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January 2, 2010

Nick Saban


THE MODERATOR: I'd like to thank everybody for joining us here at Disneyland Resort to talk a little football as we get ready for the BCS National Championship game. The gentleman sitting on my right certainly needs no introduction. He led Alabama this year to a perfect 13-and-0 record, including a very impressive win in the SEC title game in only his third year at Alabama.
Now he's led Alabama back to this championship. It's an opportunity for their first National Championship since 1992. Everywhere Nick Saban has been throughout the collegiate ranks he's had success. He's been named SEC Coach of the Year three different times. In 2003 he won the National Championship with LSU. Nick Saban and Bear Bryant are the only two coaches to win an SEC Championship at two different schools.
This upcoming Thursday night, Coach Saban has the first opportunity to become the first head coach since 1936 in the AP poll era to win a National Championship at two different schools. Coach, thanks so much for being with us, and congratulations on an outstanding year.
COACH SABAN: Thank you. It's great to be here, and I certainly do appreciate the people at Disneyland and ESPN for welcoming our players here and showing great hospitality to them.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, in the modern era of college football, it is so difficult to run the table and go undefeated through a regular season and to win a Conference Championship game. The amount of focus your football team needs to have is really remarkable. Can you talk a little bit about the different characteristics that your football team has this season to accomplish those feats?
COACH SABAN: I think the most important thing that your team has to have is consistency in performance, and I think that's the thing that makes it so difficult is that people get easily satisfied when they have a great win or play a really good game, and all of a sudden you don't have the same intensity or sense of urgency about preparing for your next opponent. And I think there's a lot of parity in college football, so I think it's very important that your team realizes that and does their best to be their best all the time.
And there's a lot of media attention out there, too, that sometimes can affect them in a way that gets their head where it shouldn't be in terms of what they need to do to prepare and play. It's all a matter of focus but focusing on the right things.
THE MODERATOR: Speaking about that focus, you've been in a lot of big games throughout college football. We mentioned the National Championship in 2003. What sort of lessons have you learned from those big games to help best prepare your team for this environment and the media frenzy and the circus that we're going to see this week to keep their focus to get ready on the biggest game of their lives?
COACH SABAN: I think the biggest thing is the players have to realize that they have to focus on the right things. I think -- I call it the clutter, is all about how important the game is; what winning or losing the game means; the consequences of the game, positively or negatively. And as a competitor, those are really all the things that you really don't want to think about.
What you want to think about is what do I have to do to play my best game, what do I have to do to play my best football of the season, what do we have to do as a team.
There's a lot of little games going on while this is all happening; what's your preparation, are you eating right, are you resting right, are you able to keep a balance between practicing well and doing what you need to do to play well, as opposed to all the other things that are happening around you. And I think those distractions can affect people, and that's what we really try to emphasize to our players. We've got to stay focused on the right things.
THE MODERATOR: Your running back Mark Ingram became the first player in school history to win a Heisman Trophy. What has he meant to your football team this season, and what has he meant to the Alabama community?
COACH SABAN: I think, first of all, Mark is an outstanding person, and I think he has been a marvelous member of our team. If he won a Heisman Trophy as the best college football player, I would give him a trophy for being one of the best guys on our team in terms of the kind of team guy he is, the kind of practice player he is, the kind of character he has as a person. His family is first to him, and he's been a marvelous, marvelous ambassador for the University of Alabama and our football program and our football team.
From a character standpoint, I think he has great leadership in the example that he sets, but he's also a very talented guy. You know, as a coach, when you have some of the best players on your team are those kind of people, those are the easiest teams to coach because they affect other people, and that's what makes it a lot of fun.
THE MODERATOR: 1,542 rushing yards, the single season record at Alabama. I'd like to now open it up to the general media.

Q. Can you talk about your relationship with Will Muschamp and what you see in Texas's defense that reflects what you do on your defense?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think, first of all, any time somebody works for you for, I think in Will's case five years, was a coordinator and in a position of leadership for three our four of those years, and I think the way Will came up, he came to LSU from Valdosta State or someplace and he was a young coach and was very bright and had great work ethic, was a good person, good recruiter. So he sort of got raised up in the program from being a position coach to a coordinator to got to the NFL and has done a fantastic job every place he's been.
But I think his personality is reflected in how their defense plays in terms of his passion, the character that -- competitive character that he has that they have, and I think that's one similarity that we would like our defense to have. They do play some 3-4, which is something that we do, and they do a lot of similar type philosophical pressures in situations.
But I think Will has made his own mark in this profession in terms of what he's done and what he's accomplished, and we're proud of him, and we're happy for him. And I know he's going to be a great head coach when he gets that opportunity someday, as well.

