DISCOVER BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: ALABAMA v NOTRE DAME
January 6, 2013Richmond High School
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA
COACH NICK SABAN: First of all, I'd like to say what a great experience it is to be here. It's great to see everyone today. Good morning to everyone. Again, I'd like to publicly thank the Orange Bowl Committee and the people of South Florida for the great hospitality they've provided our entire team and family. It's a great experience to be here, and we certainly appreciate the hard work that all these folks on the Orange Bowl Committee have done to create the hospitality to welcome us here.
There's not a lot that's happened in the last 24 hours since I talked to you yesterday, so there's not a whole lot that has changed. As a team we embrace the challenges that we have. We certainly honor the opportunity that we have to play in a National Championship game against a very good Notre Dame team. So we're always striving for our players to develop an internal excellence that's going to allow them to be all that they can be, and I think the things that are probably most important in that right now is, number one, stay focused on the moment, stay focused on what you can control, the things that you can do to affect the outcome of what you're trying to accomplish, and I think great preparation is certainly the thing that gives you the confidence to be able to do that. So that's kind of where we are right now.
Q. When you stand before your team tomorrow night and speak to them, this collective group for the last time, how much of what you say is based on what you see in their eyes, and how much is it what you've already thought of?
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, I think what we're really always trying to accomplish is to make sure the team has a passion for the challenge that they have in front of them, and certainly we're always trying to create and make sure that they have the right kind of psychological disposition to play with the kind of mental energy and intensity that's going to allow them to be all they can be and play their best football game.
I think that's always the challenge as a coach. You can talk about winning all you want, but really the goal is are our guys going to go out there, compete and play with the best of their ability, from an effort standpoint, from a toughness standpoint, from a discipline to execute standpoint, so that everybody sort of embraces their role, focuses on their role, does a good job at their role. So it gives the team the best opportunity to be successful.
Q. In your preparation for Brian Kelly, I was curious how far back you go to look at what he's done. Do you go back and look at Grand Valley State film?
COACH NICK SABAN: Not really. Notre Dame is a very good offensive team. I think they have a really well conceived system. I think?? I'm sure they'll do some things that are a little different in this game. We have looked at their history of what they've done at Notre Dame. But I think what Coach Kelly does probably as well as anybody that we've played all year is utilized the personnel that he has extremely well, and I think that's why they've been very, very successful. They have some mismatch players on offense that they've maximized their performance, and their quarterback has consistently improved throughout the season. They're a very good offensive football team with a lot of diversity, a lot of formations, a lot of variables that you have to adjust to, so we don't have to go all the way back to see that there's a very difficult preparation in front of us relative to what they do.
Q. Could we get your perspective on that players?only meeting that occurred the other day? Apparently there were some questions about intensity among the younger players in terms of training.
COACH NICK SABAN: We always have a players?only meeting. Every week our players do that. We have a leadership group. We're constantly trying to enhance the development of and responsibility that players have to affect other players.
I think that when we came here, I guess it was Wednesday, I kind of get lost with the days, we had a practice at home, which was a little bit out of the routine. We traveled here, and it just seemed like we had a little bit of trouble getting sort of recentered and refocused on what we needed to do, and we had to have a little meeting to try to get everybody back on track.
But since that time I feel really good about how our players have responded.
Q. At the risk of asking you to brag on your team, what is this team's best quality?
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, to be honest, I think this team has kind of exceeded expectations in terms of?? if you look at all the players that we lost last year, the leadership that we lost, the injuries that we've had, the schedule that we played, the adversity that had to be overcome, the new roles that so many people had on this team, the young players who had opportunities to really kind of show what they could do and how quickly they would mature to be able to do their job in a way that would give us a chance to be successful as a team, I'm really proud of what this team actually was able to accomplish together as a group. The team chemistry, the positive energy that they had, the responsibility that everyone has kind of taken for their own self?determination and sort of doing their job, and the way this team has worked and worked hard together to try to become a very good football team and to try to improve.
And I think it was sort of a joint venture between the coaches, the staff that we have, the attitude that the players had that everybody worked to try to continue to improve, and I think that's why this team is able to create the opportunity they have to play in the National Championship game.
That probably is the thing that I'm most impressed with about this team.
Q. Kirby Smart the other day said he thinks you are driven to be the greatest coach in the game. Is that true? And do you get a little extra satisfaction knowing you have the opportunity to do something tomorrow night that you haven't done in winning back?to?back National Championships?
