The following is a transcript of comments from Alabama head football coach Nick Saban to reporters in New Orleans on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, as the Crimson Tide prepared to play the LSU Tigers for the BCS National Championship.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, if you'd like to make an opening statement, and we'll open it up for questions.
COACH SABAN: I've made this statement before, but I would like to make it again relative to the hospitality that we've received here from the Sugar Bowl and the entire community here in New Orleans.
I think our players have enjoyed the trip here. Certainly it's been a wonderful experience to them to this point, and they're looking forward to the opportunity that they have tomorrow night.
It was a little bit special yesterday at practice for me, because this group has been ?? from the time we played Michigan State in the [Capital One] Bowl game last year and made a commitment to do the right things, do things in the right way, and I've been very pleased and proud.
And you always have a good association with a team that makes those kind of commitments and tries to do the right stuff.
And that's one of the things that we've been most proud of in terms of earning the right to have an opportunity to play in a championship game.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Could you just talk about what the next 30 to 31 hours will be like for your coaches, your players, what you would like them to ready themselves with and really your final preparations?
COACH SABAN: I think that the most important thing that players can do right now is just focus on the task at hand, focus on what it's going to take for them to play their best football, which I'm sure that's their goal in this game.
And they've certainly made a commitment to do that. So to get caught up in sort of what's happening around them and the anxiety that can go with an opportunity like this or the pressure that comes with an opportunity like this, I would like for them to focus on the opportunity, not the pressure part, so that they really are zeroed into the mental practice and the things that when they go out there and play they're going to be confident in doing their job the way they need to do it to have success.
Q. Coach, you alluded to it in your opening statement about this team and their motivation, potentially coming from even last season. You talk about that in your book as well and you talk about your former championships; that the wins don't come in that season, they often come from maybe a season before a loss. Can you talk about this team's particular motivation and where their motivation came from and where the genesis of that motivation was?
COACH SABAN: You know, Michigan State's quarterback [Kirk Cousins] last year after our game against them in the Capitol One Bowl made the statement to one of our coaches how did you guys lose three games? And I think that a lot of the motivation that came to this team came from the lessons learned from losing those three games.
Whether it was the leadership that we had ?? you know, anybody can be successful every now and again. But to be successful all the time, you have to make a commitment to doing things right all the time.
And I think that was probably the difference in this team. The leadership, the reinforcement, the buy?in was all good. I think that's what contributed to the consistency this team was able to play with.
Q. I've got a Kirby Smart question for you. When you decided to move Kirby into a coordinator role after Kevin Steele moved on, what brought you to realize that the right guy for that role at that time was right there on your staff with Kirby?
COACH SABAN: To me, Kirby's got all the right stuff. He's very bright. He's been with us for a long time. So he really understands the system that we play. Not only understands how to teach it, he understands how to implement it, which I think is even more critical, especially on game day.
He and I work well together. He does a great job at teaching the players. The players really respond well to him. It would be very difficult for me to really give a reason why Kirby shouldn't have been the coordinator and what his weakness has been since he's been the coordinator, because he's done a marvelous job for us, fantastic job, in terms of how he's developed the players, developed the togetherness, and if you look at the body of work, there's been quite a bit of success there as well.
Q. Obviously you guys lost to this opponent earlier in the year. Do you and your team feel at all like the underdog in this situation?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that our team learned some things from the first game. Sometimes when you have a negative experience, you're more willing to maybe learn some of the things that can be valuable to you in the future in terms of the execution, the inability to finish in critical times in certain situations in the game.
So I look at the first game as more of an opportunity for us to learn and understand some of the things that we're going to need to do to be able to have a chance to be successful this time.
Q. I'm not going to tell you how Les answered this, but from this vantage point, a year from now could you see your team back in this same position and why?
