Here are quotes from Wednesday press conference at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel featuring Army Coach Rick Ellerson and SMU Coach June Jones along with players from both schools.
December 29, 2010 press conference at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel. An interview with:
BRANT RINGLER, Army COACH RICH ELLERSON and SMU COACH JUNE JONES
TIM SIMMONS: I would like to introduce Brant Ringler with an update on the Bell Helicopter Armed Services Bowl.
BRANT RINGLER: Appreciate everybody being here today. We’re extremely happy to have the U.S. military academy, the Army Black Knights along with the SMU Mustangs to be a part of our Bowl events this week. We couldn’t be happier with the matchup.
It’s obvious the fans agree with the matchup, based on the sellout that has occurred. We were able to sell all our tickets in advance before the teams were announced that we owned and then I was given the great word this morning that both Army and SMU have sold out their allotment of 10,000 tickets each. It’s definitely standing room only, which are $10 tickets. We’re expecting a great crowd tomorrow with great weather and great events around it.
Armed Forces Adventure Area is located outside the stadium on the north end. We have all types of military hardware on display. Each branch brings different elements. There’s a ship out there. You will have a flight simulator. All the recruiters will be out there from all the different branches. Numerous sponsors with military ties will be out there.
A great area for families to take their kids to see what the military is all about and it’s free to the public. It’s open before the game and following the game.
We’re having a postgame concert for an hour half. There will be some wounded warriors out in front of the stage. It’s a free concert, so please let everybody know and have them come out to the game.
We have the paratrooper team from the Silver Wings of Army and also the cadets of Army that will be jumping in. We have a double amputee, former Golden Knight, Dana Bowman, that will be bringing in a thousand square foot flag and landing it midfield. We have four F 16s flying over. We have an induction ceremony at halftime of over 125 recruits. In addition we have our Great American Patriot Award, which is Adam Allen (phonetic) this year, which helped oversee the BP oil spill and cleanup. He’s done a lot for the Gulf Coast region.
Bell is in the fifth year of their six year deal. They’re extremely happy by all indications. Obviously some of you have probably heard the Bell CEO is an Army West Point grad, former football player for four years there. He’s tickled pink having Army in the game this year. We’re trying to keep him as biased as possible. He’s having a good time.
Overall, Bell is pleased with the way we progressed with this Bowl game because it has to be more than just a regular football game, it has to be a complete tribute to the military because that’s what they’re all about. They’re not here to sell helicopters, they’re here to say thank you to the military.
Previous to this Bowl season, we signed a four year deal with Conference USA and the Mountain West. There’s a lot of stuff shifting in the college arena currently. Things could change down the road. Hawaii joined the Mountain West. TCU is leaving in a year. We’ll see what happens down the road. We currently have an agreement with those two.
In addition, as you mentioned, Navy is guaranteed to be in our Bowl game in 2013 as long as they get six wins. We are currently working on Army on a future agreement also to be in our game a couple more times.
We’re still in a wait and see mode with TCU. Obviously with TCU, the implosion of the stadium, we couldn’t play there this year. It’s a great thing for us in the long run because Fort Worth is our home. We plan to return. Hopefully it will be next year. Depends on how the renovations go, how the weather affects the renovations. Also talking about doing some other expansion stuff.
We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see if they’re able to get a season in themselves. Might be a torn up war zone. We’ll have to evaluate that and decide if we can come back next year or coming back in two years. We’ll see.
We contacted SMU. We thought it was in our best interest to contact our Conference USA partner first. SMU is obviously in the Conference USA. They’re right across town from us. I have to say, when I met with Steve Orsini, he immediately extended his hand and said, Whatever you need. SMU has held true to that from day one. They’ve helped us.
When SMU was announced to be in our game, it even doubled the magnitude for them. They haven’t stepped back at all. They’ve actually stepped forward to help us as much as possible. We truly appreciate SMU.
I’m hoping we set a stadium record. I’m hoping the great weather will definitely help us. I think the walkup will be nice and I think we’ll be able to get to that stadium record. That’s another great thing for SMU. They were able to set a nice attendance record for us earlier this year when they played TCU and I think we can get that record.
For the coin flip, we have a gentleman by the name of General McKinley, 1974 SMU graduate, current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. He will be our honorary ceremonial captain of the game, handling the coin toss and the induction ceremony of the recruits at halftime, just being involved in our events as much as possible.
