Q: Could you talk about the two players you have with you today [quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Jovan Haye], and the fact that maybe if they had played for a team that had won eight or nine games last year, they might be getting a whole lot more attention?
A: Well, they're getting a good bit of attention, but you're right. I think they could play for anybody and excel for anybody. Jay Cutler is a quarterback who has all the tools. He's 6-4 or close to it, 225 or 230 pounds. He has an extremely strong arm. He can run fast. He knows how to run the option. He knows how to execute our passing game. He's a leader. And I think the great thing about Jay this year is, he's convinced that he can cut down on certain mistakes that maybe held him back as a player and held us back as an offense. I think he started on that in the spring, and we noticed it in the spring. I think that was his great goal for spring practice, to try to become more of a complete quarterback, and a reliable quarterback.
Then Jovan Haye, I think the great story there is that Jovan has not played football for a very long time. He started when he was a junior in high school, then redshirted his freshman year at Vanderbilt. He's really only played only four years of organized football, but has the talent to do some spectacular things on the football field at times. Since we've been there he's gained about 40 pounds, and still has basically his same mobility. I think when our guys see Jovan work that hard in the weight room, get up to 280 pounds and still be the effective football player that he is, it makes him a great leader. Our guys see him succeed and get better, and I think they know they can do the same thing.
Q: You had some troubles with the kicking game last year. How demoralizing is it when you get down in scoring position and can't hit those field goals? And do you think Daniel Lee is going to help those problems?
A: Well, we certainly hope so. He really kicked well in high school, and we expect him to kick well in college. But there have been more than one kicker in high school not make the transition to college. So we'll find out. We've still got some confidence in Patrick Johnson. He was injured much of the year last year. Hopefully he's going to come back a little bit stronger and a little better than he was last year.
But it is demoralizing sometimes when you have a chance to score. My first year at Vanderbilt I think we led the league in red-zone efficiency. Last year we were last, and that had a lot to do with the kicking game. You don't feel like you can kick the field goal, and you're going for it on fourth-and-six, fourth-and-five, or even fourth-and-eight, when you get down in the red zone. Those things are hard to make, those kinds of situations. Your red zone efficiency goes way down, and your morale goes down a little bit. The importance of the kicking game, I don't think could be more evident than it was in the Ole Miss game last year. We missed a 33-yarder, and they kicked a 51-yarder and a 54-yarder and beat us by three. So you can do the math.
Q: Just curious... the NCAA is putting in new restrictions on recruiting and what have you. We all know you're doing things differently at Vanderbilt. How much does that help schools like Vanderbilt and Northwestern, things like kids riding in private jets, not eating lobster... how much does that help a school like yours?
A: I don't know, to tell you the truth. We're going to have to experience it, go through a year of it. A year or two, or five years. But we'll still be on the same playground with everybody else. We like to show them a good time when they come to Nashville, and Nashville's a fun town. We'll have to watch our P's and Q's, but we've always tried to do that. I don't think we ever went to excess in any way. We never flew anybody in on private jets. But I'm not sitting here clapping just because we've got a great airport in Nashville, and we can get people there, and certain other towns, especially in our conference, can't. I just think it's a good thing to do, to put recruiting in the proper perspective, and do what recruiting is supposed to do, which is expose the prospect to university and football program, and let him make an informed decision on where he wants to go to school.
Q: Coach with all the experience you have coming back, what sort of realistic expectations do you all have for this season? Are you thinking about a bowl game? Or is that within reach?
A: Well, we think about 'em, yeah. Laughter. I watched a few on TV last year. More laughter. Now I think, your players, you ask them to work hard, you ask them to get in the off-season program and do all the things we ask them to do. Obviously they're preparing for something besides 2-10. We've got goals. We want to play in a bowl game, obviously. But we're not sitting around saying, we're going to win 9 games and go to X-bowl, or nah, let's win 10 and go to X-plus-bowl, or whatever. We're trying to have general excellence in our football program, so that we can compete in this league. And if we can compete in this league, if we ever get it to that point, we're going to have our opportunities to go bowling. We've got tie-ins to a bunch of them. We've just got to get the record it takes to get in them. That'll take care of the bowls.
Q: Coach are you surprised to be the only coach coming [to SEC Media Days] from the great state of Tennessee?
A: A little bit. The border was open between Tennessee and Alabama today. Nobody stopped me. Laughter. But it's great to be here, let me tell you that! And so far I've not been served any subpoenas.
Q: The Ole Miss game was an example of a lot of very close games last year that didn't turn out in your favor. It doesn't really reflect in your 2-10 record. Are you reminding your players going into that, especially with the experience going into this season, that even with a 2-10 record, there were a lot of games that were a lot closer than that? Is it incentive to build on, that you can play with a lot of these high-caliber teams, especially in this conference?
A: You can believe, it's an incentive. It eats at you. After each one of those games we'd go in and try to analyze why we lost. We're trying to beat teams that are more established than us, but that shouldn't go into it when we're in the fourth quarter and we're trying to make that play to win the football game. Our guys know what it takes to win. Luckily we were able to break through and get that SEC-losing-streak monkey off our back. I think that's a big help for the morale of our program, and in the confidence in our program. So the guys know what it takes. We don't sit around wringing our hands and say "Oh, we're losing these close games!" Quit whining and get to work... and the next time you get in that position, get it done.
To be continued...