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July 22, 2011

Nick Saban


THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the third day of SEC Football Media Days. We welcome head coach of Alabama, Nick Saban.
COACH SABAN: How is everybody? I hope y'all had a fantastic summer. It's great to be here. I think y'all know that this is one of my favorite days of the year. This is actually my 10th SEC Media Day, which I guess Steve Spurrier and I would like to get some kind of an award or recognition if y'all could come up with something.
You know, we're excited about the challenges of the season. We're excited about the standard that we've been able to sort of develop our program to at the University of Alabama. Not only in the winning football game side of it, but we've had some very compelling statistics from a personal development standpoint in terms of mental conditioning for success, peer intervention for leadership, behavioral issues, spiritual development, lots of very positive things that our players have engaged in.
I personally feel like our players and our program are our greatest asset. Very pleased with the progress that they're making.
We've also had some very good success academically in terms of graduation rate, APR, freshmen making SEC honor roll, those type of things that make us feel very, very good about the academic success that we're having with our players in our program, which is the goal: develop a career outside of athletics. That's why you come to college.
We feel like we've done a decent job of developing football players. The guys in our program have won 36 games in the last three years, which is a standard, a very high standard of excellence that we have, very challenging to maintain, certainly the challenge that we look forward to next season.
Now, we've had a bit of a challenging off-season with some of the things that have happened in our community, the tragedy of the tornado. I would definitely like to thank so many people who have made a positive contribution to helping rebuild our community, clean up our community. Kenny Chesney made a tremendous donation, Taylor Swift to Nick's Kids in an effort to clean up and rebuild communities.
But I think the people of the state of Alabama have been stellar in how they reacted to help each other sort of rebuild our communities.
From a football standpoint, we've had a very good off-season. We have a little bit more maturity, a little better leadership on this team, a little more experience in a lot of ways. I've seen that in the way we've approached the off-season, spring practices, summer conditioning program, both on and off the field in how we've managed our business and conducted ourselves and the improvement that we've made.
So, you know, I know there's always a high standard at the University of Alabama. We sort of relish that kind of challenging circumstance. I know there's high expectations for what this team may be able to accomplish and achieve.
But we do have, you know, some question marks on our team. I think the fact that we lost four guys that were first-round draft picks at critical positions, two explosive players on offense in Mark Ingram and Julio Jones, a great defensive lineman who affected and dominated the game from his position in Marcell Dareus, and left tackle obviously, James Carpenter, one of the most critical positions in the offensive line.
And having a new quarterback, having two very young, talented players at that position who both have not had the kind of knowledge and experience that you'd like to have at that position, but obviously both players very capable and talented. Hopefully we'll be able to get both an opportunity to get some knowledge and experience early in the season so that we can play winning football at that position.
It's always a challenge to have the right kind of team chemistry, your team have the right stuff. I feel like this team has the ingredients for that, but that's always the challenge, because the consistency and performance is what helps you have successful seasons, especially in a league that's as challenging as ours in terms of the number of good teams.
There was one point last year where five out of six teams in the SEC West were ranked in the top 20. Consistency and performance, how you play day in, day out, play in, play out, week in, week out, certainly determines the success that you have. The two goals we had in the off-season were to play better fundamentally and to eliminate mental errors, because when we did a quality control assessment on last season, those two things were major factors in whether we were successful or unsuccessful in our games.
That sounds really simple, but even though it's simple it's kind of the fact of the matter. So that has been our emphasis in this off-season, in spring practice, throughout the summer in terms of our team playing with a little bit more discipline as a team.

Q. I want to talk about the scheduling this year. You bring on Georgia Southern, you've had Georgia State, Chattanooga in the past during your tenure at Alabama. Do you think you will look at scheduling the Troys, UABs, South Alabamas to keep that money in state in the future?
COACH SABAN: Most of these games that we scheduled, I didn't schedule. I think Georgia Southern is going to be the No. 1 team in their division in the country. If it was up to me as a competitive coach, if you're going to play somebody in another division, you don't have to pick the best team. They have a very good team. They're very well-coached and do a great job.
But I personally do not have an issue playing in-state schools. In fact, we sort of instituted at LSU that we do that. We played Tulane, but they hadn't played the other schools. We started to do that so it promoted all the programs in-state. So I certainly would support the effort to do that in our state in Alabama.

