December 8, 2013
Selection Sunday Teleconference - 2014 Sugar Bowl
Q. Any injury update particularly on Ha Ha?
NICK SABAN: You know, Ha Ha will be fine. I think that he had a scope which probably in two weeks he'll be ready to practice and go again, which it will be two weeks before we ‑‑ from the time of his surgery until we start practice again, so we're not going to rush him back, but I certainly think he's going to be okay.
Q. And I also know you haven't had a chance to study film but you have come across Oklahoma before. Just in general what are the hallmarks of a Bob Stoops team and of an Oklahoma team?
NICK SABAN: Well, I haven't seen them. I saw them a little bit Saturday against Oklahoma State. Obviously they've got a great competitive character about them to come back and win that game in a tough circumstance and some tough environment as well as weather conditions, and you know that they're great competitors. They always play with tremendous toughness and they're always very well coached. This will be a challenging game for us, no doubt.
Q. Coach, 30 years ago you guys went to the Capital One Bowl, and I was just wondering, you guys had a really strong performance in that game, and do you feel like the momentum of that carried you on into the off‑season and that it happens you with those last two titles, just getting that momentum off of the bowl game?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think every bowl game is an opportunity for your team to sort of prove who they are, and certainly a game that you want to play for your seniors, who in our particular circumstance, our seniors have had a great career here, done a great job for us, and even though there is some disappointment in terms of how we finished our season this year, we're not disappointed at all in the opportunity that we have to play in the Sugar Bowl and play against a great team, and I'm hopeful that our team will certainly look at this as a challenge and an opportunity for them to prove the kind of football team that we can be.
You know, I think you hope that how well you do in a bowl game improves the young players on your team and gives them a better opportunity to have a good understanding of what it takes to be successful at this level, in an organization and competitive environment like we have in the SEC.
Q. Nick, you said you hadn't watched much of OU this year, but I wonder if you're aware they've had a lot of injuries to some key seniors and they were kind of written off at one point. Have you been impressed with the job that Bob and the OU staff has done to reach the Sugar Bowl?
NICK SABAN: There's no question about it. When you get to go to a BCS bowl, there's only 10 teams that do that. It's a great tribute to the coaching staff and the players and the perseverance that they've shown to overcome a lot of adversity this year, and like I said before, I think the character of their team is pretty much demonstrated in how they won the last game in some very difficult circumstances.
Q. You guys are a week and a day removed from the Iron Bowl and I know you've been with the team a little bit and recruiting a lot. What response have you seen from the team from kind of a disappointing finish there?
NICK SABAN: Well, I haven't been around the team that much. We haven't had practice. I've been on the road just about every day. I'm at the banquet right now. I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned from the game that we played, and hopefully the players are going to learn and grow and be stronger in the future because of it. I haven't been around them enough to know what that might be. But it's certainly going to be our goal and objective to sort of get our players recentered on the things that have made this program successful in the past, which is having strong intangibles that I didn't think we played with maybe in that game, which has been a trademark of our teams and our program here, and it's something that we certainly want to reestablish.
Q. Maybe you've already been asked this, but the last time you were in the Sugar Bowl, you were coming off a disappointing loss, and you know what happened against Utah. That loss has stayed with you a long time. Can you talk about how you feel like the reaction of your team will be this time?
NICK SABAN: Well, the last time we were in the Sugar Bowl that I remember we played LSU and won the National Championship. But I do remember the Utah game, and I think it's a difficult dynamic. I mean, we had a team this year that certainly had goals and aspirations for what they wanted to accomplish. Teams before them had accomplished some great things. There was a lot to overcome with this team in terms of ‑‑ there was never a crisis for this team. They just had to keep persevering on the fact that they wanted to be a good team and they wanted to have an opportunity to maybe win a championship again, and we knew we were going to have three tough games, like being in the NCAA Tournament, and we lost in the first round.
So now how that team recovers and how that team goes and takes the challenge of this game is going to say a lot about the character, the leadership that this team has, but it's certainly an opportunity for them to prove the kind of football team that they can be.
Q. Nick, the Sugar Bowl has entered into a contract agreement with the SEC and the Big 12. When you heard about the agreement, what went through your mind, and what do you generally think about the impending Sugar Bowl relationship with the SEC and the Big 12?
NICK SABAN: You know, we have a tremendous amount of respect for the Sugar Bowl and the people who run it and the great job that they do and the City of New Orleans and the opportunity to visit there to play in the Sugar Bowl. I don't get into this ‑‑ I didn't even know there was an agreement to be honest with you. You ask me what I think about something I don't even care about. I try to coach our team, get our players to play good. I think our administrators should decide those things and our commissioners. We're happy to have the opportunity to play in the Sugar Bowl. They've had a great tradition with the SEC and with the University of Alabama in the past, and we certainly are excited about having the opportunity to be there and playing a great team with a great tradition like University of Oklahoma who has a great coach in Bob Stoops. It sounds to me like it's a great game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for taking the time, coach. Looking forward to seeing you in a couple weeks.
