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January 12, 2016

O.J. Howard

Eddie Jackson

Nick Saban

Phoenix, Arizona

NICK SABAN: Well, first of all, I'd like to say good morning. I'm sure we all had a very restful, peaceful evening, night, short night. First thing I asked these guys, you get a good night's sleep?

You know, I wish you could turn it on and turn it off, but I wake up at 6:15 every day no matter what time I turn it in, and it was a late night last night, but it was a fun night and one that we'll always remember.

Very proud of our team, the way they competed in the game, the way they made plays when they needed to make them, the way they overcame adversity all year long to get to this point and create an opportunity for themselves that they were able to take advantage of. Can't say enough about everybody involved with our team, talking about the coaches and the players and our administration at the University of Alabama and all the people who work in administrative roles to set the table to help us have a chance to be successful.

I know we all appreciate all that they do, and obviously being able to accomplish things like this is something that's special for all these players that they'll remember for the rest of their lives. We're just really, really humbled, honored and pleased that we were able to accomplish this with this team, and I'm very proud of this group.

Q. I was curious, this is the fourth in seven years for Alabama; what in your opinion is the historical significance of that?
NICK SABAN: Well, I know you all think I'm a little bit crazy, so I'll just go ahead and be crazy. I think that sometimes success can put a distorted perspective on things for you to some degree. I look back to 1998 when we were 4-5 at Michigan State and we were going to Ohio State to play the No. 1 team in the country, if somebody would have told me then that this would have happened, I would have said, I think you're crazy.

But you remember those times, and you remember all the lessons that you learned in terms of developing a process that works for young people to have a chance to be successful, a team dynamic that gives you a chance to be successful, and right now as long as I'm going to continue to do this, I'm going to keep things in perspective and look forward and not backward. I think it's a tremendous accomplishment by a lot of great people, a lot of great coaches and a lot of great players, a lot of whom were at the game last night. That really makes us proud that they're great ambassadors for the university, and always happy to come home.

I can't really talk to you much more about the perspective and the significance of this, because moving forward, it doesn't really mean a lot.

Q. Nick, you're going to lose any number of starters and underclassmen, you're going to lose your defensive coordinator. Quantify what the rebuild is going to be like coming back to win another championship.
NICK SABAN: You know, I always think there's -- when you have success, and we've had this just about every year, I think it's a transition that every team has to go through, and it's like taking a new job. It's a new season, it's a new team, new group of guys, new leadership. People are in different roles and that's the challenge each and every year. Obviously recruiting is important and continuity is important in recruiting. Players are important in recruiting, relationships are important in recruiting.

So all these things are just transitions that you have to go through to try to do the best to build the strongest team for next year.

Q. Nick, does doing this over and over take its toll in any way on you, and how long do you feel like you can keep this going?
NICK SABAN: I don't feel like it takes a toll. As long as I enjoy being around players -- I think the self-gratification that people have to understand is I know as fans and I know as people who have interest in the game, the result of the game is really the most significant thing, the most important thing. But I've talked about this before: Perspective of college football is -- I know it's an entertainment business. I get that. I understand that. I know winning is really important. But from a program standpoint, from a philosophy standpoint, helping these young guys develop as people, seeing them have a chance to be more successful in life, seeing them graduate, going to graduation, taking 23 pictures at mid-semester with guys that graduated, having 29 guys playing in this game that already graduated, seeing guys develop the kind of competitive characteristics and work hard to develop physically so they have a chance to play at the next level, see people develop careers, see our institution use the resources it has to help guys launch their careers, I mean, this is what college football is all about. This is the self-gratification that you get from being a college coach.

It's not just winning the game. It's not just winning the championship. It's always the goal as a competitor, but there's a lot more things that are very positive in terms of what you try to do internally in your organization to help people, build relationships, and I think that's the fun part of being a part of a team.

