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November 30, 2008

Nick Saban

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you for joining us. Start us off with some general thoughts on the upcoming match-up with Florida and the Championship game.
COACH SABAN: We're extremely proud of the way our team finished the season. A good win against Auburn. To win 12 games in a season is pretty special for any group of players.
And the senior group that we had certainly contributed significantly to a change in the culture here in terms of playing with the kind of intangibles that we need to have success. I'm really pleased and proud of our team for what they were able to do. Total body of work for the entire season.
It's a tremendous opportunity for us to play in the SEC Championship game. This is one of the absolute best competitive venues I've ever had the opportunity to be a part of. In all of my coaching career.
The challenge of playing an opponent like the Florida Gators is, you know, something special for our players. They certainly have an outstanding team, and Coach Meyer has done a fantastic job of putting together a bunch of outstanding athletes who play well together, and are very well coached, and execute as well as anybody in the country.
Relative to their scoring offense, balance on offense, Tim Tebow's ability to execute in the way they have. They all contribute in a positive way to playing the roles, to make it difficult to defend them. Their defense is one of the top defensive teams in the nation. They've got some outstanding players, good athletes in all positions.
Probably one of the most impressive things is turnover ratio, being the number one in the country. This is the finest special teams, we've probably had the opportunity to play in terms of their explosiveness and ability to make plays.
This is an outstanding team. But I don't think you can expect to be in the SEC Championship game and not play an outstanding team.

Q. How do you try to channel the emotion from that Island Bowl victory? Do you try to keep the players on going after that? Do you try to keep them hyped or tone it down a little bit to try to prepare for Florida?
COACH SABAN: I think that we sort of prepare for every game pretty much the same way. Every game is an important game. This is an important game. So we do the same routine throughout the course of the week.
You know, I think momentum is something that you can carry from week to week in terms of the confidence that your team has. I don't think the emotion is something that you can carry from week to week.
I think we need to take our 24 hours and enjoy this game. Forget about this game and look ahead. What's happened in the past is important matters, but it doesn't matter. We've got to get ready for the next game and focus on that. We've got to go to work tomorrow, and that's what we need to do.

Q. How much of the offense you've seen so far runs through Percy Harvin? How difficult would it be for them to not have him in this game?
COACH SABAN: They have a lot of good players, we certainly respect his ability. But they really have three players that, you know, 1, 2, 3, it's easy to remember that. All outstanding players have had big playability. They've got some outstanding receivers. They've got a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback. And they utilize all those players in different roles. Certainly we respect Percy Harvin as a great player, but they have other great players, too.

Q. You talked after the Clemson game about your history of play in the Georgia Dome, and you've mentioned just now, and I guess, yesterday the competitive venue. What do you like about the Georgia Dome? Is it the fan atmosphere? The facility? Can you take us through your history there?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think it's the fact that I think it's something that all conferences should do. Have two divisions playing a game like this. I think it's the passion that people have in our league. Atlanta makes it a tremendous venue. The dome is a great atmosphere to play in.
You're going to play a team that's in the Top 10 for sure. In this case we're playing in the top 3 or 4. Every game that we've had there when they played Tennessee there, they were No. 2. When we played Georgia there, they might have been 6 or 7. You know, it's a great competitive game, they're always going to have two great teams, it's a great atmosphere, and it means something.
If you're playing in a National Championship game it means something, but winning the SEC means something, and this game means something as well. I think that's what makes it such a great competitive venue.

Q. Following on that, how special is it that this game features No. 1 and No. 2 in the Associated Press poll or semifinal aspect? How special does that make this game?
COACH SABAN: I think winning the SEC is special. I think having the opportunity to go on and play in another great competitive venue after this game, you know, certainly makes it special. It's a great game with a lot of competitors, certainly the rewards for what they've been able to accomplish this year.
It certainly gives our team an opportunity to play for something special that they've earned the right to play in. So that's what makes it an outstanding game.

Q. Do you like the fact that it's Florida that's coming in with a lot of the hype from the talking heads and things like that? And Florida's the one that's going to be probably favored in this game? Do you like that your team's kind of almost under the radar as a No. 1 team?
COACH SABAN: No, I don't. I mean t doesn't matter. Florida has played well, and they've scored a lot of points. Haven't even had a close game other than the Ole Miss game. They've been a dominant team, and they certainly deserve all the accolade that's their team gets because they've played extremely well all season long.

