Oct. 22, 2002
A Press Conference With:
COACH TYRONE WILLINGHAM
Q. In USA TODAY there’s an article about the BCA warning colleges that it’s going to steer prospects away from institutions that do not improve their minority hiring practices. Your reaction to this?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Today I have absolutely no reaction to it. My focus is Florida State and that’s all I am prepared to entertain.
Q. Is there a time when you sensed that your team began to believe everything that you were saying; is there a game or a time when you began sensing that they were believing what you were saying?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I have to kind of chuckle because I don’t know if 18, 19 and 20 year olds ever believe anything (laughs) that everyone says. But, no, I have said from Day 1 that our guys had a willingness and eagerness to be successful and we have been fortunate. And I say “we” meaning the coaching staff has been fortunate to be able to kind of help in that process. So I don’t know if there’s ever a moment where they said we’ll jump off the building for everything that Coach Willingham said, but I think within themselves they have had an eagerness to be successful.
Q. When you are in a seven-game winning streak like this, do you notice it? Do things come together naturally and you don’t notice it until after it’s over, or do you feel it coming together as it begins?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You have an awareness that it’s taking place, but when you are able to be successful it’s much easier to focus on that one game at a time principle that most coaches try to apply. I think our guys have done a great job of just saying next week, we’re ready for the next team. I think you may have even noticed it — it seems like even after a ballgame is done, they seem to be very easily moved toward the next football game and not hung up on the one that they just played.
Q. Only two other Notre Dame coaches had a start this well. Did you get advice from Ara Parseghian? Did he tell you what to expect? Did he warn you on what to expect, things to be careful of?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I have had some wonderful conversations with and communications with Coach Parseghian and, I guess, enlightening would be the best way to describe it. And it covers a lot of areas and has been very helpful.
Q. The one thing he said is that when you are in this, it’s a lot of fun this first year, but the thing is you worry now that you set the bar so high right away that now this is what people are going to expect every time. Is that a concern of yours?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It’s a reality, but not a concern.
Q. You said you didn’t know much about the history of the series. I am wondering if you have read up on the history yet of Florida State/Notre Dame?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Just a little bit. There have been a couple of big games in this series.
Q. What about going into a game like this where there’s so much tradition — the so called game of the century nine years ago, what does all that mean going into this?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It means that you must have established a great foundation to play the next game because no matter how you slice it, dice it, or shape it, there will be recollections of that great contest that was played once before and there will be comparisons made and there will be a tremendous buildup about the game that you are playing; especially one that has the kind of conditions and the surroundings and trappings that this one has. So it is a great foundation on which to go in and play the game.
Q. What do you think about Florida State, this Florida State team?
COACH WILLINGHAM: It’s quite simple. This football team is, in my estimation, two points away from being the No. 1 team in the country.
Q. The last four games haven’t been decided ’til the final minute. When your team has been involved in as many close games as it has and has shown the ability to close it at the end, is there some value in that when you are going into as hostile an environment as Florida State is? They have only lost 4 of their last 89 down there.
COACH WILLINGHAM: This is the amazing thing about numbers, and I think you are absolutely right. I think it’s 4 out of the last 90 or 89, won 84, lost 4 and tied 1 or something like that. But three of those, or two of those, have occurred in the last few season if I am correct. So you can shape numbers any way you like to sometimes. When you have played in close ballgames and been successful it’s a tremendous confidence builder to your football team and they feel like they can go in those situations because they have done it and be successful. So I do think it is a plus that the games we have played have hopefully prepared us for a contest that I think, if I am correct, in checking my history that the games have been fairly close.
Q. It’s easy from our standpoint to say that it is a good time to be playing Florida State if there ever was one. Is there ever a good time playing Florida State?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Gosh, I don’t know if you can say that. That’s a pretty good football team. It’s a pretty good program, their history and tradition is very strong, and obviously their home record speaks for itself. So I don’t know if I can quite say that.
Q. I would assume that Florida State’s athletic level of their secondary is probably going to be as good as you have seen. How much of a concern is your team becoming a little bit one dimensional in the passing game with Arnaz Batle, and why is that happening do you think?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, you are always concerned. You never want to be one dimensional. It speaks to the same premise that we used with trying to be a great defense, okay, we want to get a team to be one dimensional. If you can do that you believe you have more success. If the only person we begin to look for is Arnaz, then that does, I think, at some point creates problems. But the other, shall I say, the answer to that is, if you are being successful, okay, it doesn’t matter how you are being successful. So if he can catch 20 passes in this ballgame and we win, I don’t think you are going to hear any complaints from Coach Willingham. But do we need to spread it around? Yes.
