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December 30, 2015
THE MODERATOR: At this time it's my pleasure to introduce from the University of Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman, and from Florida State University, Jimbo Fisher.
Coach Herman, we'll begin with you, if you'll begin with an opening remark and talk about your bowl week experience so far and maybe how that compares to other bowl trips you've been a part of.
COACH HERMAN: I think it's been a great trip thus far. Obviously Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and Gary and everybody affiliated with the bowl does things first class.
And I think it's great for our guys, our players, to experience a bowl of this magnitude. They have not -- we've got fifth-year seniors that have been to a couple of bowl games but nothing to this magnitude, nothing this first class. And so it's been neat for them to be able to experience that maybe on their way out. And I think it's been also a motivation for our young players to continue to win, because when you win a lot of games at the University of Houston, really cool things happen to you.
So had a good week of practice. The kids were flying around in the Georgia Dome the last couple of days. But I think, as I'm sure Jimbo will attest, we're all kind of ready to play a game. It's been a long time since we've played a game, and we are certainly ready to play the game tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Fisher, your comments on your experience so far this week.
COACH FISHER: It has been a wonderful experience. Anytime you deal with Gary Stokan and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and Chick-fil-A in general it's a first-class experience. Everything I've been around these folks have these players' interests and the participants' interests at heart, and it's truly servicing the folks in the game or whatever organization they're around.
It's a first-class organization. It's a true privilege and honor to be here at the Peach Bowl. It's kind of special to me because it was my first bowl game as a coach, my first year here I was able to come to this game, and it was a great experience then, too.
It's been very special for our players. Players have loved the city of Atlanta. They loved all the things they've had for them to do. They're excited. Again, they're excited to play, too. I think so. And at the beginning of the week you have your fun then you start dwindling it down.
But we're ready, I think, to play a great Houston team. I think Houston has done a tremendous job and we'll definitely have to play an A game to have success. They have done a tremendous job of recruiting players and getting great athletes. Tom's done an unbelievable job of creating a culture there and getting them ready to play.
The thing I'm excited about for our players, it's our fourth consecutive either New Year's Day 6 or playoff game or whatever. Your goal is always to be in the playoff, if not to be one of the New Year's 6 day games. When I became the head coach at Florida State was to create a program, not a team. And this is our fourth consecutive game, and our seniors have a chance to be a very special class. We've had a lot of guys go to the league.
I'm very proud of this team for one thing: The last couple of years we lost players to the NFL, and everyone said this year you had a young team, and our kids and our culture, I think, have allowed us to be very successful. Had a lot of young guys step up. Had a lot of fourth- and fifth-year seniors have really taken on leadership roles they never had to before, and you watch them grow. And it's fun because in our day and age now, it's three and done, three and done, or how quick can I get to the NFL. Those fourth- and fifth-year guys make a huge impact in your program when you're able to have them and just watching some of those guys in our program emerge is -- really great players have a chance to go in the league.
But just their leadership and the roles in which they had to accept this year, and a lot of guys that no one ever thought they'd have to take those roles. It's been a fun team to coach. I love being around them. They work hard. Again, I know they're looking forward to playing in the game.
How they represent our university is what I'm extremely proud of and very proud of what they've established here and as a program at Florida State.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions.
Q. Tom, going into this game you spoke about the exposure, that you can't buy this type of advertisement you had it for this week and this last month, but what could a win do for this program? Jimbo was talking about not just a team but a program, and you look at Boise State, what it did for them not too long ago -- Central Florida against Baylor. What would a win do for a program like this long term?
COACH HERMAN: I think as I've said before, and anytime you play in a bowl game or any season, really, you want to win your last game.
And it certainly carries momentum into the offseason for the following year. But I don't think that -- I think win, lose or draw, we've established our validity in college football and that we belong that the American Athletic Conference. If you win the American Athletic Conference, you're going to go to a New Year's 6 bowl game. So I don't know that a win does anything for us on a national level.
