Nick Saban ReIntroduced To SEC Football

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VANDERBILT COMMODORES:

COACH BOBBY JOHNSON--

THE MODERATOR: We are ready to begin with Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson.

COACH JOHNSON: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Pleasure to be here.

Obviously, we're pretty excited about starting the season. We got a lot of guys returning who played pretty well for us last year. A lot of experience in the offensive line for the first time since I've been head coach.

We got a little buzz going around Vanderbilt as far as our chances for improvement this year, and we're anxious to get started.

Had a lot of guys in summer school working hard. They're ready to go. We're ready to talk about Vanderbilt football. Be glad to answer any questions you may have.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Johnson.

Q. Could you talk about D.J. Moore. Was he a big surprise for y'all last year? What do you expect from him?

COACH JOHNSON: D.J. Moore is a cornerback, played a good bit for us last year as a freshman. Was not a real big surprise. We thought he was an outstanding athlete. I think he was athlete of the year in the state of South Carolina his senior year of high school, football player and basketball player.

There's always a learning curve, especially playing in the SEC. D.J. went through that. Very productive. Seems to be where the ball is all the time, makes a lot of plays for us. I think had four interceptions, maybe three, I can't quite remember.

D.J. gets better and better every time he goes on the field, especially practice. We had a good spring practice with him. He's going to probably be a starter at one of our corner positions. I think he'll be more comfortable this year than last.

It's pretty tough to ask a freshman to go in there and be great guns against the great receivers we have in this league.

We think he's a talented athlete. Hope to get more and more out of him.

Q. Talk about Chris Nickson, signing Larry Smith. Is Kikko Logan still with the program? Talk about his impact with the team.

COACH JOHNSON: Sure, we're excited about those Alabama guys playing for us. Obviously good high school football in the state of Alabama. We like to recruit down here.

Chris Nickson I think got better and better as he played last year. For a first year starter, I know Chris was a redshirt sophomore, but it was his first year starting, and he had a little rough game to open up with. Had to play Michigan up there in the Big House. That was pretty tough duty.

I was very pleased with his progress throughout the year. I think Chris was playing extremely well at the end of last season. We expect him to make that kind of progress.

He actually had a better sophomore year I think statistically and record wise than Jay Cutler. If he continues that progress we think he's going to be an outstanding quarterback.

Chris has a lot of pride. He works hard in the off season. I think he's becoming a better leader, doing the things he needs to do to be the quarterback on an SEC football team.

Chris was I think Mr. Football in the state of Alabama when we recruited him. Larry Smith from Prattville, Alabama, had a fantastic career there at Prattville High School. Led them to a state championship last year. He's just what we order for a quarterback. He's very athletic. He's got a great arm. He's got a great head for it. He's been in summer school for two sessions now. Has made great progress learning our offense from Chris and Mackenzi Adams, our other quarterback. We expect big things out of him.

For him to get in there this year is probably going to be a stretch. We'd like to redshirt him and give him a chance to maximize his eligibility while he's at Vanderbilt. Unless injuries come up, we're probably going to let him learn a little bit.

Kikko Logan, he's defensive end for us. We moved him to defensive end from linebacker because we've had some openings there. Kikko is a good athlete and he can move. It's good to have those guys coming off the edge playing defensive end.

We've had some success in the last two years especially of moving linebackers down to defensive end, getting those guys moving fast. I think Kikko is in that same vein.

Q. How much of a personal relationship do you maintain with the other coaches other than that three days in Destin? How much interaction is there?

COACH JOHNSON: Personal interaction, there's not a lot just because you're so busy and everybody has their schedule. You talk to them on the phone every once in a while. We all know what's going on in each other's programs and their lives most of the time.

You know, the Destin meetings, and we also have another one in December when the American Football Coaches Association convention is going on, we always have a meeting there. Those meetings, I like them. They're kind of fun to me. You hear what's going on. You share problems that you may be having, find out what other people are doing, how they're doing it.

We don't call each other up and go play golf or anything like that, or fishing.

Q. Could you talk about what you think about the rule changes for this year, specifically kicking off from the 30 and getting the plays back in with the clock management?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, the clock rules, I'm glad they're going back. I spent a lot of time talking about them really, to tell you the truth, last year. But I think it was good decisions, like Rogers has said, to try to save time when the clock is stopped, get things going a little more efficient there than messing with the actual seconds of the game. So I'm glad they changed those back.

I was not in favor of moving the ball to the 30. I think you had a good mix of returns and touchbacks, whatever. The rationale was to speed up the game. It's not going to speed it up because there are going to be a lot more kickoffs. There's going to be a lot more touchdowns because there's going to be better field position and more returns now.

Returns are exciting, but I want to give those defensive guys a chance, too, to get out there and play and show they're good, too.

Q. Can you talk about just your overall talent you have now compared to the last two years. Also talk about your expectations. Are they as high or higher now for the team even two years ago when Cutler was a senior?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, it's my opinion. But I think we're much more talented than we have been early in my career at Vanderbilt. I think our coaches have done a good job of identifying good players in high school and going out and convincing them to come to Vanderbilt and play in the SEC, get a top 20 rated university education.

Yeah, I think we're more talented. We got some ways you want to look at it. Some guys played some games and started some games. We have 17, 18 starters returning. We've won some pretty big games in the last couple years. I think that in itself is probably more important than talent level or whatever, is our confidence level. I think our guys feel like they can compete in this league. Their work habits reflect that. They want to be good.

When you get that working for you you're going to have a chance. Our guys right now feel pretty good about what we're doing as a team and how we're doing it.

As a coach, you really appreciate when guys work hard and feel like they can compete and get out there and try to do something about it.

Q. You have been close the last couple years. The perception is it's still Vanderbilt that can't get over the hump. What is keeping you from getting to that next level? Are you starting to feel more the pressure from the fans the closer you get?

COACH JOHNSON: No, I wasn't aware of that perception (smiling).

When you play in this league, I mean, you got to scratch and claw to get the victories. I mean, the people at the top of the SEC East and the SEC West are there for a reason. They've had consistent programs year after year after year. They have great talent, great coaches.

For somebody to come in and try to work theirselves up the ladder, I think Kentucky did a fantastic job last year. You know, but you look and see how tough it is to pass those teams that are ahead of us.

But we've had some quality wins the last couple years. We won some games on the road. We have been close, but we've also won some close games. It's just not Vanderbilt like it used to be where you got close, the end of the game, didn't win. We won some.

We feel like we're making progress. May not be fast to all of y'all, but, you know, we're working as hard as we can. Our guys are having fun doing it. Our coaches work extremely hard. We're looking forward to the season.

Our confidence is pretty high right now, but we also have to look at our schedule every once in a while and be realistic. You know, we played eight teams that were in a Bowl last year. So high hopes, but we got a tough job ahead of us. We're looking forward to getting it started.

Q. Could you address the quality of coaching in the SEC, in your estimation where it ranks nationally.

COACH JOHNSON: That's a loaded question, I tell you that right now (laughter).

Obviously I think it's the best. You look at how many championships have been won by the coaches, and not only the head coaches, but you look at the staffs at each one of these schools. You see people that have had great experience, great victories, great seasons. They know how to recruit. They know how to coach in games. They know the game of football. You know, you look down every school in this league, and it's pretty impressive.

Obviously, I have not coached against the PAC 10 and the Big 12. I have coached against the ACC before. You know, I think the SEC is going to rank up there with everybody.

Everybody knows you got to have good players, but coaching counts a bunch, too.

Q. Would you be in favor or not in favor of an early signing period for recruiting?

COACH JOHNSON: I'm in favor of it. I think guys make up their mind earlier now. If they've made up their mind, let 'em sign. It's their decision. I don't see why there's a certain magic date that comes in there and says, Okay, by this date you have already exhausted all your possibilities. You've looked over them. There is no magic date.

If a guy's ready to sign, let him sign. I think he's in good shape. The school who signs him is in good shape. All the other schools know he's not available anymore. You don't waste money recruiting him. The school that's got him committed doesn't waste money trying to baby sit him until signing day.

I think early signing date has a lot of merit.

Q. How are you and your staff changing your recruiting strategy with the ban on text messaging scheduled August 1st?

COACH JOHNSON: Excuse me, I've got to text somebody right here. Be with you in a minute (smiling).

We're not going to change a whole lot. Obviously, you know, you get in the season you got one phone call a week. You got to make that count. You don't just call him up and say hello for 10 seconds. You've got to have his position coach available, make it as important as you can.

You write them letters like we used to. We still did, even though you text them. You still do it. You can email them. They're pretty savvy with the computer. They'll be checking emails, too.

I don't think it's going to be a big change. I think it's going to be a big change in a positive way. I think young men will be able to go to school and not worry about getting text messages during class.

I talked to a lot of high school coaches last spring when I was out on the road. They were pretty fired up about doing away with the text messaging. They're asking their players to do well in school. They're text messaging under the table, under their desk. You know, I think it had become a problem.

Q. Can you talk about your eight game home schedule, the importance of that overall this year.

COACH JOHNSON: Well, we're thrilled that we have eight games. I think it worked out that all of our non conference games were at home this year. That's how we had the eight games out of the 12.

To tell you the truth, we'd had bigger wins on the road the last two years than we have at home. We need to play better at home. Hopefully that's going to spur us on to do that.

We actually made a little emphasis during spring practice to practice in the stadium more, to make sure that we did feel like that was where we were going to win football games.

It always makes it just a whole lot easier on the whole process when you're at home. You don't have to get on the bus, get on a plane, have your equipment trucked halfway across the country, things like that. It just makes life a whole lot simpler. Makes it easier for our guys in school. There's no travel.

I say "no travel." No travel on eight games. They can stay in their routine, get their schoolwork done. We're thrilled about it. I think right now our season ticket sales have been up a good bit. So hopefully we're going to have a full stadium on all eight of those home games, have a great atmosphere. That will help our football team, too.

Q. Did you have any idea Earl Bennett would be on the doorstep of becoming the all time leading receiver in SEC history as a junior? What does it say about the science of recruiting that a guy like this is about to break this record and wasn't a highly recruited guy?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, obviously you couldn't foresee him being that close to a record his junior year. We knew Earl was a good player when we recruited and signed him, but he's been pretty special.

I just hope he can stay healthy and do all the things he's capable of doing, because he's a pretty special player, an outstanding young man. I think day before yesterday he received an Outstanding Citizen award from Birmingham for the city. He's that kind of guy.

Everybody thinks we stole Earl. A lot of people knew about Earl. Our coaches did a good job of recruiting him. There are a lot of guys out there that blossom late in their senior year in high school or even in their career in college that don't have the ratings that some people do. That's what recruiting is all about.

As a recruiting coach and staff you look at those guys and you try to project where they can play in your system. You try to look, see who they played against in high school. There's all kinds of factors, not just the big plays they make every once in a while in big games.

It's a process. You said "science." It is not a science. That's the thing about it. Sometimes you take a chance and you make a big coup in recruiting. Sometimes you make mistakes. You try to limit those mistakes as much as you can. The key to I think having a great program is consistent recruiting, you know, over four , five , six year period.

"Consistent" means sometimes you're going to get a big star, but keep those mistakes to a minimum and make sure you're getting players who can contribute to your program year in and year out and stay in school.

Q. You brought up your offensive line being better than it's been since you've been there. Do offensive lines take longer to build?

COACH JOHNSON: Ours was decimated when I first got there. We had only four guys the first spring practice. We were looking for the fifth guy. Knew they were going to make us play with five when we started the season. We were looking hard.

Again, we were coming off just getting there, trying to recruit. It takes a long time to build up a position that's really down. Some of the guys we recruited were good players. Some of them weren't quite good enough. It took us a while to build it up.

Right now we feel like the last four years we've been pretty consistent in recruiting and we've retained some guys.

Chris Williams, our left tackle, 6'6", 6'7", whatever you want to call him, 325 pounds, and can run. He came to Vanderbilt as a 245 pound guy. He's worked extremely hard to make himself a great player.

Brian Stamper, who was an all SEC candidate last year, and didn't play because he got hurt, was awarded a fifth year by the NCAA. They did a smart thing. I applaud the NCAA for giving that young man another chance. But he's going to give us a lot of experience.

Experience and depth. We got some guys that are going to back those guys up, who are pretty good, and actually pushing some of those guys for the starting position. That some steady recruiting, good coaching by our coach Robbie Caldwell, our line coach, assistant head coach, I think we're going to have our best offensive line since we've been there.

