(Laugh) No, I think the Steve Martin thing is out. The thing now that strikes me funny is, when I first took the job, everybody was just, why'd you take this job? You can't win, you can't win. This year it's, when are y'all gonna win? Everybody wants to know when you're gonna win, instead of, you can't win. We're dealing with that right now.
Q: Coach, with all the realignment in conferences all over the country-- Big East, ACC-- do you think that's good or bad for college football? And do you think it will ever affect the SEC?
Gosh. (pause) It's good for the ACC-- I think what they did was good for them. I don't know if it's good for college football. We'll see if teams start to fall by wayside or if conferences are dissolved-- I think that's for the future to determine. Now, I think the SEC is in great shape. We've got tons and tons of talent, and tons and tons of tradition. Would like to see us get our program in there, saying that Vanderbilt is a positive to SEC football. I think it's a positive in many ways already, other sports and academically... but I want it to be a positive in football. I think we can do that, and I don't think we're that far away. It's a tough job, because it's a tough league. I think Vanderbilt can compete in many other leagues right now. We just happen to be in the very best one.
Q: What are your thoughts on returning to Columbia (S.C.) and playing against [South] Carolina?
It'll be great to be back in town, but the football game is the important thing. I've been in that stadium in several different situations. I used to sell drinks there as a kid. When I was at Furman, we went down there and beat them in 1982. I was coaching at Clemson in 1993 and we beat them. Hopefully we're going to go down there in 2003 while I'm at Vanderbilt and beat them. I think it's going to be fun to get back there and see some old friends and things like that. But there's going to be another football game when that thing kicks off. That is a tough, tough stadium to play in. They have a great following. It's a great place to play. I'm looking forward to it.
Q: Talk about how you keep your players motivated.
We just continue to work hard. We point out... we look at the games we had chance to win last year. Most of the times it was certain things that happened that we had control over. We look at film and say, look guys, if we can do this just a little bit better-- maybe it's a block on a punt return, or an opportunity just to do anything better-- we've to take advantage of it. So we show them the good things they do, and try to correct them on the bad things they've been doing, and appeal to their pride. I think that's the biggest thing. Our guys, just because they lost ten football games last year, guys on our football team are not losers. They're some of the brightest people I've ever known. They're great students. They work hard. They're good athletes. I don't have much problem with their attitude or their outlook. They work hard, and they expect to be successful. They are successful people. So we're going to try to take advantage of that.
Q: Obviously when you took this job in the winter of 2001, you had a progression in mind for the program. You've got two springs and one full season under your belt. Has the team met that idea of progression that you had for your program?
I think they have more than met my expectations. I think it's more in the attitude they have, their work habits, the enthusiasm for getting out and trying to get better. Those things have happened, and I think we're ahead of schedule on those things. One thing I think is good is that we've attracted some pretty good recruits to come to Vanderbilt. We went up in the Northeast, we went to Utah, we went... everywhere, to try to find them. We found out that people respond to our product-- and that's a good thing. When you start waving a Top 20 university degree in front of them, or the chance to earn one, you get in the front door with a lot of people. So I think we signed some people that proved good football players want to come to Vanderbilt.
Q: I'll bet you thought you'd seen the last of Coach Paul Johnson [of Navy, formerly of Georgia Southern] when you left the Southern Conference, but there he is-- he's your Homecoming opponent. Talk about your rivalry and what bearing that might have on the game this year.
I don't know if it has any bearing, but I do know Paul Johnson is very, very good football coach, and he's improved Navy already. They hammered Army in their last game, so I know they're going to have a lot of confidence coming back this year. What he does, he does as good as anybody in the country. When he runs that offense, he knows every defense that's ever been run against it, every adjustment he's going to make. He probably knows every adjustment I'm going to make because we've been going at it back and forth for years and years. It's certainly going to be a challenge to run against that offense because you just don't see it any more. We're going to be like the teams that you see so many times on film that aren't quite sure what to do against it. They've done that to some very good football teams. They had some chances to win big games last year and didn't quite do it.
Q: Vanderbilt kind of has a reputation of starting out the season really strong, and giving some teams a run, and then falling off at the end of the year. What's your plan for combatting that this year?
