The following are quotes from the College Football Playoff press conference conducted on Thursday, December 12, 2019. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, Clemson head coach Dabo Sweeney, and Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley participated in the session.
BRETT DANIELS: Welcome, I’m Brett Daniels with the College Football Playoff. On behalf of everyone from the CFP, we would like to welcome all of you to tonight’s news conference.
We’ll ask each of the coaches to make an opening comment, then take questions.
We will start with the participants in the Fiesta Bowl, Coach Dabo Swinney.
DABO SWINNEY Glad to be here today. Appreciate all y’all being here, as well.
We’re excited to be in the Playoff, super excited to head out to Arizona. That’s a great place, a great experience for our players and our fans. We look forward to that. Unbelievable venue to be able to play a football game in.
Just proud of our team. Really proud of what they accomplished this year in reaching this stage. It’s something that we all shoot for, but only four teams get here. We’re glad to be one of them.
Also congratulations to Ohio State, Oklahoma and LSU. Unbelievable years. It’s been fun to watch these guys. Look forward to great competition here in the final four.
BRETT DANIELS: We’ll now turn it over to the coaches participating in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
Please welcome Ed Orgeron.
ED ORGERON: First of all, it’s an honor to be in the Playoffs. Congratulations, Dabo, the great year you have had. Lincoln, the great year you had. Enjoyed watching you guys play.
Honored for our football team to be in the Playoffs. We have an outstanding group of young men that work very hard. We’re excited to be here.
BRETT DANIELS: Next, Lincoln Riley.
LINCOLN RILEY: Echo what these guys said: it’s certainly an honor to be back in the Playoff. It’s a very, very difficult thing to do, especially this day and age.
Congratulations to the other teams. I think it’s been so far another great year for college football. I know this Playoff is going to be very exciting. Proud of our team for the accomplishment of getting here. Looking forward to the game.
BRETT DANIELS: Thank you, coaches.
We’ll open the floor for questions.
Coach Orgeron, what is the benefit of being back in a city you were just in a week ago? And Coach Riley, have you taken a chance to get the lay of the land, poke your head in the stadium in your time here in Atlanta?
ED ORGERON: Obviously it’s going to be a familiarity with the Dome. It’s our first time in the dome, but a great place. Our guys are going to stay in the same hotel. I think they’re going to feel comfortable come game time.
LINCOLN RILEY: No time right now. This one week of recruiting has made it an interesting week for all of us.
Excited to get here to the city, to bring the team here, certainly get to play in one of the great venues in sports. Can’t wait to get here and get started.
Lincoln, being in the Playoff for your first year, what does that say about coaching in college football that you and Coach Day were able to make the Playoff in your first year as head coaches?
LINCOLN RILEY: It says we took over pretty good programs (smiling).
It’s hard to do. It tells you that you’ve got really, really good staff around you. It tells you that you got players that bought in at a very, very early point. I think those things are always the key.
Hopefully Ryan will listen, like I did, to Coach Stoops. Coach Stoops told me to make sure you win it your very first year, you got no chance after that.
No, it’s a great accomplishment certainly for him and his staff and his team.
Coach Swinney, as a guy who was an interim head coach, got the position, became very successful, your thoughts on Ed Orgeron pretty much doing the same thing, what he’s done at the LSU program?
DABO SWINNEY Incredibly special to be able to be a part of that type of situation because the chances of it all coming together, you getting the job, usually is against you. I certainly followed Coach O and all that he’s done. Pulled for him.
It’s great to see him get the opportunity. I think at the end of the day you got to be a good fit. He certainly was a great fit for LSU. He’s put a good staff together. He’s provided great leadership and stability.
But I think more importantly belief. He’s brought some passion into that program, not that they didn’t have it before, but I just think it’s been fun to watch.
What they’ve done offensively has been incredible. I think he’s a great coach, one of the good people in the business. He’s worked his tail off to have the opportunity. I’m really happy for him. It’s been fun to watch him have the type of success that he’s had.
ED ORGERON: Thank you.