Q. Two guys that you mostly did without last year were Jeff Jennings and Stamper, who you just mentioned. I assume they had major rehabs. Talk about their readiness to play this year, and what having a healthy Brian Stamper will have for your team.

COACH JOHNSON: Brian Stamper had a back injury. Had an operation on his back after the season. Was actually ready to go for spring practice and broke his foot about the third practice. We call him Lucky now (smiling).

To get him back, obviously he was a quality player but also just the depth part of it and the leadership part of it. He's ready to go. He's back to about 305 pounds now, running real well, lifting well. We think he's ready to go.

Jeff Jennings hurt his knee in the next to the last game in the 2005 season. Did not play at all last year. Jeff was having a very fine year. Jeff is a big back. He's 225 pounds. He can get those short yardage things. He also has a little in that case on the goal line to get in the end zone.

Those two things are going to help our running game. That's what we need to happen to be better and more consistent on offense. We threw the ball very well last year. Our quarterback ran very well. In fact, he was our leading rusher. Our running game needs to get better. Those two things, having Jeff Jennings back and having Brian Stamper improve our offensive line, is really going to help us.

Q. Can you assess the number two quarterback spot. Chris is established as your starter. How do you see that going into camp?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think Mackenzi Adams is working extremely hard. He's been in summer school all summer. He's up to 215 pounds now. He's worked real hard to try to improve his throwing motion.

I just think the world of Mackenzi Adams. He's just right there with Chris Nickson. We would feel very good about putting him in the game.

Richard Kovalcheck is coming back. Very experienced quarterback. He's a young man who transferred last year from Arizona. Excellent arm. Excellent vision. He can see the field, knows who to throw to.

Richard will be a senior. Mackenzi will be a redshirt sophomore. Probably right now, if something were to happen to Chris in a game, we'd probably go with Mackenzi to look to the future of the program, get him some experience.

But at certain positions, certain situations, Richard might be the guy to try to bring you back if you get behind in the fourth quarter, whatever. He's got an excellent arm and can do that kind of stuff.

We feel good about the quarterback position. We got some quality talent there. We got some older guys and we got some young guys coming up that we're excited about. It's a good spot for us.

Q. With Dr. Gee moving on to Ohio State.

COACH JOHNSON: Who?

Q. Your president.

COACH JOHNSON: I was just kidding (smiling).

Q. With him of moving onto Ohio State, do you see any changes in the way the Vanderbilt athletic department is organized? Do you expect to move back to a more traditional way?

COACH JOHNSON: I don't really think so right now because if you look at Vanderbilt's athletics assessed the last year, it's probably one of the best years ever.

Our interim chancellor, Nick Zeppos, who was our provost, he was in on the change and helped facilitate it the whole time it was going on.

I think he's very much in line with the same kind of thinking that we had before. In fact, I have a meeting with him tomorrow. But I expect the same kind of setup and same kind of organization.

I think David Williams, our chancellor in charge of athletics, I think is going to stay at Vanderbilt. I can't speak for him, but I think he is. All the pieces are still in place except for Chancellor Gee. I don't see why it would change.

Q. Where do you see Jared Fagan now in terms of his progress?

COACH JOHNSON: Jared was a freshman last year. He'll be a redshirt freshman this year. Jared made a lot of progress in the spring. Excellent arm. I mean, he's probably got the best arm of anybody on our squad. But he's got to learn the position a little bit more.

Especially in this league, you know, the defenses you see, the situations you see, are really tough on young quarterbacks.

For him to make that kind of leap and leap over Mackenzi or Chris Nickson is not strong right now. But, you know, we still feel good about his capabilities. If it gets to the point where he has to get in there, we wouldn't be afraid to put him in there.

Q. With you picking up two ACC transfers in the last few weeks, going back to Kovalcheck last year, is Vanderbilt becoming a more attractive destination for guys like this who may be seeking greener pastures elsewhere maybe because of the recruiting you guys are doing? Is there anything to it? How do you assess that?

COACH JOHNSON: Well, I wouldn't read too much into it. I think they were both unique situations. We had recruited one pretty heavily out of high school so he knew a lot about us. It was not like he was just reading it on the Internet or anything like that and decided, you know, he was going to go to Vanderbilt. He knew a good bit about it.

We think we got a good product there. Wonderful university. Get a great education. We play against some of the best teams in the country. We've been selling out since we've gotten there. I think it's gotten the message has gotten out to some guys. Right now our recruiting for next year's class that's going to sign next February is going really well. We couldn't be more pleased with that.

We got some good things going. We just got to do our job and keep our season going like we hope it can go. Believe me, that helps recruiting a whole lot more than phone calls and text messaging and fancy cards and things like that. If you're going to get them there, you got to prove that you can compete. Hopefully we can continue to do that.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

COACH JOHNSON: Thank y'all. Appreciate it.

Linebacker Jonathan Goff:

On expectations for the upcoming season:
"We have really high expectations. We expect to win every game on our schedule. I believe we are physically and mentally prepared to do that."

On the close games:
"It is good to realize what we could have done and then build off of that."

On trying to get over the hump:
"We were able to hang in there and make the plays against Georgia to get the win. That was a big win for us to get over that hump. We had a lot of close games in previous seasons that we did not make the necessary plays to win."

On this being a breakthrough year for the team:
"The mindset of the program has changed, and I just believe that Coach (Bobby) Johnson and his staff have done a great job with recruiting and changing the mindset of the team."

On Quarterback Chris Nickson:
"He is one of the hardest workers that I have seen on the team. He is always out there doing extra work, and the team has a lot of confidence in him. After workouts, Chris (Nickson) is always out there throwing extra with the receivers. I have also played a little long toss with him just helping him out the best I can."

On potentially being an All-SEC athlete:
"I believe that I am a quality player. I do as best I can to prepare myself physically during the off-season, and while we are in season I try to do as best I can to learn the game and learn my opponent. Then, I take that and try to give a great effort on Saturdays."

Wide Receiver Earl Bennett:

On being home:
"It feels great to be back in Birmingham, my home city. There is a great crowd, wonderful fans, and it just feels great to be back home."

On Quarterback Chris Nickson:
"Chris Nickson is a great athlete. He is so dynamic, he can throw ball, run the ball, and it is really hard to scheme against him. I really enjoy playing with him and I look forward to a great year with him."

On Vandy's chances this season:
"Our chances are very high this season. We have a lot of returning starters and guys who have been working extremely hard this off season."

On Jonathan Goff:
"Jon Goff is a phenomenal player. He is a great player both on and off the field, and one of the best linebackers in the nation. All of the recognition that he gets is deserved and I love to play with him."

On your expectations for this season:
"I really don't set expectations for myself, I just go out there, play hard, and do the best that I can to help this team (Vanderbilt) win. That's the most important thing to me, for the team to win, not how many touchdowns or catches that I have."

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE--

COACH NICK SABAN:

THE MODERATOR: We're ready to continue with Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

COACH SABAN: How is everybody doing today? Good to be here. Great to be back in the SEC.

First of all, I'd like to thank each and every one of you for the job that you do, the time that you spend giving a lot of positive self gratification to a lot of people, a lot of players who participate in college football in the SEC. It's great for our league. It's great for college football. It's certainly great for our players. I know our fans certainly appreciate it.

I've been asked the question on several occasions already today, What is the difference in the league now than when you left? And my response to that is: it seems like it's even tougher now than ever before. The competition from top to bottom, the great coaches in the league, the great programs, more good teams, lots of great players. But I also think that's what makes this an outstanding, competitive venue.

I know you're going to ask me a lot of questions about our team. But let me say this: In some cases, you may know more about our team than we do. When you take over a team, you go through an off season program, you go through a spring practice, you try to teach your offense, your defense, your special teams, you try to learn a little about your players in the 15 days that you have spring practice.

We've been very pleased with the attitude, the buy in by the players, the effort that they've given. You have a summer conditioning program where you really can't work with your players. A lot of the questions that we have about our team are probably going to be answered in this fall camp and this two a days, this early part of the season.

What I mean by that is, you know, what kind of team chemistry do we have? Do we have the kind of trust and respect that we're going to go out there and play well together as a group and execute well together as a team, have the kind of togetherness you need to be as successful as we'd like to be?

That's something that's kind of a work in progress, and we're continuing to try to build and develop. I can't answer that question right now. I think a lot of those questions are going to get answered for us all in this fall camp and the early part of the football season.

How positive are we going to be as a team? What kind of positive energy are we going to have? I think we're the type of team that improvement is going to be a big part of our success in terms of we're learning new stuff so we're going to have an opportunity to improve more.

How our team improves, how they can stay positive, work through some of the ups and downs we'll go through, I think, is going to be imperative to our being successful as a team. That's something I'm not sure about until we get into more competitive situations.

How many players do we actually have on our team that are going to be responsible for their own self determination on a consistent basis to be able to go out there and execute with the kind of discipline you need to do their job so that we have a chance to be successful as a group? That's something that we're going to have to develop, again, in this two a day, because it certainly hasn't been developed in the short time we worked with our players in spring practice.

The last thing is, are we going to be able to improve our ability to sustain our performance for four quarters in a game and play for 60 minutes? We've been pleased with the progress that we made in our strength and conditioning program in the off season, but we're not going to know that till we start playing games. I think that's going to be important for us to be able to finish games so that we have a better opportunity to win close games.

So all those questions are things that, you know, we kind of are still trying to answer ourselves about our team. I know there's always going to be the questions about expectations. Let me just say this: We would not want to coach someplace where they didn't expect to win. So expectations are something that can be very, very positive.

At the same time, I think that you want to be realistic in the expectations that you have relative to who you are, where you are, and how you're going to get there.

It's great to be optimistic. It's probably not so good to be pessimistic. But it's best to be realistic, to stay focused on the process of things you need to do to continue to improve so that you can reach your full potential and have every individual player reach his full potential so that you can have the best possible team that you can.

That's where our focus is. That's what we're trying to do. That's what we're anxiously looking forward to doing in this fall camp and early in this season.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Saban.

Q. The type of reception you got today in the lobby, from the day you got off the plane in Alabama, have you gotten used to it yet?

COACH SABAN: Well, first of all, we certainly appreciate the passion and support that our fans have, the excitement they have about the program. It's certainly heartfelt by the Sabans to see 92,000 people at the spring game to support us and our players.

That's the kind of positive energy that I think is going to be important for us to sustain as a program and will be very beneficial to us become successful in the future.

But we do appreciate it. It's heartfelt. My family, our family, certainly appreciates it.

Q. Last December you were pretty adamant you wouldn't be Alabama's coach. You're here today. Can you explain why or why not integrity should be an issue for maybe recruits and their families, considering what happened the two weeks before you took the job?

COACH SABAN: Well, I don't think, first of all I don't know that we need to go through all this. You know, when this job opened I said I wasn't interested in it. I said I wouldn't talk to anybody until the season was over. Somebody else got the job. It was pretty much over.

Basically for our players, our team at Miami, my focus was to help those players try to finish the season in a successful way, and this was not something we would entertain until the season was over.

When I made those statements they were true. I believed them. It was in the best interest of our team. We were going to protect our team and the players on our team every way we could from a loyalty standpoint.

When the season was over, as we sometimes do, my wife and I sat down and decided that maybe this is something that we should look into. We love college football. It had nothing to do with the Miami Dolphins or the NFL. We love college football. Something we had to learn about ourselves to go to the NFL.

When we learned about it, we felt like, 55 years old, where do you want to spend the rest of your time? We love college football because we like the spirit and enthusiasm of it. We feel like we can impact and affect young people in a more positive way in college football because of their age. The development process they're going through.

The idea that we can develop people that can be more successful in life for something been involved in our program by seeing them be successful as students, seeing them develop at football players, which is kind of a metaphor of life when you play sports. And to see them be successful in their career is all ways we felt like there was a lot of positive self gratification for us being a college coach.

That's certainly what we wanted to finish our career doing, and that's absolutely what we're going to do. That's my story and it always will be. Maybe we could have handled it a better way.

Q. Could you please briefly explain the four tenets of your Mission Statement on the back of the media guide?

COACH SABAN: The what?

Q. The four tenets of your Mission Statement.

COACH SABAN: Our Mission Statement has always been to create an atmosphere and environment for players to be successful first of all as people. Two things, to be successful in life and anything you choose to do, first of all, you have to know what you got to do. You got to make a commitment to it, be dedicated toward it, have some passion for it, work and invest your time in it, stick with it, have some perseverance relative to all of it, and have the kind of character and attitude, thoughts, habits and priorities on a day to day basis to make good choices about what you do and don't do so you can realize your dreams. That's the first thing we'd like to try to accomplish with our players and provide leadership for.

