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January 10, 2016

Nick Saban

Dabo Swinney

Phoenix, Arizona

NICK SABAN: First of all, I'd like to thank the College Football Playoff and Executive Committee Director Bill Hancock and his staff for putting on a first-class, obviously tremendous for the playoffs, event that I think is great for college football, and the hospitality here in Arizona has been fabulous, and we certainly appreciate that. I'd also like to congratulate Dabo and his team for their outstanding season. Going undefeated is very difficult to do, and we certainly have a lot of respect for their players and their accomplishments, their coaching staff, and the great job that they've done all season long.

Our players are very excited about the opportunity they've created for themselves to have a chance to participate in the College Football Playoff against arguably the best team in college football, which is the Clemson Tigers. Our focus and attention is to try to play the best game we possibly can, which is probably what we're going to need to have success.

Again, we appreciate the College Football Playoff and the committee for all that they've done to create this outstanding event.

DABO SWINNEY: Good morning, everybody. I can't really see anybody, so I'm just talking to lights here. But good morning.

It is an honor to be here, and I would just echo what Coach Saban said. I really appreciate Bill and Michael Kelly and all of the CFP staff. I know we've got a ton of volunteers here that come from all over the country I'm learning, as they really pull all the logistics of this thing together. They've done a phenomenal job. It's been a great experience starting with the semifinal in the Orange Bowl. But this has been great for our program, great for our team. This was our goal was to have the opportunity to compete at the highest level, and not only are we getting a chance to do that, but we're getting a chance to play the University of Alabama, which to me has been the standard in college football for a long time, but certainly since Coach Saban has been there. They've just been incredibly consistent, so to me this is the way it ought to be.

I am very proud of our team, to go 14-0 is really difficult to do, and for these guys to rise up and accept every challenge and get themselves ready each and every week is a great compliment to our team. But same thing to Alabama. For them to win their league and put another year together like they have and their fourth National Championship appearance in seven years, just can't congratulate them enough.

So we're excited about it. Looking forward to it. You know, it won't be long now.

Q. Nick, if you could just comment on what your analysts do and maybe the evolution of support staff over your career?
NICK SABAN: Well, you know, we love it that we can have some extra guys around that are young guys that aspire to be coaches, and I think one of the most difficult things about our profession is how do you get experience so that you can grow and develop as a coach. The fact that we can have a few extra guys now to be analysts, to break down film, to do quality control-type work, you know, I think as an entry level that is beneficial to some guys that can move on maybe to be graduate assistants, get on the field and get some coaching experience. Regardless of where they need to start professionally, I think this is a great thing for our profession, to be able to help develop coaches, and I think those guys now have created a role and a niche for themselves that's very important to every program because we all depend on them.

Q. For both coaches, how does your team physically, mentally and stamina-wise, going into a 15th game, and can you imagine having to play one more to win the National Championship?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think we're in as good a shape as you can be. I think the schedule has set up well for us. We finished the season playing 10 in a row, and the last stretch of that was a challenge because this is obviously a physical game, and it's mentally taxing, and the balance of school and all those things, you know, mount up.

But our guys did as good a job as they could handling that. We had the extra game with the championship game, but I thought we managed things well getting ready for the bowl game. We were able to really get our team physically and mentally and emotionally kind of geared back up, and I think the timing of this has been excellent because it's almost like we've got ready for the opener again. Just had a little more time than you normally do, and this is kind of the next game from a prep standpoint. Had a couple extra days, but I think it's good, good as it can be, but it certainly is a long season, and our guys are ready to go.

NICK SABAN: Well, I think that as a coach you certainly acknowledge the fact that your players are going into the 15th game of the season, and I think you have to respect that in every way. You try to get people not to focus on necessarily how they feel but to make decisions about what they need to do to continue to play well. After coaching in the NFL where you play a 16-game season, if you get in the playoffs it's 17, 18 games, whatever, I think that you kind of try to get the players to focus on doing the things that they need to do to accomplish their goals and not focus so much on how they feel because I do think it's a long season for them. They are young players. But our guys have done a really good job of sort of using the rest time that they have, that when we are practicing and preparing, their focus has been good.

