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Florida State football, Jeremy Pruitt, Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith talk Auburn and BCS

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was available to the media for just the second time in his Florida State career Thursday.

Bud Elliott

JEREMY PRUITT: We're excited to be here definitely. Had a good trip so far. Our kids have done an outstanding job in the last two or three weeks in their preparation. It kind of goes to show you, you've got these guys up here, we've got really good leadership on this team, especially on the defensive side, and they've made our job really easy.

Jeremy, I was just curious, this is the fifth straight year that a team from the state of Alabama has played for the National Championship. Having coached in that state both in college and high school, is there anything you can pinpoint as a reason why that state has been so successful at the college level? Does it have to do with the high school coaches, the quality of players in that state? Can you give me some clarity on that?

JEREMY PRUITT: Well, I think if you look across the South in the last 25 years, a lot of the national champions have come out of the South. High school football is very important in the South, me being from Alabama I know that we take a lot of pride in the fact that we work hard and do things the right way. My background being a high school coach with my father, you know, I think that it's still important in the state of Alabama, high school football. It's kind of funny, as we were riding over here, the guy we were riding with was from Minnesota and he was talking about – he said, coach, in Minnesota, ice hockey is the most important thing. But yeah, I don't know. Maybe it's luck. I don't know what it is.

Coach Pruitt, talk about the defensive team being a bit overshadowed by Jameis Winston and the Heisman hype there, and if each of you guys could make a quick comment about defense having something to prove, as well.

JEREMY PRUITT: Well, first thing is we're a team at Florida State. You know, it's a team game. We were excited for Jameis, and I think Jameis's first statement was if he had a vote in the Heisman, his vote would be for the Florida State football team. We don't feel like we've been overshadowed. We work against each other every day. We take pride in the fact that we compete with each other. We pull for each other. It's a team thing for us. It's not an offense, a defense, a Jameis or anything like that. It's a Florida State thing.

TELVIN SMITH: I don't feel like we're being overshadowed at all. If anything we're in the BCS National Championship. That's our goal and that's what we reached as a team, as coach said.

LAMARCUS JOYNER: Coach Pruitt said it best. The way we believe, we're one team, one heartbeat. We understand what's going on. We all are proud of each other, so we never look at it as that.

Jeremy and Lamarcus, Telvin, feel free to chime in. What did you learn from watching the Auburn rush game have such great success against Alabama?

JEREMY PRUITT: Well, if you just watch the entire year, it's kind of been a work in progress for them. Obviously the quarterback doesn't get there until August, doesn't go through spring ball, so they've kind of developed who they are over the course of the year. They've done an outstanding job over the course of the year. They've been really stubborn about it. They're going to run the football. Everybody knows they're going to run the football, and you've got to be able to stop them.

So watching Alabama, yes, that helped us some because we're familiar with who Alabama is, what they're trying to get done, but these guys have had success running the football against everybody.

Everyone knows they're doing it. Why does it still work?

JEREMY PRUITT: You've got to execute, and they're doing a better job of executing than everybody else. At the same time you can be in position but you've still got to get them on the ground. They've got some really good football players. They do a nice job getting their best players in space in one on ones and they've been winning the one on one battle.

LAMARCUS JOYNER: I see a lot of skill and intelligence from Auburn, and if you watch the Alabama game, you had two physical football teams, two great football teams in this country, and you're just seeing a little more consistency for 60 minutes on Auburn's side of the ball, like Coach Pruitt said, they run the ball and they don't break. They do what they do well. Just a little lack of consistency at times from Alabama in that game, and it helped Auburn get the win.

TELVIN SMITH: I mean, it's pretty much what Coach Pruitt and Lamarcus said. Those guys are going to come out and they're going to play and play and play until you break. We've just got to go out and make sure we don't break.

Coach Pruitt, you came in and took over a very successful defense but then you put your stamp on it. Talk about some of the tweaks and the changes you did, especially after the Boston College game, and then for Lamarcus and Telvin, what has Coach Pruitt meant to you guys?