The second thing is we want them to get an education. That's the thing that's going to affect the quality of their life more than anything else, something that we want to provide support for relative to facilities and personnel and people who can affect them and help them reach their full potential academically.

We want them to be champions on the football field in terms of developing as players so that they can win a championship someday. And we'd like to use the resource that the institution has at the University of Alabama to help launch their career and get the best opportunities in life.

That's always been what we try to do as a college football coach, and that's what we'd like to do at the University of Alabama.

Q. Could you elaborate on a couple of mental aspects that you want to bring back to the program to restore Alabama's winning attitude and tradition.

COACH SABAN: Well, I think, you know, a couple things that are important I've probably already mentioned before. I think team chemistry is important and I think that everybody on the team not just the players, I'm talking about our administration, I'm talking about our athletic administration, I'm talking about our fans and supporters all have a role in how we can project positive energy so we can build and have a successful program.

If everybody does their part in being supportive and being helpful and working toward that, I think we'll improve and accomplish something significant.

So being a team is really important and being positive is really important. I think being responsible is really important for our own self determination in terms of how we go about what we do and investing our time in making good choices and decisions about what we do and what we don't do and being able to recruit well and get the kind of character and attitude people who want to get an education, who want to be good football players, is going to help us in the future.

And I think those ingredients are probably really important to the future success and us building on that in the near future.

Q. What were your thoughts when you began to see the reaction of LSU fans to your hiring?

COACH SABAN: You know, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people of the state of Louisiana, toward LSU. What was accomplished when we were at LSU is special to the Sabans. It's certainly special to me and all the people involved in it. There were a tremendous amount of people that supported, including the fans, the players who participated, our administration there. All those people contributed to that success.

That was special. Nothing that will ever happen in the future will ever change that from my perspective. We will continue to have a tremendous amount of respect for the people of the state of Louisiana and LSU and the coaching staff and the people who are there now. Les Miles has done a tremendous job there in the two years he's been there: Won a lot of football games. Won the Sugar Bowl last year. Arguably has the best team in the west coming back this year relative to what his staff has been able to do.

So we have a tremendous amount of respect for LSU and we have a lot of great relationships in Louisiana and want to continue to have those. We hope that people understand that it's our love and passion for college football that brought us back. It was us learning about ourselves going to professional football to find out that we really did belong in college football that took us away from LSU.

All unfortunate things, because we have a tremendous amount of respect for those people.

Q. Two players that you have obviously appointed as leaders. Talk about them both as players and leaders off the field. Simeon Castille and John Parker Wilson.

COACH SABAN: Simeon Castille has been an outstanding player at the University of Alabama, certainly had a great spring for us. I think the biggest difference in what I see in him, he's accepted the role of leader and trying to affect a other people. I see him constantly trying to give instruction, set example for, helping other guys do their job. We certainly appreciate that. That's something that we need.

Antoine Caldwell is here with us, as well. He has been a great leader on the offensive line, done the same kind of job. He's got great character. He's a very good player. Certainly anchors the leadership on the offense.

Obviously the quarterback, John Parker, who has gained a lot of knowledge and experience last year relative to the starts that he's had, continues to improve, has done a fantastic job of setting good examples and being a good leader, continuing to prove his ability to execute and play winning football at his position.

So we're all very pleased with all three of those guys, their performance, how they've affected other people.

Q. You talk about wanting guys who get a start on being successful in life. From all the places you've been, what college football does to help guys do that, what any institution can do to help that along.

COACH SABAN: You know, I think that sports is a metaphor of life. Kind of all the things that we talk about and I've already talked about them today whether it's commitment, dedication, hard work, perseverance, investing your team in something that you believe in and have passion for, whether it's pride in performance to try to be the best you can be at whatever it is you choose to do, whether it's character and discipline to do what you're supposed to do, when you're supposed to do it, when it's supposed to get done, probably all those things are important to everybody on the football team.

I don't care what business you're in, I think all those things are probably important to you being successful in that. So really the ingredients that it takes to be successful don't change from one thing to another. Being a competitor, to be able to be consistent in what you do, not get affected by the bad things that happen and get frustrated where it affects your performance, not being able to deal with success when things go well, let that affect your performance, are also lessons that you can learn as an athlete that also are important in life.

So there's so many things that are important. You know, golf is a metaphor of life. It's about the only thing I can play now because you don't have to run around and do anything, run and jump or do any of that stuff. You hit a good shot, you got to live with it and hit a good one the next time. With my short game, any time I'm inside of 60 yards I'm horrible. So I hit a lot of good drives that come to no fruition for me in terms of positive performance.

I'm a great scrambler, so when I hit a bad shot I usually recover better because I'm in a lot of bad shot zones. But, anyway, I think it's all a metaphor of life. I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned by young people through athletics and playing sports. I think that's why, you know, promoting high school football, young people playing in youth programs is very important, and a responsibility and obligation that we all have.

I was really disappointed when we voted as an SEC coaching group at our SEC meetings about the head coaches coming off the road and recruiting because we're all afraid somebody's talking to somebody or doing something somebody else isn't or whatever.

The number one reason I like to go out in the spring, it's the one time where you can go show the players and the coaches that what they do is important and you're interested enough to be there and watch 'em. I think that's a responsibility and an obligation we all have because it's promoting high school football. We need to do that. That's a part of our responsibility: To promote our game so that we continue to have people participating and learning how to be successful through our game.

Q. What do you think the biggest misconception is about Nick Saban?

COACH SABAN: I don't know. That's one you should ask my wife (smiling). She says I have a huge blind spot. I'm sure you've heard that one, right? What you think you are compared to how you're perceived to be. She said mine's as wide as the Grand Canyon.

It would be hard for me to answer that question. I think she could answer it much better than I do.

I think probably the biggest misconception about me is I've never adapted very well to the position that I'm in. I'm a country boy who grew up in West Virginia and pumped gas from the time he was 10 years old until he graduated from high school. Made a dollar an hour providing service to other people, cleaning windows, checking oil, changing tires. All right?

To me I'm still that way, but maybe sometimes I don't realize that. Sometimes the things I say mean a lot more than what I would intend them to be. Sometimes, because I'm a little bit shy, maybe that's misinterpreted as not being very outgoing. But I try my best, and I'm getting better and I'm trying to improve every day. Anybody out there that can give me any help, I'd welcome it. Thank you (smiling).

Q. I wanted to ask you about the media guide, recruiting media guide. You're on the cover and on the back. There's no players anywhere. I daresay that's the only media guide in the country with that. Is that a philosophical statement by you?

COACH SABAN: I didn't really make that decision. I would really rather have the players on there, to be honest with you. I can promise you after this first year, which I guess we're promoting the program that we bring, the positive energy that we try to bring to the program, that's something that is going to be the focus and emphasis in the future.

It's not philosophical on my part. I didn't even make that decision. The first time I saw the media guide was yesterday. They can certainly find some better looking people than what they put on there, I can tell you that. It doesn't do our program justice.

Q. What kind of philosophy do you have in scheduling non conference games? Are you going to have input in this?

COACH SABAN: Well, we're going to have input. Our schedule's set for at least 95% of what happens in the next five or six years, I guess. Philosophically, and I know there's a debate and a dilemma on this all the time, but we have a very difficult league. It's tough from top to bottom. If you're going to have success in the league, it's difficult to play a tough out of conference schedule.

But maybe it's from being at Michigan State for 10 years. We always played Notre Dame. We always played somebody out of the league in one of our three non conference games that gave us a national recognition, prominence, whatever you want to call it. I still philosophically believe that's important.

I am hopeful that we can try to find one opponent each year that we can do that. The thing with Florida State this year, even though they have a great program, all that, I think is healthy for the SEC. I think it's healthy for our program at the University of Alabama.

We're trying to work something possibly for next year, then '08 and '09. We do have Georgia Tech in the future, Penn State in the future in some of those years. Philosophically that's what we're trying to do.

One of the things I think would be more beneficial to our league in doing that and, again, this is kind of coming from the Big 10 we didn't start the Big 10 season until like September 20th, the fourth week of the season.

We played our three non conference games right off the bat, all right, which I think is an advantage because if you play a good opponent and you don't have success, your team can continue to improve and you can prove in those three games before you come into league play.

Like this year we play one game, and then we play Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Georgia. Later on in the season, when the players are geared into the SEC, we have non conference games we have to try to play. I think if we change that as a league it would be much more beneficial to all the teams and would benefit us all a little bit and would help scheduling. I think people would be more in tune to playing an opponent early on that was a quality opponent.

But philosophically that's what we're trying to do. I think it's important to kind of get the national exposure. People who have done that give themselves a better opportunity to win and be recognized nationally. With our current system, I think that's important. Now, you got to win those games.

But that's what we're going that's philosophically what we're going to try to accomplish.

Q. I don't know if you've noticed, but pretty much everything you've done this off season has been in the news. Are you looking forward to when the focus will be on players, team, program, that kind of stuff?

COACH SABAN: Absolutely. I think that's what it's all about. It's about the entire program, the people. I think that's what needs to be the focus in the future. We want to try to provide the leadership to help all those people be successful, and we'll certainly do that.

I think as the venue changes to them and their competition, I think that will be the natural thing that will happen relative to our players getting a lot more attention and positive self gratification for what they're trying to accomplish.

Q. Had the Alabama job never opened, would you be somewhere else coaching college football, or would you still be with the Dolphins, and did you bring your dog this time?

COACH SABAN: No, Lizzy is home. This is a different deal. We used to fly over here. Terry and Lizzie came. I don't know how many people were here when I was in one of these rooms and Lizzie followed the maid out, go the in the elevator, came down to this floor, ran up and jumped in my lap.

She still has a pretty prominent position at our house maybe a little more prominent than even mine. But she's not here, and Terry is not here, but doing fine. I appreciate you mentioning it.

Now I forget what your question was (smiling).

Q. Had the Alabama job never opened, would you still be at Miami or would you be coaching college football somewhere else?

COACH SABAN: Well, I never tried to leave Miami, so I wouldn't have tried to leave Miami. I would be at Miami right now. I have never tried to leave anywhere. I never tried to leave LSU.

Sometimes when people are interested and you have opportunities, which I'm sure all of you would look at your profession in a similar fashion, you have to decide whether it's something that you listen to or you don't.

We felt this is one of the better jobs in the country and was an opportunity. When we assessed it after the season, we thought we'd love to get back into college football. That's why we're here.

I don't think there were any other opportunities that would have created any interest on our part.

Q. When Coach Spurrier came back, he said he was a humbled person, kind of appreciated college football a little more. Do you have any of the same feelings at all?

COACH SABAN: Well, you know, I appreciate pro ball, too. It was great competition in that league. There's a lot of great players, a lot of great coaches. Everything's about football. You have an opportunity to learn a lot.

I've always had a tremendous respect for college football, the players who play it, how we can impact them as coaches to help them be successful.

I certainly feel that way, but I think I certainly have a lot of respect for coaches in the NFL who have made a tremendous accomplishment in that league because it's very difficult relative to the parity, the system you have to compete in there, as well.

Q. Given the NCAA rules that keep restricting the amount of time that coaches can spend with kids and spend recruiting kids, the amount of face to face time, does something need to be done with that because you guys are held accountable if your players go off and do something, yet the NCAA keeps restricting the rules that limit your contact and your ability to impact your players?

COACH SABAN: Well, I do think there's a balance somewhere in that. I do think that, A, you need an opportunity to be able to get to know a recruit well enough and talk to enough people about him to make a good our evaluation is about size and speed, athletic ability to play your position, character, intelligence, and attitude.

Well, the character, intelligence, and attitude part of it is more subjective, and you have to be able to do a lot of research relative to people who have associations and time you spend with that particular player getting a feel for what he's like.

When you don't have that, and we don't have it now because the way this whole recruiting calendar has gone, you know, we offer guys when they're juniors. And unless they come and visit our campus, we never have an opportunity to meet them or talk to them or meet their parents or talk to them, to learn what their principles and values are.

You are right, if we ever take someone who embarrasses themselves, their family, and our program, we're responsible for that.

I also feel like we've made a lot of progress, even though we're not allowed to spend a lot of time with the players once we get them on campus. I think a lot of progress has been made through the years relative to programs you can have that can enhance the development of players, whether it's a peer intervention type program where you address behavior issues, whether it's drugs, alcohol, agents, gambling, spiritual development, how you treat the opposite sex, macho man type stuff, that you educate and try to get players to try to respond to and react to a little better and with a little more maturity so you can minimize the issues.

