Selection Day Head Coaches TeleconferenceDecember 6, 2015
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining us this afternoon for the teleconference with the head coaches for the 82nd annual Allstate Sugar Bowl. We have a great matchup this year with Oklahoma State and Ole Miss. We’d like to go to the head coach for Oklahoma State, Mike Gundy. The Cowboys are actually going to be making their first appearance in 70 years here. The last one was January 1st, 1946.
So, Coach, if you can just make a brief opening statement, then we’ll open it up to questions.
COACH MIKE GUNDY: Thanks, John. On behalf of Oklahoma State University, President Hargis, Mike Holder, athletic director, and the entire football team and coaching staff, we’re very excited about being part of the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Such an historic bowl. And we have traditionally watched that game at my house or wherever we were at bowl time.
We’re very, very excited about being there. Looking forward to playing against a very good Ole Miss football team. Coach Freeze has done a tremendous job there.
So looking forward to a few weeks of practice and showing up down there in New Orleans and having a good time and playing a good football game.
Q. Hey, Mike, can you talk about the value ‑‑ this is ten consecutive bowl appearances now for Oklahoma State. Previous longest streak ever for the program was three. You’ve gotten over 100 additional bowl practices out of this. You’ve established yourself as a national brand. Can you just talk about the value of getting a bowl bid year in and year out?
COACH GUNDY: You had mentioned some of them. Obviously, we get an additional 12 to 14 practices. Ten bowls in a row is special for Oklahoma State University. Our fans and players and coaching staff have come to expect being in a bowl game. And it’s been a tremendous impact on our football program and our university from a recruiting standpoint. And to now being in such a prestigious bowl as the Sugar Bowl, it is a really great lift for our football players.
Q. Hey, Coach, it doesn’t appear that the tie breaker was going to work out for you guys had Baylor not lost. Can you talk about, I guess, just the emotions of watching that game play out and how you felt after that game was over?
COACH GUNDY: You know, it’s interesting. I was at an 11‑year‑old basketball tournament in a small town in Oklahoma, and they did not have cell service. So, when I came out, my phone ‑‑ when I drove down the road a little ways, my phone started dinging me with a bunch of text messages. And I was getting play‑by‑play from coaches on our staff and was unaware of what was transpiring between the Baylor and Texas game.
So emotionally for me, I was able to take a break because I was not aware of what has happening. But, once I found out, I was really excited for our players and our coaches and just glad that we made it into the Sugar Bowl.
Q. Having lost your last two games might be considered kind of a downer to be going into your bowl week. How much does this kind of an elevation to the Sugar Bowl and all, how much do you think that’s going to do for your tone of practice and preparation?
COACH GUNDY: I think it’s a tremendous lift. As coaches, we always try to face the facts and find a way to make our players feel as comfortable as possible and get them to prepare.
We look at bowls as an opportunity for us as a team to spend a week together for all the hard work that they put in for the last 11 months but also to prepare to play a great game against whatever opponent that it may be.
So we had two losses. We lost to the No. 9 team in the country and then lost to the No. 3 team in the country. But either way, it’s hard to lose. Prior to that, we’d won 12 games in a row.
So, with that being said, we have our banquet this evening. And then we start finals week. But, at the end of the week when we get back to practice, I can’t imagine our players won’t be excited about playing in the Sugar Bowl and looking forward to another couple weeks of practice.
Q. Mike, I don’t know if you got any players left from 2011, but that was the last time you thought you were coming to New Orleans for a bowl game. What’s your memories from missing out and losing that game to Iowa State that year and disappointment level and the beefing up the program since then?
COACH GUNDY: It was a disappointment for us even though we ended up with a tremendous season and won the Fiesta Bowl. But we felt like we had the best team in the country that year. We came up just a little bit short and didn’t get an opportunity to prove that we had a really special group. So this is kind of rewarding for the fans.
I know yesterday, when the game was finished down in Waco, they said that the 405 and 918 area code in Oklahoma, the hotels and the ticket offices started lining up. I think that kind of gives everybody a good feeling to be able to get back to New Orleans and play in a big‑time bowl game.
Q. Also, you have got a young man on your staff, Mike Yurcich, whose name is up for the Tulane job. What do you know about that? And how good of a head‑coach potential does he have?
COACH GUNDY: Mike is a really bright, young star, in my opinion, in the offensive side of the game. We have had several offensive coordinators here over the last six or eight years that are all head coaches now and doing very well.
