Dec. 19, 2012
San Diego State Poinsettia Bowl Quotes
San Diego State head coach Rocky Long
"I think, contrary to public opinion, our players enjoyed themselves as much as anywhere they could have gone to a bowl game. We were so excited about being invited because we were lucky enough to be here two years ago, and were treated as well as any bowl game I've ever been to. I didn't know our players had been to Sea World before, some of them many times, or been to the zoo before, some of them many times. I didn't know how they would accept that. But as I wondered around and watched them with the dolphins and the sea lions and all those sort of things, it was like (they were) little kids. They had big smiles on their faces, they were having a great time. In fact, we did the opposite of what Bronco (Mendenhall) did. They went to Sea World and then went to practice. Well, we almost had a couple guys miss the bus they were having so much fun. But I appreciate the bowl people because I've been treated nicer here and our team has been treated nicer here than several of the bowl games we've been to before, so I really appreciate that.
Now as the game goes, I'm ready to play and I'm sure Bronco (Mendenhall) is too. And I think our teams are ready to play. I think it is a great matchup because we believe in the same things. And, we don't have the same personality, but we kind of coach the same way. And the most important thing in both programs is the players play as hard as they can and play to their ability. If you win, it's exciting. But if you lose, and after you watch the film, your players did everything they could, as hard as they could to win that game and they didn't, then you can be satisfied as a coach. We look at the bowl experience as a reward, but that does not mean we don't want to win. We want to win, but the two teams are here because they deserve to be here because they had great seasons. So we treat it as a reward. We practice the same, and if they're not practicing as hard as we normally do, we start practice over. And the primary goal is to win the game, but leading up to the game is a reward for our players.
Coach, how is Eric Pinkins doing? Is he going to play?
"He's going to play. He practiced the last two days."
People in Utah that have followed the Mountain West over several years wonder why San Diego State always seems to underperform. Even when you were at New Mexico, did you see a diamond in the rough here?
"Well I was lucky. Bronco hasn't experienced this, thank goodness. I've been around a long time, and I've been asked to leave town many times. And I've been asked to go to a better job a couple times, which is nice. And I was lucky, when I was out of work, that Brady Hoak and I were friends and he had this job. And he said `Do you want to come?' and I had nowhere to go, so I said sure. And then when I got here, what I found was a bunch of kids that wanted to be good. Now I have no idea how things were before I got here, and that's not any of my business. And there's no reason for me to even speculate on what it was. But when I got here, the talent level wasn't anywhere near what I thought it was from the other sideline.
There's this image that this team was so talented but never could win, and that was a falsehood. That was absolutely false. Because when I actually started working with the kids, the talent level wasn't anywhere near what I thought it was when I was standing on the other sideline playing against them. But what was here is a bunch of great kids that wanted to be good. And if you have a bunch of great kids that want to be good, guess what? It's really fun to coach. And then you go out there and they do the best they can. You win a few and you lose a few. And if you win the ones at the right time during the season, you get on a roll, you get confident and you get to go to a bowl game. Sounds simple, it is simple. As long as you got kids that want to work hard, it's simple. Then the coaches have to go out and get enough talented players so you can win enough games to go to a bowl game."
Since you didn't think the talent level was what you thought it was from the other sideline, what did you change when you became head coach?
"I have no idea, because I don't know what happened before I got here."
Were you recruiting different talent than what you saw when you first got here?
"I think we're recruiting the same kids. Obviously, we're always trying to improve our talent level. We're always trying to get better players. But I think more importantly is what kind of kids they are. They've got to be able to play, don't get me wrong. But the kids have to be willing to do what they're supposed to do. They're supposed to go to school, they're supposed to get decent grades, they're supposed to graduate. Guess what? They're supposed to show up on time. They're supposed to do things the right way, and you can find out who those kids are when you recruit. And if you get a bunch of those kids in your program and they're pretty good players, guess what? They exceed their athletic ability. And so I'm really lucky, because I've got good guys."
Sometimes these games are treated more as exhibitions, and some teams really come out determined to win. As a coach, what do you have to do to make sure that the guys are ready to play in these types of games?
"I think it's a real delicate balance, and I don't think you ever know until the game starts. Obviously, we try to practice the same way. For us it's Friday, and we have a certain deal we do on Friday. We try to take four days and have the same practice schedule all the way through until game day. Today we're going to separate the non-travel squad guys from the travel squad guys, because the travel squad guys are the guys that play. So we treat Friday with the travel squad guys just like we do every other game. Now does that work? Well, it's worked a couple times, but it hasn't worked some other times either. So it's more of how the players react during the game. I expect this to be a very hard-fought, close football game. But I've been around long enough to know it might not be. It might be one-sided one way or the other. Both of us defensive coaches might want (the final score) to be 3-0, 6-3, 10-7. But I've watched enough bowl games it might 50-49 too. You never know until you start playing."
Is it easier or more difficult in your mind just the fact you're home and some of the same routines being here in San Diego?
"I think it's both. I think it's easier because Bronco (Mendenhall) had to have his meetings over there where they had to set up the whole system, and we just go to our offices and do it right in our offices. We're staying in the same locker room, the kids are used to all that. What is different is there's a lot more distractions at home. Because when you go off somewhere else (for a bowl game), it's the official party that goes and very few of the other people. When you're at home, all the guys my guys run around with are here. They're coming to the game. All their buddies are here, their families are all here, their girlfriends are all here. There's a lot more distractions when you're at home then when you go off some place. But then we've got the advantage that we practice on our same practice field, we meet in our same meeting rooms. Thanks to BYU, we're going to be in our same locker room, because they had first choice and they were nice enough to let us have the one we're normally in. So all that is better, but the distractions are more."
Rocky, Bronco (Mendenhall) talked about how much his senior class means to him and how much he's going to miss them. How about your guys? What does this senior class mean to you?
"To me, we only have 15 seniors. And I think there's only six of them that were recruited before I got here. And the transformation over the last four years that I've seen, there's been a bond, and I'm sad to see them go."
Can you talk about defensively having to scheme for not only which quarterback you'll see but potentially both of them?
"Well, I said this about 10 days ago. He's going to play both quarterbacks. (To Mendenhall) Can you tell me now? (laughs) If you don't know which quarterback, you run the same gameplan no matter which quarterback is in there. Other than, and I'll give away some secrets, one is right handed, the other is left handed. So when you see the left-handed quarterback go in, some of the blitzes come from his left side or our right side. When it's the right-handed quarterback, the blitzes come from the other side. And the dingbat that's calling the defense better understand that, which happens to be me. So you better understand which quarterback is in there, but you can't have a different gameplan for either one, because you don't have enough time to practice it. The other thing is, Bronco (Mendenhall) said something about the wives are happy. I was sad to hear that because I thought it would be better if they were upset and the team wouldn't be ready to play. And you always want to hate the other team because that's a motivation factor. Well, last night we were lucky enough to be at the Make-A-Wish Foundation deal together and Bronco has some of his players there. I went over and talked to them and introduced myself, and guess what? They're good guys too, just like our team is good guys. So you can't be mad at each other, but they'll play hard. Both teams will play hard. It will be a great game."