ESPN, it’s literally a guess. Down the road, it will be super conferences the we’re at the mercy a little bit of what the conferences decide to do, what each school decides to tell their conference to do. If there’s a lot of I’m not going to say turmoil, but moving parts that occur, we think we’ll be fine in the long run. We think the Bowl system is working. It’s obvious. Look at our Bowl game. We’re not the national championship, but we have 35,000 plus fans at our game tomorrow and give these players an experience that they wouldn’t be able to have if there was a playoff system.
The three Bowl games in the Dallas area, I think it shows how strong Texas is as far as supporting football. Obviously high school football is really, really big here. The Cotton Bowl never has problems selling tickets. We’re sold out. The TicketCity Bowl in Dallas is their first year, getting up and running. I think it’s great for all of us. We’re able to work together. All have our own little niche. We’re doing quite well.
TIM SIMMONS: We’ll start the coaches session now. Coach Ellerson, if you could make an opening statement about being in the Bowl game, preparation for the Bowl game, maybe you got a prediction?
COACH ELLERSON: Well, no (laughter). We’ve had a wonderful week. Can’t thank Mr. Ringler and his people enough. We will be thanking them all day.
Our guys have had a wonderful experience. We didn’t have any institutional memory in terms of how to handle our Bowl preparation given the rigors of academy life, especially as we went into our finals, then being respectful of our guys’ leave, and making sure we could be as ready as we possibly could be to play on Thursday. I think we nailed it.
I was impressed as our guys practiced after we kept them for their Ts, finals, got them back for a Tuesday practice. They hadn’t forgotten much over a week. I feel we’re in a great place mentally and physically and know what to do.
Hindsight is 20/20, but if I had to do it all over again, I like the schedule we chose for ourselves and I like the way it’s worked out. I think we’ve given ourselves a chance to play well.
COACH JONES: We’re very appreciative of the opportunity to come to Fort Worth. Thank Bell Helicopter and the volunteers. The week has been exciting for our kids. The experience is something that helps you build your program. Just like for Rich, the experience of the kids that were here will remember it and carry it on to the new guys that join them next year, just like our guys will do the same.
But it’s been a great week. All the events have been first class. It’s just been a real great opportunity to bring your team and have fun.
Our kids have practiced really hard, they’ve stayed really focused. I’ve said this numerous times. I always had kind of a passion to coach at an academy, like Rich did, too, and at the same time I always felt that since I got here to SMU, my kids have that same integrity and character and want that shows on film whenever we play Navy, now we’re going to play Army, and watching Air Force.
We’re excited about the chance to go play. A lot of people will be watching the game. It’s going to be great for both the schools to get that exposure.
TIM SIMMONS: For each of you, is it a joy to play with nice weather tomorrow compared to 30 degree weather?
COACH ELLERSON: Well, yeah. June was just telling me, Don’t trust the weather, it may change.
But, no, obviously it sounds like we’re going to nail it from a weather standpoint. The weather will not be an issue. It will be a great day for everybody there, the teams competing and everybody there to watch.
COACH JONES: I’m really excited because the fans will come. We’re excited to see that stadium full. I do believe that we’ll be the minority. The armed forces brings a lot of people when they come play. It will be a great challenge and it will be fun to see the stadium full.
TIM SIMMONS: Coach Ellerson, has there been any surprises for you, because you had this extra practice time, any surprises with players?
COACH ELLERSON: Not really. Frankly, because of the way the season worked out, we’re less than three weeks from our last game. Frankly, it’s been more like a bye week, less like a post season Bowl game. We haven’t had a lot of developmental practices that they talk about that they associate with Bowl games.
Having said that, we’ve given ourselves a great chance to be healthy, fresh and excited to play.
COACH JONES: I echo the same thing. We had a game, the championship game, Conference USA, which this will be I think our 14th game now. I’ve lost track (laughter). But it’s a long season. I felt the same way when we went to finals. It was kind of like a bye week and our kids have maintained their concentration very well.
TIM SIMMONS: Kind of surprising to have a running back that has rushed over 100 yards a game for your team.
COACH JONES: Ideally we like to throw the football, but at the same time over the years we have been able to run the ball pretty effectively. Zach has done a great job of it this year. Our line has made the commitment to do it also. When you have a young quarterback, you tend to rely on that a little bit more. Zach has been the beneficiary of it.
I thought last year, Shawnbrey did a nice job for us, too. Zach is the prototype guy we like that can block a linebacker or a down guy and can run the football with some quickness, too.
TIM SIMMONS: Coach Ellerson, did you anticipate he’d have a great runningback when he came here?
COACH ELLERSON: I’m not surprised he has a great runningback. I’m surprised he uses him sometimes as liberally as he does.