You don't have to do that personally as a coach. You can affect life skills programs, things like that, that can be effective in those areas. So I do feel like we made a tremendous amount of progress in those areas, because just a few years back we didn't have a lot of that kind of stuff.

Q. The spring practice in Tuscaloosa that I saw looked very familiar to me after covering you for five years. Is there a significant area in your process or system that has been tweaked in the last couple of years? If so, can you elaborate on how that evolved?

COACH SABAN: You know, I think probably technically, from a football standpoint, there's probably been more changes in the philosophical part of how we conduct practice. There's only so many ways to do that. We did learn some things in pro ball. But in pro ball, you know, you practice a little less, you spend a little less time on the field, the season's a lot longer.

If there's anything taken from that it's probably how to keep your players fresh, the importance of that relative to how they can sustain the season.

Q. You talked about realistic expectations before. Since you've been hired, Alabama fans are talking national championship. Is it realistic for them to expect you to bring one to Alabama?

COACH SABAN: Well, I think if you just assess, we had a 6 and 7 team last year. You know who's coming back. You know what starters. We're going to win with people and our ability to develop those people to their full potential.

Our success has always been relative to the team of people that we've assembled around us, not necessarily what we've done. I think that's important. I'm talking about players, coaches and everybody who contributes to the success of the program. That's something that we're going to work to build.

What's always been my philosophy is where are we today and what do we need to do today to improve and get better, and our focus is always on improving. The quality of people, the quality of talent, the coaching methodology that we use to try to develop that talent, the togetherness, the people who can help develop that kind of team chemistry that's going to help you be successful.

There's no waving a wand and making all that happen. But we work hard and go from where we are right now to try to get to where we want to be. There's no real formula for what the timetable to do that is.

But we're going to try to stay focused on the process and not get hung up on the frustration that when you have high expectations and it doesn't happen immediately, how that can affect your performance.

You know, I'm just going to say this to everybody. I talk about it all the time. But, you know, in 1986, a priest gave me a book called The Road Less Traveled. It's a spiritual development. Great book. You ought to read it. Spiritual development, positive attitude book. Priest gives it to me at a banquet. I take it home, I open it up, and the first line in the book says, Life is difficult.

I'm thinking I got a crazy priest here that gave me this book. Give me a positive attitude, spiritual development book, and the first line is a negative statement. But when you read the whole book, it was about if you have if you think things are going to be difficult, if you're willing to work and invest your time in something, you think it's going to be hard, then when you do have bumps in the road, all right, you're going to have a more positive attitude about overcoming those things.

If you think everything is going to be easy, then every time something goes wrong you're going to have a tremendous amount of frustration and you're not going to respond to it properly and you're probably not going to be able to continue to improve.

That book, probably as much as anything, developed my philosophy about how to manage and handle expectations. All right? I'm talking about relative to getting the results that you want.

Hey, we want to win. We want our expectations to be to win. All right? But we want to do the things that we need to do to give our players the best opportunity to do that every day as we make progress toward that.

Q. Do you feel better about your defensive front seven after the spring, a position that's generally regarded as thin? You had some player arrests earlier this month. What is the latest there? I don't think you've spoken publicly about that.

COACH SABAN: I've been speaking about it all day today. I'm surprised it took y'all this long to ask about it (looking at his watch).

First of all, we did make some progress and improvement in the front seven. We don't have a lot of depth at that position. We don't have a lot of size. You know, we're going to have to adapt the way we do things probably to be able to persevere this year.

But I think the most important thing is we continue to make progress and improve, get our players a little bit more comfortable with their ability to execute on a consistent basis. It's a new system for them as well and we made quite a few mistakes trying to learn that system throughout the spring, and that's a part of process.

From a player standpoint, you know, discipline to me is not punishment. Discipline is what can I do to change someone's behavior to make them better. It's the same approach that I would use at home with my two children. You know, we can punish them, have no effect on what they do, how they change their behavior. Or if we take something significant away from them that is meaningful, educate them on how to do it correctly, we probably have a chance to get better results.

We will handle all discipline internally with our team. It will not be a public deal. All right? These players have been given things they need to do, and they are doing them. If they do them properly, learn from their mistakes, improve as people, then they won't face any suspensions or anything that will affect their ability to perform on the field.

However, if they don't do those things, then the consequences could affect their ability to represent the University of Alabama on the football field.

Q. How aware are you of the backlash that was created in Louisiana when you took the job, and has anything filtered back to you, anything you thought was funny or interesting from the people of Louisiana, anything that was said?

COACH SABAN: You know, I'm very aware of all the things that happened. One of our ladies, administrative assistants, who worked for us at LSU who went to a wedding in Baton Rouge got her tires slashed at the wedding. So I think we're very aware of the backlash; live it every day.

I absolutely hate to see people on my staff who we care about, love, and want to see have success have to be penalized, you know, for that.

But at the same time, I can't answer that question any differently than what I've already answered it. We have respect and admiration for the people in the state of Louisiana. What was accomplished there at LSU was special to us. We have respect for the institution and the people who are there now, the players that have represented the program there that we have had involvement with in the past, and would do anything to help any of them be successful.

We have no ill feelings towards anybody. It was not our intention to create any of this by leaving there. It was not a personal thing to us. It was strictly a professional decision. When we left LSU it wasn't personal. We thought it was professional. We learned about ourselves, made a mistake in terms of what we did, in terms of what we want to do, where we feel we should be, and you can't go back.

I mean, there was no opportunity for me to go back to LSU. This was a great opportunity that we had at the University of Alabama. We chose it. It wasn't personal. It wasn't meant to hurt or harm anyone at LSU.

Now, I can't say that any better, any more, whatever. I'd like for somebody to record it and we just push the button and go from there. How's that? I'm just kidding (smiling).

Q. Is it fair or unfair that every time you see a story on intercollegiate athletics your salary comes up, like the poster child for excess. There's the national image that Alabama was willing to do anything to buy a national championship, so they paid a guy $4 million a year. How do you look at that?

COACH SABAN: Well, I actually took a pay cut. Do you put that part in there?

You know, I don't think what I do is about money, to be honest with you. It really isn't. You know, I started coaching as a GA and didn't make anything. Loaded trucks at Roadway Express at night. My wife worked in a registrar's office so she could go to school part time and graduate. I worked at Coca Cola, drove a Coke truck in the summertime so she could go to school in full time in the summertime so I could be a GA so I could coach.

I burned up a clutch in that truck every summer. The mechanic said, This is not a footrest. I had those experiences. I worked for $8,000 a year for a long time. Went about coaching and recruiting the same way I do now. I love teaching. I love being with the players.

It's not about money for me. All right? I really enjoy it. We've tried to give back to the community through our Nick's Kids Foundation. We made a significant contribution through the University of Alabama. We will continue to do that.

I don't feel like I'm totally responsible for where this whole salary thing has gone, and I think that it will continue to go there in the future relative to what happens in the NFL and how the trickle effect comes down into college football.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach Saban.

COACH SABAN: Thank you. We look forward to seeing you throughout the season this year. We certainly appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

Center Antoine Caldwell:

On the media attention surrounding head coach Nick Saban:
"It is a little more intense than recent years. It's not as bad as it is here, but there have been a lot more cameras in Tuscaloosa than last year."

On the difference between Nick Saban and Mike Shula:
"Coach Saban is really intense. He is fiery, but he is also genuine. If you have a problem, you can go to him and he will sit down with you in his office and talk to you. He comes off as intense, and he is on the field, but he is really genuine."

On the off-season conditioning program:
"It was tough. He made you toughen up mentality. We shed some pounds and got tough physically. But we focused on the mental aspect of it.

On the changes in the offense:
"Coach Shula's offense and Coach Saban's offense are really similar. It has a few more spread-option plays involved. But it is designed to get the ball in the playmakers hands. That makes it similar in that we have the same people to run the offense."

On quarterback John Parker Wilson:
"John Parker in really intense. He is probably the most focused and intense quarterback I have ever been around. He is always focused on ways to improve his game. And he is really intense on getting everything just right and playing to the best of his ability."

Defensive Back Simeon Castille:

On the summer workout program:
"You didn't really have a choice: you either finished or you finished. They wouldn't let you quit. There was a lot of running. One of things they want us to learn is that you have to outwork your opponent, so they would simulate a lot of that in training. I definitely think it will pay off."

On Coach Nick Saban's background with defense and cornerbacks:
"I've been playing defensive back for a long time, but it's amazing how much he taught me in just one spring. I was excited when I heard he was coming because I knew he was a defense guy. In the spring, I got to see just how involved he was. Every time I, or someone else at defensive back, would do something wrong, he'd be right there to correct us, teaching us what techniques to use."

On the publicity surrounding his senior year:
"It's a blessing. To have my name out there (in preseason publications), as a college football player, that's what you want. I'm certainly working hard to live up to it and to help our team to victory."

On the team's chances:
"I definitely think we'll be competitive. A lot of people ask me, 'How do you think Coach Saban will do with it being his first year and all?' I don't look at it as his first year, I look at it as my last year, and I want to go out and make this year the best possible. I want us as a team to make as much noise as we possibly can."

On the difference between former Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines and Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele:
"It's a bit different. With Coach Kines, it was more like 'We're going to have a simple game plan, but we're going to be good at it.' Now, there's more to learn. You have to really get into the playbook."

On his dad, former Alabama defensive back and NFL defensive back Jeremiah Castille:
"He's had the most influence on me, not only in football but in all of life, period. In football, he taught me all about the position, how to play cornerback. Everyone looks at him as one of the best to ever play at Alabama, perhaps the best. I can't imagine being 5'9'', 160, and playing cornerback in the SEC and to have had the success he had. I just want to try and leave Alabama like he did."

FLORIDA GATORS--

COACH URBAN MEYER:

COACH MEYER: Hello. Thanks for having me just visit with you briefly about the University of Florida.

Obviously we are celebrating a great year. It's time to move on. Certainly have a lot of issues that you deal with when you lose quality football players like we lost and you compete in the Southeastern Conference.

I am awful anxious to get going. Offensively speaking, we returned some very good players. Returned an offensive line we're extremely excited about, a group that loves the game of football, which is probably element number one when you want to have a successful offense.

Return a group of receivers. If we keep them healthy, we are very, very excited about watching a little bit of depth, athleticism, play making ability of our receiver position.

Tailback. We are excited about Kestahn Moore. We haven't had a lot of production out of our tailback. Hoping this year is a little different. Don't have a lot of depth at that position, but we have a guy that's accountable, a guy I'm counting on to be very productive.

We have a quarterback that obviously has a lot of experience, very talented. He's got the "it." Everybody wants the "it" in that position. That's a competitor, intelligent, a guy that are do anything for the team to help you win.

On defense we have two starters back. We have Tony Joiner, Derrick Harvey, a bunch of other names. Our challenge to the team is, you hear repeat, you hear this, you hear this. The only thing you're hearing at the University of Florida right now is, Can we make it through training camp? Our training camp is going to be really hard. It's going to be really hot, like it always is.

We're going to find out what kind of team we are. Are we able to handle the hard? I don't know that. The hard is the ability to go on the road and come from 10 points down and win that game.

Two years ago we had a football team that couldn't do that. We were 1 3 on the road. Not very tough. As a matter of fact, a soft team. It was not a tough team. Last year Ray McDonald against Ohio State on fourth down and one made a play. In the national championship game the year before, he had two ACL surgeries going on at the same time. That's an element of toughness that we have.

Our middle linebacker last year was extremely tough. He was the apex of our defense. That's Brandon Siler. I don't know this year. A lot of those guys are new. I like 'em. I like the personnel. I like the athleticism. It's just the intangibles. I can't let you know where we're at with that right now.

It's a great time to be in Gainesville, Florida. We start up real soon. I'm excited about it.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Meyer.

Q. How difficult is it to develop those intangibles when you're with a predominantly younger team?

COACH MEYER: There's a miss. There's the transition year miss and our first recruiting class, a lot of misses. Whenever that happens, as they grow up you didn't really notice it last year because they weren't playing.

But now that you take away that senior class, they're there. We only have 10 seniors and 10 juniors. How do you teach it? First you try to recruit. Second of all you try to teach it, not now, in January, February, March, throughout with the disciplined hard program we run.

