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December 4, 2015

Nick Saban

Atlanta, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach Saban to make an opening comment and then we'll take your questions.

COACH SABAN: Thank you. How's everybody? Good.

Well, first of all, it's a real honor and privilege for us to be here representing the West. Very difficult season this year, very proud of our team for the way they have responded and through some tough circumstances after losing early to Ole Miss. But I'm very proud of the way they have responded and it's been a really fun team to coach.

I'd also like to make mention of the fact that I'm really proud of the program that we have at Alabama, the team of people that provide a program that I think creates a lot of value for players, whether it's personal development, academic support, development as football players, concerned about their future endeavors and being more successful in life for having been involved in the program; and whether it's Dr. Witt, our chancellor; Dr. Bell, our president; Bill Battle, our athletic director; our university community, as well as all the folks that are in our department, coaches and support staff, who work hard to create the opportunities for our players to be successful, I think they should be commended, as well, because they are all part of our team, as our fans who have been very supportive of this team and we appreciate that.

So with that, any questions.

Q. Earlier this week Jim said that part of him Saturday kind of wants to make you proud. Are you proud of what he's done at Colorado State and so far at Florida?
COACH SABAN: I think when you have anyone who has been on your staff before, been a part of the team who helped you build a program and Jim was on our staff early on when we were building a program, did a fantastic job for us, you always hate to see them go to the next spot but you're always happy to see them fulfill their professional goals and aspirations by getting an opportunity to be a head coach.

And you always watch and hope that they do well. And you're very proud of them when they do well. So we're certainly proud of the job that Jim did at Colorado State, as well as what he's done at the University of Florida this year. I think that's the way it is with all the guys out there that have worked for you before.

You feel like they are a part of your family, so it's not really any different than someone in your family that goes out and has success. You're really happy for them and you hope that maybe some experience that they gain from being in our program is helping them be more successful now.

Q. Jim was cutting up in here with us. What was he like in the coach's room? Was he as lighthearted as he is with us in the media?
COACH SABAN: Jim is a really serious, attention-to-detail sort of guy that has a fantastic sense of humor. And I think that's always appreciated when you have coaches that are like that. It always creates a great balance on a staff when you have some guys that are serious, some guys that are maybe yell a little more and other guys are maybe a little quiet in the way they teach and some guys are funny and some guys are dry. It's the combination of all those things that I think makes a successful staff. You certainly don't want to have all everybody the same or everybody that wants to be like the head coach.

Everybody needs to be themselves, and I think having diversity in personalities on the staff is really healthy, and Jim was always a guy that had a great sense of humor and made other people feel really comfortable on our staff.

Q. In regards to Treon Harris, when you've got a kid who has had his challenges, so to speak, but he has made some big plays this year, in working with your defense in preparation, do you dwell on the possibility of him making good plays again and making big plays like he has on occasion, or go after the weaknesses that he's displayed? Where is the balance on that?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that our players have to understand that Treon Harris is a very talented young man who has tremendous capability of making big plays with his feet or with his arm, either one, and those are challenging quarterbacks to play against.

And I think you try to teach the players the things they need to do to try to control, minimize, make him work hard to be able to do those things, and that's the approach that you use. You know, we don't dwell on the negatives and we really don't dwell on the positives. We dwell on here is what we think you need to do to be successful playing against a guy that has these sort of skill sets.

Q. What's going to be key for your team both sides of the ball going against their front seven but also against their offensive line, and on their side offensively, not only with their front seven but where their secondary can also hurt you, as well?
COACH SABAN: Well, they are an outstanding defensive team, so the first thing you need to do is take care of the ball and the second thing you need to do is try to minimize negative plays, which is going to come with good execution, guys playing together, communicating well, getting a hat on a hat, whether it's a run or a pass.

But I think you do have to have balance in a game like this against a team like this, and I think that's going to be really key. Staying out third-and-long, because of the athleticism that they have is probably a real key because doing well on third down keeps drives alive and helps you control the football. And somewhere along the line, we need to make some big plays. So those are probably the key things for us on offense.

Defensively, they have a very talented team. They have really good skill guys, good runner, quarterback is a very talented guy. It's going to be a challenge for our entire defense for sort of -- everybody has to do their job and we can't make mental errors. We have to do a good job of tackling good skill players, and our front has got to do a really good job of controlling the line of scrimmage and the quarterback in the pocket.

And if we could get some turnovers, that would probably be very helpful, as well.