I think the best thing you can do for that is to get as many good football players as you can on your team and build up your depth. I think that is a factor of lack of depth. Number one, you get about to the middle of the season, the end of the season, and injuries pile up, and if you don't have quality player to replace a starter, well, you're going to suffer. Everybody does. The talent level really tells, and it takes a toll on you at that point in the season. We can try to get as many good football players in there as we can. You've got 85 scholarships. You try not to make any mistakes with those guys, and make sure they can all compete, and can all help your football program when you put them in the game.
Q: As the SEC losing streak goes on, does it become a more daunting task to break through? And do you expect that losing streak to end this year?
Yes, we expect it to end this year, but we don't…. that's the first time I've talked about it, to tell you the truth. We truly try to take them one at a time. I know that sounds like a bunch of bull, but we're just trying to win anything we can win. We work hard to do that. Our guys work hard. Some people actually think our guys don't want to win. They want to win just as much as anybody in this league, and they're working hard to do it. And we're gonna get it done sooner or later.
Q: When you recruit, talk about what it's like to have to go head-to-head with other SEC schools for recruits. How many of those battles have you won so far?
Certainly more in this past recruiting season than it was the first one I got here. When I got here in January of 2002, most of the SEC schools were finished-- they had commitments, and it was almost done, so we didn't get in too many battles. This past year we were in many more battles. We didn't win a lot of them, but we won a few. I think we got some good players out of the state of Georgia this year that some people wanted. Probably our biggest recruiting coups this year were in the Northeast where didn't have to battle a Southeastern Conference team that much. Or, they weren't recruiting these particular guys. I think we have something to offer a guy who's a good student, if he really wants to be an engineer or a doctor or some kind of professional, that we certainly have an opportunity to beat anybody.
Q: Have you ever been in the unusual situation of having to play a conference game in August?
To tell you the truth, no. I didn't take a real good look at the schedule when they hired me. I knew we played eight SEC games, but I didn't know when they would come in there. But again, you've got to play them sometime. Let's go ahead and hopefully make something positive happen in the first of the year. Hopefully it's going to be a springboard for us instead of a negative.
Q: Did Steven Bright's performance in the spring game elevate him to the second team?
He's right in the mix. Benji Walker is very good football player. We're going to look to use him as a little bit of a wide receiver, especially on the inside, a wide receiver in the "twins" look. But Steven is certainly a good athlete and makes some things happen for us. He's big-- if he doesn't quit getting bigger, he may be a defensive end before it's all over. I keep teasing him about that. He's got some talent. He's going to be a good player for us. Unfortunately for him, I think we've got an excellent quarterback in front of him."
Q: You touched on this... do you ever hear the rhetoric about, why doesn't Vanderbilt get out of the SEC? And what's your response to it?
I don't hear it very much. Some people send me newspaper articles that have been written about it, but I don't pay that much attention to them. I respond that I think we have a lot to offer the league. I think we have some natural rivalries that we need to keep. I don't think it would make any sense for us to join any other league-- I couldn't even think of a league we'd want to go to. So I don't put a lot of stock in that. I hope people don't think that way, but I know some people do. We're going to keep fighting, scratching, and clawing and try to contribute our stuff to the league.
Q: Having been part of a I-AA playoff, I wonder if it's something you'd like to see become part of Division I-A football?
No, I don't, to tell you the truth. I like the bowl system-- I think it gives more teams an opportunity to be rewarded after the year. I think the BCS system at least whittles it down to, at least you have an idea who the top teams are in the country. You get a playoff, you're going to really limit the number of teams that are going to be in there. It's tough to play four extra games. If you play one extra game, then a bowl in the BCS, you've got a true champion. But if you play four extra games... we were on nubs when we were playing for the national championship. We had so many people hurt. We were tired. I don't think the extra scholarships really make that much of a difference. I think it's a tough, tough way to do it. It was great for I-AA football because we had nothing else. We didn't have any bowls. It gave us exposure, it gave us a chance to get on TV, it gave us a chance to crown a national champion, which we had never had before. For I-AA I think it's great, but for I-A, I don't.
To read part one of this series, click here.