What has occurred through the last few weeks has been nothing shy of a tremendous accomplishment for our kids. The support has been outstanding from the university, the people from Cincinnati and the Sugar Bowl – a first-class BCS Bowl.
We're quite honored and obviously very excited to be down here this week in preparation for our Jan. 1 matchup. Our kids have accomplished something that has never been accomplished at Cincinnati: 12-0.
To overcome adversity has been really what this football team really represents: Persevering through some of the more challenging things that they have had to accomplish. When we started out at the beginning of the year, we talked about this. Coming off of the Orange Bowl loss, we wanted to get back to the BCS with the Big East and that's the opportunity that these kids have in front of them. We came in last night, we had a little shakeout. Today, we work on our first day. We call it ‘Mental Monday.' We're going to focus on the mental aspect of getting ready for this matchup against Florida. Without Coach (Brian) Kelly vision and his leadership, we wouldn't be here today. He's done an outstanding job for this university and this football program, and obviously we wish him well in his future endeavor of coaching. And then our coaches and our players and our seniors all have a tremendous responsibility to be prepared to play at the highest level to compete for a Sugar Bowl championship and finish our season 13-0."
What does an undefeated season mean to Cincinnati: "It means everything. Anytime you go into a season and play in the Big East and our non-league games, these kids committed themselves after the Orange Bowl. We saw the sacrifice and the commitment they made to each other from day one. When we first started at higher ground when we went into our preseason camp, just to see this football team come together and grow and overcome adversity and win some very very tight games, winning big games on the road against Rutgers and Oregon State…we just knew we had a very special group of young men, just the way they interact and the way they went about their business. And not only just on the field but off the field. So it means everything for our young men to focus on finishing the season."
What kind of emotion do you see Florida bringing to this game? "Well this is a great football team in Florida. This is a very competitive group of young men. You've seen it all year long. The idea for us right now is to stay focused on what we can control, not with Florida. They're a very competitive team, and they're going to challenge us every play. And our kids all need to be locked in each and every snap. Tim Tebow is arguably one of the best players to play the game of football. Coach (Urban) Meyer has just done some incredible things with the football program at Florida, winning national championships, winning SEC Championships. This guy's a winner. They're a winner. And for us to beat a championship football team of that caliber, we're going to have to do it one play at a time."
You have now been the interim head coach for two bowl games, what did you learn from your first experience at Central Michigan in the 2006 Motor City Bowl? "I've said this many times before, but it really comes down to the young men on our football team. We are here today because these young men have sacrificed and committed themselves to the University of Cincinnati. I have entrenched myself into everything these young men do. I've learned to always continuing leading, committing yourself and overcome adversity. That is what makes this game great; it is bigger than just the game and is part of the game of life. The situations these kids have had to face and overcome has drawn us closer together. We will keep our young men focused on the task at hand. The game is going to come and we are going to need to be at our best. I never allow the distractions to take away from our focus on this football game. We have tried to scale it back to just that and not allow the outside distractions disturb their ability for the game that they have to play. I remind them of that everyday."
Is it frustrating knowing that for the next several days your team will have to deal with questions regarding not just Coach Kelly but now Coach Meyer as well? "Well being 12-0 has been the most important thing for our football team - that and knowing that we did it together. Coach Kelly has been a tremendous part of this football team and we have accomplished these things together. The opportunity for him to take the job at Notre Dame is what he thought was best for him and his family and we respect that. Now what we have to do is really lean on our seniors. We have talked about ‘circling the wagons' and bringing our football team together and bringing home a perfect season. To do that it is going to take everything we have. We can't control some of the things that happen in this business. We are here now and we are together. We don't want any of this to take away what they have accomplished so far."
Do you think it may work to your team's advantage that there will be so much talk about Coach Meyer and that may take away the focus of the Florida team? "It is obviously very difficult for Coach Meyer to make this decision. Obviously this game has taken a lot out of him. If he feels that he needs to take a step back, I wish him great success in his future endeavors. I do know that if he ever wants to get back into coaching, I would definitely want to hire him. The bottom line is that you have to keep this in perspective – you have to and you have to talk about it. We have to execute our offense, defense and special teams. We don't have time to let those other things interfere with our preparation. These kinds of things happen, but we are going to continue to focus on the task at hand."