Q. Dabo, I was curious when you fell in love with the acronyms and if Clemson fans send you any suggestions and do you have a new one ready for tomorrow?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I've got a few acronyms, but to me that's just something I've done my whole life. When I was in school that was just the way I would learn, kind of help me to bring life to what I was trying to learn at the time, and I love words. I think that there's power in certain words, and sometimes you can take a word like best, and what does that mean. I mean, and then I'll kind of bring it to life and I'll define it for the team, sometimes with an acronym.

That's it. I don't have anything new for this one.

Q. Coach Swinney, you went through this as a player, at least certainly a comparable situation, in which you were really more of an underdog against Miami than Clemson is a slight underdog, I guess, tomorrow. But in the buildup to that when you were in New Orleans, anything that you learned, anything that carries over to this preparation?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think the biggest thing is you just -- that stuff really doesn't matter. I mean, it's truly how you play the game and how you play the game is a direct reflection of how you prepare, how you think. That's really what matters. And that particular team that year, I think one of the things that I thought gave us an edge, we were, I think, about a 13 or 13-and-a-half point underdog going into that game, but that was the first year that we had the SEC Championship, and I remember it vividly because Coach Stallings was not happy because I guess we were 11-0 at the time, we played 11 games, and we've got to go play this extra game called the SEC Championship that nobody else in the country had, and we're playing the Gators, and Coach Spurrier and the Fun and Gun and all that. They were pretty good.

And Miami is sitting at the house just hanging out, No. 1 team in the country, and Heisman Trophy winner. But I really thought that that game gave us a little bit of an edge because of how we had to get ready again, and then you win that game, and you are 12-0, and you just beat Florida.

I thought it just kind of solidified that mentality of, you know what, let's get this done. I thought our week of preparation in New Orleans was tremendous, and we just didn't get distracted by all the stuff that really doesn't pertain to how you play the game.

We had a great plan. We executed the plan very well. And that's really what it comes down to. All that other -- it was two great teams, and it's always about the same things: Turnovers, it's winning your individual match-ups, it's big plays and special teams. These are the same things tomorrow night. These are two great teams that they weren't picked to be here. They earned their way here, and it'll come down to those same things. Very small margin for error.

Q. Dabo, is there any update on Shaq's status, and do you and he still plan to have him out there tomorrow?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah. Yeah, we expect him to play. Hopefully he'll be able to perform and play to the level that we all know he can, but you know, if not, I don't think Coach Saban is going to cancel the game over there. We're going to have to keep playing, so we'll put the next guy in there. So that's just the way it is. But we expect him to play, and he looked good yesterday. But again, until you get out there and you're playing in a game of this magnitude with the intensity and physicality, you never know.

But he's done everything that he needs to do to play the game.

Q. Dabo, I don't know whether you hear from your college teammates under normal circumstances; are you blocking their calls? What sort of reaction are you getting from them?
DABO SWINNEY: No, no, I hear from -- to speak to what Cecil said a minute ago, that's really the reason we won the National Championship in '92, and you've got to remember it was a different Alabama than when it is with Coach Saban now. It had been a long time since Alabama had won a National Championship. It had been since the '70s when we won it in '92, so that was like an eternity for Alabama.

But our team had such a great respect and appreciation for one another. We had a great chemistry and leadership, and guys really loved one another. And the reason that we won the National Championship in '92 is still alive and well today, and that's the relationships that we had as a team. I hear from all those guys all the time. Tons of those guys come up to Clemson games, and hey, I've been at Clemson for 13 years, so I've got guys that bring their kids to camp. I mean, we're friends. These are deep relationships that go back to when you're 18, 19 years old, and that doesn't change just because everybody kind of goes their separate ways.

But it's been special. It's been really fun. I've had a lot of fun. I've had some that have been giving me a hard time, like little Mark McMillian, who lives out here in Arizona now, but I've heard from lots of people, and they all wish us well. Everybody is pulling for a great game. I appreciate their support.

