VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
VIDEO: Larry Slade Press Conference
Jefferson City, Tenn. - Mike Turner and Larry Slade discuss the Eagles upcoming season, expectations for the offense and defense, and what he's learned with a year of head coaching under his belt.
Turner Opening Statement: I think this year's team started last year in November when we weren't selected for the playoffs. By the end of the season I think we had faced enough adversity through the season that made us a good football team at the end of the year. By the end I thought we were a very strong football team, they had a great heart about them and we would've had a chance to be in the playoffs. We started 2018 in November of 2017, our theme this year is "United", it comes from 1 Corinthians 1:10 that says "I urge you my brothers in the name of Jesus to say the same things, to have no divisions, to be united and have the same convictions." That's a powerful word, a powerful verse, it's great for a football team, a family, a university and a church. We're excited about how our kids have embraced the word "United". We started back in the winter, we told our kids and coaches that there are two rooms where it's critical for us to win. One was the coaching staff room. I'm very blessed, we have a great coaching staff here now that are top notch teachers and technicians, but also top notch men that love young people and are there to make a difference in their lives and do that every day. The second room is the locker room, and the only way you win that locker room is to be united. Going back to that verse where it says "say the same things, have no division among you, be united and have the same convictions." Our kids had a great off season. Coach Johnny Long and his staff have done a great job with them in the weight room. Their improvement from a year ago to this past spring, each person was 50 to 100 pounds better with each lift which is pretty special when it comes to a football team. They did a great job preparing themselves, they did a great job in spring practice. Some of them stayed all year for the summer school session. They're a bunch of kids that have great expectations, and we've explained to them that with those expectations come great responsibility. They've got to have great accountability about them, it can't be just coaches holding them accountable. They've got to learn how to do that without it being personal. It's about love for one another, being united, and about growing each other together. It's a lot more fun to coach a bunch of kids that have great expectations. The other part of that is responsibility but also making sure you're humble. Being a year older just gives you a little bit more experience, more size, but doesn't change that much about you. They've got to stay humble like Jesus said in the Bible and if we can be humble and be united, I think we can be a pretty good football team.
We start off on the road for the first time in a while against West Florida. The next week we play Virginia Union on the road, the third game we come home to play Wingate who were the SAC champions last year and the next two weeks we go on the road to play Newberry and Catawba so they better get ready and be united because we're going to be challenged. We put them in a position where nobody would question strength of schedule. We're excited about playing West Florida, the number one team in the country why wouldn't you be? That's a big time school and program so we're excited about what our season holds in front of us.
Q1 What is the importance of having Wimbush back and the rest of that unit in the offensive backfield?
The word last year was "believe", and we had to get them learn to believe in a lot of things. We talked a lot about the "next man up", which is good to talk about but you really don't want to experience that too early like we did. Two weeks in and we're about out of running backs. Having a guy like Jared Dillingham who stepped up, became All-Conference, rushed for over a thousand yards was awesome. Now we've got Wimbo back, Marcus Williams is back and some guys that were backups last year that got some playing time. We've got some freshman running backs that have come along during the week that I'm excited about. As long as we can get them going in the right direction at the right time, that group will be fun to coach.
Q2 After opening up the passing offense last year and putting a guy in the NFL, what about the new receivers this year?
We've brought in some receivers that I think are going to be special. They're still in the learning stage, but these are guys that can make plays, that can be a game breaker when they get confident in everything they're doing. We had a transfer from a JuCo come in, we recruited a couple freshman like Romain Kelly from Spartanburg High School who just looks like a man out there. Ed Aldred is a young man we brought in from a JuCo out in Kansas and he's from Florida. Those guys have really helped push the other receivers. When you talk about opening up things, it's any time you take what a defense is giving you. If they're playing nine in the box then I'm hoping we've got one-on-one beaters outside and Dorren Miller was a great example of that. And I think these two guys will help us keep it a little more honest in there.
Q3 What do you expect out of Derrick Evans in year two as a starter?
I think his expectations match my expectations. He's a guy that's fun to be around, he's fun for the other kids in the huddle to have around, they know he can make a play and he's got a better grasp of the offense to be in command of it. He had a couple turnovers today but that can be corrected. I think he expects himself to have a great year. You know, he comes in as an unknown and what does he make, first or second team all conference last year? At just a junior, he's got two years to go so we're excited about having him back.
Q4 What do you expect from the offensive line this season?
Well, we've been with them since they were freshmen and at one time we started five freshmen, that's an event. Last year they had grown up a little bit, we had one senior in there at times and he graduated and has gone on to professional school. But right now finally after two years we feel like we're getting some depth at that position. Those guys have grown up and we've had two years of recruiting to help and it's the first time in two or three years we've had some competition there. Nobody's strutting around like "I've got it made" because there's always someone behind them that's lurking and pushing and that's a great setting for that group.
Q5 After such high scoring games last year, do you expect the offense to keep up that kind of production?
