THE MODERATOR: Good morning. Welcome to today's coaches' press conferences. We're going to invite each coach to give an opening statement and then we will open the floor up for questions. It's now my pleasure to introduce the head coach of the University of Oregon, Mark Helfrich, and the head coach of Ohio State, Urban Meyer.
MARK HELFRICH: Well, thank you. This is our 15th opening statement of the postseason, so I'll keep it brief. But very excited, obviously, to be a part of college football history and representing the University of Oregon, the Pac 12 Conference, and certainly kind of West Coast football in a lot of ways, a tremendous honor to be up here with Coach Meyer, a legend in our game, a guy that's done it many times and had a tremendous amount of success and congratulations to Ohio State and everything they've accomplished. And we're ready to go. Enough talking and questions and answers and flashbulbs. Our guys are excited and ready to compete.
URBAN MEYER: Ditto.
I do want to thank the Anatole in Dallas, Texas. This has been outstanding as far as a trip. I always wondered when I first heard about the playoffs how in the world would this work. Between the College Football Playoff committee, all the people that did all this work, and then obviously the Jerry Jones stadium, it's been a great trip for our players. Also I do want to recognize Mark and the job that Oregon, a program that I know very well, studied them for many years, have tremendous respect for really Eugene, Oregon, the way they've handled their business, and the way they coach, obviously.
This is a great match up. It's college football history. It's a game that I've devoted a good portion of my life to, same with our players, and now our players can say they played in the first College Football Playoff national title. It's something we take very serious, and we're very honored to be here.
Both coaches, do you think the new NFL evaluation rules for the draft will help underclassmen make in general better informed decisions?
URBAN MEYER: I'm not aware of the new rules.
MARK HELFRICH: Just how they're disseminating the information is a little bit different than it has been in the past, and it's probably a good thing in terms of limiting – it's basically you have the ability to be drafted in this round, this round, or stay in school, and percentage wise, it's a good thing. That's the bottom line, exactly what you said, is getting those guys the right information, the best information available. They used to give 90 first round grades and 90 second round grades, and that's tough to have. So just getting those guys the best information and then trying to talk to real live bodies, real live decision makers, whether it's GMs, coaches, et cetera.
Show your support for the Ducks—stock up on gear by clicking here!
Urban, you've been in this position before. You've won a couple of National Championships. When you took your time away from the game and then came back to coaching, did you feel confident that you'd be back here again?
URBAN MEYER: Well, I don't think so. I think I just was obviously chomping at the bit to get back in it, but to sit there and say I thought that we could somehow get back to the national title, it's everybody's dream and goal, but it's very complicated and everything has to align perfectly for this to happen. So no, it never really crossed my mind. When it really crossed my mind is when I had the ability to go watch Notre Dame against Alabama in the one in Florida, the National Championship Game, and I was there with ESPN, and to walk on that field, and that's the day that I sent that text out to the entire team, every support staff member, the chase is on, because you almost forget it's a time warp, like this week is for Oregon and Ohio State, that these players and coaches will some day -- that's why I'm a big picture freak in our house and office, all of a sudden you stare at the picture and remember what a great experience it was because it goes so fast. That was the moment, that's the driving force, why we get up every day, and I just wanted to somehow share that experience with our players, and now we are.
Mark, have you had any conversation through the last month or through the season with Chip Kelly just about how you're doing, just talking to him?
MARK HELFRICH: Just about how we're doing in terms of -- we talk all the time, a lot of text messages during the season is kind of the most common form of communication, constantly, and I would say zero on the topic of football. Just a lot of personal back and forth with a bunch of those guys and with him first and foremost and the Philly crew, but just personal stuff, yeah.
Urban, what specific changes have you guys made in your preparation to prepare for Oregon's tempo, talking to some of your players yesterday it sounded like you've been doing some things at practice tempo wise?
MARK HELFRICH: Be specific, please. (Laughter)
URBAN MEYER: Without getting into too much detail – next question. (Laughter.)
