"Thank you guys, I appreciate that. This is awesome, it really is awesome. First of all, I want to thank Dr. Neeli. After five minutes of meeting her, I love her, she's awesome. You guys have a great leader right here at this University, I'm telling you. She's going to be fun to work with. It starts at the top, I have learned that in a long time. You have to have great leadership at the top all the way down through to our football team and to all our other athletes here in other sports at this great University, which I've grown to love the success that all the other sports have had. I can't wait to meet these other coaches, share ideas, get with them to see what's made them successful here because that's what we want for our football program. Really it starts from me and it starts with this crew right here. These guys mentioned them — my wife of 22 years, my three kids are great supporters of me over the time I've been coaching. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my mom and dad, who're back in Hillsborough Orange County, North Carolina, which is right there in ACC country with some teams that we're going to have on our schedule that we'll be loving to beat one day in the near future.
Then I need to thank the school that I just left, Appalachian State University, where I spent 23 years as a player, assistant coach, head coach. I had great success there. Our players — thank them, they've been unbelievable. We talk about culture, they have it. That culture is incredible. We made it to the New Orleans Bowl this year, so they're going to be playing in the New Orleans Bowl in a week and a half. They'll have no problem in that game because of the culture and what they stand for, and that's what we're going to build here. To the fans back at App State, who have been unbelievable to me, I appreciate their support and everything they did for me over the years.
I was a walk—on football player in 1991. I remember August 3, 1991 driving up the mountain to Boone, North Carolina. They didn't even know my name — the coaching staff didn't. You just continue to work and build, that's what dreams are made of. You earn a scholarship and then you're starting, my senior year we went undefeated — 11—0 in the regular season, incredible. Then I had the opportunity to go back and coach in 1998. Beth and I were married two years and they said, 'We want you to come coach wide receivers, but we've got $7,000 to pay you.' I said, 'A month?' And they said, 'That's the whole year.' So, $7,000 — we have a mountain there at Appalachian State, it's Appalachian Ski Mountain. So, I had to make snow in the winter time, I couldn't even go recruiting, I had to make ends meet. Beth said she'd give me two years with this deal right here, otherwise we're getting out of the coaching profession. Fortunately, I got brought on full time the next year, continued to work my way up and then became the head coach at App State, six great years there.
Now, here I am. It's what dreams are made of for me. It's incredible, and it proves the point that if you work your tail off and have a great attitude every single day, that your dreams can be met and it will come true because I'm living that dream right now at the University of Louisville, it's unbelievable. Thank you guys, I appreciate it. I'm extremely honored to be the head coach here. There were other schools out there, but this is the job I wanted. I wanted to be here because of the success that this program has had. Incredible success over the years — Heisman Trophy winners, NFL players that have moved on and are doing great things. There's one for the Ravens right now that's taken that starting role and he's dominating now, it's fun to watch him play. Those are the kind of players we want to get in here. I loved meeting the team today, for the first time I got to meet that team. I'm so excited, I hate that they're going home right now for Christmas break. We're ready to get to work with these guys.
I told them, we're going to love on them. We want to love on these guys. We're going to put our arms around them and we're just going to pull them up and bring them to win football games and championships. But it starts with our culture, so that's what we're going to work on. The very first thing I told them was that 'guys, you have to trust me. And I have to trust you. And that's the way our program's going to work.' There's a couple core values that we have. Number one is project positive energy. In this world we're living in, there is so much negativity out there that it drives you crazy. Everybody's doubting you, everybody's downing you. That fuels me, and it's going to fuel our football team. We're going to pump each other up. We're going to hit them on the butt and say 'let's go!,' when they're having a bad day we're going to put that positive energy in there and it's just going to spread like wildfires, our culture in the locker room. The other thing we're going to have is trust and respect that we've talked about already, and that's going to go from coach to player. The other thing that we talked about is the other 10. There's 11 guys on the football field, but I'm playing for the other 10. I'm not thinking about me, I'm thinking about the other 10. When you do that, we'll have a tremendous amount of success. We had 19 guys out of our starting offensive and defensive players last year make all—conference and get recognized. 20, we had 20 guys. It's incredible, because they're playing for each other. They love each other, and that's what we're going to create here. These guys will get big—time recognition when they start loving each other, caring for each other and playing for each other.
