Interview: Coach Jimbo Fisher, Coach Gus Malzahn
THE MODERATOR: At this time I'd like to introduce the head coach for the No. 1 ranked Florida State Seminoles, Jimbo Fisher. Coach, welcome and congratulations on a terrific regular season and ACC Conference Championship.
JIMBO FISHER: Thank you very much, and we're very honored to be here and representing the ACC and very excited about playing in the Rose Bowl National Championship and the BCS National Championship. Our kids are really looking forward to the opportunity, and it's been a tremendous season for us. We've got a tremendous group of players and coaches that have worked very hard and fans that have supported us, and we're looking forward to the opportunity to play a great Auburn team from the SEC and should be an outstanding ballgame, and looking forward to it. Never been to the Rose Bowl, so we're really looking forward to coming out that way.
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce the head coach for the No. 2 BCS ranked Auburn Tigers, Gus Malzahn. Coach, congratulations on a couple of past thrilling weeks and the SEC championship.
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, thank you. It has been a very fine year, real proud of our team and our coaches. This team has gotten better each week, and they're playing their best football at the end of the year. It's exciting to win the SEC championship yesterday. We're looking forward to playing a great Florida State team in the National Championship game, and it ought to be a good one.
Q. My question is for Jimbo. Your team has had a lot of momentum throughout the year, a big win last night against Duke. What's the biggest challenge of having a month to prepare these guys and to keep the momentum going?
JIMBO FISHER: Well, I think you have to ‑‑ you put things and prioritize things and have a system and a process about how you want to get to where you're playing well again. It's almost like you're back in two‑a‑days. You have to rest and heal up and then you have to get the right preparation and the right amount of time on the game plan. But it is a very challenging thing. It's the one thing about bowl games that is very unique because at the end of the year, you have 30 days left. That is the unique challenge of bowl preparation. We feel like we have a good system in which we can get our guys ready, and time will tell.
Q. Looking at Auburn's offense with the read option, you've coached a lot of years. Have you seen anything like it in terms of the productivity from that offense, from an offense like that?
JIMBO FISHER: Well, I think they're doing a tremendous job. Gus does a tremendous job, because like I say they can handle on the speed sweep, they outflank you, they have great receivers and motion guys that way, they can run the ball inside with great power and the quarterback can run it and play action off of it, which is like a four‑headed monster ‑‑ you talk about a three‑headed monster, they have a four‑headed monster and they have an excellent offensive line. But no, the productivity is amazing what they've been able to do and we all know that the SEC is an outstanding league and they play great football, and what Gus has done is really amazing, and they'll be a tremendous challenge for our team.
Q. Coach Fisher, you talked last night about not getting too caught up in the emotions because the mission wasn't done. I wonder if you could talk about the steps you've taken to keep this team on their focus all year long, to take it one game at a time and how you've managed to do that all season long?
JIMBO FISHER: I think we were able to send a message and I think we've learned some lessons from past years and how we've done that, but I think our assistant coaches have done a tremendous job and our senior leadership has done a tremendous job of selling the process how we go about things. They reinforce it. Coaches can say it all you want and we reinforce it every day, but the players have to reinforce it amongst themselves when they see it and the guys get distracted, because the players really know what's going on with your organization from within, when guys are not taking that approach. I think our senior leadership has been tremendous and just the overall leadership of the team, and that's the key to it in my opinion.
Q. You knew last night after the game that you guys were going to be in the title game, but I'm wondering what it was like when you finally heard it or saw it on TV or when the reality hit? When did it finally hit and what was that like?
JIMBO FISHER: It was more today when we heard it because last night you're so caught up in the emotion of the game of trying to win the conference championship. We talk about the National Championship, but man, being a conference champion is a tremendous accomplishment and there's a great sense of pride in that. We want to represent the ACC and we want to try to get another title and have two in a row like we did this year. When you woke up today, once you heard it on TV that you were the No. 1 seed and going into the National Championship game against a great opponent like Auburn, it does sink in, so you know it is reality, and all the hard work is paying off. Now we have to relax and get our bearing and go back and have a plan and be able to compete and finish the year.
