The following is a transcript from this morning's press conference in preparation for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl including comments from head coach Bronco Mendenhall, Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship and bowl executive director Brant Ringler.
TIM SIMMONS: Good morning, everyone. I'm Tim Simmons. I handle the media operations for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Glad to have you here for our ninth annual press conference. With us today is Brant Ringler, the executive director, his third year as executive director, and eighth year overall with the bowl. Without further ado, Brant, just kind of give us a state of the bowl.
BRANT RINGLER: I want to say thank you for everyone being here today. I want to thank you, Tim, for the great job you do. I'm happy this year for the Ninth Annual Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl to have these two great teams, BYU Cougars and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
This game has been in the works for quite some time. We signed BYU back in April when we worked with the athletic director. It was a winwin situation from the beginning, the fact they were looking for a home to play a bowl game should they qualify with six wins and the fact that the Mountain West Conference was released due to them having one less team.
We wanted to be good partners with the Mountain West Conference, so we said we like the opportunity with BYU, since we're owned by ESPN, and they just signed a deal with BYU for television. It was a winwin for us to go out and sign BYU, hope they would get their six wins.
They did do that. Very pleased with the record that they had this year. I went to several of their games. It was great to see their fans turn out for it. We expect that tomorrow.
On the other side of the ball, we had to wait a little longer. We thought it was going to come down to Tulsa and Houston, like it did. Tulsa had a phenomenal year. We know the teams they played. They're not afraid of anybody. We know they're going to come and play hard and give BYU a great game.
They have a great offense, just like BYU does. I feel like defensively they're quite even, as well. I always say Vegas is who you need to look at when you look at the team matchups. When he had came out with a line that says 'pick 'em' you can't get any closer on a matchup like that. We're quite excited.
As far as the rest of the bowl game, our slogan is 'We're More Than a Bowl Game.' You might ask us why. You'll see that tomorrow. We're here to pay tribute to the military, to all the men and women that have served our nation and worn the cloth of our nation.
We have events in the morning. Armed Forces Adventure Area, Military FanFest, displays from all the military branches. Free to the public. Pregame concert going on as well. Actually our pregame, make sure everyone is in the stadium by 10:30 because we'll have jump teams going on, multiple flyovers, Texas State Guard on hand to unfurl the flag, 36th Infantry band out of Austin that just returned from the Middle East to do our national anthem and all the branch songs. We have a national anthem singer from the band as well. That's just the pregame.
Ingame we have a lot of other stuff going on as well. We have an induction ceremony, the Great American Patriot Award recipient, Salvatore Giunta, one of only three Medal of Honor recipients since the global war on terror. The first recipient of the Medal of Honor since Vietnam as well.
We have 50 wounded warriors to be honored and we are going to give away two quartermilliondollarplus homes during the game as well.
In addition, following the game we'll have Gary Sinise and the Lieutenant Dan Band free to everybody. We have quite a bit of logistics and military elements going on. A couple helicopters landing inside the stadium, attack helicopters. Fans can go look at them.
I did have a question earlier about our trophy. I do want to point out the trophy is very special. There's no other trophy out there like it. We always say we're 'More Than a Bowl Game'. This is more than a trophy. The elements from this trophy literally come from the battlefield in Iraq. We took an Army tank shell from Fort Hood, melted that down into the trophy. We took a Bell helicopter, took a piece off of that helicopter, melted it down into the trophy as well, shined it in the front.
So this is a very unique trophy, no doubt about it. I think it adds a special meaning to our game and definitely something teams should be proud of to put in their display case.
TIM SIMMONS: Next year is our 10th anniversary, going back to Fort Worth. You have Navy and Army signed up for future years. Conference USA is signed up for 2012.
BRANT RINGLER: As you know, we're playing at SMU this year. Our second year in a row there due to the fact TCU stadium is under renovation. It will be completed July of next year for their regular season and our bowl game to return.
I'll make a clear point that Fort Worth is our home. This is where the bowl game will be staying. We look forward to returning to TCU.
Future contract years we definitely have Conference USA the next two years to end our bowl agreement. It's a fouryear cycle. On the other side starting in 2013 we have Navy signed. We have Army signed for 2014. We have Navy signed again for 2016 and Army signed again for 2017. We're very excited about it and look forward to it.