The other things that we're going to have, the last core value is have fun. I want our guys to be able to come to that office all the time. I want them to be there, to come there. The same with our coaching staff. We're going to put together an outstanding coaching staff that will just be there everyday because we want to be there. It's not one of these deals like I've seen throughout the country where coaches go flip the light on when they can go home. Our guys are going to want to be there because they love it that much. Our players are going to want to be there. It's going to be that kind of culture where they can't wait to get back there because we're going to put some more work in. We're going to do it day—by—day, stay in the moment. We're not thinking about next month, we're not thinking about next year, any of that kind of stuff. We're going to stay in the moment and do the best job we can do. I think when you stay in the moment, do that, take it day by day, be the best you can be today, when you look back on it you'll be breaking records. You're going to be winning a lot of football games.
So those are the kind of things we're going to be putting together for this program. I also want to get involved with this community. I want our community to get involved with us. High school coaches, the region right here, right here in Louisville, come watch our practices. Our doors are open. The closed doors are no longer. We're going to open it up. We have nothing to hide. I want to feed off them, the can feed off of us. We're going to do this thing together. It's not going to be about me. It's not going to be about our coaches or our players, it's going to be about all of us. The fans, the players, the alumni, everybody's got to be involved with this. That's how you win, when everybody's involved. That's how you win. It's not one person, it's everybody. I'm just happy to be the face of a program being the head coach, but I don't want to be like that. It's not 'I,' you're going to hear me say 'we' a lot. Because it is. It's we, it's all of us. It's all of us together. Cardinal Nation, that's how we're going to get this thing back on top, that's what we have to do.
Here in the next few days, we're going to put together a staff, an outstanding staff, to be able to get these recruits in here. The kind of players that we'll all be proud of. The student—athletes, they're out there. Sometimes it's real easy to go get a player that has marginal academics but he's a great player. But there's also guys that have great GPA's, that care about the academics that are also great players. And those guys tend to do great things on the football field. You don't have those penalties that you don't necessarily need, you don't have those turnovers and those mistakes, that's how you lose football games. We're going to recruit the right kind of student—athlete here to build this program up, so excited to do that. I'm humble. This is awesome. I'm so fired up about being here. I can't wait to get started, my family as well. They'll be headed back to Boone, but I'm staying here. Ready to hit the ground and get rolling. I want to thank you guys for coming out, it's an awesome crowd right here, really appreciate it."
About his priorities in the coming days
"It has been a whirlwind to say the least. This time yesterday, I was in New York City. I got on a plane last night at 9:55 p.m. and got back to Boone at 2:30 in the morning and got with my team at 7:30 this morning and then came down here today. Not had much sleep — zero sleep to be quite honest. The next few days, I will be working on staff and talking about that. We will be trying to get the right guys in here. We recognize that Signing Day is coming right up in a couple of weeks, so we want to do that. Then we will slowly build this staff out over the next few weeks. I think for me, probably today or tomorrow, I will be just talking recruiting and looking at rosters and seeing exactly what the needs are and then get on the road and start recruiting."
About the App State staff that might follow him coaching in the bowl
"I think there are a couple of guys that we will probably bring immediately. The rest of the staff will stay back and coach the game. We will see where we are after that and start building our staff out. The good thing about that is, they play in a week and a half. So it is not like it is a month from now. We have some other guys throughout the country that we will be targeting. We will see where that leads in the next few days."