We have worked very hard on it, and I think the culture that Oregon has created is something I've studied in great detail, and I say culture because that's what it is. Ohio State has this culture and so does Oregon and so do all the great programs. Programs without culture, that's when you start to see failure. I think there's a misunderstanding of their culture where they play fast. They do everything fast, the way they handle their business. That's something we've beaten into our players – not beaten, but hard conversation. The fine line is this is really our 22nd week of football. The good thing is it's not completely foreign to our players because we operate at a good tempo, as well, but this one is different. We have the shot clocks up, we have a lot of emphasis about defeating the demon, the demon that takes place when fatigue takes over, and that's real, and that's something that we've addressed really hard, but ultimately it comes down to those young guys out there playing tomorrow night>
Coach Meyer, just because I had a chance to ask coach Helfrich the same thing yesterday, with the game being later into the month now, it's just 72 hours before the NFL underclassmen deadline, whereas on the old system those kids would have had a week or more to finalize that decision. Would you like to see that deadline pushed back, or are you okay with where it is?
URBAN MEYER: I probably would. This year we're unique. We don't have that issue. Last year we had two guys. One year I remember at Florida we had 12 players send out their paperwork, and it was after the '08, I believe, or '09. It was after '09. That destroyed – that can really hurt a program, you lose 12 guys. We lost six that day if I remember, and that hurt us a little bit.
I just think that whole process, I think everybody is trying to do the right thing. I've been involved in those conversations, and I still think when you see as many underclassmen not get drafted and their careers just ripped apart, you need to keep evaluating this. It's not right yet, but once again, it's not an attack on anyone because everyone is trying to do the right thing. I have not given – I have given zero thought to that because we had two players that told me a long time ago they're coming back, it was Taylor Decker and another one and Adolphos Washington, and they should come back. They just told me, I didn't have any conversation with them.
If we're in that situation, we would like to have more space, more time, so I think now that there's a playoff they should readdress that and move it back a little bit.
Urban, I imagine that ranking National Championships is a little like ranking your kids. When you went to Florida, though, you didn't have an emotional tie until you got there. You're an Ohioan. Is it possible to describe what it would mean to win a National Championship for Ohio State?
URBAN MEYER: I have a very emotional tie. The tie – I know your question, but to say that we didn't have an emotional tie, very strong emotional tie to Florida and those players and really the community that we became a part of, but obviously when you grow up a Buckeye and you grow up in the great state of Ohio, played high school football there, played college football there, that is big, and I think everyone's dream is somehow, especially if you have a great experience growing up, which I can't imagine having a better one in Ashtabula, Ohio, with great friends still, great -- every year I try to go back and do the best I can to help because it's a great place, and I couldn't be more honored to be from Ashtabula, Ohio. There is a strong sentimental feeling, just once again, that we're working at mac speed so there hasn't been a whole lot of reflection time yet, but it would be great to one win for the state of Ohio.
Urban, the last couple weeks you have referred to these sorts of games where you're on the stage and you tell your players to take their best shot. Do you go into this game with that mentality in terms of calling plays the same way, to sort of drill that into them, as well?
URBAN MEYER: Absolutely. There's never a game you don't want to take your best shot, but this one you try to paint the stage so they're not shocked when they step in the arena, because it is going to be – the Sugar Bowl was incredible, and this is even ratcheted up a little bit more. So we talk quite often about when you have that opportunity to step into the batter's box you get one swing. You step into a prize fight you get one swing, and the great champions don't miss. That's the mentality that we've preached for many, many – really forever. That's the way we train you. That's to be prepared when that swing, that opportunity arises to make that play, you be ready. So yes, we've really hammered that real hard with our players.
For both coaches, you have a lot of young players going to be playing tomorrow night, and both of you are also going to have some young players who are not able to play tomorrow night. Could you, without – just going beyond tomorrow's game, could you talk a little bit about the future of your program and how bright it must be with all the young players?
MARK HELFRICH: Well, I think the first part of that is you get inside there, and we're going to be inside the stadium today, and a lot of our veteran guys have been here before, having played here before, have seen the giant screen and everything that's great about ATT stadium and get the oohs and ahhs out of the way today so that doesn't take place tomorrow night, and yeah, we're obviously very excited about our future. Things are great both from a football standpoint and athletic department standpoint at the University of Oregon. Rob Mullens has done a great job, and then also, University wise, we're the best, most diverse, biggest University of Oregon that's ever existed, and we think those things are certainly – they happen together, and so we are proud to be ambassadors for our university, and great things are happening in all phases.