Q. You said that Alabama has -- the standard that Coach Saban has set at Alabama. As a coach can you talk about how difficult that is and knowing your history at Alabama to appreciate what he has done there?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah. I mean, it's incredible. Coach Saban and what he's done, I mean, he's one of the greatest coaches that's ever coached the game. I mean, regardless of what happens Monday night, you can't argue that. He's already won four National Championships. This is the first one I've sniffed as a coach, and he's going for his fifth. It's incredible.

It's one thing, people sometimes will say, well, anybody can go win at Alabama. Well, no, that's not the case. Not everybody can coach a great team. Not everybody can coach a great player, and I think that he has a gift to be able to do that.

But you have to be able to recruit consistently at this level. And you've got to be able to put a staff together and build that, and so you have to have a vision for what you want to do, articulate that vision, have your core values, and I think he's done a great job in instilling that at the University of Alabama, and the consistency is unprecedented. I mean, it's just incredible, especially in today's time when you're playing 13, 14, 15 games. It's just very difficult to do.

I have great respect for that. In fact, I've got 11 guys on my staff in different capacities that have won National Championships, and I've kind of talked to them and got them all up in front of the team. You take a guy like Dan Brooks, for example. Dan Brooks has been coaching 42 years, and he's coached at Florida and Tennessee and North Carolina and Clemson. This guy has been at some great programs, and he's got one National Championship. It's really hard to do. And if you look around, I don't know, maybe there's probably only 34 or 35, maybe 36 programs that have ever won a National Championship in the history of college football.

I think it's amazing what they've done, but that's why they're the University of Alabama and I have all the respect in the world for what they're doing, and that's what we want to become as a program. We want to be a program that is competing at this level on a consistent basis, and I think to do that, you've got to be a top-10, top-15 type program year in and year out. That's the thing that I'm most proud of with our program, because only us and Alabama have had five 10-plus win seasons in a row. So that's the type of consistency that you have to have and the type of culture that you have to establish in your program to have the opportunity.

This is a culmination of seven years of a lot of consistency, and you know, hopefully this won't be our first time. Hopefully we can be back. I don't know if we can make it four out of the next seven years, but it won't be for a lack of effort.

Q. Coach Saban, the players that you recruit and sign typically have dozens and dozens of offers, many of which come with some promises of immediate playing time. What do you tell players who maybe come to expect maybe an offer with playing time, what do you tell them to have them buy into Alabama where there's the potential they could sit one or more years?
NICK SABAN: Well, we've had a significant number of players play early in their career and make an impact as freshmen. I think probably four or five a year, and certainly we've had three or four on this year's team that have done an outstanding job.

I think we try to create and tell everyone that they're going to get an opportunity to play, and I think one of the things that sort of gets created now in recruiting and college football because of all the recruiting services and five-star, four-star and all this, is an expectation that every young man has, which sometimes can be a little bit unrealistic, maybe if you look at football as really a development, mental game.

So sometimes guys are changing positions, sometimes they're playing positions where time and development is critical to them being able to be successful at that position, and every player is different. So we try to get our guys to focus on what do I need to do to be a complete player at my position, and focus on the development of what they need to do, and possibly, you know, where can I be the best player three years from now. I may have more value; where can I develop to be the most successful person, and where do I have the best opportunity to get an education and develop a career off the field, and my development as a player will be evaluated, really if I want to develop a career as a football player, more after three years than after one year.

So those are the things that we try to emphasize to players. I think guys going to college, we care about the person first and their development, and hopefully our program is something that will help them be more successful in life for having been involved in the program, and they'll learn some of the things that are critical to being successful and get an education, develop a career off the field. They all have a lot more days ahead of them when they're not going to play football than when they are, and the fact that we have 29 guys in this game that already have degrees and have one of the highest graduation rates in the country I think is something that I'm proud of as well as the success that our players have had on the field.

