Yeah, I put on a wig and glasses when I go out to clubs and nobody has caught me yet. (Round of laughter) To tell you the truth I don't think many people have changed. They think about it... most of them have got a pretty good grasp on what they need to do to represent their university. I hope they were aberrations. I don't think you'll see much of that any more. The Internet is certainly a different story. People can put on the Internet stuff that doesn't have to be verified or doesn't have to be true-- it can be purposely false, and they don't have to own up for it. I think that's dangerous thing. I try not to read too many of them.
Q: You think they should regulate that somehow, make more people accountable for what they do put on websites?
I don't see how you could.
Q: What kinds of things did you learn from your first tour through the SEC?
They're serious about it. It's a great league. It's fun to go to those stadiums and see people. You have the Tiger Walk, and all those "walks" you have. It's great to get wrapped up in that stuff, but when comes down to it, you've got 11 guys on the field and you have to compete to win. It's certainly fun. I was really flabbergasted to see some of the pageantry, and just exactly how fervent some of the fans are.
Q: Are you going to maintain your no-cursing policy? If so, what difference do you think that's going to make? We're maintaining it, as well as we can. The feedback is... we don't make a big deal out of it. it's been made more of a big deal off our campus. Our guys, I think, are getting in the habit of not using curse words. Again, this is trying to keep down the loud public outcry of curse words going back and across the field. If a guy curses under his breath or something like that, I'm not over there taking names and making him stand in the corner and all that stuff. It's not that kind of emphasis. We just want to have a civilized practice if we can.
Q: Could you give an update on a couple of players that were hurt last year... your two running backs, Jordan Pettit, Dinwiddie on defense... are they going to be ready for the season?
Ronald Hatcher and Norval McKenzie were two running backs who broke their legs last season. They're both 100 percent healthy and ready to go. Jordan Pettit had a much worse break, and he's still feeling the effects of it. He seems to be getting better and better every day. I hope he'll be 100 percent by the time we start practice. Robert Dinwiddie, he had ACL surgery not this spring but last spring. He had a hard time last year-- they kept going in and finding this and that wrong-- he had an infection one time. I think a month, month-and-a-half ago they released pressure on one band that goes across his tendon. I think that helped him a great deal. I hope Robert will be ready to go and give us some depth at defensive end. We'll have to see. It's different running agility drills right now, and running conditioning drills with pads on-- it's just different, so we won't know. Those other guys did well in spring practice.
Q: Do the athletic department's financial burdens put any more pressure on you to win ball games?
Well, I'm certainly part of the athletic department. I don't have to have extra motivation to try to win football games. That is my job, and we all want to do that. If we do, it will certainly help. But that is not my motivation. I understand the problem, and we're working very hard to win... hopefully that will help alleviate it. If I can get out and talk to people and raise money, I'll do that-- anything they want me to do. But to say we're going to try to win games just to raise money, that's not the object.
Q: It seems like y'all are just on the verge of winning some close games. What's it going to take to get over that hump?
The more times you get in that situation the better chance you have to pull one out. The guys understand what it takes to do that. There's no magic potion or magic formula to give guys the confidence to make those kind of plays. You put them in that position as much as you can in practice, and do it enough in practice that they don't have to think about it in the game, and hope they can execute when the game is on the line and win. Again, as I said before, it's not "choking" or not being able to do it, it's a lack of depth and a lack of having fresh troops in the fourth quarter to be able to compete against some of the teams that do have them. So I don't think it's quite as big a problem as people think. Guys will do the right thing if they're trained to do the right thing.
Q: Talk about your receiver position. You lost your top two. Who are some of the names we should look for this season?
We did lose our top two. I think Dan Stricker obviously was the most accomplished receiver in history of Vanderbilt as far as receptions and yards. He was certainly an outstanding player for us. I think we can be better overall this year at the receiver position. Brandon Smith proved last year that he's very athletic, made some great catches for us in tough situations. Erik Davis played last year as true freshman. Chris Young is coming back-- he's certainly an athletic person who can play that position. Jason Caldwell was redshirted last year-- I think he's going to be a factor. We may even have some freshmen who we signed last year who can come in and help us. Everyone's going to be available for duty, and we're going to find the best ones and play them. We may not get to redshirt some of those guys-- they may be out there playing, trying to make a difference in our program.