Mark, when you think back to five or six years ago, whatever it was, when you were getting ready for spring ball at Colorado, how well did you know Chip Kelly at that point, and do you ever think about how life changed when you moved back to Oregon and made that move?
MARK HELFRICH: Oh, yeah, I've had a lot of dumb luck and just outright luck in my career in a lot of ways, and I think that happens in this profession, but I had known Chip briefly. We kind of crossed paths a few times in terms of getting together and talking football. I knew obviously a lot more guys on the Oregon staff that had been there for forever, some guys that are still here, and so it was, I would say, a professional relationship at best at that point, and then got to know him, obviously, intimately here over the past several years.
Mark, if you could talk about Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, two of the big heavyweights in the game, do you think we'll see more coaches like them that stay on long, win a lot of multiple championships?
MARK HELFRICH: There's not too many guys like those two that you just mentioned. Obviously whatever the highest distinction is, it's Hall of Fame, it's icon, whatever those words are, the two names that you just mentioned absolutely qualify for that, and that's why it's been a great experience for me to be a part of it and see in preparing for Ohio State and all the challenges they present. You watch Alabama, and these guys beat, soundly, one of the best programs in the history of college football, and sort of be around that and absorb all that. Hopefully it does nothing but help us.
I don't know if there's too many Nick Sabans and Urban Meyers just sitting around, but there's a lot of talented coaches in our profession for sure.
This is for Urban: I know Joshua Perry has developed a really special relationship with a boy who's battling cancer down in Florida. How would you describe the kind of person Joshua is?
URBAN MEYER: That's a great question I'd love to talk about. He's a guy that was committed to Ohio State before we got there, a guy that was not very highly recruited, you could tell right away, a really talented guy. He's still growing into who he was as a person, arguably the best family – one of the best families I've ever been around, and just started to grind and work, and I think through the internet I saw a couple pictures of what he looked like and now what he looks like now. He's got multiple job offers waiting for him for when he's done playing college football. One of those job offers will be in the NFL. That's how much he's improved. He's what college football is all about. He's a kid that when my son who's a freshman in high school now, when my son gets to spend time with Josh Perry because I think it's critical that he's around those kind of guys, and it's not surprising when I see how his – he has an incredible ability to make someone's day a little brighter, and he takes that very serious. A great young man.
Both of your teams have had to overcome injury, adversity, in its own way. How does that make a team stronger, being able to get past that next man up attitude?
URBAN MEYER: I think that's the essence of what our jobs are. You are going to hit storms, and we prepare – that's a big part of, I'm sure, Mark feels the same, every coach probably feels the same, that a lot of our time is spent certainly in the off season, whether it be leadership training, you've heard about the E + R = O, or there's going to be events that take place, how do you respond to events. You can't control those. There's things that are going to happen that are from bad to awful. How does the team respond, how does your family respond, and that's when people have issues. We're all broken people that have to have some direction, some purpose, and some guidance, and we work extremely hard on that. And to see our team respond, I made the comment before that this team has taught me so much about how to respond to adversity because this is – I can't remember coaching a team that's been through more. Certainly when the Braxton Miller situation and throughout the course of the year other things have shown up, and they have really responded. That's the essence of a good team.
If you can hit the storm and come out the other end stronger, that's called a real, real team, and how many of those are out there? I've done this 30 years and probably can count them on one hand. Some people might think it's the luck of the draw. I think it's leadership and training. We certainly had that this year.
MARK HELFRICH: And I think just to echo some of that and agree, obviously, with everything Coach has said, I learned a lot about our team last spring and early summer just of getting to see how much these guys truly cared about each other was rare, and then whether it's injuries or everybody talks about that word adversity, whatever that may be, or tragedy in the terrible case this year with Coach, injuries or a loss, we've been playing both our program and Ohio State have played with that kind of early loss, and your back was against the wall, to get to this point, every play of every game, the entire rest of the season, it was to use those words, do or die. So you learn a lot about people. After our loss, we went out, and I've told this story many times, I was out there 25 minutes early and I was the last person out to practice. The entire coaching staff, every single player, and they were out there together. It wasn't, hey, Ralph, that was your fault, it was, let's fix this type of mentality, and that's when you kind of just – it slaps you right in the face. You already think you know your team pretty well, but when something bad happens, what's next, and I think in both these situations, the players and certainly Coach Meyer and his staff have done a tremendous job.