Unfortunately I've seen some chinks in the armor. I've seen some things show up that's not correlated to a tough football team.

However, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. They were awful young. I see it changing. I see our strength coaches doing a phenomenal job. Now I need to see our coaching staff do phenomenal job at two a days and keep development.

So to answer your question, you have to recruit it. You have to develop it. So you recruit it, you develop it. Development of that goes on year round. It's not something you say, Hey, let's get tough during two a days. If you do, you're too late.

Q. I'm sure you had higher priorities than this last year. How aware were you late in the season that Florida was sort of carrying the banner for the SEC with the ongoing arguments about conference strength, making it easier for the next SEC team that has an argument to make for itself to get in the championship game?

COACH MEYER: Well, that statement's unfortunately alive and well. When you start talking about things like that, some people, say, What's important? That's real important. The human element of people voting who goes where, you are carrying a torch.

What role how does that impact us right now? None whatsoever. If we're fortunate to get to that point that doesn't really change your approach, but it puts a little pressure on you. On July 25th of 2007, absolutely no impact whatsoever. We're just trying to get through training camp.

But what you said is a true statement. Every conference is fighting for the same thing. You have to fight for the public opinion. Unfortunately, that's a big part of what happens in December.

Q. You had eight guys enroll early in the spring, Tim enrolled early last year. How much further along is Tim now given two springs under his belt? Will you continue to use that philosophy in recruiting in the future?

COACH MEYER: We try not to push it, because if you have a negative experience my daughter is 16 years old. That's going to be hard for me to let her go. That's six more months at home I get her. It's hard.

Facts are facts. The fact that Tim went through spring practice, all eight of those young men have over a 3.0 as they start their first fall at Florida. Those are all significant issues that are advantages.

Tim's ready to play quarterback at Florida. A big part of that was because he's already had two spring practices under his belt. He helped us last year because he had a spring practice under his belt. So it is significant.

But as a coach, as a recruiter, you can't push that. You have to make it available and say, Here is what you need to do. But it's got to be a family decision.

Q. Could you talk about what you think about the rule changes, especially kicking off from the 30, and if you could also talk about Percy Harvin, all the ways he can impact a game and all the versatility he gives you?

COACH MEYER: First question, I read where Rich Brooks said it's one of the major rule changes in the last 10 years in college football. I agree with that. Significantly is going to impact I think. We're still evaluating. We kind of charted where that kick's going to land. That kick's going to land about the nine yard line now. That's significant. That's when you start talking about the field position, opportunity to score, percentages to score, things that most teams take very serious. It's going to have a major impact on.

I think you might see better personnel on kickoff. You might see more starters. You might see better schemes. You might see a lot of times it's generic and you hope your kicker kicks it out of the end zone and you move on. But you have to have a horse to kick that thing out of the end zone now.

That's going to have a major impact. I know we're spending a lot of time on that. Myself, I'm spending a lot of time on it. I'm also evaluating how we defer, take the ball, whatever we do to maintain the plan to win, which we obviously take very serious.

Second of all, Percy Harvin, that's a great name to talk about. You have six or seven hours I can share with you some ideas we have. We're not going to do that, but Percy is a great football player. He was only healthy for maybe 60% of the season last year and he had tremendous impact on every game he was healthy in. He's one of those gifted athletes that can change a game.

Q. Last year it worked out for Florida and Ohio State to play for the national championship. There's been discussion about a plus one format where one would play four, two play three, winner of those two games play each other. What's your opinion about that?

COACH MEYER: Opinions are strong. At Bowling Green I stood in front of a team that was 8 3, 9 3 and had to tell them they weren't going to go to a Bowl game when they deserved to go to a Bowl game. They were good enough to play in a Bowl game. I think they were better than some teams that played. So did other coaches. That's one of the tragedies of the system.

I think the Bowls should open up and take the most qualified teams to go play. Then I go to Utah, we had a team that on any given day, with Alex Smith at quarterback and the way we play defense, could we survive an SEC, Big 12? I don't know that. That's all relative. But I don't know if we could survive that, be in that situation.

Utah, 12 0. If there's a plus one, you go play that game, you go play for a national championship. Who knows. You have a good day and that's a life changer for a university and a group of players.

You get to Florida, play in a game removed from the other Bowl games. I thought the atmosphere was terrific. If you had to play one more game after that, I'm just glad I'm not faced with a guy that has to make that decision. It's an imperfect system. I think it's the best what we have.

As long as we don't change that whole Bowl I think the Bowl experience is too good for the student athlete to change. But I think continual discussion is necessary, and I think we got the best of what's working. But I think every year that needs to be evaluated.

Pretty good way to not answer your question, wasn't it (smiling)?

Q. With so many young guys, you only have 10 upperclassmen in the junior class and 10 in the senior class. Where are you going to find the leaders, and can you find leaders that can do it among the young guys?

COACH MEYER: If we can do it we'll be a really good team. The difference between year one and year two is significant, not just in athleticism and some other things, but the development of the Siler, of the Ray McDonalds, of the Dallas Baker, the guys that grew up. I always use the they grew the whiskers. They became instead of those young, smooth faced guys, they're weathered. They've been through the storm.

A lot of guys played in that national championship game. But when you study the sideline copy, they're the ones wearing the hats on the sideline doing this to the crowd, not playing.

That's a concern. How you find it, how you develop it, that's the secret. I don't know where we are with that. I have concerns, like I said earlier. I like the guys, I just need to see how they're going to react in tough situations.

I don't feel that on offense. I've seen Tim Tebow in a very difficult situation react to it. I've seen Drew Miller, Trautwein, Medder, Bubba Caldwell a little more comfortable on that side right now.

Q. With respect to your offensive options, what can you do different with Tim Tebow now at quarterback?

COACH MEYER: I think the thing that makes the so called whatever the spread offense is, in our style of play, if that position's a legitimate threat, it changes what you see on defense. I think that's the biggest thing I'm looking forward to seeing.

You see a little more structure. Better make sure that quarterback's taken care of in the run game. Once again, when you have the Percy Harvin, Jarred Fayson, Bubba Caldwell, Riley Cooper, Cornelius Ingram, you have a good group of personnel around them, you enjoy working with that style of offense because of the personnel.

Q. How do you view the level of play in the SEC East from top to bottom and how difficult do you think it's going to be to repeat not as national champions but champions of that division?

COACH MEYER: I think it's the most difficult that's all relative. Everybody is going to have opinions. But I think the west is a very tough. We always happen to play the top teams in the west. I think the west is very difficult.

But the SEC East is the one we live in, the one we study. When you see Kentucky go to a Bowl game, do what they did. When you see Vanderbilt, every time you play those guys, it's a war. Then you see the people that traditionally you see South Carolina with a coach that has a record that's as good as anybody that ever coached, some very good players. You see the traditional three the last few years that have had success, have great tradition.

I'm not sure who the weak link is in that side of the conference. I was educated in that conference. Obviously your first year coaching you kind of experience things. The biggest thing I experienced in the SEC East and the SEC is the road games are legitimate. I mean, there's no such thing as going in and (indiscernible) and that's a gimme. There's no chance that's going to happen.

You better be ready for crowd noise in every opponent's stadium, which is not the case in every conference. You better be ready to bring your toughness and bring your A game when you go on the road. I think that's what separates the SEC from others.

Q. How will your experiences with Avery Atkins change you and the way you run your program?

COACH MEYER: That's a tough question there. With due respect to everybody involved, I'm not sure I want to go there right now.

That's not something that we take very lightly at Florida. I think everybody knows that. Players' lives and behavior, those type of issues, are something we take very, very serious.

Q. I know you're a former baseball player. You know how important it is to be strong up the middle. Last year you had that. This year it's unknown.

COACH MEYER: Great question. I think that's the question that's going to determine next year when I stand right here, kind of feeling good about yourself or you feel awful. It's going to be the production of play in the middle.

Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler, Joe Cohen, and Steve Harris, pretty good football players. In fact, they're all playing at the next level. Right now you have Kyle Jackson/Dorian Munroe, whomever. You have Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe, whoever is going to play that middle linebacker position, or Lorenzo Edwards, a freshman, whoever. Then you have a group of guys competing for that inside spot.

If our coaches can develop that kind of chemistry, if those people are productive, I think we'll be really good this year. If they don't, that's don't worry with the spread. Tim is going to be okay. We're going to work. That's the fun part. That's the part that you really enjoy discussing. The area you just mentioned, unbelievable amount of pressure on that group of people to perform.

In my opinion, in baseball or football, you will fail. At some point you'll give in and fail if those people aren't extremely strong. You take a center, you take a quarterback, they don't love the game of football, they're not good players, you're going to fail on offense. I don't care how good your receivers are, you're going to fail. Same on defense.

Great question.

Q. You've been an outspoken proponent of text messaging in recruiting. How are you and your staff going to change your recruiting strategy in anticipation of the text messaging ban going into effect on August 1st?

COACH MEYER: I disagree with it. In my opinion, it's wrong. I mean, that's how you communicate nowadays. If you want to go back and use the rotary phone, too, say coaches can only use a rotary phone. Okay. I don't understand that at all.

Kids don't want it. They can't afford it. Yes, they can. We're in a profession. We do it.

Developing relationships with a recruit is how kids make right decisions. Educating them on your kid makes a decision to attend a university. By the way, have you ever talked to the head coach? No, I have not. Have you met the coach's family? No, I have not. You selected that school. That's not good decision making.

I think text messaging helps with all those things, getting to know someone. Our staff is being as proactive as everyone else. I've talked to other guys. Guys are trying to be creative within the rules. You need to communicate with a student athlete. We're doing the very best we can. What exactly we're going to do? We have five more days to figure it out and it's over.

I imagine it will be the traditional way for a while, then some other loophole will come up through electronic way of getting ahold of these guys. As of this point it's just going to be the letters and phone calls in September. That's what you're limited to.

By the way, it's one phone call a week and a letter. So the young person gets highly recruited guy on any given day gets 75 per day letters. He's not opening those anymore. Puts those aside. Waiting for the phone calls. Getting phone calls from all the .com people. A lot of time you talk to him, he's too tired. You get maybe 30 seconds. By the way, we need to make a decision on this kid's future in two months. That's bad. That's not really good for recruiting. That's really bad for recruiting.

Q. Are there any particular battles you're looking forward to seeing unfold for a starting position in training camp?

COACH MEYER: Yeah. I think our right guard position is completely wide open. We have a lot of players with experience on offense. I'm anxious to see a guy like Louis Murphy, Jarred Fayson, Riley Cooper, those talented Deonte Thompson, some of these young talented players compete.

There's only one football every snap. We have some talented guys. You better show up every day of practice or you're not going to get the ball this week. Those guys on offense.

On defense, up the middle I'm really excited to see what happens. I think Brandon Spikes is a very good football player. Does he have the "it" factor? Is he a Michael Jordan or is he one of those athletes that brings down the level of play. If he brings everyone else's level of play up like Michael Siler did, like the Michael Jordans did, then we have a very good chance to be good on defense.

Q. What is the plan if Tim Tebow gets hurt?

COACH MEYER: Ooh. Turn around and punch him right in the mouth, will you (smiling)? Next question. I don't know. Make sure your punter...

No, the first time that I've been on a staff, we have four quality quarterbacks. We have Johnny Brantly from Ocala. You have Cameron Newton. You got Bryan Waggener. We have three guys. That's another battle we're looking forward.

Cam Newton has a bit of an upper hand because he went through spring practice. We also direct snap it to other people. We try to be a bit creative at that position.

That's something that is going for that to happen would hurt our chances significantly at being successful.

Q. When you consider there appears to be some rising programs in the state of Florida, do you feel the state can still produce three teams that can play or challenge for national championships in the same year like it has done in the past?

COACH MEYER: I certainly think so. I think more than ever, I think the population base has moved to the south. It's not by accident that those teams, Miami, FSU, Florida, have really when you look at the history of college football, that wasn't a real strong history back when Ohio State and Michigan because the population base where I'm from was much greater than it is now.

I think more than ever the talent level down in the state of Florida. It's why everybody is going there. It's not just the schools you mentioned. The SEC down there, ACC all over the place. The Big 10 is down there. It's a battle.

We can't lose them out of state. For those three teams, you better get all the top quality players you can. All three of those schools could compete for a national championship.

Q. Would you briefly comment on the perception that some people have of how tough it is to win a national championship in the SEC because of the competition, but as it relates to the Ohio State game last year, if you can maybe talk about the benefits of playing in the SEC and how it prepares you for a big game against another non conference opponent like Ohio State?

