I've said all along that I'm not sure if there's a tougher guy that I've been around. I've been around a lot of tough quarterbacks in the NFL and our college quarterback Paul Miller was a tough one. Darian's got so much dog-gone character and he's so dog-gone competitive. If he has any negatives, he always makes up for it with the way he plays and the way he competes. It's not a surprise at all that he went back into the game and made so many plays. He's a H--l of a quarterback; he's had one heck of a career.
Do you see a lot of yourself in him? He's so tough; you had a reputation for being a tough player.
I know this: he shows up every day and goes to work. He is a guy that wanted so badly to be able to win some football games this year and finish as a winner--that's very important to me. I think all of you who have been around me know that. He's probably more talented than I am. I'll say this: he has the competitive spirit that you want in a quarterback.
Was he hurting when he went back in?
Sure he was--absolutely.
We talked about "Together now" at the beginning of the week. Was this a complete effort?
To overcome some mistakes that we made--statistically, we were dominating at halftime, but we weren't very far out, and that gets a little scary sometimes. It really does. You think maybe [things] are against you that day. Our team was very focused as we went out to take the second half. We probably played our best quarter of football in the third quarter, and I think that was very important. Eventually, I think we probably played our best game of the season.
A lot of good things happened. The most important part about this week was finishing this season, and I think those kids did it in a special way.
You've kept talking about improvement this last few games. Have you been gratified, satisfied, impressed with your team's improvement?
I was impressed with the way they prepared each and every week. After the Utah game, when we were all beat up, limping home with a tough loss and a lot of players injured, not sure how many were going to play, the following week--even though we had a week off and had a very laid-back week of practice--that team took on our message. They took the staff's lead, our seniors stood up and said that there was a four-game season. We have won three of the last four. I think that speaks for itself.
What are your thoughts on the defensive effort today?
I just think we are going to be a really good defense again someday. We made a big step today. Now, they are young, still very young. When we send out that front four, it doesn't matter who substitutes in, there is going to be a freshman or a sophomore in there all the time. Tommy Davis is the only junior in that group. I'm really pleased with the progress they've made, and I'm pleased with the way the linebackers have been playing lately. They have really fit plays well. They really know and trust each other where the [other] guys are going to be. So you can play smarter and you can play more competitively. And I think our back end has gotten better over the past three weeks too. I'm really pleased with those young players out there.
You absolutely dominated them on third down, holding them to 1-14 on third down conversions.
That was big. That was really big for us. We were able to get some third-and-longs and make some plays, we were able to get some pressure, particularly in the fourth quarter.
How does it feel to be standing here, talking about this team this way after the previous two years and all you have been through?
I was not surprised by what took place in 2002. We didn't have many players to go out there and play. In 2003, I knew it was a game each week that we could win or lose. We played a lot of tight, tough games. If you've noticed, what I've said in the past, you've seen other programs--you lose when you have some players and then you get a little bit better.
You lose some close, tight games, which we did. Then, the next year you start winning some tight games with the players starting to learn how to win, how to practice, how to prepare, how to play four quarters. That's where our team has gotten to. We certainly are not out of the woods. We've got to keep working, but we've made a lot of progress over the season, and that is the result of a staff that believed in each other and believed in the players, and vice versa. The players believe in what we are doing.
What do you think about what Chad Scott has done down the stretch this season?
He certainly has made a big difference for us. The other two runners are good runners. We just didn't get one to finish. Jacque Lewis has had a tremendous career here. I think he was leading our team in average per rush. Chad Scott, though, has added some explosiveness to us. It was great to have him and Ronnie healthy. No matter what was happening this year, we were able to run the football effectively for the most part because our offensive line is doing such a great job.
What would you say to a bowl committee if they asked you why they should select UNC?
We are an exciting team to watch. We can make it real crazy at times too. We can do some bone head things. But we are an exciting team to watch. We have an offense that is geared up and can score points. We have a quarterback that is extremely competitive and can make a lot of plays. And we have a defense that is coming on. And before this week we were playing really well on special teams. We had some crazy things happen out there today. Once again, we were able to overcome them. That's the difference between last year's team and last year's team. We were able to overcome them, mostly because our seniors are so dog-gone determined and have led by great example and voice if necessary.
What is your vision for the future of the program now?
It's the same--to get great character players in here, guys that love this university, guys that see all the advantages of coming to the University of North Carolina for more reasons than one. It's not just football here. It's a lot of football here, but it's a heavy responsibility for a student athlete to come to Carolina. We insist upon them doing the right things. We are going to get those kinds of kids. We've had two great recruiting classes. We are on top of a third. We just have to finish it off.
What is the first thing that went through your mind when the extension was announced?
The first thing is the same thing--I'm just happy for the senior being able to finish. I think it's terrific to have the extension because it is going to help us with recruiting. So many people have been saying so many things out there, whether it be other programs, other people or whatever. They always want to take shots at you, and that's, unfortunately, the nature of recruiting, And that is one of the reasons I will never coach any place else besides the University of North Carolina, because we have to do it right.