Coaches Jeff Brohm, Josh Heupel Music City Bowl
Tennessee is a day away from closing its season in the Music City Bowl against Purdue. The Vols are looking to post just their second eight win season in the last five years. The Boilermakers are looking to close out a strong season with their ninth win.
Wednesday morning Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel and Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm — as well as both schools coordinators — met with the media to discuss the matchup.
Here’s everything Heupel, Alex Golesh and Tim Banks said about Purdue and the season finale.
“I want to thank everybody here at the TransPerfect Music City Bowl. The hospitality has been absolutely fantastic. Our players and our staff had a great week here in the lead up to kickoff. (We’re) so appreciative of the hospitality of the bowl, truly first class in every single way. Excited that we get an opportunity to finish our season here inside of our home state. (We’re) looking forward to a great football game. Purdue is a tremendous football team. It will be a great, competitive arena tomorrow, looking forward to a sold-out stadium and having a lot of fun here as we finish off the season. But, just wanted again to say thank you to everybody that’s associated with the bowl. You guys have been fantastic.”
Question: Does winning a bowl game still matter to players?
Heupel: “I think if you’re a great competitor – and those are traits that we try and build on and recruit to and have inside of our building every single day in what we do – it does matter. It matters in how you perform. It matters to you – individually and collectively as a team – so certainly this is a game that our players have pushed towards, and it matters a great deal inside of our program. A bowl game is unique in that I think it’s important that they enjoy the experience when you’re at home in your preparation (and) when you get to the bowl site early in the week, but the carrot of the whole week and the thing that you’ll remember most about the experience is the game itself.”
Q: How appreciative are you that Tennessee’s administration didn’t give you all a bowl ban?
Heupel: “I appreciate that (decision) from our administration. They’re going to support and give our players every tool and every resource, but also just support them in their mission and make sure we have a great player experience in every facet of our program. I said when I took the job, all those things that happened before I got there, really felt like they were going to be a speed bump. It’s been proven to really kind of play out. The kids inside of our program have bought into the culture, bought into competing every single day, and that’s why we’re here and have this opportunity to play inside this bowl game.”
Q: What’s made your offensive system so effective?
Heupel: “At the end of the day, it’s an exciting brand of football. I think young people, young players, playmakers (with) big skill, want to be a part of it. At the end of the day offensively, you’re trying to find ways to put your kids in a position to be successful. Our tempo is a portion of how we try to apply pressure to the defense and dictate the flow of the football game.”
Q: What’s the status of Cade Mays entering tomorrow’s game?
Heupel: “Cade will not be playing in this football game. He will not be able to play.”
Q: The SEC hasn’t won a bowl game yet. Do you show any of those examples to your team?
Heupel: “It doesn’t matter what league you’re playing in, I think your preparation leads to how you play on gameday. From the time we started bowl preparation, you’ve heard me say that when it’s not football time, you have to enjoy the two, three-week build-up to the bowl game. Enjoy the opportunity to have comradery and create memorable moments. But when it’s time to be in the building, I don’t care if it’s lifting, if it’s football, if it’s meetings or walkthroughs, you’ve got to be focused on that. This group has been good in their preparation when it’s been time to be focused on the football side of it. Now, the last 48 hours will be huge for us too here, as we finish up today and get ready for tomorrow.”
Q: What’s made your team so successful in the first quarter?
Heupel: “Doing the ordinary things at a really high level. That’s a really simple explanation. Kids understand what we’re going to do. They’ve played smart football early in the football game. In all three phases of the game, they’ve been able to line up and execute.”
“We’re appreciative to be here. Appreciate you guys coming out and we’re excited to be here representing the SEC in Nashville. The Bowl has been awesome, these guys have really taken care of us and we’re excited for a big game tomorrow.”
Q: What have you grown to appreciate about Alex Golesh?
Banks: “You know, I’ve known Coach Golesh for a lot of years. I’ve always respected him, the way he worked, his work ethic, and it’s been nothing but the same, the way I thought he would be he’s been. How he handles the kids, how important they are to him not only on the field but off the field. Like I told you guys, most of you guys I’ve seen before. To me life is extremely short. You want to go to work with guys that you love and trust, and he’s definitely one of those guys. Phenomenal football coach but definitely even a better man. It’s been an honor just to watch him work and get that offense going, and I expected so much, and it’s been great so far.”
Q: How have Brandon Turnage and Kamal Hadden progressed entering the game without Alontae Taylor?
