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January 11, 2016

Nick Saban

O.J. Howard

Eddie Jackson

Phoenix, Arizona

Alabama - 45, Clemson - 40

NICK SABAN: Well, I'd just like to reiterate once again how proud I am of our team, everybody involved in the team, the players, number one. This was really about doing the best we could to help them have a chance to be successful and have an experience of winning a championship. I think the coaching staff did a great job of helping these guys, and the commitment that these guys made early in the season after the Ole Miss loss, to do all the things that they needed to do to be the kind of team that we could be, I can't say enough about.

This team, I really wanted to do the best that I could do for this team, probably as much as any team that I've ever coached, because I really did want them to have the opportunity to win this game. You've got to give Clemson's team a lot of credit. They've got a great football team. Their quarterback is a fabulous player. Their team played hard.

You know, I would like to congratulate them on the great season that they had.

We didn't always play pretty in this game. It probably wasn't one of our best games when it just comes to flat execution. But when it comes to competing and making plays when we needed to make them, it was probably as good as it gets. I think that's the kind of competitors that win championships, and that's probably why we're sitting here.

I think special teams was huge in this game tonight, kickoff return for a touchdown, onside kick, probably changed the momentum of the game when it was 21-21, and I just think our players took advantage of every opportunity that they had, and never been prouder of any group of guys in my life.

Q. Nick, I wanted to ask you first of all about the onside kick. Whose idea was it on the sideline to go ahead and execute that? And secondly, Marlon Humphrey told me after the game that he drops a lot of those in practice. In fact he said he dropped one in the walk-through. Were you surprised that he caught it?
NICK SABAN: No, I have all the confidence in the world in Marlon. I think these guys see what happens in practice. But the way we line up on kickoffs with squeeze formation and try to corner kick the ball, when a team squeezes the formation like that, we call it pop kick. I thought we had it in the game any time we wanted to do it. I made the decision to do it because the score was 21-21 and we were tired on defense and weren't doing a great job of getting them stopped, and I felt like if we didn't do something or take a chance to change the momentum of the game that we wouldn't have a chance to win.

Getting that onside kick, I think, did change the momentum of the game. We scored on the big play two plays later, and then we had a kickoff return for a touchdown, too, which was huge. So special teams was really big for us in this game.

Q. What were the moments like before and after the game with Kirby? Did you say anything to him? Did he say anything to you? Was it emotional?
NICK SABAN: Well, Kirby has been with us for a long time and done a really, really good job. We certainly wish him the very best. I know this has been a difficult time for him to do the right thing relative to our players who have worked so hard to help him have the success that he has, that we all have, and he did a wonderful job. He really did. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate what he did for our players so that they'd have an opportunity to have this experience.

Q. I know you mentioned the other day you don't like to think about legacies and looking back, but now with five national titles, no coach has won more. That's how many Bear won. Any reflection on where you stand in history?
NICK SABAN: You know, I really haven't thought about it. After somebody asked me that question the other day, the first thing that came to my mind was my first game at Michigan State when we played Nebraska, when Tom Osborne was the coach, and we got beat like 56-7, and I had been in the NFL for four years, and I'm saying, we may never win a game as a college coach. And I remember running across the field and Tom Osborne, I think they won the National Championship the year before and maybe that year, too, he said, you're not as bad as you think. So that's the first thing that comes to my mind.

So I learned a lesson that day, and you know, as long as you do this, it's always about your next play. It's always about the next game. So I've never really ever thought too much about all that. I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for all the players who have played for us, came to our school, bought into our program, did the things that they needed to do to have a chance to experience a championship, whether it was at LSU or the four at Alabama.

That's where most of my appreciation lies is with the players.

Q. From that day against Nebraska, the game has changed dramatically, particularly strategically. You have innovated along with that, but it seems like you have kept a core system in how you recruit, who you recruit, how you coach players, how you relate to players. Why do you believe that's remaining so successful even as so much around the game has changed?
NICK SABAN: Well, you know, my college coach had the same philosophy, and I felt like the things that he did to help me be successful, and I'm talking about Don James, because he taught us a lot of lessons of life, and we want these guys to succeed first of all as people, make the right choices and decisions, the best choices and decisions, have the right thoughts, habits and priorities that help them make those right decisions so they can take advantage of their gifts, first of all, as people. Be more successful in life for having been involved in the program, and all the people in our organization, that's what they work to try to help them do. We want them to all develop a career off the field so that they graduate from school and have a better opportunity to be successful in life, and we have one of the highest graduation rates in the country, and the best in our conference.

And we want to help them develop as football players, and there's a lot of lessons that you can learn on work ethic, overcoming adversity, perseverance, consistency in performance, all kinds of things that come with the games that these guys play.

And I think those things can all be beneficial to help them be more successful in life, and well, as I want to see every guy have an outstanding career.

Sometimes people criticize us and say we're all like business. But I'm going to tell you what, there were more players in the locker room that played for us at Alabama at this game today than I'll bet you anybody has ever had at a game, and that's because they had a great experience at Alabama. They're great ambassadors for the program. We have a tremendous amount of respect for them, and I think they sort of respect the things that they learned.

