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January 6, 2010

Nick Saban


THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome head coach Nick Saban. We'll have Coach do a brief welcome and we'll turn it over for questions.
COACH SABAN: Thank you. Again, I'd like to thank all the people in the Tournament of Roses for what has been a wonderful week for everyone in our organization. The weather has been great. The hospitality has been fantastic. The facilities that we've had to work with, whether it's the hotel, the practice area or whatever, has been very well taken care of, and everybody has an attitude to try to please you. And I think this is probably what makes the Rose Bowl very, very special.
I know somebody is going to ask me what do you do different to get ready for this game. So before you ask me, I'm going to ask you, what do you do different to cover the game? (Laughter.)
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
COACH SABAN: I'm not finished. Before I got that, I just wanted to put it in perspective for you so you could kind of understand that at this point you want to focus on execution. You want to make things simple for the players. It's a little bit like being in the batter's box before you've got to go up to the plate; two out in the bottom of the ninth and you've got to get a hit to win the game. What do you do? You go through the routine you always go through, which is what we're trying to accomplish with our players in terms of how we practiced yesterday, how we'll walk through today, the things that we'll do leading up to the game, make them as same and simple as we can, because the focus right now is on getting the best execution in the game. And I think those are the things that the players need to be able to focus on.
So from an injury standpoint, I know there were some concerns yesterday because I had a couple players who were sick. Those players are better today. Everybody will go through walk-through. If they continue to improve, they should be able to participate in the game.

Q. You talk a lot about pride, discipline, commitment, toughness and effort. How do you settle on those concepts, and when and why did you settle on those as the backbone of your program?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that intangibles are probably really important to being a good competitor, and I think that most people who have passion for something as important to them is what gets them to commit to something, and your mind kind of does whatever you tell it to do. So once you have the passion and the commitment, at least you're going to be moving in the right direction when it comes to work ethic, discipline, trying to make good choices and decisions about what you do and what you don't do.
The effort, the toughness and the discipline to execute are probably the key ingredients in any sport -- and when I say toughness, I'm talking about mental probably as much as physical, so that you can sustain and overcome adversity and persevere tough circumstances.
I think those are sort of part of your character and who you are, and I think the same ingredients would be necessary to be successful in anything.

Q. In answer to your question, I just take them one day at a time. (Laughter.) What would you say is the --
COACH SABAN: That's what we're doing.

Q. Yeah. What have been your observations about coaching in Alabama where the sport means so much and the school has such a great tradition?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think first of all, we have a tremendous amount of respect for the tradition and the passion that our fans have, and I think we have a tremendous amount of respect for that. But beyond that, we sort of go about the process of things that we feel that we need to do to help our program be successful, which is to still focus on player development, personally, academically and athletically, and everybody in our organization is there to help our players be more successful in one of those areas so that they actually have an opportunity to be more successful in life.
So the rest of it really doesn't affect that, and that's what we try to do from a program standpoint. That's what affects recruiting, player development, bringing people together as a team. So the rest of it really doesn't internally affect how you try to build your team.

Q. How do you feel about the idea of a coach in waiting? Is it something you'd ever consider for your program?
COACH SABAN: You know, I don't really have an opinion about that. I think that's something that administrators need to decide, if that's the best thing that they want to have to try to create continuity in a program, and I think that's probably the purpose. And I think that if you have the right chemistry in terms of who the people are that are associated with a situation like that, it could work very well.
But I think if the chemistry was not correct, it may not work very well. So I think it would all be time and circumstance relative to the chemistry involved.

Q. I know you're a detail guy, you have a contingency for everything. Should something happen to Greg during the game, what's your plan? Who do you turn to?
COACH SABAN: Well, we've had A.J. McCarron has really sort of been our backup quarterback since the bye week. It's been our plan that if we had to play him that we'll play the guy that gives us the best opportunity to win the game, and that's what we would do. Star Jackson is also an option for us, but we would make the decision on -- you don't get -- we've gotten this far, so I think in fairness to everyone, we would put the guy in the game that would give us the best opportunity to win. And if the person who has sort of been the backup quarterback needs to do that because he's performed the best, practiced the best and put himself in that position, I'm pretty certain that that's the direction that we would go in.

Q. William Vlachos mentioned the other day, we asked him why he thinks Rolando McClain is a special player, and he says because he can play through blocks or around blocks; most linebackers can only do one or the other. How common is it to have a linebacker that can play the blocks both ways?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think William Vlachos is probably a pretty good evaluator of linebackers because really you have two types of guys that sort of play that position, guys that are fast-flow slip blocks, I call it, type of guys who get to where they need to be, then you have guys that are big enough and powerful enough to actually use their hands, take on people, hold the point, shed the blocker and be able to make the play. And it probably is pretty unique to have guys who can do both, and that's what we look for in our inside backers, and we were fortunate to have two at the beginning of the year because Dont'a Hightower can do the same thing. But I think that's what makes Ro an outstanding player is he has the athleticism, the speed, the mobility and the power to do both.

Q. Could you give us your perspective on concussion safety and how the approach to that has maybe evolved or changed from your days when you first became a head coach to now?
COACH SABAN: I think the technology medically is a lot better today in terms of the tests they give, and I can't really sort of give you the technical perspective on it from a medical standpoint.
But I know that we give our players tests, and we know that when those tests get to a certain point, then they're able to have activity, and when they get to a certain other point, they're allowed to go back and have contact. And we continue to test them to make sure they're not having recurring symptoms.
So I feel like the technology is a lot better now than it used to be relative to these tests, and these are all things to me that are medical decisions. You know, as a coach, we never get involved in whether a player should practice, shouldn't practice or whatever. I mean, whatever the medical staff determines that a guy should do is what we support and want to do. And you know, when concussions occur, I think to have a good baseline of a history of a guy as well as these pretty accurate tests are a real asset to making determinations about concussions.

