The head coaches of the Texas Longhorns and Utah Utes spent time with reporters today previewing their New Year's Eve showdown in the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Here's a transcript of what was said:
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: First thing I want to do is acknowledge my good friend Kurt Kragthorpe back here. He’s been covering sports in Utah for 30 years. This is his last year. Me and Kurt go way back. Both our fathers coached at BYU. We ran around at Holiday Bowls together, played little league baseball together, high school baseball. A lot of history with Kurt.
He’s been our beat writer for the last few years. We’ll miss him. He’s going to have a chance to enjoy life for a while. Congratulations on a great career.
Excited to be here, like I said probably 20 times by now. We’re excited about this. The bowl has been as advertised. We’ve had a great time. Players have had a great time.
The events, just the whole layout, has been really great. We’ve been to the Sugar Bowl, as well, a few years back. This rivals any bowl that we’ve been to. We’ve had a great time.
Looking forward to the game tomorrow night. Should be a great matchup. Texas is Texas, what can you say? They have talented players, class program, a lot of history. Just one of those programs in the country that is kind of iconic.
It’s great for our guys to be able to line up and play a team like that, program like that. We’re excited. It’s been a great week of practice. Preparation has been good. We’ll see how we can play tomorrow night. That’s where we’re at.
TOM HERMAN: First off, I want to thank Coach Whittingham for recommending the no-tie policy at the press conference. Thank you, coach. That was awesome (laughter).
The Alamo Bowl has been fantastic. We’ve had an opportunity since I’ve been a head coach to go to two New Year’s Six bowl games in the last five years. This one, like coach said, it absolutely rivals any bowl game out there.
The city of San Antonio, just the whole layout, everything being so central, is phenomenal for our players. There’s not a whole lot of travel time. Everything is within walking distance. They don’t have to get in a car when they want to have a night out, whatever it is. It’s just an unbelievable setup.
We’re excited as heck, like coach said. We’ve had some really good practices. We’re about as healthy as we’ve been.
I would like to take a minute to thank a couple guys on our team. We’ve got three seniors that have been invited to the NFL Combine. All three of them are invited to the Senior Bowl, as well. All three of them will be dressed and on the sideline and available to play tomorrow.
I think that speaks to their commitment, not to this program, but to this university. I want to thank Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay and Brandon Jones personally. I think that’s really, really cool in today’s environment for those guys to go out there one last time for their brothers. I think it speaks to the fellowship, the relationships that are in that locker room, as well. They certainly don’t want to let anybody down.
Obviously Brandon is a little banged up, but he has practiced all week. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. But fully expect both Collin and Devin to play, play significant roles in the game.
Again, we’re thrilled to be challenged by a Utah team that played for their conference championship, won 11 games. They play unbelievably great defense. Obviously a challenge on offense with their ball control, with their ability to run the football. They’ve got a very veteran team, lots of seniors and juniors on both sides of the ball. There’s a lot of experience.
We know we’ve got a challenge. Again, we feel like we’ve had a good couple weeks of preparation, and we’re excited for it.
Photo: Texas Head Coach Tom Herman (Valero Alamo Bowl)
Q. Coach, our first opportunity to ask you about Yurcich. What can you tell us about the process of hiring him and what can you tell us about him as a coach?
TOM HERMAN: The process went great. As I think I’ve told you guys, getting the defensive coordinator hire right was my first priority because obviously Chris Ash didn’t have a job. He was being courted by a lot of suitors. Not to say that we didn’t realistically look at many other candidates, which we did. We had our eyes set on Chris, wound up securing him.
So then we turned our attention to finding the right guy to lead our offense. Talked to five, six guys with great résumés that have great jobs, as well. We couldn’t be happier with Mike.
When you look at his résumé, I think the year at Ohio State is kind of like the icing on the cake. This is a guy that in his six years at Oklahoma State, you look at the numbers, they’re off the charts.
According to Coach Gundy, who I spoke to, he said he’s an unbelievable play-caller, very rhythmic, very detail-oriented in the way that he develops quarterbacks and offenses.