And Mike’s come a long way. And at some point ‑‑ I hate to speak for him, but I’m sure at some point in his career he’d like to be a head coach. And it doesn’t surprise me that there are some schools that will start to interview him to see if he’s the right fit for their school.
Q. Have you had a chance to see Ole Miss play at all this year? And, if so, what are your thoughts on the Rebels’ team?
COACH GUNDY: I’ve seen them play just a little bit. Obviously, we don’t get crossover tape on them. But there are times when we were waiting to play a night game or so on and so forth that I did see some of their games.
I’m very aware of their defense and their defensive line. I’ve watched them a little bit. Laquon Treadwell, we’re familiar with him. At one point, we thought we had a chance to get him here at Oklahoma State.
And the quarterback who came in from junior college a year ago, we saw him out on the recruiting trail. And we follow Coach Freeze from a distance and are very aware of what they have accomplished at Ole Miss. Just have not watched them on a videotape at this point.
Q. I was wondering by the time you guys practice again, your guys will have had about a ten‑day break, and then you have the extended preparation period. I just wondered with this extra time, is it possible maybe that your defense will freshen up and maybe look more like it did at midseason rather than how fatigued it looked at the end of the season?
COACH GUNDY: They should. After this ten‑day break, we’ll get them back into the practice routine, and we’ll get them hydrated and keeping nutrition levels high. And they should be getting quality sleep. School will be over. So the recovery period should benefit them at this time.
We have our practice plans and daily operation from today all the way up to the bowl game already set in place. And they should be fresh and ready to go. Because they’re going to need to be with the style of offense we’re going to face. But I don’t see that as being a factor. And, hopefully, they’ll be fresh and ready to play hard in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We will now bring Coach Freeze into the main media call.
Coach Freeze, welcome to the media teleconference for the Allstate Sugar Bowl this year. Once again, Ole Miss is another team that has not been in the Sugar Bowl recently. Their last visit was in 1970. And someone people in New Orleans are quite familiar with, Archie Manning had a decent game there and won MVP honors. So right now, Coach, I’d like you to make a brief opening statement, and then we’ll open it up to questions.
COACH HUGH FREEZE: We’re totally honored to accept the invitation to the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Growing up in these parts, hearing the stories of how the Ole Miss people feel about this bowl is just ‑‑ we’re really pumped about bringing our fans and our team to participate in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. It’s kind of a bucket list thing, if you’re a coach at Ole Miss, to bring a team to this bowl. Just really honored and excited about this opportunity.
Q. Hugh, Mike talked about being at a basketball game and not having cell service and kind of watching that Texas and Baylor game unfold. Your week was a little different. A lot of things pointed to this for you guys. Can you talk about just your emotions of the week and knowing that this seemed like a strong possibility for Ole Miss?
COACH FREEZE: Yes. After we were able to win the Magnolia Bowl and the Egg Bowl, felt like we were in a really good position. It was very hard to contain the excitement and enthusiasm and anticipation of this finally coming to fruition. We didn’t know how the SEC Championship game was going to exactly go. So I watched it fairly closely yesterday. And then, after that was over, we felt confident that this is where we’d be heading.
And it’s great that it’s finally official. And we can celebrate with our team, our coaches, our administration, and our great fans, something that I know next to being in the Playoffs that this has to be the pinnacle of everything you could accomplish this year. Next to that Sugar Bowl means so much to Ole Miss family. And we’re excited to finally make it official.
Q. Coach Freeze, you’ve been here four years now. And because the Alabama brand is so national, so prominent, can you talk about how much energy and momentum your program has generated just on the basis of beating Alabama?
COACH FREEZE: Oh, yeah. They’ve been the gold standard in this conference for years. And, when you’re able to win on the field against them, it pays great dividends in recruiting. The Ole Miss brand now is, I think, better than it’s ever been in recruiting nationally. And we’re able to get into recruits’ homes much easier. And we’re in the battle for the top guys in the nation now, and that’s the only way that you’ll maintain the standard that we set of playing in New Year’s Six bowl games. Beating great programs like Alabama is a way to do that. So it certainly is a great, great momentum builder to do that.
Q. You’ve got a month to prepare. Have you already started looking at Oklahoma State?
COACH FREEZE: I have not. We weren’t sure how that would go, and I’ve been on the road recruiting every day this week. And this week would be kind of crazy. The guys are loading stuff now on our laptops, so we can take some stuff with us when I leave to go on the road in just a few minutes. And I’ll get to watch some while I’m in the hotels and different places this week recruiting and then really dig into it next weekend when we get back.