Q. Coach Malzahn, I just wanted to know how it felt to be a part of the single greatest turnaround in college football history from the season that Auburn had a year ago to where you guys are at now. Has that part of it sunk in, and obviously you're in the championship game, but what does it mean to produce that amazing comeback season from a year ago?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I'll tell you what, it's been a lot of fun to coach this group, and they have come a very long way. Our first game we were probably an average at best team, and they just bought into the fact to get better each practice and each game, and they slowly improved and they found a way to win games early on when we weren't playing our best ball. Probably after the Texas A & M game our guys had a lot of confidence, beat a top 10 team on the road at the time at a tough place like that, and really since then our guys have been playing really good football.
Q. Coach Malzahn, you hit a little bit on the turnaround, but when you go there and replaced Coach Chizik this year, did you expect the turnaround to be so quick and so successful?
GUS MALZAHN: Our goal was real simple, just improve each game. We felt like if we did that we'd have a chance to be a pretty good team at the end of the year. We really never went into the fact of how many wins or this bowl or that bowl, it was really about us trying to improve, and that was our approach. We look up and we're playing for the National Championship, and it's really something.
Q. The way you guys finished up your season, the win in Alabama, the way it went down against Alabama and then winning the SEC Championship game, are your guys on an all‑time high right now?
GUS MALZAHN: Of course you know Alabama is the No. 1 team in the country at the time, and of course that's our natural rival, and the Iron Bowl and everything goes with that is big enough, but then when you add in the fact that the winner goes to the SEC Championship and wins the west, there was a lot of pressure. Our guys handled themselves extremely well. It was a close game, they thought they'd find a way to win, and they did that.
Q. Coach Malzahn, I have two questions. One, with your offense, how much of a percentage of your offense is in place now from when you came into the season with, and early on you didn't have all of it in? And then two, how much will you pull from being a part of this in 2010 and being the offensive coordinator in terms of preparing for this year's National Championship game?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, first of all, any time you experience something, it's got to help, it's what we're hoping.
As far as ‑‑ what was your first question again?
Q. How much of the offense is in now?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah. Each week we added two of what Nick's strengths were, and I'd say that our entire offense as far as this year is concerned, we've all but got it in.
Q. Coach Malzahn, with the kind of ride that you guys have been on the past few weeks, would it be your preference if you could to go ahead and play this game next week?
GUS MALZAHN: I'll tell you what, it wouldn't hurt my feelings, but you know, hey, what is it, 30 days and everything that leads up to it, getting a chance to be a part of it in 2010, there's a lot of great memories that go with it, and like Coach Fisher said earlier, you get a plan together and strategically find a way to prepare your team to be ready.
Q. The game last night, obviously a very high‑scoring game, a very back and forth game. You've had a lot of those kind of games this season. As you go up against a team that's got a quarterback who will probably win the Heisman Trophy, a lot of weapons on offense, do you feel it's important to try to avoid one of those kind of games, to get into a kind of track meet, or just keep playing the style that you've been playing?
GUS MALZAHN: Well, first of all, we've got a huge challenge against their offense. Their quarterback is unbelievable, the receivers are unbelievable. They can run the football. So it'll be a huge challenge for our defense. So we've got our work cut out for us.
This year it's been very unique. Our team has complement each other. When our offense hasn't played well our defense has played well, and vice versa. So hopefully we can do that again.
Q. Jimbo, you guys played in the first one, Florida State did, after the '98 season. The SEC has dominated the latter half of the BCS. As we wrap this thing up, is there a neat symmetry you would see as a coach or are you too inside the bubble to appreciate that?
JIMBO FISHER: You are inside the bubble now but as you step back you do appreciate it. I was in the SEC a long time, I coached there 15 years, and I remember the SEC couldn't crack it was always fighting to get somebody in saying we were good. Then all of a sudden, you know, Oklahoma and that group had their run, and USC had their run and now the SEC has their run. They have had a tremendous amount of success, have a great league and are playing great football. But it is kind of ironic that things always go in circles and come in cycles like that that everything comes back around to where it started and it's very unique that the SEC, which is dominating now, Florida State which was in the first three National Championships '98, '99 and 2000 and all those National Championship games, it's kind of funny how it has come full circle like that and I do appreciate the history of college football that way, and we all complained about the BCS and everything that goes on, but it's funny how many times they get it right and how the history just keeps repeating itself.