Q. What was the biggest difference between your offensive line from the week before against Pittsburgh when it really wasn’t that effective and then against Air Force? Was Pittsburgh’s defense that much better than Air Force’s or your level of play was that much better?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I don’t know how to make that comparison between which team is that much better. I do know that Pittsburgh is a very good defense. And I do know that our guys offensively accepted the challenge of trying to improve and trying to be a lot better against Air Force than we were with Pittsburgh. So I think our young men rose to the challenge and executed, I think, a lot better than we did against Pittsburgh and yet knowing that Pittsburgh was very good also.
Q. There doesn’t seem to be as many deep balls that have been thrown the last few weeks. Is that because teams are taking that away? Is Carlyle reluctant to look deep to take that chance or would you like to see him do that a little bit more?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, I think in our system we’re always looking for the deep opportunity and the key word there is “opportunity.” Sometimes you can force it, which may not be a good thing and other times it’s presented to you and you take advantage of it. We’d like in more cases than not to have it presented to us and not try to force it.
Q. Any reaction to your two former quarterbacks named NFL starters this week? Are you surprised?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No. I am not surprised. I think with those two guys’ (Chad Hutchinson, Randy Fasani) ability that at some point they would make that opportunity for themselves and I am just hoping that they do very well this week because it would be really nice to see them perform well and win.
Q. Is there anything about the magnitude or scope of this program you are coaching that has surprised you?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think I have said it’s not necessarily surprised me, but until you are in the job, you do not know all of the details of the job. So therefore, the attention, focus, passion, is greater than what I knew it to be, but I knew it was large, knew it was important, et cetera .
Q. Is there any way to summarize what makes this program unique in college football?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, I think you probably have to spend a day trying to figure out all the things that make Notre Dame so special to so many people because I think that may be it — that there are so many people that have so many great stories about their relationship with this university that make it a very special place.
Q. Florida State and a very small number of other schools have all sort of dominated maybe the top 4,5 spots in college football over the last decade. Is there something in the nature of this sport that makes it harder to crack what you maybe call a super elite than in college basketball where it seems like making the Final Four, there’s a wide opportunity, and the number of schools really that have been in the top 4,5 in college football is very small. Teams may rise up and be 10th, 15th, but not top 5 it’s a very small numbers schools which you are trying to reenter.
COACH WILLINGHAM: History, tradition, television.
Q. Maybe you can turn a basketball program around with a couple of guys and that’s really not possible in football?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Again, that’s where all the history, tradition and television come into play because you are talking about a sport that only needs a couple of guys. You can get Shaq and Kobe on your team, okay, you got a pretty good chance to be successful. The other guys could be on crutches and you probably could win basketball games. In football, it takes a lot more guys than that. So therefore the history and tradition of the schools that have been at the top usually attract those players and in the past years those were also the teams that were on television all the time which was even more of a lure for that high school player to be a part of that program. Some of that’s gradually changing as cable television has become a factor, satellite dishes, all those things allow young men now to be seen at almost every program in the country the limitation of scholarships. I think you are getting closer and closer to that day that you are going to see a variety of teams pop into that elite level that you have described. But it’s still difficult because history and tradition usually weigh extremely heavy.
Q. This press conference is a perfect example of how as the head coach of Notre Dame you have a higher profile than you did at Stanford. I was wondering if you could talk about that adjustment. Has it been easier than you thought it would be now that you are over halfway through this first year or has it been tougher? People thought that might be the thing that you had the hardest time with, just putting yourself in the spotlight?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I am pondering on that one. I don’t think I am one of those that likes to be in the spotlight. I have a great respect for the game of football and that probably drives my desires in that area more than anything else because football is, in my opinion, the finest team sport that man has devised and because it is a team, I recognize that nothing happens without a lot of other team members really putting themselves into it so that you could be successful. There is my reluctance. But I do enjoy these opportunities to visit with the media and entertain questions of that nature.
Q. A couple of weeks ago you said you don’t believe in kicking slumps. Nick Setta has missed 6 out of 7. What would you describe that at this stretch?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That he’s missed 6 out of 7. And I hate to seem like I am kind of pushing that aside, but that’s not the case. I would be very concerned with Nick if he was shanking the ball, and doing things of that nature. But the kicks he’s missed, I think you look at the last ball game both were wide to the right, I think, if I am correct, okay, he just missed them. I get concerned when they are shanking and they are mentally all out of sorts and et cetera, that could be classified in that word that you used, which I won’t use. But I know that Nick Setta is kicking the ball pretty good. He just hasn’t made the last ones that he has attempted.
Q. Both of his misses Saturday were from the extreme hash mark; one was from the right and one was from the left. I know you are trying to get the first down on those third down plays but is that something you have to be concerned with, getting the ball in the center of the field, to get him a better opportunity?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well at some point you’d like to do that so he can get going again but the truth of the matter is, when you miss one from the right, you miss one from the left, okay, there’s no particular side that you are favoring in that situation. So we’ll just be very comfortable and I know pretty soon he will be back on track.