The thing that really stood out to me was his ability each year to kind of play to the strengths of the personnel. One year we’re going to be a run heavy team, the next year we have a great quarterback, successful really good receivers, we’re going to be whatever, fourth in the country in passing.
I mean, I couldn’t have dreamed of a better fit in terms of similarities, the way that we believe in offensive football. Yet a lengthy track record and résumé of success on that side of the ball.
Q. Tom, do you know how you’re going to split your coaching staff in terms of assistants? Will it be 6-4, the way it’s been?
TOM HERMAN: No, it will be 5-5. The one thing that Chris and Mike and I have both talked about is when it comes to special teams, let’s find the right guys, find the right guys offensively and defensively. When we were at Ohio State, we were top 10 in the country in special teams. Each coach ran a team. They did it really well.
But if there is a guy out there that fits, a tight end special teams, D-line special teams, that’s a feather in his cap, then certainly we’ll look at it that way.
Definitely five on offense, five on defense. The five on defense preliminarily, I don’t want to box myself into a corner, but in our early talks, safeties coach, corners coach, linebacker coach, then tackles and ends coach. Again, that’s far from being finalized.
Q. Tom, now that you have both coordinators set, what are your overall thoughts about going into 2020, where this program is headed with the two new hires?
TOM HERMAN: There’s excitement. I’m excited, I know that. I know that any time — change is hard. I don’t want to make light of that. Any time you change, it’s going to be difficult. There’s different personalities. This is going to be a very important off-season for me as the head coach in terms of teaching our culture and our way of doing things to some of these new coaches. I haven’t had to do that in a long time.
But I’m excited for that challenge, too. I’m excited to almost show off the way that we do things from a cultural standpoint and from an accountability standpoint.
I’m excited to learn, too, I mean, especially from these two coordinators. I mean, they’re guys that have unbelievable track records, philosophically they’re very aligned with what I think Texas football should look like. Obviously there’s nuances here and there that I’ll be able to learn, too.
Q. Tom and Kyle, as you watch the College Football Playoff semifinals, what you thought of those games? Is that making a case for four is plenty or would you like to see it expanded to eight?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: First of all, I didn’t see the LSU domination coming. LSU is a good football team, but I didn’t see that coming. Maybe Tom predicted that. That was very surprising to me. The other game was obviously a great, competitive ballgame.
No, I don’t think so it’s a case for four. Maybe this year, but I don’t think overall. I think overall it should be expanded. That’s been my stance for a lot of years. Just because of what happened in one of those Playoff games this year, I don’t change my opinion on that.
TOM HERMAN: Yeah, I didn’t see the first game, much of it, other than the highlights. I was at SeaWorld riding rollercoasters with my six-year-old, Maverick, on his first big-boy rollercoaster. That was an experience.
I did see the highlights. Obviously having played against LSU earlier in the season, having recruited Joe, the relationship I have with him, I’m not surprised in the least that they’re having the season that they’re having, especially on that side of the football with him at the helm, those talented receivers, that offensive line. That’s a fantastic football team.
Then, again, yeah, I did see a lot of the second game. I was impressed with both teams. I mean, that was a knock-down, drag-out, four-quarter game that was very impressive on both parts.
I’ve said before that I certainly would be in favor of eight teams. I think it’s great. I think every other level of collegiate football has many more than eight. I do think there’s a way to find a way where you don’t diminish the bowl experience because something like this, for teams that aren’t in the Playoffs, is phenomenal, too. No other level has that. I do think that should be prioritized very highly.
Again, I don’t think it’s the biggest national issue that we have. I’ve gone on record as saying to me we’ve got to fix uniform scheduling before we tackle eight team Playoffs.
You’re oftentimes comparing apples to oranges. When it’s a committee making that decision, and there’s no hard-set rules as to what gets you in and what doesn’t, then that’s a difficult pill to swallow.
I do think the more the merrier when it comes to having a chance to win your sport’s national championship.