Q. So you're not using that as motivation here?
COACH SABAN: I think we have enough motivation in terms of the opportunity that we have, and what's out there, you know, for our team. You know, that's kind of how we always look at it.

Q. Both teams have done a great job just jumping on teams early and playing well in the first quarter. How important is the first quarter going to be in this game for one of these teams to take an early lead and get in front early?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think the important thing in all games is if you play, you know, every play in the game for 60 minutes. You know, we've gotten ahead in some games and teams have come back on us. We've gotten ahead in some games and been able to maintain that lead.
You know, obviously you want to start well in everything that you do. But I think the most important thing is to be able to sustain a certain level of consistency throughout the game in terms of your ability to folk us and play every play. That kind of consistency is, I think, most important.

Q. Talk about what are some of the unique challenges of defending a team like Florida that is a spread offense, but run the ball as effectively as they have?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think they give a lot of different looks in terms of how they use their personnel. They have a lot of very good personnel that has multiple roles in their offense. The fact that they have such great balance in their offense skill guys outside who can make plays in the passing game, but also can run the ball effectively, and have a quarterback who can create that balance by his ability to run and almost create kind of a single-wing type of offense relative to him being a threat to the runner. As well as when you load the box, you know, be able to make plays in the passing game which creates tremendous balance for them.
The way they utilize their personnel, and they have a lot of finesse and lost speed to go with that running game. So that's a real challenge for anyone to defend.

Q. I noticed Roy got in the game a little bit last night. Is he getting closer to where you'd like him to be? How's the team shaping up overall injury-wise?
COACH SABAN: We don't have any significant injuries. I think Roy is questionable. He did practice better, we, you know, he wanted to play in the game. He wanted to try it out. We played him a few plays. I don't know that he has the confidence he needs to be able to play. We'll see how he develops. He would be a guy that's questionable here in the future.

Q. Everyone talks about Florida's speed. How fast are they, and does that change what you guys do defensively? Where does it put the pressure on, I guess?
COACH SABAN: Well, anybody that has speed, I think they also have great space players. Leverage in the ball, tackling well, being in good, contained positions, all of those things are very, very important. But they have a direct run power game that is probably as good as anybody we played against all year. So to control the line of scrimmage is going to be a really critical factor in this game.

Q. I personally don't care when you guys score. But a lot of emails are upset about that last touchdown with McElroy, and up 29 points. I wanted to ask you, was there a concern about how that would look and what went into that play call?
COACH SABAN: Well, it was third down. We had our No. 2s in, we played our No. 2s, half of the fourth quarter. We didn't play the ball on 3rd and 4, we played it on 4th and 12, and gave it 7 or 8 yards.
The play call was not a play call that was designed to throw a long pass. It was designed to throw a 7-yard out route to the tight end. You know, Auburn played bump and run, and the quarterback's read is to throw the ball over the top if the guy's on top.
We weren't trying to run up the score. Our back-up quarterback hasn't played much this year. We'd like to create a balance for him in the game that if you're not trying to score, but we'd like you to get some experience that would help you if you had to play in a game.
We had some important games coming up like this week, if he has to play in the game, and throw the ball a few times in the game. We only threw it twice the whole fourth quarter, and both of those were third-down situations.
So my point would be if anyone wants to pull it over their head, they shouldn't have gotten bump and run. But, you know, that's the game.

Q. Do you think there's any advantage to having played in the dome earlier this year?
COACH SABAN: I don't really think so. The players know the environment. I think it's an advantage when it comes to the game. I think the game will be decided by what the players do on both sides. You know, when the game starts and that type of thing.
But we're at least familiar with the surroundings, and the lighting and that kind of thing by having played there before.

Q. What's your take on second year. You've done it twice, Urban Meyer did it. Coaches seem to get it going in the second year at the school. Is the first year a tough transition year?
COACH SABAN: I think it's a tough transition year. Those guys are probably -- you know, you're trying to change a culture in terms of the way people do things. It's more difficult for the older players to probably adjust to and adapt to that, and those guys are probably the guys that provide quite a bit of leadership, and are looked to for leadership. It may be the most difficult group to buy in.
I think the next year, you know, maybe the juniors sort of are more willing to buy in and make the change and change the culture, and provide the leadership that the coach would like to make the changes. Because change is inevitable when you change staffs, but whether you choose to do it or not is a choice.
I think the longer you have the guys in the program, the more opportunity you have to get the choices made the way you want to make them. I think that's been a real key to us but our seniors have changed the culture by their leadership.

