Nov. 13, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - Despite his team dropping back-to-back games the last two times the Green Wave took the field, first-year Tulane head football coach Curtis Johnson remained upbeat when he took the podium on Tuesday for his weekly press conference on in the Hall of Fame Room at the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center.
At 2-8 overall and 2-4 in Conference USA play, the best the Wave can hope for is a strong showing down the stretch to raise excitement heading into the offseason. Johnson continued to emphasize the positives he has seen in his team throughout the 2012 season and even pondered what the future would hold if senior quarterback Ryan Griffin had one more year of eligibility.
In addition, Johnson talked about the emotions that are involved when playing a Senior Day contest and the recent accolades awarded to junior placekicker Cairo Santos while previewing the upcoming game against East Carolina. A complete transcript of Tuesday's press conference is below.
Tulane will kickoff against the Pirates on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Prior to the game, Tulane's senior class of Stephen Barnett, Casey Blum, Jacob Davis, John Edwards, Darryl Farley, Ryan Griffin, Chris Hanuscin, Austen Jacks, Billy Johnson, Eric Jones, Alex Lauricella, D.J. Ponder, Stephen Purcell, Ryan Rome, Shakiel Smith, Stephen Suchy, Ryan Travis, Devon Walker, and Kendrell Washington will be honored with a special ceremony.
TULANE HEAD COACH Curtis Johnson
"This week's game was a little bit disappointing. The biggest disappointment was we went on the road, we played against a team that we were comparable to, we turned the ball over and we let the ball get over the top of our heads for the first time in a while. We had been keeping everything in front of us. This one kind of got away from us. I thought Memphis prepared well. They had a nice crowd. I was shocked at the crowd because I had gone to some of their games. They were into it. Early on, they got into it because we turned the ball over. We did run the ball well. The back end of the secondary - besides the big plays we gave up which is uncharacteristic of us - we played well back there. Lorenzo Doss is near the top of the conference in interceptions. Darion Monroe is one of the leaders in picking up fumbles. Jordan Batiste is in the top in pass break-ups. I thought (Ryan) Griff(in) had a decent game. He could have played butter, but he made some throws. The receivers played pretty decent to."
On the reason for Ryan Griffin's three interceptions
"One of the things that they did, and I thought it was good scheme, was they put their biggest defensive lineman at noseguard against our center, who is a smaller type of guy. They just kept guys in his face. It's the same thing with Drew Brees. When he has problems is when these big interior guys are always in his face. I thought they did a good job of doing that and that may have been the cause of it. I thought he would play better. He played good, now, but he's been playing like Superman these past couple of weeks and you grow to expect that out of him. He just didn't have one of those Superman kind of games. He probably had a Spider-Man game."
On this week being Senior Day and the impact of his senior class
"I've listened to these programs around the country with first-year coaches, and they kind of get on their seniors a little bit. But I have a totally different way of thinking about these seniors. These seniors are very special. They have been here during a difficult time. We've had a lot of adversity throughout this whole year. As seniors, we didn't finish this thing like we wanted to, but I think these guys have been magnificent. They've been character, good kids. They've given it there all. They're still out there practicing hard. They're trying to win a game. They do what we ask of them. The seniors are never late. Their grades are great. They're just a special group.
On what Ryan Griffin has meant to the team
"Ryan has been everything you could ask for in a quarterback. I wish I had him another year. It was unfortunate that he went out early, but he's been playing at a terrific pace and he's a better human being than he is a player. He reminds me a lot of Drew. I think Ryan's arm strength is good enough. I think he can read defenses. He can get us in the right plays. He's around the building. He's a coach around the building and he does it the right way. I just want his career to extend as long as we can get it to."
On if he feels Griffin has a chance to play at the next level
"Here's what I think he can do well and better than most: when you put a defense in front of him, he can get you into the right play. That's half of the battle in the NFL. Being in this offense, the kind of offense that we are in, I think he can excel. Like I said, I wish we had more time with him. I'm just eager to see what's going to happen next for him and I think it'll be all good."