Q. You said yesterday you didn't really care who you played, you were just glad Florida State was in it. But is it nice to play an SEC team with the way things have gone with college football the last few years?
JIMBO FISHER: The SEC has great tradition, they play great football, they're coached well. It's very important there. They make sure they have the resources and things they have to do to be successful, so from that standpoint it is. Ohio State has a great tradition also, but it is very unique to play against the SEC and the last one is probably appropriate because the dominance they've had now and the dominance that Florida State had earlier, it's probably appropriate that these two teams are playing.
Q. Gus, how nice is it to have to have spent the evening and the morning and the afternoon politicking? How nice was that for you just to sort of realize you guys were in?
GUS MALZAHN: Yeah, I'll tell you what, it was very refreshing. It was a lot of fun last night. We saw that Michigan State won the game, and it's been a very relaxing day.
Q. Gus, everybody is a little tired at this time of the year because it's been a long season. Have you noticed that your team in particular, and essentially you've been playing playoff games and really intense playoff games for the last month, games that have gone down to the wire. Have you noticed a team that maybe could use a break more than some other teams you have had in the past because of the high intensity of the games that they've been playing lately?
GUS MALZAHN: I'll tell you what, you're exactly right. The Georgia game goes down to the very end. It was a very physical game, a very emotional game, especially the way we won it. The fortunate thing was we had a week off to recover, and then of course we play our rival and play Alabama and everything that goes with that. That was a very physical game, an emotional game. I was very concerned how we'd recover and put that behind us and go play a really good Missouri team. But our guys found a way to do that, and they were ready to play. They put the Alabama game in the rear view mirror and found a way to play.
But it doesn't hurt to heal up, to get fresher, because we're going to need our best game to have a chance to beat these guys.
Q. Coach Fisher, I just wanted to know after the month you guys have had and everything with Jameis's situation and it all being behind you guys, how nice is it going to be to have this month to hopefully just focus on football and nothing else?
JIMBO FISHER: I think it'll be very good. I think our team did a tremendous job of handling that situation while it was going on, but it will be good. There's no worries behind us and all we have to do is look forward to the future and plan and preparing for a game, and I think it'll be very good for him, too. As I say, he did an unbelievable job of dealing with the adversity which he had to deal with, and I think it's a great release for he and our team as far as that goes. But our team didn't really show a lot of emotion either way. They handled their business and they controlled the things that they can control and that's how they played and prepared. It'll be nice, there's no doubt.
Q. Coach Fisher, yesterday Jameis said he might have had a little too over‑hyped for that game. What are you going to have to do to keep him even keeled, especially going up against a team from his home state?
JIMBO FISHER: I think we'll work on things, and I think part of that, too, was the announcement and the things that went on, and I think it was a different mindset for him just a little bit. But he'll handle it very well. We played in a lot of emotional games, going to Clemson this year, playing in the Miami game. There were a lot of games that way and you learn from your experiences and we all learn as we go forward and that is the one thing you can't simulate is game and game pressure and things that happen, and I think he's a very quick learn, he's proven that in everything he's done and been able to handle and I think he'll deal with that situation once we get out there.
Q. Coach Fisher, are you making a case for Jameis for the Heisman?
JIMBO FISHER: I think when you talk about Heisman you talk about great players. I define great players like this ‑‑ it's a great performance over a long period of time and the consistency which you play with, and I think the thing that he has done from start to finish, he's been consistent throughout the year. Big games. Big situations. And accounted ‑‑ whether it was the first game of the year which we were on TV outstanding to the last game and led us to a championship, and to me is the mark ‑‑ when you talk about Heisman Trophy winners, how do they affect your teammates? How does he positive ‑‑ he does that in a tremendous way, give us great confidence and not only on offense, but on defense too. Our defensive players ‑‑ I don't know if anybody in America has done that more so than he has, not only played well, performed well, but affected the performance of his team on a week in week out basis by how they play, how they prepare and the results of which they've gotten. So from that standpoint I think Jameis is definitely out in front of that category.