Q. A question about your defensive philosophy, running a 3-4. Now with Will Muschamp, only three colleges run a 3-4. Interested in your opinion as to why that is?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think we sort of go in cycles defensively. I think half or more than half the teams in the NFL now are running a 3-4 defense. I think that there was a time where most people were playing four down guys and three linebackers. But I think that's kind of cycled back to the 3-4.
I think philosophically you have to be able to manage circumstances and understand what you're getting into because you need bigger guys to play nose and defensive end. So you have to have outside backer types who can pass-rush when you get into all the spread stuff and nickel stuff that you have to play.
But it's probably a little bit overstated because we actually played a 3-4 last year about 20% of the time. That's dictated and determined by the offense that we play. Because when we play nickel and dime, we're playing more 40-type defense. I know Will will be the same way, most of the people in the league are the same way, because you're going to get in the best pass-rush front you can have.
I think the greatest advantage philosophically of playing a 3-4 is it gives you the best opportunity to play a seven-man front and play split-safety coverages rather than having to be in an eight-man front to stop the run. You have to have the right kind of players to do it. But philosophically I think that's why you see more and more of that defense.
That may not make sense to a lot of you out there, but from a technical standpoint, that's the reason we like it. And because you have both backers at the end of the line, your adjustments to formations are a little easier. And the trend on offense now is to have a tremendous number of multiples in personnel groups and formations, so adjustments are a little easier.

Q. Coach, did the passion and intensity of the Auburn/Alabama rivalry surprise you at all when you got to Alabama? Do you think it will intensify now that both schools have won national titles over the last two years?
COACH SABAN: First of all, let me say that I think we have two great institutions. I think we have a lot of wonderful people, a lot of wonderful people who support those institutions in a very positive way.
I think our state is very, very important. I think the respect that we have for each other is very, very important, and in no way should affect the competitive rivalry we have with each other.
But I also think that some of the things that have been negatives are not really good. And I think there's just a small number of people who probably create this - on both sides. This is not a criticism of one or the other. I would like to see our fans show class in terms of how we represent our institution and our state and our athletic programs. That would be really, really appreciated.

Q. Coach, on Wednesday Mike Slive proposed this agenda for change. Part of that included making scholarships multi-year deals. I wanted to get your reaction to that.
COACH SABAN: Well, first of all, my reaction would be I would like to sit down and discuss all these issues and have dialogue about how this would impact in a positive way college football, student-athletes. So that would be my answer to that.
I don't fully understand the purpose of some of these things, and some of these things we've never discussed. So I would like to have a discussion and dialogue about how these things would impact and affect, you know, college football.
You know, I'm a proponent of college football. I think we do a lot of great things. I know that there's nobody in this room interested in writing about positives. But we have about eight out of ten of our guys that have a tremendous amount of success coming out of our program in terms of what they accomplish while they're there, the career they develop while they're there, and the opportunities they create for themselves in life.
I had one of our players I remember when I was at LSU, he was coming to camp. Nobody in his family had ever gone to college, from a little town in Alabama. He ended up coming to Alabama, played for us. Comes to my office yesterday. Graduated from school. Didn't have all the grade point average stuff that we're talking about guys need to have. He graduated. He's working at one of the science places up in Huntsville, talking to me about getting in the cattle business. This is the same guy I had in camp when he was a junior in high school, all right?
The impact that the program has had and the people in the program and college football on helping this guy be successful. I mean, I don't know why we need to change all the stuff. There's certainly some issues and problems out there, all right? But there are a lot of good things that happen every day in every program in college football.
I'm sort of proud of our profession and I'm proud of what we do to help young people have a better chance to be successful in life. So I'm not necessarily ready to jump out there and support or not support whatever changes we make. But I'm always trying to discuss, have dialogue, and get opinions of a lot of people, whether it's the AFCA, the Football Coaches Association, whatever it might be, so that we can move forward and improve our game.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for our commissioner, what we've done in the SEC, and the people we have in our organization who can impact that. I'd like to have a lot of discussion and dialogue with how we can move forward and how our league can help.

Q. You've gotten a lot of good prospects out of Florida in the past few years. How have the dynamics of recruiting in that state changed with Florida State rising again, what are the keys to going in there and getting players away from Florida and Florida State?
COACH SABAN: First of all, they have outstanding high school football there. Historically they had a good number of prospects and a lot of good programs that develop those prospects.
So I think there's always been good football programs in the state of Florida. Florida has been good. Florida State has been historically been very good. Miami has been historically very good. There always seems to be a few players that will journey outside the state to play their college football.
We try to identify those prospects and sort of zero in on them. It's obviously more difficult the more successful programs that they have in the state. But that's what we're going to continue to try to do because it's such a good area for high school football players.