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, to me it's all about the team. Everything that we've put into this year from the time two days after last year's game to have a team meeting and talk about what that team would be able to accomplish, I think it's really all about trying to get this team in a position to be able to stay focused on the things that they can control to accomplish and challenge something for themselves.
I mean, there's a lot of players out there that started this season wanting to get in this game, and I think our players need to certainly respect the opportunity that they have, prepare well for it, and if you think of it that way, it should be pretty easy for everybody to go out there and give their best effort to play their best, to have the best opportunity to be successful in the game.
It's not really about me at all. It's all about this team, this game, this year, and none of that other stuff really matters from my standpoint. I mean, I'm really all about our team this year.
Q. How often do you find in a game of this nature and this size, a lot of obvious things have been discussed this week, offense, defense, particular marquee players, but at the end of the day, something that was not viewable to us, something that maybe able to be viewed decides the game, something very small, something nobody has talked about?
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, you know, that's probably the unknown that keeps you up at night as a coach, like what are we not prepared for, what might happen in the game that if you haven't sort of spent the time to get your players ready to play for, how well will you be able to adjust to those circumstances in the game. But I really believe that in games like this, the same factors, controlling the line of scrimmage, stopping the run, being able to run the ball, explosive plays, turnovers, red zone efficiency, both sides of the ball, 3rd down efficiency, both sides of the ball; all those same factors that affect outcomes of games probably are going to affect the outcome of this game. And there may be some technical things that happen inside of all that that you weren't prepared for, maybe a formation or whatever it might be, or something that they do on defense, a pressure or a blitz, but your ability to adapt and adjust to that affects your ability to be successful in all those areas that we just talked about. So it's all going to come down to that.
I think in bowl games in general, psychological disposition is really, really important, because I've talked before about how it's so difficult to bring the momentum of the season to this game, regardless of where you were when the season ended, because there's such a separation in the two.
So you've got to kind of look at it as a one?game season, and when you look at these bowl games, you can tell that the way the team approaches it, the passion that they have for it, sometimes is a little bit different, and it does affect the outcome of the game. That's the one challenge as a coach you're always a little concerned about; are you getting that with your players.
Q. Could you take a moment and just reflect on your father's influence in your life, and also as it relates to your attention to detail.
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, you know, I had great parents. I was very fortunate growing up, and my dad was a coach but he never went to college. But he coached Pop Warner, American Legion baseball, all those kinds of things. But he also had a service station and a little Dairy Queen restaurant, and I started working at that service station when I was 11 years old pumping gas. But in those days?? notice I said it was a service station; it wasn't a self?serve. So you cleaned the windows, checked the oil, checked the tires, collected the money, gave the change, treated the customers in a certain way. We also greased cars, washed cars.
So the biggest thing that I learned and started to learn at 11 years old was how important it was to do things correctly. There was a standard of excellence, a perfection. If we washed a car, and I hated the navy blue and black cars, because when you wiped them off, the streaks were hard to get out, and if there were any streaks when he came, you had to do it over.
So we learned a lot about work ethic. We learned a lot about having compassion for other people and respecting other people, and we learned about certainly the importance of doing things correctly.
And when I started to play for him in Pop Warner football, he was the same way as a coach; attention to detail, discipline, do things what you're supposed to do, the way you're supposed to do it, when you're supposed to do it, the way it's supposed to get done, all those things that we've all heard about, discipline was engrained in just about everything that we did. And I think that sort of perfectionist type of attitude that my parents instilled sort of made you always strive to be all that you could be, and that's probably still the foundation of the program that we have right now.
We hope that every player in our program has a better opportunity to be more successful in life because he was involved in the program and that we create an atmosphere and environment for his personal development, his academic development and his athletic development that actually is going to enhance his future chances of being successful.
I think Big Nick, as he was called in those days, had a lot to do with that.
Q. What do you remember most about your night before the National Championship game in 2003? And can you compare and contrast that to how you're feeling now.
COACH NICK SABAN: 2003? Wow, I was hoping you'd say last year and I might be able to remember. (Laughter.)
Let's see, I'm trying to think. When we have night games, we usually go to a movie, and if I remember right?? I am trying to remember the movie. I know last year it was Red Tails, but I don't want to say the wrong movie. But I think the movie, regardless of whether it was the Last Samurai or whatever movie it was, really it was about the honor of?? the message was the honor of being all that you can be, that maybe that might be more important than winning or losing, and that your focus should be on that instead of the outcome.