COACH MEYER: Well, I think you answered the question with a question. I think there certainly is a benefit of playing in the Southeastern Conference. It also maybe limits your chance of getting that far. I mean, to go play the schedule you play in the Southeastern Conference on the road, then go play in an SEC championship game in Atlanta, make it through that thing.

The biggest thing you deal with, if Florida last year would have lost a couple players to injury, there's no chance that Florida would have made it. That's the same with every school in every conference.

In my personal opinion, making it through the SEC injury free is a secret. That is very difficult to do with the level of play, the speed, the collisions, the number of games, including that SEC championship game.

Q. When you arrived at Florida, the reception from fans was overwhelming. Do you see any similarities between what you experienced and maybe what Nick Saban has gone through at Alabama?

COACH MEYER: I don't know. I don't know what he's been through. I saw the numbers at the spring game. I think we had 70,000. They had 90,000. I imagine it is.

I think it would be I think the Southeastern Conference is so traditional rich, I'm sure at Auburn you're going to get the same thing; I'm sure at Tennessee you get the same thing.

I didn't know that before I got in this conference and you go play a road game. The fans in the Southeastern Conference are unique. I think we've got the best fans in the country. There's some doggone good ones at every other school.

Steve Spurrier going to South Carolina was a big deal too. Any school that has a coach come in with a great tradition and obviously an excellent record, you're going to see that. I'm not quite sure what he's gone through. I have a feeling because, you know, I've kind of witnessed it myself. Maybe not the same level. But that would happen at most schools in the Southeastern Conference.

Q. What was it like for you two years ago when there's this giant fan base, you're carrying their hopes and dreams, you haven't coached a game yet? What goes through your mind when you meet these people, they tell you, Coach, are you going to be the one who does it?

COACH MEYER: Well, kind of shake their hand and move on as fast as I can and get back to what's really important. What's really important is getting around your players. I don't want to undervalue that question, but that's insignificant to what is important.

Somehow our players have to make it through training camp to put a good product on the field. Whether I feel indebted to the fans at Florida, we all do, but we got a job to do. The job is to get that team through training camp, get them to the first game.

Q. Given what you said earlier about recruiting, how important is it for you to have a commitment list of guys for the '08 class at this point in the season? Your list is smaller than Miami, Florida State right now.

COACH MEYER: That's another good question. The thing you have to do is a little study and see how many hold. A lot of these people, some of those names you've said, they've not talked to the head coach yet, but I'm going to go there. I think what happens is, I don't think, I know this, a lot of times people say I need that insurance policy.

I'm going to take that scholarship but still take visits. Probably not a bad way of looking at it. My daughter is 16. I might do that. If she wants to commit, I'll let her do that. That's an insurance policy, put it aside. I don't know if that's right. But that's what happens quite often. I'm going to take that. That's in the bank. By the way, I'm going to go look at these other ones. That's what happens quite often.

We encourage them not to commit early. That's not something we're trying to push very hard. We do not back a kid in a corner and say, I need to know right now because if you don't have it at 2:00 tomorrow, we're going to give it to someone else. That's not right.

I'd rather go have dinner with their family, my family, talk about this. Make sure you understand, Florida is legit. You're going to go to class, get a degree. You need to be honest and develop a relationship. You keep taking that away. An early signing period would be a tragedy of recruiting, terrible, 'cause there goes all relationships now. A kid is picking a school because he likes their helmet. That's not good. That's a recipe for failure when you start making decisions without all the necessary resources.

Q. When you were asked about the reception Saban got in 'Bama, the flipside of that, the reception he now gets at LSU. Have you been back to your home state? Did Ohio State talk about rescinding your master's degree? Anybody give you the raspberry when you went home?

COACH MEYER: I didn't go home. No, Ohio people have too much class for that, I think. I don't know. I'll find out, but we're not playing that. I'm going to be very busy that day, but I'm going to watch somewhere and see how that goes.

I know how passionate these fans are down here in the south. That's going to be a great story line in college football this year. A little bit like when coach came back to Florida this year. What a great story line for college football.

Q. With regards to athleticism, size and speed, with this receiver group, the spread offense, can you give us your thoughts?

COACH MEYER: If we stay healthy it's what you want. We were talking about the last two weeks, just game planning. When you walk in an offensive staff room, there's a lot of communication, a lot of discussion, a lot of X's and O's, that's good.

When you walk in a staff room, you kind of sit there and look at each other, say, We got a little problem here. Who touches the ball? I don't want to say where we're at, but we're darn close to where we want to be.

The number of receivers, the problem is we keep losing them. We lost three last year. Probably lose one or two this year. You have to keep reloading that position.

In this offense, those positions have to be dynamic if you want to have your quarterback involved in the running game. You have to have a threat that someone can take it. I can go through six names right now that are very productive players you want to see touch the ball, which we have not had.

There was a time our first year we had zero. When everybody was hurt, we had zero at the skill position. It's hard to run an offense.

Q. How is it that, considering the text message ban coming up, how is it that the coaches don't kind of get what they want in terms of these rules with the NCAA, whether it be the clock rule, the kickoff? Are y'all not being as clear with your presidents, or are they saying it's going to be better for the game?

COACH MEYER: I'm not sure it's the presidents. I'm not sure who. That's a great question. I'm sure there's coaches involved. I'm not involved in that. I try, every chance I can, to say my piece on that. I try to be, instead of just ranting and raving, try to talk somewhat clearly why and it's all for the good. That's a great question. I don't know that. I don't know that.

Q. After the first basketball championship, Billy Donovan talked with people he talked about after a national championship. Have you talked to anybody or sought any advice?

COACH MEYER: Yeah, Billy Donovan. Also Coach Belichick. I had him speak to our team. I'm very careful. You don't want to water it down. Hey, guys, we have another speaker today. After a while... . You have to command respect when you speak to a group of 85 celebrated athletes. You walk in there, and if you're not a guy that can bring it they're not going to speak to our team because you're just wasting people's times.

Obviously Billy Donovan will speak again. That's a tradition now. We'll show a video. He's going to speak. Did it last year. Phenomenal. He's going to do it again. I think he's I don't have to pay him much, he can come in and speak. He does a good job. He knows directions to get there. He's right there.

Coach Belichick is someone that I think is as good as there is . He did a good job. We're very cautious about that. Have another speaker come in and talk to them. I think it's even more important, national champions. This is not something I've said yet. I think championship teams, any team I've been around, they are great practice teams. They of love the game of football.

Football is the most difficult, combative sport there is. If you don't love that game, your team's going to be really bad and you'll lose on the road. You'll have situations come up where, yeah, it's hard. This is too hard, coach. Yeah, then don't play this game. Go do something else.

I don't know if our team is a great practice team yet. Last year's was a great, great practice team. So was the 12 0 team. Not a good one, a great one. The year before, very poor practice team, very poor, and it showed when it got real hard.

Q. Because of your success at your previous stops you haven't really had a third season at a school. Is there anything new or surprising that kind of came up that you didn't think about?

COACH MEYER: I keep hearing that. We haven't changed. I don't have like a year three book that I read or something like that. We're just trying to do the same thing we did. I'm excited to be at a place my third year, though.

Q. Most of the pre season magazines and such have you pegged as a top 10 team. Given your inexperience on defense, what is your kind of feeling about that, those predictions?

COACH MEYER: Most people in this room Pat, you know the answer to that, right? I don't. I couldn't tell you where we're picked. It means nothing. Just got to make it through training camp, man. It starts in a little over a week.

Q. The conference and the networks moved the LSU Auburn game back. How do you feel the placement of the Florida Tennessee game in the middle of September?

COACH MEYER: I don't know that question. I didn't understand.

Q. It's one of those games that seems to factor into the division championship every year. It's placed where it is in the schedule traditionally. Do you like that it's when it is?

COACH MEYER: The Tennessee Florida game?

Q. Yes.

COACH MEYER: I think that's one of the great advantages of coaches in Florida. You have three of them. There's never a lull in your schedule. One of the worst things a coach deals with is complacency, a team getting lazy, a team that loses their sting. That can't happen.

If you keep an eye on the target, it moves each week. To have Tennessee early, obviously Georgia in the middle, FSU at the end, there's no other school in the country that has three rivals like that evenly spaced out. I'm not sure if it just worked out that way. That's a tremendous advantage.

It's difficult, but as far as momentum, as far as attention to detail, as far as keeping focus, you can't have a better situation than that.

Q. How have you addressed the off season arrests with the team?

COACH MEYER: Oh, disturbing. Every year you're dealing with something. That was maybe a few more than we'd like. The one common theme was they were all freshmen and sophomores, young players that need to grow up and grow up real fast. Just like most coaches, we deal with it. You educate, you correct.

Discipline is not dismissal, in our opinion. Discipline is education and correction, then do what you got to do. We're in the process of doing a lot of educating, a lot of correcting, and putting a product on the field.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

COACH MEYER: Thank you very much.

Wide Receiver Andre Caldwell:

On new starting quarterback Tim Tebow:
"I think he can handle the job. He got to play a lot last year. We have good people and I know we can handle that. Chris (Leak) was a good guy to learn from. He'll be fine."

On the off-season turmoil:
"We are young, and young guys are going to make mistakes. It's very disappointing, but it happens. That's life. You just hope that they learn from their mistakes and don't get in trouble again. That is what Coach Meyer told us when he notified us about it."

On being the defending national champions:
"It's hard having to forget that. But that is what Coach Meyer told us to do. Last year was a special year, no doubt about that. He said that we can cherish it for a little while, but now it is time to forget that. We know that the target is on our backs, and if we go into the season thinking that we are better than everybody just because of the title, than someone is going to surprise us."

On the cover of the media guide:
"That was really something. When coach showed it to me, I was stunned. Just because of the thought that went into it and all the hard work that had to have been put into it. I want at least 20 copies of it, 10 for myself and 10 for my family, so it can be shown to everybody. But it is also special that they thought enough of that to put that on the cover. With all the great players that have come through Florida, knowing that they thought enough about me to do that, is really special."

On the touchdown catch and how to top that:
"There is really no way to top that. I want to be the best, you have to do that in big games. I want another opportunity to do that in a big game. That is what big time players do in those situations."

Safety Tony Joiner:

On last season:
"Yes we had a pretty good run at it last year. My expectations are to come out and play the football we have always been playing. I just want to compete in the SEC and compete in the Championship."

On the loss of valuable players:
"I have not seen false confidence. I've seen talented groups of guys that know what is in our reach and know what we can accomplish."

On the toughness of the SEC this year:
"In the SEC you have to get the fire going and we can. You won't make it without the fire. We are in a tough conference and it's a tough battle. It's extremely tough. Week in and week out it's a battle. Every team is going to play you the best they can. Almost every game in the SEC is a rivalry game. We have to come out and just play football."

On the confidence of the young guys stepping up:
"I have plenty of confidence with the young guys we have now. We have a talented group of young guys and we have a bunch of eager guys ready to get on the field and want to step up and play for us this year. Being with them and guiding them all summer helps a lot. "

On another Championship this season:
"I really don't think about it at all. I look forward to competing in the SEC and winning the SEC Championship first."

On talent in the SEC:
"Eric Ainge is the toughest quarterback. The Georgia quarterback is very talented as well. There are a bunch of talented quarterbacks around the league. Most of their offensive schemes are good. It makes them a lot better and makes us work harder."

On Tim Tebow:
"He is extremely tough. They way he works out everyday and the way he takes control. Being as young as he is, I'm really enjoying they way he leads."

MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS--

COACH SYLVESTER CROOM:

THE MODERATOR: We're ready to start with Coach Croom.

COACH CROOM: We'll get started with practice one week from today. Our players are there. We're just finishing up summer school. So our guys, our veteran players, have been there since June 1st. Our freshmen came in right after the 4th of July. So our guys really won't get a break before we start practice.

But we're looking forward to the season, looking forward to practice. As everybody's aware, we play LSU in our opening ballgame on national TV on Thursday night, August 30th. They're one of the best teams in the country. Hey, we got to play 'em. They're in the SEC West.

We're excited about our potential for improving the season. We thought we made significant strides as far as our attitude and confidence level last year. With the influx of new people that we've had in our freshmen and junior college players, plus the returning of most of our guys from last year, we're really excited about the possibilities of what could what we can become at some point during the season.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Croom.

