Coach Saban Speaks To SEC Press Corps
Coach Nick Saban's press briefing came a day before the Alabama Crimson Tide takes on the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta. Kickoff will be at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central time) with national television coverage by CBS.
Alabama is 12-0 and ranked first in the nation. Florida is 11-1 and ranked second in the nation.
Here is a transcript of Friday's press conference:
COACH SABAN: We're obviously glad to be here. It's a great opportunity for our team. I think our team has worked very hard to create this opportunity for themselves, and this is a great competitive venue here, probably the best competitive venue in the two opportunities we had to be here before that we've ever had the opportunity to participate in, other than the National Championship game.
The SEC is a fantastic league. There's a lot of great teams, a lot of great players, and certainly there's two outstanding teams going to play in this game.
I think I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that our University President, Dr. Robert Witt, who has worked very hard in his tenure at the University of Alabama to make our University someplace special from an academic standpoint, and Mal Moore, who has surfaced at the table for us as athletics director for us to have an opportunity to be successful and our entire staff. We have an outstanding coaching staff who has worked very hard with our players. But everybody involved in our staff, whether it's academic, player development, medical, it doesn't matter, they've all done a great job of contributing to the team chemistry that has allowed this team to grow and develop and become what it's capable of becoming.
Our team has obviously had a very emotional game a week ago but has bounced back this week and prepared well for this game. Our team usually kind of goes about things about the same every week in terms of how they prepare and what we do each day in practice and what their expectations are, and certainly it's an opportunity for them to sort of prove to everyone what kind of team that we have, playing against an outstanding team like the University of Florida.
Q. You were on the staff with Earl Bruce, as was Coach Meyer. Would you talk about what you took from him? Everybody talks about he's a great teacher, a mentor, as a head football coach. What did you take from him?
COACH SABAN: Well, Earl was certainly an outstanding coach, did a fantastic job from an organizational standpoint. He was very involved with the players. He coached the offense. He knew what was going on in every phase of the operation in the organization. He was a hands-on guy and a very hard worker and excellent recruiter and very well organized, and I think all those things are things that we were able to learn in our experience there, and it certainly has helped us in our development as a coach.
Q. Do you know if Upchurch is going to play, and any other injuries?
COACH SABAN: Well, I don't think we have other injury issues. I think Roy is still questionable in the game. He hasn't practiced a whole lot this week, although he has looked a lot better this week than even he did last week, but I think it will be a medical decision as to whether he's capable of playing without risk.
Q. Did you prepare either way, whether Percy Harvin is playing or not?
COACH SABAN: I think the multiples that they present, and really they kind of do what they do and have more than one person who can actually go in and play those roles that Percy Harvin plays, which is an outstanding player, certainly a productive guy for them. He has big playability, he has ability as a running back and is an outstanding receiver. If they play him at receiver, in most cases, James has kind of taken his place and his roles and what he does, but we haven't seen a significant change in their offense. But they have a lot of personnel groups and a lot of multiples of things they can do.
Different games they feature different things, so what they feature against us may be a little different if he doesn't play, but we can't predict that, and we tried to prepare for as many scenarios as we possibly can so that we're very well prepared for whatever they might do.
Q. I know there were a couple teams with the same proposition, but did your expectations as a team change as the season progressed? As far as the season, was it different than it was say in mid-season, that you might be in this position right now?
COACH SABAN: Well, really what we work hard to do with our players is talk about every game being the most important game that we're playing at that time, and that never really ever changes. We try not to allow expectations to affect how they prepare or what their competitive attitude really is about playing in the game.
It's a little bit like Tiger Woods said; somebody asked him how do you manage handling all the pressure that goes with trying to make a putt that's going to give you an opportunity to get in a playoff in the U.S. Open, and he said, well, when you're in the moment, it's really nothing like being a fan because you're focusing on the things you need to do to make the putt. You're not really thinking about the consequences of whether you make it or you don't make it. And as a competitor that's how we try to keep our players focused on the things they need to do to play well, their identity as a team, what helps them play winning football.
And regardless of the game, they're all important. I don't think how we could define which game this year was important. We had lots of important games, and this is obviously one of those games.
I think the best opportunity we're going to have to be successful in the game is be who we are, compete the way we compete, play the way we need to play, and that will give us the opportunity to be successful, and that's what we want our players to focus on.