COACH SABAN: Well, I haven't even thought about that. I mean, we're focused on what we have to do here in the next however many hours it is to the game. And I've asked the players to focus on just that and not think about what they're going to do after the game, whether it's come out for the [NFL] Draft or whatever it is or come back for their fifth year. But let's just focus on what we need to do right now.
And each and every year you have a new team. You lose so many players in college, seniors, leaders, juniors coming out early, and you take the next year's team and you see how they mold into a successful unit.
So I know the principles and values that we're going to coach that team is going to help that team try to be as successful as they possibly can be.
Q. Nick, the last time you were in the national championship game against Texas, you did a fake punt on the first series. Was that a predesigned play or a Les Miles moment or what that was?
COACH SABAN: To be honest with you, it was probably a mistake, because it didn't work. But the way we went into that game, because they used to uncover the gunners a lot on the punt and nobody would run out and cover him. Sort of daring you to throw the ball to the guy.
Well, we actually made Julio Jones the gunner into the boundary so we could throw the ball to him. And he got hurt on the play before that punt, and we had a freshman who has turned out to be a pretty good player in the meantime, Dre Kirkpatrick, who was in there, and he didn't really run the pass pattern.
So even though it was probably ill-advised, it was automatic to do that the first time they did it, so they wouldn't do it anymore.
And it didn't work. So it was a bad deal all the way around. But sometimes when you do things like that, the players see you being aggressive and maybe it's not as bad as you think.
When I was here at LSU and we played Tennessee in the first [SEC] championship game, I think it was in 2001, and they were No. 1 or 2 in the country going to go play in the national championship game, we got behind 14?7 and we were on the 29?yard line with fourth and an inch. I mean an inch.
Now, they had [Albert] Haynesworth and some big guys playing in the middle. So I said we're going to go for it on our own 29?yard line on fourth and an inch. And we got stuffed. And we sacked them and they kicked a field goal and they got ahead 17?7.
And for the next five minutes of the game I was like in la-la land, like, Why did you do that? That's the dumbest thing you've ever done. My wife even told me: That's the dumbest call I've seen you make since you've been a head coach.
But we were walking off the field after the game, the seniors came up and said: ‘You know, Coach, that was the most important thing you did in the game is when you went for it on fourth down.'
I said: ‘Really?' They said: ‘Yeah, because when you did that, we really thought we could win. You were being aggressive and you were trying to win, and we were aggressive after that and we ended up winning the game 31?20.'
So even sometimes the dumbest things you do, you never know how people are going to respond to them. And that was one of the dumb ones, and throwing that pass against Texas last year was one of the dumb ones, too. There's many more in between, incidentally. (Laughter).
Q. First, what will your message be to the team before the game? And, second, you've been in a championship game before, what's different this time around?
COACH SABAN: I'm not sure that anything's different. I think the teams are different. And the preparation that you put your team through is for those specific technical things relative to the team that you play.
But, you know, being in those other games really doesn't matter now. I think we all learn a little bit, gain some experience from that maybe in preparation, maybe in management.
But basically my message to the team is going to be to focus on everything that they need to do to play their best football. That's the goal. That's the objective. And I think to reassure players now at this point ?? everybody's going to want to win the game when the game comes.
To reassure them of the things that they need to do to be able to stay focused so they can execute, play with great effort, be a relentless competitor, and stay in that place of who they are so that they have the best chance to play their best game is really what we're focused on right now.
Q. When you left LSU seven years ago, you said you wanted LSU to find a guy that would continue the success you guys had had and build upon it. And just wondering if you can reflect back on the job that Les Miles has done. Are you happy that they're able to build on what you started at LSU and can you speak of the irony of having to beat LSU for a national championship?
COACH SABAN: Well, first of all, I think that Les Miles has done a fabulous job at LSU. When I started out at LSU we were 3?8, didn't have a very good graduation rate. We were struggling in recruiting, had lots of issues and problems.
And I think Les has done a great job of recruiting fantastic players, has had a great coaching staff that has helped develop those players. Their consistency and success is probably second to none in terms of their accomplishments and what they've done. So we have a tremendous amount of respect for the program.
