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January 1, 2016

Pat Fitzgerald

St. Petersburg, Florida

Tennessee 45, Northwestern 6

PAT FITZGERALD: Thanks for the great introduction and to Outback for being one of the great sponsors of one of the great games in college football and for the opportunity for our young men to come down here to Tampa and experience a first class week.

Obviously it's what makes college football so special is to be in the postseason, and to Jim McVay, his entire team, I've got so many – Bill (Cammarata), who's the chairman this year, his board members, Linda (Karpovich) and Jerry (Kulig) and Mike (Schulze) and Becky (Weightman), Kevin Collins, our great host, our state trooper Iggy (Torres) I'm not sure where he is there he is, that were with us all week, just absolutely first class and spectacular, and can't thank you enough to the city of Tampa. We went out to Clearwater, and all the experiences here were just absolutely first class for our young men, so thank you from the bottom of our heart.

Sorry we didn't give you a better game. Disappointed with obviously the outcome of the game, but want to tip my hat and congratulate Coach Jones and his staff and young men.

Obviously we felt we had a pretty good plan coming in, tough turnover early, our defense ends up getting the stop that we needed. Put together a pretty good drive, and feel like we got momentum going there a little bit in the second quarter, and then came out in the second half and just turned it over, couldn't get off the field with 3rd down stops, and as the game went along, obviously it got had three scores, and at that point with Tennessee's running game, it was going to be pretty challenging and difficult to get back in it.

Had some things that we thought we could execute, and obviously we weren't able to do that today. Obviously credit Coach Jones, his young men and the Tennessee Volunteers. We want to congratulate them on winning the 30th Outback Bowl.

And disappointed for our fans that made the trip down here and want to thank them, but most importantly, want to say thank you to our seniors, an amazing group of young men from absolutely amazing families.

It was really hard for me the other day it's hard for me now, sorry. Our program has been through a lot in the last two years. Our seniors, wow, they've been the reason why we got ourselves here.

We haven't been to 10 wins a lot, and from you guys at Tennessee, that sounds a little weird, but we're trying to become a team that puts themselves consistently and competitively at the top of our league and competes the same way nationally, and obviously with today's outcome we're far from where we need to be.

But a great group of seniors from amazing families. They led us through it, started last January. I think they've left a legacy of what it's going to take for us to continue to take the necessary steps to be successful consistently, and then hopefully for us to take the next step, which is competing for the Big Ten West and being consistent, being in bowl games and winning bowl games.

Again, thank you to the Outback, thank you to Jim and his entire staff, the board, all the great volunteers and the city of Tampa for an amazing experience, and congratulations again to Butch.

With that, how about some questions, please.

Q. You've been here twice. First time, close loss. Which is the easiest for you to recover from, the close loss or this one?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, neither. (Laughter.)

You learn and you grow, you know. I've been doing this now in this role for 10 years. It's one game. When I put the Gator Bowl trophy next to us a few years back, we knew it was one win. It was one big win for our program with the monkey that we had on our back and the narrative, but from the standpoint of this is one game at the end of a spectacular season.

You know, unfortunately we're going to have some guys that it's going to be a little while for them to get this game and their play off their chest, and the same thing for us as coaches, obviously. It starts with our plan. I thought our guys really prepared well. We just weren't able to take it into today, and so I've got to tip my hat and credit Tennessee. I thought they played pretty clean. We thought we were going to have to turn them over from the standpoint of their skill set to steal some possessions from them, and we had obviously four turnovers on our end and one for a touchdown there at the end of the game that really was insignificant, but those three that were significant.

You know, you just move on. You learn, you grow, you flush it, and you move forward, and you know, you just hope that with the way society is today that what are they called, trolls or something like that, on Twitter? You know, that they get a life. You know, it's one game, and it's disappointing and we're heartbroken, but you move forward. You take all the great lessons that we learned today, all the great lessons we learned throughout the whole season, and you learn from it and you grow and you get better next year, and that's when we expect to do.

Been doing this for a long time now. You've got to flush it and move forward.

Q. What's been the problem on offense? Is it talent?
PAT FITZGERALD: Well, I think from the standpoint of struggle, you're talking about stats, and the only stat that matters to me is winning, and we won 10 games.

The specific things I've got to step back a little bit to be able to really look at all the individual areas and the specific things. I think it's going to always start with us as coaches. We've got to put our guys we philosophically believe in players, formations, plays, and there were times today that we felt like we had some things going, missed a block there, missed a catch here, missed a throw here, missed a throw there. I think right now the overall theme is just consistency. We've got to be more consistent, and we've got to do a better job getting our guys to do that, and then we've got to continue to upgrade our talent on the whole program, so that way we can continue to have competition.

We've got that right now on defense, and I think that's why you saw the defense improve from last year to this year was the competition. I really feel strongly and positive about our young talent on offense. We've just got to have a much more competitive off season. We'll actually have a sophomore quarterback. You know, he won 10 games as a freshman. That's pretty spectacular in my book.

Q. How did you feel like he played today?
PAT FITZGERALD: Probably like our whole team, not well enough to win.

Any positive questions? (Laughter.)