Photo: Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham (Valero Alamo Bowl)
Q. Coach Whittingham, I heard that you have been the ultimate ambassador for the Alamo Bowl, from going around town, riding a Harley. Tell us a little bit about your experiences around here.
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: I’ve just taken advantage of all of the activities. I didn’t purposely try to become a stellar ambassador for the bowl. It’s been great. Like I said in my opening statements, just the way they’ve got things structured, the layout of the entire week that we’ve been here, someone was good enough to rent me a Harley, I don’t know who did that, my ops guy or the bowl, but thank you. I’m a motorcycle guy. That was right in my wheelhouse.
But between touring the Alamo, which I knew nothing about, I had that all backwards, I learned a ton when I went on the private tour of the Alamo, got myself straightened out on that.
The bowl itself, like I said, you do something for 20, 30 years, whatever they’ve been doing, you get good at it. They’re very good at what they do. Myself, my family, my team has had a great experience. I asked the team, I check in with them periodically with them, the captains, how is it going, too much downtime, too much activity, they said no, it’s been just right.
Great experience so far. Like I said, it’s a well-planned bowl and they do it right.
Q. Kyle, you never know what you’re going to get after the regular season, the space between bowl games. How do you explain your incredible success in bowl games? How difficult is it to gauge what you’re going to get from those teams?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: The success is simply the hard work that the players put in. There’s no magic formula that we have that anybody else doesn’t have. It’s not some secret practice plan or process. It’s just the commitment that our players make.
We have had a good track record in bowl games. What it’s done is really perpetuated itself. Each group that comes through doesn’t want to be the group that lets the previous groups down. There’s been a standard set.
Each senior class and team that comes through the bowl situation, like I said, takes a lot of pride in what’s happened in the past, and feels obligated to do their part.
Echoing what Coach Herman said about our seniors, we also have a bunch of seniors that could have opted out of this game very easily. Every senior has decided to play. We did have one junior that declared early that opted out. He’s a little bit banged up, needed some time to recoup. We’re going to have seven or eight guys go to the combine. All those guys are here.
Everything that coach said about their dedication and being a team guy, wanting to finish what they started, I echo that. We’re very proud of those guys.
Q. Tom, the emotion of tomorrow night, the locker room, no matter what happens, probably the last time that group will be in the same room together, that’s got to be kind of a drastic shock to the system when you’ve been with these guys for so long.
TOM HERMAN: Yeah, especially those seniors. They hold a very special place in my heart and our program’s heart because when we got here, they were freshmen, just finishing their freshman year, most of them, having gone 5-7. We came in with a different way of doing things. It was very difficult. Some of their classmates decided that wasn’t for them.
All of these guys stuck around. They bought in hook, line and sinker, became leaders. I think we’ve only got I don’t know how many scholarship seniors, maybe 10, if you include Parker Braun. It’s really, really low. Five of them are captains, almost half of them became captains.
It’s impressive to see those guys’ fortitude, their commitment. They’re a very close class. When you start dwindling in numbers along the years, you get closer and closer as a group.
We want to be able to send them out knowing that they became the first group in the senior class in the history of Texas, the first in the last 10 years, to win three straight bowl games. That’s been a big mission of ours.
Q. Kyle, can you talk about Cam Rising, the development of your quarterback position behind Tyler as he gets ready to move on.
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Yeah, Cam has been a great addition to our program. We were elated when he decided to join us. He spent all season running the scout team. Ineligible this year during the regular season and the championship game due to transfer rules. He got clear, he’s available for this game, has been taking reps behind Tyler, splitting reps with Drew Lisk. You may see him, you may not in this game. He’s available if we need him.
Just got a great attitude. He’s a good-sized kid, 6’2″, 220, good arm. He will be right in the mix for that starting job. He’ll have three years left. He’s done everything we asked of him this year. Like I said, he’s really been the leader of that scout team, he’s the guy that gets them going, takes charge out there. We think he’s got a bright future at Utah, but time will tell.