JEREMY PRUITT: Well, the first thing, everybody talks about how we tweaked the defense. Jimbo laid out exactly what he wanted for us as far as the tweaks. This is Jimbo's philosophy and what we're trying to get done. He brought me in, and there's a reason, because of the background, and he was familiar with the background. He laid the foundation. He said, this is the players we've got. This is what I want to do. This is how I want to get it done. You know, it says a lot about our seniors, the guys who are sitting up here. We've had tremendous leadership this year because Florida State, they've been playing good defense since before these guys were born with Coach Andrews. You've got a reputation when you put on that helmet and play on the defense at Florida State.

These guys bought in hook, line and sink. They said coach me, coach. We worked at it. It was a work in progress. It took us a while to get to where we wanted to be, and we're still working every day. Nothing has changed with us. It's attention to detail, and we've got five more days left. We've kind of counted it down all year. Anybody can do anything for five days. That's what we've got left.

TELVIN SMITH: To say how Coach Pruitt came in and put his own stamp on it, it was easy. He's from the country, he talked country, I'm from the country, so all the country came in together. It just all worked. We believed in when he came in, we just listened to him, let him coach us. We didn't worry about the coaches that were here before him even though we've got much respect and love for them, Coach Stoops and Coach Hudson. We came in, we believed in what he did and we just believed in the process, and look where he got us.

LAMARCUS JOYNER: I can't take my hat off enough to Coach Pruitt. He got my attention when he first came back in January just with the kind of heart he has. He's a genuine heart person. He said something to me that I'll never forget in my life. He said, you don't get what you want, you get what you earn. I never heard that said before. He got my attention from day one, and to just see the way he loves football, the way he loves coaching and developing young men, it's no better feeling. You know, you have no choice but to draw to him. He's a natural leader, and we respect that.

With all this distraction, with every moment of every day for these next five days spoken for, if each of you could respond to avoiding the distractions of being in Los Angeles with all of the media and things going on and keeping that one focus on winning a championship.

TELVIN SMITH: Any trip that we've taken this season has been a business trip. Yes, like the ACC Championship in the latter part of the year, things have – more clutter has come around, more people have wanted to be around us. If anything we've just relied on each other, went back to the basics, what we know, which is each other, one team, one heartbeat like Joyner said earlier. I think that's what's made it easy, when everybody pulled together, relied on each other, all the outside clutter and everything doesn't really matter because you know what's in the room and you know who you can trust.

LAMARCUS JOYNER: There's three things we have mastered this year. It's the power of preparation, paying attention to detail, and eliminating the clutter. We based our foundation off that. The rest is history. We do what we do, and we're going to continue to do it well and let the chips fall where they may.

JEREMY PRUITT: It's kind of ironic you hear these guys talk, it sounds like Jimbo up here. We really have one voice in our program, and that's Coach Fisher, and he does a fantastic job laying out exactly what he wants. You can see that these guys are great leaders. They're an extension to our head coach, and I think there's your answer right there.

Coach Pruitt, when you were hired as a director of player personnel, I believe, at Alabama, did you view that position as a path to where you are now, and for it to happen quite this quickly, were there any concerns that maybe you were hired for recruiting skills and not necessarily the coaching part of it?

JEREMY PRUITT: Well, when I was offered the job, I just wanted to be a part of an organization. I wanted to go work for Coach Saban. I wanted to be one of Coach Saban's guys, for a guy that was a high school coach. It's been eight years ago I'm lining off fields, I'm washing practice uniforms, I'm going to pick guys up, so I just – to sit here and say I'm going to be here today, no, I didn't dream of it.

We were kind of talking coming on the way over here, this is the fourth time in the last five years I've had an opportunity to be a part of the National Championship game, so I've been very blessed and very fortunate to be around really good programs, a lot of good guys, and just I'm excited to be around this group here. This is probably my favorite group I've ever been around.