TIM SIMMONS: With the game at SMU, any hurdles that are different? Been a pretty smooth transition.
BRANT RINGLER: The people at SMU have been fantastic. Last year was their first bowl game as well. We set their attendance stadium record last year. The people there have been phenomenal to work with.
As far as this year, I'd say there haven't been any major hiccups. They're going to be ready for the game tomorrow.
TIM SIMMONS: We can take questions for Brant.
Q. More about the trophy. Was it designed by military folks as well? Was it put together by military folks? Is this the first year this idea came about?
BRANT RINGLER: This is the second year. Last year we introduced the trophy. It was kind of unique the fact that Army won the game last year and all the majority of the elements for the trophy are in the Army. It's rightfully sitting in their showcase up at the stadium.
It was designed by our add agency, Concussion. They've been working with us the last three or four years. They do a phenomenal job on all our artwork. They came up with the idea of molding this trophy and making it a large piece of what we do. We're thankful to them.
We did have input from Bell Helicopter, how you get items from the battlefield. That's not the easiest thing because there's a whole different process for elements that have been destroyed on the battlefield. We've gone through all that and here it sits today.
TIM SIMMONS: Thank you, Brant. Today we have Coach Bronco Mendenhall
from Brigham Young University and from the University of Tulsa Bill Blankenship. We'll ask each coach to make an opening statement, talk about their team and opponent and then we will open it up from Q&A from the floor. Coach Mendenhall, if you could make an opening statement and talk about your opponent tomorrow.
COACH BRONCO MENDENHALL: On behalf of BYU and our program, we've had an absolutely fantastic week. Hospitality has been unreal. Our players and their families have had a fantastic experience from being welcomed and being able to attend the Mavericks game, which our players loved. The comedy show last night was a real hit with our players. In general, we've been treated really, really well.
You hope at the end of a season by the time you get to the end that your players can feel good about the type of year they've had and also be acknowledged for that.
I think probably on behalf of both programs, we've had a fantastic week to this point. Our hope is we can be an effective partner in playing a very good game and doing our part to give back to the hospitality we've received.
Our football team has learned and grown throughout the course of the year. I think we continue to improve. I think we're anxious to play another game to get closer to our potential. That's what I look forward to most.
I'm really intrigued and excited about playing Tulsa. You have two of the most winning programs in the country over the past five or six years and you have two teams with similar seasons. The losses were against good teams, hardfought contests, and with records being very similar. So I think both teams seek to find balance offensively.
Both teams I think play solid defense, as well. I think both teams will be hungry and motivated as most of the bowl games I've seen this year seem to be good matchups and came down to the end. I wouldn't be surprised if that happens in our game.
I'm not usually successful in predicting what type of game it will be, highscoring, lowscoring, in between, but I think it will be a competitive game with two hungry teams.
We certainly have had our hands full in preparing for Tulsa on both sides of the ball. Whoever wins the game I think it will be a significant victory against a good team and a good way to finish the year.
TIM SIMMONS: Coach Blankenship.
COACH BILL BLANKENSHIP: First of all, I will echo what Coach Mendenhall shared. Fort Worth needs to be commended. You have done a fabulous job of turning this into a bigtime bowl setting, everything from the hotel accommodations to the special events we've been a part of, bigtime. Our players see and respect that. It's been a very positive experience for us.
It's what you hope for as coaches. If you have a successful season and earn an opportunity to play in a bowl, that it would be that kind of an experience. Again, I think Bell Helicopter and the Armed Forces folks that have put this on, they have made it really special.
In terms of our season, it's fairly welldocumented we have four losses to four top10 teams. The thing I like to focus on is the growth of our team from about the 1st of October on. They showed some resilience, some toughness, really matured and grew together as a team. That gave us an opportunity to have some success as the year went on.
I think very similarly Bronco and I have both talked about this. Our programs mirror each other in a lot of ways. He enumerated some of those: the losses to really good teams, nine wins and eight wins respectively. I don't think that's anything to have to apologize for. I feel like we've both been a part of consistent winning teams over the last five or six years that are in the top 15 or 20 in the country in terms of wins. That's something that we're excited about.
We're specifically very pleased to be playing BYU. We think this is an opportunity for us to match up against a team with national notoriety, a team that's been a consistent winner. We expect a hardfought, disciplined and physical football game.