Q. Going back to preseason, did you envision this defense being as good as it has been?
COACH SABAN: We were very concerned about our defense coming in because we had some serious issues relative to linebacker, Rolando McClain was really the only linebacker coming back, Dont'a Hightower was a true freshman, so we moved Corey Reamer to outside linebacker. We had Fanney playing defensive end, we moved him to outside backer. And the fact that Terrence Cody and Dont'a Hightower were newcomers in the front seven who both played significant roles allowed us to move players around so we had a pretty competitive group, and they actually played well and improved as the season went on.
But I think those were the key components in terms of helping this defense have a starting point where we had pretty good players at every position, and the chemistry and leadership that we've had on that side of the ball has been outstanding and they've done a good job of competing and overcoming adversity throughout the year.
Q. When you have a new coach come in and take over a program, he talks about a five-year plan. You're in the second year. Have you exceeded your expectations when you came in, what you guys have been able to accomplish?
COACH SABAN: Right. Well, first of all, I don't have any expectations. I get asked those questions all the time. You know, we have goals and we have things that we work towards. We have a process that we put in place systematically, whether it's recruiting, player development, installing systems and keeping them well and finding out what roles the person you have can play effectively and efficiently for you so you get your execution where you can play good football.
You do that day-to-day, and that's the way we've done it, and I've never said we have a five-year plan anyplace I've ever been. I always just say we're going to do everything we can do 365 days a year, one day at a time, to try to improve our organization and make our team better. Some of that is recruiting, some of it is player development, some of it is teaching. But we try to put as many facets together in the program to help the players have success as people, as students and as football players, so they have a better opportunity to be successful in life.
Normally when you build that, everybody starts playing at a little bit higher level and you buy in and see tremendous improvement.
Q. Just a follow-up question on the process, and the question really about freshmen and freshmen playing, in particular Julio Jones. I believe you have a rule that freshmen are off-limits to the media as far as interviews. If you can, just give us a comment or two about Julio and maybe Dont'a's play and how protecting them from the media allows them to mature and give a better performance on the field?
COACH SABAN: Well, I don't have the answer to that question. I know that everybody in this room thinks they should be available and it would help them play better. I don't know that that's true, either. And I don't know that my way is true. I just know that there is a reason for what we do, and it comes from experience of once allowing young players to talk to the media and having them embarrass themselves because of their lack of maturity to be able to handle circumstances and situations before they were able to prepare themselves to be able to do it.
I apologize for that. It's certainly not trying to keep anything away from anybody, and there will be a time when we allow these players to be available to the media.
But just so you know, they're not coming and beating on the door saying, Coach, when do I get to talk to the press. But both guys have done an outstanding job. They've shown tremendous maturity for their age in terms of their development, and I think the players around them have been very supportive in engaging them into the team and helping support them in a positive way so it has enhanced their development.
I think one of the most difficult things for young players is they have expectations because they're five stars and this and that, and then they come into a new venue as a college football player and sometimes don't remember the things they need to do to be productive, good players, and they start all over and they get frustrated when they don't have immediate self-gratification by playing time or having success or whatever, and that actually inhibits their performance because they can't stay focused on the things they need to do to become good players.
In these two guys' case, they and also Mark Ingram, those three freshmen have all shown an ability to do that with the help and support of the players around them, and they've all contributed significantly in the success of the team.
Q. Can you talk about John Parker a little bit? Obviously he doesn't have eye-popping numbers like some other quarterbacks but obviously you're undefeated and he's doing a lot of things right. What are his biggest contributions to this team?
COACH SABAN: I think his biggest contribution and his legacy is it's a team that's won 12 teams and he's the leader of the offensive team and he does an outstanding job in terms of his efficiency and his effectiveness and making good decisions not only in getting us in the correct running play as kind of a running team, but also we're a decent 3rd down team, and he makes a lot of good choices and decisions in that situation, as well as he's made the plays when we've had to make them in the game, and he's minimized the negative plays that we've had on offense in terms of turnovers, interceptions, those type of things.
So even though his yardage numbers are not up, his passing efficiency is, and his efficiency as a quarterback has allowed us to play winning football offensively, and I think that's the most important thing.
Q. Could you talk about Rashad Johnson against a team with so many offensive multiples, what he has to do on the field, and also what he's done off the field over the course of the last year?
COACH SABAN: You know, Rashad is probably one of the brightest players that I've ever had the opportunity to work with as a coach. He probably understands the defensive scheme in terms of what we're trying to do and the multiples of adjustments as well as most of the coaches on the staff. And I think his leadership really is helpful to the other guys playing out there, especially against a team that has the multiples that Florida has in terms of personnel groups and formations and those types of things and the understanding of what the team is trying to do in each one of those situations.