Q. You mentioned before that Florida State is two points way from possibly being the No. 1 team in the country. What aspect of their team, be it offense or defense, has your focus in your preparation right now?
COACH WILLINGHAM: All of them. I say that sincerely because this offense of theirs is, I think, as balanced as we have seen all year. If I am correct, I think they are going about 200 plus yards rushing the football and another 200 yards passing the football. I mean, that’s a pretty balanced offense when you look at that. And you know that defensively they have always had great players and they are doing great things and the game they played against Miami, really I think most people would say they could have very easily won the football game. So I know with the athletes that they have and the coaching that they have and the way they are playing, they concern us in every aspect.
Q. You just throw out the Louisville game because of the weather conditions that night?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, I don’t throw out the Louisville game. That was a game won in overtime. It’s not like Louisville blew them out. That was a game that if they make one more point at the right time they win that football game. Even under those conditions.
Q. It has been suggested by some athletes who choose to celebrate their successes on the football field that the criticism from the media is a cultural misunderstanding on the media’s part. Do you concur with that assessment?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, I am not even going near that one.
Q. I thought it was a pretty good question.
COACH WILLINGHAM: It was. I really love the way you worded it. But you should have known I wouldn’t touch that one.
Q. I was curious to know what your evaluation or assessment of Carlyle’s 360 spin and throw was the other night?
COACH WILLINGHAM: (Laughs) Interesting. It was quite athletic. I mean, when you have a guy that can have that kind of ability there’s some things that are going to pop up that may not be quite as orthodox as you are accustomed to seeing. But he will come up with some good plays.
Q. Talk a little bit about the challenges of somebody like Greg Jones bringing to the table, being 248 and outweighing your entire linebacking corps what are some of the unique things that a big back brings to the table?
COACH WILLINGHAM: In his case, it is a big back with speed and that’s a dangerous combination. That’s the kind of player that everyone wished they had, owners want, a guy that can break into the edge and I think it was I am trying to remember the game that he had probably one of the finest runs this year, there’s no quit in him, he has got athletic ability, size and speed and he’s aggressive in his running style. So I mean, it’s frightening.
Q. Talk a little bit about Dan Stevenson and Jim Molinaro, their development, and how much comfort that provided you to have a bit of a rotation there?
COACH WILLINGHAM: You mentioned the right word, “rotation,” because we’re starting to work with them a lot more because they have earned the right and deserve the right to be playing and it has made us a deeper team because we have had linemen go out on occasion, and when you have some guys that can step in and just make you a stronger team, it makes us more confident and it makes us keep going when we do have those injuries that really could slow you down and really stop your progress.
Q. In the case of Molinaro, he worked his way in not really relating to injury. What has he done in making a charge to really earn that time?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, his presence has allowed first of all, the other guys to be better players because (1) we have increased the competition, (2), he allows them to rest and get fresh and make sure they stay fresh when they come into the lineup. He’s added a very nice physical dimension to the play of our tackles and that’s always a welcoming thing.
Q. When it comes to motivation how much do you use quotes from other players? I’m curious how much you use that to fire up your team?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I am surprised they could remember it. But you find any and everything and hopefully there’s something in all that we do that touches every player. Every player is different. Some players don’t respond to that. You have got to find something else to kind of touch them and focus them and allow them to have the energy that they need in the game. If it’s there and it works for the right player, you try to provide it to them. If not, give the next guy something different.
Q. What is the status of Rashon Powers-Neal, will he be available this week?
COACH WILLINGHAM: We’ll start to see as we work today.
Q. Coach, the class schedule this week obviously is a little bit different. Does that create more problems because you are not in the same routine or does it allow more focus, less hype because there are less kids on campus? Do you have any thoughts one way or the other on the difference in that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, it is different, and it probably comes at a great time for us during the season because it’s, in a sense, not quite a bye week obviously with Florida State at the end of the weekend. But at the same time it allows you to get some of the rest for your football team without the class schedules, without those demands on them. So what we try to do is make sure that we have adequate opportunities with them to prepare for the game, but yet at the same time, a chance for them to rest and be fresh come the weekend.
Q. In my earlier question, listening to you talk about your role on the football team, it’s like listening to Dusty Baker about what his role is with the Giants. Wondering if your paths crossed Dusty’s much when you were in the Bay Area and is he somebody that you could learn things from while you were up there or if there are leaders outside of the realm of football that you have called and taken things from?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I do have a relationship with Dusty and to be compared to him in style, I think is a compliment, so thank you. But you can always learn from others and hopefully I am one of those that each day I gather something from almost anyone that I interact with that hopefully can allow me to help do what I do or help make me a better person.