So I do remember that was the message that we were trying to get our players to focus on in that particular game. It was not necessarily the outcome of the game but what do I have to do to be an effective player, to dominate the guy that I play against in this game for 60 minutes in the game, assuming that that might be the best player I've ever played against. So that was kind of what we were trying to get established in that game, and that's what the focus was. I do remember that.
Q. I have two parts: One, you said this team exceeded expectations, what were your expectations? And two, everyone talks about talent. Besides talent, what is important for a team to have to get to this stage and win on this stage?
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, I think that the most important thing is how do you approach the game. What's your passion, what's your understanding of the situation that you're in, what's your ability, because you understand the opportunity that you have and the magnitude of that opportunity and how long?lasting the effect and outcome of that opportunity can be. How can you stay focused on the things that are going to help you execute and be successful?
We just watched a video of Mariano Rivera, and he talked about he struggled at some time in his career because he was trying to be a perfectionist, and that when he's in the bullpen, he sees the crowd, he hears the crowd, he knows sometimes that he's being?? getting a lot of positive self?gratification for what he does and sometimes getting a lot of negative self?gratification for what he does. But when he runs out and they hand him the ball, he's got one focus; he's not worried about the crowd, he's not worried about any of the external factors. One focus: Three outs; how am I going to get three outs.
I think a team's ability to do that, to stay focused on the things that are going to affect the outcome of the game, are critical in games like this. And you know, you could say, well, that's nothing; well, believe me, being around young people, being in games like this, that's something, and it's something big. And it certainly affects your ability to perform. The way you'd like to perform and you want to perform is your ability to stay focused on the present?moment things that will affect your performance and to stay in the right sort of disposition that way.
You know, expectations for a team, I never really ever sit down and say, okay, I expect this team to win this many games or this many games or whatever. I just knew there were a lot of challenges for this team in terms of the players that we lost, the things that needed to be overcome, certainly sort of what you're always trying to overcome, which is I call it the entitlement factor when you have success. Are people going to buy in, work hard, do the things they need to do, or are they going to say, why are we doing this? Are they going to work the way you need them to work, because it's human nature that when you have success, you're supposed to get a couple days off, right? When I meet my quota for the month, I'm going to South Beach, right? I mean, that's human nature. That's what we all sort of kind of grow up to be, because we're trying to survive, and survival is what's the self?imposed limitation on what you expect to accomplish.
So that was the challenge for this team, to be able not to have that, not to do that, to take what they could do as a team and really work on developing that in a positive way. So I think that's probably the thing I'm most proud of.
And now it's about can you finish that? Can you finish that? We have 24 more hours as a team; can you finish that?
Q. Teams like Notre Dame with tight ends, running backs that like to catch the ball, how does that make it difficult on the linebackers and secondary?
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, I think that Notre Dame does a really good job of taking two players that they have, their tight end, No.80, and their running back, No.6, and utilizing the formations to create lots of issues for the defense because with two wide receivers and those two guys in the game, one is a running back and one is a second tight end, or first tight end, however you want to say it, they can create a lot of situations where those guys are put out in space where big people, linebacker types, may have a little more difficult time playing them.
And I think they do an exceptional job in doing that, and I think that's?? and the quarterback, who has made tremendous progress throughout the year and is a very effective player, a much better passer than is publicly perceived and given credit for, and certainly a very athletic guy who can extend plays and make plays with his feet. I think that's one of the things, because their ability to run the ball and their ability to do that, that create lots of issues and problems, a little bit like the New England Patriots do with the tight ends that they have.
So that's a real challenge for our defense.
Q. Last night on your radio show you said at some point you have to take the game. What exactly did you mean by that? And how do you go about doing that?
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, I just think that when you play in games like this, there's always sort of a turning point in the game. First of all, you expect two good teams playing, it's going to be a close game. There's going to be some situation in the game where you need to make a play or they might need to make a play that's going to make the difference in the game. And your ability to rise up in those situations and be able to do that, whether it's critical 3rd down to maintain possession of the ball on a scoring drive, or whether it's a defensive stop, whatever it might be, you know, you have to be ready to execute in those kinds of situations in the game. And there's going to be some point in the game where that particular circumstance and situation probably will have an impact on the outcome of the game. And your ability to successfully execute in those kinds of situations I think is critical when you play in games like this.
Q. After the arrival and then the media day yesterday and then coming to see us this morning, do you ever get tired of seeing us at this point in the week?
COACH NICK SABAN: No, not at all. (Laughter.)