Q. Can you just give us an update on Marquis Johnson and where he is as far as catching the ball with a cast on his hand?
COACH SABAN: Well, he practiced today, and he's using his hand again. He didn't practice with a black shirt on, which means he was able to have contact. Now, whether he can catch the ball with a cast on his hand or not, he has caught some, but it could affect his ability to catch.

Q. When did you first realize that Greg McElroy had what it took to be the starting quarterback at Alabama, and also, do you have one memory that sticks out of Greg that he's had this season?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think one of our big concerns going into this season was how Greg would sort of develop into the kind of quarterback that he has. I saw a lot of positive characteristics even last year as a backup, and certainly this spring, because of his intelligence and his decision making and his judgment and his leadership, which -- and he's pretty accurate with the ball.
And I think those are some of the key ingredients to being a really good quarterback. He's done a fantastic job for our team. He hit a little dip in the middle of the season, but other than that, he's done an outstanding job.
And probably my biggest memory to be honest with you is when he had the dip, having a conversation with him about focusing on the right things, be who you are. I think he got to where he started to try to please everyone else, and he really wasn't doing what he needed to do as a player. And to see him realize that and sort of come back and improve and finish the season strong, that's probably my most -- maybe not best memory but most significant one, at least for our team and for Greg.

Q. First of all, two quick questions if I may. I think the conventional wisdom in a lot of places outside Alabama was that Florida and Texas were going to be in the championship game and everyone was talking about that. I wonder if you could talk about your perspective on that now that you guys are No. 1 and here. And secondly, you've mentioned focus a number of times. With this Bowl game there's a lot of people, you're at Disneyland. How do you allow the kids to enjoy the things that they've earned, these extracurricular things, but keep them focused on the game?
COACH SABAN: Well, the answer to your first question is I think Florida has an outstanding football team, outstanding football players, and we probably played as well as we could play as a team to win that game. And I'm proud of the way our players played in the game. I mean, they had an I-won't-be-denied sort of attitude.
But sometimes it works that you lost the game the year before, so the players were really up for the game this year. But I think Florida has a fantastic team. We earned our way to be here. I think Texas has a fantastic team. So I'm proud of what our players have accomplished to get here, and nobody can take anything away from what they've done to get here. We didn't get voted in; we kind of earned our way. So I'm proud of that fact.
I trust our players when it comes to making good choices and decisions about what they do and what they don't do. We've spent a lot of time and we have a lot of people who work in our organization in peer intervention, community outreach, character development, how to be successful, and I think our players understand that the choices and decisions they make are very important to their future success. And we want them to make all the right choices and we want to provide them with the leadership to do that.
And I don't think that they need to think about playing this game every minute of every day. I think there's a balance in everyone's life that they should have relative to other things that they do and being able to focus when the time is right for them to focus on meetings, practice, the game, what they need to do in the game, and bring it to sort of a crescendo when the game comes. And I think that's what we're all hoping to do as an organization to help our players.

Q. I was wondering if you could go into a little bit more detail about clutter. At this time of year we hear about players not being academically eligible, coaches leaving, agents getting in the way, media obligations. Can you detail what you mean by clutter?
COACH SABAN: All of the above. You named them all. You could name some more if you want to keep going. You know them just like I know them.