Absolutely, to be honest with you I thought it was a little bit of a down year. I know one thing, the biggest difference from 2016 to 2017 is that we gave up one hundred less points. You can be a pretty good offense, I think we scored like 35 a game or something like that, but the biggest thing to help the offense is a defense that's not giving up points. When you can say that you gave up one hundred less points than the year before that's a pretty good statement right there. We're looking to hold to that and be a little bit more exciting on offense with experienced guys in there and have great expectations.
Q6 What did you think of the scrimmage this morning?
I was excited about the scrimmage, we got everybody in it so they all got reps. We put them in positions in different situations on the field were there's not many places to hide and the kids responded well. The defense is really exciting, those guys are playing with confidence, breaking on the ball and establishing the line of scrimmage. Offense had some success in there too. They had a couple of turnovers there early and we talked about if the ball pops up out of their hands someone's going to pick it off and the defense did that early.
Q7 What did you learn your first year as a head coach that you can apply to year two?
Wow. If it was put down in encyclopedias there would be a whole book shelf. I learned there's a whole lot more to this job than they told me about before I took it I can tell you that. I did learn that I enjoy it right now as much as I ever have. The opportunity for relationships with all the kids on the team, offense, defense, special teams, I think that's been a great thing for me. I've learned, and I know this in my heart, that you want people around you that you can line up with. That's players, coaches, managers, trainers and all that, that's what you have to depend on. I think the job has been great for me in being responsible and accountable spiritually, no question about it. It's been a day to day learning thing. There's days I come in and think 'this will be pretty smooth'…. Nah, there's always something coming over the edge. It's a very humbling position, it's one of those things where you've got to learn how to dodge some softballs sometimes but that's okay, we're going to do it right.
Q8 Why do you think the defense was so much better last year than the year before and how do you think it can get even better?
In a year of recruiting, we recruited better people and got some depth especially in the defensive line position. I think that part of it was very critical. This year recruiting was a little bit different, we got to be more specific in that whereas the year before we were shooting in the trees hoping something would fall out because we had to get some depth in there. I think we've done that across the board offensively and defensively. We've got some competition in there and they look like a good, physical football team right now. They can run, they've got excitement about them, and they know how to play fast. That's offense, defense and all of it.
Opening Statement: I think about some of the places I've been and I'm constantly getting asked if I want to coach D1 and where's my favorite place to be and this is it. We love every minute of it because we get to work with guys like coach Turner who leads this thing and is phenomenal. Coach Dan Redding who's the defensive line coach and what he brings, coach Goss our secondary coach who works with me. Coach Hutsell, our linebacker coach, those guys are outstanding coaches but they are also outstanding men. The thing that we do in this program, sometimes people don't know, you all ask how big the players are, how fast they are but what we put at the forefront is character and helping these guys grow into men that will be fortunate enough to lead a family one day. We constantly work that because when it's third and five, or third and six, those guys that are men will find a way to get it done. So we're excited about that first and if you want to get into some football specifics we certainly can do that. We are an aggressive style defense, we're going to attack just like our offense. We won't sit around and wait we're going to attack from the time we get off the bus and so we've got to have people with that mentality. We're finding out in practice what we can do and what we can't do and telling these guys not to worry about making mistakes there, just to play hard and find out who we are.
Q1 How do you compare this defensive unit to the first year you stepped on the field with?
Obviously you start with your D-Line, and we've improved greatly there. When you're playing with Montel who's big time, and then Bembry is unbelievable, and Jordan Pryce is playing lights out and you've got Ross Pryor and Cook-Calhoun and those guys up front. And then the depth that you bring, last year we were able to play our first group and then you put the twos out there and there was very little drop off. That's what it's all about. That's probably the biggest difference up front in those two years. It starts up front on offensive lines, and it starts up front on defensive line.
Q2 There were a lot of defensive post-season and preseason accolades, talk about those guys.
Desmond Fairell is outstanding, he's grown up. Darius Williams was All-Conference, he's a playmaker. Mario Mezier is a solid player and then Ja'Quan Smith our starting free safety. Those guys are just a solid group.
Q3 What is there to improve from last year?
Turnovers is obviously one of those things, giving the offense the ball on the plus side of the fifty more, but the big thing right now is developing depth. Our first line guys are really good and we have some areas that we're working on. For example in the scrimmage today we had some linebackers out there playing with the ones trying to get them up and running. So our challenge right now is developing depth in our linebacker core and secondary. We've got some guys that we're counting on like Zach Talley in the secondary and got a young freshman linebacker, Zach Fuller that's going to be a great player and is going to start this year. That's the challenge, and keeping them playing fast. Good things happen when they play fast.
Q4 How much does it excite you having almost all of your starters back?
Well it's a great feeling, but the thing that we do is act like it's our first day. Going out there and not being complacent, yeah we had a great year, but what can that buy us? It'll buy you some respect, but you've got to go out there and perform. I think they understand that, and they come back with that attitude every day to get better.