An Interview With: Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban
COACH SABAN: First of all, we've had a great time this week, and on behalf of the University of Alabama, I'd like to thank everyone involved that created the hospitality that has made this a wonderful week for our entire program, our entire team, all of our players, coaches, families, all the people on the Allstate Sugar Bowl Committee as well as the city of New Orleans, has really done a great job of helping us enjoy this experience and it's been a great opportunity for our entire program. It's also a great opportunity for our team to play an outstanding Oklahoma team. Coach Stoops and his staff have done a wonderful job with the team that they have in terms of the coaching that they do, the discipline that they play with, the fundamentals that make them, I think, one of the better teams in the country. They certainly present a lot of challenges in terms of the things they do offensively and defensively. So it's going to certainly take our best effort as a team to play the kind of football that we need to play to have success in this game. There's lots of lessons to be learned for every team when you have adversity. And certainly we had adversity in our last opportunity as a team to play. So how we respond to that adversity will say a lot about our football players individually and collectively as a group, who need to make a commitment now to do the things that they need to do so that we can play the way we're capable of playing, and I think that's the major focus that we have, how we're going to respond to the circumstance that we have. And the last thing I'd like to say is happy new year to everyone out there. Obviously we have a lot to be thankful for and I know we all make New Year's resolutions that sometimes last for a day, maybe a month, but hopefully they can last the whole year for you. So thank you.
Q. Historically, big underdogs in Bowl games actually have a decent record in terms of pulling the upset. Why do you think that is? And you haven't had much experience with that, but you've had a little. Why do you think that happened?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think the important thing about a Bowl game is all about mindset. It's really hard to bring the season to the Bowl game because the amount of time in between opportunities to play. So how your team sort of resets their mindset is really important to how a team's going to prepare, how they're going to focus, how they're going to play in the game. And to me, sometimes if you're an underdog, you have a little bit more to prove. So that mindset is a little better maybe than a team that doesn't have sort of the right motivation going into a game. Because I really do think when you play in a Bowl game it's all about mindset.
Q. That said, do you get a gauge of your team where they are mentally right now with all the hurdles and with all the things that you're facing now? Do you get a good sense here the day before the game they're mentally ready?
COACH SABAN: Right. I've been pleased with the way our team has prepared, the way we've practiced for this game, the way we've responded to do the things we need to do to play well. I think that sometimes %u2011%u2011 I think one of our players said it best: Our victory is what defeated us. When you win, sometimes you start to lose focus on the things that are important to being successful. The process of things that you do to pay attention to detail, play with discipline, do the little things correctly, all of a sudden don't seem as important and you don't practice as well, you don't prepare as well, you don't pay attention to these things, and all of a sudden it starts to show up in your play. And I think sometimes when you have a disappointment that you're a little more ready to respond to get back to doing the things that you need to do to be successful. And I think that's the challenge for our players and that's why this is an important game for us, is how do we respond to getting back to doing the things that we need to do to play Alabama football, be the kind of football team that we really aspire to be and have an expectation to be, which I really don't think we finished the season that way.
Q. Players can hear the coaches say focus, focus, focus, but usually it has to come I would think from inside. Can you talk about the role of your quarterback AJ and maybe C.J. defensively and helping that issue?
COACH SABAN: I think that coaches probably can affect things from outside in to some degree, but I think how the team gets affected from inside out probably ultimately determines how much buy%u2011in you really have to whatever any coach says. Obviously we've had some pretty good leadership on our team from AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley, both outstanding players. They both love Alabama. It's football is really important to them and how the team does is really important to them. But I think there's two things about leadership, is you can have great leadership, but there has to be people on the team that is willing to respond to the leadership and to buy in and do the things that they need to do. And I think that's the critical piece to what is important for our team in this particular game, is everybody going to go dig deep, do the things that they need to do to get back to being the kind of players they're capable of being in terms of how they execute every play in the game for 60 minutes in the game. So that's the challenge. And you can ask me to predict what that's going to be and you can ask me all kind of questions about where we are, but really until we go play, I mean, nobody really knows for sure. And that's why we play. And so we're going to do everything we can to have our team well prepared mentally and physically to go out and play their best football. How they respond to that sometimes is, you know, not something you can predict.
Q. Oklahoma traditionally was a 4%u20113 defense under Coach Stoops and Mike and Brent and those guys. Now they've gone to a different scheme this year, more of a 3%u20114. Can you talk about what you've seen from that and how well Oklahoma has adapted to the new scheme?
COACH SABAN: I think they played very well on defense this year, and I think their players do a really good job of executing. You know what they're doing. We play a 3%u20114, so we kind of understand how it's supposed to be played, and they certainly play it the way it's supposed to be played. So we have a lot of respect for the players that they have, the scheme that they have on defense. They're very well coached and their players actually play with a tremendous amount of discipline and do a really good job, I think, and they've been really good on defense this year in my opinion.
