Alabama Coach Nick Saban addressed reporters following the Crimson Tide’s 35-31 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff national championship game, and the Bama coach expressed both pride and disappointment.
He said, “I'm extremely proud of our team for what they were able to accomplish this entire season. I don't think one game defines who you are as a person, as a competitor, or as a team, and certainly not define what this group of young men was able to accomplish this year.
“It was a hard-fought game out there today, very disappointing to lose a game like that, and I wish there was something else that I could do for the players to help them be more successful in the game.
“But to the older guys on our team, the seniors, their leadership has been commendable all season long, and these guys have accomplished a tremendous amount of success for The University of Alabama in the years that they've been here. To win three straight SEC Championships, to be in the playoffs three straight years, to win a National Championship last year, these guys have really done a fantastic job of representing The University, and I'm really proud of these guys and they're winners in every way.
“I think our team demonstrated time and time again this year that they were winners. I'm extremely disappointed that we didn't have a better outcome today, but I'm also at the same time very proud of what this group of young men was able to accomplish.”
Saban then took questions:
Coach, if you could just sum up what you felt like was the difference tonight in this game.
NICK SABAN: “I think our guys played really, really hard. I think they made some fantastic catches and some great throws and catches, and the last couple drives when they had the ball, and you know, we just didn't make a play when we needed to. We needed to get a sack. We needed to get a takeaway. We needed to get a stop in the red zone, and they made the plays and we didn't. Look, there's not one play in the game that makes a difference in a game. We could have done a lot of things a lot better. But I have to say that I was proud of the way our guys competed in the game, and just sorry for all of them that we didn't finish it better.”
Coach, if any presented themselves, what were the challenges of changing offensive coordinators, and how do you think you guys handled it this weekend and tonight?
NICK SABAN: “I think the players handled it very well. I think we scored 31 points in the game, which I think was pretty good against a pretty good defense that actually shut out Ohio State last week. I think we had some drops. I think we had some tipped balls. I think there was things that we could have done better. But I thought the preparation was good. I thought the organization was good, and I thought we gave our players a chance in this game to have success.
Was it challenging? Yes. Did everyone involved handle it extremely well? Absolutely.”
Nick, how badly did you miss Bo Scarbrough when he went out? He's been able to salt games away for you, and not having him available for most of the second half, how difficult was that?
NICK SABAN: “Bo has really come on and played extremely well the last three or four games of the season. He's certainly been a bell cow for us, and he has certainly, because of his size and durability, he makes it difficult when the defense gets worn down a little bit. Not to have him was probably a little bit of a disadvantage for us, but I was pleased with the way the other backs that had an opportunity in the game, Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris played. We always miss a guy that's Bo Scarbrough, size, especially when you want to run the ball and take some time off the clock.”
Nick, to experience such a gut-wrenching loss, how does this feeling compare to the pain of any other loss you've experienced in your career?
NICK SABAN: “I think every loss is very painful, and my loss is really for the bad feeling that I have for the players who have worked so hard to create this opportunity for themselves and not to be able to finish this is very disappointing for me. But because of them. And what I would, as a coach, love to see this team have been able to accomplish and achieve, which was a goal they worked very hard for.
“That's the part that makes it difficult. But every loss, if you're a competitor, is never good. But these kind, when you had a great season and the players had done so much to create an opportunity, it's tough to lose this way. But I will say this: That you have to give a lot of credit to Clemson, because they made some really good plays down the stretch. They made some great catches, and we never got the ball down and we never got done what we needed to do. We had our chances, and there's nobody that we can blame but ourselves.”
Obviously you and Coach Swinney showed a lot of mutual respect the other day. Out there it was a wild celebration. You made sure you found him. Can you talk about what you think this means to Dabo, about the job that he did and just your patience in searching him out, you weren't going to leave the field until you found him?
NICK SABAN: “Dabo is a friend. He's an Alabama person. He was at our university, went to our university, and I think he's done a great job of managing, supporting The University of Alabama, Coach Stallings, some of the things that we've done together. So I have a lot of respect for him as a person. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach. He has a really good team, and I have a lot of respect for their team.
“As disappointed as we were, I always think the classy thing to do is always congratulate the other person for what they were able to accomplish, so I thought it was important to do that, especially for somebody that I consider a friend.”
Ultimately what would you like this team to be remembered for looking back?
NICK SABAN: “I will remember this team as a group of winners, great competitors, guys that showed tremendous resiliency throughout this season. In some of the games we got down in, some of the games we didn't play very well, they kept coming back. It was demonstrated in this game today. We got behind 28-24 and the offense went down and found a way to score to get us ahead 31-28 to give us a chance to win. We just didn't get them stopped defensively.
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“So I think the perseverance and the resiliency that this team has showed certainly makes them winners in my book, and I'll always remember them for that.”