Q. You have spoken quite often about the need for confidence and many observers, in fact, point to the greater confidence of this team as perhaps the prime factor in their success. You have also been adamant about the need for good sportsmanship and respecting your opponent. Could you give us a little bit of your philosophy as to where the line is between swagger and confident or lack of sportsmanship?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think that during the normal competitive spirit there will usually be some conversation between opponents. My thing though is that if we can confine most of our conversations to our own teammates we’re better served. I think the term that most people use is trash talking. I think I prefer to have our guys, if there is any trash talking to trash talk to ourselves as a sense of motivation and challenge to your teammates to live up to a certain standard. I am not necessarily in favor of guys trash talking to other guys or to the opponent; yet I know that sometimes that does occur.
Q. Do you feel that it has occurred in a proper context or have you been an observer of that at all?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That has not been a focus of mine and I would probably say that you almost have to see it to identify which is stepping across the line.
Q. The expectations that you have created and the ability of different guys to step up and make plays and that there’s not one guy you look to; it is a different guy every week to step up and make a big play in a game. Is that something you have focused on from the first day that you have met with the guys, setting some expectations and roles sort of where the guys know that everybody is capable of doing something every week?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, there’s so much uncertainty in all that you are asking right there because you never know what will pressure what player to be in the position to make the correct play. But what we have done is really been fortunate to have a group of young men that are eager to be successful and I keep going back to that because there are a lot of places that people want to point to or direct you to when you are having success, but I think you, first of all, have to start with the players and we have been blessed that these young men want to be successful and have worked very hard at being successful since the time that I have arrived.
Q. When you first had gotten the job you were talking about winning and it says here: I love winners, I love people that are champions. How do you know that a kid could be one of those; maybe not right away but he has the potential to be one of those guys?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think you just have to look as deep as you can into a young person’s background and try to find as many of those things that you believe are characteristics of winners and sometimes it’s some unnoticed things that you might notice in his profile or in his background that can tell you that this guy can be a success.
Q. Herman Edwards with the Jets says this every week, about winning with character play and even though the Jets were 1 and 4 ’til Sunday he was convinced because of the character of his guys they would eventually turn it around. How important is that to you, all the character and the attitude that people talk about, especially in recruiting and bringing guys into the program?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think it is critical because I believe that in the most difficult points in life you revert back to who you are. If you have character at those moments, then you usually stand tall at most of those tests. But if you don’t have genuine character then the level you revert back to is less than that, so therefore I think it gives you less of an opportunity to be successful.
Q. You have had a number of tough road games already against nationally ranked opponents. I am wondering though with Florida State’s tradition and this venue that you have talked about earlier, how big is this game for your team, for just how everyone sees it, how you all see each other too?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think in this case both teams will be very excited about the opportunity that awaits them this weekend. I know our guys will be excited. I know I am excited, so it’s just a great challenge and a great opportunity.
Q. Can this be a signature type win for whoever comes out on top?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I guess it’s depends on who writes the story.
Q. Well if you were writing the story could it be a signature type win?
COACH WILLINGHAM: As you know I would not write the story. (Laughs).
Q. What kind of feedback have you or your coaching staff received from potential recruits, whether it be in terms of your success this season, direction of the program, the system that you have incorporated, things like that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think I will respond that it’s been excellent across the country. I think Notre Dame’s name, history and tradition have always played very well in almost every sector of this country and we are fortunate right now that we are riding, I guess, a high wave, but at the same time Notre Dame has always been at that level that has been very attractive to young men and their families.
Q. And they have responded to you well and what you brought to the program as well?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I hope so. As I say, I am probably the last to know that. But I think it has been more about the overall program and less about Tyrone Willingham.
Q. In talking to Tony Dungy this morning and he says you and him always felt like kindred spirits; he says maybe it was your parents, the way we were raised, the emphasis on education; how we approach things. He said something today that when he first got a job as an NFL head coach that he was always uncomfortable with how he did being linked to minority hires and whatnot; that it’s part of the problem, people judging the many by how the one does. And he said, all that said, the reality is that your success will be important, breaking down barriers. Do you agree with that and how do you feel about your success being linked to everyone else; is that a form of prejudice in and of itself?
COACH WILLINGHAM: First thing is I hope No. 1, I can be successful because that means I will hopefully have a chance to coach this team next year, so that’s No. 1. No. 2, it is unfortunate that we, in almost any culture, stereotype a certain group. Unfortunately, I am dealing with it. We have to deal with it. That’s a part of it. So if I can have some impact in helping change that, then I am delighted to do so. But the focus has always been and will always be what you bring to the table for the young people in your program. That’s who all this is about. So it’s not about Tyrone Willingham, African American, minority, et cetera, those all play a part, but the focus should be on these young men.