I've had people ask me about preseason rankings and all that. I'm just trying to play a game and sign a recruiting class and put one step in front of the other.
I could care-less really about preseason rankings at this point. But I know, like Coach Fisher said and you repeated, when we got here, we set out not to just build a team but a program and a culture.
We're well on our way to doing that and winning a game will help just with momentum in the offseason.
Q. Jimbo, when you watched the film with U of H, University of Houston, what jumps out at you?
COACH FISHER: Overall athleticism and how well and how tough and disciplined they are when they play. People talks about the Power 5. We were in the ACC, and we went through it a couple of years ago, when we won the National Championship. When you're in the ACC, but you're playing an SEC school. Where you can't -- wait a minute, now -- good players can go anywhere. Everybody's got good players.
There's so many great players out there in this country playing at all different levels of ball and different schools, whatever it is. This is a very athletic team. It's a big team. They're extremely well coached, disciplined on all three sides. They cause you problems in all three phases and they're a great football team and very well deserving of being here. And again we'll have to play our tails off to have success in the game.
Q. Jimbo, you spoke about the young players stepping into roles this season. How much would a win help you guys spring forward into the spring and for your experience next year?
COACH FISHER: Again, like Tom said, it's not the ultimate thing that makes next year a great year. It does provide a lot of confidence. Makes you feel good about yourself. You send the seniors out in the right way, which they want to be able to do that, and you want to celebrate them with a win and the young guys understanding the culture and how to play in these big moments and these big games.
But at the end of the day it's how you play. We want to play well. That's the key. We want to play well. If the results come out that way then the results come out that way. But how they handle the moment to me and the more time you get in these environments and atmosphere and neutral-site games because eventually when you get in those playoff games and these big games you're not going to play them in the home stadium. Getting used to all, as I say, the hoopla that goes with these games, being able to accept that and making that a new normal.
I think that's very important. And then being able to take that to the field and play extremely well. So the process of what you do and how you do things, the kids can handle that. But it's always great to finish the season on a win. That's definitely what we want to do.
Q. Coach Herman, on the culture-building front, when you first arrived there, the story about you locking up the locker room and making them earn their way back in. What prompted that what do you think the effects were of that?
COACH HERMAN: Well, it's interesting, when you take over a program, you jump head first into recruiting. We were on Christmas break, and then the NCAA says, okay, you're in a contact period.
And so now we're on the road. I got to know our signing class well before I knew our own players. I was getting introduced to our players at recruiting dinners on Friday and Saturday nights as they were hosting recruits.
So I had to rely on information I was receiving back from our strength coach and from our director of football operations. And really what was getting back to me was not -- we weren't -- nothing really egregious, but I think there was this sense that it was okay to show up 30 seconds late to a team lift, or it was okay to miss a class, or it was okay to set a tutor appointment and say, oh, shucks, I forgot.
And we needed to establish very early that that's not okay and that the little things matter. So when we got off the road that very first Monday, we put giant chains on the locker room doors and padlocked them up and said we'll see you at 4:30 in the morning on the turf field and you can wear your junior high -- we had kids in their junior high, gray, cut-off T-shirts and all that stuff. It was nothing but can we do as many up/downs right as we can.
And so I think, you ask what was the outcome, I think the outcome was, one, we found out who the quitters were. We found out that guys that weren't very mentally tough -- and it's much better to find that out in February and March than it is in October on fourth down against Memphis, I can tell you that.
So we found that out very early. But we also found out who the leaders were and who the tough guys were, who the guys that were mentally strong and could survive that kind of atmosphere.
And then I think probably the biggest thing was then we established very early that we're going to do things right and that there are 18- to 22-year-old kids and as we call it they're going to test the perimeter every now and again.
And they need to know that that electric shock fence is on 24/7 and doesn't take any days off, I can tell you that.
Q. Jimbo, you touched on this some, but what have you thought about what Tom and his staff have done in such a short amount of time?