Q. Coach, we noticed before the game that you brought back Ezekial Madden (sic) and B.J. Stabler for the senior day ceremony. Just wondering what went into that and what it meant for those kids to be able to participate in that, even though they couldn't play this season?
COACH SABAN: Well, we had three players that were in the program last year. Could not continue for medical reasons this year all played good football for us and through no fault of their own were unable to continue their careers.
They've represented the program in a first class way, and they chose to come to Alabama, and we choose to support our players even if they're medically unable to play. I thought it was great to have them back. It was never any doubt about them being a part of what we were going to do on Senior Day.

Q. Is there anything you may have brought back with your experience with the Dolphins in the NFL that's helped you be a better coach in this stint with Alabama?
COACH SABAN: I don't think there's any question about that. You know, I think both teams, all the times that I've been in pro football, you learn a tremendous amount about the game, because you spend more time just on football and just on evaluating personnel. Those are the only two things you do as a coach in professional football.
Developing criteria, learning about a lot of different things offensively, defensively, and special teams and you're constantly learning and around people, and you've got good coaches, so you do learn a lot. I feel fortunate to have the experiences, and be around the mentors. I've had the opportunity to be around them and been able to learn something from.
I think all my experience in the NFL has really helped in the development of this game.

Q. You don't have a reputation of a real warm and fuzzy guy. When you sit there and say hey, that's really not me. You don't know, does that reputation bother you a little bit?
COACH SABAN: Most people who know me don't have that feeling. So the relationships that I have are important to me. We have compassion for other people and respect for what they do. And try to do things the right way, and set a good example for our players in our program and that have played for us in the past and have always tried to help those guys and provide opportunity to develop, you know, good people, support students, develop players, and help those guys launch their career.
You know, I don't think that many of the people that know me or have played for me would have that feeling. I think those are the most important people to me.

Q. Talk about the match-up, your defensive line versus Florida's offensive line. Do you feel good about that?
COACH SABAN: We haven't had an opportunity to totally evaluate all that. Florida's got a really good defensive line, they're very athletic. They rush well. They've got great athletes in the secondary, so they can play as many eight-man fronts as they want.
It's going to be a challenge for us to be able to get a hat on a hat. To be able to create the balance that we need to be successful offensively against them.

Q. Reflect on the two-year turn around you've had there at Bama. What do you think is the most important thing you and your staff have done to change the culture like you were talking about?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that we kind of provided a road map, a plan, a direction that we wanted the program to go into. We didn't deviate from that plan. I think a lot of hard work, commitment, perseverance, discipline has gone into that. I think a lot of guys have made choices to change the way they've tried to develop as people and as students and develop their career.
So all of those things, I think, have contributed into a positive way to helping the players here get better, and we've been able to add some more talented players to go with those guys that have played on this team as young players. They've done a good job engaging those guys and providing leadership to help those guys develop and contribute to our team's success.

Q. That road map you were talking about, was that something that you looked at early, and maybe had some --
COACH SABAN: No, it's mostly philosophical. And it's the same road map that we've used other places in terms of the kind of intangibles that you have to develop. The kind of work ethic you have to have. The kind of commitment that you need. The kind of discipline that you have to sort of create. The kind of conditioning that it takes to sustain to strengthen and develop.
There are just so many areas, you know, that you strength and conditioning. Attitude, development. You know, system analysis, players learning the importance of executing and doing their job. There were just so many things that are philosophical in nature. Everybody has to buy into, and work together to be a team.

Q. Do you see similarities to how you might approach a program to how urban might approach his program? You guys are both pretty intense guys, high energy, you recruit well. Can you talk about maybe some of that that you've seen or noticed?
COACH SABAN: I don't really -- I have all the respect in the world for Urban as a coach, and the program that he's had at Utah and here, and known him for a long time. Even back to Bowling Green. So always respected him a lot for what he does.
I really don't know how they do what they do. They do a great job of recruiting, and a great job of coaching. But I can't really comment and make any comparison on something that I don't know that much about. I know they get really good results, and that's pretty obvious.