I think we've been able to do things and make adjustments that sometimes are more difficult to make because of his leadership and his understanding. He's been one of the best leaders on the team on and off the field. He's a fine young man. He's bright, got a tremendous future, and if I had a business, he would be one of the first guys I would go try to hire to get in the organization anyway that I could because he's just got "it," whatever "it" is, to be successful. He's got it.
Q. When you came to Alabama you set up a fund for players who were former lettermen to come back to go to school. How has that been received, and is it continuing? Are you successful with it? Talk about that.
COACH SABAN: Well, we weren't allowed to do it by NCAA rules. We had it at LSU, Charlie Mack Foundation. They had it at Alabama, the Bryant Scholarship Fund, and it's something that I certainly wanted to continue. But the way the Alabama thing was set up was it was for players that played for Coach Bryant. We tried to extend that so it would be for all players that played at the University of Alabama, and the NCAA has since not allowed for you to make any additional adjustments to those kind of operations.
But I do think that it is a tremendous benefit. It's something that we should look at in the future at all schools, not at any particular school, that if you represented that institution that your children have an opportunity to come back to that institution maybe with some scholarship help, especially if there's a need.
Q. In Birmingham we talked to you about this. You and Urban, although you're different, you have similar ways you deal with the players in terms of being long-term investments, the players, and hugging them up a little bit and coaching them up in the classroom, totally invested in the players. Do you think you are very similar in that way with Urban, and what are some of the ways you see you differ from Coach Meyer?
COACH SABAN: You know, I don't really know well enough to make any kind of comparisons. I know he's an outstanding coach. He's done a great job. They have a very good program, lots of good players, and their players succeed at a high level. That's certainly the same goal that we have for our players in terms of helping them develop as people. We've instituted a lot of programs and attitude development, whether it's a specific institute. We've been able to teach classes about self-awareness, attitude development, how to be successful.
We also have IMG in Tampa, a mental conditioning coach who works with our players, and they really like that. This is just not as football players, this is things that will help you make your choices and decisions as a person so you can take advantage of your gifts, academically as well as athletically. We have sports psychologists who have been involved with me for years who do the same things in terms of helping players resonate in ways that they can have success.
I think all those things -- this is the reason that I like college coaching. You can have any kind of impact on young people at a time in their life when a lot of those things are being developed in terms of who they're going to be and what they're going to be in their life. So we try to provide as many of those opportunities for our players as we can, and it's worked out well, and it usually ends up carrying over on the field, because football is a great team game, and a lot of those lessons can be learned through athletics.
If there's anything that I would promote, it's that we continue to promote athletics in our game as well as other athletics for our young people because there are so many positive lessons they can learn by competition and being a part of a team.
Q. Given the resignations of Sly Croom and Tommy, what does it say to coaching in this league and in general? How has that changed your view of what your business is?
COACH SABAN: Well, first of all, Phillip included, all the fine coaches, all the fine people, I think that it's allowed us all to see that the business side of what we do has sort of overrun the things that I'm talking about here. How about all the player relationships that these guys have developed through the years, how many people they've affected through the years in a positive way in terms of the total body of work that they've done, not only in player development, helping guys be academically successful as well as performing well on the field. And there's a pretty good body of work in all those cases that -- you have one bad year and all that kind of goes away.
I don't think it speaks well for where we'd like for the profession to be. But I also feel like it's all of our responsibilities to make people aware that winning is important, but other things are important in college football, as well, and I think this is an opportunity maybe for some people to express that.
Q. In the same vein, given your answers to a couple things, how much satisfaction, personal satisfaction, do you allow yourself to take from your success on and off the field at Alabama, given the interesting path that your career has followed the last four or five years?
COACH SABAN: Not really any. I don't think about it much. I'm just thinking about the next game. You're only kind of as good as your last play when you're a player, and you're only kind of as good as your last game when you're a coach. So what you've done to this point matters, but it really doesn't.
I said this the other day, and maybe I shouldn't say it, but what you do and what you continue to do in the future is the most important thing in terms of helping your players as well as them having success in the program. If you don't have success, expectations go up, and obviously some not-so-good things can happen. We're always kind of looking forward. We're trying to climb the mountain so we're focusing on attacking the summit, not really looking back down where we've been. We've already covered that ground, so we want to continue to build and grow and develop and look for the future.