Q. You've talked before a little bit about how special this group is, especially after that loss to Ole Miss, how resilient they've been. Can you address that for us this morning?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think you always have respect for competitors. I mean, it's one of the things that I respect most about people, that if you can say someone is a great competitor, that really is something that I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for. And I think that the competitive resiliency that this team showed, how far they came, how they hung together as a group, the leadership that we had on the team that helped them to stay together as a group, the togetherness that that created, it's really something special. I think if you've never been a part of a team, it's probably hard to understand. But it's fun to be a part of that, everybody working for a common goal every day, not having a lot of people who dissipate from the principles and values which you try to lay down to show them what they need to do to have a chance to accomplish the goals that they have, and when a group of people do that, it's just something really special, and that's what this team has been.

They probably came further as a group because of that than maybe any group that we've ever had.

Q. You mentioned how much longer you might want to do this. Are you at the point in the career and in your life where you have those thoughts, maybe make some considerations, have conversations with your wife and family about how much longer you might want to do this?
NICK SABAN: Well, I didn't know I said anything about that, but the one thing I have always said is I've been a part of a team since I was nine years old. It scares me to ever think of the day when I wouldn't be a part of the team. The feeling that you get being associated with a group like this makes you want to do it more.

That's kind of how I feel about it. I know you can't do this forever, but I certainly enjoy the moment and certainly look forward to the future challenges that we have and really have no timetable for ever not being a part of a team.

Q. Nick, what is the process of sitting down with your juniors and helping them make the decisions they need to make? How does that work?
NICK SABAN: Well, basically I let the players sort of decide how they want to manage that. Each and every year we have a meeting after our last game. This year, last game being SEC Championship Game, to decide who wants to submit to the junior committee to see what their draft status would be.

We have an agent education program that we have people involved with their families as well as the players to teach them the things they need to know about making a good business decision about how they should pursue their future. Then I let the players sort of decide how they want to manage it. Do we want to do this now, between now and the bowl game and now and the playoff game or whatever the circumstance is, or do you guys want to sort of postpone it until we get finished playing. Even though we had guys submit paperwork this year because they have to do it by December 18th, everybody chose to postpone it. So we'll have meetings on Wednesday, tomorrow, when we get back, and I'll share the information that we've gathered from teams as well as the junior committee so that everybody has the best chance to make the best business decision that they can for their future.

I really appreciate the maturity that our guys showed this year in terms of staying focused on what was important for the team and putting that first, and I think it worked out really well for us.

Q. On a lighter note, it was documented on social media that Lane Kiffin missed the bus last night. Do you know what happened with that?
NICK SABAN: He ended up hitching a ride with me. I miss the bus about every game, so I'm always anybody's fall-back for a ride. I just think he was probably happy and taking his good ol' time about talking to players and that type of thing. I don't think it was any -- we enjoyed having him with us. (Laughter.)

Q. Everybody is always going to remember this game and talk about this onside kick because it was so unexpected. Do you see that, though, as a reflection of how well-prepared you were to take the risk in that situation?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think it's a calculated risk when you do something like that, but I think it's calculated based on your ability to execute relative to what the other team is sort of giving you. I think I spoke about this last evening, that you always have fakes in all these areas, and you always have special plays that you might use in certain situations. I think the thing that we look for as the game progresses, are they actually giving us that look that this might have the best opportunity to be effective in. We felt like that was the case last night. I felt like I think the score was 24-24 or something like that when we did it, that we actually needed to change the momentum of the game a little bit. They sort of controlled the third quarter a little bit on us, and it certainly, because it worked and it was well-executed, it was a great kick by Griff, it was a good job by Marlon, to do it exactly like we drew it up, and we scored on a big play, I think, right after that, and I think that changed the momentum of the game and we got ahead in the game which allowed us to play a little differently because we weren't playing great on defense, and obviously Deshaun Watson is a fantastic player, probably had as big an impact on the game as any single player in the game. So to get ahead I think when you're playing against a player like that is really, really important, and I think it helped us change the momentum of the game.