Ladies and gentlemen, we had some travel issues due to the weather on the East Coast, and Coach Bob Stoops is not available at this time. However, we do have Mike Stoops, his associate head coach on the line at this time. Coach Stoops, if you could make a brief opening statement in regards to playing in the Sugar Bowl and your season thus far, then we'll open it up to questions from the media.
MIKE STOOPS: Well, first of all, let me just apologize for Bob not being with us all tonight, but I'll try to give you guys something.
We're certainly thrilled and excited to be going to the Sugar Bowl and having the opportunity to compete against a great opponent in Alabama. I think this is a great traditional match‑up. When you look at the records of these two institutions and what they've accomplished on the football field with the legendary coaches, legendary players, the success most recently of Coach Saban and Coach Stoops is pretty remarkable, so it's truly an honor to play in this game. We're going to try to prepare the best we can and excited to get down there and put on a great show for the people of New Orleans and all over college football.
Q. You've got a great opportunity playing a team like Alabama, but in some ways you're also carrying the flag for the Big 12, which has had lots of heartache at the hands of the SEC. Why do you think Big 12 schools have had so much trouble against the SEC in recent years?
MIKE STOOPS: Well, I think they have great programs. The athletes they have down there, the coaches they have down there, it's rated as the top conference in college football for many years, have won seven National Championships, have a chance to win eight. They're great athletes. Every time you step on the field with a Southeastern Conference team, they're very well coached and they play very hard. They're very complete when you look at any of these top Southeastern Conference teams. Just a great skill level with tremendous speed, and it presents all that and more when you go up against them. They're possibly the best team in the country (inaudible).
They're all tough match‑ups, and we're certainly going to have to play our very best to win.
Q. I just wanted to know if you've talked with your brother since finding out that Oklahoma was going to play, and if so, how does he feel about the match‑up against Alabama?
MIKE STOOPS: Well, I talked to him this morning. He left to go on a recruiting trip and then on to New York for the banquet there. Yeah, we talked about it briefly. It's exciting and challenging at the same time, and again, any time you play Alabama (inaudible) where we're at when you compete against these guys. We're very familiar, Bob and Nick Saban and myself and Kirby Smart, we've had a pretty good relationship with those guys. They've helped us transition, there's some irony in all this, and he made a concerted effort to move to a 3‑4 defense. When I look at defense, looking at what Coach Saban and Coach Smart have done at Alabama, how multiple they are, so there will be a lot of familiarity with each other going into this game.
Q. Could you just discuss the history of both of the programs? It's rare that these two get to play each other, and they seem to have a lot, especially with the fan bases and whatnot?
MIKE STOOPS: When you get Alabama and Oklahoma, that's by itself. It's so special I think for everybody. I had an opportunity the first time at Oklahoma to go down there and play in that stadium, and that was one of my favorite moments of being in college and competing against a team like Alabama down there, just because they have such a rich history and tradition. There aren't many schools that have that type of tradition, and we're fortunate to be one of those schools like Oklahoma, that when you look at the whole history of their programs, there's very few that (inaudible) in college football. I know we're not the only two, but these two are the elite of college football. Any time you get a team like this, you have to relish the opportunity and accept the challenge because it's going to be a 60‑minute game with those guys. They play hard, and that's what we pride ourselves on here at Oklahoma, as well. You know, it's exciting.
Q. Your team is coming off what somebody might term as the ultimate upper and Alabama is coming off the ultimate downer. Do you think that is going to manifest itself, either team or both teams in preparation to maybe in the game itself?
MIKE STOOPS: I don't think so. I think so much time passes in between these games, certainly us winning and winning in the fashion we did gave us some momentum going into our workouts here in the three weeks, three‑and‑a‑half weeks leading up to the game. But any time you play Alabama, they're very well prepared, they're very well coached and they have excellent players. All 85 of those guys can play. We know the challenges that will exist once we line up on January 2nd. They're going to be prepared to play, I know that. I've never seen a Nick Saban team not be prepared to play and play at a very high level.
Q. The fact you're coming off an emotional victory over a rival, the fact Alabama is coming off a loss to a rival, what impact do you think that might have on the game?
BOB STOOPS: Oh, I don't think much at all. It might make a difference if we were playing next week, but the fact that there's so much time between, I don't think that's a factor at all. I would just say it's ‑‑ and just a remark from me, I think it's just incredible what Nick Saban and Alabama has done the last three, four years. They've been No. 1 in the country for like four years. We get it. We understand what a challenge it is. But we're excited about it. Again, I want to just appreciate my players' efforts, coaching staff's efforts to give us this opportunity and chance, but again, just incredible respect for what Alabama, Coach Saban and his staff and players have been able to do over the last several years.
