Dec. 8, 2011
Four days after being selected to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald and interim Texas A&M coach Tim DeRuyter met the media in Houston to talk about the game. The transcript of Thursday's news conference is below:
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Executive Director Heather Houston
Opening statement about the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas...
"This is always a really exciting day for us, to have the two head coaches in from the two participating institutions. We've had such a stellar response to this matchup. Our ticket sales are nearing 60,000, which is way ahead of where we've ever been for this bowl game at this time. We know that will make for a really great fan experience for local Houstonians, and of course all of the fans that will be coming in from A&M and Northwestern, and of course, your teams. So we're really thrilled with where we are to date.
"Our home team this year is Northwestern, so I'd like to give a big Houston welcome to coach Pat Fitzgerald. Coach Fitzgerald definitely knows how to win championships. He's a College Football Hall of Famer; he won two Big Ten titles - back-to-back Big Ten titles - when he played at Northwestern. He took the head coaching job in 2006 and has led his team to four bowl games, so he's had a very successful tenure at Northwestern. So coach, I know you've played in many big bowl games yourself, and I know that you've taken the team to a lot of great bowl games, and our hope is that when you leave Houston that we're one of your favorites.
"Our visiting team this year is Texas A&M, so I'd like to welcome coach Tim DeRuyter. He's the interim head coach and defensive coordinator in his second season with the Aggies. Coach DeRuyter has served 19 very impressive years in collegiate football. (To coach DeRuyter:) You don't look like you've served that long in college football, by the way. Last year, he helped (LB) Von Miller become an All-American and become the second draft pick in the NFL; and he's put together a very hard-hitting and impactful defense for the Aggies again this year as well. So, coach, I'll say the same thing to you as well. Welcome, and I know you've been to a lot of great bowl games as well, but we hope that you leave here and that we're one of your favorites.
"I know you want to hear from both of these head coaches. We're real excited to have you here. Welcome. We're looking forward to having your teams and both of you back here at the end of December."
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald
"You know, I think it's kind of ironic that we're the home team. Obviously, Tim (DeRuyter) coming down 90 miles and over 60,000 fans have already purchased tickets; about 55,000 are Northwestern fans, so it'll be a great home atmosphere for us here in Houston (laughing). In all seriousness, Heather and to everyone on the committee, it's a great honor and privilege for our university to be here to represent the Big Ten Conference and to bring our football family down here to Houston. We have five Houstonians on our roster; we've recruited Houston very hard. Before I became the head coach, this was my primary recruiting area outside of Chicago, and we now have Randy Bates who recruits down here for us and does a tremendous job. Those five Houstonians are incredibly excited to come down and be a part of a very special opportunity for them and for their families. Their teammates are kind of sick and tired of them already, talking about, `We're going here; we're going there; we're doing this; we're doing that.' But they're obviously incredibly excited to have that opportunity.
"We've got one of our very best to ever wear the purple and white playing now for the Texans: (CB) Sherrick McManis. Sherrick was a great player for us, a captain, and we're very proud to have him here representing our football family playing for the Texans.
"We've got a football team that's been through a lot. We obviously would like to have our record in a better place and a better position, but we wouldn't be here if we maybe won a couple other games from a standpoint that we put ourselves in a position to be in the postseason, which is one of our goals on our board; and to be here in Houston is a tremendous opportunity for us. Four years ago, we were 6-6 and we sat at home, and that was devastating to our football players, and so to have this kind of opportunity, to have this great matchup for us from the standpoint of opportunity, is going to be a great challenge.
"After watching Tim's team on tape a little bit, I can't say I've gotten through everything, but [Texas A&M] will be the most athletic team that we've seen all year, a team that is talented from top to bottom, very well-coached, and with the challenges not only that athletically on the field, schematically, they do an outstanding job. You compound that with being a road game for us down here, it's going to be a great challenge, but one that we're incredibly excited for and are really looking forward to."
Texas A&M interim head coach Tim DeRuyter
"Howdy. I tell you, we're really excited to get a chance to come down here to the [Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas]. Our guys have had a disappointing season by Aggie standards, but to get a chance to finish our year here in Texas where our guys get a chance to wake up Christmas morning, open their presents, and then two days later join us here for the bowl, our guys are relishing the opportunity. Selfishly for me, getting a chance to be in this chair and meet guys like Coach Fitzgerald is kind of a special opportunity, and especially to lead the Aggies against a great institution like Northwestern University and the job that Coach Fitzgerald has done there. We're looking forward to the opportunity.