Coach Swinney, can the ROY Bus roll when your team is the betting favorite in the game? Is that what you use for your team, with two national titles, to be able to make sure complacency doesn’t set in?
DABO SWINNEY Not really. Every year you start over. We remind ourselves of that all the time. You got to earn it every single year.
But, yeah, the ROY Bus is fueled up, for sure. It’s been easy this year. I really haven’t had to do a whole lot. Pretty well stated on that, I think, on the record on all that stuff.
I think as a coach, you take free fuel any time you can get it. We got a good football team. We’ve earned our opportunity to get here. I’m proud of them.
At this point it doesn’t matter if you’re one, two, three or four, you’re going to play a great team. The margin for error is very small.
We just wanted to be here, to have that opportunity. We are what we are right now: we’re a team with a chance. Hopefully we can take advantage of that opportunity.
Coach Swinney, it looked like Jeff Scott Saturday night already had an idea that might be his last time as a Clemson coach. Was that a little bit extra special for you, sending out one of your coaches to their own program? Was it his idea or your idea for him to stay around and coach through the College Football Playoff?
DABO SWINNEY Yeah, we knew. Well, take that back. We weren’t 100% until Sunday that he had the job. I had kind of a wink-wink, nod-nod from Michael Kelly. I’ve known Michael Kelly a long time. He was our ACC football operations guy. Then he was the CFP guy for the first few years there.
He called me early. I talked to him early about Jeff. Really felt like it was a great opportunity for him. We did everything we could to help him. I just think it was a great fit for Jeff and a great fit for South Florida, a great fit for Michael Kelly.
I’m just really happy for Jeff and Sara and Savannah. Brad is going to be a huge asset for him. Pretty special to be able to have your dad alongside of you as you get this first opportunity to be a head coach.
He’s been with me 12 years. It’s like sending a son off to college, kind of sad, but you know he’s very well-prepared.
I’m just happy. I’m happy for South Florida, happy for Jeff, how it all came together. Hopefully there will be some other guys that will get opportunity through Jeff’s opportunity, as well.
I don’t really have a big coaching tree, but I got like a twig now and a leaf growing. He’ll do awesome. He’s so well-prepared. Got off to a good start yesterday.
It was just one of questions when I met with him last week, If this happens, let’s talk about a timeline on how we would like this thing to go and work, and what’s best for you.
I’m kind of excited that he’s going to be gone for a little while, I can take them wideouts back. That’s my passion. My man Grisham, Tyler Grisham, is so well-prepared. He was a great player for me. Played four years in the pros. He’s been back with me for six years. He was a GA for three years, then a player development guy for three years.
He’s been very patient, well prepared for this opportunity. He and I will handle the wideouts until we break, then once we get back from our break, Jeff will be back with us full-time to finish out.
He’ll be down there through next Wednesday. Again, when we reconvene to fly out to Arizona, he’ll be all Clemson all the way until we finish. I’m excited about that. Same thing for Brad.
Ed, Joe Brady gets all of love, Broyles Award and everything. You actually have an offensive coordinator in Steve Ensminger. How has he adjusted to a new spotlight?
ED ORGERON: He’s the MVP. Steve and I met. We knew we had to go through the spread. We wanted to find someone that could come in, put in the spread, be receptive to it.
He’s older, 61. Joe is 30. They work like two brothers in there. Been phenomenal. Steve calls most of the plays. He’s worked his tail off to learn the spread offense. He’s the general.
Steve loves LSU, played at LSU, has been at LSU a long time. He’s a very unselfish football coach, wants what is best for the football team.
I think you have to crown him the MVP of the whole deal.
What is the one player or two players that have been an extension of you on the field that put you in this position?
DABO SWINNEY You got it, young boat (laughter).
LINCOLN RILEY: Oh, man. Tough to narrow down. We’ve had so many players that have been key to this run. You’re not sitting in this chair if you only got one or two guys that have done that.
Yeah, I don’t know that I’d want to narrow it down with our team. I think our team’s bought in. We were and are very young or new, totally new defensive system, new quarterback, offensive line. There’s a lot new around our program.