Q. Coach Whittingham, you are on the verge of being in the top 10. If you were to win this game, maybe you can get in. What does that mean to your program?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: That’s something we have talked about. The reasons to win the game, not only because the bowl track record we have, but being a top 10 ranking, winning our 12th game, which has only happened two other times in Utah football history, sending the seniors out the right way.
There’s a myriad of reasons for winning the game, not that you need anything more than being a competitor, but those are carrots out there we have talked about. That would mean a lot to our program, bottom line, to finish out in the top 10. That’s definitely something in the forefront of our guys’ minds.
Q. Yesterday Sam mentioned it would be very easy right now for a lot of guys to have one foot out of door because of all the changes in the program. He said he hasn’t sensed that at all. Why do you think that has been? What has been the biggest challenge for the coaching staff to keep everything together amidst all the change the last month?
TOM HERMAN: I think these guys like being here, they like being part of this program. We’re all competitors. They have bought into the fact that these seniors deserve their best, the young guys have. I know that.
I don’t know that it’s been really a challenge to ‘keep them together’. Obviously the regular-season record wasn’t what we hoped it was. At this point that’s irrelevant. We’ve got one last game in the 2019 season. They’re all competitors. They want to win the game just as bad as they wanted to win game one, game two, especially because of their admiration for this senior class, too.
Photo: Texas Head Coach Tom Herman and Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham (Valero Alamo Bowl)
Q. Coach Whittingham, your overall impressions of the Texas offense and the challenges that Sam Ehlinger presents.
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: He’s the catalyst, in my opinion. He’s the guy that makes it go. Tremendous leader, at least it appears that way on film, when you watch him, TV game that you get to see his personality come out. Very good thrower. Over 3500 yards throwing, 500 yards rushing. Can hurt you both ways. True dual-threat. He’s a weapon, like I said. The guy that makes that thing go.
Offensive line is solid. The receivers are tremendous. Who catches a hundred something balls for nearly 1300 yards? That doesn’t happen very often. That’s impressive as well.
They’re balanced on offense. As a former defensive coordinator, that’s the toughest offenses to defend, the ones that are balanced. You have somebody that’s 80% run or 80% throw, that doesn’t present the challenge. Mike Leach might tell you. Was it last year he was here? Not as entertaining at last year’s press conference (laughter).
They got good players across the board, not just the guys I singled out. Like I said earlier in the press conference, it’s Texas. The state of Texas is a recruiting dream, I mean. To have that fertile of a recruiting ground right in your backyard, there’s a lot of good reasons why they’re a good football team and have been for years and years.
Q. Tom, about Sam, he said yesterday he’s going to seek out info from the draft advisory board, which guys like that probably should do. What is your thought on Sam’s future? Do you expect Sam to be here in 2020?
TOM HERMAN: Oh, absolutely. He’s already gotten those results back, yeah. But I do think he’s got a tremendous future at the next level. Again, I’ll say it as many times as I need to: he sees the game as good as any I’ve coached. Having coached some really good quarterbacks in my day, that’s certainly no slight on them, it’s a testimony to him and his intelligence, his toughness. That’s going to go a long way at the next level.
Q. Coach Herman, you inherited a program that didn’t go to a bowl game for two straight years. This is three straight. What does it mean to the young players to see this is kind of the norm, being successful in bowl games?
TOM HERMAN: Yeah, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword because they weren’t here for that first spring, that first season, the things that this senior class and junior class went through. They’re looking at them like, Man, you guys got it easy. You just walk in like this freshman class, walk into 10 wins, a New Year’s Six bowl victory, all that. You think those things just fall out of the sky at Texas.
Probably this season maybe on some levels needed to happen for some of those guys to realize that 10, 11, 12 wins, really cool bowl games just don’t just happen. They’re a product of really hard work, great relationships within the locker room, everybody kind of pulling in the same direction.
But I do think on the other side of that sword it is good that they realize that there is an expectation and a standard around here. The bowl games that we went to or have gone to in our three years here, those are really, really good bowl games. I’ve never been to a bad one, but I know the three that we’ve been to have been phenomenal for us. It is good for a lot of these young guys to understand that there’s very high expectations here at Texas.