RECAP: Quick Lane Bowl Press Conference

VIDEO: 2018 Quick Lane Bowl Introductory Press Conference - Dec. 5, 2018 - Allen Park, Mich.

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Ford Motor Company Global Aftermarket Director John Hanighen introduction: “Good morning, everyone. My name’s John Hanighen. I’m the Global Aftermarket Director for Ford Motor Company. We’re thrilled to welcome everyone here, from the thousand Quick Lane Tire and Auto Care global centers globally, to the Quick Lane Bowl for the fifth year in a row here in Detroit, Mich. We’re thrilled that Georgia Tech is here as well as the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Georgia Tech is huge, as we know, a very good team and such. Coach (Paul) Johnson, this is his last year. They’ve been first or second in seven of the last 11 seasons under Coach (Paul) Johnson, which is thrilling. He’s done a fantastic job. I think he’s retiring as the fourth-winningest coach in Georgia Tech history, with 82 victories. Coach (P.J.) Fleck is bringing the Minnesota Golden Gophers here after a huge win at Wisconsin. An interesting fact with them, they have, out of 112 players, 58 of them are freshman. He has a very young team, 52% of them. (They) lead the nation and have a huge future ahead of them. So, with that, I’ll turn it over to the coaches. Coach (Paul) Johnson and Coach (P.J.) Fleck, come on up.”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck Opening Statement: “I just want to say thank you to the Quick Lane Bowl. I want to thank the Detroit Lions, the Ford Family, just thank you for selecting the Minnesota Golden Gophers, our state of Minnesota, our University, for allowing us to play in the bowl game. I want to congratulate Paul Johnson. We have two P.J.s up here—I don’t think he goes by P.J., but you have two P.J.s up here and you throw John (Hanighen) in here and now all of a sudden there are a lot of Johns going on. So, just want to thank and congratulate Paul Johnson on a tremendous season. Not only that, just a tremendous career. You imagine how all things come together in your life. My dad used to say, ‘The Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.’ That’s all he used to say around the house, and we lived in Chicago. So, I’m not necessarily sure why he always used to say that, but Coach Johnson has had a tremendous career. I still remember sitting and listening to Coach Johnson at the Coaches Convention, I think it was, when you spoke you were the keynote speaker. I was one of those young coaches in the audience taking down as many notes as I can, not necessarily about the triple option, but more of just the way he did things and how he ran his program. So, the deepest admiration from us to you, just to congratulate you on a tremendous career and congratulate you on being here. I just want to thank our President, Dr. (Eric) Kaler, and our Athletic Director, Mark Coyle, just with everything they do. I want to thank our fans, I want to thank the state of Minnesota, our University, for all that they do. We’re excited to be here, I look forward to answering a lot of your questions. We do have the youngest team in America, it’s been fun to follow this team and watch this team grow and develop. I think you’ll see close to, I think, eight freshmen starting on offense, maybe as much as five or six on defense as we keep going forward. But that’s what we said at the beginning of the year would happen. It’s been fun to watch this team mature, end the year winning two out of three. One against Purdue, who had a tremendous season as well, and then losing against Northwestern, (who was in) the Big 10 West champs, in a close game. And then finishing up and winning at Camp Randall against Wisconsin, a really good Wisconsin team that was picked at the beginning of the year in the top four and one of the playoff teams. It was really good to be able to have that victory. We hadn’t won in Camp Randall since 1994. I was 14 years old last time that happened, and to be able to have that victory and bring the (Paul Bunyan) Axe back to the state of Minnesota was really exciting for our fans and for our University, and I know our band and our team. So, to be able to have that victory after 15 years of not winning, that was a huge accomplishment for our players. So, we’re very honored to be here. We love to recruit in the state of Michigan, love being in Detroit. I just want to thank everybody for having us, truly appreciate it.”

Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson Opening Statement: “Well, good morning. Again, let me start by thanking the Quick Lane Bowl for inviting Georgia Tech, the people at Ford, the city of Detroit. Our program, our administration and our football team are excited to be coming here to play in the game. Georgia Tech has a rich tradition of bowl games. I think they’re one of the few schools that has played in almost every bowl game in America, and this will be our first trip here. So, this will be something new for our program and it’s one that our players and fans and everybody in Atlanta is looking forward to. Congratulations to P.J. (Fleck). They had a great finish to get bowl-eligible and to be here. They have a team that’s fun to watch. I’ve started to break them down the last couple of days and it ought to be a heck of a game. It’s kind of a contrast of styles, so it’ll be interesting, but we know it’ll be a huge challenge in front of us. So, looking forward to being here and look forward to answering any questions that people might have.”