And I'm for the SEC. I'm for the league. I'm not rooting against anybody in our league. I want everybody in our league ?? because that's what makes our league very, very good, is that there's a lot of good teams and a lot of good competition. And the fact that we have two teams playing in the BCS National Championship game from the same league, you know, speaks volumes for that. Well, that wouldn't occur if you never had lots of good programs.
And we have a tremendous amount of respect for their program and the job that they do and the players that they have and what they've been able to accomplish.
So I think it's outstanding.
Q. In the course of this season, I'm sure as you go through game plan and preparation, you look at a team and you feel pretty good that there are certain things that look like they may work. And then you play a game like this where there's so much talent, so much balance on both sides. For you personally, what's the exhilaration factor, the challenge factor that gets you juiced for a game like this?
COACH SABAN: I think that the opportunity itself, you know ?? we only have so many opportunities to play in games that are as meaningful as this, to our institutions, to our traditions, to the players who have made commitment to work so hard to have the opportunity.
You certainly, as a coach, want to do everything that you can do to give them the best chance to go out there and be successful and accomplish something that is going to be a great lifetime memory, accomplishment, something that actually contributes to their legacy, to the team's legacy of the tradition of your university.
But I think that, to answer your question in one word, it's execution. Ability to execute, finish, play for 60 minutes. Those basic fundamentals are still going to be important, because you may think something's going to work and it may even be an advantage for you that it's going to work, but if you don't execute it correctly, it probably won't work.
So it still comes down to those kind of disciplined abilities to fundamentally everybody do their job correctly, and that's what's going to help you be successful.
Q. I know coaches, you probably as well, try to keep human emotion out of game planning and actual game situations. But knowing how LSU fans feel about you, where do your human emotions come into play and what are your sentiments towards LSU and playing against them in this game?
COACH SABAN: First of all, this game's not about me. It's not about me for me. Okay? It doesn't define who I am as a person in terms of what we do, how we give, what Nick's Kids do. My wife and I do a lot of things for a lot of people.
We coach for the players. And I'm most concerned about doing a good job for our team and our players and the institution that we represent.
And I have a lot of special memories of my experience here in Louisiana at LSU for what was accomplished in the program here. And no one's ever going to take that away.
And I have a lot of special relationships with a lot of people in Louisiana who appreciate that and have continued to be very good friends and relationships that I really cherish.
So there's really nothing from a personal standpoint in all of this for me. It's not about that. It's about a lot of other things that are a lot bigger than me or anything that's ever happened to me.
And I would hope that people can appreciate and respect that. And we understand that we're on the other side now. And I appreciate people's passion for their institution. I appreciate our fans and their passion for our institution, as well as everyone else's. And I respect that. I respect that.
But it's all good.
Q. When do you make those reflections?
COACH SABAN: What reflections?
Q. About your start of time here at LSU. When do you think about that in a personal moment outside of this week, outside of this game?
COACH SABAN: Certainly not in the next how many hours we have until the game. (Laughter). I'm focused on what we can do for our team.
I guess when I go back to West Virginia and I get on the side of the mountain and watch the creek go by I might think about some of that. I don't know when that time's coming. But I hope not too soon.
Q. I think you had 44 days to prepare. I'm guessing timing is so important. How do you replicate a game situation for your field goal kicker other than just lining up 11 guys on the opposite side to block it? What have you done?
COACH SABAN: I don't think it's just the field goal kicker. I think it's everybody that's playing. I think players basically get in a routine through the course of a year, through a season.
And I think when you have this much time between games, obviously you're always wondering as a coach: Are we practicing enough? Are we practicing too much? Are we practicing all the things we need to do to be able to get the kind of execution we need in all phases of the game, whether it's special teams, kickers, specialists, offense, defense, it really doesn't matter.