Q. Comment a little bit about one of your backup guys, Zach Giles; how has he progressed so far?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Zach is obviously one of our backups. He’s not seen a lot of time this year. But he seems to be starting to gain confidence in the system and starting to learn a little bit more about it each week.
Q. What does he do best at this point?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That’s a difficult one because he’s right now just a solid guy for us. There’s nothing exceptional in any area; yet at the same time, nothing terribly deficient. He’s behind, I think, some very good players in (Sean) Milligan and (Sean) Mahan and he’s just waiting his time. .
Q. Could you tell me if your paths crossed at any time with Chris Rix who is from California and had you looked at him as a possibility going to Stanford when you were there?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I am not sure. Possibly could have, but I am not sure.
Q. Let me follow up on that then, what do you see in him that you like in a quarterback?
COACH WILLINGHAM: He seems to have a certain amount of patience to him, and a certain amount of toughness to him as a quarterback and those are some, I think, good qualities to have because (1) it means he will probably stay pat and execute their system and yet when things get difficult he will stand tall and be the kind of leader that they need.
Q. I wasn’t aware of this, you are a film, television theater major. What is your desire with that major?
JEFF FAINE: Basically it’s almost like a communications major at other colleges. It gives you a broader range of possibilities to do after college and I am just looking forward to just exploring some possibilities maybe in broadcasting, maybe getting behind the scenes in that area.
Q. After football?
JEFF FAINE: Yes.
Q. Talk a little bit about what Florida State’s program means to the people in Florida; what was it like growing up when you were watching them?
JEFF FAINE: Growing up it was the team to beat. It was the team to be on, the team of Florida — the Florida Gators came along near the end of the 90s, but I think in the early 90s, especially, the dominance of Florida State and through the 90s, in fact, they were just a real dominant team; very, very intimidating at times. I mean, a great defense, they had a great offense, it was just a great team.
Q. Until maybe last season did they have a certain air of invinceability about them?
JEFF FAINE: I think so. I think it could be looked on as you are going to Tallahassee, it’s almost a very certain thing that you are going to lose, but I think, especially in the recent years, it’s been kind of proven that you can go there and win.
Q. I guess if you could talk a little bit about Dan Stevenson next to you, working in a rotation almost behind Sean Milligan and what he’s brought to the table and I guess what improvement he’s shown you?
JEFF FAINE: He’s done a great job. He’s done a lot of growing up this off season and during preseason as well. He’s stepped in and done very well for us. And he’s going to continue to work and continue to work in there, and he’s doing a great job. He’s real mature for his age and I think he’s going to be a great guard.
Q. Any particular signs you saw out of him last year that might have given you an indication that he could step up this year?
JEFF FAINE: Definitely; especially from opening camp, freshman year, he seemed to have a little more bite than the rest of the years, a little tougher and a little more competitiveness.
Q. Did you want to play for Florida State?
JEFF FAINE: Growing up, I mean, it was kind of one of those things, it was kind of my childhood team, kind of my favorite growing up, but during recruiting and everything, I kind of lost the thrill and came up here.
Q. Lost the thrill during recruiting?
JEFF FAINE: Yeah, it wasn’t as appealing for me personally as Notre Dame is.
Q. Did you ever go to any games, Florida State games? JEFF FAINE: Yeah, I went to the Florida/Florida State game my senior year, and I mean, it was everything it’s cracked up to be, Florida/Florida State with that rivalry. I had a great time.
Q. What does it mean to go back now? JEFF FAINE: Very exciting to go back to the home state and play against a team that I grew up really looking at — and it’s going to be a great experience. I am really excited to get back home and play in front of Florida.
Q. Lastly, talk a little bit about the development of the offensive line.
JEFF FAINE: I think the offensive line is starting to gel a lot better now as the season’s gone on. I think that’s characteristic of most offensive lines. But I think especially with the younger guys coming in, Stevenson coming in, it’s starting to gel a little better, starting to give some guys looks and running a lot smoother.
Q. After the Air Force game Carlyle said a lot of the guys on the offensive line were upset with the way things went against Pittsburgh and that you guys were really determined to bounce back then against Air Force. Talk about that.
JEFF FAINE: Yeah, he’s kind of referring to the way they were playing us in Pittsburgh, it was kind of similar the way Air Force was going to play us with the slants and angles. Against Pittsburgh we played on our heals a little tentative, didn’t play exactly how we wanted to play. Air Force, we kind of just let it rip and just ran out there and just played our game, came off the ball, and kind of dictated what we wanted to happen instead of sitting back and waiting to see what they did.
Q. I know you guys have a lot more important things on your mind than point spreads but you have been underdogs a lot this year. And one of the lines I saw yesterday. you were an 11 point underdog. Does that shock you that you are double digit underdogs?
