Q. Both of you have great quarterbacks. Can you both talk about each one of your guys, what they bring to this game.
TOM HERMAN: “I mean, I think Sam Ehlinger is certainly the gas that makes our engine go, not just offensively, but as a team. Phenomenal leader. He’s a 3.8 GPA student in the McCombs School of Business. Already part of a start-up business. He’s, like I like to say, a marry-your-daughter type of kid.
We go as he goes. He’s had a tremendous season, as I’ve said. I think he finished sixth in the country in passing yards this season. Obviously we’ve got some talent around him at receiver.
He’s much more to our team than just a guy who throws the football and hands it off. He’s the heart and soul of who we are, is really a daily embodiment of our culture and how we do things.”
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “As far as Tyler Huntley, a lot of common ground there. He is the leader of the leaders. Most teams have a bunch of leaders, but there’s usually one guy that everybody looks to. Tyler is that guy.
He’s been in the program four years now. Absolutely playing his best football of his career. Was in the Heisman conversation for a while there. Tremendous completion percentage, 75% completion percentage. Only threw two picks during the regular season. Unfortunately we had a couple in the championship game.
He’s a guy that is a fanatical preparer for football games. He never stops. We’re eight minutes out from kickoff, he’s in the locker room in his book taking notes, jotting things down. Just a relentless preparer.
He’s a competitive kid and tough kid. He went through a stretch mid-season where I’m going to tell you most people would not have played. In these two or three weeks, he didn’t miss a snap, continued to battle.
He’s meant so much to us. Very, very rarely do you find a good football team that doesn’t have good quarterback play. We’re fortunate to have had that from Tyler this season.”
Q. You both have had success in the post-season, especially in bowl games. How do you balance letting the young men have fun, but this also being a road trip, a business trip for them also?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “That’s the operative word, ‘balance’. You have to make it a good experience for them. It can’t be all just drudgery and beating them into the ground. You have to be able to strike that balance and make it a good experience for them.
We have a tradition at Utah, the bowl season is very important to our guys. It almost self-perpetuates from year to year because the next group doesn’t want to be the group that lets the previous group down in bowl play. It’s not hard at all to get our guys excited about playing in a bowl.
You’re exactly right, there’s a time for football and a time to work hard and practice, but there’s also time to have a lot of fun that will be a great experience for them.”
TOM HERMAN: “I think the same thing is true. We have a lot of fun during bowl preparation, not just at the site, with the activities that the bowl provides, but even before we head to the site, we have a lot of fun when we’re practicing. I think once finals are over, the kids can take a big, deep breath, allowing us to go in and really bond.
I think the bowl experience, because there’s no classes, it’s much like training camp in the fact that all you’re doing really is playing football, practicing football, preparing to win a game. You’re around your teammates so much more than you are during the regular season.
But much like Coach Whittingham said, it’s about balance. We’re trying to win a football game, too. I do think the motivation a lot of times also is twofold: one is for the senior class, to make sure they go out their last game as a Texas Longhorn victorious, but also to propel some of those younger guys into the off-season and have some positivity as you head into winter conditioning.”
Q. Kyle, talk about what Morgan Scalley means to your team since now that he’s got a new deal. And, Tom, what has the message been to your current roster, the feedback from them since you made the decision to replace both coordinators.
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “I can’t say enough good things about Morgan. When he was a player here, just a fierce competitor. We were in the Mountain West Conference at the time. He was the Defensive Player of the Year, MVP of the Sugar Bowl — the Fiesta Bowl. Just a competitive spirit and a competitive fire second to none. That transformed and translated to his coaching career.
For a lot of years he’s been the face of Utah football. He’s a home-grown guy, right there from Salt Lake City. Immediately after finishing playing, we hired him on the staff in a role, he wasn’t a full-time coach, but he was on the staff, working with the program. As soon as I had the opportunity and the opening on the staff to hire him full-time, we did so.
His coaching, just the progress that he’s made, where he is right now, he’s been our coordinator for four years. He gets exponentially better every single year. This year the defense he was able to coach and put on the field was tremendous. Top 10 in virtually every defensive category.
To be able to get him locked up for the long-term contractually, Utah is where he wants to be, so we’re elated and grateful to our administration for making that move and putting the contract in place. That will keep him in Utah for hopefully a lot of years.”
TOM HERMAN: “You asked about the team and the players. I think there was a little bit of balance between accountability, especially on the defensive side. They all love Coach Orlando, as do I and my family. We always will. So the players, there was a lot of them that felt like they had let him down.
At the same time I think there’s a lot of positivity, a lot of excitement about what the future can hold. I think they all know, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that the level of play consistently was not to the standard of the University of Texas, that it needs to improve.
I think they were very appreciative of myself and our administration for addressing that fact, making sure that we play better and produce at a much higher level on that side of the ball.”
Q. Tom, coaching changes, how have you seen that play out on the recruiting trail? How are you feeling with the signing period starting early? You’re both Urban Meyer proteges, what have you seen from each other since working under Urban Meyer?
TOM HERMAN: “The recruiting trail has been great. Our class is extremely solid. Really it’s a much simpler discussion with recruits than I think people realize. Assistant coaches want to be coordinators, and coordinators want to be head coaches. To think that you’re going to play for the same position coach and/or coordinator for your entire career, that’s pretty rare.
The trust has to be in myself as the leader of the organization, the strength of the staff. Then really all of the other reasons why you commit to a place like the University of Texas. You commit to Texas to get an elite education, one of the top public schools in the entire country, to lay some roots in the number one city in America in Austin, Texas, and to develop a network of very powerful people that can provide opportunities for us once you’re done playing football.
To the Coach Meyer question. From what I’ve heard of Coach Whittingham’s program, the very little I’ve seen, certainly the physicality element is one that stands out. I know that we pride ourselves in being physical. I’m sure he does, too. I know in my time with Coach Meyer, that was certainly a big point of emphasis, too.
I’m sure over the seven days when we’re together, we’ll probably have a lot of stories that we can share. Tremendously thankful to Coach Meyer for his mentorship, the opportunity he gave me at Ohio State. I’m sure Coach Whittingham feels the same.”
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “Yeah, as far as Urban, back to 2002, a coaching change. I was on the staff at Utah. Coach Ron McBride who had been there several years was let go. I felt like I was the next guy. I was ready for it. When Urban got hired, I was disappointed because I thought, like I said, I was prepared to take that on.
As it turned out, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Just to be able to work for Urban for those years, he retained me as a coordinator, was invaluable to my development as a coach. His meticulous approach, detailed everything that goes into running a football program on a daily basis, I was able to observe that and work through that.
Like I said, two years later I was a much better coach before Urban got there. Continue to stay close friends with Urban. To this day we talk every couple weeks. But, again, can’t express enough gratitude for what I learned during the course of that two years. It was a huge benefit to my career.”
Q. Kyle, I know you’ve already addressed this morning about whether or not players have come to you talking about skipping the bowl game. My question for both coaches, would it be tough to blame a kid if one did come to you opting to skip the bowl game and worry about the combine? Would it be tough to blame a kid for worrying about himself at this point?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “I’ll defer and just say, What Tom said (laughter).”
TOM HERMAN: “I think ‘blame’ is a strong word. As coaches, we certainly understand that some of these players have to make decisions that they feel are right for their future. Once that decision is made, we support them.
We have always advised our guys to play in the bowl game, one, to be able to travel and experience the bowl game, two, to prove to the NFL how good a team player you are.
Again, we’re not the only ones advising them. But once they do make that decision, we certainly support them in all of their endeavors.”
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “I’m of the same mindset.”
TOM HERMAN: “See (laughter).”
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “It depends a lot, if a kid is a first five pick or first 10 pick, maybe that’s different than your second or third round. Each individual situation has to be weighed separately and judged separately.
I’m of the same opinion, it’s a different day and age. This wasn’t even a topic a few years back, things have really changed. If an athlete is definitely wanting to forego the bowl season, move on, then we’ll support him as well but don’t necessarily agree with it all the time.
The main thing to me is they’re listening to the right people. Coach mentioned we’re not the only ones in their ear. As long as they’re getting good information, making a decision that is the right one. I believe more times than not you can help your draft stock by playing in the game, finishing your career.
Again, it’s a different dynamic that’s been introduced just recently. I think coaches are still trying to get their head wrapped around it and what the best approach is.”
Q. Kyle, do you have any players that have been ruled out of the game due to injury at this stage?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “Yeah, we lost our two safeties, first and second team free safeties, almost within minutes of each other. That was Julian Blackmon and R.J. Hubert, to season-ending injuries. There’s only one game left now, but fairly serious injuries.
It’s disappointing. We’ll have to figure out a course of action. But unfortunately Julian and R.J. won’t be available. Beyond that, everyone seems to be in pretty good health.”
Q. Coach Herman, Collin Johnson, his possibility of playing the bowl game?
TOM HERMAN: “He’s progressing. As I told our local media, we expect him to be ready to play. If he continues to progress the way that he has, hopefully we get him back into practice sometime next week.”
Q. Kyle, I’ve worked out for six straight days. What is your workout streak and how do you stay motivated?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “It’s kind of a sickness now. I’ve been doing it for a while. What do you want to know? How many days I’ve done it?”
Q. How many days you’ve done it and how you keep motivated.
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “It keeps me sane. If I didn’t do it, I’d go insane. It’s more for a mental deal than physical. We’re right around four thousand days, give or take. Leave it at that.”
TOM HERMAN: “Straight days?”
KYLE WHITTINGHAM:” Yes.”
TOM HERMAN: “That’s real (laughter)? Walking, running?”
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “Elliptical, stair-step, swimming, every day.”
TOM HERMAN: “Four thousand?”
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: “For sure (laughter). I’m constantly trying to outwork my diet, which is hard to do.”