Tuesday, November 19, 2002
VIDEO of press conference is available on CrimsonTradition.com!
"Big crowd here today. You'd think something big was going on. Good to see you. We're looking forward to the game. Barry (Allen) told me today we're 0-3 in Tuscaloosa (against Auburn) and haven't scored a point yet here, only once in the modern era though, so, hopefully we can rectify that.
"Certainly it's great to be a part of the rivalry and it's great to be going into my second game, too. I love these kinds of rivalries and certainly this is as heated and bitter a rivalry as there is. But the thing that impressed me last year was the players and coaches were very respectful and played a very clean game. Played very hard. Everybody wanted to win but yet they all fought with class. It's a great day for the state of Alabama and an opportunity to be on national television in a very positive way. I think that's certainly positive. I love being a part of these kinds of games. It's a lot more fun when you win, but that's true every week. It is exciting to be involved in what may be the greatest rivalry in college football.
"Certainly have a good football team to play. They're good in a lot of areas. They're very solid. Offensively I think they're second in the conference in scoring, so they're putting up points. The offensive line I think has really come along and played well. The tailback runs very hard, very physical. I think their whole football team is physical and has good speed. I think it will be a very physical game Saturday. The Georgia game last week looked like a very physical game and I would think this one will be, too, with these two teams.
"Their offensive line is certainly a big strong one and move pretty good. Defensively they find ways to cause takeaways and turnovers, and we have to avoid that. Linebacking crew is certainly one that catches your eye. Across the board as an entire unit they all can run, they all have great size and range. Play the game very physical, play very well. The secondary I think is playing very solid.
"I think we're comparable in some of those things that we talked about. Our kicking game and their kicking game is probably a little comparable in ways, too. Certainly in games like this taking care of the football and playing well in the kicking game are always big.
"We're excited to have the game in our stadium this year. I know our players will have some emotion and thought in playing their last home game in a Crimson jersey. That's always a special day and a meaningful day. So I know that they'll play very hard and want this to be a good day for them."
I know your personality is level and (you) don't change the emotions during the week whether it's Vanderbilt or anyone. But do you really attack this game the same as any other game or when you were battling for the Iron Skillet or whatever at TCU?
"I think rivalry games take on a personality and a life of their own. It doesn't matter what I do. It's going to be that way and that's good. I'm glad. From a preparation, practice, focus, how I handle my team, it doesn't change from week to week. I think I owe them (his players) the best job each week of preparation that I can give them whether it's Oklahoma or Vanderbilt or whoever it may be. And in this case it doesn't change this week. I think the emotions of this game should take care of themselves. I will foster them and nurture them along. But I think it's very important in a game like this to play with tremendous focus and under control, much like we have done week in and week out. The Tennessee game is one that you would compare in a lot of ways except we have this one at home."
Fran, you said when you took the job that you were aware of how passionate the people were in this state about their football. Did you get a full realization of that after your first Alabama/Auburn experience?
"I did. I certainly did. Everybody says, `well was it more than you expected? `I don't know how to answer that. I went in with great anticipation and was very excited about the day and the game and being a part of such a great rivalry and one that's had so many great coaches involved with it. I always make sure on days like this I take about five minutes to just soak it all in, just kind of reflect on it, because once you get into the game, you're so locked in the zone you don't have an opportunity to really enjoy some of those other aspects because it's business as usual at that point in time."
Talk a little bit about Kyle Robinson. Obviously kickers in this game in the past have had a big role in it.
"Kyle has progressed and grown into his position mentally. He missed the extra point the other night. Whether that was all his fault or not I don't know. I talked to him on the sideline and he handled all that very well. And then to come in and bang that long field goal in like he did, I don't know if he could have done that a month ago. He's not a season-grizzled veteran certainly, but he's got some time under his belt now and I think he's handled this pretty well. And he's learning how to cope with it. It's a little bit different than last year for him. So, he's more prepared."
Since we're talking kicking, Mississippi State got to Lane Bearden a couple of times, in the punt last week the protection looked a little better. Are you comfortable with that side of the football, the punting game, going into the game Saturday?
"As you mentioned 90 some percent of the time we've been pretty solid in that area. Their returner was averaging I believe 17 yards a return last year and last week we held him to about four. So, for the most part we've been very good there. Now we had a technique breakdown against Mississippi State and they certainly did a great job and exploited it. We had a snap that pulled us to the side. Can those things happen again? Sure they can. But do we feel like Saturday was a good test for us and we are more solid in it or as good as we have been? Yes, we do."
Other than the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, Fran, which rivalry do you think is the best one, other than the Iron Bowl?
"Until you live them, it's hard to compare. The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is certainly a unique one and a special one. Ohio State-Michigan certainly is. I think one of the things that separates this one a little bit is that it's two in-state schools. Maybe makes it even a little more unique and special. But I haven't lived those other two games either. But those would be the ones that come to mind."