JEFF FAINE: No. Coming into the season we were supposed to lose 7 games, so it doesn’t shock me. Most people that go to Tallahassee are underdogs. It is a tough place to play, but that’s not going to matter with our preparation. We’ve just got to go out there and play our game.
Q. Do you have any reaction to that? It doesn’t upset you or anything?
JEFF FAINE: No. In a way I kind of expect it. It’s kind of one of those things you kind of get used to, just got to go out there and keep playing.
Q. Until recently they have been pretty much invincible at Campbell Stadium. What is the atmosphere like there and how is it different from other places, if it is?
JEFF FAINE: It’s pretty alive. The crowd gets into it. They do a great job of pepping the crowd up before the game. The team just kind of lives off the crowd and they kind of go hand and hand and grow on each other. I think it is a tough place to play because a lot of teams have gone in there supposedly to win and come out with a loss. It’s been proven that it’s a tough place to play.
Q. During your time at Notre Dame, you have played in a lot of supposedly the toughest places to play at in college football, like Tennessee and other places like that. Do you think that going in you know what to expect and it’s not really going to be that much of a factor for you and some of your more experienced teammates?
JEFF FAINE: I think having experience in places like Tennessee and Nebraska is going to help. But personally I have never been there as a player on the field and had to deal with the crowd, so to be honest with you I don’t know how it’s going to stack up against the Nebraskas and the Tennessees, but I think it’s going to be a tough place to play. I think having experienced playing at tough places to play like Nebraska and Tennessee is going to help. I don’t know how it’s going to pan out though.
Q. Have you noticed the different reaction on campus, around town, towards you and the program with the recent resurgence?
JEFF FAINE: Oh, definitely. It just seems the student body is real upbeat and kind of, it’s our team now; everybody has kind of taken ownership about it. It’s a great thing. It’s great to feed off with the students and the students are really getting pumped up about it, and the overall community too, as well, you got people saying, good luck and people saying, go get ’em and all this, and people really expect us to go out there and win. In the past, we never really heard that, never really heard go win, go beat ’em. And the good lucks and all that. It is just more of a positive attitude around campus and around the community.
Q. The years that you have been here, anything about the magnitude or the scope of this program does it still surprise you sometimes when you think about Notre Dame program?
JEFF FAINE: Definitely. I am still surprised every day when we run out to the field and it is a full house. You never really lose that feeling; never really lose the kind of the butterflies you get before the game. The Golden Dome and the golden helmets, all that, it never lost its pizazz. Notre Dame really speaks volumes, I think for the overal attitude and the overall commitment, even though we’re going in as underdogs, we still have that fight through it, fight through it attitude.
Q. Is this program unique in college football?
JEFF FAINE: I think so. I think for the simple fact that we strive to get it done in all facets of the game academics, football, spiritual life, everything, we try to be the best at all of it.
Q. Obviously you have got your back turned to Carlyle when you are on the field. Seems like he’s becoming more comfortable with all aspects of this offense, with the short passing game as well as the running game and stuff. Can you sense that when you are on the field in the course of a game that he’s becoming more comfortable?
JEFF FAINE: Definitely. I think it comes back to the offensive line too a little bit. If we’ve got a running game going and it’s going smooth, the running game, I think, it takes a little off Carlyle and the rest of the guys to get their job done and it just makes it a little easier for them. I think it goes hand and hand with that in just having other options to get done and it takes a little pressure off of Coach (Bill) Diedrick and the play calling.
Q. Sometimes when teams have been winning big all year then they go into a tough contest, people will say they don’t necessarily know how to react to a close game. You guys have been in a lot of close games. Florida State/Notre Dame games have always been close in the past. This one will probably be as well. Any advantage to the close games that you have already played in when you are going into an environment like this?
JEFF FAINE: You know, my mom hates them, (Laughs) to say the least, but I don’t think there’s an advantage of being in tough games other than the fact that I think the better teams usually win those close games or find a way to win. I think that’s a very important thing about our team is that we just seem to find a way to win, whether it’s passing, running, or defense stepping up big or the kicking game even. I think that might be the only thing that sets us apart is that maybe that people that win those close games, they find a way to win.
Q. When you are at Notre Dame obviously every week is big you are never going to go in and see half the stadium filled and things like that. As a player, do you sense something even bigger this week because this may be the biggest game Notre Dame ever played since maybe the 1993 season; if so, how do you kind of keep your emotions, keep the team in check so that things don’t become distractions as you prepare for Florida State?