Q. You mentioned the other day that Jim used to early on in games would have a trick play up his sleeve just to kind of get the opposing defense off its game. Do you prep for that or how do you prepare for something that you don't know what's coming?
COACH SABAN: Well, there's always the possibility, because when you're a defensive player, every time you line up, you don't know what's coming. If you play offense, you call the play in the huddle or they hold up, I guess not in this day and age -- when I played, you got in the huddle. Now they hold up a sign or something that tells everybody whether the formation of the play is and everybody sort of creates the action.

So on defense, you never really know what the play is going to be, and you react to whatever the offensive team does and the discipline that you play defense with is really critical, because there's a little sign where we come out of the locker room in Bryant-Denny Stadium, it's a picture of Coach Bryant, it's really a metal plaque of Coach Bryant that says that "football is a game of discipline I control," which means you look at the right thing. If you look at the right thing, you have a chance to react to the play like you need to, whether it's a trick play or one of their basic runs or basic passes.

So this is going to be critical on every play that we play in this game, for our defensive players to play well.

Q. Your defense has been so good this year, I think you're No. 2 in the country total defense. Their offense I think is 104th in the country. Is it worrisome to you that not many people are giving them a chance to score much on you, and is that that you were talking about earlier in the week when you said "setup"?
COACH SABAN: That's what I was talking about. But I'm not a statistics guy, so I didn't know any of those things that you just said and I would have not thought that our defense was that good. I think their defense is probably that good.

And I would not have thought that their offense is ranked where they are, because they have made lots of plays and played well, especially when they needed to at times, and seemed to play well in certain games.

So we see a lot of capability there, and a lot of ability to make plays. You know, a system that's implemented by players that is difficult to defend; and I'm talking about their offensive philosophy, Coach McElwain's philosophy of how they do things. But they have talented players and their players are capable of making plays.

I've said it before: They have got a talented quarterback, they have got a really good runner and they have got really good skill guys on offense, and their defense is one of the best in the country. And they played great on special teams, too. They struggled a little bit at the field goal kicker but other than that, they have outstanding special teams returners, make big plays, score a lot of points when the offense is not on the field.

So there's a lot of ways to score points in the game, and look, we haven't beat a team that's won ten games all year. So we feel this is the best team we played all year.

Q. How has Kirby Smart evolved in your years together on staff as a coach?
COACH SABAN: Well, Kirby's been with me for a long, long time. So I've been getting a lot of these memory-jogging questions this week, which I guess there's a name for that when you get older, but I won't elaborate.

But you know, Kirby was really enthusiastic, bright, good teacher, related well with players when he first started. And because he's bright, he really not only learned the system, but he also understood how to implement it and really understands football very, very well. Understands offensive football very, very well, because I think being a defensive coach, I think that's what you have to do.

His leadership with what he's responsible for, which is the defense, for us has been outstanding. Got good relationships with the players. They respond well to him. He's sound in how he goes about the things that we do and we've worked together for a long, long time. He's as good an assistant coach and as loyal an assistant coach as I've ever had on my staff.

You want to ask something else?

Q. It sounds like -- talking about your relationship --
COACH SABAN: I think any time -- people that work together on a staff, it's for a long time, it's like part of your family. I talked about this at the lunch on. Nobody's ever looked at it this way, but we're kind of bigamists as coaches. We're married, we have families, but we're also married to our job. And you have to be married to your job and spend a lot of time with the relationships of the players and the coaches and the people.

So if you can just sort of look at it that way, you have a family there, too, so you do develop relationships and you do care about these people, and you care about their families and you care about their well being. You understand their goals and aspirations and like to help give them direction so that they have a chance to reach those goals and aspirations.

So I'm always happy to see anyone on our staff who has done a great job for us get the opportunity that they have worked so hard for.

Q. Last year, you had a team that won the SEC Championship and also you had a lot of returning players from that team this year for the SEC Championship, so when it comes to your coaching and preparation, was it easier considering the fact that you got a lot of guys that know what it takes to win a championship?
COACH SABAN: I don't know how to answer that question. I don't think anybody's won back-to-back SEC championships for a long time. You guys are great at the stats. I'm sure you can come up with that number quickly, but it's been awhile.

So I like the way our team has prepared for this game. I like the maturity that they have shown all season and how they have responded to the challenges that they have. I think they respect the team they are playing and think it's the best team we've played all year, and I think they have a good understanding of how they are going to have to play in the game to have a chance to be successful.