Q. These two programs are two of the most historical in college football, but how much do your players know that and how much do they worry about it? Is that a big deal to them?
BOB STOOPS: Well, I don't know that they worry about it. Are they aware of it? I'd like to think my players are. I'm sure Coach Saban says the same thing. We do a lot at putting our history in front of our players as far as what we're supposed to do, we're supposed to compete for championships. If you ever get to thinking you're the reason Oklahoma is here, just watch 30, 40 years of football here and who wore your number and how many All‑Americans there are, you get humbled pretty quick in these programs, both of these programs.
Q. You guys have a couple of tough losses, you have some quarterback issues, and you lose so many players to injuries. What does it say about your team and about your coaching staff that you've been able to reach the Sugar Bowl?
BOB STOOPS: Well, everybody just kept grinding, kept fighting, kept believing. We've had a great attitude and a tough, hard‑working group of players all along. I am proud of our assistant coaches, the way they've continued to put pieces together when we have lost guys, which we've lost many, but no one ever flinched. Everybody just kept fighting, kept getting prepared, and our players, same thing, kept a great attitude and kept working hard, and we've been able to fight our way through it.
Q. What does a game like this against a program like Alabama do for recruiting?
BOB STOOPS: Well, you know, any time you're in these BCS bowls it's a positive. That's what players all hear about, talk about, being in these kind of games. It's always a plus. You know, players recognize that, that you don't just ‑‑ they don't draw your name out of a hat to play in these games. You play in these games by winning. So fortunately we're in another one.
Q. Coach, I'm just wondering if you've seen Alabama at all this year and just your initial thoughts on the team that it has this year?
BOB STOOPS: I've been able to see some on TV, and a great team. You know, I think AJ McCarron is the best player in the country, I really do. If I had a vote, that's who I'd vote for. On and on, just fundamental, sound, great players, force great schemes. I appreciate it. I appreciate good football, and they play it, and they play it the right way. Sure, I've got great respect for how they play, play the game.
Q. Your comments about the SEC over the summer, now you're kind of facing the gold standard in Alabama. Does playing this game, winning this game mean a little bit more to you after so much has been made about those comments?
BOB STOOPS: About what comments?
Q. That the SEC wasn't as strong in the bottom half and people didn't pay attention ‑‑
BOB STOOPS: I'm not playing the bottom half. If the SEC is Alabama, there is nothing to talk about, right? If you want to say the SEC is Alabama, then sure. They're the ones that have won all the National Championships, or most of them. Now, if you want to play in the bottom half, that's a different story. But we're not playing the bottom half, are we? So there's not a lot to talk about, is there?
Q. Talking about the relationship you guys had as a family going back to Ohio, what are your first memories of meeting Nick Saban and what's that relationship like?
BOB STOOPS: Coach Saban has been great to me for a long, long time, recruited my brother, my brothers. I remember going to see him with my uncles when he was with the Cleveland Browns, up to study and watch him practice. When I was a player, my brother and I, at Iowa, my father, he used to recruit our school, inviting my father and my family to his home while we were going up to Michigan State to play. You know, all of that. He's been very good to me, very good to our family through the years. I've got great respect for him. How can you not as a coach and as a person? To meet his wife Terry, we've gotten together with our coaching staffs over the last three, four years, a couple of different times to share ideas.
So anyway, there is a very good relationship there, and a lot of respect, for sure, for me.
Q. Have you guys shared ideas?
BOB STOOPS: Not really. A lot of people do that. Some things come into play, some things don't. I don't think that matters much.
Q. I wonder if you could expound your thoughts on the University of Oklahoma playing the University of Alabama, two pinnacle type college football programs.
BOB STOOPS: Yeah, you know, we had that rivalry, but we have those games, too, a few years ago when we had a home and home with them and everybody enjoyed the series going to each place to play. Two of the more storied programs when you look at championships, Heismans, all that stuff.
You know, it's two great traditions for sure.
Q. In the '63 game you had Bear Bryant, Bud Wilkinson, Joe Namath, any memories on your part of watching Alabama coming up?
BOB STOOPS: You know, I can't speak on anything specific, but you always ‑‑ you were always watching them for sure. They were always in those great games and big games, but I can't say anything specifically, no.
Q. Bob, do you find it remarkable that these teams have been in so many bowls, over 100 combined, and yet this is only the third time they've played each other in a bowl game?
BOB STOOPS: That is odd, when you think of all the great ‑‑ I guess it goes back to all the bowl match‑ups and where you used to go is probably why. But yeah, pretty unusual when you think of all the great teams each of them have had. In today's world they probably would have gotten together more often, you know, and the BCS, the way things are now, if they had it back then, they probably would have met up more often.
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