So we try to simulate as many game situations as we can, and we tell the players that practice is more important for this Bowl game, for any Bowl game, than practice normally is even in the season, because you only have your practice preparation to prepare you for the game, so it's critical that you do a good job of that.
Who have we got playing back there? (Laughter). Got a little Al Green, man. Turn it up. Let's go. (Laughter).
Q. Wondering, it dovetails with what you mentioned earlier, we talk a lot about strategy and emotions. You talked about execution. What in this time of preparation do you look for from your players to determine if ?? to get clues as to whether their execution is going to be where you want it? Is it simply what they do in practice? Is it comments that you hear made? Is it an overall demeanor? And what has that been like?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think it's where we need to be. And you never are quite sure at this stage where your team is. You can only speculate.
But I've liked the way we've prepared. I think we are where we need to be. We'll never know for sure until we get out there and start playing.
And it's not just what you do during the preparation but what you do during the game. Because every game is going to create some challenges and some opportunities to overcome adversity. And if you're a great competitor ?? you can't be a great competitor if you can't overcome adversity.
And that kind of mindset is going to be very, very important, because every game I think we played against LSU in the last five games comes right down to the wire, some kind of way. Whether we won, they won, it doesn't make any difference, there's one common theme: all the games come right down to the wire.
So you have to be prepared to sustain your performance for 60 minutes in the game, and I don't think that's all going to be just about emotion. A lot of that is about competitive character.
Q. Someone who appreciates good defense, I wonder, when you look back at that first game, the caliber of defense that was played, the level of talent on the field, the level of talent we'll see Monday night, where does that rate among two defenses on one field in one game, that talent level that you've been around?
COACH SABAN: Well, I have a lot of respect for those players that play. First of all, I have a tremendous amount of respect for a great competitor.
You know, when Kristen [Saban] first started dating and those boys came knocking on the door, I go open a door, the first thing I'd ask them is: ‘What do you play? What do you play?' I want to know if the guy was a competitor. I wanted to know if he made a commitment, worked and did something that was sort of going to make him somebody that could overcome adversity and do the right things.
Of course, none of them really ever answered me. They were so intimidated so I never got much good information. (Laughter).
But I have a tremendous amount of respect for the quality of players that they have on their defense and certainly a lot of admiration for what our defensive team this year was able to accomplish.
But I don't think in an one?game season, a winner?take?all game, kind of like this game is, that what you've done in the past is necessarily going to affect what happens in the future.
So everybody's going to have to play well in this challenge, in this game, on this day, for every play in this game. Because there's a lot of talented players on the offensive sides, too, that are very capable of making plays.
So we're going to have to go out there and execute and do a good job to play the kind of defense that was played in the first game.
Q. Coach, this is your second straight Bowl game, second straight Bowl game against a program you once worked for and established relationships with people in those places and stuff. Does it feel unusual ?? does it feel unusual to be facing a team for the second straight year that you once worked for?
COACH SABAN: Not really. Mark Dantonio, I think maybe one of the different things for me was Mark Dantonio was a coach for five years when I was the head coach at Michigan State and did a marvelous job and has done a wonderful job there as the head coach, and they've had a lot of success and congratulate them on their success that their team has had this year.
And I think when you play against guys that are former assistants, that's a little different. And other than every time we play LSU I gotta change my phone number because people blow up my phone.
There's really nothing ?? you know, there's nothing.
Terry's [Saban] too, actually. (Laughter).
Q. What advice will your wife give you before the big game?
COACH SABAN: Well, I don't think there's any advice she's going to give me before the game. I get that advice on a daily basis. (Laughter).
We have sort of ?? we get up at 6:15 every day and watch the Weather Channel for about 30 minutes before we start our day. And I get most of my marching orders in that 30?minute segment of what we should do or how I should do it or why it's important to do it that way, what I need to talk to the team about.
I mean, I get coached up very well in that 30?minute segment of the Weather Channel.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
Copyright 2012 WBRC. All rights reserved.
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