For guys to grow like they have through the year, respond to different challenges, I think says a whole lot about the whole team.
DABO SWINNEY I have to echo the same thing. Got a strong senior leadership group. Four seniors on that offensive line that have been amazing. Then we got a really strong group of leaders on our back seven defensively. Those guys have really set the tone every week, all year.
ED ORGERON: I feel the play of the offensive line has been phenomenal this year, led by Lloyd Cushenberry and Damien Lewis. You look at two players that exemplify of what we’re about, unselfishness and team. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, had a great season for us. Joe Burrow, Joe brought the spread offense to LSU, has had a tremendous year, leads by example. Very unselfish player, about the team first.
If you could characterize and sum up this year’s team in one word, what would it be and why?
DABO SWINNEY This year’s team, one word? Focused, been really focused all year. Easy group to coach, to prepare. Every single week they’ve been focused on trying to get the job done. That has not wavered all year long. So super proud of them.
ED ORGERON: Grit (smiling). You said one word.
LINCOLN RILEY: I would say hungry. They’ve wanted to learn, they’ve wanted to get better. Just a very strong desire to put themselves in positions to accomplish the things we felt like we could.
Ed, for years we’ve heard the philosophies about defense wins championships. Do you think that has changed? Is it all about offense now?
ED ORGERON: I think teams win championships, obviously. We have obviously been very, very good on offense. But in order for us to get here, our defense has had to improve throughout the season, and I think they have.
In order for us to get to where we want to go, our defense has to play very, very well in the Peach Bowl against an outstanding offense. We’re going to face outstanding offenses. I think you have to win as a team, but I think your defense has to be very, very strong.
Dabo and Lincoln, a guy y’all are familiar with, Coach Saban, is not here for the first time in a while. Is it weird to come here and not see Alabama as part of the field?
DABO SWINNEY We saved a seat for him. He’ll be back (smiling).
Don’t fret for Coach Saban. He’s the best to ever do it. Unbelievable program. Had a couple tough games this year. But he’ll be back.
It is a little odd not to see him, that’s for sure. But I don’t think he’ll be gone very long.
LINCOLN RILEY: Same. They pack us in this little glass room for about 30 minutes before. To walk in there this year without him there is kind of strange. Like Coach Swinney said, he’s one of the greats to ever do it and I’m sure he’ll be back.
Coach Riley, as you get closer to this game, and the NFL season comes to an end, your name is being thrown out there for some openings in the league. Is that something that could be a distraction for you?
LINCOLN RILEY: No, no.
Dabo, what kind of a loss is Jeff Scott for your staff? What made it so easy to promote Tyler to his role?
DABO SWINNEY Well, that’s been our plan for a long time. We finally got a chance to execute the plan. It’s never not been the plan.
Tyler has been in line for a receiver job for quite a while. He’s had a couple opportunities to leave, but just stayed. He’s done a great job.
Jeff is a huge loss for us. Like I said, he’s been with me for 12 years. He was a GA for me. When I got the interim job, I brought him in there with me, kind of trained him up, if you will.
He’s just done an phenomenal job in everything that you ever asked him to do. One of the main reasons I hired him is prior to becoming the head coach, Coach Bowden, I ran the camps, I ran the clinics, there were a lot of things I did for Coach Bowden. When you’re in charge of those things, you’re always trying to get the GAs, student workers to help you out. Sometimes full-time coaches aren’t quite as antsy to put the trash bags out where they need to be or whatever needs to be done.
But Jeff Scott, whatever you asked him to do, he would so far exceed what your expectation was. I told him that. I told him, If I ever get a job, you’re going to be the first guy I hire. He was always early, always late, no job was too small for him. I was always so impressed with him.
Literally the day I became an interim, I said, All right, here we go. I said, If I get the job, you got the job.
He loves to tell the story. He went home to night, telling his wife, he is so excited. Coach Swinney tells me if he gets the job, we got seven weeks to go, he’s going to hire me.