Banks: “Kamal’s had good bowl practices. He’s working really hard. Honestly, anytime you transfer in, and for all the guys, it’s a new system. For Kamal, who hadn’t really had a great body of work coming from a junior college, he’s gotten better, he really has. Turnage, again same thing, obviously a bigger background based on where he came from. I don’t know if the learning curve was as steep for him. Most guys have gotten tremendously better. I think their future is bright, both of them.”
Q: Does the fast starts from your offense change how you call a game?
Banks: “It’s good, you like for those guys to do what they do. It obviously puts the opponents in some situations where you can make them a little bit more one-dimensional because they got to throw it or do whatever they’re trying to do to get back in the game. It’s awesome, I know a lot of guys talk about being a defensive coordinator for a fast-paced team, but there’s a lot of benefits to being that, you just explained one of them. These guys score a ton of points and it’s an exciting brand of football. It gives us an opportunity to pin our ears back and, hopefully, get after the quarterback.”
Q: Do you have to spend time recruiting your own players in the transfer portal era?
Banks: “I think culture has always been important. In this day and age, it’s more important. Every situation is different. Some guys leave for the right reasons, maybe some don’t. At the end of the day, I think if your culture is solid, I think you will end up having more guys that want to be there than don’t. Every kid has a choice to make. That’s just how life is. We think what we’re doing here… you know, it’s challenging, but if you stick around and work hard, it will be extremely rewarding. I think we’ll tackle every issue as it comes, but for the most part we just lean on our culture and those kids understanding how much we love them and how hard we’re going to work them because of the greater good.”
“Really grateful to be here, it’s been an awesome week. More than anything, it’s been incredible to continue to work with our guys as we continue to lay a foundation for what we’re building in Knoxville. These extra 14, 15 practices have been absolutely monumental for us to continue to get better and for the young guys developing, in a lot of ways. For us, for the first time, to see these young guys that we hadn’t necessarily seen all year and to get a chance to work with them, as much as anything. But, obviously, time to get going, ready to play tomorrow, and really excited to be here.”
Q: What have you grown to appreciate about Tim Banks?
Golesh: “Yeah, same boat. We’re going to sit here and compliment each other for the next two minutes. But obviously super, super fortunate when the guy on the other side is all about the team and all about the players, and Coach Banks and I go way back. Super, super fortunate to get a chance to work with one of the best men I’ve ever been around, the way he handles the staff, the defense. Probably not the easiest job in the country to be the defensive coordinator here, but humility and work ethic and just the way that Coach Banks has been to me since 2012. Been the same person, just continuing to pour into the kids, and you guys have seen the results. They continue to get better on both sides, and coming to work every day knowing somebody has got your back that’s in charge of the other side of the ball is monumental, and I couldn’t think of a better counterpart on the other side. Been incredible.”
Q: How have Dayne Davis and Jeremiah Crawford progressed entering the game with Cade Mays out?
Golesh: “I think (having) three weeks to prepare, in terms of knowing that you’re going to be the guy, or in our situation, both of those guys are going to get a chance to play. Dayne has played a bunch. We’ve tried to get JJ (Jeremiah Crawford) involved late in the year. JJ is interesting because he didn’t get to participate in July, so for him, this is all so new. I think he’s done a really good job of taking strides, one learning how to play within the system, learning the pace of the game. Obviously, the schematic part of it, I think he’s taken huge strides. We’re excited about his future. Dayne has been the same guy every day. I think Dayne came into the season expecting to be a guy we count on. He’s worked that way. He’s got to continue to get better, but I do think as the season has gone on he has become the best version of himself. He started against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and I thought he did a really fair job of hanging in there and continuing to get better as the game has gone. Not easy to play o-line, not easy to play o-line in the SEC and he did a good job of continuing to get better as the season went. I’m excited for both of those guys. It’s been huge for both of them to split the one reps the last three weeks. Obviously, we were hoping Cade (Mays) could play, still nursing the ankle. We will see where his future ends up, but, those guys are ready. We’re excited for them and hopefully they both get a chance to rotate as the game goes and get a feel for what’s going on. I don’t know that I’m super concerned about it. Obviously Cade’s a huge loss. He’s played so much football for us, his leadership, all the things that he’s done. Those two guys will be big and having three weeks to prepare is really, really good for both of them.”
Q: What does it mean to you that so many starters are returning for one more year?