But we are trying to create value for players so that they can have a better chance to be successful. That's always going to come first to me.

Q. Could you talk about what went into getting O.J. Howard more involved today in this game and even in the semifinal game?
NICK SABAN: Well, O.J., quite honestly, should have been more involved all year long. Sometimes he was open and we didn't get him the ball, but I think the last two games have been breakout games for him in terms of what he's capable of and what he can do. I would say it's bad coaching on my part that he didn't have the opportunity to do that all year long, because he is really a good athlete, and he's improved tremendously as a player this year. He's improved his blocking.

There were times when as Jake was developing we were protecting sort of what we did, and I think that that affected O.J. maybe a little bit in terms of what his production was, but I can tell you that there was not one time that he ever complained about it and not one time did he ever not go out there and do exactly what the coach asked him to do, even when he wasn't catching a lot of passes or scoring a lot of touchdowns.

Q. A couple of your assistants said one reason you made the call of the onside kick was that you wouldn't care if anybody said if it failed. I'm curious if you consider it a gutsy call and is it a call you would have made as a younger head coach?
NICK SABAN: Look, I felt pretty good about our chances of getting the onside kick because Griff kicks it well. We did it in practice most of the time. And I didn't think it was -- I had confidence in the players. I trusted them, that they would go out and execute it and do it.

I mean, if we didn't get it, they'd have got the ball on the 45 or 50-yard line, so it's not really like it would have been the end of the world, but it was worth the risk I felt. But it was calculated on the fact that I thought we could execute it and the way they lined up, it was available to us. And it was something that I knew that we would use in this game if we needed to.

Q. Nick, we spoke with Kenyan Drake earlier about how he had so much perseverance to fight through injuries and setbacks. How nice was it to see him play in this game?
NICK SABAN: Well, Kenyan has been through a lot and we thought he would have a tremendous breakout season. When the season started, I didn't know who would be more productive, Derrick Henry or Kenyan Drake. I thought they both would be. Kenyan fought, whether it was hamstrings or all kinds of injuries, then he got a little frustrated and put a lot of pressure on himself, and got him settled down and that and he started to be productive, and as soon as he started to be productive he broke his arm so he missed a couple of games. But he's really done a great job for us all year in whatever his role has been. I always like to see guys that are seniors who have been great contributors in the program do something special that's going to be a great memory to them, and that kickoff return was really something special.

Q. Nick, the three BCS championship games you coached in here at Alabama, mostly you guys were in control in the fourth quarter. Obviously this one was a dogfight going into it and throughout you had to deal with a quarterback like Deshaun Watson. How hard was this National Championship?
NICK SABAN: It was tough. It really was. I think offensively we did a nice job of -- we knew it would be a little big-little I call it in this game. They do a lot of pressuring, stunt linebackers. We knew that sometimes that they would give us some negative plays. I wasn't happy about the sacks. But I also knew that we would be able to make some big plays against them because of the way they played, and I think that was really big in this game.

We felt like we had to win special teams in this game. We thought, to be honest with you, that we could do a better job against their quarterback than what we did. He did a fantastic job in the game. We didn't cover as well as we're capable of, and we weren't able to handle him up front with our rushers, and I think they had 80-some plays, and we got tired probably in the second quarter, and once that happened, it was even worse.

You know, we like to play more man-to-man, but when you play against such an athletic quarterback and you're playing man-to-man, nobody is looking at the quarterback so that makes it tough, and when we did play zone tonight we didn't do a very good job, we didn't tackle very well, break on the ball like we needed to. He extended some plays and made some big plays, but the guy is a fantastic player.

I think when you play players like this, the whole team has to win. It's not just the defense stopping him, it's the offense doing what they need to do, making plays on special teams that you need to make.

And that's what we were able to do in this game, and didn't control him as well as we'd like, and obviously we thought that we could, at least in the end, milk the clock so they wouldn't score again, but 12 seconds onside kick, it was over.

Q. Nick, did John Plott and some of your friends and your agent were joking about 24 hours, that this is going to be gone in 24 hours and you're going to go recruiting. When exactly will you turn the page and get out on the road and start recruiting and try to do it all over again?
NICK SABAN: We start school on Wednesday, so we have a meeting with the seniors at 2:00, and a meeting with the rest of the players that are coming back at 3:00. Not that we're really going to start planning any strategy for next season already, but this has been long, 15 games for college football players. And I noticed that we did not have the same juice in this game that we had in the last game against Michigan State.

I think we were really locked in in the Michigan State game. We really practiced well for that game. And I think the players struggled to maintain that, even though they were playing for a National Championship. It's a long time for young players who aren't used to playing this many games to sort of maintain that.

We had some difficult times practicing the way we felt like we needed to practice for this game, and I told the players, I said, look, hard practice, easy game. Easy practice, hard game. I told all the big guys, if you don't rush and run to the ball every time and what we're doing in practice, you're going to die in the game, because this is the kind of game we've got to play. So they got 40 points.

