As the report this week that caught the eyes and ears of both Alabama fans and media members about the report that Texas offered the Tide coach $100 million to leave Tuscaloosa, Saban said, “I didn’t have any conversations with Texas, and nobody offered me anything. This is the station in my life… where I want to establish one great program. I’m very happy at Alabama. Mrs. Terry is very happy here. We enjoy the challenges here, and this is where we plan to end our career.”
About his 2014 Alabama team, Saban said, “Our situation as a team is a bit different than when we were coming off two championship seasons. Having come off two losses to end the season, you need to check your ego at the door. That’s everybody in our organization who needs to trust in our ability to be successful, and have the willingness as a family and a group to help each other so we have the opportunity to (improve). It’s about buying in.
“We’re basically an unproven team. We have a lot of question marks, like quarterback. We have a transfer player (Jake Coker), and we have a player in Blake Sims who’s a little bit different kind of quarterback. On the quarterbacks, Saban said, “I think every quarterback has to go through a process. There are three critical factors. Decision making and judgment are critical. Accuracy with the ball is critical, and leadership is a critical factor. Jake Coker has the opportunity to come in and compete. Blake Sims has already been competing. The development of that position is going to be critical to the success of our team.”
Of Coker, Saban added, “There’s a process that any player has to go through in any (new) system in order to play effectively. No matter how much you’d like to accelerate that process, it still takes time. An older player (like Coker) who has more knowledge and experience can relate, and can probably do it more quickly than a younger player, because he’s been in a college system (at FSU), one that’s not dissimilar to ours because we do a lot of the same things.”
Saban did not rule out some form of a two-quarterback system. He also said other areas have question marks.
“It’s the same in the offensive line. We’re in a little bit of a rebuilding situation. We have two new specialists, a freshman punter (J.K. Scott) and Adam Griffith, who’s going to be our field goal kicker. We also have some questions on our defense.”
Saban likes his revamped coaching staff, particularly new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Saban said going from head coach to coordinator is “probably a big transition for him. I had been a head coach for one year at Toledo before I went back to the Cleveland Browns as defensive coordinator. As soon as you get used to being the boss, and then you’re not the boss anymore, I don’t care who you are, it’s a transition. So all of a sudden, you can’t say when everybody gets to go home, and it’s just different.
“(Kiffin’s) done a really good job for us. The players respond to him well. He’s brought a lot of new ideas. He’s a good teacher, he’s smart, and he’s a really good coach. So far, so good.”
On team leadership, Saban said, “(Senior linebacker) Trey DePriest has a tremendous ability to impact other players on our team. He’s done a good job affecting the younger players on our team. (Junior safety) Landon Collins also has a big role and the ability to impact players.
A few Tide players, most recently Kenyan Drake and Jarran Reed, have stumbled this off-season, a problem the Tide coach said is prevalent today. “I think there’s one challenge in college football I’d like to talk about: sometimes these adolescents disappoint you,” Saban noted. “How do we react to that? We can’t kick them out of our family. We have to support them, and teach them how to do the right things. We have some of those situations with our players. Their ability to make good choices, control their behavior, and do things correctly, is key to the success of our team. This process… involves a little bit of discipline. This discipline is developed off the field. We’re going to do things to help them change their behavior in order to help them be successful. Discipline is not punishment. We all have to be committed to trying to help our young people. That’s the reason that we coach.
“(Drake and Reed) are suspended, but they’re not kicked off the team. They’re not involved in team activities. When they prove, or I think, they’re ready to come back and show a little bit more responsibility, how they represent the university, their family, and themselves, then we’ll allow them to come back on the team. We’re not making that judgment right now.”
Each coach has been asked about the new, four-team NCAA playoff that starts this fall. Saban said, “I’m hoping that when we change to four teams in the playoffs, we use the 13 years of knowledge from the BCS. They usually got it right. There’s always going to be a fifth team that will be deserving, and that will create controversy. It will be good for college football and the fans.
“If we continue to expand, you get to the situation of how many games can a player play? There’s a potential for 15 games now in our league. We have to take the student athlete’s well-being into consideration.”
On the topic of players leaving early for the NFL draft, Saban said, “My philosophy is, when they make the decision to (go to the NFL early), we do try to give them good advice when it comes to making a business decision about their career. If they go in the fifth or sixth round, your chances of making a team are not good. If you come back and play another year, you get to improve as a player and as a draft prospect. (Saban said new rules only allow five players to be submitted for draft grades as juniors. UA had eleven this past season.)
Scheduling is still a popular Saban subject, one on which he said, “I’m a proponent of playing all of our games against (teams from the Big Five conferences). I think every player that comes to the SEC should be able to play against all the SEC teams. It’s all about what the fans want, but if we played that rule, we’d have ten SEC games. I think if you go 5-7 and played a good schedule, you should still be able to go to a bowl game.”
Saban touched on two topics, one new and one old. He’s still eating his trademark cookies for breakfast, and he loves being a grandpa. “Life with a grandbaby is great. I’ve only made a few mistakes as a grandfather, like saying ‘She’ll be fine. Just let her cry.’ That was a huge mistake. She gets a lot of attention. And everybody gets on me for eating Little Debbie cookies, but nobody every walks by the cookie jar (in his office) without taking one.”
Saban closed on a final humorous note, advising the media who’ve picked the wrong SEC champion 18 of the last 22 years: “Just to let you know, we’re evaluating you.” The 2014 contingent did pick Saban’s Tide to win this year’s crown.