On emotions of leaving Appalachian State
"It's very emotional for me because I knew everybody. I was one of the older tenured guys there. Our chancellor was there the last two to three years, our AD had been there three years. A lot of the board members, Board of Trustee members, I knew a lot of those people that had been there for years. You're really just kind of ingrained with those guys. You've been there through everything, so it was very emotional. I love those guys. They're awesome, they gave me a chance, they gave me an opportunity. I'm forever indebted to that, but this is a great opportunity. This is an unbelievable opportunity to be able to coach at this kind of university to compete for championships. I can't turn that down at this point of my career. This is what we've been shooting for. In six years at App (State), we've won 40 games in the last four years, three straight conference championships, three straight bowl games, it'll be four straight in a week-and-a-half. 'What else can you accomplish there?' I think comes into play. The only thing we didn't do is go to a New Year's Six Bowl. And for App, I think that's going to be very close. I want to compete for national championships one day and that's what we're going to be gunning for. It starts with competing in the ACC, but it's going to start with us getting our staff together and players headed in the right direction this offseason. I'm excited for that the most."
On his message to the fans
"You go back and look at the track record of what we've been able to accomplish, it's not like I haven't been a head coach. It's not like I haven't faced adversity. We started out 4-8, we're in the Southern Conference and we're not playing for anything and that was extremely difficult. The next year, we're working on our culture at that point, we start out at 1-5. So as a head coach I'm 5-13. So I remember the story of going to Troy, Beth went with me. Some of you may have heard it. We're 1-5 and we walk down to the river and I said, 'This head coaching thing is OK, we're 5-12. We may not be around here much longer, let's enjoy this, you know?' We went out the next day and we beat Troy, dominated the game, won our last six games. Our very first year in the Sun Belt, we went 7-5 and turned it around. And the rest has been history after that. We killed it. There's four other programs with better records than us, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma then Appalachian State. That's pretty good company. We're going to do it here and there's no question about it. You've got to believe and that's been a big slogan of our program. It's a deadly process and we're going to get it done."
On seeing Louisville this past season and what has stuck out
"I think it starts with discipline. I think that's the first thing and culture. The reason that we had success, there at App, before any of the wins, we worked on culture. That's what you have to work on. You have to get all that stuff straight first before you can start winning football games. That's what this offseason is going to be about, this summer is going to be about. When you get that stuff straight, then the wins will start coming. I didn't watch many games last year. Obviously tried to wins some games, last year. I did glance at scores and I saw scores that were extremely high, given up. There's a lot of work to be done, obviously, offensively, defensively, kicking game. The thing I was most proud about our football team, this past year at App, is that we're solid on all three phases. You go back and look, special teams, our blocked kicks, kick returns. Then defense, one of the best defenses in the country. Then obviously offense. We're solid in offense too, with a first year starting quarterback with a very young football team. There are 19 starters coming back on that team next year that's probably going to win 11 games this year. That's the culture that we had. That's what we are creating here, and I can't wait to get started on that."
On players recruiting from App State and on recruiting a different kind of athlete
"I think that there are players that last. In the beginning of this year's process of recruiting, there were several players that we went in on early there. We had them on campus, we were in good with them, and then they started getting power five offers. We still got great relationships with some of those players. In the early process of recruiting, yes, we are going to tap back into those players that we feel like can come here and help compete for a championship. Then there are other players, that are out there, that we are going to tap into. That we have relationships with, that are looking forward to coming visiting here, within the next two weeks."
About the defense
"We are trying to run the same defense that we did. I don't know if you know, but (Nate) Woody got hired at Georgia Tech two years ago and I hire Bryan Brown last year and really kept our staff, who had opportunities on the defensive side of the ball to go places — Power Five places — who decided to stay and put together a top ten defense in the country. So we are going to run that style of defense and we will see about the names. It will probably happen here in the next couple of days and fill out staff out for the next week or two. Defensively, what we do is unique on defense. It is an aggressive defense that creates turnovers and it does not give up big plays. We are going to run and hit and stay on top. Match the numbers and chase the football. It's very simple and I will think will be a great product defensively to have here."