You know, I'm probably misunderstood a little when it comes to media. I really do respect what the media does for our game in terms of the interest you create, with the interest that you have in your coverage and creating a lot of news stories that people are interested in, which really promotes our game. I really appreciate what the media does and the self?gratification in a positive way that you create for the players who work hard to play the game. So I really have a lot of appreciation for that.
But I guess where I get a little misunderstood is I'm a little old?school in how I've tried to protect our team from?? to stay focused on what they need to do and how what you do can affect how they think and their ability to focus on what they need to do to be successful.
So I think there's some kind of a disconnect that occurs sometimes between what you think I think and what I really think.
Q. Did you watch a movie last night? What was the movie, and what was the message?
COACH NICK SABAN: No, we didn't watch a movie last night. Tonight is movie night, and we're still deciding what we're going to watch tonight.
Q. When it comes to getting buy?in from players for the process of the total development program that you've got, the academics, the personal decision making, all that stuff, is it more challenging for the junior college players because they've only got two years in your program instead of four or five?
COACH NICK SABAN: You know, it really hasn't been. The guys that?? we don't recruit a whole bunch of junior college guys, and the philosophy being if you really need somebody at a position, they really need to come in and be able to play, because that's what they're looking to do, and if you really need somebody at that position you really need for them to come in and be able to fill a void or whatever.
And our experience with the guys that we have, they've all done a really good job of that, and they've made the adjustment a lot easier than some of the younger players that are coming in as freshmen, and maybe it's the fact that they're a little older and they have already established a direction that's important to their future that may impact that.
Q. There's a lot of players in this game from comfortable family backgrounds and a lot of players in this game from more meager family backgrounds. In terms of the question of stipends, which is going to come up again at the NCAA convention, do you have any feelings on that or position on that?
COACH NICK SABAN: I don't think there's any question about the fact that something ? and I don't know the solution of how it gets done or what it should be ? but I do think that something should be done to enhance the quality of life of student?athletes that are on scholarship, because in our sport especially, there is socioeconomic groups that struggle a little bit, even with a scholarship, because there is a cost associated with going to college that is beyond room, board, tuition and books. And I think especially where we've sort of gotten to from a business perspective relative to the financial end of things that there isn't really any good reason that the student?athletes who create that should not share in that to some degree.
And I think there's a lot better people to determine how and what that really should be, but I do think we should move in that direction to help student?athletes.
Q. How confident were you last year that AJ McCarron could carry as much responsibility, play?making responsibility as he did in that game? And having seen him do so well, does that give you an advantage going into this year's game knowing what he's capable of producing?
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, I stop short of any advantages because their players are capable of making plays, too. But I think the fact that we did have a lot of faith, trust and confidence in AJ last year in the game, and that's something that I'm not sure we showed throughout the course of the year, but felt like we needed to have that kind of trust in him to be able to attack LSU's defense at the time. That was who we were playing last year, which was a very good defense. And he certainly did an outstanding job in executing that.
And I think that he's playing against a very, very good defensive team this year, and I think his ability to make good choices and decisions is going to be a critical factor in how well we do offensively, and he has a little more experience in all that. So you could say because he has that experience, there's more of an expectation that he could do that. But it is something that he has to go out and do and make happen against a very, very good defensive team.
And I don't think the burden is just on him. I think quarterback is a very difficult position to play if the players around you don't play well. So it's up to the offensive line, the tight ends, the wide receivers have to run good routes, they have to get open, they have to catch the ball when it gets delivered to them, we have to pass protect, he has to make good choices and decisions. So all these things become critical factors in being successful offensively.
So people playing well around AJ is going to be a real key to his success, as well.
Q. I'm wondering, when did you become familiar with Coach Kelly? I believe there's some overlap in the state of Michigan with both of you coaching there. And also, if you could just comment on his coaching path to Notre Dame.
COACH NICK SABAN: Well, I think there's a lot of ways to sort of develop professionally, and certainly I knew of Coach Kelly when he was at Grand Valley because of the success that he had there and certainly had a lot of respect for that. We never really played each other, but we were in the same state and I had a tremendous amount of respect for that, and because of that, sort of wherever he's gone, we've sort of followed that path. Certainly no surprise that in the three years that he's been at Notre Dame he's built arguably one of the best programs in the country relative to the success that he's had there and the opportunity that's created for his team this year.
We have a tremendous amount of respect for his coaching but also the overall organization that he must have to develop successful programs because he's been successful everywhere he's been.