I’m sitting in the official Rose Bowl hotel (Beverly Hilton) and can’t help but eavesdrop on the out-of-town media. It’s not so much that I’m trying to listen, but they’re excitedly shouting out various USC stats as they peruse the press kits. They seem impressed by the Trojan’s offensive line and think that if the Illini aren’t leading at halftime, the game’s over.
The real reason I’m here is that Pete Carroll had one last press conference this morning. The full text, as transcribed by ASAP Sports, is after the jump …
GINA CHAPPIN: At this time I’d like to introduce Head Coach Pete Carroll. He’ll make and opening statement turn and it over for questions. Good morning and welcome, Coach.
COACH PETE CARROLL: Good morning. Well, here we go, we’re getting close. Normal buildup is really coming together here. This is a big day for us, that all of the hard work is done and it’s really about can I get close to the Rose Bowl. Today we visit out there with the team and do our final walk-thru at our place, we work out and then we’re ready to go. It’s been a tremendous process to get through this and once again, our guys have responded beautifully. We’ve had great work. We’ve had great focus on Illinois, and the preparation, and so we’re ready to go. Thrilled about being here again. We love being in the Rose Bowl. It just seems comfortable for us but yet exciting that we get to represent again, and I don’t know that you realize that everyday our football players come off the practice field and walk through the All-American walk, they’re staring at a picture of the Rose Bowl, and every single day they see that when they come off the practice field because it’s the goal of our program to get here and win this thing. It’s that way because it is what we have a chance to control by being champions in the PAC-10 and, you know, I know there’s other games out there now, and then you get a chance to go to, but to come back and be here again is a great thrill, and it’s really the target of our program. We’re happy to be here, and we’re in pretty good shape and ready to get going.
GINA CHAPPIN: Questions for coach again. We’ve got microphones on both sides.
Q. Could you give us a quick update on Turner, Washington, the health of the team.
COACH PETE CARROLL: We’re really in really good shape right now with the exception of Patrick Turner. There’s a couple guys I wish were more healthy. Keith Rivers is going the play in the football game, and he’s been banged up all year. He’s practiced well, and he’ll be out there. Chauncey Washington is back at full speed and he’ll start. It’s really Patrick Turner that remains to be questionable for us. He’s worked out an run and but not been at top speed yet. Obviously, he’s not fully ready to go, and we’re not going to count on him unless he has a great game day and maybe we can play him a little bit, but we don’t plan on him playing a lot at this time. Other than that we’re in great shape. We found our health somewhere before the final push at the end of the season, and it’s been a great boost to us to have our guys back. It feels good with the preparation of the game to have everybody working and out there, and so we’re going really strong.
Q. Coach, because you were in this game on such a regular basis it seems, do you ever switch up preparation or change things up just to try and get away from the norm?
COACH PETE CARROLL: We added, you know, an aspect to the preparation this time we stayed down in Santa Monica down in the beach the days before Christmas and worked out at the Home Depot Center. We stayed at the Lowe’s Hotel down there and had just a change, kind of change of scene for us and working out at the Home Depot was really, really nice. It’s a great facility over there. That was just a bit of a change-up, knowing that we have the long hall in the dormitories and living on campus and all that and working out at the facility. We just changed that up. I know that from now on we would always do that or something similar to that. It enhanced that week before. We had a great time. Guys had a lot of fun. It just added to the whole process. We’ll do that again the next time if we have a chance.
Q. I know you’re very happy to be in the Rose Bowl. What’s your overall take about college football post-season and what would you like to see?
COACH PETE CARROLL: Well, I don’t know that more than any other year that this is an illustration of why — I know the coaches would like to keep playing. I’ve always been an advocate for a playoff and taking it to the last game and seeing what you can do. I don’t know any other way to even think about the process. Administrative ways of looking at things and historical ways of looking at things but I want to keep playing, see if you can win until the last game. An absolute advocate of a playoff system if there was one. The problem is I don’t have one. I don’t have an idea of getting it done and haven’t spent any time on that. Even if we did have a playoff system, somewhere a long the road here you have to have a system in place to choose the last eight teams or whatever, so teams are going to be nine, ten, 11, be left out and discouraged and all of that. (Mark). I think as it fits with all other sports in America, it would be nice to have a playoff system where you can find out who the champion is. This year there’s probably four, five, six teams that feel like they could win the last game given the opportunity. We feel like that. We’re not alone in that. I don’t have any idea what we would. I’m not here to say that would make us the national champion at all. It would really be exciting to be part of that kind of process. Each year that we’ve been in this we felt like we would like that opportunity, we felt like our team was equipped enough that given the circumstances, we might be able to beat everybody that’s out there. I know there’s other teams that feel the same way and deserve of that chance. Why we don’t have it, I don’t know. I don’t know those rules and issues and all that. I don’t really care about them. That’s the way we would like to do it.
Q. Coach, you’ve been in games like this with younger teams, only this is a veteran team. What does a game like this do for a team like Illinois with the young players and how is that going to serve them down the road beyond this year?
COACH PETE CARROLL: This is a tremendous cap to a great season and a great energetic turnaround for the program. (Mark). I just know how the fans and those that have lived and died following the Fighting Illini over the years are so revved up and ecstatic. That surge that you feel through the whole population of your fans is really powerful and it’s really fun. It’s really fun. They’re in the midst of that right now, and they’re just trying to add to it. They want to get here, get a Rose Bowl and get a win. They’re not here for anything other than that. Just getting here is not what — it’s not what Coach Zook and those guys are about. So, it means a tremendous amount to them and it’s such a classic game to be to be a part of that for them it’s historic. It’s one of those moments in time. It is for us every time we come. I know they share in that. Also, I mean obviously catapults them on the national scene in terms of their recruiting, in terms of their expectations and their standards and all of that which only, I think, adds to the opportunity to grow your program. So, it’s a great time for them and an opportunity and, you know, just hope it’s not that day tomorrow that they get all the fun.