Q. You've won national championships at two different SEC schools now. Can you speak how difficult it is to do what the SEC has done, won five in a row?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think it speaks to the quality of our league, to the great job that we've done through the years in marketing our league on a national basis, not just a regional basis. And I think that's probably one of the keys with the SEC, is I kind of feel like we're the national league of college football. I think that's largely what our conference has done, what Mike Slive has done, in terms of the TV that we have, things like that, the media exposure we get for our players, which is extremely positive for our players.
And I think the quality of the programs that we have and the coaches we have in this league, the quality of football players that we have in the southeast to recruit because of the fine programs that we have, development in high schools, are all factors that contribute to our league being successful.
And the fact that there's four different teams that have won those five championships probably is even more significant in terms of the parity in our league and the quality of the league from top to bottom.
So I just think it's a very challenging league to play in. I think it's very difficult to have that kind of standard of excellence. But with the quality of players, coaches and programs that we have, it would not surprise me if we can continue to at least have someone in a position to have an opportunity to be in the championship game again.

Q. Nick, when you walked in the lobby today, there was an Alabama fan wearing an 'I hate Auburn T-shirt.' What would you tell that person?
COACH SABAN: I would tell him it's not personal, that it really isn't personal. That is not really the way that we should respect the opponents that we have. That's what I was talking about before in terms of all of our fans sort of having a level and a standard of class in terms of how we represent our institution and our state.
I think we all have a responsibility and obligation toward that. I think we can all be a little more respectful to each other and still have just as fierce competition on the field as we've ever had, and everybody can be very proudful in whatever their accomplishments are.
I guess that's kind of how I would say it.
But, you know, this kind of behavior sort of develops more of that kind of behavior. I don't think that's a good thing, so...

Q. Coach, I want to ask you about the pass-rush. Apart from Upshaw, maybe with the down linemen, are there one or two guys in there who you see as being leaders in terms of pass-rushing and having a big season in that regard?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that we have a little different type team this year defensively. I think in the last few years we have had, always had, dominant down guys that had pass-rush ability. Marcell Dareus being the most recent. You know, several other guys in the past that are playing in the NFL now, as well. I'm not sure we have those kind of dominating down guys right now. We're trying to develop some of those guys as younger players.
We have more linebacker types that are pass-rushers. I think this is one of the key ingredients of playing the 3-4, is your linebacker guys are going to have to be your pass-rushers because the down guys are going to be bigger and not as effective rushers. So that's where a lot of our pass-rush is going to come from.
Courtney Upshaw is actually an outside linebacker who plays a lot of defensive end and nickel. Dont'a Hightower does that, Alex Watkins did it some last year towards the end of the year, added some pass-rush to us.
So we need to develop. One of the challenges on defense is to develop rushers who can push the pocket to go with the edge rushers we have, which are really linebacker types.

Q. We just had another round of conference realignment. We have some of the higher-level non-BCS conference teams trying to break their way into the BCS through legislation, through the courts. You've heard some people talk about how what we may be heading toward is a system where the BCS leagues breakaway and start their own system. As someone who has obviously taken a team to an elite level, I was wondering if that's where you think we may be headed?
COACH SABAN: I have no idea. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the leadership we have in the NCAA. I mean, this is kind of an NCAA matter. It's a major conference matter that we have very capable leadership in terms of what would be the absolute best direction of college football. I really hadn't thought on it, hadn't discussed it with anybody, and really don't have any idea about it.

Q. Coach, can you talk about Trent moving into the role as runningback and how do you plan on filling the role he played in the last couple years?
COACH SABAN: Well, Mark missed a couple games early in the season last year, and Trent probably played his best football of the season when he was in that sort of A-back role, being 'the guy.' Mark missed a couple, three games in the beginning of the season. Trent probably had his best games then.
So, you know, Trent is very capable, very talented guy, has a great attitude, good person, very proud of his academic accomplishments. He's got a 3.3 grade point average, could be up for academic All-American.
But I don't have any issue or problem with Trent's ability to play with consistency and be successful. Eddie Lacy, who played quite a bit last year, will be the guy that will have some opportunity to -- it's always been our philosophy not to run one guy 30 times in a game, but to play two backs all the way through the history of wherever we've been. Eddie will be the other guy that gets an opportunity to do that.
The depth behind those guys is something we need to address on our team, especially now that Dee Hart has got hurt, Goode graduated, wanted to go play someplace else. Corey Grant ended up transferring. That's something that we have to sort of address with young players.