Q. O. J., can you explain just what it's like, how hard the decision is in terms of weighing the option of the NFL to try and help people understand what goes through your head, how difficult of a decision it is, and just the kind of issues and things that you'll be talking about with your coaches and your family?
O.J. HOWARD: You know, I don't think it'll be hard at all. Once I set down with Coach Saban and my family, Coach will help us make the right decision. He's always done that for me since I've been here at the university. You don't have to think about it too much during the season, you just want to play football. If you get focused on trying to leave early, the only things, you mess up on stuff. But at the end of the day I'll sit down with Coach tomorrow, like he said, and we'll make the right decision.

NICK SABAN: I think that one thing that we've tried to emphasize with our players philosophically, maybe I should explain this one, Tony asked me the question earlier, is we try to emphasize with our players if you're a first-round draft pick, the business decision is you should go out for the draft. If you're in a position in the draft where you can enhance your value by staying in college, then maybe you shouldn't go out for the draft. We've had a significant number of players, 17, I think, I might be off one or two, and there were only two of those 17 guys, 15 made good decisions about the best business decision for them. And in some cases, Reggie Ragland last year, had a second-round grade. I'm sure he'll be a top-15 pick this year. If you want to do the math on that, that's like maybe $12-, $14-million decision. Mark Barron did it a few years ago. He was a second-round guy, maybe the seventh pick in the draft. That was a $16, $18-million decision, plus he graduated.

So there's a business aspect to making this decision that I've always tried to get our players to make a business decision. I know every player that's a good player on our team has aspirations and goals and wants to play in the NFL. But you can sort of minimize your value if you get antsy and go out for the draft early because now you're going to sign a three- or four-year contract for a lot less money, and you've got to play with that.

And to me, your value and security as an NFL player is based on how much they pay you, because it's the unearned money that they can't get back on the salary cap that gives you security.

Our players have typically made really good decisions about how they can enhance their future by staying in college and making good business decisions about what they do rather than just emotional decisions about I want to play in the NFL. But sometimes that's not the best thing for them to do at that particular time. The NFL is not going to go away. They'll have all those opportunities next year.

Q. We obviously see a certain side of Nick. Who is Nick Saban that only the players see, and what was it like seeing him celebrate and enjoy last night, the championship?
EDDIE JACKSON: I mean, Coach Saban is Coach Saban, regardless, on and off the field. He's a great coach, a great mentor. Just seeing him with a smile on his face, it was just a great feeling because we know we accomplished something that we worked hard for, came up short two years in a row. We just really -- to accomplish what we accomplished, it just feels good.

O.J. HOWARD: I have to agree with Eddie. Coach Saban has got a coach's heart. We know business is business when we get on that field and we take everything serious, but we have a second side to us when we win. Off the field Coach Saban jokes with us. He laughed like you guys saw last night, and he deserves that. When you win, you should have fun and celebrate.

Q. Eddie and Nick, I want to go back to last night for a second. Ronnie Harrison with that pass breakup in the end zone, how big was that play in the game and what does that say about Ronnie's maturity and how much he's developed as a player?
EDDIE JACKSON: Ronnie is a guy, he comes in, he works hard every day, day in and day out, in the weight room, on the field, off the field he does the right things. Like Coach Saban and the rest of the defensive coaches, they emphasize finishes, and that's basically what he did, he finished, he never gave up on the play, he finished and was able to get the ball out.

NICK SABAN: I guess that was for me, too. Ronnie has done a really good job for us all year long. I think the biggest challenge for young players is how do they stay focused over a long period of time, over a long season, and Ronnie has made some really good plays for us all year long, and I'm sure these experiences are going to help him continue to develop to be a very good player in the future.

You know, just let me put it different: I talk about perspective sometimes, and look, I don't want to minimize anything that was accomplished by this team. But just to put this in perspective, and these guys will kick me for saying this, but if this was the first game of the season instead of last, what would we be talking about now? You guys would be asking me about how did you give up 40 points and how did you get 400 yards passing and all that kind of stuff. I mean, I kind of get it.