"Coach (Fitzgerald) is going to talk about being the road team, but they didn't fare too badly two weeks ago when they went to Lincoln (Neb.) and beat the number 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers, so our guys are well aware of that. They do a tremendous job coaching. They've been in this same system now since Coach (Fitzgerald) has been there; very consistent, very well-coached. We're looking for a heck of a challenge, but we're ready to meet that challenge come the 31st."
On keeping their teams motivated after some heartbreaking losses this season...
"They're not heartbreaking; they're football games. At the end of the day, if you followed us closely, we were in every game. We had every opportunity to win every game, and because of our choices, the way that we coached our guys, the lack of consistency that we played with was damaging to us in the second halves of some football games this year, but we went toe-to-toe with everybody that we played. We've got an incredible senior class. They'll graduate as the all-time winningest senior class in our program's history, and they came into our program under very difficult circumstances. We had just lost Coach (Randy) Walker, and to see the legacy of success and the foundation that they've built is something that's truly special. The one crown jewel that's left out there for them, though, is to be bowl champions, and they haven't accomplished that yet. I'm reminding them of that frequently. I really don't need to; our media up in Chicago, they remind me every day. It's going to be a great challenge for us; we understand that, but we've got an incredibly hungry and motivated team. To have this opportunity for us is really special. It really is. A couple of years ago, we sat at home at 6-6 and that was tough. That was really, really tough, so the opportunity to get back on the field one more time with that great senior class is going to be really special for us."
"I don't know if I would call it heartbreaking, either, but we've obviously had some gut-wrenching losses, particularly that last one. When you lose two games in overtime, another one on a last-second field goal, nobody feels good about it. We've been in those games and, I guess similar to Coach Fitzgerald's teams, have not been consistent enough to make those one or two key plays to make a difference in the ballgame.
"Our players still feel like nothing's changed from preseason. We've talked about this: that we have the talent, we've got the ability to be a team that can play with anybody in the country. We've got to put it together from a consistency standpoint, and if we do that, we can play with anybody in the country. We know we're going to have a tremendous challenge, and that's what gets our guys going every week. Yes, we'll have a gut-wrenching defeat, but they know that next week we've got another opponent that's going to test us for everything that we have, and we've got that one more time in Northwestern.
"When I met with the team on Monday, they were excited about who we're playing because they know this is a tremendous challenge: a team from the Big Ten that competed with everybody and that had beaten a Top 10 team on the road. Our guys are just looking for that one more opportunity to finish this thing for the seniors the right way and really kick off 2012 for the young guys."
On the recruiting impact of playing in a bowl game in Houston...
"Well for us, coming down here to Houston is a huge opportunity from a standpoint of getting our brand out here maybe a little bit more than it typically is. I'm sure you guys talk about Texas A&M quite a bit here, so to be able to get some market share in a city that we've got a great alumni base and also, like I said, a city that we want to recruit every year. We've had as many as I think 10 Houstonians on our roster, so number one, outstanding academics, number two, outstanding coaches and very talented football players. Big 10 football with a lot of Midwestern folks that have moved down here for business resonates. Our academic reputation and the success that our young men have had that have come up from the city of Houston have all been productive on the football field, have all walked out of our university with their degree in four years and some a Master's degree and have used our alumni network to come back down here and become gainfully employed if they haven't gone on to play in the NFL. Once we leave Chicago land, we're kind of going to a few areas and recruiting and the city of Houston is one of those for us. We've seen a big spike over the last three years in our postseason performances. Although we ended up on the short end, young people watch bowl games. Going back three years ago when we played in San Anton and played in an overtime game against a very good Missouri football team, very similar to A&M, ranked in the top 5 or top 10 in preseason in the country, it was an outstanding football game. A couple years ago, we play Auburn into overtime and had every opportunity to win the game. I make a bad call and we lose at the end and away we go. Then last year, we had a chance again, we've got the ball, to go tie the game up at the end. I think from a standpoint for us, to play in the postseason for recruiting is obvious. It's been a big spike in, like I said, market brand and awareness for recruits, especially here in the state of Texas for us. This is our second bowl game in four years in the state of Texas or third, excuse me, I'm sorry."
"For us, Houston is probably our number one recruiting territory with its proximity to College Station, with the talent of players, the coaches that are here, just like Coach Fitzgerald mentioned, it's probably second to nowhere in the country. For us to get a chance to play here in front of those high schools, in front of those coaches, we'll have open practices, we'll have an opportunity where they can come and take a look and see what we're all about. Our fan base here in Houston I think is as big as anywhere in the country, let alone state. So, to get a chance to play in this bowl game in front of our players' families and friends and of course the tremendous Aggie alumni network, it's a great opportunity for our guys. If we're not going to get a chance to play for that last game in New Orleans, this is a great consolation prize for our players."