Q. Coach, your team was a substantial pick in the media poll to win the SEC this year. At the same time, as far as we know, you don't know who your starting quarterback is going to be in the first game. Is that a disconnect in some ways?
COACH SABAN: Let me first say that you all are a lot smarter than we are as coaches because I could never pick who is going to win the SEC. Let's start with that.
From a logical standpoint, I know there's a couple other teams in our division - forget about the league - that have just as many returners starting, and their quarterback. So even though I have a tremendous amount of respect for the intelligence level and your ability to prognosticate, which we really can't do, I'm not capable of doing, I don't understand how you come to the decisions that you come to.
But in all honesty, you know, these kinds of things are not something that we can do. We have question marks on our team. How we respond, how we address these questions marks on our team are going to certainly determine the consistency that our team can play with throughout the season.
We have difficult games, like everybody in our league does. How we address the challenges of our team and play with consistency are going to determine the kind of success that we can have. It's all going to have to be done on the field. Just like I told the players in the beginning of the off-season program, What investment are you willing to make to get a better result down the road?
That's a part of commitment, and that all determines the kind of consistency and performance you're going to have. Based on the investment you made in preparation, that's going to determine the kind of success that you can have. Knowing that everybody else is making the same kind of commitment for them to be successful, and that's what makes great competition.

Q. Nick, there's a lot of great tailbacks in this league and there's a lot of unproven quarterbacks. Are we going back to the '80s when it was grind-and-play defense?
COACH SABAN: You know, I don't think so. Philosophically we're not certainly going to change how we play offensively. I think you have to be able to run the ball to be successful, whether it's in the red area or take the air out of the ball at the end of the game. I also think you have to have the ability to make explosive plays, and that's usually made in the perimeter by throwing the ball much more easily and effectively than it is breaking long runs.
So that balance on offense is critical to being successful. And even though there may be some unproven quarterbacks, I think there's some talented guys who probably will surprise and be some of the outstanding players of the future in this league.

Q. What kind of off-season has Dont'a Hightower had and what are you expecting of him in this coming at all?
COACH SABAN: Dont'a has had a fantastic off season. I don't think he has completely gotten over his injury. He's got his explosive quickness back, his burst in pass-rush, playing with a little bit more speed, which is more like he played before his injury. So he has had a really, really good off-season, really good spring practice, and a great summer. He has demonstrated some leadership qualities that will certainly be important to our entire team.

Q. Coach, just wondering about the secondary. How much maturity have you seen from this group since last season?
COACH SABAN: You know, maturity and experience are important factors if they're used correctly. You can take your experience and create a comfort zone with it, which means that you're not really challenged by and using your experience to your advantage. Or you can challenge yourself that I have experience now and I've learned from mistakes that I've made in the past and I'm going to play with more consistency in the future because of it and challenge yourself to get to the next level.
That's really what great competitors do. I'm hopeful that that's what the people in our secondary will do, to challenge themselves.
If you have experience getting the ball thrown over your head, you don't learn from that experience, it really doesn't do you much good. So hopefully we'll take the challenges of the experience we have and challenge ourselves to a higher standard. I think if we do that, our guys will all improve and play a little better.

Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit more, you've kind of talked about it in passing, about the quarterback as it stands right now, the battle between A.J. and Phillip.
COACH SABAN: It doesn't stand anywhere. It stands like it stands. We have two guys that are competing for the quarterback position. We're going to continue to manage those guys through fall camp. Neither guy has a tremendous amount of experience. We have a lot of faith, trust and confidence in both of their abilities. It will be interesting to see who plays better in the game, because we feel like both guys have done a really good job and both guys are talented enough to be very, very successful quarterbacks for our team.

Q. Coach, I was wondering if I could get your opinion on the NFL lockout, and does that make you even happier to be in the college game?
COACH SABAN: Well, not necessarily. I love college football, but not for those reasons. I think we all have challenges that we constantly have to adjust to in terms of how we manage our team.
I think NFL coaches are certainly going to have to challenge themselves to adjust to what they have to do, whether it's in free agency over the next three or four days if this thing gets settled, how they manage camp, how that will affect the durability and quality of how they can develop their players.
You know, things are going more and more back to the way it used to be. When I first went into the NFL in 1988 at the Houston Oilers, we had no OTA days, we had one mini camp, that was it. We had camp from the 4th of July for like two months, and I'm not sure that was necessary.
But I think, you know, things are probably moving back in that direction. But I think the coaches will adapt and adjust just like they have through the years and still preserve the quality of ball in the NFL.