COACH FISHER: You know, what's amazing to me, not only creating culture is winning at a high -- you win games but to consistently do it I think is very hard to implement in the first year, and for kids to carry out the grind of what you truly expect and what he's been able to do has been remarkable.
The other thing is the amount of offense and defense in which they run in the first year of the program. I think that shows their ability to teach and get kids to buy into what they're doing and all the things that are going on. It's amazing. To go to 12-1 and win a conference championship and do all the things that they've done, it's one heck of a coaching job, no doubt. I know how tough that is. And it's tremendous what he's done.
Q. Coach Fisher, Sean Maguire wasn't your quarterback to start the season. He was entrenched in a three-way battle in spring practice. Talk about your confidence in him and how he's grown over the year?
COACH FISHER: What Sean has shown is a great deal of maturity and how he handles each situation. I think it shows his inner confidence in himself. I think for a guy, because in our world today with instant gratification for kids as soon as they fail the first thing they want to do, they want to transfer, they want to go here, they want to go there. They want to blame somebody else. Sean said, all right, Coach, what do I need to do better? How do I need to do to fit into a role? What do I have to do for our team? I think our team really responds to him because of that and appreciates how committed he is to them. And he got better at things, he relaxed and was able to make plays and got better and better. Ended up becoming one heck of a player for us, and I think has a great future for us. It's just a commitment to me of his character and his class. And I think that's -- I don't say it's lacking -- but it's great to see in young guys today because of the instant gratification syndrome I think we're in now in society in general, not just kids, but in society in general, and if it doesn't go your way, I want to go here, I want to go there. I think it's a great testament of who he is as a human being.
Q. Tom, the Louisville game, the Memphis game, it was tight. Memphis you guys were down 20-21 in the fourth quarter. If you guys get down in this game, how important is the culture that you build all year and containing your emotions in such a big game to mentally stay in this? You guys have proven it this year but this will obviously be an entirely different stage, probably, obviously the toughest opponent you played this year?
COACH HERMAN: We train for that from January as part of the kind of culture-building process and locking the locker room doors and all that.
And I think it was said very eloquently yesterday in the FCA breakfast that when you're faced with challenges, human nature is to react. And reacting is a primal -- it's a human nature thing to do.
And reacting is really bad, because reacting means you shut your mind off and you go back to human nature. And we're all flawed creatures and the human nature says we're going to panic, or we're going to give up or we're going to take the easy way out.
And so as was said in the FCA breakfast again yesterday, when faced with challenges, we train our guys how to respond rather than react. And the word respond implies that you're mindful that there's thoughts involved in that, and that you revert back to the way that you're trained and you revert back to the reasons that you play and the love that you have for the guy next to you.
And so long story short, I think those games will help us should that situation arise. But I think overall just the way that we train for the daily and really snap-by-snap challenges that we face every single day, every single game is more to do with us being able to overcome some of that adversity.
Q. Jimbo, listening to Coach Herman talk about changing the culture and what he's done in this first year does it take you back six years to your experience at Florida State?
COACH FISHER: No doubt. You have to. You have to put what you think and how you want your players, like he said, to respond to adversity, to be able to make choices when things at critical moments, and be able to think and process information and not get emotional and things, and know the thing that is right to do. And it's all a process. And it is.
I'm going to tell you, it's a continual process, because as we have faced it now, because of success -- sometimes you say when you fail you see character. I think when you have success you reveal a lot of character also.
Are you willing to still go do the little things that matter in a program? Are you willing to allow, well, I've got to take shortcuts? I think as he'll see in time as he's having success, there will be a different set of challenges that come.
Now, I don't think you ever stop teaching culture. I don't think you ever stop teaching, because I think it evolves. I think you're constantly looking for change. People change. Kids change. I mean, I don't think you're coaching the same kid you did five to 10 years ago.
The way things are done, the way things happen, but it does take me back because it's important that you put your stamp -- and I say for lack of a better word, your personality of what you truly believe is important to have success for these kids and the process that it takes to get to the results and not get so result oriented. Don't get caught up in worrying about results but the process of doing things right every day and creating great habits, because when pressure comes your habits are going to come straight to the surface. What you trained -- you don't win because you want to -- you win because you trained to.
