Stuart McNair

Alabama’s Nick Saban doesn’t want to discuss Lane Kiffin

Alabama Coach Nick Saban has great respect for Clemson

Alabama will play Clemson for the national championship Monday in Tampa, and on Tuesday Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban was available by teleconference to discuss the game. To the surprise of no one — including Saban, certainly — there was more curiosity about the events of this week in which it was announced that Lane Kiffin was leaving Bama effective immediately and would not serve as offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and play-caller in the College Football Playoff title game.
Those duties will fall to Steve Sarkisian, who previously had been announced as Tiffin’s successor after Kiffin was named head coach at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) for 2017. Sarkisian has been serving as an offensive analyst at Bama this season.
Saban was understandably terse in dealing with the issue, and eventually cut it off.
Following the first question, Saban began by saying, “We made a statement about this yesterday, and really don’t have much else to say about it.
“It's difficult sometimes when you're in a situation when you have a new opportunity and a new job, and we mutually agreed that in the best interest of everyone that this would be the best thing for us to do relative to the experience that we had in preparation for Washington and playing in the game.
“I don't think there's a whole lot more to say about that. Our coaches are working hard to try to put the best game plan we can together to play against a very good Clemson defense, and we're in the planning stages right now.
“I don't know why you all keep asking me what changes we're going to make. Dabo is a good friend of mine; maybe I'll just call him up and tell him what we're going to do.”
That brought some chuckles, but didn’t stop the questions.
Saban was asked if there was any truth to the story that Kiffin might be with the Tide in Tampa. He said, “No, it's really not even possible from a legal standpoint for him to do those things. That's not something that we're interested in pursuing.”
Asked how involved Sarkisian has been during the fall, Saban said, “If you understand the rules, you know, he's not allowed to be involved with the team. They're (analysts) involved in the planning. They're involved in the organization. That's where they make their contribution, in the coaching meetings. They're not really allowed to be involved with the team.”
Saban was asked why he didn’t make this move when Kiffin got the FAU job and Saban announced that Sarkisian would replace Kiffin for the 2017 season. The coach said, “I try to make the decisions based on what's best for helping our players be successful, and at the time there was no anticipation that – or thought that — there would be any kind of problem relative to managing having two jobs at once, and when we sort of saw that that was, and agreed that that was a little bit of a tough thing, then we decided to move in a different direction.”
Then came this question: One more thing on that, then. Why do you think it was – you said y'all discovered that it was tough to manage the two-job thing. Obviously other coaches have been able to do that, and we're only talking about one more week before he would have headed to Florida Atlantic anyway…
And Saban cut it off. Saban said, “I don't have anything else to say about this. We're moving forward. We're looking forward to the Clemson game. We did what we did for the reasons that I've stated many, many times before, and there's really nothing else to talk about.
“So there's no why, there's no if, there's no but. It just is what it is. The statement says what it is.
“We're moving forward, so let's talk about the game. I mean, it's only fair to the players who have worked hard on both teams to have an opportunity to play in a great, competitive venue, and that's what we'd like to talk about.”
And thereafter that’s what happened. Here are those questions and answers:
Q: You've reached the greatest accomplishment in the sport not once but five times. What continues to motivate you on a season-to-season, day-to-day basis, and then as a follow-up, has there been a point where you thought things were getting stale or too routine, and how did you get over that?
NICK SABAN: That really hasn't happened, so I have not had to get over that yet. But I think that my motivation comes from the fact that this team, these players have worked really hard to create an opportunity for themselves, and as a coach, you want to do a great job for your players and your team. They're working hard. Everybody is working together to try to put them in the best position to have a chance to be successful as people, as students, and as players. That's our challenge, and that's what motivates us. When you play an outstanding opponent, that's something that in and of itself as a competitor is motivation.
And that's certainly the case in this game, and it's certainly the case with this team in terms of what I would like to do as a coach to put them in the best position to have a chance to be successful in this game.
Q: You've often said you're not defending anything from one year to the next, which I know a lot of people make a lot out of the rematch, but can you tell me some things you see that are significantly different between each team from last year's game to this year's?