Q. Based on the games this year against Stanford and against Iowa, where do you feel you are among those teams?
PAT FITZGERALD: Well, you know, I'm not in that league, so I don't want to ever speak to that. I watched the video getting prepared and watched every game and went back and watched games from last year, people that we thought Tennessee would look at to go after us. They had some really nice little wrinkles that they attacked our defense with today, so you've got to tip your hat to their coaching staff. They got us on a few things.

I thought we prepared well. There wasn't a whole lot that we didn't see that we saw today that we didn't expect to see. Maybe one play down in the tight zone that was a pretty good little scheme where we were out flanked on the 3rd down touchdown that we just didn't adjust well. We started in empty, we communicated too much and, paralysis by analysis, a guys walks in and nobody touches his flag.

I think they're an outstanding football team. I'm sure you guys are going to write great articles and put all the stress on Butch and pick them to win the SEC next year and all that. That's the way it goes. And then you read our blogs and we stink and we can't play and we have no chance. That's the way the narrative goes your last game.

But I'd look at our body of work: 10 wins with a rookie quarterback, I'll take it. We've got a lot of room for improvement. We'll get better; I believe that. But as far as them, it's probably a much better question for Butch than me.

Q. You guys moved Solomon Vault to mostly receiver for this game. That’s the way you practiced leading up to this game. Is that something he is going to do more next year?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, well, based on the way we were today offensively probably looked like we drew it up on the way over to the stadium. But no, he practiced that way all bowl prep. We felt like having him watch and not be on the field was probably something that we felt like, again, going back to players, formations, plays, getting him on the field more. Will he? I don't know, we'll see. We don't play for a while, so I don't have to tell you guys anything, and practices are closed.

No. If you can't laugh, guys, you've got to check your pulse and check your heartbeat. Tough day, but we'll see, man. I don't know. I don't know. We've got a lot of work to do, obviously. Today is a very strong indication of that, and so I'm going to enjoy tonight with my family and with our seniors and get on a plane and go cheer my tail off for Chris and the guys tomorrow night and go see if we can find a way to win a basketball game against a top 10 team.

Q. Talk about the season ending like this.
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, no, I mean, definitely for the seniors. You walk out with a pit in your stomach knowing this was your last game. We tried to get all the guys in, too, towards the end. I don't know if we accomplished that, but that was what we were trying to do.

No, I mean, I'm keeping it in perspective because it should be kept in perspective. You win 10 football games, it's a darned good football season. It doesn't matter what league you're in, what level you're at. You win 10 games against double digits, and I understand a lot of jobs are to nit pick the little things and to I understand all that, but as the leader of the program I'm not going to let negative ever get involved in my mindset, attitude or approach to the way that we're going to do things. I know that steers people the wrong way. I frankly don't care.

My job is to help young people get better, help our program get better and help them prepare for life. I think we're gaining on where we want to get on the field, but we're not quite there yet, and that's incredibly motivating. It's humbling, like today, but you know, you roll your sleeves up and that's the way I was raised. I'm from the South Side, as you guys know, and you roll your sleeves up and go back to work the next day.

Q. Today the offensive and defensive lines didn't dominate the line of scrimmage. Was it something that changed in one day?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah, I think there were three games this year that we didn't win the line of scrimmage. It was today, Iowa and Michigan. So I think there's a theme there. For us to be successful, we have got to win on the line of scrimmage, and 10 times we did.

I don't think we're that far away, but again, I think what I said earlier about consistency, we've got to get to that from the standpoint of competition, and unfortunately and again, you've got to credit Tennessee. They played really well. You've got to credit Iowa. They played really well against us, and so did Michigan. So you credit those three teams that beat you, and then you spend the whole off season looking at the areas that you did well, and then you look at those three games and you pound your head against the post and you figure out why didn't it work this week, why didn't it work this game, and then you try to create solutions and find ways to fix it.

Q. Do you have a sense for what was different in those three games?
PAT FITZGERALD: Yeah. Like I said, I think we played three teams that were pretty good. You know, I think, what, nine win team, a nine win team and a double digit win team. You know, those are three pretty good teams, and we just ended up on the short end. Again, I can't say that I've stepped back enough and watched the cut ups and go through, because their schemes are all a little bit different. Their personnel is a little bit different, but it starts with us, and we've just got to be better as coaches, no question.

Q. Playing in a January bowl game, can you talk about what that does for recruiting?
PAT FITZGERALD: Oh, we're killing it in recruiting. I'm not worried about that. We're going to always go, not only just starting our recruiting in Chicago, but we're going to go national. We've got 20 plus states on the roster, and we've got 20 great guys in the boat. We've got a young man showing up here, Tommy Carnifax, in two days. Yeah, two days he'll start his first class. He's already signed his tender and ready to go. Excited about him and looking forward to that.

And then from the rest of the class, we've got a little bit of work to do, but kids want to play for a winner. They want to play and get a great education from a great school and be prepared for life. We've got those in place, and now the new facilities we've got on board, we've got a lot of work to do, but those are great catalysts and great things to look forward to until the future.

Thanks again to Jim McVay, everybody here at the Outback, all of you media folks for what you do for college football, outback for being a great sponsor. Happy New Year's and safe travels home. Thanks a lot. Go, Cats.

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