And I listened to him talk, it's like d√©j√† vu, but it's a continual process and it's things that I have to continue to do now because of some of the successes we've had. It's still that same culture that you have to teach of why and remember and remind these guys why you've been able to have success. But it does, and he's done a tremendous job of it.
Q. Jimbo, you've talked about how that 20-10 win here kind of propelled this team or propelled this program. But for you as a coach just what does that do for a coach's confidence to come in win a big bowl game?
COACH FISHER: Again, because it's an environment that is different that you don't -- you go on -- you know you go in somebody else's house and play at their field. You go in your own -- but to go to neutral-site games and handle a week full of events, things -- and they can become great things if you know how to handle them, or they can become distractions and clutter, and you can get caught in up in these things. And I think when you're building a program that wants to play at the highest levels, those are things you have to get used to handling and dealing with and to get your players to understand when it's time to enjoy themselves, when it's time to go to work. I think compartmentalizing, you know what I'm saying. This is the first time that, you know, this is how I think we should do it. This is how I think it should happen. And all of a sudden you have success in what you've put in place for your kids to have success in your school.
When they do that it reinforces that you're doing the right things. And it does, it builds your confidence, but it also reinforces that the process part of everything that you're doing is right.
Q. Jimbo, your senior class, especially the fifth-year guys, really the last group that you had that had to buy in and get here before the championships and the winning streaks and all that. How important was it to get them on board and lay that foundation?
COACH FISHER: It was extremely critical because at the end of the day coaches can only be with you -- they limit our time so much, that's when you -- that's what's amazing about what he's done. You know the limited amount of hours that he's been able to instill in a year that you can only deal with your players. You can't be with them like you really need to be, especially that first year or two when you're trying to do that.
And getting a certain group of your peer groups, your leadership groups to buy into what you're doing and reinforce all the things you're saying throughout, those guys -- those are the mouthpieces, those are the guys that really get it done as much as the coaches do. Because they're the ones who are with the guys in the moments when they're off the field or at practice and hearing things said or done or what the guys are thinking when the coach doesn't know, because they're not going to tell you. But when that peer group and that senior leadership group -- or I'll say senior, but sometimes it's juniors, whatever it may be, freshmen. I don't think there's an age limit on leadership. I haven't seen that in the dictionary yet where there's an age limit. But getting those guys to buy into what you're doing and reinforcing all the key components, that is extremely critical in getting that in any team.
I think that's what's even more amazing about what Tom's done in one year.
Q. Coach Fisher, last year every game you guys went in to you had targets on your back being defending champions. How did a season like that last year help you prepare for a team like Houston that has said all week they have a giant chip on their shoulder with their ranking coming into this game?
COACH FISHER: Here's at the end of the day, people say you've got a target on your back or you're the favorite or whatever. But at the end of the day you've got to perform.
At the end of the day, when you get down to it, am I the favorite, am I the underdog or whatever? At the end of the day you've got to perform. And I think that's where, I think, you have to get your kids to understand and what we have to understand is it's not about whether you're the favorite, whether you're the underdog, whatever it may be, it's about how are you going to perform that day.
Because each game that starts -- if you're the favorite they don't give you those seven points or eight points. I wish they would, they'd put them up on the board if you're the favorite. If you're the underdog you don't want it. But at the end of the day it's 0-0. It's about performing every day -- think about something: You tell these kids, you only get 12 of these guaranteed a year. You only get 48 in your career. Why would you not be up to play a game? Why would you not look forward to the opportunity to work so hard year-round to go perform in one of those games?
That's kind of how we look at it: No matter who we play, whether we're the favorite, whether we're the underdog, this is a chance for you to perform and represent the people who have sacrificed to get you here.