NICK SABAN: I think there are some subtle differences. We're the same coaching staff. They're the same coaching staff. I don't think anything is significantly changed philosophically. I think some of the key players on both teams are still out there competing, especially for Clemson with their quarterback. Their skill players on offense are outstanding, some of whom didn't play last year in this game who have had fantastic years this year, whether it's No. 7 or No. 8, and so there's somewhat of a difference from that standpoint. ?But defensively they've got some – a lot of new faces out there, and we've got a few new ones. We have a freshman quarterback, which makes us different. There are some of the obvious subtle differences, but philosophically, I think you have success because you do what you believe in and you try to do it well. I think that's what Clemson does extremely well, and that's what we try to do as a coaching staff relative to what we believe in.
Q: You've been complimentary of (Clemson quarterback) Deshaun Watson. Can you go a little bit more in depth about how much improve he's made this year and how good he's looked?
NICK SABAN: I thought he played fantastic against us last year, and we thought he was an outstanding player last year when we played against him. Any comment that I make now is certainly not a disrespect to how we felt about him a year ago.
He may be arguably the best player in college football. The guy is very athletic. He's got a great understanding of their offense. He does a really good job of executing for his team. He can extend plays. He can run. He can run quarterback runs. And he's a terrific passer. I mean, he is the complete package of everything that you could ever want or look for in a guy at quarterback, and he's been playing for a long time, so he has a tremendous amount of experience. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes.
I think that that's why they're a very, very dynamic offense.
Q: What has (Alabama linebacker) Reuben Foster's development as a senior meant to this defense, and not only to this defense but to him?
NICK SABAN: Reuben was a very good player for us a year ago and probably played in the shadows a little bit of Reggie Ragland, who was a senior and a captain, and now Reuben is a senior and a captain, and he's showing great leadership in terms of the example that he sets and how he impacts everyone else and how he tries to help everybody else play better on our defensive squad. I think he's done a really good job from that standpoint and had an outstanding season as an individual player in terms of his production and his performance. ?He's been all that you could ask for as a coach in terms of what he's been able to accomplish and do to impact his team and to be a productive performer.
Q: When you are out evaluating prospects to play on your defensive line, do you find that those players that project to an elite level are harder to find on the D-line than other positions, and secondly, how important in winning a National Championship and succeeding at the highest level is it to have – or advantageous is it to have a defensive line that can really control the line of scrimmage?
NICK SABAN: I think defensive line is a really important position in terms of having a good defense. To be able to especially play in this day and age, it takes even a different sort of guy that's more versatile, more athletic, because of the pace of play as well as the style of play that has kind of taken over in college football relative to whatever you want to call the spread offense.
So there's a lot more perimeter plays. There's a lot more passes. To find guys that are athletic enough to play that position but still strong enough and stout enough to be able to play gaps and play blocks and control the line of scrimmage is even more challenging than it's ever been before, and we've been pretty fortunate here to have some pretty good ones. I know Clemson has some really good ones, as well, and that's probably why they've been pretty successful, and it's probably a big reason that we've been pretty successful.
With (Alabama defensive lineman) Jonathan deciding to come back to school this season, he said it was a business decision, so I was wondering what you noticed from him that he improved on that he might be that top-five pick in the NFL Draft.
NICK SABAN: He was a very good player for us a year ago, and this year his production, his consistency in performance, his maturity as a player, his ability to sustain and just play a lot more plays this year are all things that I think has made him a better player in terms of – like I tell players all the time, you can move up if you stay here, but you're only going to do that if you work hard and do things the right way, and Jonathan certainly did that in every aspect of how he could improve and get better, whether it was strength, conditioning, knowledge of the game, execution. So I think all these things have benefitted him tremendously.
Q: And would you see him maybe as a guy that an NFL defensive line can build around much like you guys did?
NICK SABAN: I don't think there's any question about the fact – especially his diversity as a player, being able to play in or out, and good pass rushers inside are hard to find, especially guys that can still play the point and hold the point. And he does both those things very well.
Q: Just your thoughts on looking at the Clemson defense and what you see in that unit, and what did you see specifically against Ohio State that was so effective?
NICK SABAN: They played really, really well against Ohio State. They created a lot of pressure, a lot of negative plays, really affected the quarterback, and this is a complete unit. They have – I've already mentioned the fact that they have really good guys up front. Their linebackers are athletic and very instinctive and can run, and they play really well in the back end. You know, this is a very, very good defensive team from top to bottom, and I thought they played just, you know, really, really outstanding against Ohio State in terms of well-prepared, knowing exactly what they had to take away, and played well together to get it done.

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