They have demonstrated to have great defense all year, been very consistent in playing good defense. I think with the emergence of their quarterback in the last twothirds of the season they really began to take on a little more identity offensively. But even with that, much like ourselves, are really a balanced offense.
They run the ball well, they spread the ball out to several receivers, certainly have some goto guys. I think it's a team concept and what we seek to do at Tulsa as well.
I love the matchup. I love the tiein. We've talked about this again with the Armed Forces. We have wonderful sponsors and all that, but to be a part of something in the bowl season that can put a little more perspective on the reality of life and what folks are doing to give us the freedoms here in this great nation that we have.
I'm excited that we're going to actually celebrate some different heroes during the game. I hope that the guys wearing both sets of uniforms will do our part to honor that.
TIM SIMMONS: Coach Mendenhall, you've had 27 days since your last game. Has there been any player that has really developed during that time period, surprises in your preparation that has come to the forefront?
COACH BRONCO MENDENHALL: There is a routine that we've settled into in the postseason as we've matured. Our approach is a little bit different. We don't seek to maximize every practice. We don't spend much time on young player development. Really we follow a similar format as if we had a bye week.
Doesn't give many chances to find new players, yet doesn't give many chances to say this player is gone during fall camp and here now in terms of young players.
Really what we sought to do and seek to do in our bowl preparation is learn as much as we can about our opponent, get our players as healthy as possible, get them excited to play in the game, be anxious to run into each other, then hopefully develop consistency.
I can't really address or say that there's been a player emerge or develop. It's been consistently working on our execution and playing better than the time we played before and hope to continue to improve.
TIM SIMMONS: Coach Blankenship, this is your first bowl game as a head coach. Have you changed any preparation for Tulsa?
COACH BILL BLANKENSHIP: It's all brandnew because it's my first trip. But I'll be serious about it. We've been very successful. I had the opportunity to be with Coach Graham on his staff through three bowl trips that we were actually very successful in. Won all three of those games. We followed a very similar format in terms of our bowl preparation, much like Coach Mendenhall said.
I think the key to this is getting your guys here healthy and hungry. The tough thing about a fourweek stretch is they are wanting to hit, they are wanting to run into people, they are wanting to cut loose.
Frankly, I think we're tired of practicing. It's hard to practice for three weeks, four weeks, and not have that competition. So there will be no secrets. When you have 12 weeks of film to study an opponent, you're going to know them pretty well and they're going to know us pretty well. So it really comes down to execution.
We're going to try to execute very well. If we can operate, that's what you call the time from getting out of the huddle or from lining up until the ball is snapped, if you can operate without what we see in a lot of these bowl games, a lot of penalties, if we can operate well, I think execution will follow.
TIM SIMMONS: What are the three keys for the Cougars to win the game?
COACH BRONCO MENDENHALL: I'm not sure the keys are different than what it takes to win any football game, especially against a very good opponent.
I think field position always plays a giant role, which is normally tied to special teams. If you're able to start with the ball closer to the goal line, you have a better chance to score. I think in some of the games we have seen played already, that has played out very well.
I think field position, more general football than anything else, because I'm not sure there's anything specific that I would change from our general approach. So field position.
Obviously the turnovers, holding onto the football. In watching the Texas/Cal game, that had a lot to do with the outcome of that game. After a fourweek stretch, you hope it stays the same as it was with the same emphasis during the season.
I guess I'll put something in Tulsa specific. I told coach I think a lot of their quarterback. Hopefully being able to maybe limit, if possible, the success that he can have while really no one has been able to do that. He has the capability of winning the football game I'm not going to say on his own but certainly can lead and do a lot of things that very few players can do. So hopefully having an effective plan to be able to just do something to corral him a little bit.
TIM SIMMONS: Coach Blankenship, your three keys?
COACH BILL BLANKENSHIP: Again, the people from Tulsa will hear the same things over and over again because that's how you win football games.
You have to take care of the football game. Hopefully you can steal some possessions. It comes down to a turnover battle. That's the first place that I think there are keys to being able to win over and over again.
Secondly, I think we need to be able to run the football. That's a huge task. This is a defense that's been very, very good against the run. But for us to be successful overall offensively, I think we need to be able to run the football and to be able to stay balanced.