Q. Dabo, like Coach Saban just said, developing the person, you spoke yesterday about the results don't mean as much to you as seeing the maturity of players. Was there someone from your early years as a head coach who's come back and let you know how much the lessons you tried to impart meant, one or two people that it's really meant a lot to you to see them come back and show that maturity?
DABO SWINNEY: Oh, that's the best part of coaching is just you love to see guys develop into good players, but the transformation that they make into men, and the understanding of the values that you try to instill in them through your program is special. I always tell these guys, you know, I don't always like them, but I always love them, kind of like my kids. I care more about -- I'm going to meet them all when they're 35, Lord willing, and I care more about that meeting when they're 35 than I do how they feel right now, because that to me is the true test of a coach, is when you meet that guy at 30 and 35, does he turn and go the other way, or does he come and hug your neck, when he really knows what life is about and he's got the family and he's had a lot of adversity and he's been out there in the real world and really understands, does he have an appreciation for the things that you tried to teach him in that small span, but such a critical time in all these young peoples' lives. Four or five years is such a moment, it really is a moment, but it's so critical, and I just take a lot of pride in that.

I want to impact these guys' lives, and I've had so many of them, whether it's a guy like Dwayne Allen, who might be the worst freshman I've ever been around in my life, and he's going to be really mad at me, but he was just awful. And I was an interim when he was redshirt, and then I get the job, and I'm like, you need to leave here because I can't coach you, and you don't want to be coached, and we can't coexist, so you need to go transfer.

He thought he was going to come in there and say, hey, I'm leaving and this and that and I'm going to beg him. I said, well, listen, Stephanie's office is right down there on the right, she's got your papers ready, and good luck to you. And to see now that he's up for the NFL Man of the Year, you know, and he made a decision. He stayed and he bought in, and he changed.

He's a great player in the NFL right now, but that's not what it's about. I've had guys that I've had to dismiss from our program that I just got a letter from a young man named Kenneth Page, first year or so in my program, and as a coach you never want to do that. That's like the last thing you want to do, but sometimes that's just the way it is. And sometimes that's the best way you can help them.

I got an unbelievable letter from a guy named Kenneth Page that I had to dismiss, and it wasn't a pleasant ending. But now he's a youth pastor, and he's out impacting the world, and he wanted me to know how that decision made him a better man and what he learned from that.

So all of those things are important. But ultimately as Coach Saban said, if it's not about relationships, if it's not about building men, then I don't care what your record is on the scoreboard; you lose. That's just what I tell my staff all the time. If they leave our program and all they know is how to sack a quarterback, cover a wideout or run a ball or throw a ball or catch a ball, then we lose, and we've failed at our job. That's just my personal opinion, and that goes back to my experiences with my coaches. I mean, Billy Tohill, my high school coach at Pelham, Alabama, and he was the head coach at TCU at one time, that guy was as tough as they came, and the lessons that I learned from him, the toughness, the belief that he instilled in me as a player, and the same things as I went on to Alabama from Coach Curry and Coach Stallings and Coach McCorvey and on and on and on, my coaches had a huge impact in shaping my life and shaping a path for me and helping me become a good dad and a good husband, and now hopefully a coach who loves his players.

That's what it's all about to me.

Q. Nick, this is in all likelihood the last time you and Kirby Smart will be on the same sideline. How will you look back on your relationship with him and how appropriate would it be to close out a championship?
NICK SABAN: Well, Kirby has been with me a long time, all the way back to LSU days, Miami days, and the entire time we've been at Alabama, nine years. Kirby has done a fantastic job in every way in terms of relationships with players, developing players, recruiting players, doing a good job of implementing scheme, system, getting people to buy in and believe in. Kirby has done a fantastic job, and I certainly appreciate the fact that he's stuck here with us and done a really good job so far in trying to finish this year for our players, and I think that's the number one reason that he's here. I'm sure he's going to be a very, very successful head coach.

But these things are inevitable when you have really good assistant coaches that they work hard to aspire to have the next opportunity. I appreciate and respect the great job that they did for us, but it also makes you pleased and happy and proud to see them get an opportunity to do the things that they wanted to do.