On what the last few days have been like up in College Station...
"It's been different. I've been on the road recruiting, so I haven't been in the hornet's nest, I guess, around College Station. We're really in a different time now, compared to just a few years ago, with Twitter and Internet and all the stuff going on. When I left on Monday, when we met with the team, my big address to them was `Let's take care of the things we have control of. There's going to be a lot of speculation and a lot of noises outside the program saying this and that but we have no control over that.' With our staff and our players, our soul drive is wanting to get our players through finals right now, do as well as they possibly can. We'll start practice on Saturday. We'll have a practice Saturday morning and then they'll finish up finals early next week. Once we get into our bowl practice schedule, we're going to be single-minded. Our coaching staff is going to be that way. Our players should be that way. That's the only thing we have control of. As far as delineating responsibilities, (offensive line coach) Jimmy Turner will call plays for us. Our offensive staff really comes with game plans as a conglomerate anyways. That won't change. He'll have input from (senior assistant/quarterbacks coach) Tom Rossley, who has been our pass game coordinator, and (running backs coach) Randy Jordan and (wide receivers coach) Troy Walters, who also work with the run and pass. It will be a conglomerative effort. Those guys will call the game and I'll still be in charge of the defense."
On the coaching situation currently at Texas A&M...
"I guess from the standpoint of not having to address the issue that [who will be] the coach would be good, but really it doesn't affect us. We know what we have to do for this bowl game to win. I know what we have to do to get this team ready to go. Whether there is a question outside of who's going to be the ultimate head coach or not, it really doesn't affect our players. It does when there are a lot of questions, but it's nothing within our control and we're only going to worry about the things we can control."
On preparing to face a high-powered offense...
"It looks like they can come right into the Big XII and compete right away. The fit a lot of ways, at least form where I've focused on from the offensive side, they do a tremendous job with their attack. They spread you out. They have the quarterback, who not only does a great job of leading and throwing the football, but he adds that extra hat that you have to worry about because he's effective in the run game. He's very similar to a lot of the attacks we see in our league. The good news-bad news of it is our guys will be used to a similar version of this type of attack on defense. That's the good news. That bad news is they do such a great job of coaching it and executing it. It's going to be a tremendous challenge, but it's one that I think our guys will at least have a little bit of familiarity with."
On if Cyrus Gray will be playing in the bowl game...
"It's going to be up in the air right now. I talked to Cyrus the other day and he intends to, but we'll see. He won't practice on Saturday. We're going to try and get him where he can practice as we get closer."
On what he's seen from Texas A&M on film...
"Well I've had a chance, again I've been traveling like Coach has, recruiting and running around and going to the Hall of Fame and whatnot on Monday and Tuesday in New York, but first of all, very talented. When I watch them on offense, they're a team that obviously has a lot of pro stamps all over it from the standpoint of formations and schematics. They are very talented on the outside with great speed. (Ryan) Tannehill is one of the more dynamic quarterbacks that we're going to see from the standpoint of he can do it all. I'm really impressed by him. I know he's a young man who early in his career played wide receiver and to watch that growth as a quarterback, it's very similar to some of the young men that we've seen that has that dual-threat capability in our conference. Defensively, Tim and his staff do a great job. They are a 3-4 structure that's going to put pressure on you in every different way. They're going to attack your weaknesses and really try to exploit what you don't do very well. That'll be a great challenge for our entire staff offensively and for our young men. In the kicking game, they play with a lot of team speed. You can see the depth of the program in that phase--great speed across the board in all four phases. Obviously a big blocked field goal against Texas Tech and things of that nature that turned around some games, so they're very schematically sound and discipline. Playmakers, they can take it to the house with both punt and kick returners and kickoff specialists, I haven't seen all the stats because I've been on the road, but as many touchbacks as I've seen this year. He's doing it from the 30 (yard line) so I'm sure the NFL is drooling over his leg."
On if he has any concerns about the month off between the bowl game and their last game...
"Any time you play in a bowl game, there's a little bit of a concern as far as consistency and maybe some rust factor, but like I said, we'll start up again on Saturday. We'll have three practices at the end of next week when they're through with finals. We'll have four more practices before we kick them off to go off for Christmas and then we'll have three practices and a walkthrough at the bowl game. I think because we've got some time in, we'll be fine as far as being ready to go. There might be some rust. As we go out on Saturday, I'm sure it won't be a real clean practice, but as we get closer to the game, I'm not worried about it. I've got a feeling that you guys have about the same amount of time to prepare as we do. I don't think it will affect one team or another."