On what he saw this season that he perhaps did not expect
"I didn't expect to have so many players out of the program and to have as traumatic of an injury as we did. And we went through a little bit of a lull, but then all of the sudden these guys kind of woke up and they began to fight back. Coming into the job, I never would have expected the fight and the willingness to put it on the line week in and week out. We got guys like Austen Jacks who has been hurt for weeks and weeks. If I was him, I would say `Okay, I'm going to let my body heal a couple of weeks and not play, and then I'm going to come back the last four or five games.' He's been out there every week. Eric Jones, too. It's been every week that these guys have just fought and have been very competitive, not to mention the positive attitude around the building. I just wouldn't have believed it."
On how the new stadium and the C-USA realignment have affected recruiting so far
"The stadium is a big issue. It's almost like it's a little added thing that they're starting to get a feel for. It's like, `Okay, you're telling me that I can walk out of class and go right to practice. I can get out of bed and go right to the game. My parents can come in every game and they can see my professors.' They're getting exciting about, `Yes, this is going to be about us and it's going to be new.' And I get into it with them. I say, `Hey look, it's going to smell new. Everything about it is going to be new. It's going to look new, it's going to smell new, it's going to feel new. When you talk about it, they begin to love it. Being in the conference, and I'll use an analogy from when I was at the University of Idaho, from when I was a player all the way up to when I got to the Saints, we beat Boise State 14 or 15 years in a row. Then all of a sudden Boise got their players and now Boise as you'll remember a couple of years ago beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. I think we have the right talent. I think we have the right chemistry down here in Louisiana. I think this school is perfect to come to because it's second to none. We can say what we want, but if you compare educations, this is the school to go to. Twenty years from now, this is the school that I'd want to graduate from. We have all these combinations and now all we have to do is put the product on the field. They're starting to see these freshmen take off and the freshmen playing. All of these receivers and linemen are looking at us and say, `You guys are doing some of the same stuff that the Saints are doing. This may be interesting. I can see myself fitting in to this.' Those pictures are being painted and they are receptive to it."
On what conference he thinks Tulane should be in
"Right now the best conference for us is the one that we're in. I think we'll be competitive. I think we'll win in this conference. I think there are some local recruiting advantages for where this conference is going to. I don't know if you want to be in a conference that you have to go far off from because you want to be identified with your opponents. When we go to Texas or we go to Florida or wherever we go, we want to say that `You're going to be able to come here and you're going to play against that team that didn't want you in your state or you chose over this.' I think this conference right now is perfect. The thing that you have to do as a head coach is win some games. You'll be on TV a little bit more, then you become a national team and then five, six or 10 years down the line you can say hey we can move into a different conference or up this conference. I like the conference that we're in now."
On the new C-USA changing the division line-ups
"What happens is you just go on. Years ago the NFL split. The rivalry was the Saints and the 49ers when I was growing up. Now all of a sudden, it's Atlanta and you also have Tampa. You just have to feel the flavor of your opponent. You have to understand their likes and dislikes, what they have and what they don't have, and you recruit to that. I just think it doesn't matter right now. You just have to feel what this thing is going to turn into, who you're competing with and you just recruit to those things."
On if things have slowed down for him somewhat since being named head coach
"I think if you would have told me that went on would have gone on, especially with Devon, I think I would have said I don't believe this could ever happen. Just that experience alone has been really tough on the football team but me personally. It's like a son and a good friend. I'm very prayerful for him all the time. Just walking or riding my bike, I think of him often and I pray for him a lot. The thing is we have some challenges that we have to address and some stuff that we have to do, and we are beginning to look like we are moving in that direction. It's pleasant to be moving forward. Sometimes I have to step back away from it to see it, but I do see the improvements."