You know, it's sort of like you have a son and he's moving away, and you want to see him do really, really well because we all go through stations of life where things change, so now someone else will have a better -- an opportunity. Kirby will have an opportunity. Somebody will have an opportunity to do what he does, and hopefully we can provide a little leadership and guidance that will help him along the way have a chance to be successful.

Q. Coach, talking with a lot of coaches across the country, they talk about your program, great relevance, of course, in terms of them trying to reach the plateau where you're at right now. So often we hear the term "gold standard." As the leader of that organization called the University of Alabama football program, talk about the gold standard and what that means to you, what your goals have been as the head coach to reach the highest plateau and to maintain the consistency to stay there over the years.
NICK SABAN: Well, my goal is to create value for our players. That's always been the goal for me as a coach. And I touched on this before in terms of personal development, thoughts, habits, priorities that are going to help guys make good choices and good decisions that will allow them to take advantage of their gifts, which is going to give them a better chance to be successful in their life, how to set a goal, how to understand a process of what you have to do to accomplish a goal, and the discipline it takes to execute that on a day-to-day basis.

Getting an education is a big part of that, so that's something that we really, really emphasize with our players, and we've had success for a number of years being able to do an outstanding job relative to that so that players are developing careers off the field. We want to help them develop as football players. I have a chance to have individual success as a college football player, have team success, have an opportunity to play in games like this or the playoff game that we had last week, and see if they can develop a career as a football player and play at the next level, and we also, being at the University of Alabama, I think, and the tradition that we have and the number of people who associate with the institution, you can also help guys in terms of career development by using the resources that the institution has.

So these are all things that we try to create value for players, which when you have good players and you're able to recruit good players, then you do a good job of creating relationships and helping them develop, I think the end result is you're trying to create value for them and they are doing a good job on the field to try to create value for themselves as football players as well as the program and the team, and that's kind of been what we've tried to do, and that's the standard that we have.

I think the result has been only viewed externally as how many games you win, but that's not really the standard that we operate from internally.

Q. Coach Saban, what has been the final main message that you've given your players going into this game?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think that what we're trying to get our players to do is stay focused on the things that are going to help them play well in the game and not be affected by external factors, all the things that are going on around this game, and it's a big game, there's no doubt, for every player that's created an opportunity to play in it on both sides. But you've got to focus on the next play and do what you have to do to do your job to help your team be successful.

I think that's where you want the players to stay focused, and that's the message that we're trying to give them so that they can go out and have the best opportunity to be successful.

Q. Dabo, you've got a number of juniors weighing their NFL futures. Would you say all of them have handled this whole wait pretty well, and when do you anticipate most of those decisions?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, I pretty much know what everybody is going to do already. It's one of the things that I don't like the timing of all that stuff, but it is what it is, so no sense in acting like it's not there.

They're focused on the game. All these guys understand that they have a tremendous opportunity, and they've done a nice job of focusing on getting themselves ready. But I think decisions or announcements or whatever, Tweets, whatever they do, will be pretty quick when the game is over.

NICK SABAN: Could I make a comment about that? Because I'm going to call Dabo after the game, and last year after our game against Ohio State, I tried to develop a little energy from college coaches who had players that are in this situation that you just asked him about, and the NFL moved the draft back. I wish they'd move the declare date back. I wish they'd make a rule that says you can't even give a player what his draft status is from the NFL playoff committee until they've finished their competition as a college player, so that you don't put them and their family in this situation where there's a big timing issue relative to competition.

Now, if you finished your season on December 6th, you can make a decision. If you're finishing it on January 11th, then you get the information after that, but you have a significant amount of time to make that decision when you finish playing so you can stay focused on what you need to do to play well, because it benefits all these players to play well in the game.

DABO SWINNEY: There's no doubt, it's a distraction that all of us have to deal with. Obviously it's just two of us left at this point. You get the grades, and some guys, they didn't get the grade that they want, so they're pouting a little bit, and got to pick themselves up. Then you get the guy that gets the grade he wants, so it's just -- I echo that 100 percent. It really should be when the season is over, whenever that is, and they should hold those things.

But that's the system we're dealing with right now.

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