Q. Nick, what will be the next college football focused activity or effort you expect of your players when you get back?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think it's been a long season for our players. I think they need some downtime. We typically, if we play on January 1st, don't start until maybe the last week of January, just the lifting program, a couple weeks of off-season program and a couple weeks after that, try to get them recentered academically. We start school tomorrow. So that guys get back in the right routine, developing the right habits about what they have to do to be successful in school.

Recruiting is obviously something that we all participate in. It's very important for the players on your team to contribute to recruiting players that they want to play with or can play with in the future who are talented guys that we need to develop relationships with or need to continue to develop relationships with.

So there's a lot of things going on. The bus doesn't stop. You've got to keep rolling and just take things day by day, but I do think that our players need, from a physical standpoint, a little downtime in terms of what they need to do to get ready for next year, because we've had a significant amount of practice that other people wouldn't have at this time of year. So we need to get some guys healthy and get some rest time, get some downtime before we delve into what we want to do for next year.

Q. O. J., we spoke to you last night on the field. You said you were asking your teammates on the sideline to wake you up. It was kind of like a dream. Well, you're awake right now the day after the game. You're heading back to be a rock star, so to speak, at home. How does it feel?
O.J. HOWARD: It feels great. I wouldn't be able to do all this without my teammates. Jake, he threw the ball to me, offensive line blocked well and gave Jake the opportunity to throw the ball to me. But man, it feels great just to be able to make plays for your teammates and to score a touchdown in such a big game, and I think everybody back home will be proud.

Q. Eddie and O. J., this is the only locker room you're in, but you must know guys on other teams, you talk to guys on other teams and you experience playing other teams. Leaving talent aside, talking more about culture and attitude, what, if any, is different about your guys' team and locker room as opposed to all the others?
O.J. HOWARD: Just that bond that we have. We're all like brothers in the locker room, that friendship off the field, that's the most important thing, I think, is the friendships you build off the field. Everyone has to be on the same page on the field, but when you can become close at home, going out, stuff like that, it builds that tremendous relationship, and I think our team does a great job with that this season.

EDDIE JACKSON: Yeah, I have to agree with O. J. When we're in the locker room, somebody makes a bad play and no one gets on them, come on, pick it up, everyone lifts each other up. Like I said, we're a band of brothers out there, on and off the field. We hang with each other in the locker room, we hang with each other in the dorm room or our apartments or whatever, and we just create a bond.

Q. Eddie, very few people probably expected both you guys to be the MVPs last night. What was your expectation of the game? I know players the night before the game like to fantasize about what they see themselves doing in the game. What was your expectation for the game personally?
EDDIE JACKSON: I mean, I just wanted to come out there and help my team win a National Championship. That was the only thing on my mind. Like MVP wasn't on my mind at all to be honest. Just like Coach Saban say, dominate your box and do your job, so that's what I came out focused on.

O.J. HOWARD: Yeah, you know, that was the biggest thing for me, just dominating my box. I knew they had a good defensive line and my focus was trying to block them out the entire game. But the way they were set up, cover two and cover one, left some opportunities for me to make plays, and that's what really happened. But there was no chance of me thinking about the MVP at all. I just wanted to go out there and play and win a National Championship.

Q. Nick, you've now been through the playoff twice, both of its first two years, and you've mentioned in the past a little bit of concern about as exciting as the playoff is, what effect that would have on the other bowl games, TV viewership was really down this year for games like the Rose and the Sugar Bowls. How concerned should college football be about that going forward?
NICK SABAN: There was a couple things I learned from this. That was my concern when we started all this. But I think our players would sort of agree with me on this, that it was really, really difficult after a long season for us to maintain the sort of intensity that we had. I thought our players were really locked in for the Michigan State game, in the first playoff game, and knowing that we were playing an even a better team in Clemson in this game, it was really hard when we came back after that game, after even we took a couple days off, to sort of get recentered and refocused on playing this game.