Q. Do you feel any pressure going into the season?

COACH CROOM: Yeah, I do. I feel a great deal of pressure. The same pressure I felt when I was in the ninth grade when Tuscaloosa Junior High, played Eastwood Junior High. Tuscaloosa Junior High won. Same pressure I felt then. The pressure of winning a game and having bragging rights after the game's over.

If you're asking me whether I'm worried about whether I'm going to get fired, no. I've coached for 30 years. I've never had to go look for a job. I've always had one. The good Lord has blessed me with one. I know we're doing things the right way. I know our plan is on track.

But at any point during my tenure, or as coaches, we always know that's a possibility. But if that should ever come about, I'm quite thankful to have had the opportunity to do it my way. I'm very fortunate Mississippi State, my athletic director, Larry Templeton, our president, Dr. Foglesong, our past president, Dr. Lee, have allowed me to do things exactly the way I believe in.

So regardless of the outcome, I'm far more fortunate than a lot of guys in this business. I got to do everything exactly the way I want to do it.

Q. What is your feeling about an early signing period in college football recruiting?

COACH CROOM: Not interested in it at all. And we've done that in the Southeastern Conference. When I was playing we signed in December. When I was coaching we signed in December. We signed the conference letter in December. The national letter came in January.

What that means is you have to, during the season, focus on playing games and recruiting. One of the problems I feel like, I think the rules as they are now alleviate to some degree, is quite often we give more attention to players in the recruiting process than we do when they're on campus. I think that's what that will lead to.

Right now coaches can focus on coaching their players and spending time in the game plan. If they do have a break during the season, they can spend some free time with their players, even after a game. You get time, your players get a chance to celebrate, you can spend some time with them after a game if you want to do some things.

Whereas if you go back the other way, as soon as that game is over with you got to have got to go to a recruiting meal, something like, that entertain people.

I'm not interested in going back that way. I think it defeats the idea of focusing on football and concentrating on the task at hand during the season.

Q. Since you're opening up with LSU this year, would you rather play your non conference games, then maybe third, fourth week of the season get into your SEC games?

COACH CROOM: As I said earlier, if we had a format where the conference decided that's what you're going to do, everybody doing the same thing, then that would be different.

But, you know, I never worry about schedules, guys. I don't get into that. It's not something, I guess because of my NFL background, you just get ready and play 'em. I don't care what time we play, when we play, as long as we're you know, the only thing I worry about is if we had to play, let's say we were playing an early game, I know what we're getting into a Thursday game, and the other team had a little more time to prepare for you. Now, that's the things I look at.

As long as the opponent, we got the same preparation time for that game, it doesn't really bother me.

Q. Are you ever surprised when guys decommit from your program or other programs? What do y'all try to do to prevent that? How do you handle moving forward with other program's guys who have decommitted who are on the market now?

COACH CROOM: Well, I have learned. We're very open and honest with our prospects during the recruiting process. We explain to them what my definition of a commit is. When they commit to us, it's over. If a guy who's truly committed, if I'm going to hold that scholarship for him, he's not visiting anywhere else.

Now, if he's visiting, then he made a reservation. That means if he's visiting, I'm visiting. So it works both ways.

Q. At this time last year, Michael Henig was talking about getting over the toe injury that he got, and then he comes back and gets the broken collarbone. Is there anything you try to do to keep him healthy on the field? Have you told him, No more pool games?

COACH CROOM: Well, I told him not to go barefooted, that it is for sure.

Injuries are part of the game, part of life. We sure don't need one to happen to him. But those things happen. He did a great job preparing. Our guys are all excited. We go to the South Carolina game. He gets a concussion literally the first play. He still doesn't remember very much of that game. Even before he got the collarbone hurt, he was playing he was dinged on the first play.

That's just part of the process. What we've done, we went out and got a junior college quarterback, two freshmen coming in. The only thing that we've done to alleviate that is get better depth, and at the same time he has worked extremely hard in the weight room.

I think he's worked a lot more in the weight room, a lot better, than what he had previously. He's gained some weight. In fact, he got up to a little too heavy. Got up to 205, 206 pounds. His mobility wasn't as good as it was in the spring. He's back down to a range that he finds comfortable for himself right now.

The preventive maintenance, we got him a little extra training with our ROTC on how to take a fall, so I hope that will help as well.

Q. Talk about your thoughts on the rule changes, especially kicking off from the 30, the stuff they've done to put plays back into the game.

COACH CROOM: Well, the kicking off I think is going to make everybody watch the kickoffs now for sure a lot more. It's going to be a bigger play in college football now. I think you're gonna see offenses start with better field position, which means we should get we should be more productive on the offensive side of the football because field position is everything in offensive football.

So I'm not as worried about it now if my freshman kicker is as good as everybody tells me he is. If he does what he's supposed to do, then, hey, it's not going to be a problem for us. Hopefully with Derrick McGhee's returning kickoffs maybe we can get some field advantage on the kickoff return, which I think is the whole purpose of the rule.

I'm glad we've got the clock going back the way it was on kickoff. I'm not excited about the idea that I think we've we've only got 15 seconds after the ball is spotted after a TV timeout. We want to save five minutes, my thought and I don't know what the reason behind it is. I know quite often we don't want to do things like the NFL, but I'd just like to see us take five minutes off the halftime and quit messing around with the game.

Q. You talked about your team last year making some tangible improvement. Why hasn't it translated into wins? What is the problem? Is this process taking longer than you thought about weeding out players that didn't see it your way, transfers?

COACH CROOM: No, it hasn't taken any longer than I thought. When I took this job, I talked to Curt, I talked to Bobby Ross, I talked to all the people. I talked to Durell out of UCLA, all the guys who have been through this, rebuilding a program, and they said that, Hey, you're not going to be in that position to compete with the better teams for at least three seasons.

You throw the probation in there, plus the fact I knew the way that my philosophy is that some of the young men there was not going to want to stay and participate.

So basically we started all over again. That was explained to our athletic director, explained to our president when we took the job, because I knew that was going to happen. Because I know me better than anybody. We're at that point now where we've gotten young men in the program. The guys like Titus, the guys like Mike, who believe in our way of doing things, who believe in going to class, doing all the little things that we ask them to do.

As far as last year, we made significant improvement. I know the fans said they weren't wins. But you got to understand something: we were still a very young team last year. I asked our players to do one thing last year: get us to the fourth quarter where we've got a chance to win. That was the goal: get us to the fourth quarter. When we lost four games by a field goal, two of them Georgia and Ole Miss, we lost on the last play of the game. So we did what we asked them to do.

Now, we've got to find that one play to get those other three points. That's the improvement we made. When I look at us in the first game last year, particularly on the offense, we played pretty well defensively.

But when I look at us offensively we made significant improvements. We had 22 sacks in the first six games. Only had six in the last six. We finally pieced together an offensive line. That's been a process in itself.

We got a pretty good offensive line coming back. We got a bunch of starters coming back on offense. I expect us to be a pretty productive team on the offensive side of the football.

Building a program takes time. Building anything that has a chance to succeed, whether it's your family, your business, anything, it takes time. Quite often in our society today, patience is not a virtue any more. We want it to happen right now.

Again, I'm very fortunate to be at Mississippi State because the people who hired me understood that this was the way that I was going to do it. It's not been easy for me because I want to win right now, too. Hey, I've been used to everywhere I've been competing for championships.

But to build something, I'm extremely proud of the players who have come to our program because a lot of them, rather than choosing to go somewhere and riding on the coattails of someone else's success, they chose to be a part of building something. They're the ones that's building it, and builders are special people.

Q. Could you talk about what college football does to help guys, other than NFL guys, to succeed when they get out of college, what you do as a program to help them do that?

COACH CROOM: Well, the biggest thing in college football is, our philosophy is to make sure our guys are on track to graduate. That's the biggest thing. If you got a degree, now a guy, particularly with the career planning and all those things that all universities have in place, and most athletic departments do some fashion of that as well, with alumni trying to help them get in contact with different people so they can have a career of their choice.

But the most important thing is getting a degree. That is the most important thing. The NFL has followed up on that as well with its degree program which allows players to stay in their respective franchise towns and still be able to finish their degrees. That's the bottom line. Whether it's at the college or pro level, it's guys being on track to graduate with a functional, marketable degree. That comes first.

That's been one of the things that was, you know, asked about our program. Our entire goal when we started this program, what we're doing at State, is we wanted to be a program that graduated its players and put them in a position to compete in society.

If they're winners as people and are able to go out in society and be winners, the wins will come.

Q. I can probably count on one hand the number of times in the last 10 years I've seen a team win the opening coin toss and choose to take the ball. Do you think with the kickoff change we might see coaches trend back that way?

COACH CROOM: I don't know what other coaches are going to do, but I'm taking it. Everybody has his choice. With that ball on the 30 yard line, you better believe I'm taking it.

Q. When you talk about the goals you set for this year, trying to move up, I suspect you think it's really important to get out of the gate early. Does that complicate it by playing LSU in the opener?

COACH CROOM: I'm not one of those it's always nice to start off good. I'm more worried about how you finish. Getting out the gate, people say last year I might have tended toward that because I probably put too much emphasis on the South Carolina game last year because we were not a confident football team. That's why.

I thought it was really important. If we could have won the South Carolina game last year it would have made a tremendous difference in our season, because we had a young team that had no confidence. Our team believes in itself right now.

Regardless of the outcome against LSU, we're still going to be a good football team before the year's over.

Q. Do you feel the state of Mississippi can support two successful SEC programs talent wise? If not, how important is it to be the first one to have a breakout season?

COACH CROOM: Hmm. Well, I'm not worried about them supporting two, I'm just worried about them supporting one (smiling). Them other guys can worry about themselves.

I know it can support the one in Starkville, so beyond that I'm not worried about that.

Q. Could you comment on Titus Brown, what he means to your team, the progress that he's made the last couple years?

COACH CROOM: Titus is a very important factor in our football team. Our team has a team concept. We got no superstars. Titus is a key player in the mix. An excellent pass rusher. He's what I call a natural pass rusher. Titus to rush the passer the day he set foot on campus, and he's refined that art even further now. I expect him to have a big year for us.

He's an intense player, but Titus understands what we're all about as a program. He's going through some personal odyssey himself. He started off, he came in as a guy who was not highly recruited. Really took it personal he didn't get a chance to go to the University of Alabama. Came in as a freshman trying to prove himself.

I think we started him at middle linebacker. He had some success, made all conference as a freshman. But in the long term we thought it would be better for him to move to defensive end. Well, he didn't really agree with us on that. Even though he moved, I don't think he totally bought into it. I think his play dropped because of it, because his heart was never totally in it.

It finally got to a point where I called him in one day and I said, Titus, you're either going to be a defensive end or you need to go somewhere else, because I do not believe you can play middle linebacker. Plus I know you want to play in the NFL, and I know you can't play middle linebacker up there.

I said, But if you believe what we're asking, I think you can play at that level one day. I think last year he finally decided to buy into that. Now he's committed to it. His play, particularly the last six games of the season, reflected that. I think all 12 of 'em will reflect that this year. I think he's going to have a big season.

Q. Anthony Dixon last year played tailback. Do you foresee him playing tailback and fullback from this year?

COACH CROOM: AD might be at tailback, he might be at fullback, he might be at tight end, he might be at ride receiver. Don't blink because you might miss him.

We gonna get the ball to Anthony Dixon. He's a big time player. A little bit too big right now. I think he's about 242. Still got a couple pounds to lose. But he showed he could play in this conference last year as a freshman.

Still got a lot of maturing to do. He's a little too impatient on his runs as far as understanding blocking schemes, allowing holds to develop. I think the addition of Rockey Felker as a coach, Rockey had a significant impact on him this spring as far as getting his tempo down.

This young man is another one of those guys like Titus. Again, we don't have a network of superstars, but he is a key player in the scheme of things for us.

Q. How are you and your staff changing your recruiting strategy in anticipation of the text messaging ban going into effect on August 1st?

COACH CROOM: Burning up those text messages between now and August the 1st, that's for sure. I understand there's a possibility there may be some adjustments in the rule. We'll know that soon. But we'll adjust to that. You can email them. Still the old fashioned way of writing a note, which we always did. We never stopped doing that as a staff. We still send handwritten notes to our players. I do every week. We'll continue to do that. We'll still use email, which is possible.

Whatever the rules are, we're going to follow those rules to the letter. As long as everybody else does the same, I don't see a problem with it. I'm one of those guys, as long as we all got to do it, okay.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

COACH CROOM: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

Defensive End Titus Brown:

On the season opener:
"I feel pretty good about the season opener. We've got a lot of guys returning, and we have a lot of strength on the offensive line. We've got a lot of guys that are good leaders on defense and offense. I think we can go out there and make Mississippi State known for something with the opening game."

