team, and with all of his brothers.”