JEFF FAINE: I think Coach does a great job of not letting us kind of get caught up in the hype and get caught up in the whole picture and just kind of just focus in on this one game. I mean knowing that this game is a very important game of our season, like every game is, a loss anywhere, it could be detrimental to the season. But you can’t hide from it. This is a very important game of the season so it’s kind of the hump that we have got to get over to keep going and keep this thing going. And it’s going to be a very important game. It’s going to be a big challenge. But I think we’ve got to focus in and focus on this game and not just think about the total outcome of what this game is going to mean to us. We have got to concentrate on each play and getting each play done the right way.
Q. You mentioned a minute ago – was there any one thing that caused Florida State to lose its appeal or was it Notre Dame just was a better choice? What happened there?
JEFF FAINE: I think what really happened was that the Golden Dome just shined a little brighter than Florida State’s campus did. I mean, it just meant a little more to me just coming up here on the trip, I just felt at home, felt at a better spot here than I did there.
Q. What are you thinking out there blocking and is there a thought of punishing the guy so the next time you go at him he’s going to worry about what happened?
JEFF FAINE: Definitely. My mindset attacking a defensive guy is to make him think about maybe not getting up the next play and maybe just giving up. It’s a philosophy I have had since I have been here; maybe even in high school, maybe making them think that this might be the wrong sport for them. (Laughter) I mean, I don’t know, it’s just how I feel. It’s how I attack every block and it’s I don’t know where it came from. It’s just in me, to want to get that done. I go until the whistle blows and sometimes a little after.
Q. You are the unbeaten team, higher ranked team. What does that do for the mentality of the team? Do you almost feed off that kind of underdog attitude?
COURTNEY WATSON: Yeah, I think it’s something as a team that we take we hold it pretty close to our vests because it’s, like you said, we’re undefeated and we’re the higher ranked team and we’re the underdogs once again. Granted, down in Tallahassee it is a hard place to play but I don’t know if that constitutes, I don’t know somebody said, 10 or 11 points? You take it as a bit of disrespect.
Q. What do you think accounts for that, the point spread?
COURTNEY WATSON: Who knows. I don’t know. All I know is that it helps us get more motivated towards the game and it isn’t like we don’t have enough motivation already to want to beat Florida State at home, but it definitely adds to it.
Q. What’s your history with Florida State? Were you recruited there? Have you been to games down in Tallahassee?
COURTNEY WATSON: Yeah, I was recruited there a little bit. I never really considered many other schools down in Florida or down in that area just because that isn’t really what I wanted for college. So I never really went to a game there. I was a huge fan growing up as a kid, as most kids are, in Florida. But yeah, as I got older, it wasn’t as big of a deal any more.
Q. Having been in many close games as you have been this year knowing how to deal with the pressure at the end, any value in that going into a venue like Florida State?
COURTNEY WATSON: I think there’s value in it in the fact that you have confidence that you can win close games. If you have never been in an overtime game, when you are going to play your first overtime game you may not be as confident as the team you are playing against if they played in five. I think in that aspect it helps a lot. I think it helps from a coaching standpoint because the coaches are a little bit more comfortable since they have been in these situations more and more. As far as on the field play, I don’t know how much of a difference that makes, but at least psychologically it makes a difference.
Q. Last week the talk was about how you were going to deal with Air Force’s option offense. Coming out of that, is it difficult to transition out of that mode and sort of go back to dealing with a more traditional offense this week? How do you make that adjustment?
COURTNEY WATSON: I think it’s easier to come out of dealing with the option to dealing with something more conventional. I think it would be a lot harder if we were going into like a team playing like Air Force, so I think it’s easier, to answer your question, I think it’s easier to come out of it and prepare for a basic conventional offense that Florida State runs.
Q. Last week was supposed to be the big test of this defense because the option is such an odd scheme and they talk about how it so difficult to defend and how they can sort of impose their will. When you handle them as well as the defense was able to, what does that do for the unit’s confidence?
COURTNEY WATSON: Obviously it boosts it to be able to go in and stop the number one rushing team in the country. I think we held them to 200 yards below what they average. So that’s a huge boost; especially for our run defense which is already playing well. I think that game, part of our defense, has given us more confidence when we go into this game because we know they are coming in with their running back and the mentality of the offense that they want to run the ball. They want to set up the pass by using their running game which has been going pretty well this year for them.
Q. After facing an option last week are you glad to see a more traditional offense this week?
COURTNEY WATSON: Yeah, it’s fun playing against option on Saturday. It’s not fun preparing for it at all. It is a lot more fun leaving it behind so you can prepare for something more traditional; having a passing quarterback and the receivers who actually catch the ball and stuff like that.
Q. Surprised at all with the overwhelming success you guys had as a defense last week?
COURTNEY WATSON: I wouldn’t say I was surprised because we know that we have a great defense, that we can do great things, but we haven’t been able to put together a 4 quarter game like that since probably the Maryland game, so that was just a big deal for us, and to put together 4 quarters of good solid defense and that was the biggest thing. I wouldn’t say surprised because we expect to go out and play great on defense every game.