Q. Hey, Hugh, you mentioned recruiting. So much has been made of the 2013 recruiting class, big guys: Laquon, Rob, Laremy, Tony. For these guys to lead this program to back‑to‑back access bowls, what do you think it says now about the legacy they’re leaving?
COACH FREEZE: I don’t think anyone can argue that the legacy they left is probably unparalleled, in modern times anyway. It is just a few kids that get mentioned in that. But those alone can’t do it. It’s so much more to that.
And we’ve got to continue to generate the recruiting of players like that in order to be successful and to create a depth chart that rivals the nation’s best teams. Because, as you know from following us, when you have injuries, that depth chart is vital. And those guys have set a standard ‑‑ have helped set a standard that should allow us to continue to recruit at a very high level and build that depth chart to where it rivals some of the nation’s best.
Q. Will Fadol, Tony, or C.J. Hampton play in the bowl game? And do you have any kind of update on Denzel, how he’s doing, if there’s any chance he may play?
COACH FREEZE: Fadol and Tony are going to go ahead and have surgeries. So they will be out for the bowl game.
C.J. Hampton, we believe that he will be back but it’s still kind of day‑to‑day. And if he’s got ‑‑ his nerve has to respond in that finger that he’s got properly before we allow him to hit. But I anticipate him being back.
Denzel I do not anticipate playing, but he is doing well.
Q. I know you’ve got to watch some tape on OSU to get a feel for what their identity is. But with the College Football Playoffs, there’s been a lot of debate about the style of play in the Big 12 compared to some other conferences. What are your impressions of the type of football that’s played in the Big 12? And when you think about that matched up against your defense, what kind of challenges might that present for you?
COACH FREEZE: Well, seeing how we didn’t fare real our last time against a Big 12 opponent, I have a lot of respect for those guys and the brand of football they play. I think we’re probably a bit more similar to them than we are different.
From a distance, I admired the job that Mike has done at Oklahoma State and just to see that his guys have performed throughout the years. I know it will be a great test for us, and we’ve got to prepare.
I’ve looked at everything we did last year in hopes to improve our preparation for a talented team like them. But I have respect for all of these conferences. They all have teams that can beat you on a given Saturday. I’ve said that all along because everybody has great systems and schemes and coaches and talent. And Oklahoma State’s struggling fit that bill.
Q. Yes, you referenced that game last year against TCU. That was a big‑stage game and you didn’t fare too well in that game. How much do you remind your team of what happened? And, also, how important is it for your program ‑‑ like I said, you’re in everyone’s home. How important is it to win these bowl games?
COACH FREEZE: I won’t remind our team a lot about last year. I’m a big guy that you play the next play and you move on to the next assignment. I will look at the way we prepared and everything that I think we should do differently in preparing for this one. So we won’t talk a lot about that. That’s last year’s team that had a totally different DNA than this year’s team. And so we’ll just talk about being prepared for the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma State.
I think it’s important that you perform well on these games for recruiting. It’s all about momentum. And I don’t know that any single game ever wins the recruiting battle. But, certainly, it doesn’t hurt at all and that can definitely benefit you. So it’s important that we play well and have a chance to win it.
Q. Hi, Coach Freeze. I know this your planning time for all the Rebel fans and you. I know when you were hired, you stood at the podium and said that you would get the Rebels to a national championship, Sugar Bowl. And now you’ve done that. This year you had to overcome some adversity with injuries and otherwise. Tell me how hard that’s been and how did you keep the players focused.
COACH FREEZE: It’s extremely hard in this profession when you have disappointment. The onslaught of the outside voices that everyone has to block that out. And you have to move on to the next game and stay true and stay to the course of who you want to be and to your core values and to continue to motivate your players every week to build upon the things that you’re trying to teach them. It is very difficult.
We all are competitors. We have the highest goals every year to compete at a high level. And if you don’t get that done, it’s certainly ‑‑ you have to look yourself in the mirror and you’ve got to put it away and move on.
I think our staff have been very good at that over the course of our four years. And our kids have responded over and over and over again. And our goal now is just to improve on that consistency so that when a year comes that depth chart is right. You can’t control injuries and can’t control some other things. But, hopefully, we’ll have one of those years where we stay healthy and that depth chart is where it needs to be and we can even improve upon what we’ve done the last two years, which has been special.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much, Coach. Thanks for taking the time. We look forward to seeing you down here in about three weeks in New Orleans. Good luck in your preparations, and we’ll see you soon.