Golesh: “It’s in a lot of ways super humbling that those guys want to come back, I think Cedric Tillman, Hendon Hooker, obviously have a future, still waiting on one more here, but have a future at the next level. It’s a credit to Coach Heupel and what he’s been able to do in terms of creating a culture where guys want to be around, guys are having fun. Hendon has been nothing short of a program-changer for us, a culture-setter. I know those are cliché terms, but that’s what he is. Shows up, same guy every day. In a lot of ways, makes you better as a coach because he’s the same guy every day. Positive attitude, you ask him ‘You good with running option here?’ and knowing he’s going to get hit. Everything you’d ever want from the way he approaches his daily preparations to the way he handles the guys in the locker room, everybody likes Hendon. As coaches it gives you a level of confidence going into a game. Again, I think the fact that all of those guys wanted to come back just tells you we’re doing something right. Does it result in wins and losses? Having veteran guys results in wins and losses, but from a recruiting standpoint and who we are as a team, it tells you we’re headed in the right direction. Like I said, that’s really, really humbling as a coach. Cedric, obviously the production would be really, really hard to replace. He’s a guy that, through the first three or four games, I don’t think we did a good job getting the football to him. As he earned the touches I think he showed he is one of the best receivers in the country, one of the best receivers, certainly, in the SEC. Another offseason in this, I would anticipate him having another really, really big year. Huge for us to have him back, especially after graduating the other two guys (Velus Jones Jr., JaVonta Payton) at the receiver spots. Princeton Fant, Jacob Warren coming back, I think they knew they needed another year, hopefully Jacob for two, in the system. They’ve really gotten better every week as well, really proud of those guys are at. I think they’ve (made) huge strides for us at that position, to continue to grow as pass-catchers, run-blockers and in pass protection. Overall I think we were not uber prepared to come into the season, and I think those guys have done a good job getting themselves there and splitting the reps at that position and hopefully we can become more multiple as both those guys continue to grow and evolve within the system. Still have one more we’re waiting on and that would give us a really good nucleus coming back a year from now.”
Q: After all these players went through last year how cool is it for them to play in the bowl game?
Golesh: “For us as a program, the ability to get the extra time to practice is one thing. For these guys to get a reward at the end, to come to a place like this, a city like this, for a lot of them home, or at least close to home, in a venue like this, to stay for a week, obviously to play in Nissan Stadium — this crew has been through a lot. Not to over hype what they have been through, there was a really tough change for them in January, a year ago. I think I said it earlier in the year, the guys who chose to stay, the guys who chose to push through the hard, is the reward part of it. At the end of the day, the season is what the season is and the record is what it is. Our expectations are to continue to get better and to continue to improve as we go. I couldn’t be more humble to be here with this crew. They have been through a lot. To go through a coaching change in January with a bunch of guys who they didn’t pick to play for, I give them a ton of credit. They have hung through it. They play hard. They have grown to love each other. They have grown to play for each other. If we can continue to stay on that track, it’s an awesome reward for them. Obviously for us as coaches, it’s great for our families. It’s a game week, and we have approached it that way. It’s part of the process. For these guys who have stuck it out, pushed through the hard, continue to become the best versions of themselves, give them a lot of credit. You talk about adversity, they fought through it both on the field and in the offseason. There is a lot of people, a lot of noise around Knoxville that told them maybe you shouldn’t be here. Those guys who stayed, it has not been easy. We made it hard, but we made it hard on purpose. I couldn’t be more proud. I used the term humbled. Just walking in here, what an incredible experience to be a part of a bunch of guys who have really changed the trajectory of the program in a lot of ways. If they learn anything, that you just keep fighting and put your head down, you don’t know what the end result is going to be. It’s just control your process every day, and that’s what this squad is.”
Q: What has been the most impressive thing you’ve seen from Hendon Hooker?
Golesh: Yeah, I think just his toughness, mental and physical both. You always have a chance when the ball is in his hand. Some critical times throughout the year, we’ve tried to put the ball in his hands, and obviously he touches the ball on every play, but I feel uber comfortable with him having the ball when it’s on the line that he’s going to make something happen with it, whether it’s his ability to run with it, his ability to get the ball where it’s got to go with proper timing and ball placement, his toughness. Mental toughness, physical toughness, that kid is a winner, believes in himself, believes in his teammates, and as a coach all you want at the end is to have a chance to win. I feel like with Hendon, you always feel like you have a chance to win. Just his toughness.”