But the best fighter doesn't always win the fight. You've got to fight your best fight in the ring and that's certainly what we're going to have to do in this game. And I don't know that any past experience is going to have any effect on that. It's going to be what happens now, all right, which means when the game starts tomorrow, and how we play and how we execute.

Q. Florida's secondary has been very impressive this year. What stands out to you about what they have done back there?
COACH SABAN: Well, first of all, they are very physical. They have got good size. They are good tacklers and they have got good cover guys and have good ball skills, and they are very sound in executing what they do.

They are very athletic. They have got good players. They are all instinctive in terms of ball skills, reaction. So it's a very impressive group. They have done a really good job all season long.

Q. Jim said that after he had accepted the Colorado State job that you had helped him organize basically dividing his time between some of the recruiting calls and things he had to do for Colorado State versus what he had to do with you guys at Alabama, and kind of referenced what you did with the Browns and Michigan State. How did you help him organize what he had to do for Colorado State and also what he had to do for you?
COACH SABAN: Look, I learn all these things from other people, and when other people do good things for you, you think that would be a good thing to do for somebody else.

When I was at the Cleveland Browns in 1994 with Bill Belichick and we were going to go to the playoffs as a team, I happened to get the Michigan State job around this time or whatever, but said that I would not leave the team until, you know, we finished the season and were out of the playoffs. We had a very good defensive team and very close to the players.

So Bill and Art Modell set up -- had a person that helped organize all the phone calls coming in so that when I was working as a Cleveland Browns coach, I wouldn't have to deal with all that stuff. And then when I went home at night, they gave me all the people who called, whether they wanted jobs or recruiting issues or whatever it was, and I'd look at it on my way home, maybe I'd look at it in the morning on the way in, and then I'd hand back and say, please do this, they would do it, and I could go focus on what I was doing for the Cleveland Browns.

So we tried to organize a very similar circumstance for Jim and that was very helpful to us. Hopefully it was helpful to him, because he did a really good job and we played really well on offense in the National Championship Game and ended up winning.

Q. Obviously you played Florida last year -- are you surprised he's turned around there this quickly?
COACH SABAN: Not at all. I have a lot of respect for Jim as a coach and have a lot of respect for the kind of players that Florida have on their team. It's a fine line between 6-6 and 10-2. It's a fine line. Win a couple close games, players get a little momentum, more guys buy in, all teams have to overcome adversity how they respond to that. They have done a fantastic job this year, and it's not really a surprise to me at all.

Q. Were Ole Miss able to stop a flukey play against Arkansas, they might be here instead of your team. Does that illustrate how difficult it is to win and maybe your program -- people think it's easy and maybe is it really harder than what a lot of people think, considering the success you guys have had?
COACH SABAN: Well, it certainly isn't easy and it's not easy for anybody in the organization. It's not easy for the players. These guys do a lot of hard work, work a lot of long hours. The players practice -- and these are players, these are college students, and that's something that people overlook and realize. They have tests. We have finals week next week. We have an 86 percent graduation rate, so we expect our guys to do those things the right way. That takes a lot of time. Most of you probably were students at some point in time and probably understand that.

And so it's not easy at all, and it's not easy to -- consistency and performance define success. It's not easy to deal with success. It's not easy to deal with failure. So to have the right psychological disposition to be able to sustain all those ups and downs and look at every one of those challenges as a test, not a sign of what's going to happen; it's a test of how you respond to it, how you react to it and how you try to take advantage of it, good or bad. That's the only way you have a chance.

And to get young people to really understand that, buy into it, have the maturity to sustain it throughout a season is very, very difficult. And I have a lot of respect for the way people compete, the way they play, how hard their players play, and not just did they win or lose. And you're right, we are fortunate that the ball bounced -- our team did everything they can do in terms of how they responded the rest of the season, and you know, when we lost a game early, we didn't control our own destiny. So somebody else helped us.

Q. Kind of staying with that thought, is that one of the most satisfying aspects of your job in coaching college athletes is rebuilding teams year after year, teaching them and seeing them get it?
COACH SABAN: Well, that's always the goal, but still, it's all about how you finish. I mean, I'm very proud of what our team has accomplished to this point in the season, but the legacy of the team really is about how they finish the season. And really, how you've taught those lessons, a part of that is how you finish the season, too.

So you know, when we look at the cut-up some day down the road, are we going to see their guys playing their best when their best is needed, which is in championship games; and this is certainly a Championship Game. That's the challenge that we have. And it's self-gratifying to see, but it's disappointing when you can't come through for your players to help them do that when they need you the most.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, we appreciate your time.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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