Q. Hey, Coach, Rick Pizi. Wondering how you think Rashard Mendenhall compares to some of the running backs you’ve faced this year?
COACH PETE CARROLL: He’s a great player, beautifully well-rounded football player. He’s strong. He runs physically with an attitude. He makes people miss. Gets out of problems. You’ve seen him over the year. He caught in the back field, look like it’s dead, he gets 20, 30 yards on a play. He doesn’t let up, give up on a play just to try to eliminate a bad play. He’s going fight and work for it. He’s a really good catcher, good blocker. He’s a guy that you can tell they really trust and rely on and so that — the fact that he’s 225, 230 pounds, he’s a true NFL-style running back. He’s got all the big future ahead of him, too. I think he’s a great player. The guy he’s most like in similar offense is Jonathan Stewart up in Oregon. Those guys are very similar. They have similar impact on their team. It seems that Rashard has been healthy for the most part and Jonathan Stewart has always battled injuries. He’s been able to maintain a really high level of play. The fact that he’s a young kid coming up is really exciting for the program.
GINA CHAPPIN: Next question.
Q. Coach, just, you just compared Rashard to Jonathan Stewart. Juice is obviously comparable to Dennis Dixon. Have you guys been studying how you attacked Oregon and what change you might have made?
COACH PETE CARROLL: I think it’s much more like Jake Locker. He’s 225-pound kid, six feet, has great speed and incredible football that’s developing. He’s a freshman coming up. He’s going to be one of the best players in the country as he develops, I would think. I think they’re a lot the same. Because the style of running. Dennis Dixon is really a skinny kid who does it with great bursts and great flash and does not — he avoids getting hit with his elusive nature and all. Juice is a football that’s going to run right through you if he has to. Always falls forward. He’s always fighting for yards. More physical kind of presence than Dennis. They are both great players and all of that, but if you watch Jake, I don’t know if you guys have seen him, he’s really in a similar fashion, and so of course we watch them and of course we watched the Washington game and the games that have similar offense because we know that’s what they’re looking at. Yes, we have done that.
Q. Your team has been through the big game mentality several times. This is new for Coach Zook as far as Illinois is concerned. Do you have to throttle back that emotion, keep in it check, or does it tend to run away from you and you just get off schedule?
COACH PETE CARROLL: No. Yeah, we have been in a lot of games over the years, these players, in particular leadership of our football a bunch of seniors that have been there. We’re very familiar with it, and we want to be familiar with it. We need these kinds of games. These games feed us the kind of information and the opportunity to learn how to do this and perform well under these circumstances. So — but about the emotional side of it, in our opinion if we’ve done our work and practiced really well and prepared very well, there’s no reason to hold anything back. That’s how we do it, week in and week out. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing or who we’re playing. We have the same approach every game. This game is not any different than any other game for us. Every game to us is a championship game as we approach it. That’s our expectations and standards are set. We’re trying to get just as prepared impeccably, precision-like fashion to go out and get to the game time the day of the game, the day before the game like today, tonight and tomorrow to get pumped up and get emotional and let that aspect of the buildup serve us well, also. We trust the preparation and trust the fact that we get all pumped up and go have fun playing.
Q. Pete, as you go all the way, your playing career kind of similar to Coach Zook’s, your coaching sometimes now kind of style.
COACH PETE CARROLL: We can talk about my playing career for awhile if you like. Go ahead.
Q. Do you at all look — when you look across the side line, do you see some of yourself in Coach Zook coaching style and background? Do you think he does the same?
COACH PETE CARROLL: I don’t know what he does. Yeah, there’s some similarities that I think defensive mentality here that it governing the team. Both of us I know work real hard, and it’s really important that our teams play really hard with a lot of effort and enthusiasm, excitement. Ron is that kind of guy. I don’t know him real well. I know more about him from players that have played for him and who I have talked to and stuff like that. I don’t know him well enough to know what is all about. I know him recruiting, he works really hard and he’s tireless in that regard. Hopefully, we are as well. That should kind of permeate what do you in your entire program so there probably are some similarities. I’ve been really involved with the defense. I don’t know how Ron does it on his deal. I know he’s got a couple coordinators. You have to ask Ron more about that than me. I think you see really hard playing football teams and really respect the way the style that his team plays with. Hopefully they think that same of us.
GINA CHAPPIN: Any further questions for coach? Up front.
Q. You were involved in recruiting-wise with Martez Wilson and Arrelious Benn.
COACH PETE CARROLL: For awhile.
Q. Just your thoughts on those two guys as you saw them and how you thought they might fit into your program?
COACH PETE CARROLL: They’re tremendous athletes, really gifted kids and Arrelious, really mature kid. I know a little bit more about him than I do about Martez. We didn’t get too far along. Neither one of those kids visited. We didn’t have them on campus. Both those kids are really classy athletes, and, you know, within the profiles that we look at them could make them number one draft pick type of kids, you know. We project that from the time we see kids when they’re 17, 18 years old. Those guys were both in that kind of profile. I think that the Illinois staff has done a tremendous job with Arrelious to get him to fit into the offense. They probably appreciated hit talent from the beginning and saw he had a widespread of things he could do in running the football, catching the ball. He’s becoming a very integral part of his attack. Martez doesn’t play quite as much and didn’t have as big a role. Both those kids, you know, are really classy, classy athletes. Give you the kinds of guys in the program you’re looking for. There’s no question. We would have loved to have had those guys.
GINA CHAPPIN: Any further questions? Going once? Alright. Coach.
COACH PETE CARROLL: Happy New Year to y’all.