I think it’s always been part of the offense. I’m talking about how defensive people look at you. I’m not going to tell you who he is. There are times you see SMU run the football because they want to run the football. Growing up with June, if it’s 50/50, I would expect he’s going to throw it, which from a defensive perspective keeps you a little bit more out of some of the more exotic things you get into. You have to play it a little bit straighter. I guess that’s motivation, but he can speak to that.
TIM SIMMONS: We’ll open it up to the floor for questions.
Q. June, can you talk about your decision to consider another job opportunity and ultimately not pursue it?
COACH JONES: Those things happen when you have success. That wasn’t the first time this year, and probably not going to be the last time when I’m at SMU.
I’m committed to being here. My concentration has totally been on this football game. I’m probably like Rich, up at 4 in the morning today, go to bed late at night totally focused on what you’re doing.
That’s part of the business we’re in right now. I’m pleased and happy with where I am. I made a commitment to my kids. That’s why I’m here.
Q. June, as you said, you made a commitment to be here. Talk about where you feel you are in this program. Three years, two straight Bowl games. Things are on the up rise.
COACH JONES: I feel we have made strides obviously. Last year’s team, if you asked me if we were going to win eight games, no. If we’re lucky enough to win this game, that will make eight games. I’ll say the same thing: You never feel like you’re where you need to be. I think we’re a recruiting class and a half away from being real competitive in the echelon that we would like to be.
I’m sure Rich would answer the question the same way. They play teams because of who they are that are a little bit out of their league, like we do the same thing. To be able to compete, you have to be at the school and make the commitment and you have to be successful recruiting. That’s the name of the game.
Q. Coach Ellerson, are you looking forward to this opportunity to forward your program, get more kids from Texas?
COACH ELLERSON: We have a national mandate. We recruit nationally, of course. I have two guys that are dedicated to recruit in the state of Texas. This exposure, these young men may look at the stage we’re going to step onto, maybe they’ll ask a few more questions, spend more time reflecting on the opportunity that West Point and the challenges that West Point presents. Ultimately, they have to belong here. This has to be a great fit.
As I say, some of those young men that may not have considered it may consider it. To that end, yes, I can see this being a very positive thing for us in recruiting.
Q. June, talking about where your program is. Do you have the tools and support system in place that you need to take this program to the next level?
COACH JONES: You’re always growing that. I feel very comfortable that all the things that have been addressed from the time I got here. The reason you get a job that has never been to a Bowl game in 25 years, the reason I got a job in Hawaii, is because things aren’t quite up to par. That’s why you get the job. It’s your job to get them straightened out and to get them going.
I feel with Steve, I feel comfortable with Dr. Turner’s commitment. We’re making progress in that way. I visualize that all coming together over the next three or four years, yes.
Q. Coach Ellerson, I think the last time Army was in a Bowl, I don’t know if there were Bowls that were military specific or had military initiatives attached to them. Can you talk about the first time in a long time that you guys get to one how this has fit.
COACH ELLERSON: It’s especially appropriate that as Army football returns to post season play we find ourselves in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Bell Helicopter people, John has done a wonderful job of keeping the focus, keeping the emphasis on our men and women in uniform. This is a tribute to them. Our guys are ever mindful of that. They bring that with them. The events yesterday where we had cadets at the hospital greeting soldiers coming back, they came back glowing. That was not a chore for them; that was an honor for them. That was something they brought back to their teammates and reflected on, hey, that was a glimpse of their futures, a glimpse of the challenge that lies before them, the community they serve.
As I say, we’re excited to be in post season play, period, but especially excited and feel it’s especially appropriate that we’re here.
Q. With the history of the two of you guys, Dick gave you both your first coaching jobs, you were teammates, on the same coaching staff. Rich, you were a center, Rich was a quarterback. How many snaps did you make to this guy?
COACH ELLERSON: I was a linebacker. I was staring him down and I never turned my back on him (laughter).
When I went from being too slow to play, then being way too slow to play, I became a center. June and I actually competed against each other. But that’s not necessarily true because I was playing center those years.
We’ve remained friends. Like I say, I’ve been a huge fan of his whether he’s playing or coaching through the years.
TIM SIMMONS: How have you enjoyed the practice facilities here? Talk about Texas football.
COACH JONES: The University of Centennial was beautiful (laughter). I’ve never seen high school facilities like that before where we were. I haven’t been to where you practice. I think a brand new school, they only have freshmen and sophomores right now. It’s worth moving into the area, I can tell you that.
COACH ELLERSON: We have some spectacular infrastructure at West Point. Most of our staff come from Cal Poly. Holy cow, it’s not close. Again, it speaks to some of the comments that Brant made earlier, just how important football is to the culture of Texas. Don’t be surprised.
Q. Coach Ellerson, instilling that this should become the normal expectation for your program is something you want to bring to West Point. Can you talk about this should be the norm, we should expect this?
COACH ELLERSON: Gosh, we could talk for a long time about the challenge. June talked about the challenge of taking over a civilian institution and the ability to redirect and choose a path for themselves.
I think the challenge at West Point is a little bit different. West Point is not going to move for us. West Point works. West Point is doing its jobs. Just have to look at what our young graduates are doing. Whatever it does, it works. They’re not going to necessarily bend over backwards to accommodate me. The emphasis for me is to find a way to operate within that larger culture, larger institutional mission.
The role of the football program at West Point is integral to the larger institutional mission. We are developing leaders of character. It is a team building leadership laboratory. We’ll approach it as such. It allows us not to be a timeout. We don’t have to fight for time to do our business because our business is, again, everything that they’re experiencing as cadets, every challenge they overcome, every developmental experience and challenge thrown in front of them, we can leverage on the football side as well. That’s been the difference.
I think our guys have bought into that belief system that, We’re not going to be good part of the day at West Point, we’re going to be good all day at West Point. All those things we experience during the day we’re going to leverage when we get to the football environment. That was just a sales job. Frankly, I’ve looked at this senior class, some of the guys you’re going to have in the back of room. Those guys had to make an intellectual choice. They were far enough in their careers when I was selling this stuff, they had to make that choice. It sounds good, let’s do it, make it their own. When they did that, it became so much easier for the younger players.
Obviously we recruit to that now. That cultural shift that had to take place, that precondition for success that was so pivotal, frankly it’s on these guys, that senior class. Give it to those guys, they did all the hard work. They had to make that leap of faith, if you will.
Q. We know you’re recruiting nationwide. Do you think making a Bowl game helps you recruit against the other military academies better?
COACH ELLERSON: I don’t know that. I think, as I say, I believe the kind of exposure that all three of the service academies are getting, all three are playing in Bowl games, will put that on the radars of some young men that might not have otherwise thought about that possibility.
Then it’s up to us as coaches to articulate and educate those young men about who we are, what this path is, where it leads. Then they self select. You don’t go to West Point to play football, okay? Football is a great part of that experience. It may bring you to consider West Point. But what we preach is you have to be into the destination. You have to be into what happens when you graduate, who you become, the responsibilities and challenges that you’re going to face. If that’s you, then all those other things at West Point make great sense. The football and academics make sense, the challenges make sense. If you come for any of those other things, there’s a chance you’re going to be frustrated. Some guys it will work out.
Again, to keep the percentages right, I think the way we recruit and retain guys are inexorably tied together. The success we’ve had are going to bring some people to the table that might not have otherwise considered it.
TIM SIMMONS: It’s been a good year academically, too, 75% or higher.
COACH JONES: We worked really hard. We had a lot of different types of kids coming into our program. The academic support has improved every year. So the results will start to obviously show.
I feel all of our kids are coming to get that degree. Even though Rich’s description right there of Army, if he had recruited me, I would have been at Army, I can tell you that with what he just said right there.
Obviously, we have to do those same things academically and life skills, all those things, to build these men. So few of them are going to go on to play in the National Football League, and football be their life. They have to understand that and the importance of the education is vital.
TIM SIMMONS: Coach Jones has a son who is a senior in high school. I would hope he would take that message home with him.
Q. June, talk about how you think the perception of SMU has changed over recent years. Everybody knows about the Pony Express. How have you seen things changed in the couple years?
COACH JONES: I think it benefits everybody. The academia part of the school, applications have gone up just since our success. We’ve walked through airports with our SMU on and get stopped. Where is SMU? What does that stand for? Just the recent replay over and over probably 15, 20 times on ESPN of the 30 for 30, they won’t ask that question anymore.
I think the success of your football program I’ve never said this before, but I heard Rich say it a civilian or private institution, the success of your athletic program benefits everybody. Butler’s applications when they went to the Final Four went through the roof. Same thing has happened at SMU. As we have more success, they won’t ask, Where is SMU anymore.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH ELLERSON: We recruit to the academy first. That happens routinely. I think June will tell you when you’re recruiting guys that are 17, 18 years old, things happen. If they love football, they love football. You guys are crazy, I love football. Everybody adjusts as they go along.