I think that to be satisfied any time with what you do is not probably a good thing, not good for motivation and what you need to do to be successful in the future.
It's human nature, I think, to some degree, that when you're doing well to take it easy, but if you take it easy in our profession, there's a lot of other people out there that are working harder to try to pass you up. You've got to try to stay on the cutting edge and continue to work and grow.
Q. The first half the year you guys were struggling putting away opponents. That changed down the stretch. Why do you think that occurred?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think we're still struggling, so I don't know if there's been a significant change in that regard. We had 10-0 last week and were not very far ahead in the game before that.
I think it's the kind of team we have. I think that we're one of those teams that sort of grind it out and need to play every play in the game for 60 minutes in the game. We're not an explosive team. We don't make a lot of explosive plays. We don't score 28 points in three or four minutes, we play good defense, we try to be sound on special teams.
We would like to be a little more explosive on offense. That's something that we work on all the time and will continue to work on that, and I do think we have players who can be explosive, but that's been a development that we've worked on all year long and will continue to work on.
Q. There's a lot of fascination between the contrast of the two teams' styles. You guys are seen as kind of a throwback; Florida throws it around, runs, passes. Do you appreciate that, or is there too much being made of that?
COACH SABAN: I really think that it's not so much the approach, because we've had teams before that threw it all around, too, and when we were in this game in 2001 we couldn't get a pass off, but we had four great wide-outs. I think three or four of them were first or second ground drafts picks, and we had a good quarterback and we won the SEC Championship based on that, and we weren't a very good defensive team. But we threw the ball for a lot of yards and a lot of gains and made a lot of big plays. But that's what that teams could do.
I think the teams you're talking about now, the contrast in style is because both teams know who they are and they play to the style that they need to have success. Sometimes you can recruit to a style, but you never put your style ahead of the personnel, because it's all about the players. What we do allows us to be the most successful, and I think what Florida does with their players allows them to be most successful.
They have a unique guy playing quarterback to do what they do. You can think they don't run the ball, but you'd better be able to stop them running, because if you want to talk about throwback offense, they're running the single wing. Last time I was involved in a single wing I was ten years old playing pee-wee ball, and I was the quarterback. So I understand that offense a little bit from back then, and my dad was the coach. I don't know who's got a throwback offense. Now, they do empty it out and spread it out and we didn't do all that back then, and it's a lot more difficult to defend when they're spread out, but their quarterback, who's a good passer as well as a good runner, really allows them to play a style that would be difficult to match unless you have the right kind of personnel to do it.
I think the compliment here is that both teams play with a style that allows them to be most successful.
Q. You talked about this being a great atmosphere, this being a great building. You had an opportunity to sample it earlier this year when you played Clemson. You have an unbelievable track record here. You talk about Rashad having that "it" factor. You have an "it" factor here in the Georgia Dome. Do you draw from the familiarity of what happened in the win over Clemson and the transfer here for this Bowl game which is pretty much the same type of deal in terms of exposure?
COACH SABAN: The only difference is we're playing Florida now, we played Clemson then. And I can pretty much assure you that any games that we played in the past here will not have one bit of an effect on the outcome of this game. This game is going to get decided by what the players do 53 yards wide and 100 yards deep once the game starts.
The fact that our players played once in this building may lend itself to a little familiarity or whatever, but the fact that they have a lot of players that have been in this game before can be helpful to them.
There's always issues and factors like that that are in a game, but really what it comes down to is when you put all that stuff aside and you say, okay, now it's time to play, I'm going to focus on what I've got to do to make the putt, that's what you've got to do, and that's what our players have got to do and that's what their coaches want their players to do, and that's why you have a great football game.
Q. You mentioned Florida's multiples. How important is Rolando's role going to be as a middle linebacker on defense tomorrow?
COACH SABAN: It's going to be important as it always is, because he calls all the defenses, he makes all the checks. He's a very bright guy. He has a great understanding of what we do. He's very instinctive, and I think that's going to be critical because when the multiples go up, I think that that becomes more and more a factor of players being able to make adjustments because every mistake that you make in terms of alignment or adjustment against this team because of their perimeter speed and their ability to run direct runs and make big plays during the game on the field could all be very costly.
COACH SABAN: There's one thing I'd like to say. It's been a great year. This has been a great opportunity for our team. I'd like to thank everybody here who's done a fantastic job of covering our team and giving our players the exposure and positive self-gratification that you've given them relative to what they've been able to accomplish. We certainly appreciate it and thank you for it.
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