Thirdly, I think we have to limit BYU's big plays. If we can just make them snap the ball, it gives us a chance to stay in the game. You don't want to give up plays over the top, big runs. If we limit the explosives, take care of the football, establish some running in this game, I think we'll have a good chance to win.
TIM SIMMONS: We'll open it up for questions from the floor.
Q. Coach Mendenhall, talk about how your team has responded to football independence. I'm assuming it's different without a conference to play for.
COACH BRONCO MENDENHALL: It's been quite a bit different. There have been positives and there have been a few challenges. From a positive
perspective, the exposure. I think this will be our 11th game on ESPN this year which is a fantastic opportunity for people worldwide to watch us play. So that's been phenomenal.
You add that partnership with BYU TV, we're fortunate to have our own television network. That's really provided access to church members and people worldwide. So that part has been fantastic.
It's been liberating to design our own schedule. With that also comes the challenge of mid to lateseason games. As we already know, probably for both schools, your chance to be in an automatic qualifying conference or a BCS only come if you're undefeated. I think for our program and probably for Tulsa, when 9 or 10 wins and sometimes 11 is a successful season, at one point there will be a magical year where an undefeated season will get you into one of those games. That has proven to be, through scheduling and going forward for independence, a little bit more difficult than what I thought it was going to be.
In terms of our team, they really haven't focused much on conference affiliation. I know when we've lost a game, their focus shifted from the chance to maybe be in a BCS game to just playing the very best football we can and win as many games as we could. That's been a little bit different without a conference championship to fight for at the end of the season. Not that they're less motivated, but it's something we acknowledged in saying, Now how good can we get?
Q. Talk about this bowl game, Coach Blankenship first, as a recruiting tool with local prospects here and also your place on the national stage for your recruiting program.
COACH BILL BLANKENSHIP: We think it's a big deal, first of all, to play postseason in one of our premiere recruiting areas. When we designate the Tulsa footprint, we're going to try to own the state of Oklahoma, then we're going to be very active in east Texas and the Dallas metroplex. That is where 80% to 90% of our recruiting class should come from that area. Then we want to step out into about a gas tank away into the Houston area, St. Louis, Kansas City. That should be where most of our kids come from.
We've been very successful. We have 20 plus young men on our roster that hail from the state of Texas. Of them are from the metroplex. When you have a young man that comes from a high school and he's successful, it's not as hard to get the next guy to come in, or at least to come from that area. We've seen that in another recruiting areas.
I think it's a big, big deal for our young men to be able to play close to home but also for potential recruits to get to see Tulsa in a bowl game in their backyard.
COACH BRONCO MENDENHALL: From our perspective, recruiting is quite a bit different than any other program in the country. Really we organize our recruiting quite frankly around church membership. Wherever the most church members are, those become our primary recruiting areas. Texas happens to be one of those. But there's five players on our team from Texas. Not to the same emphasis at Tulsa's program.
But for us, if there's a young man qualified and wants to be at BYU, one is enough. If there are two or three or four or five, or maybe others that don't know much about BYU and what the standards are, et cetera, and learn about that through watching a good football game, what they hear the commentators say, there are a lot of kids that are socially conservative that hadn't considered BYU but might consider it now.
Going back to the first question of independence, with our exposure this year, that has generated a lot more interest than what I expected, players finding us, whether they're members of the church or not, that has been positive in terms of exposure, where parents are calling us saying, We think we'd be a good fit.
Q. Coach Blankenship, bowl games and postgame weeks are fun. Is it difficult to get the players to put that aside and say, We're going to play on Friday?
COACH BILL BLANKENSHIP: I think that's one of the jobs that's incumbent on us as coaches to keep that in front of our players. I'm thankful of the staff we have and frankly the maturity of the leadership on our team. The leadership, the older players, the guys that have played, they understand ultimately this is about a game.
When we play games, they keep score. It's a whole lot more fun at the end of the day when that score is in your favor.
We're going to enjoy the week, the journey. I think we've done a very good job of emphasizing that. But for an hour and 45 minutes a day on the field, maybe an hour or so in meetings, our guys have been very focused. I like the approach they've taken.
I think they get that this is a dichotomy: there's a trip here to enjoy but there's also a business trip and we need to be about our business as well.
TIM SIMMONS: Thank you.