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Weekly Q & A With Tom O'Brien

Nov. 16, 1999

Q: Your comments following Saturday's win vs. West Virginia?
A: It was a great way for our seniors to go out in their last home game, having the opportunity to win. We're 7-2, and it gave us our first win in the month of November. As we talked about before, we're trying to have a winning month of November, and we've started off on the right track.

Q: What are your feelings as you start to prepare for Notre Dame?
A: I assume we will be heading into an angry place after Notre Dame lost to Pittsburgh. Obviously, they are a very talented team. They're a very senior team, with eight seniors on defense. Offensively, they're playing with some young players in the backfield, but obviously Jackson's having a great year and they have a senior-junior offensive line, so they are a very talented football team. We will have our work cut out for us on Saturday.

Q: You mentioned the influence your Plebe coach, Dick Duden, had on you. What lessons did he impart on you?
A: He always used the phrase 'it's money in the bank,' referring to practice. If you practice well, to your maximum capability, maybe you wouldn't need it immediately, but he would say it's money in the bank. Somewhere during the year, if you invested it, if you put it away, you would be able to take it out when you need it. We needed it and used it at Syracuse. Some of our kids are drawn down deep to find ways to win football games.

Q: This week, with the implications of this game, do you suspect your players are going to need to dig deep to make a withdrawal, or will it be there for them?
A: I would hope that having the opportunity to go out and play a great football game on national TV will get them going. It's done well for them the last couple of weeks. They've done a great job getting themselves ready to play. I don't expect that it will be any different this week.

Q: What were the implications of last year's heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame? Did it stay with you a while?
A: Yes, but we went out to Pittsburgh and beat them the week after we played that game. That was maybe the first indication that this football team, this football program, was growing up. It was a tough loss, but we were able to come back and win the football game against Pittsburgh the next week, so that was good for us.

Q: In the long run, do you think that game played a role in the progress of your program?
A: Absolutely. We lost two games at home last year, Navy and Notre Dame, that were tough. The one thing that we focused on this year, coming into the season, was mental toughness, the ability to play 60 minutes and be mentally tough. That no matter what happens, no matter when it happens in the football game, we will be mentally tough for the entire 60 minutes, and if it goes to overtime, we're going to have to find a way to keep playing hard. We did that in our first game, vs. Baylor. That game went to the last minute, the Navy game did, Pittsburgh did, Miami did, and Syracuse did. So we've had five games go to the last minute, with Miami being the only one that went against us.

Q: How has your program developed over the past couple of years to the point that you are now a ranked team with serious bowl consideration?
A: It's a tribute to our seniors. They've been through a lot, and this has been a very emotional year for them. They came here with great aspirations, then got caught in the middle of a gambling scandal. There was a lot of finger-pointing, a lot of people were not very happy with the situation here. They got caught in a coaching change. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for them. But they hung in there. Prior to last season, they made a commitment to this program. A year ago we had made great progress, but we didn't have anything to show for it in terms of wins and losses, because we finished with the same record as the year before. But this year has been tremendous. I have six seniors on defense. I didn't have six seniors starting the previous two years together. You look at a team like Notre Dame with eight seniors on defense, and it's amazing to me that they have that kind of depth. That's what we're fighting to get. It's a credit to our kids who hung in there and have played so well.

Q: Do you think the team is now starting to reap some of the rewards of their efforts?
A: Absolutely. (ESPN commentators) Bill Curry and Dave Ryan commented Friday after practice, 'Boy, you're practicing a lot better now than you did before the Baylor game.' There's much more confidence. They're starting to buy into it. If you don't practice well, you can't play well. They're finally understand that if you drop the ball in practice, you may do that in a game. If you miss an assignment in practice, it could happen in a game. They have to practice well in order to play well.

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