On pressure on Coach Croom to do well during his fourth season:
"I don't feel any pressure, but I think it's an important season. We've just got to go out and play Mississippi State football and if we do that everything else will take care of itself."

On the importance of the LSU game:
"That game is very important, win, lose or draw. We take that one week and we build on that the next week, so we'll take it one game at a time."

On LSU as an opponent:
"LSU is a great opponent. They're one of the most talented teams in the nation, and we will not take that lightly. We respect them and we're going to prepare and go out there and try to defeat them."

On the LSU/Mississippi State matchup:
"We take every game the same. All games are LSU games. We don't take any game lightly. It would be good to beat LSU, but we take every game seriously just like LSU. We take Gardner-Webb as an LSU game, so we never take anybody lightly."

Quarterback Michael Henig:

On building off last season's strong finish:
"Last year we ended on a real good note. We proved to some people that we can play and be a contender in the SEC. We had a good spring. A lot of guys just came out and showed that they are ready to play. We are just ready to strap it back up."

On being a sleeper team in the SEC:
"Looking at the schedule, a lot of people say we have one of the hardest schedules in the nation. This is the SEC. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. I think we proved that by beating Florida a couple of years ago and by beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa last year. We lost four games by three points, and a lot of people do not look at that. If we make one play, we win seven games and go to a bowl. That is what we are looking forward to this year. We want to finish where we left off last year."

On the weapons on the offensive side of the ball:
"I have got some weapons at wide receiver in Co-Eric Riley, Tony Burks, Aubrey Bell, and Jamayel Smith. That is just to name four of them. Then, you mix in the running backs Anthony Dixon and Robert Elliott. It just makes my job easier to have players like that who can go out and make plays."

On last season's injuries:
"Hard-nose football is my style. If I have to get a first down then I am going to try to get it, but I was not being a smart quarterback last year. I need to slide a lot more. If nothing presents itself, then I just have to throw the ball away. I have to play each game to play for another game."

On Coach Sylvester Croom:
"He builds men, and is a great coach and great guy. He will call you into his office and talk to you about life and how classes and workouts are going. I would not want to play for anyone else. He is a great Godly man, and that is what I like about him."

On expectations for this year:
"This is a huge year for us. It is Coach (Sylvester) Croom's fourth year, and just about every guy on the team was recruited by Coach (Sylvester) Croom. I think we have been peeking around that corner, and I think this is the year we turn that corner."

On playing that first game in prime time:
"It is huge for our university and program. Some people have LSU the No. 1 team in the nation, and I would not want to play them any other game but first. I do not make predictions, but I think that it is going to be a good game."

ROGERS REDDING (SEC Coordinator of Football Officials):

CHARLES BLOOM: Welcome to day two of SEC Football Media Days. We'll get started with Rogers Redding.

ROGERS REDDING: Good morning, everyone. Good to be back with you again this year. I'm looking forward to the season. We have our officials clinic coming up this weekend. Our guys are coming into town, ready to get started.

What I'm going to do this morning is take you through the rule changes for 2007. I would also point out to you there is a one page summary of the rule changes on the table outside.

Let me talk about the transition from last year to this year. Last year when I stood up and talked with you, the big headlines around the rule changes were the clock rules. Though the two clock rules put in place last year, starting the clock when the ball was kicked on a kickoff and starting the clock when the referee signaled the ball ready for play following a change of possession, those two rules probably had the shortest half life of any two rules in the history of the NCAA.

There was so much dissatisfaction among coaches and fans, the rules committee was under some pressure to shorten the game. What they did was shorten the game by shortening playing time, which had the effect of taking plays out of the game.

One of the intended consequences to shorten the game took place, but one of the unintended consequences of taking plays out of the game was a negative effect in the view of most folks.

The rules committee this year backed away from those two rules and simply restored the previous rules that had been in place for all the time all of us had known about football.

The first slide, on the kickoff, as was the case in 2005 and for years and years and years previous to that, on the kickoff the clock will start. Once the ball is kicked the clock will start when the ball is legally touched in the field of play.

That means if the ball has gone 10 yards, the kicking team touches it, clock starts. If the ball is first touched by the receiving team in the field of play, clock starts. If the ball is touched in the end zone by a receiving team player, the clock won't start until the ball either by itself or in the hands of the player comes out of the end zone.

That's the rule that everybody knew, we all grew up with. That's one of the changes this year, to go back to the '05 rule on starting the clock.

As it turns out, there's probably four or five seconds when the ball is in the air. Depends on several things. Typically about five seconds. The committee felt like this was time that needed to be put back in the game. There will be another rule about the kickoff. The kickoff is going to be an important aspect this year. But this clock rule is restored to its previous form.

The next clock rule, the one that really got all the chatter last year, was starting the clock on the change of possession. Last year on the change of possession, if you caught a punt, let's say, and the clock is dead, then the teams switch, when the referee declared the ball ready for play, that's when the clock started.

That was a very unusual set of circumstances. It was hard for everybody to get used to. It looked funny, felt funny. In addition to that, it ate up a lot of clock time. Again, this year the rule will go back to what it was before. That is, if you have a change of possession, in the team that was on defense or the team that received the football, when they start on offense, then the clock will not start until the ball is snapped. Again, that's the rule that we all knew for all that long length of time.

The clock rules, as I said, have all the headlines. There's more clock rules I want to talk about. But really the rule that is going to impact how the game is played, in my view, is to kick the ball off, the kickoff will be from the 30 yard line. It's been at the 35 yard line for a number of years.

Many of us can remember when the ball was kicked off from the 40 yard line. When it was kicked off from the 40 yard line, eventually kickers adjusted, were booming the ball through the end zone, we got a touchback. They backed it up to the 35 yard line. For a couple years, the kickoff return was back in the game. But, again, the kickers adjusted and were bombing the ball through the end zone.

Last year, if you recall, they made a little change that got lost in all the hubbub about the clock, but they made a change that said that the ball could not be more than one inch off the ground, lowered the tee basically, that had no impact at all. The committee this year has moved it back to the 30 yard line.

We were seeing in the spring games and spring scrimmages that kickers were typically getting the ball to the 12 and 8 yard line, maybe deeper than that. Very seldom, if at all, getting it in the end zone. This puts the kickoff return back in the football game. If there's anything more boring than a touchback, I'm not sure what it is.

The kickoff return will be back in the game. There's a lot of fan interest in this, a lot of excitement about a kickoff return, all that. And also it helps speed up the game because you're not wasting time switching teams for the touchback, the clock is running when the ball is touched, while the ball carrier is running with the football. The kickoff from the 30 yard line I think is going to be an important rule change.

Back to the clock for a moment. As I said, last year, the rules committee was under some pressure to shorten the elapsed time of the game. So what the committee did this year was to take the approach to say, Okay, we're going to put the playing time back in, and therefore put the plays back in. Let's try to find some time when the ball is dead when we can save some time, so that rather than controlling the elapsed time by changing the playing time, control the elapsed time by manipulating some dead ball situations.

So, for example, if we have a televised football game, if a game is on live television, a team calls one of their three timeouts of the half, if that is a timeout that is not accompanied by a TV timeout, then it will be for one minute. That is to say, 30 seconds, plus about five seconds to kind of get everybody ready again, then the referee chops the 25 second clock. That's a total of a minute.

For all of time it has been a minute and a half, so they shaved 30 seconds off of the team timeout time. The committee, I should also remind you the football rules committee is all coaches, so officials really have no say in how the rules are made. Our responsibility is to administer and enforce the rules. But the committee was saying, When we call a timeout, we're really not calling a timeout to rest our players or talk strategy, we're calling a timeout to get the clock stopped.

So they felt like they could save some time in terms of using up some dead time to restore, get back to not having the games themselves run so long. So, again, 30 seconds shaved off of a charge team timeout.

If the team timeout is accompanied by a television timeout, then this doesn't have any effect because the television timeout is going to be for whatever length of time the contract with the TV network says: two minutes, two and a half minutes, whatever it happens to be.

But many times, late in the game, TV timeouts have been exhausted. A team is trying to get the clock stopped. They'll stop the clock by using one of their three timeouts for that half. So that timeout will be a total length of one minute, 35 seconds to have the timeout, plus the 25 seconds of the 25 second clock. Okay?

The next one is the ready for play interval. The play clock we've always referred to it as the 25 second clock, because that's what it's been. Well, this year the 25 second clock will now also be sometimes a 15 second clock. That is to say, coming out of a TV timeout the ready for play clock will be 15 seconds.

The coaches on the committee were saying, Look, we can get our guys out there. We don't need those 25 seconds to get the ball in play. Coming out of a TV timeout the play clock will be 15 seconds.

There is an exception. Football rules book is full of exceptions. The exception is if you're going to kickoff following that TV timeout, the play clock will still be 25 seconds. So, for example, if there's a punt and the team receiving the punt, the ball is dead, TV takes its timeout, coming out of that TV timeout, the play clock will be 15 seconds.

The stadium clocks, we're working with the facilities people, game management people, to get the stadium clocks where they can toggle between 25 and 15. Obviously sometimes it's going to be 25, sometimes it's going to be 15.

If the TV timeout is taken after the extra point attempt where there's going to be a kickoff next, then it will be 25 seconds. The idea there was, let's don't get the kickers confused having sometimes 25 and sometimes 15. The consistency there was for the benefit of the kickoff team to always have the 25 seconds.

How much time this is really going to save is anybody's guess. This is kind of a grand experiment with these various clock rules that are adjusting time during the dead time of the football game. But this is an experiment. This is one that I think has some potential for saving a little bit of time.

This is a change having to do with fouls that are committed by the kicking team on punts and kickoffs. Last year well, prior to last year, if there was a foul against the kicking team, let's say some team punted and committed some kind of foul. They were illegally in motion or even committed a major foul like clipping or holding during the kick. The receiving team only had the option of either taking the result of the play, declining the penalty, or going back and having them penalized from the previous spot and rekick. The rekick takes time. It also doesn't really offer the receiving team that much of an option.

Last year there was a modest rule change that said if there were what are sometimes referred to as procedural fouls, that is to say let's say that the kicking team on a punt only had six men on the line of scrimmage. They have to have seven. If they had an illegal shift, men moving. If they were illegally in motion, some other kind of five yard penalty type procedural foul, then the receiving team had the option of tacking that penalty on rather than going back and rekicking.

Well, this year that rule has been expanded so now that any foul by the kicking team on a punt or a kickoff, with the exception of kick catch interference. But any other foul, whether it's a foul in conjunction with a snap or one later on in the play during the kick, the receiving team will have the option of having that penalty tacked onto where they would have had the football anyway.

Let's say, as an example, the kicking team on a punt punts the ball, and somewhere during the kick they commit a holding foul, let's say takedown, and the receiving team gets the ball. Let's say they return it to the 30 yard line. They'll have the option of having that 10 yard penalty tacked on so they would put the play on the 40 yard line.

They always have the option of having them go back and rekick. That's always an option. But the additional option they have this year, it speeds the game up, it doesn't take time, you don't have the time you need to set up a kick again, and also it gives the receiving team, the team that was on defense, much more of an option in terms of what they want to do.

So that's a change that I think has some potential importance in the way the game is played as well.

Action by the defense on kick plays. This is a safety issue. For a long time, the language that's in yellow is new in that rule. For a long time, it has been the case that the defensive team, in trying to block a kick, were not allowed to be picked up by a teammate.

In other words, picked up in the air to get them elevated where they could try to block the kick. Well, this year the coaches put in another an expansion of this rule that says that, as you can see from the language, it's illegal now for the defensive player to be not only picked up by elevated, propelled or pushed.

What we're seeing is a linebacker getting behind a defensive tackle and shoving him into the offense in an attempt to get through to block the kick. The coaches felt like the linebacker is typically going to come in and pile up on top of that. The coaches felt like this was a safety issue in terms of the guy that's getting the offensive tackle, let's say. So this is an expansion of that rule.

It will be a personal foul just like it was in the case of being picked up by a teammate.

Let's see. Is there one more? Okay, that's it.

Again, just to reiterate sort of the philosophy that the committee took was to adjust the clock rules to go back to where they were in 2005. But in conjunction with that, put in some of these other clock rules during the dead ball times to try to help contain the amount of elapsed time in the football game.

Thank you very much.

Story Courtesy: SEC Sports & Host Communications


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