Then all of a sudden across the ESPN ticker, the last 30 years zero interim coaches at the mid-season got the job, zero out of 29 or whatever it was. He loves to tell that.
But he’s awesome. He was a great ambassador, representative of our program, Clemson University. Unbelievable recruiter, too. Just did a great job, recruited a lot of great young men to Clemson.
Again, he’s well-prepared. This is the right time. I’ve literally known Tyler Grisham since the second grade. When I was the receiver coach at Alabama, he would come to camp every year. I’d coach him in camp. Fast track down the road, I’m the receiver coach at Clemson, here comes this 10th grader from Alabama, followed me up to Clemson to camp.
I’ve known him his whole life. He’s always been an incredible competitor. He’s going to bring a lot of great stuff to that room. He’ll put his own personality into it. He’ll be a special coach for us.
Coach Orgeron, I know the main focus is to get the win against Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. With that win, you will be able to go back to New Orleans, the state of Louisiana. How do you remain focused? How anxious are you to get back home?
ED ORGERON: It doesn’t come into play at all in my mind. This is such an important game for us. We have so much respect for Oklahoma. Just like playing in the SEC, you got to take it one game at a time.
You play great opponents with great talent, with great coaches every week. You have to prepare. You have to give it your all. There’s no way you can look behind, no way you can look ahead. You got to get the most out of each day. That’s what our team is here to do in Atlanta.
Coach Swinney, you have been very vocal about your faith and belief in Jesus Christ. How does that come across when you’re coaching? Do you find any pushback? How does it help you when you get into difficult situations like your team maybe not being considered for this final four?
DABO SWINNEY My faith is just a part of everything I do. I mean, I don’t think it’s something that you can just flip a switch. I think it’s got to be ingrained into your everyday life.
I just try to live my life that way, coach that way. My job is to win football games. I know what my job is. But I try to do it in a way that hopefully pleases my maker.
Dabo, on Tyler, what exactly does he bring to the position? How is he a little bit different than Jeff? He’s played in the NFL.
DABO SWINNEY He brings great knowledge. He’s 31, so he’s got great experience, great youth, energy as well. He was a great player himself. He just has a great understanding of the fundamentals and techniques.
I coached him. So he knows me inside and out, knows exactly what the expectations are for that position, how we do things. He knows our offense inside-out. He brings continuity to go along with the knowledge. He’s going to be a great recruiter for us. He’s already been impactful in our program the last six years. This is just another role for him, just promoting him onto the field.
You talked about a couple of leaders for your team. Who would you say are guys, regardless of classification, that have been unexpected leaders?
DABO SWINNEY I’ve got a freshman, D tackle, that’s starting for us, true freshman, named Tyler Davis. I don’t think you really expect a true freshman to come in, do what he’s done. I’ve had very few true freshmen start at D tackle, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins.
This young man has come in and been amazing. He really is a leader right out of the gate for us. He’d be one guy on our team that I expected him to be a good player, you just never know how it’s going to transition until you start coaching guys. Then also his ability to lead as a freshman is pretty special to watch.
ED ORGERON: Derek Stingley for us has been phenomenal, had a phenomenal year. He leads by example. This summer on Saturday and Sunday, his dad is a coach, go 1:00, go work out, look on the football field, him and his dad are working out with the DBs. Tremendous work ethic, tremendous young man.
LINCOLN RILEY: I would say our two young safeties, Delarrin Turner-Yell, and Patrick Fields. They’ve been instrumental in the improvements we’ve made defensively. Done a great job with Coach Grinch and his system. Very impressive at a young age.
Coach Riley, a local kid, Jadon Haselwood, talk about his impact.
LINCOLN RILEY: Jadon has done a great job. He’s really come in, learned the system very fast. A guy that’s made a lot of plays for us this year, continues to get better. Has an extremely bright future at Oklahoma. Certainly is a very talented kid. We were thrilled to sign him out of here. He has done nothing but just continue to make us excited about what he can do here at the end of this season, certainly in the rest of his career.
BRETT DANIELS: Thank you, coaches. Best of luck in the coming weeks as you prepare for your semifinals.