Q. You've had experience playing your teams at LSU and the dome at Alabama. Do you think the dome surface is really a faster track? And if so, does that give an edge to Florida's offense?
COACH SABAN: Well, it's the same track for both teams, so if it's fast for one, it's fast for the other. It's all relative, I think. They have great speed, decent speed on our team as well. I think that we're just going to have to play good football, and do what we do. Try to get the best possible execution, and do a good job of trying to control the speed by playing good gaps. Good leverage, and the things that it takes to play winning football.

Q. Back to the issue of a coaching transition. What advice would you give to a coach going through that first year transitional phase?
COACH SABAN: I don't really have any. I think that you just got to kind of establish your philosophy. Whatever it is, stick to your guns and be committed to it. I have a staff of people who believe in it and sell it well.
If you have experience and it's worked for you before, I think it's a little easier for everybody to buy into.

Q. I was wondering if you could reflect on the season Rashad Johnson has had this year and even just his past from a walk on to just such a difference maker?
COACH SABAN: He's certainly and outstanding player for us. Been very productive probably one of the brightest players I've ever had the opportunity to coach. Probably understands and knows what we're doing defensively as well as he any of the coaches do, or even as I do.
He makes a lot of checks. The players have a lot of confidence on the field because of his understanding, and on top of all of that, he's a tremendous play maker for us. But what a person, what a competitor. Somebody ought to hire that guy to be a C.E.O. their company. He'll do a good job for them.

Q. Something you mentioned earlier, that Florida's one, two and three. Their number two and three, Demps and Rainey, what have you seen from them just on tape in terms of their skill set? How do you see them at that running game change in terms of taking pressure off Tebow?
COACH SABAN: It gives them so many more options and dimensions. They have some other good runners on their team, too. The fact that all these guys can be receivers and runners, the multiples that that creates, the match-up problems that that creates. You need to have a defensive back covering them when they're playing receiver, which is the same thing with Percy.
Then when he's a running back, you'd like to have some bigger guys in there making sure they can run with the ball. And you can't have both. So there's one like that, there's three. So I think that's the -- and all those guys have great speed, and they're great space players.
But I think the one thing that makes it most challenging is they're very good receivers and play that position some as well as they're in the backfield, and you don't know where they're going to be. And the matchups that creates makes it more difficult defensively.

Q. I don't know if you've paid attention to the BCS standings, but Oklahoma checked in at number two and they're head to the BCS Championship. Do you have any thoughts on how Texas had beaten them earlier this year? Do you have any thoughts on that last checkout, that sort of championship?
COACH SABAN: I really don't. But it is the rules. Somebody put those in place. So it's not really Oklahoma's fault. They said if there's a three-way tie, this is how we break a three-way tie.
So I don't really know that much about it. I haven't even seen the BCS poll yet. And I don't really have a feeling about it. I know that all of those teams are outstanding teams. Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma. They're all in the same division. I think that they would be an issue of some sort whoever got selected to go.

Q. Have you faced a quarterback like Tim Tebow in your career?
COACH SABAN: You know, probably not. I don't think anybody that probably directs the offense as well as he does, plays with the toughness that he does, is a running threat that he is, as well as a very efficient, effective passer.
I don't really think that there's anybody that I've ever faced that's quite like him, that creates the issues that he creates relative to his size and toughness, and ability as a runner and a passer.

Q. I guess you admire him from afar. You see him, and he basically takes his team by the labels and says we're going to win.
COACH SABAN: Yeah, he does that. And they've got a lot of good players. I don't think there's much question about the fact that it's pretty obvious that his position is one that sort of demands and responds to good leadership, and he certainly is a good leader.

Q. I wondered if you could talk about Javier Arenas, and his progression over the past years, and what makes him so good this year?
COACH SABAN: Javy has played great for us. That's how he started his career, and got some notoriety as a return man. Punt return, kickoff return guy. But he is one of our best defensive players as well, and plays multiple roles on defense, whether it's corner, and then he plays our fifth nickel back, or we call it star position which is a completely different role.
He's a smart player, instinctive. He plays with a lot of toughness with great pride, and how he plays and performs and is very conscientious about how to do his job all the time. He's just an outstanding competitor. I can't say enough about how he's played for us, and the multiple roles that he's excelled at for us this season.

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