On the recent accolades awarded to junior kicker Cairo Santos
"Cairo is one of my specials. I call him more of a friend. We have this little ritual going on. Every Tuesday, I'll keep moving kicks back until he begins to miss them so I can kind of get on him a little bit. I always like to end practice on a Tuesday with him missing a kick. I'll stop it right there so then he'll get mad and be out there all night. We'll go in tomorrow, he'll make all of them and the world will be good. He is one of the most competitive young men that you're ever going to find. He can make any kick in the world. He'll come and stand next to me and say, `Look coach, I can make this 57-yarder. I can make this 62-yarder.' He's probably the most consistent, most valuable guy that we have on the team. He's consistently kicking the ball out of the endzone. We don't get very many returns and that has helped out special teams so much more. With the operation between Billy (Johnson), Cairo and (Ryan) Rome with the field goals, he's a special player and a great young man."
On if he plans on redshirting quarterback Devin Powell
"He has a foot injury and I don't want to put a kid in a game with this lingering foot injury. If we can get to the point - and I think we probably are - where I know he can't do it right now, I think I'll definitely consider trying to get his year back."
On if he feels he could help develop Ryan Griffin into an NFL-ready player with one more year
"It's selfish only. We have a program that when I hired coaches I felt that this was one of the goals that we would want. I want players to come in here who want to play in the NFL. Those are the guys that we want. If they don't want to play in the NFL they won't have the right amount of savvy to play for us. That's why I got a lot of guys and a lot of professional football help. Just to say that they want to play (in the NFL) doesn't mean they're going to play. Another year would help him in this offense because as you see we run the same plays that they do on Airline Highway. I think selfishly more than anything with a year in this offense, with a year with all these receivers, with a year of the offensive linemen developing - we had four new starters come back - and just with a year of everything offensively. The freshmen DBs will give you more turnovers when they become sophomores. The defensive line is playing with a couple of true freshmen and they'll be better. The linebackers will be back. He'd have more stuff around him that he could excel and he could help us win easy."
On East Carolina
"I think they're going to come out and play a good football game. This quarterback is one of the better quarterbacks in the league. What he does is he'll look, he'll look and then he'll run. It's hard to prepare for a guy who can throw and run. They've got a receiver over here that can fly. I told Doss, Monroe, Batiste and all those guys that they've got to stay over the top of him. These backs are stocky. They've got a good offensive line. Defensively, they're going to come and play their scheme. They play a zone scheme. They run a 3-4. We struggled a little bit with this 3-4. We're going to have to give our center some help. They're going to come in and they're going to play well. We need Griffin to get hot and we can continue to improve. We ran the ball a little better. All of those guys ran for 30 yards and we had over 100 yards rushing. We weren't playing from behind the whole day. That's just a glimpse of where we're going to be. If we can come in, start fast and don't turn the ball over, I think we'll have an interesting football game."
On Shakiel Smith not starting last week at Memphis
"We felt that (Sam) Scofield was playing better. We decided, and we've been doing this all year, if a guy is playing better we'll put him in. (Scofield) played better last week and we're going to start him again this week."
On what will happen next season offensively without Griffin
"You have two ways of taking on the challenge. One is you have a quarterback whose been there and everybody else who hasn't. That's kind of what we had this year. We had a quarterback who had so much experience, he knew our offense and knew what to do. Now, whoever will be our quarterback next year, will have everyone around him. All the receivers are coming back. All of the running backs are coming back. Most of the offensive line is coming back. The tight ends are back. This quarterback will not have to make the adjustments, the throws and the reads on defense so much. What will happen is he'll have guys around him that will make it work. That'll make it a lot simpler for whoever the starting quarterback is next year."
On what Tulane has to do to get Griffin back to `Superman' status
"What we can't do is turn the football over. If we turn the football over, then we're going to be in trouble. If you look at the games, especially the ones we lost big, early on it was turnover, turnover, turnover. Then Griff came in and the turnovers stopped and it began to settle down. Now, it's starting to creep up again. I think if you don't turn it over and if we can establish a little bit of running game, I think Griffin would be great."