He was talking about love is the reason for the fight -- with your teammates, but also the people that are sacrificing for all these kids -- the family member, the mom that worked two jobs, the dad that worked two jobs, the grandma who raised him, the aunt, the uncle, whoever it may be. It's your job to represent your name and the people who have sacrificed to give you this opportunity for betterment of life to do it.
So perform and do your best and at the end of the day if you do that, put your head on the pillow and go to sleep.
Q. Are you actually unveiling a proposal here to give the higher ranked team an advantage on the scoreboard?
COACH FISHER: No, I'm not. We've been the underdogs too sometimes.
COACH HERMAN: I don't remember when we said saying all week we had a chip, giant chip on our shoulder, I don't remember us saying that. That was interesting.
Q. Coach Fisher, you referenced that with so many guys going to the NFL the last couple of years the outside expectations weren't as high for this year's group. I'm wondering if this year's team has reach or exceeded your expectations for them?
COACH FISHER: Our goal every year is to be a national champion. Our goals don't change no matter what the outside representation says we should do. But here's what I said. I like this team.
I said if this team was a person I would hang out with it. Because each team takes its own personality. Each team is like a child. It's like a kid. It takes its own personality, develops its own way to learn, its own way to work, its own way to do things. And I respect how they go about their business.
And is there frustrating times? Are you mad at them at times? Yes. But you respect that their intent is never bad. And whatever -- the harder we push them, the young guys can be frustrating. You say you want to do this, you want to do that. All of a sudden and you're pushing them, but you know what? They always say, Coach, let me do it again, let me do it again, let me do it again. And I like the personality of this team and that's what I like so much about them.
And if they reach their expectations, yes, because they can be the best they can be because they played as hard as they could play and they represented themselves very well. So, yes, I'm very pleased about what they've achieved.
Q. Coach Herman, six months ago you were just Tom Herman, the coach of Houston. Fast-forward to early December your name is the most talked-about name, probably in the metro Atlanta area for a given time, but nationally also. How has that changed you, if at all, for you being part of that process?
COACH HERMAN: Not much. I think it's just a compliment to the way we go about doing our business and the great people that we have at the University of Houston and what we've been able to establish and the team and the players.
So hasn't changed me at all. I've had to answer too many questions, I can tell you that about things that are irrelevant to our day-to-day process at the University of Houston. But other than that, it's been business as usual.
Q. Tom, talk about the addition, when you built your staff, you're carefully putting it together, the addition of Major Applewhite, what he's meant to you on the staff and specifically how he's helped Ward grow as a quarterback? What have you seen the last 10 or 12 months?
COACH HERMAN: One thing I know that we did right when we got the job is we hired a great staff, the best staff in the country, if you ask me. And big part of that was Major.
And me and Major go way back. I was a graduate assistant coach at Texas when he was playing. And we have kept in touch throughout the years. And I've seen his career grow as he's seen mine.
So what he brought was exactly what I needed. I needed a guy that was humble, a guy that could come in and say, teach me your offense, teach me your way of doing things and then I will go teach it to the staff and then I will go teach it to the players and I will enhance it in any way that I can.
But when you're off doing your first-year head coach things that you can trust me that the offense will head in the direction that you want it to head.
And that's tough for a lot of guys especially with as many pelts on the wall as Major has to come in and be that humble. A lot of guys want to come in and say, this is my offense, this is the way I do things, this is the way I've always done it. That's one of the worst phrases in coaching, by the way, is well, we do it that way because we've always done it that way.
But he was humble enough to say I want to learn this and I want to go teach it. And then what he's done with Greg is he's developed a relationship, and that's the biggest thing, I think, is he's dived into his life and he knows everything about him on a personal level and he has allowed Greg to open up and trust him.
And I think when players, especially with guys like Greg, Greg's a pleaser. Greg wants to do right. And I think a lot of times when you combine pleaser with competitor, a lot of times, A, that combination can be great, but a lot of times it causes a kid to tense up and maybe play very tight, and I think I saw that at times with Greg because he wants to do so well that he puts a lot of pressure on himself.
