There is a ritual – participating coaches probably consider it an ordeal – in which there is one final press conference on Sunday morning with the head coaches who will have their teams in the College Football Playoff National Champioship Game on Monday night.
Those coaches are Nick Saban of Alabama and Dabo Swinney of Clemson. In some respects, the most valuable part of the press conference is an opportunity to get a photograph of the two coaches with the CFP National Championship trophy.
Their teams will meet for the 2015 national championship at 7:30 CST Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. ESPN will televise the game between No. 1 Clemson (14-0) and No. 2 Alabama (13-1).
Saban and Swinney have been giving press conferences on a regular basis, including an hour each Saturday, since their teams played their way into this title game a week and a half ago, Bama with a 38-0 win over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and the Tigers with a 37-17 decision over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Sunday morning the questions were not along the lines of, “Dabo, how are you going to stop Derrick Henry?” Or, “Nick, what problem is Deshaun Watson for your defense?”
The problem is not that reporters don’t want answers to questions like that. Those questions have been asked and answered (sort of, in coachspeak, where everyone on the opposing team is fabulous). And so the Sunday morning press conference gives coaches an opportunity to wax on more philosophical questions. Dabo Swinney can insist the reward for a coach is seeing a former player make good. Nick Saban reveals that the standard is not about winning football games.
Although it seemed most questions went to Swinney, when Saban had his opportunities he used them well. Saban is polished with philosophical questions, and one gets the feeling that he is pulling out Recruiting Speech No. 2, Part 7 to provide his answers. Making men better, making sure they have the opportunity to get a college education (“we have 29 guys in this game that already have degrees and have one of the highest graduation rates in the country”), and having focus to become better as football players, by the way.
While the Sunday morning press conference may not offer much on what to anticipate in the game, it does bring out a number of interesting points.
In opening remarks, Swinney – whose story of going from Alabama walk-on to playing on a national championship Crimson Tide team in 1992 to earning a scholarship and going from young Alabama assistant coach to still relatively young Clemson head coach – called Bama “the standard in college football for a long time, but certainly since Coach Saban has been there…For them to win their league and put another year together like they have and their fourth National Championship sppearance in seven years, you just can’t congratulate them enough.”
Both coaches commented on the current playoff system, meaning 15 games for these teams. Saban said his NFL experience in which teams play a 16-game season before going into the playoffs has helped him understand how the focus for a player needs to be “on the things they need to do to accomplish their goals and not focus so much on how they feel.” Swinney said a positive is the time of the championship game 10 days after the semifinals makes it something like having the long period of time to prepare for a season-opener and then playing the second game in relatively short time.
There were questions, perhaps for another day, such as how Saban uses young “analysts” on his support staff, men who break down film, then perhaps move on to graduate assistant coach, to fulltime assistant, and so on up the ladder. Saban sees it as helping young men who want to coach with an entry level position, while some others see it as Saban taking advantage of Alabama football wealth to have an advantage.
Swinney had an interesting take on the 1992 Alabama championship when he was a player and how he felt that the presence of the SEC Championship Game – in which Bama beat Florida and Steve Spurrier – gave the Tide an edge against favored Miami in the Sugar Bowl.
Not for the first time, Saban had some criticism for recruiting services, such as Scout.com, creating unrealistic expectations for young recruits.
Both Swinney and Saban discussed the possible distraction for NFL draft-eligible players in the championship game and the need for adjustment in that process – a viewpoint for which Saban was somewhat beat up by media last year when he voiced the concern following Bama’s poor performance in the CFP semifinal game loss to Ohio State.
Swinney went on for a while about Saban being one of the all-time great coaches and what Alabama has accomplished.
That led to an interesting question and answer in which Saban was asked about Alabama being the “gold standard.”
Saban said, “My goal is to create value for our players.” He said that included “personal development, thoughts, habits, priorities that are going to help guys make good choices and good decisions that will allow them to take advantagew of their gifts, which is going to give them a better chance to be successful in life; how tdo set a goal; how to understand a process of what you have to do to accomplish a goal; and the discipline it takes to execute that on a day-to-day basis.”
Saban discussed education, development of men as football players and of those men as a successful team, perhaps playing at “the next level,” the NFL, “and we also being at The University of Alabama and the tradition we have and the number of people who associate with the institution, you can also help guys in terms of career development by using the resources that the institution has.
“So these are all things that we try to create value for players, which when you have good players and you are able to recruit good players, then you do a good job of creating relationships and helping them develop. I thinbk the end result is you’re trying to create value for them and they are doing a good job on the field to try to create value for themselves as football players as well as the program and the team.
“And that’s the standard that we have.
“I think the result has been only viewed externally as how many games you win, but that’s not really the standard that we operate from internally.”
We can only imagine how many prospects and their families have heard – and been impressed – by that Saban philosophy.
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As for that winning thing, we’ll join Dabo in saying it for Saban. Monday night Alabama will play for its fourth national championship in the last seven years. In the Tide’s last 100 games, dating back to late in the 2008 season, Bama is 88-12, an 88 per cent winning percentage.