Q. Appreciate the encouragement, did you have any New Year's resolutions that you would share with us?
COACH SABAN: You know what, I'm going to wait until after the game to make any New Year's resolutions. I think that when you get in this and you're in Bowl preparation or any game week, you sort of forget the day of the week relative to the rest of the world, and it's really all about what you're doing on that particular day to prepare for the game. So I really didn't make any, but I plan to. And I'm hopeful that I'll have enough discipline to see it through. For a whole year.
Q. I know your relationship with the Stoops family goes way back to the early '80s. Can you sort of talk about what you remember about Ron Stoops?
COACH SABAN: Ron was a really good friend, defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney, and his uncle Bob, you know, I call him, which is Bob's uncle, was the head coach at South High School in Youngstown, and that was my recruiting area for many, many years. And Ron was just a fantastic person and a really good coach and very well respected by all the players that he coached. And Bob was a good friend. And he's a little different than Ron in that he was a little bit of a free spirit. So I remember that when I would be recruiting there, most of the time when the schools close you have to wait until people get home from work before you can go do home visits at night. I was an assistant at this time. So I used to meet Bob at the boiler room at South High School and used to play cards, gin rummy, until I could go on a home visit. That was the kind of relationship I've had with them. When all these guys played at Iowa, the whole family %u2011%u2011 I'm coaching at Michigan State as a defensive coordinator, the whole family would come to Michigan State and they'd all come to the house after the game. So this is a relationship that goes way back for many, many years, and I think it's because of the respect that I had for the family and the quality of people that they were. And certainly have the same respect for the coaching fraternity that comes from that family, and obviously starts with Bob.
Q. A few weeks ago you talked about with ESPN about wanting to start over like it was 2007, after the season. I was wondering if you could expound on that, what that exactly means.
COACH SABAN: When you start a program, you focus on the fundamental things that you feel are really important in the program, whether it's everybody buying into the principles and values of the team so that you can be a good team and everybody having a positive attitude about trying to accomplish the goals that you've established for the team, everybody being responsible for their own self%u2011determination that they'll go do the things they need to do so they can do their job well, and the willingness to invest your time and have the discipline to do things at a high level on a consistent basis. If those are the fundamental things we want to accomplish, sometimes you do inventory and you say we've gotten away from that a little bit and maybe we need to get back to it. So maybe people need to be more accountable to it. Maybe they need to be more aware of it, whether it's coaches, players, myself, whoever is involved. So that's kind of what I meant by what I said when we got to that, when I made that statement, is we need to get back to the fundamental things that have made us a successful program through the years and everybody has got to trust and believe in those things so that they really know and believe that's what's going to help us be successful.
Q. After the Auburn game, you said we didn't play like ourselves usually. Wonder if you could expand on that. And I know you had some self%u2011evaluation following that game. Would you share any conclusions that came from what happened that day?
COACH SABAN: I think what I just said is the conclusion I came to; that we got away from doing some of the things that have been very important to us being a successful program and it was important we get back to doing things that way and holding people accountable to the standard that had helped us be successful. And I think the success that we had we all sort of got away from that a little bit and didn't prepare as well, didn't pay attention to detail as well, didn't play with the same discipline, and it caught up to us. So fundamentally we want to get back to those same things so that we have a better chance to be successful. And everybody's gotta buy in. And if 134 players don't buy in, we need to play the players that do, because I think that's the only way that everybody on the team can see that those things are important to the team. Because if somebody doesn't do those things and you still play them and somebody else is doing those things and they're not playing, that's where the team chemistry sort of goes to pot, because you're saying that you don't really believe in them, because you're not holding everybody accountable to do that, to get rewarded to be able to play. And I think most people in our organization have responded in a positive way.
Q. Why don't you talk, Coach, about the great tradition of these two programs, unmatched in any Bowl probably this season and seasons in the past, two programs with this much tradition meeting each other?
COACH SABAN: I think, first of all, we're honored to represent the University of Alabama and the great tradition that we have, and certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for Oklahoma and the great tradition the Sooners have in terms of all that's been accomplished through the years. And I think there's a great responsibility and obligation for both teams, actually, to sort of represent that tradition in a first%u2011class way, and that's certainly what we've tried to get our players to do. And everything that I've seen from the Oklahoma side of it, their team has certainly done that all season long in terms of the way they've competed and the way they've played and the way they've represented the university. So I think it's fantastic to be a part of something that has that kind of tradition, certainly makes it special to be a part of.
Q. You'll be a guest analyst on the BCS National Championship game. Just wondering, you seem pretty comfortable doing that. Wonder if you enjoy TV work and what you got out of it?
COACH SABAN: Well, you know, to be honest, I think it's really good exposure for our program to be able to be involved in some of those kinds of things and actually be able to have an opportunity to express your beliefs, and you all have your beliefs and I certainly respect your beliefs, in terms of how you think things should be done. And so all of a sudden I get to get on the other side and I get to say how I think things should be done and get an opportunity to be just like you, which is really what I've always wanted to be.