At the SEC Championship game Coach Pinkel said he wished he had a month to prepare for Auburn's offense. How much of a benefit is it specifically with the way Auburn runs their offense having a month to prepare for it?

JEREMY PRUITT: I'll take this one. You know, regardless whether it's a week, a month or whatever, the bottom line is you've got to be able to tackle in space. They're going to get ball carriers out in space. You've got to be able to get lined up. These guys go extremely fast. You can watch Coach Malzahn over the years, wherever he's been, goes really fast. Seems like he gets teams discombobulated a little bit. You've got to keep them cut off. You've got to eliminate the explosive plays in the pass game, and you've got to create some turnovers. They're going to make some plays. Once they get down to the red area you've got to make them earn it, try to hold them to field goals. Whether it's a week or a month, they get a month, too, they get the same amount of time. So I don't know that there is an advantage to that, but it is what it is, and that's the things that we feel like we've got to do to be successful in this game.

How much has your past experience being in this game obviously try to keep these guys from hitting that boiling point where you get to game night? Obviously getting ready for them, how has that preparation been with the long layoff?

JEREMY PRUITT: You know, we have a lot of experience on our staff of guys who have coached in National Championship games, me, Sal Sunseri, Jimbo, Randy Sanders, Odell Haggins. It's unusual to have that many guys that's been here and kind of done it before.

I think we can draw on our past experiences knowing what we need to do, what not to do, but at the end of the day, this is going to be a new game. It's going to be a new game, it's going to be about who plays the best for those 60 minutes on the 6th. We've just got to be able to control what we can control and get our guys in position to have success.

Jeremy, in that vein, having coached with Jimbo and Sal – well, Jimbo having coached with Nick and Sal and you together with Nick, how much does continuity like that and familiarity give you an advantage as you came in as defensive coordinator?

JEREMY PRUITT: Well, first of all, there's only a few folks that I would go work for that I would leave the University of Alabama to go work for. One of them would be Jimbo Fisher, obviously, and it's because of the familiarity, the type of person that he is. When you come in our program and you walk around just the hallways at Florida State and you see how our players respond to our head football coach, you want to be a part of it. It's the easiest recruiting tool we have is our players. They love our head coach, he loves them. He's a players' coach. Now, does he coach them hard? Sure he does. But the thing about it is they know that he cares about them on and off the field. Having the opportunity to work with Jimbo has been great for me, and really for just who he stands for.

Jeremy, talk about your father as a high school coach and how you learned so much from him, and most importantly now you have a son there at quarterback playing. Tell me about Plainview, your relationship with him and just growing up around that area.

JEREMY PRUITT: Well, you know, being a coach's son, you're kind of drug around the fieldhouse all the time. I was never sent to a babysitter, I went with my dad. He's lining off the fields, he's mowing the grass, I'm hanging around the fieldhouse. And to me looking back on it, it's the best time of my life, having the opportunity to spend that time with him.

You know, and coach gave us three days off for Christmas break. The first thing I did is I took the tape home from Auburn and I've got it plugged up in there and me and him is watching Auburn. I'm seeing if there's anything that he can figure out a way to help us stop these guys.

But yeah, it's really special not only just to spend time with your father but to share the same love, the same profession, and I mean, he still does it today. I've said this many times before: He stays on me a little bit because now obviously he coaches my son. But he says I'm the worst parent he's ever had. It's really special times being with him.

This is just the second time that we've been able to talk to you. The players themselves, you made changes, Christian Jones from linebacker to kind of more of a defensive end role. Since you're new, how are the players responding? I've heard players say the playbook is finally complicated, we're finally getting it. How did you make sure you took time to talk to them?

JEREMY PRUITT: Well, the biggest thing, our guys are unselfish. Whatever we ask them to do, they're willing to do it. Lamarcus has played safety his whole career at Florida State, and the first thing we do is move him to corner, move him to nickel. Christian has moved from linebacker to defensive end.

