Bobby Johnson SEC Media Days Part I

Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson answered a barrage of questions from the media on July 29 at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. You've read bits and pieces of the press conference here and there, but only here will you find the complete, unedited text. (Part 1 of 3)

Opening remarks:

I know y'all have been here all day, so we're going to cut it close. See y'all later. (makes motion to leave the podium, to a round of laughter) No, it's a pleasure to be here representing Vanderbilt University. We're anxious to get started. We're planning on sticking to our gameplan and trying to improve our football team a little bit at a time. I think we're doing that. We're anxious to start doing that and start preparing for a tough league. This is certainly a great challenge for us. We start off the bat with Ole Miss in Nashville, so we've certainly got some things we can work on in getting ready for that game. We're anxious to get started I'm here to answer any questions you have about Vanderbilt football.

Q: Coach, is anything keeping you up late at night about this football team?

Keeping me up? No, I'm sleeping quite well. The only thing about Nashville is, it's on Central time. The sun comes up about 5 o'clock. That wakes me up, but I'm sleeping good.

Q: Talk about that first game with Ole Miss. Do you like opening with a conference game?

It has some positives and negatives. It's an important game as far as conference standings. You have a quality opponent-- they beat Nebraska in a bowl game... the best QB in country coming in there... that puts a lot of pressure on you. But, it has certainly motivated our players over the summer about getting in great shape, working hard, trying to make progress during summer. I think once we start preseason practice, we'll certainly have their attention, because they know a very good football team is coming in here, and we will have to play our very best to have a chance to win it.

Q: Do you feel more comfortable coming into preseason this year than you did last year?

It helps to have gone through the cycle one time. I feel better because I've seen our guys progress a little bit. I think we were playing so many young guys last year, that it was tough to ask them to do some things we were asking them to do. We went through spring practice, saw them mature a little bit, get better, saw them grasp what we were trying to do offensively and defensively a little bit better. So it makes you feel a whole lot better as a coach to see those guys progress in a way that you hope you'll be able to against the very good teams in this league.

Q: Could you talk about the progress Jovan Haye has made in the short period of time he's played football?

I think it's pretty remarkable. He didn't play very long in high school, was redshirted his first year at Vanderbilt. Last year he played as a redshirt freshman. What you see is a very talented athlete but a raw football player. Last year he was just sort of running around, didn't have a purpose. But he got better as the year went along. I think he made tremendous progress over the spring, just finding out what we wanted him to do and how we wanted him to do it. He tried his very best to do that. You've got to be coachable-- I don't care how good an athlete you are, how much talent you've got. That's what Jovan is. He listens to Coach David Turner. He tries to do it exactly the way he is coached. If he keeps doing that, he's going to be an outstanding player for us.

Q: What do you think it's going to take to turn the Vanderbilt football program around?

I think it's going to take a lot of hard work in every phase of it... from fund raising to ticket selling, to recruiting, to getting better athletes in there, to coaching, to practicing more efficiently... it's just all got to happen. There's no one magic thing that's going to happen to say Vanderbilt has arrived. It's going to take some time. We feel like we have a great platform to do that. We have a great university, and it's in great city in a great league. We ought to be able to attract players who can come in here and compete on that level. It's up to our coaching staff to get them ready to compete against some of the top teams in the country. And I don't think we're that far from it. We were in games last year, I think five games where we were within a touchdown or ahead in the fourth quarter that we did not win. There's some light at the end of the tunnel, and we're working hard to get there. I think we're making progress. We'll find out this fall when we start competing.

Q: Do you feel like you have some seniors who can help you along? You only have so many seniors.

We only have one senior on defense, and I think we only have two seniors starting on the offense. We're an extremely young team, but a lot of these guys played last year, so it's not like they're freshmen or redshirt freshmen. They took their lumps last year. Hopefully it paid off for them. They gained experience, hopefully learned how to play a little bit better now. We have to organize and build on those guys. They're good players, but it's just tough to compete in this league with redshirt freshmen starting for you, which we were doing last year. As we throw those guys in, they get a little experience, we throw a little more talent in there, hopefully we're building the way we want to build.

Q: What will be this team's strengths and weaknesses?

I think our strength this year is, number one, we have a good quarterback. I think it's tough to compete in this league if you don't. Jay Cutler last year showed that he has talent to do what we need him to do in this offense to compete. He's certainly gotten eve better as we've gone along in spring practice-- he's gotten bigger, he's gotten stronger. And he's gotten to learn what we want out of him in our offense. So that's number one. Number two, I think we have a tailback in Kwane Doster that gives us big-play capabilities. Last year we not have very many big-play capabilities, and it was discouraging to have to drive the ball 60, 70, 80 yards to get a touchdown. It's hard to do, and your chances of doing that aren't very good, playing some of the defenses we're playing against. So hopefully he can give us some big-play capabilities. And I think we'll be more reliable on defense. We've sort of cut down on what we're doing. We've got some guys who played last year and gained some valuable experience. Hopefully that's going to allow us to not give up so many big plays. We gave up entirely too many big plays in order to win football games last year. We want to try to make a few big plays and not give up so many.

Q: What do you think Chris Young gained by sitting out last year? And what kind of role will he have this year?

We had two guys who sat out last year, Chris for disciplinary reasons and Otis Washington for academic reasons. Both of them-- you wouldn't believe what a great job they did on our scout teams. So number one, they both earned the respect of all the other guys on the football team. They worked extremely hard, every day and all day. Both of them learned a great deal of appreciation for being able to play this great game in this great league. I think they're going to take advantage of the situation they have now. And when they go out to practice, they can enjoy every day and thank the Lord they're gonna have chance to compete.

Q: You had a lot of success at Furman. Now that you've gotten a year under your belt at Vandy, what makes those two programs so different? Are there any unusual circumstances at Vandy that are a lot different from Furman?

No, that's one reasons I agreed to take the job at Vanderbilt, because that I thought they were very similar programs. They used true student-athletes. We had a lot more success at Furman obviously, but for years and years that was not the case. Furman played in Southern Conference for 40 years before they won a conference championship-- then they won 12 out of the next 20, something like that (don't quote me on that, but it was something like that). They learned to win and get it done. They never used academics as an excuse-- they used it as a positive. I think we can do that at Vanderbilt. We want to attract guys who want to compete in the classroom and on the football field, and want to win. You can't have one without the other and have a good football program at Vandy.

Q: How much more extra-difficult is it playing at Vanderbilt, because of the academics?

Our players are expected to do a lot in classroom but most of them are very capable. It just reduces the number of candidates you have to go out and recruit. Once we get them in there, we think they can compete in classroom and on the field. There's just not as many of them out there. The tough part is identifying them and then trying to convince them Vanderbilt is place they need to continue their education and try to win football games. Not just to get an education, but to win football games.

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