Q: Talk about how Benji Walker might be used as a receiver.
I think Benji will be in certain situations, more of an inside receiver. We wouldn't put Benji out there and split him out wide and have him try to beat a great cover corner. It would be in a four-wide situation, where we're trying to get a first down. Obviously it's a great advantage if you have a quarterback who is a talented enough athlete-- which Benji is. He certainly understands the passing game, and knows what you're trying to accomplish. He can help us without putting a whole year of coaching as a wide-out. He can do spot duty and help us out in a pinch.
Q: Did Jay Cutler surprise you with his production he was last year? And how will his improvement add to what you're able to do on offense this year?
He really didn't surprise us. We had a close duel between him and Benji Walker. I think Jay started to separate himself early in the preseason, and we expected him to do some of those things. He's a talented athlete. He can run. We thought maybe we could get him free on some options and we did. We thought he would hit some big plays, and he did a couple of times. Now Jay will be the first to admit, he made too many mental errors, trying to avoid rushes, and throwing the ball in middle lanes, just made too many mistakes. That's where I think you'll see a big difference in Jay this year, at least I hope you will. We've always had confidence in his ability. We just want him to be more efficient and know what we expect from him in the offense. This spring he did a great job watching film and talking with Coach [Jimmy] Kiser, our quarterbacks coach. And then he's been in there organizing our 7-on-7 this summer-- he's almost just coaching those guys out there himself. I think it's going to be a big step for Jay, and I expect him to have a really big year.
Q: Coach, have you ever had a team this young? And where does the leadership come from so far?
I don't think I've ever had a team this young. Leadership, I think, can come from anybody. Right now we have two sophomores and a junior as our elected captains. We did that right at the end of spring practice. We told our guys to elect the best captains, the guys who you think can lead you the best, the guys who are going to work hardest for you. They elected those guys, and I think they made great choices. It's going to come from those guys, because they've been chosen to do that. I think we've got a lot of leaders-- and they're young too. Chris Young and Otis Washington are going to be two great leaders for us. They did such a great job on the scout team that they earned the respect of our guys. Matt Clay on the defensive line is an older guy who can provide us leadership. Nick Getter, a tight end, is starting to step into that role a little bit. He's one of the few seniors we've got on the team. We only have one senior on the defense. Not starters-- just one senior on the whole defense.
Q: How do you think your team responded to Jay Cutler's suspension last year?
Very well. Just the way all of them did that are still on the team. Some of them didn't respond as well, and they aren't on the team any more. But Jay did exactly what we wanted him to do. I think he handled it well. It was a tough situation for him, because most of the charges were dropped. Because they weren't true, though some of them were. And it was tough to see your name in the paper every day, saying you were accused of doing that and that and that, and knowing you didn't do it. But he handled it that way, and it was something he had to go through. He put himself in that position, and he knew that. I was real pleased with the way he handled that, and I think it made him appreciate his role on the team a lot better, and the chance to play.
Q: You lost a great punter, and it seemed like you had a replacement for him within a week. Could you tell the story of how you went about replacing him?
We did lose a great punter and kicker in Greg Johnson, a freshman All-American. He averaged close to 44 yards punting as a freshman for us last year. He transferred to the University of Texas. He told me about 30 minutes after the spring game. We had a nice little spring game, and then lost an All-American kicker about 30 minutes afterward. So I wasn't feeling real well. I immediately got on the horn and called a few people that I trusted, and got some recommendations. We found there was an excellent punter left, Kyle Keown from Georgia. We signed him, and he's going to have to do just what Greg did last year-- come in without any experience ever kicking in a college game and be our punter. The great thing about our kicking game is, we redshirted Patrick Johnson, no relation to Greg, and I think he's going to be a very good kicker. I think we have some walk-ons that can help us too. We're just going to have to overcome that, and find out ways to make our punt team better. I think it's a challenge to our coaches-- even though we don't have the punter we had last year, hopefully we can have a better net punting average than we did last year. We need to find out if we can do that, be smart and cover our kicks, things like that, and be a little bit better. That's one of the things we're going to have to overcome.