For both of you, Urban and Mark, as you head into this game tomorrow night, what concerns you more, your young kids handling the mental pressure, or this is Game 15, the entire team handling the physical nature of this game and the pounding that they have taken and still have to play another game?
URBAN MEYER: I think both, but our number one concern is their quarterback. I mean, it is what it is. We're facing – that's true, and those are all addressed, but those aren't quite as serious as that kid behind center for Oregon is not who he is. So that's our biggest concern. The wear and tear, I think that has more to do with the practice, the approach. It was drastically different than anything that we have ever done as far as the practice routine, really leading up not just this week but leading up to the Alabama game, too. We just don't have the depth right now, and probably most teams don't, but the scout team issues, those are all issues as you head to more practice. I think the wear and tear during the course of the game is unique because it's a very high tempoed offense, but our biggest concern is the guy receiving the snap every play. I think he's one of the finest that's ever played the game, and that's our biggest issue.
Coach Meyer, Cardale Jones started off the season as your third string quarterback but has led you to a couple big wins. Can you describe what about him made that possible?
URBAN MEYER: Still trying to figure that one out. He actually won the job in the spring. He beat out J. T., and he's a guy that was not a finished person, was not a guy that would finish drills, would finish – obviously finish spring, number one quarterback, would be behind Braxton when Braxton came back, and then August came over, summer training, J. T., beat him out. His leadership, his toughness. Cardale has always had talent, but really something happened in the last couple months. I know he had a little baby girl. I know there's been some – everybody in life has a chance to push restart. Not many people on a grand stage like Cardale has, and he pushed restart and he hit the right button, and that's called selfless approach and a serious approach to how he handles his business, on and off the field. That's one of the great stories in college football and one of the great stories I've witnessed. Like I've told people, of all the things that my children learn in school, I want them to read about the case study of Cardale Jones because it's a great one. It's a great one for everybody to read and learn from it.
Urban, two questions: Number one, the latest conversations you've had with Braxton, do you expect him to return to Ohio State for his fifth year? And then what is the biggest change you've seen in Cardale from three games ago to now that gives you more confidence than maybe you had three games ago?
URBAN MEYER: I do expect Braxton to return. Second, Cardale, when he took over the game actually in the rivalry game, the confidence wasn't there for us to call a typical game. Against Wisconsin, if you really broke that down, we didn't really allow him to do – very limited role as far as what any play great, lights out.
Against Alabama, pretty much the entire – we let him go play, and then this one, he's got it all as far as really everything. His preparation, the way he handled it. He's an incredible practice player that I really have not seen him that way, and before the Alabama Wednesday practice, I remember walking off the field again, looking at Tom, and just saying, my goodness, that's one of the best practices I've ever seen a player have.
He's got the full – he's got the keys to the car, and the way he handles his business is just extraordinary, the change he's made in his approach to the game.
Urban, your defense seems to have kind of – I don't know if something clicked, taking it to another level, starting with that Wisconsin game and then the Alabama game. What do you think happened, and what gives you confidence that they can rise to the occasion again against the Heisman Trophy winner?
URBAN MEYER: I noticed that, too. We played good defense throughout the year, sometimes great defense and other times not as good. We gave up some big hits. I think obviously it's the players, and I give Mike Bennett a lot of credit. He's a guy that has leadership qualities, and they haven't always been – he has the qualities where people follow. He's a very talented player, but his approach to the game the last month of the season has been phenomenal, and I see that carry on, and so it always starts with the defensive front. They played very well against Wisconsin, dominated the game, especially Adolphos and Mike Bennett inside. They carried on and played very well against Alabama. I give the credit to the defensive line and Mike Bennett is a big reason. A lot of reasons, but I've noticed the same thing, and the approach and practice has also been extraordinary, so I give a lot of credit to Mike Bennett and this group.