Q. I wonder if you could describe the challenges the Texas kickoff return game provide, particularly with some of the struggles that you guys have had in covering kicks this year?
COACH SABAN: Right, I think in both phases of the return game, punt and kickoff, they're probably as good as anybody that we've played against. As a punt returner, Shipley is a really good decision maker, good quickness, can make the first guy miss. They do a good job in terms of loading the box and forcing the punt and then holding up from the same looks, so it makes it a little bit more difficult for the interior guys to cover. So that's going to be a challenge for us to protect, punch through and get in cover lanes, and our gunners have to do a good job of forcing the kicks and our punter has to do a good job of hang time and placing kicks.
Kickoff return, they have tremendous speed in both their return guys, and I think if you don't keep the ball in front and stay in your lanes and dodge blocks the correct way and read the return and play off the indicator reads that you have running down the field and get guys in the right place, if you give these guys a seam, they're going to get out and get off to the races, and it's going to be pretty hard to sort of manage that.
But I think it goes back to the same thing; it's going to be execution of our coverage teams, which the last few games has been pretty good, was pretty good in the Florida game. But we've had issues with that at times during the season, mostly in how we've executed.

Q. I talked to Colin Peek the other day, and he said possibly the team left up to 21 points on the board against Florida. I was wondering if that was your most complete game thus far this season, and if it was, how do you improve against Texas?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that -- I don't know about leaving the points on the board. I don't know who made that assessment. But you know, I thought we did a good job offensively in the game, controlled the ball, moving the ball and scoring enough points to have success in the game. But I think you always want to build on what you did. That's probably the most complete game that we played all year against a very good team, and you know, when you beat a good team like that, it's one of two things; is that the end or is that the beginning. Hopefully you learn what it takes to play that, that way, and you can build on that in the next opportunity that you have.
But that's the challenge that we have with our players, and whether they will do that and look at that as a starting point and how they can build on it rather than the end point and being satisfied with that, that's the mindset and that's what we've been trying to promote for this game.

Q. Was Ro able to do very much at practice yesterday? And given his level of toughness, do you really feel like there's much of anything that could keep him from playing in this game?
COACH SABAN: Well, I don't know. We're not going to let him play unless the doctors say he can play. If he's sick and he's dehydrated, he's not going to play in the game. I'm not going to put a player at risk regardless of what the circumstance relative to the game is. I think he's better today. He did not do much in practice yesterday, and I think he's better today, and he's practiced all year, and I don't think he's missed a practice in the three years that he's been here.
But I think he's capable of recovering and being able to play in the game if he's medically cleared to play in the game.

Q. If Alabama wins, it'll be four straight for the SEC. The league has always been good. You've been in it twice now. It seems to be peaking right now. Two questions: Is it better now than it was the first time you entered it? I know it wasn't that long ago. And also, why has it gotten so strong?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think the league -- I've always been asked to make comparisons with the SEC and other places that I've been. I think the league is the way it is because of the top to bottom sort of strength in the league. You know, where most leagues have two or three or four good teams, you know, our league seems to have seven, eight or nine or ten sometimes, so therefore each game that you play, if you're not bringing your "A" game, you have a good shot of not being able to have success. And I think that's what makes the league better.
Difficult to make comparisons between now and then. I think the league was a lot like that then, and it's stayed that way and continued to improve. I think one of the things that sort of sets the SEC out a little bit is the great TV package and the great exposure that we get with having as many as three games on national TV every week, which other conferences don't enjoy that. They're on more regional telecasts. So there's more of a national sort of exposure that really can enhance your recruiting base, and a lot of players in the SEC I think look -- that are being recruited look at it as a conference where there's a lot of good players and a lot of good competition and a lot of good programs and a lot of good coaches, which I would certainly agree with, and a lot of good schools.
The ability to recruit quality players and having quality programs is why the SEC is what it is.

Q. The media has labeled your practice facility "Camp Saban" with the fence around it and such and the security, and that's understandable preparing for a game. My question is what goes on back there? Not really. My question is how do you change or what can you change this late in the game in preparation for Texas?
COACH SABAN: Well, I don't think we change anything. I think you have to do what you do, and you have to make what you do work against the things that they do. I think technically that's what you try to do in each and every game, and obviously if you see things that may work or you think may have an opportunity to enhance and complement what you do, you add things.
But I don't think it's uncommon for any coach to not want people to see practice when you're playing in any game. You know, and the thing about it is I have no problem with the media coming to practice, but when you televise everything and put it on camera, then we might as well just open it to everybody. That's more the issue, that somebody can watch it on TV and say, oh, they're running this play now or they're playing this defense or whatever. And I don't think any coach really would want that to happen. Would you if you were a coach? I don't know.

Q. You sound a little hoarse this morning. What do you have to do to make sure you're able to discuss things tomorrow night with your players and the officials?
COACH SABAN: Oh, I can -- is anybody having trouble understanding me? (Laughter.) Just trying to project a positive image. (Laughter.) It's something called allergies, you know?

Q. Talk about your counterpart Mack Brown.
COACH SABAN: Well, I think Mack, we have a tremendous amount of respect for all that Mack has done in his career as a coach. Each place that he's been he has had a tremendous amount of success with a lot of consistency, and I think that he's very well-organized, runs a good program, is an outstanding recruiter and surrounds himself with very good people. And I think the consistency in performance that he's been able to accomplish at Texas and other places sort of, you know, proves that to -- that he has done a marvelous job of affecting people and getting them to give their best efforts to be successful.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you.

End of FastScripts

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