And I think the only way to combat that in a young man is trust. And the trust of his position coach, the trust of his head coach, and ultimately the trust of his teammates, and I think Greg has done a great job of earning that. And Major has done a great job of reciprocating it, too.
Q. What exactly is the size of the chip on your shoulder then? And is there any of that attitude that you're trying to play off this week?
COACH HERMAN: No. I think we're the underdog for a reason. Let's be honest. The last time I checked, we don't have Jalen Ramsey on our team, and we don't have Dalvin Cook on our team, and we don't have four- and five-star recruits on our team. We don't have first-round NFL draft picks on our team.
So why would we think that we shouldn't be the underdog? We should be the underdog. And we embrace that. And that's okay. I think these guys have grown up kind of being the underdog. They've grown up -- we're playing with two safeties back there that they've got to check the line at the roller coaster to see if they can get on. (Laughter).
And we're playing with a tailback that can maybe break 4.9 in the 40 on a good day in Kenneth Farrow, and we're playing with a quarterback that's 5'10", 172 pounds, that was a receiver for his first two years in college.
So I think these guys are all -- they're used to that. That's how they've grown up. That's how they live their life. It's probably why they've achieved the amount of success they have because they felt maybe a bit underappreciated or underrecruited or undervalued. And if that motivates them, that's great.
But there's no reason to think we're being disrespected or we should have a chip on our shoulder, because we are who we are.
Q. Both coaches, we've heard throughout the week that the theme of bowl week has been to live, laugh, learn from visiting the children's hospital and Martin Luther King, Jr. historical site, and even the car racing and barber shop, how has this experience been a special and unique reward for your players after two great seasons?
COACH HERMAN: I think like I said in the opening statement, it's something our older guys have never experienced. So it's really a neat reward, because we preach to our guys ever since we got there that you know in life, when you win and you succeed and you're the best at what you do, really cool things happen to you.
And those things are worth fighting for, and whether those are tangible or intangible, you know, we talk about if your goal is to be a schoolteacher go be the best schoolteacher in America. If your goal is to be in the Peace Corps, go be the best Peace Corps volunteer there is.
So with winning comes reward. And I think it's a great testimony to the way that we kind of run our operation on a day-to-day basis, that there are tangible and intangible rewards for winning and doing your best and competing, and unfortunately -- not unfortunately -- actually fortunately, that we're still this way in society, that there are tangible and intangible consequences for failure.
And again, I think it's a great motivation for the young guys, too, to see, whoa, this is a pretty big deal and I kind of like this. So let's work even harder next year to get back to a bowl like this.
COACH FISHER: I think for our kids, again, it's another city that some guys have never been to, never been around. I think it's also important to embrace the culture of that place and what it has to give.
And every part of the world you can learn something from. And I think going to the Martin Luther King, going to church, and realizing that a lot of the freedoms and a lot of the abilities that a lot of our kids have today, there was a lot of people who sacrificed and even gave their life for them to have the opportunities they have today.
I think it's very important for them to comprehend that and to understand that in your history of whether it's -- I'm a big historian of the game of football and appreciating the guys in the way this thing has evolved for the time. But also you're talking about life. You're talking about changing the world with Martin Luther King and all the opportunities our African-American kids have today because of people like him.
Maybe he probably had the most influence of anybody out there ever and the opportunities it gave them. But also when you go to the children's hospital and understanding that as an athlete and a successful athlete, like Tom said, there's a lot of rewards and things that go with it, but there's also a lot of responsibility; that how much you can change people's lives that has nothing to do with what's going on on the field, that you give a little bit of your individual time to brighten some young man's day or young lady's day who is suffering or has a life-threatening disease and just walking in the room.
I think our guys, when they first went out, I think they were a little bit scared; how do I do this? They don't want to make a mistake. Then those kids kind of really taught them. They walked in, their eyes lit up, and they saw them, they were able to communicate.