Q. What does it mean to you to be nominated for an award like the Dick Butkus Award?
COURTNEY WATSON: It means a lot to me. I think it’s a credit to our defense and our team. Obviously when you win, your teammates are doing well, you get more recognition as an individual. I think it’s more of a credit to our defensive linemen and the secondary and our coaching staff.
Q. Impressions of Greg Jones?
COURTNEY WATSON: Big back, pretty quick in the hole and he finishes his runs pretty well. He’s not normally tackled by one guy; he normally breaks the tackle and he’s a really hard runner. He doesn’t go down very easily. He runs very well for the size that he is. And he uses his weight very well. There’s some guys who are big and still kind of fall easy; but I don’t think that is the case with him.
Q. How is he similar to or different to say maybe a T.J. Duckett or a William Green, some of the other good backs that you guys have gone against?
COURTNEY WATSON: He’s similar because he’s going to be a focal point of their offense. He carries himself on the field, he is a very determined runner. He’s a hard runner, and a lot of times throughout the season, he’s put the offense on his back. Those, I think, are a lot of the similarities that those other running backs that you mentioned had when they were in college.
Q. How many ticket requests have your had from your family?
COURTNEY WATSON: I have had a lot but I had to turn down a lot too because there’s a lot of people coming to this game for my teammates too.
Q. Because of the great history here talk a little bit about what it is like to be at Notre Dame when you are not winning the big games or not ranked highly and just how it is different now?
COURTNEY WATSON: I think it’s different like Jeff mentioned before about the way the students and faculty and everybody around Notre Dame just embraces the team now. It’s now their team and before when we weren’t doing as well, it didn’t seemed to be that same way, so right now it seems like we’re everybody’s little baby right now and everybody is doing their part to make us be successful in what we’re doing. There’s just a lot more excitement around the city now when it’s time for a home game or when we are leaving we get wished good luck from people.
Q. Because of the history and tradition here, was there ever a feeling you were letting it down and was that hard to live with?
COURTNEY WATSON: Definitely. When you come here as a student or a football player or basketball player or coach you come here because of the history and tradition and you want to be a part of that history and tradition when you leave here. So as a guy being recruited and coming here that is something that you are sold on; that’s something that you believe in, ideally that’s why you come here because that’s something you want to be a part of. You don’t want to be a part of the years no one speaks about, you don’t want to be a part of the years when you go 5 and 7 or whatever. Yeah, I think it was hard to feel like you were letting down the history and tradition of Notre Dame.
Q. Your initial impression, what were the first great initial impressions from Coach and how did that translate into winning?
COURTNEY WATSON: I think the initial impression of Coach was that he was very organized and determined and his goals were that he wanted to achieve and that has carried over to our team. We have become a team that pays attention to the little things. I think that’s something that we lacked in the past; that we let some of the little things go and in the end those are the things that separate a winner from a loser or a one point ballgame from a two point ball game. I think those are the things that we missed and we have those now and those are a big part of the reason why we’re winning.
Q. You came into the season obviously with high expectation; then you get the viral infection. You missed the first two games. What was that stretch like for you and how did you keep yourself sane during that period?
COURTNEY WATSON: It helped that we went 2 and 0. It would have been a lot worse if we started with 0 and 2 or 1 and 1. Just like you said it was obviously a trying time for myself, putting a lot of work in over the summer and through the winter conditioning and spring to prepare for the season and prepare for what you thought would be a great season, your campaign and to get sick two days before the game or whatever, it was hard to deal with. But it turned out to be a good thing. We got some experience at linebacker and I guess I got well rested. Spent a lot of time in bed but in the end I think it’s all for the best and we’re winning now so…
Q. Having played against Coach were there any concerns on the part of the players as far as your perception of who he was and what he would be like to play for? You had a little bit of experience having played against him.
COURTNEY WATSON: I don’t know. I really don’t know how to answer that question. You can look at it and say well, he was a coach that won with not the best talent in the country. But I don’t know. I don’t know how to really answer that question. I don’t know if that was necessarily my thought coming into the situation.
Q. You didn’t look over there and say, look how stoic this guy is, he may be hard to communicate with if I played for him?
COURTNEY WATSON: At the time, no. You hear different things, what they are going through; what you are going through, the whole process of finding a coach, the rumors of what kind of coach is he; is he is a player’s coach; is he a military type coach, a leader like that. I don’t know. You kind of heard different things about Coach yeah, I don’t know. It’s working out great right now; that’s all that matters.
Q. Does a military type coach scare a football team?
COURTNEY WATSON: It definitely doesn’t put smiles on their faces. But, yeah.