There's a lot of guys, and if you look where the guys are playing at today, if you probably looked at our two deep and said, okay, here's whoever it is, our defensive ends, D tackles, corners, safeties, and then you look where we were at in spring training, there's probably not eight or nine guys that are playing the same spots they were playing in the spring. Some of that is because of us getting to know the guys, knowing what they could do because a lot of them were injured in the spring. We had guys that had surgeries from the previous year. I think this spring Lamarcus and PJ were the only corners we had. They took every rep all spring.

It was kind of a work in progress, but the big thing to me is these guys, they're not worried about individual awards, okay. They're focused on team goals, and I've never been around a group who loves to practice, who loves to prepare like these guys, and that's saying a lot because I've been around some really good football teams. But these guys, Lamarcus said it, the power of preparation. You have to run them out of their office. They're up there all the time saying, coach me, coach. Give me a tool that's going to help me in this game. I just want a little bit of a nugget.

Can you tell me you guys' mind sets when Coach Pruitt first came in during the spring and what it was like learning that new system? When did you guys tell yourselves and look at yourselves and say, this defense is going to be good and it was going to work?

TELVIN SMITH: Well, coming in, I knew Coach Pruitt was coming from Alabama and I knew he was going to install that type of philosophy, that type of defense, bringing it this way, and we always compared ourselves – people were always saying Florida State and Alabama, Florida State and Alabama. I just felt like this gave us as players an opportunity to be more dynamic and to show more what we can do and kind of kill the confusion. But still, you can never stop people from talking. I was just happy for him to be here. I'm even happier now to see what we've got with him here.

It's easy when you listen and let a coach coach you and do his job and you do your job as a player. Then the chemistry all flows together and that's when the bond comes and that's when you love each other, and that's when you're able to do what we've done. LAMARCUS JOYNER: Just going through that first week for me, from a personal experience, just seeing how Coach Pruitt loves, cares and understood players, football, everything, that alone just opened up the doorway for me to want to learn. Like he said, we're up there every day, coach me, coach, and to know that he comes from a good pedigree under Coach Saban and been around Coach Fisher before, guys who we all respect, the whole country respects, just understanding that that alone will get you better, that was enough for me.

Like I say, I just love the kind of person he is. He's a natural leader. I was appreciative of that, and I was willing to go with the flow. Learning football, that's the easy thing because we all love football, and whatever – if it's important enough to you, you'll do it. Loving the game and just loving the attitude that Coach Pruitt came in there with, all the players were willing to learn, and it's easy from there.

Jeremy, having Sal Sunseri and Charles Kelly are guys who worked in the Saban system. How much do you think that's helped this defense have success in year one?

JEREMY PRUITT: Well, I can tell you this: We've got, to me, the best defensive staff out there with Sal, Charles and Odell Haggins. You talk about, it's not work. It's really not work. I mean, we're sitting there from the first day we all got together last January, we went out on the road and started recruiting, it's really amazing we're starting to implement, put things in and get there whatever time in the morning. We look, and Odell's wife is calling, where's Odell at? You know, just hours go by, and you really don't even realize what's happened just because you enjoy being around people.

To me the big thing about all those guys is they care about the kids. They love the kids. And that starts with Coach Fisher, the staff that he's put together. To me I would say just as an organization, there's not a happier place than Florida State, day in and day out. Everybody loves being around everybody. It's fun times, and obviously right now we're winning, but when I went and interviewed at Florida State, I mean, practice wasn't going on. It was in a dead period in between the bowl stuff, and there's 20 kids up there in the coaches' offices, and I'm thinking, what are these guys doing up here? They're just hanging out. I'm looking at them, watching them, smiles on their faces. They're just hanging out. That's where they go to hang out is the coaches' offices. It was something, it reminded me a lot of why I wanted to be a coach, I wanted to be a high school coach, I wanted to have a positive effect on young people. And just seeing that, it kind of – I said, hey, this is something I want to be a part of.