Tuesday, October 29, 2002
"It seems like the Vanderbilt game is always a tough game for Alabama, for us. They have been playing, I think, pretty well at home. We've made note of that. I think Coach (Bobby) Johnson is doing a good job. He's a proven winner. He's putting his mark on the program right now. He certainly has my respect for the way he's handling things, the substance that he's putting into that program, the continuity.
"They're young. Started nine freshmen of one type or the other last week, and they're playing pretty solid football with those nine freshmen and they're going to be good players as time goes on. Not that they're not good now, but they're going to get better and better and better.
"They're coming off a win, a last second win. It gives them a little bit of momentum. Offensively they've got a nice young quarterback in (Jay) Cutler that is really good for their system, good athlete, throws the ball well. The tailback is going to be an outstanding player in his career there. He's already go 300 yard rushing games under his belt, leads them in all-purpose yard. (He's) Doing a good job. They had 230 or 240 yards rushing against Georgia, so you have to take note of anybody that runs the ball that well against those guys. We certainly didn't do that. And then you couple that with two really good receivers in (Dan) Stricker and (M.J.) Garrett that are certainly quality players that you have to make note of.
"I think our biggest concern going into the game is that they are a time of possession offense. They can limit your offensive opportunities. They can hold on to the football, keep your offense off the field. Our defense has got a challenge to play a little more disciplined style, a little more assignment style than maybe some weeks with a little bit of option in the offense. It's important to fit on their plash and passes off the option as well, and they do a good job of that much like we have done from time to time.
"Defensively, they're patient. They bend, try not to break. Play solid. Their kicking game is solid. I think it will be a tough game, a hard fought game, and we'll have to play well for four quarters.
"I do want to continue to encourage our fans to take over their stadium and have a great crowd there like we did last year. That certainly made a difference for us.
"We haven't scored a touchdown on Vanderbilt since I've been here yet but we did win the game and we'd like to do that and we'll have to do that if we're going to win it again."
Coach, the way your team prepared, the way you prepared them for the Tennessee game not making it any bigger than the other games, do you do that also in a way to kind of avoid an emotional drop off from a big game like Tennessee to a game like Vanderbilt where it might be tough to get players excited about that game?
"I would hope our players would pretty well say that Coach Fran is just about the same week in week out, after a win, after a loss, whether we're playing Tennessee or Vanderbilt. We did not downplay last week's game, and sometimes us not playing `Rocky Top' and wearing orange jerseys some people look at that in that way, and that's not true. We coached just as hard, but we coach hard every week. I think teams take on the coach's personality whether we want them to or not, and in this case I would never want them to read me as letting down. I respect every team's ability to win a football game. I can see how they can do it. Hopefully our consistency and the substance with which we handle things on a weekly basis will lend itself toward a performance good enough to win week in week out."
Coach, since you arrived here the secondary has probably been the most maligned unit on the team. After the last two games have they answered the critics a bit and is it maybe time for the critics to lay off a bit?
"I think really for the most part they've had a pretty good season. There have been a few plays here and there that we've had a problem and we've faced some very good receivers from time to time. And in college football today I think you're going to have some plays made against you with the ability that teams have to throw the football and with the great receivers that we have in today's game and the great passers. The key is to make one or two more plays. And certainly I think that unit other than just a handful of plays has played pretty solid back there this year, and they have gotten better and better and better. They play a position that when they make a mistake it's very vivid to everybody, or when a ball's caught on them, sometimes you have to give some things up in order to stop other things, and people don't always understand those. Now giving up a big play or a long play is not what I'm talking about but some of the underneath things and from time to time. I think our group has done a great job of disguising, moving around, keeping people guessing as to where the spot was to throw the football and for the most part covered pretty well lately. I don't know if that ever leaves you without somebody who might be a critic but I think you have to admire those guys back there, and Coach (Chris) Thurmond and Coach (Melvin) Smith and Coach (Carl) Torbush and the job they have done in improving that group back there."
Coach, how far along are we in "the Book of Fran" in terms of looking at your team and the confidence you have in it and how much have you integrated yourself into this team?
"I think this is my team. I believe that I'm integrated into them pretty well. My sister called me Sunday and she said--I didn't get to talk to her, she left me a message---but she said, `that looks like your team.' She said last year it didn't at times quite look that way yet. And it takes time to make it your team. Coach Johnson is going through that right now. You have to win your players over. They have to understand how you feel and care about them and how you coach. And they have to develop trust in you as you do in them. I'm not saying that can't improve, but I feel like this is my team and these are my players and I think they feel that way. In `the Book of Fran' they're doing pretty good."
When the NCAA thing happened, and you brought it up once where you said `we'd like to be the best team that doesn't get to go to Atlanta,' are you using that still as some sort of motivation thing? Because as the further it gets along the more we see that that could come into fruition?
"We have not talked about that recently. It's part of our goal for this season, but I always believe that you have to play yourself into position to really talk about things like that. We're a ways away from that yet. There are still a lot of games to play, a lot of things that can happen, a lot of injuries that can happen, a lot of changes. We just have to keep playing. You guys remember last year, I didn't want to talk about the `B' word (bowl) until after we won the game before Southern Miss. We hadn't played ourselves into position to talk about it until that game. And so I think that's true in this case. We've got to take care of Saturday. And that's all that matters right now. Saturday's all that matters. We have to unfortunately forget the last game and go forward with they next game, and then when that one's over we enjoy if for a few hours and get ready for the next one--hopefully we enjoy it. I think that's the consistency that has to happen, and you look back and say, `hey, that went well.' But we can't play any of the games ahead of Vanderbilt before we play Vanderbilt. We have to take this step. I know that's an old cliché. I know sometimes as writers, the media, you hate hearing me talk like that or coaches talk like that. It's true. That's the way it is. We've got to handle today's practice before we can handle tomorrow's. It's a continual building thing and when you get through Saturday and when the game's over Saturday we start to process again."
Fran, I wanted to get your opinions on what makes a good offensive line coach and then what you like out of Jim Bob Helduser.
"This answer could take a while, Tom. They have to be knowledgeable and they have to be good technicians. They've got to be able to capture the spirit of those guys. They've got to be able to convey some mental toughness and physical toughness. Sometimes today not everything goes quite as pretty or as clean as you want it to, but at some point in time you hit `em in the mouth, knock him down and you find a way to make it work. But you still have to preach technique and patience and physical play, and Jim Bob, I think, has a great demeanor with the offensive line. He's patient, he's understanding, he's demanding. He has the ability to be all those things at the same time and to me that's a quality of a good coach that can get his players to perform on some days when things aren't----like Saturday night. Our first two possessions, they weren't very pretty. But Coach was over there talking to them about being patient and hanging with it and `we're going to get going' and those guys didn't get frustrated. They believed that. And I think sometimes those intangible ways that a line coach handles his players, and every coach for that matter, but with the offensive line in particular, are almost as vital as all the technical things that you would have to make sure that you accomplish. Certainly they can't be as good as they can be unless their technique's sound. It's a long answer. I could go for a long time. Jim Bob has done a great job though. The way we started in the UCLA game with some guys that hadn't played to where we are and what we've accomplished and what we eventually got accomplished last year. You have to tip your hat to him and pat him on the back."