Q. Nick, going back to the onside kick one more time, what exactly was it that you saw because Lane said that you had seen something in the first half that made you decide to do it in the second half?
NICK SABAN: Look, we have fakes in every -- we have a fake field goal, we have a fake when we punt, we have an onside kick, a surprise onside kick. So basically we have someone assigned in the press box who's saying, did they line up like we thought they would. Did they have the play that we want in any of these circumstances.

So we saw that we had that the first time they lined up. They deferred, all right, we received, but the first time that we kicked off, after Derrick's touchdown, we said, okay, we've got that. If we want to try that, we think we have a good chance because of the spacing on the field that's available to us. So it worked.

But let me say this: You don't look like the type that would do it to me, but if we wouldn't have got that, y'all would be killing me now.

Q. Eddie and O. J., two questions: The onside kick is called, what does it do to your sideline, especially when you get it, and second, Nick was asked about his legacy. Where do you put him on the list of great coaches?
O.J. HOWARD: I think the onside kick was a big momentum swing for our team. Like Coach said earlier. It got the sideline energized, everybody was pumped up and we went down and scored on the next drive, so it was a big momentum swing for us.

As far as coach's legacy. He's one of the greatest coaches of all times in my opinion, in a lot of guys' opinion, also. Just to be able to play for him is truly a great accomplishment, a blessing, and I think Coach Saban is going to go down as one of the greatest of all time.

EDDIE JACKSON: I have to agree with O.J., the onside kick was big. We recovered the ball and took the momentum back. As far as Coach Saban goes, I put my trust in Coach Saban 100 percent. I wouldn't want to be no other place and play for no other coach than Coach Saban. He's a great coach, he's a great mentor and he always leads us in the right direction.

Q. O. J., what went through your head when you heard your coach say that you should have been playing more all season long, and the second part of that question is how difficult was it to have that patience?
O.J. HOWARD: You know, it makes me think about coming back and playing and making plays next season for Coach. It'll get me more involved in the offense. As far as that goes, you can't get frustrated when you're not getting the ball. I know how that works, you get frustrated you start messing up plays and then you're getting other guys hurt. If you're missing a block, you're definitely not going to get the ball if you're pouting about it. You've just got to be a good team player and play hard every down, so that's what I continued to do.

Q. O. J., it had been a little while since you caught a touchdown pass. What were you thinking when you got into the end zone?
O.J. HOWARD: Initially it felt like a dream and I tried to tell everybody to wake me up because I thought it wasn't real. It was just a great feeling to get in the end zone again.

Q. O. J., how gratifying is it after the way the season has gone for you to end it the way it has ended?
O.J. HOWARD: This is what we stood up and said at the beginning of the season. We wanted to come out and win a National Championship this season and our team fought hard for that, and I'm just so proud of our team, and no team deserved this more than we do.

Personally, I'm just excited. We got a National Championship win. Our team won the NCAA championship. I just feel great as an individual. I scored a touchdown tonight. I feel good about that, of course, but if we wouldn't have won the game, that touchdown wouldn't mean anything to me.

Q. O. J., a lot of people wrote off Jake Coker when he didn't win the starting job last year. It's very unique that he came in and won a National Championship this year and won the starting job. Your thoughts on his progression as a player.
O.J. HOWARD: So proud of Jake. After the Ole Miss loss is when we saw Jake step up the most. He started becoming a leader, and he started showing determination on the field. He was running the ball and not sliding like a normal quarterback would. He was showing grit. Jake won the whole team over after the loss to Ole Miss. He came in. He didn't start that game, came in and finished the game for us, put us back in the game, gave us a chance to win, and after that game we went undefeated and it was all because of Jake and the rest of the team, but Jake really improved as a quarterback over the last two years.

Q. Eddie, take me through the interception in the second quarter and how much you guys needed that to spring momentum because it felt like Clemson was starting to get some things going there.
EDDIE JACKSON: I mean, it was huge. Our front seven, they gave a great push, and man Geno, they did a little pick route, so I seen that happen, so I just tried to run to the man when he did the wheel, and I was able to make a play.

Q. This table is not big enough for the stars of the game for Alabama. You needed every one of those big plays from every one of the guys. It was a team effort. Do you want to give a shout out to some of your teammates?
O.J. HOWARD: Derrick Henry could be up here where I am. Derrick played a great game like he's been doing for us all season. Our receivers stepped up and made big plays. Our defense they held on and made plays when we needed the most. Special teams, can't thank them enough, six touchdowns this season, tied for the most in the FBS. Special teams also has been special for us, just an overall great team effort.

Q. O. J., on your big plays you were wide open. What did you see on both of those big ones that you had?
O.J. HOWARD: The first touchdown, it was a stork and go block. No guy was over the top, no safety was over the top. I kind of knew that one was going to be open. The second one was just the exact same play from last week against Michigan State. This time I took the middle of the field, nobody was in the middle and it was wide open. Just a great play call by Coach Kiffin. We know those guys play a lot of cover one and cover two, so we took advantage of it.

Q. Lane Kiffin told me that you have a big decision to make. He'll support you either way. What's it going to be?
O.J. HOWARD: Like Coach said, Wednesday we have a meeting. I'm pretty sure my parents will come up there with me and coach and sit down and we'll think hard on it, but at the end of the day, I'll make the right decision.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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