Q. Nick, is it okay to have a 'game manager,' a quarterback? What does that term mean to you? Is that necessarily a negative when you throw that label out there?
COACH SABAN: No, I think it's a part of the quarterback's job. I think when you manage the game, you make all the people on the offensive field feel like you're in command and you're in control in terms of the direction, how you call plays, the cadence, how you lead the team. And I think those things are an important quality in any quarterback.
So regardless of your talent level, and I think that because you distribute the ball every play as a quarterback, it's important that your decision making and judgment is good, and that you actually do a good job of managing how you distribute the ball, which is a critical factor in playing winning football.

Q. Also since you're so giddy about being picked first in the west, in one poll or another, you're going to start number one overall, just your reaction to that.
COACH SABAN: It means nothing. Again, we have a lot of challenges on our team we have to face. We're more concerned about the standard of excellence we can play to and the competitive spirit we have on our team to dominate the competition that we play, to work hard, to give the effort and play with the toughness and intensity that other teams can't match.
I think that's what makes you a really good team. That's the challenge that we have to try to get those kinds of intangibles out of the talented players that we have on a consistent basis.
Whatever we do this year, we're going to have to do it on the field. We are going to have to address the challenges that we have on our team in a positive way with the players that we have so that we can be the most effective team possible.

Q. Coach, could you address the competition for the punters and your field goal kickers for this season.
COACH SABAN: Well, I think last year we had two young guys punting. We felt like the consistency is something that we probably wanted to improve on. And I think both of those guys improved in the off-season with their consistency. There's still a battle with those two young guys as to who our punter will be after fall camp.
From a kicking standpoint, I think the way we sort of managed it last year, we had one guy kicking short field goals and one guy kicking long field goals and kicking off, probably will continue because it is the strength of those two players. They complement each other extremely well. It was fairly effective for us a year ago.
So until the guy that kicks off and kicks the long field goals gets more consistent than the guy that kicks the short ones, why would we change? So that's kind of where we are in that regard with our specialists.

Q. How much do you know about the cattle business?
COACH SABAN: Let me just say this. I was asking all the questions 'cause I didn't know anything about it (smiling).

Q. I also wanted to ask you, do you think at times Mr. Slive just kind of pushes what he wants, kind of acts as a dictator?
COACH SABAN: No, not at all (smiling).
Let me ask you a question. I have to tell everybody. The guy that just asked that question, in our spring games, we always have media coaches, and he was actually the coach when I was at LSU of a team that had to make a decision at the end of the game with less than a minute to go in a game whether they would on-sidekick or not, and he didn't make the right decision.
So I actually said it, he had to come up here and be up here at the press conference so I could be out there and ask him questions about how he made that decision at the end of the game to lose the game.
But he is a good friend. And he knows me well, that I don't answer questions.
No, I think Commissioner Slive does a really, really good job in our league. I think he's got some wonderful ideas and some tremendous input in the direction of college football. I also think that he listens to the input that we have as coaches and carries that to our administrators so that we are represented as a group. We certainly appreciate that.
But I think his accomplishments in this league have been very, very positive in terms of the progress we made in the SEC throughout his tenure here. I think any intention that he has of anything that he does is for the betterment of our league and of college football.
I'm very supportive of that.

Q. There's at least one national analyst who projects you'll have the best defense in the country. I know it's speculation. How do you feel about them? Do they have a chance to be one of your best?
COACH SABAN: I think we have some good players coming back on defense that have talent and experience. But I think it goes right back to the thing that I said before. Are we going to take that talent and experience and challenge ourselves to a high standard of what we want to accomplish or is that going to create a comfort zone for our players in thinking that they don't need to work as hard, they don't need to invest the time, they don't need to pay attention to detail like you definitely need to, because the competitive edge is like that much.
You have to do all these other things in terms of preparation, how you rest, how you study, how you sort of master the plan so that you can go out there and execute together as a group.
What's the chemistry of the group going to be? All those kinds of questions to me is what makes the difference in really having a good, good unit, and that unit reaching their potential, or having a unit that sort of just hovers on maybe not being what they could be.
So I think it goes a lot to the intangibles and leadership that you have with the group, which I've been pleased with.
But, again, we have a different kind of defensive team this year. We do not have the dominating down guys that we've had in the past. But we do have talented secondary and linebacker people. We'll be a little bit different style because of that.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Saban, thank you for your time.
COACH SABAN: Thank you. I want to express my thanks and appreciation to all of you who certainly do a wonderful job of covering college football and providing a lot of positive self-gratification and interest to our football players and our program. So thank you very much.

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