On if Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson has any contact with former Detroit Lions and Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Ross: “I know Bobby. When I was the head coach at the Naval Academy, Bobby was the head coach at West Point, so we played each other three or four times and I’ve known Bobby through the years. He gets back to Georgia Tech usually once a year, and I think he still lives in Lexington. Whenever we play Virginia Tech, he’s always at that game when we play in Blacksburg. We played there this year. So, I get to see him not as often as we’d like, but he does come back around.”

Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson on how important the extra two weeks of practice and bowl game preparation is to building his football program: “Well, for us, it’s not going to be real important. They’re going to have a new coach. (Laughter) I’ve always kind of looked at bowl games as more of a reward than another spring practice. When we talk to our team about playing in a bowl game, certainly our No. 1 goal is to try to win the game. But we also want our team to enjoy it and have some fun. So, we try to find that happy balance with preparation and practice and enjoying the trip and enjoying the bowl game. When I was a younger coach, I worked on staffs that, not only the players but as a coach, you dreaded it. It was like going back into two-a-days and keeping the young guys out after the other guys went in, and none of those kids want to do that. They want to come and play another team and have an experience and have fun. So, we’ll get about 10 practices in, which is plenty. That won’t be the issue if we lose the game. It’ll be because Minnesota was better than us and played better than us. But we’ll also be able to have some fun and hopefully our guys can enjoy it. And it’s a reward for the seniors. So, that’s kind of the way we approach it.”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck on how important the extra two weeks of practice and bowl game preparation is to building his football program: “Similar. I think people earn bowl games and it’s a reward. We’ve started to practice. Playing Georgia Tech, especially on defense, is a major challenge, not only just because of the players they have and the coaching they have, but the system and the style’s different. You change a little bit of your defensive system to be able to stop the triple option and to be able to stop that type of scheme. So, for us, we needed to get started a little bit earlier defensively, because we have so many young players, that we wanted to get some of those spring practices going to get them better in our own system. So, when we actually do start really kind of game-planning and really zoning in on Georgia Tech, the defense is going to change almost completely, which will help us maybe a little bit because they’re different systems. But we play Georgia Southern next year, so it’ll at least get our guys’ minds thinking of option football, somehow, some way. And (they’re) two different types of styles now, but similar (enough) that they can start thinking. We need to get a lot of our young guys better. Our coaching staff celebrated when we found out we were going to be bowl-eligible, because we knew how much work we have to do with our players, but again, our practices are a lot shorter. Our practices are basically an hour, maybe 55 minutes to an hour right now. I want them on the field, off the field. We’ll probably practice anywhere between 12 and 13 times total, using this week as really Minnesota versus Minnesota. (We’ll) be able to get ourselves better. And then once we get into next week, we’ll start to shift that focus a little bit more towards Georgia Tech. But very similar to Coach (Paul) Johnson in terms of, it’s a reward. They’ve earned it. They’ve earned the right to be in a bowl game and they need to have fun and they need to be able to enjoy it. The last thing you want to do is have your players dread going to a bowl game. On the other hand, we have to get better, too. We just have to find that right balance to be able to do all of that and continue to get our work done.”

Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson on his retirement and on the emotions he has with the Quick Lane Bowl being his last game: “I don’t know. I guess it’ll hit you when you’re out there. You don’t really think about it. My big focus on this game is it’s about the players. It’s not about me. And everything I want to do, I want to do about the players. They’re the ones who got here, they’re the ones who won six of the last eight games. I’m sure that you’ll think about it when it’s over or maybe towards the end or whatever, but as I told somebody before, this is my 40th straight year of coaching without a break, and it’s probably time for a break. That’s kind of unheard of in this profession. Usually they take you out before then, or at least you have a break somewhere along the line. So, I’ll take a break and re-evaluate, and who knows? If it’s the last game, it’s the last game. If I decide I can’t live without it, I may come back. Right now, I just don’t know. I know that I’m going to take a year off and evaluate where I am. It’s hard to tell you how you’re going to react. I don’t know.”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck on Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s retirement: “Well, being in the same league as him, he’s a legendary coach. What he’s done on the football field is second to none, really, when you look at his record and what he’s been able to do and accomplish. I think as Coach (Paul) Johnson said, usually, there are two types of coaches, coaches that have been fired and coaches that are going to be fired. And to be able to have somebody go out on their own terms, I think that’s how all coaches—and Coach Johnson’s very blessed to be able to do that. I think he’d be able to tell you that, as a head coach, when you decide that maybe it’s time to be able to spend more time with your family or maybe stop or to continue to keep that option down the road. As Coach Johnson said, there are no breaks in this profession. I think that’s what’s difficult for a lot of our families. There may be people who are around us that don’t necessarily understand that. I still have family members that ask me, ‘So, when you’re not playing games, what are you doing? Why aren’t you here? The season’s over.’ And they don’t understand the time commitment that we have and the time we spend away from our families. And it’s what we choose. We love to be able to be a part of education and teaching young people, not just the game of football, but now, our game is turning into life coaches as well because of the way our society is changing, too. And the issues and the problems and the challenges, and the opportunities, these young people are facing in front of them every single day. So, it is a 24-hour job, 365 days a week. There is no break, as Coach Johnson already said. And I’m sure if he compared 40 years ago when he started to where he is now, the type of break that’s possibly needed is drastic. So, (I) just want to congratulate him on a tremendous career. Being in the same conference as him, I’ve had time to spend around him over the years and hats off to his career.”

Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson on Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s retirement: “Susan and I have known Urban and Shelley for, gosh, a long time. One of my players is married to Urban’s daughter, one of my former players, Corey Dennis. His daughter went to school at Georgia Tech. And what he’s accomplished, as P.J. (Fleck) said, is really amazing. And this is his second time stepping away. Hopefully he can work through some of the issues he’s having medically. Who knows? He’s still relatively young. If he can work through it, we might see him coaching again. But he’s not only done it at Ohio State. He did it at Florida, he did it at Utah, he’s done it at several schools. So, I have the utmost respect for him as a coach and we certainly consider it a pleasure to have spent time with he and Shelley. So, I just wish him nothing but the best.”

Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson on different schemes being used in different regions of the country: “I’m probably a little bit different than most coaches. I don’t know how many different styles there are. People categorize as what we do as different, that’s OK. We’re not much different than zone read teams. There’s hardly a team in college football now that doesn’t run some kind of an option at some point—now they don’t run it like we do, it’s different, just like there’s a lot of teams that are inside zone teams or outside zone teams. I think that sometimes the weather can dictate a little bit how you play and that kind of thing. But all and all in my 40 years of coaching, it comes down to blocking and tackling and doing the basics, you’re not going to trick many people. Good players will be beat good plays, that’s just kind of the way it is. And I think that if you’re fundamentally sound and you can block, and you can tackle, and you can do those things—there’s a lot of different ways to be successful with scheme. You see teams that are successful that throw the ball and you see a lot of teams that are successful who don’t throw the ball. I think it’s just kind of whatever system you have and what system that you can develop that fits your personnel. There might be some speed differences by different regions, size differences, those things I think are more prevalent than maybe the style and the schemes. That’s just my two cents.”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck on how important the Quick Lane Bowl is to the Minnesota football program: “We talk to our kids all the time about the next right step whether that’s a workout, whether that’s a week objective or whether that’s a season objective. From where we were at the beginning of the year to where we are now—we started the year and we lost our six best players and we knew that going into the year we couldn’t lose anybody. We said, ‘All right, if this team looks this way, I think we have shot to be pretty good.’ On paper you sat there and go, ‘Wow, we’re young, but if these guys can stay healthy we can still be somewhat experienced.’ Those six guys got hurt and we lost them and now we got so much younger so fast. So, we just took it one day at a time like we always do in our program. We call it row the boat, just keep your oar in the water, just continue to go and continue to grow—academically, athletically, socially and spiritually and our guys have continued to do that. And it’s been fun to watch their growth, physically, mentally and emotionally. When you’re dealing with some freshman, that’s one thing, when you’re dealing with the majority, almost all on offense are freshman especially the trigger (quarterback) guy, and the running backs, and the offensive lineman, and the wide receivers, and the tight ends. You’re not only dealing with just the physical part, you’re dealing with the mental and emotional part of young people coming and adapting to college. Usually they have a few years before they have that pressure and that expectation of you have to perform at a high level. But we recruited a lot of this class to be able to do that and that was why a lot of them turned down other opportunities to come down to the University of Minnesota and play for us. I’ve just seen steady growth and its hasn’t always been success. The growth—we define failing as growth, failure is quit. They have just continued to fail enough to be successful at the end of the year to earn a bowl game. But, we have the highest GPA in the history of the program and they just continue to find ways to be able to get better and I think this team really enjoys being around one another. And I think that was one of the objectives that we had when we first got here with what was going on, we had to be able to connect this team, not divide this team. And that was the challenge over the last two years. So, we’re exactly where we should be. People always say, ‘Are you ahead of schedule? Are you behind schedule?’ We’re exactly where we should be and we’re exactly what we’ve earned. So, we’ll talk about next year when we get to next year.”

Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson on he if takes recruits to the Varsity restaurant on campus: “The Varsity is kind of a drive in that’s been a staple in Georgia and Atlanta. It’s kind of famous for the hotdogs and the onion rings and the frosted oranges and you can’t come to Atlanta without stopping in the Varsity. But, if you eat there more than once a month, you’re probably not going to survive. You’ll be greased out. (Laughter) But, no, we don’t take recruits. But, it is right up from our offices, it’s about a block. During the season myself and a couple of the other coaches, we’ve got too old and feeble to run every day, so we’ll go walk and we make sure that once every three or four weeks that we end up walking to the Varsity and kind of killing why we’re walking. But, it’s a neat place and if you come to Atlanta, everybody probably has to check it out.”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck on preparing to face the Georgia Tech triple option after facing Georgia Southern and Air Force in the past: “Well as Coach (Paul) Johnson said, they’re similar, but they’re very different at the same time. And as he said, a lot of people have some type of option or some type of zone read, it’s very similar. Now the style coach Johnson is there’s a lot of it and there’s a lot of moving parts. You almost have to change your defensive scheme. Sometimes with some others that dabble in it, you don’t have to change your scheme as much, you just have to be ready for it. But, yeah, we don’t play Georgia Southern and I forgot who was talking to me, one of my head coaches in the past, and they said, ‘Listen, I have great advice for you, never, ever, schedule Georgia Southern or that Paul Johnson guy.’ And here I am, Georgia Southern twice I’ve played as a head football coach at Western Michigan. One time we went to Statesboro—I don’t even know how I got out of Statesboro, it is one of the most difficult places to play I have ever seen. And then they came to Kalamazoo, Michigan and we lost in Statesboro and we won in Kalamazoo. And so now we play them again next year in TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota. So again, we’re going to have a lot of practice at it and then when we played Air Force in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, again, we dealt with that as well. We have some experience in being able to go back to our past of what we’ve been able to do, what was successful, what wasn’t. You do have four or five games to able to draw from – that’s good.”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck on what it means to him personally to return to Michigan to play a bowl game: “This is really important for our university and it’s really important for our state just being a bowl game period. But to be able to do it in a place you recruit, a place where you lived, a place where your wife is from—my wife, Heather, is from Michigan—and it’s a very special place. The high school football here is absolutely tremendous. I love recruiting the area, we had a few home visits last night, which was really nice to able to tie that into the event. But it’s a very special place to me, it always will be. Kathy Beauregard at Western Michigan—you always have to have somebody take a shot on you. We’re all up here because somebody believed in us somehow, some way. We’re all where we are based on somebody else, it’s not because of just us. And Kathy Beauregard as Western Michigan University changed my life forever. She took an opportunity on a young 31, 32-year-old NFL wide receiver coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that she thought could really do something special with their program. And going back and looking at those opportunities we had at Western Michigan taking that team from 1-11 to 13-1 and going to the Cotton Bowl and having those experiences with not only the players there, but the town, you remember all of those things. We were up here talking about Urban Meyer earlier, he was at Bowling Green then Utah then Florida and then Ohio State, it’s those places, it’s the players, but it’s those towns too. And you have those connections with that town and that city forever, for the rest of your life, but as well as the entire state. It was really good to get back into Michigan yesterday recruiting, plus being at the bowl game here because everybody was talking about it, which was really nice.”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck on the passing of President George H.W. Bush: “I didn’t know President Bush at all. But I will say—we talk to our players all the time about people. Our country is about people and how our people feel about our different views on our country, we’re talking about people. We’re talking about the leader of our country and a person that sacrificed a lot for all us to be able to be here as well as our service men and women on a daily basis of what they do. It’s a national day of sorrow and of mourning anytime you lose a president. So, all of our thoughts and prayers are with not only our nation, but the Bush family as well.”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck on wide receiver Tyler Johnson: “Tyler Johnson, our wide receiver, number six, he’s gotten so much better. I think he’s become such a better route runner. When we first got here we knew he was going to be a good player, but he needed to do a lot of things. He needed to be able to sharpen his game and that’s what I think Matt Simon, our wide receiver coach, has done a tremendous job of doing. I think Tyler is way more dedicated, he’s a tremendous student of the game. His route running, his core strength, understanding leverage, understanding center of gravity, understanding how to become an elite route runner, how to be able to create the separation and create the space. It’s not just catching the football, it’s about being a position where you can do that and giving yourself the best chance to do that. So, I think that’s where he’s grown the most. I think his leadership is getting better and it’s at a point where you want to see him completely take over the football team as he continues to grow, and he becomes more comfortable with that role. We don’t have many seniors on our football team, I think maybe you’ll see four of them play or be in the two-deep with our seniors. So, we rely on a lot of our young guys leading and we always have game day captains and I can’t tell you how many days whether it was a junior, sophomore, freshman, who were our game day captains. So, Tyler has really grown up and we expect really big things for him as he continues to go on a daily basis. But tremendous individual and wonderful young man.”

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