Q. What's most alarming to you about it?
COACH SABAN: There's nothing alarming about it. We're in the entertainment business. In some of these -- there are other elements that are out there that can affect people's ability to perform. I mean, even guys that get national awards or make All-American, is that the finish line or is that the starting point of what they can accomplish in their future?
I told our players a story the other day about the U.S. Hockey team. Probably one of the greatest victories of this century by any team was when they beat the Soviets in '80 or whenever it was, the Miracle on Ice. Do you know what people don't remember? That didn't win the gold medal; they had to win the next game against Finland to win the gold medal. So what did they learn when they beat the Soviets? They learned when they made a commitment and everybody had a single-minded purpose and I-won't-be-denied kind of attitude and everybody went out there and played their best what they could accomplish. And then they had to go play another game. And hopefully they learned that and built on that. I think they all built on that because there was a lot of people on that team that had a lot of success and they did win the game, so they did learn something from it.
Hopefully our players will learn some of the same things from what they did in the SEC Championship game and be able to stay focused on those things, because if we don't then you let in all the outside influences.
The first thing I did when we came back from the SEC Championship game in the first meeting is I drew a line on the grease board all the way across the room, the team meeting room, and I said it's 32 days until we play the game; here's the SEC Championship, here's the National Championship. How you manage those 32 days is going to determine how you play in the game. And I can't control that for everybody in this room; you have to make those choices and decisions for yourself. And I mentioned all the things, how you condition yourself; what your weight, discipline is; choices and decisions you make off the field; how you're going to manage agents, media. Guys are going to get recognized and get accolades for accomplishments. Is that going to affect your ability? Is that going to be the final destination for you, or is that just a starting point for what you can accomplish in the future by being recognized for what you accomplished in the past?
So all those things are factors in how we play in a game. And that's what I call clutter, because when you're thinking about that you you're not thinking about what you need to do to prepare to play your best in the game. I know everybody thinks I'm crazy, but that's the way it is.

Q. You've talked a lot in the three years about all the things you have at your beck and call at Alabama to help you be a success. You've been more successful here in the last two years than at any point in your career. What's happened to you personally as a coach that you feel like you're achieving everything, you're being as successful as you've been?
COACH SABAN: I think it's not about me at all. I think it's about the fact that as a staff, as an organization, as a team, and our team includes everyone from the fans to our administration; our president, Dr. Witt; Mal Moore; all the people involved; our coaching staff and all the auxiliary people that we have in our organization that affect the players, strength and training people, medical staff, whomever. I mean, all those people have an impact on the development of the players that we have. And that program and all those people on that team make people want to come to be a part of the program, and that's called recruiting.
So we've been able to develop the players that we had fairly well, and we've also been able to recruit fairly well, and the players themselves have embraced the new people in the program so that it meshed together as a pretty good team.
I'm not sure that I did anything that contributed to that significantly, other than gaining more knowledge and experience in the process of what it takes to be successful through every experience, good and bad, that we've had through the years.

Q. Are you having fun? Is this fun?
COACH SABAN: Is this fun? (Laughter.)
You know, what's fun for me is practice. I really enjoy practice. I really enjoy being around the players. I really enjoy the teaching part of it. You know, some of the other things, it's an entertainment business, and I really do appreciate what you all do to make our sport, college football, and what our players do important and interesting, and you create a lot of interest for a lot of other people, and I do appreciate that. And it's important to the game.
So I'm having fun out of respect for what you all do. (Laughter.) That's about as diplomatic as I can be.

Q. In your opinion why has this program been able to bounce back a lot since Bear's death? I know that's a big question, but every coach that's been at Alabama has won ten at least once since he's been there. It's been through multiple probations. Why has this program gotten to this point and been able to sustain itself?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think continuity is always important in terms of being able to sustain, and I think that's -- I wasn't there, so I really shouldn't probably be answering this question, but from the outside looking in, I think there was a pretty consistent amount of success when Coach Stallings was there, for the seven years that he was there. But that's probably the longest anybody was there.
I can't answer why that is, but I think continuity is really important because every time you make a change, you sort of backslide or change philosophies of the kind of players you want or whatever, and it causes some issues and problems. But I think if you have continuity at Alabama, you can attract good players to come. It's a good school. It's a nice place to go to school. It's a good program. We have great facilities. We have good people. And we've had a lot of success in the areas of helping guys be successful as people, students and as players. So hopefully we'll be able to continue to have success in the future.
Now, can you get in this game every year? That's a hard one. But I think when you have the right stuff, the right experience, the right quarterback, you know, the right group of guys that you can have these kind of years.
THE MODERATOR: That's all the time we have for Coach. Coach, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations on an outstanding season, and best of luck as you prepare this week for the BCS National Championship game.

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