So I know that you can say, well, in the NFL they have playoffs, and sometimes you have to play three or four games in the playoffs, but I think professional athletes are a little bit different than college guys that -- these guys gave up their whole sort of vacation from December the whatever it was, 10th, when school was out, until we're going to school tomorrow.

There's quite a bit of sacrifice that gets made, and I think it's a challenging sort of, how do you get a team to maintain the focus that they need to have. I can sit here and say we practiced too much for the game, but yet when I looked out on the field, we had a lot of guys that got tired in the second quarter.

From that perspective -- and I told these guys, and I knew we were struggling psychologically a little bit getting ready for this game. I knew everybody wanted to do it. Everybody was geared up to do it. But I told them, this is a how do you want to be remembered? We always talk about playing 60 minutes, but this is a 60-10 game. It's 60 minutes of the game and then the 10 minutes in the locker room after the game that you remember for the rest of your life, and what you accomplish actually even transcends your life because they put a plaque up that this team won the National Championship, and the 1926 team, who I'm sure most of those players are not around anymore, they still have a legacy.

Now, the accomplishment is significant I guess is what I'm trying to say. But on the other hand, I am concerned about how does a playoff and a bowl system coexist, and how could we make it better if that's possible or get it right. I think it's difficult on the fans, too, as well as I'm sure the players would agree, we go stay in Dallas for a week to play a game, we come home for five days, and we come out here for three or four days to play a game. I mean, that's hard on fans. It's hard on players.

I think it's a great venue. I'm not complaining. But it's just difficult. You don't have that circumstance in the NFL. You play home and away games when you're in the playoffs.

This whole dynamic of how do we keep a healthy bowl system, which I think is great for college football, it's a lot of positive self-gratification for a lot of players who had a good season, and the national interest that we have in a playoff, which sort of overwhelms the importance of all the other bowl games.

Q. O. J., have you wrapped your head around the game you had? Your sophomore year you had 260 yards receiving. You had 205 last night. And Coach Saban, how rewarding is it to see those seniors who were freshmen on the last championship team and not be factors on this championship team?
O.J. HOWARD: Well, man, it was a big game for me last night. I really haven't soaked it all in yet. I haven't had the opportunity to. But like you said, it was a tremendous accomplishment for me. I'm proud of what happened last night for us as a team. It's going to take a couple days before I can realize what really happened for me.

NICK SABAN: I didn't see one guy in the locker room after the game that was celebrating anything but a team win. I didn't see one guy pouting about I didn't get the ball enough. I didn't see one guy pouting about how many yards I gained. I didn't see one guy pouting about how much I got to play. I didn't see that. I saw a bunch of happy guys based on what they were able to accomplish together as a group, and so I don't know that -- I think every guy wanted to do what these two guys said. I want to do everything I can do to help our team have success, and I'm sure they're proud of what they were able to accomplish and achieve in the game, but I think all the players are happy and proud for what the team was able to achieve and how they contributed to it over a long period of time, not just one game, 15 games.

Q. For both players, going back to what Coach Saban said about the toll the playoff takes on you guys, can you just elaborate on that?
O.J. HOWARD: Yeah, like Coach was saying, it was kind of a lot to stay in Dallas for a week, come back home for five days and then come here for three or four days. It's just a lot of traveling. You've just got to get used to the different type of weather. We came here and the humidity was different, had to learn different breathing patterns. We had to start treating our body right by hydrating like a couple days before the game or five days before the game. It was just a lot. But if you want to win a championship, I guess you've got to suck it up and do what it takes to win.

EDDIE JACKSON: I mean, it's tough. It takes a toll on you. You're not able to get settled. Once you get comfortable, then you've got to up and go over here.

So it was difficult, but we have a great training staff and coaching staff to put us in the right positions, keep our body right.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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