I think there's so many other facets as a human being that I think we talk about athletics so much about the athlete, but the athlete really grows on the field when he grows off the field, as a human being and understanding the importance of education and understanding the importance of what he does on the field because God has blessed him but how many blessings he can give to other folks about how he interacts with him, the way he carries himself and represents himself.
I think that is such -- the more time you can put our kids in those situations, they understand that there's more to this world than ball. And but what ball can teach you and what ball can present to other folks is a gift.
And I think it was a great experience what Gary and his staff have done here to expose all these kids to all these different things.
Q. Along those lines, how special was it for you yesterday when you and your kids went to the hospital? One mother said they were overwhelmed at what you guys did. How special is that for you and your kids?
COACH HERMAN: I think like Jimbo said, I think at first it was a bit awkward because the players didn't know quite what to say or how to react. But once the kids that we were visiting got involved and really our players saw the looks in their eyes and the interaction and the effect that they can have, I think it was really powerful. I spent most of my time walking around with Greg Ward, Jr. and Kevrin Justice and D.J. Jenkins.
And Greg's got a two-year-old daughter himself. And we went in to one room, and there was close to two-year-old that had just had heart surgery. And we walked out of there and I could tell he was pondering some things.
And I said let's talk about this. And it allowed us a moment to talk about how thankful we were for the blessings in our life. And he said, man, as soon as we're done here I'm going to Facetime my daughter and make sure I tell her I love her.
I said you should. So I think it's important, like Jimbo said, for our guys to understand the power and the influence that they have as student-athletes. And that we can truly -- even if it's just for a day or a moment or a minute, that you can truly impact lives of people around you just by who you are and what you represent.
Q. Tom, yesterday Tyler McCloskey said he expected to be here. Was there a time where the light clicked for everybody like they bought in immediately and they knew this was the expectation?
COACH HERMAN: I don't know. Our goal -- the University of Houston had gone, in the last 25 years, there had been a grand total of three conference champions in both men's basketball and football combined.
And so as great of seasons as Kevin Sumlin had, the 13-1 year, that one happened to be in the conference championship game. And Art had a great run here, Coach Briles, and won one conference championship. So our goal was to win our conference.
And I think we had a pretty good idea that the American Athletic Conference was going to be good enough this year and hopefully in the long term that that would set you up to play in a New Year's 6 game and to be recognized nationally. But we wanted to bring a championship back to the University of Houston and to the great city of Houston.
If you had to point to a moment, there was a lot of them, all the way back from January. But I think when I knew that we had a chance was when we beat Louisville and not because we beat Louisville but because of how we beat Louisville. We didn't play very good at all, but we played really hard.
And we played for each other. And I could see there was this genuine passion and love that these guys had for each other. And we wound up winning the game, probably shouldn't have because we didn't play very good.
But we found a way to beat an ACC team on the road early in the year. I think some of the guys that I call the fence riders, some of the guys that, they were in it when things were easy but when things got hard in the offseason and in training camp kind of questioned things at times, I think those guys kind of saw the light and said, wait, maybe what this crazy man and his staff are teaching us, this stuff might work.
So that was when I knew just kind of seeing how we had won that game just on effort and passion and energy.
Q. Coach Herman, you've been around some great backs, and obviously you guys have done a great job against the run. Watching Dalvin Cook, what makes him special and what are some things your team has to focus on?
COACH HERMAN: How much time have you got? My gosh. I think what makes him special, like all great backs, the first thing that stands out to me is vision.
As you design run plays, they're supposed to go here but oftentimes they don't go here, they go there. And what he's able to do in finding those creases in those lanes. And I think the second thing is just his burst and explosion through the whole -- when he sees that, once he uses his great vision and sees that crease or that opening, he's able to burst through that hole.
Then I think what Jimbo and his offensive staff have been able to do with the kinds of runs that they give him, different backs excel at running different kinds of run plays.
They've allowed him some, I don't know if freedom is the right word, but in their mid zone or wide zone or toss plays they've allowed him to kind of let the defense kind of declare where the crease is.