The beautiful thing about West Point is, if you love the game of football, you’re going to get a chance to play. We have the A Team, if you will. We have the B squad, which is our JV program. We have sprint football, which is 170 pound football. Every company at West Point, every company sponsors eight man tackle football. If you want to knock somebody down and get muddy, you’ve got a chance.
TIM SIMMONS: Have you ever found a recruit out of that eight man?
COACH ELLERSON: I haven’t, but there are some great stories out of that. Black, our fullback, came out of that eight man football world when Coach Young was there, led the team for three years. He was a guy that never lost a yard. This was a situation where our commandant saw the guy, You got to go look at this guy. He knew what he was looking at.
TIM SIMMONS: Is that a violation of NCAA rules?
COACH ELLERSON: I think you can recruit him. Probably, now that you mention it…
TIM SIMMONS: No, it’s not. Anybody have the NCAA handbook here?
If there are no more questions, the coaches will be available for one on ones. Thank you.
December 29 Press Conference quotes – SMU
Offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum – (On preparations for the game) It has been very good. We’re enjoying ourselves, enjoying the players we have and we’re enjoying the hospitality – it’s something that all the players have enjoyed greatly. We’ve been preparing for Army since right after the conference championship game. We know Army is going to come to play every single play, they’re going to give everything they’ve got every single play. We played Navy, which is a team that is similar, dynamically, to Army, so we know what to expect. We know it’s going to be a hard-fought game throughout the whole game. We know what we have to do to accomplish our goal, which is to win the game.
(On the team’s attitude after the loss in the Conference USA championship game) For one, we want to get the sour taste out of our mouth. Two, on a national platform, we know we have to take care of business. That’s the only thing that’s really being talked about right now among the team – we know we have to take care of business.
Defensive back Chris Banjo – (On preparations for the game) They’ve been good. From time to time, you kind of get tired of seeing the same things and you get real anxious to play the game. Everybody’s just been real amped up to play the game. The fact that SMU hasn’t been in a lot of bowl games, everybody wants to show that Coach Jones has done a great job preparing us season in and season out and we’re just ready to play the game.
(Is three weeks too long to prepare for one game?) For a player, yes. Maybe for a coach, no, because coaches love to go in the game prepared, knowing exactly what both sides of the ball are going to do play in and play out. But as a player, you just want to go out and play right away. I wouldn’t have minded playing them the day after we played UCF (in the conference championship game); I just love competing and I know that’s the same for my teammates.
(On the team’s attitude after the loss in the Conference USA championship game) One thing we talk about is not to be content and just always try to get better. That’s something we talked about at the beginning of the season and we talk about it now. I feel the attitude of the team is very positive at this point. We know that we had a couple of disappointing losses this season but at the same time, we can’t hang our heads down on that; we have to continue to battle, keep fighting and at the next game, perform the way we need to perform and everything should take care of itself.
Linebacker Pete Fleps – (How has it been preparing for a bowl game at home?) Coming to Fort Worth obviously is a little different than Hawaii (where SMU played Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl last year) but a lot of guys on our team have never been to Fort Worth and experienced the charm of Fort Worth and a lot of the unique things that this city has to offer. That’s been a lot of fun and the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl has done a great job of taking care of us and setting up a lot of great events. We’ve had a great time here and the bowl has done an outstanding job of taking care of us and making sure that this is a really special, memorable experience.
(On the team’s attitude after the loss in the Conference USA championship game) We’re very excited to be here and just the fact that we’re in consecutive bowls for the first time in 25 years, guys have really looked at that as a great opportunity, a great accomplishment and now we want to finish that with a victory. Going to a conference championships and a bowl game in the same year is something really special and unique and something that SMU has not seen in a very long time. We’re very excited about that and just ready to end this season on a good note. We’ve had a lot of time to focus on Army and put the conference championship behind us and really get prepared and focused on beating Army.
(On the challenges Army present) Their quarterback, Trent Steelman, their fullback, Jared Hassin, can really make a lot of plays and are very good players – as is one of their receivers, Davyd Brooks. They’ve got good players that can run that offense very effectively and can take advantage of your mistakes so we’re really going to have to play very assignment-sound defense and really match the intensity and the physical aspect of that offense. We’ve got a great challenge ahead of us but we’ve had a lot of preparation time so I think we understand our opponent fairly well. Obviously, it’s going to be a good matchup and we’re looking forward to it.
Whenever you play a service academy, you’re going to get guys who are very disciplined, very tough and that don’t quit. They’ll stay with the game and the play until the very end, regardless of score or outcome. We’ve got to match that and be prepared for that.
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