And then the kid hits the hole, and he hits it very explosively and very violently. And so for us it's going to be a tremendous challenge to, A, I think it starts up front as it does anytime you're stopping the run, you've got to try to penetrate as best you can into the backfield.
And then, B, we've got to get 11 hats to the football. And that's the only way you're going to have any chance of success against a great back like him is you gotta have 11 hats to the football every single snap.
Q. Last night you guys were out at the Dodd Trophy dinner with some of the coaching legends of the sport. What was that experience like, do they impart any wisdom on you -- you guys were at the Dodd Trophy dinner last night, what was the experience with some of those legends did they impart any wisdom on you?
COACH FISHER: First, it was an honor. You're almost in awe. You look around, you're talking about the number of wins, the championships, but more importantly, what I saw in the room was tremendous men.
I mean, when you go back and look, coaches that have had long-term success, this guy's smart, this guy is -- you know what all of them are? They're great people and know how to build relationship and have great passion for the people who work for them and the people they coach and the players they coach.
And every one of them, you heard the stories, you heard them talk about the players and the relationships and the recruiting stories. After you were there for a few -- there's no secret to why they had success. They have great passion for what they do but they have passion for the people who were involved in that and the wisdom.
I mean, you sit and heard the stories, you didn't have to talk, just sit and listen, and what it meant to be a coach, how to be a coach. And then of course we were able to mingle beforehand with all the great participants that were going into the hall of fame. You see all the great players in the history -- again, I love the history of the game and remember a lot of those guys and try to study it.
It just reminds you that you're a very, how lucky we really are to be in this profession and how the impact on lives of young individuals that we have and the responsibility we have as coaches to not -- we get caught up in the wins and losses and how much money you're making, are you going to get fired, are you going to go to this job, are you going to go to that job. You know what? How about appreciate what you have and influence the young men you're coaching and try to make them better people.
I think if anything came across to me last night, that's what I got out of the whole evening.
COACH HERMAN: I echo that. I mean, "starstruck" is the first phrase that comes to my mind. I'm just looking around the room saying to myself, well, which one of these guys in here doesn't belong? And I kept coming back to me.
But it was tremendous, like Coach Fisher was saying. The thing that stuck out to me was how genuinely nice those men -- Ralph Friedgen and his wife came up to me and spoke to me for 15 minutes. Coach Friedgen said to me, man, I'm really impressed with what you've done with your team.
I'm, like, this is Ralph Friedgen telling me -- Ralph Friedgen actually even spends one second of his day thinking about me, that's cool. And Bobby Ross actually knows who the University of Houston is. And Bill Curry has watched a game of ours.
I was just really awe-stricken by the amount of wins and history in that room. But like Coach Fisher was saying, the genuineness of the guys in that room, and it was very apparent that there's no magic secret, formula to success other than really caring about people. And that was very evident in that room last night.
Q. Tom, when was the last time you were at a Mensa meeting? You've gone -- if you do go, do you talk football?
COACH HERMAN: The last time I went to a Mensa meeting was never. It was a thing that was -- when I was in college, I didn't know if I was going to be a coach or not. And so I was putting together my resum√© and had been given the advice, hey, you were in some special classes when you were a youngster, there's this organization that might look good on a resum√©.
So I go and do all the things necessary to be a part of it. And, hey, I qualify or whatever it is. And so I put the damn thing on my resum√©.
And lazy SIDs take resum√©s and turn them into bios. And so that thing has followed me for quite some time because some SID a long time ago decided that he was just going to take my resum√© and turn it into a bio on the Internet and not ask me if I wanted that on there or not.
And so I would imagine there's not a whole lot of football talk at those Mensa meetings, though, to answer that second part of your question.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, I'd like to correct one thing you said: There's no such thing as a lazy SID.
COACH HERMAN: Have you been to Houston?
THE MODERATOR: Wow.
COACH HERMAN: Gotcha, Bass. Love ya, buddy.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports