University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban
2007 Pre-Spring Football Practice Press Conference
March 22, 2007
“Obviously we’re excited about the opportunity to get started with our football team here at the University of Alabama. This will be the first opportunity we have to actually get on the field, coach football, even though we’ve had five weeks. This is the fifth week of the off-season program which has been, I think, a very good program for us in terms of starting the process of building the intangibles that I think are very important in being successful relative to our team. Things like discipline, effort, toughness, conditioning, ability to sustain. Between the strength and conditioning program and The Fourth Quarter Program, the off-season program, the players have been very willing. I think we’ve made some significant improvements in some of those physical areas which hopefully will help us enhance our ability to sustain execution on the field when we get into spring practice.
“Obviously the goals of spring practice for us are to continue to establish those intangible things. And I’m going to say it again: discipline, effort, toughness, ability to do your job, be responsible for your own self-determination, know what’s expected of you and be able to see it through. Conditioning is obviously an important part of that. You know you make mistakes when you get tired. You loaf when you’re tired. So that part of it is important and I feel like our team has done a good job of making progress in that area in the off-season. We’ll continue to work on that in spring practice.
“The second thing that we want to accomplish is knowledge and experience in the offense, defense and special teams that we’re going to implement as an offensive staff, a defensive staff and with our special teams coaches to the players. That’s been limited to this point based on what we’re able to do. We’ve had some short meetings just to be able to expose players to limited things relative to what we’re allowed to do with NCAA rules, but it will be our goal to have a certain installation schedule that we want to try to stick to and accomplish in the spring but that’s also going to be judged to some degree on how we sort of can grasp the things as we go. We don’t want to create confusion for the players but yet we kind of believe in the whole part whole theory of teaching in terms of give them as much as you can; go over it again and again and again, and, hopefully, you’re going to get it over time. I don’t think you’re going to get perfect execution immediately. The players will continue to build on the process of learning what is expected of them and what we expect from them in every situation that we play.
“It’s going to be important for us to establish and get to know and evaluate to some degree what players can do. I think that’s important: how we feature players; how we use players; that’s not something we’ve been able to do a lot of to this point. We’ve talked about it before. We’re not trying to make evaluations based on what they’ve done in the past but more relative to what our expectations are for them in the future. And that’s going to be important. And at some point in time you’ve got to say, Okay. How do we get the best players in the field?’ And some of those assessments will be made as a work in progress through the spring. If we feel that we need to move a player or two to try them at a different positionbut we haven’t had the opportunity to do that yet, so if you ask me those questions, I’m not going to be able to give you any kind of specific answers because I don’t think that would be fare relative to our exposure to our players to this point.
“The last thing that we always like to try to accomplish in the spring is exposure to future opponents that could create some problems relative to what we would see in the spring from our own offense and defense. And those things are usually listed and made specific. This goal is going to be a little bit more difficult for us to accomplish this spring because we will obviously need the bulk of the time to try to accomplish what we need to learn from a players perspective about what our expectations are and what they’re expected to do relative to our own systems. So to get outside of that probably would be being a little bit aggressive in terms of things we would like to get accomplished in the spring. So consistency in performance is what’s going to help us be successful. You’re probably going to sit there and ask me, Well, what’s going to be a successful spring?’ Well, the degree that we can get consistency and performance in what we want to do in terms of our execution is going to be what helps us establish more consistency in performance in the future which is going to enable us to have more success as a team. So that’s what’s going to determine whether we have a successful spring or not. How far along do we get in that area? We’re building a program here. We’re trying to build every aspect of the program and every one of these first time steps that we make, whether it’s the off-season program, the academic support program, what we’re going to do this spring practice are all a work in progress. They’re learning what’s expected of them and we’re trying to provide the leadership to get them to do the things in the way that is going to benefit them most to be successful. It will be a successful spring if we can get every player playing to his full potential. Our goal as coaches and teachers is that every player that we have on our team, if we can get them to play the best possible football that they are capable of playing then that’s going to give us the best opportunity to be most successful as a team. So that will be what we try to establish this spring. Can we do that in 15 days? It’s pretty aggressive thinking, but that’s how we will evaluate ourselves as teachers relative to how far along we can get in that area.”
Could you give us a rundown of the guys who, due to injuries or just leaving the team, are not going to be available in the spring or who are going to be limited?
“I’ll do it the best I can. Jimmy Barnes will be limited in terms of the work he can do. Zeke (Ezekial) Knight is continuing to be evaluated. He has participated in some things in the off-season but he’s kind of being evaluated in an on-going basis to make sure that we feel that it is safe for him to continue to increase his level of participation, so that will be evaluated probably on a day-to-day basis. Aaron McDaniel will be out. Tyrone Prothro will be out. Jimmy Johns will be limited in a splint but will be okay to practice. Will Oakley will be limited from a contact standpoint. Chris Capps will be limited from a contact standpoint. And Lorenzo Washington will be limited from a contact standpoint. Everybody else will be expected to participate and able to participate and have participated in the off-season program relative to what they need to do to be able to go in spring practice.”
Do you have returning starters in mind or is the depth chart completely open?
So everyone has a chance?
“Everybody has an opportunity to compete. Obviously for, I think, a depth chart at this point in time is for administrative purposes only, you know? We’ve got to put a group in there and another group’s got to go against them. So somebody’s got to show up to do that organizationally. We have not made evaluations. I know you are interested in finding out as much as you can about how we evaluate every circumstance. Alright? And that’s not what we’re trying to do right now. We are process-oriented in what we’re trying to build, and that’s what we’re trying to focus on, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. So the starting point of the depth chart is not nearly as important to me as the end point. We want the players to all know that they have an opportunity to compete, which they do, and they have done through this off-season program and they will continue to do in spring practice. Our goal is to get the best players on the field and it’s also our goal to give them the opportunity to be evaluated by what they’re doing, what they’ve done in the off-season program and what they’ll do in spring practice.”
Coach Saban, just a follow-up to that. What is your evaluation of what the team was able to do in the off-season program at this point?
“I think the team was very willing in the off-season program. I think the work that they did was beneficial. I think they worked hard. I think they understand the standard of what we expect in terms of discipline, giving effort to finish things: finish plays, finish drills. The mental toughness that it takes to be able to persevere a pretty taxing program in terms of what our expectations are for them. And I saw improvement in all those areas. Is it where we need to have it? Probably not quite, but we did make progress and we will continue to work on those types and intangible things through this spring practice. So discipline is critical. We may do something as simple as running 10 tens. Do you think we could line up our team and run 10 tens? 10 tens. You’ve got three things you’ve got to do: put your hand behind the line, don’t jump off-sides and run 10 yards to get through the line full speed. How many of those do you think we’d have to put our team on the line to do to get 10 of them done right? Anybody got any guesses? I’m not going to tell you how many we had to do. You got any guesses? Well, when we can do 10 of those without messing one of them up with the whole team--and the players don’t seem to understand that when one guy messes up they all suffer. We get a five-yard-penalty if we jump off-sides. Is that right? Doesn’t that affect everybody’s ability to be successful in a situation? We’ve done that on several occasions, and that seems to be a simpler task to me than ever executing a play on offense or defense or a blitz or whatever. So when I say we made improvement, we made improvement. But are we where we need to be? I’m not sure.”
Coach, have you looked at position and, either based on numbers or what you’ve seen with the current team, identified areas that need more attention or need more focus than others or areas where you’re strong and think you’re going to be strong in?
“I’m not sure that, since we’ve never seen these players play football, we could say where we’re strong relative to running around the gym outside there in the indoor. But I think we have some obvious areas on our team that we’re going to have to make significant improvement in relative to numbers, quality of players, sometimes size, sometimes experience. I’d say that the front seven players on defense are limited in numbers, size and experience and that will be a major concern relativeand I’m not talking about any evaluations of specific individuals or specific playersbut I’m just saying if you just look at them in the flexibility lines and say, What about the numbers? What about the people? What about the experience? What about what’s here? Those are areas that we are going to have to work hard to improve the players that we have and maybe look to add to those areas somewhere else if there are areas on the team where we have more players than we need. A typical process that we would go through after spring practicewhich you’re asking me is you want me to do what we want to do after spring practice before spring practice even starts---which doesn’t surprise me---is we would take and list our players from one through 100 and say, Do we have the best players on the field? Are we getting the best players on the field? Is there any way that we could make some changes that would help us get our best players on the field?’ And that doesn’t mean that it’s not an on-going process and it’s not something that we try to do all the time, but we also try to do that where we never put a player in a position where we’re asking him to do something he doesn’t want to do. I think it’s important to your motivation, if something’s important to you, you’re obviously going to do it better. And you don’t want to have guys do things that they really don’t want to do but my sense of it so far is that most of the players here are interested in doing what’s best for the team, at least from that standpoint.”
Coach, are there already one or two guys who you are looking to lean on as leaders of this team?
“I don’t think that that’s something that we can create. I’ve had several meetings; we’ve had several meetings with the seniors. We’ve talked to guys about how important leadership is. But when we really have a good team here, we won’t need any leaders. I know y’all think I’m crazy but sheep need leaders. A sheep’s got to have a sheep dog. Is that right? When we have a bunch where we don’t have any sheep left around here where nobody needs a dog to show them where to go, we’ll be a lot better off. I think in the meantime though, anytime that you have people who affect other people in a positive way with their energy, with their example, I think that’s very important. But I think my point in being a little facetious is that when you have a lot of people who set that example and don’t need that from someone else; if I’m a player I don’t necessarily need another player to get me geeked up to play because it’s important to me, my pride and my performance, how I go about doing things, my standard of excellence. When you’ve got a team full of guys like that, you’re a lot better off. And they will be a lot less influenced or affected by external factors because you’re really depending on an external factor to get you to perform. And we’ll be much better off when we perform based on our internal factors.”
Coach, you said you’re going to be very process oriented. Can you tell us what it is the players can expect to happen over these next few weeks in the workouts? And how much of it do you see as being mental in what you want your kids to get out of it?
“I think it’s very difficult to ever separate mental toughness, focus, mental processing, knowledge experience. You’ve got to know what to do, how to do it, why it’s important to do it that way. Some of that is physical but a lot of it is mental. One of the most important things about playing football or sports in general is, I control what do I look at.’ And even having enough discipline to even look at that all the time so that you can actually see what you’re supposed to see is a mental process that is on-going in terms of developing discipline and players to be able to do that. So I think you can never separate the importance of focus and the mental aspects of what you need to do to be able to execute relative to any athletic event. I think it’s very, very important and I think that’s going to be an important part of what we do. Based on what we’re teaching and what we’re trying to teach, I think based on what players are used to from a mental capacity standpoint, I think physical conditioning is a capacity. It’s almost like blowing up a balloon. You know the first time you blow up a balloon it’s very difficult to get that balloon to blow up the first time. Let the air out of it, the next time it goes back to that part that you just blew it up to, and then it gets difficult again. Well, I think mental processing is very similar. When players are used to having high demands on the mental processing that they are expected to do, they develop a capacity for that. So they can adjust better, they make better choices and decisions. They play with more focus and discipline because it’s required. It’s something that’s important. And I think this is a process that our players are going to have to learn as well. And it will be important to us being able to execute that they do that. So I don’t know if I’m answering your question but we have a high expectation for what we want the capacity physically and mentally for our players.”
Nick, when you talked about running the 10 perfect tens and the inability, I’m assuming they didn’t do it the first ten times you tried to get them to do it. Does that give you the sense of excitement that, as a coach now, you have a farther way to take this team? Because I noticed you kind of grinned when you said it, kind of a perverse pleasure almost.
“That wasn’t my intention. It is what it is is kind of how I look at it is what we try to do every day is be positive about what we need to do to make things better. I didn’t mean that to be a negative to our team. I just think it shows where we are now so there needs to be a great emphasis on what we need to do in the future to, A), create awareness in players that this is important and there is a consequence for this if we can’t do it and it’s going to affect our ability to be successful. I think everybody wants to be successful. Does everybody know what they need to do to be successful and what it takes to be successful, the commitment, the work, the mental processing that we all need to do, alright, so that we can get ourselves to have the consistency in performance that we need? I think that was just an example of, We’re not where we need to be but we have made progress in that area.’ And it doesn’t please me that we’re not there. I’ll be pleased when we get there. I’ll be pleased when we get there. And I can’t predict when that’s going to be.”
Coach, you mentioned Tyrone Prothro being out again. Where is he now from a health standpoint and how far does he have to go to maybe one day play again?
“Well, I’m not a doctor and this is a pretty significant injury and a pretty complicated issue medically, but I think that he will undergo another surgery to try to make a further improvement and to enhance his ability to maybe come back in the future. But I don’t think I’m really the one who should be commenting on this. So I think if that occurs we will let you know. When it occurs, we will let you know. And it’s something that’s ongoing as we speak right now in terms of trying to continue to do the things that would be helpful to him being able to come back.”
Nick, I know this keeps sounding like an evaluation question but I’m curious when you coaches put together what you want to teach, implement your playbook, is it based on what you think these guys can do or what you think that this is what you want to do and hopefully these guys can do it. Or is that fluid through spring once you see what you’ve got?
“I think that it’s not an all or nothing proposition. The system that you have, that we have that we’ve always tried to create offensively, defensively and on special teams is pretty comprehensive and all inclusive in terms of, Here’s different things that we can do, different personnel groups that we can use, different plays that we can run so that we can take a lot of different types of players and feature them in the system. Interchangeable parts so to speak. That’s a part of the system. Then I think that once you make some evaluations of the type of players that you have and what your players can do best, whether it’s starting with the quarterback on offense, maybe the skill level of the receiver core group or whatever, then your team is going to start to develop a personality of what their best suited to do relative to the individual players that you have. And it’s the same thing on defense. Obviously if you have a great front seven on defense you can play a lot more split safety coverage. Well it’s a lot more difficult for the quarterback or the offense to throw the ball against split safety coverages. So if you’ve got to put an extra guy in the box all the time and play an eight-man front you’re more susceptible to getting the ball thrown on you. So you may say, Well they really have terrible pass defense.’ But the fact of the matter is they can’t stop the run unless they do that. Now we can do both of those things in our scheme on defense? We have the multiple part question on offense in terms of whether we want to play four wide outs, three wide outs and the tight end, three wide outs and two backs; whatever it is. But which part of that do we emphasize because of the players that we have? That’s part of this process of spring practice, I think, that we’ll all kind of go through. I think the system has multiples then you take the multiple that best features the personnel that you have. Example being: when we (LSU) played Tennessee in the SEC Championship game in 2001. We were losing the game 17-7 when our really, really good quarterback, Rohan Davey was playing because we couldn’t block their front. We couldn’t throw it because we couldn’t protect. And Rohan got hurt. So Matt Mauck went in the game. Well, he couldn’t throw it very well when he was a young player. So we had all these running plays that featured him: quarterback zone reads and all that kind of stuff and we’d gotten empty and did all this stuff with him that they’d never seen before. We went from 17-7 to winning 31-20. They couldn’t stop us. If Rohan would have kept playing I don’t know (if the result would have been the same). But it was just a matter of, Here’s what this guy can do.’ They weren’t really ready for it. It really wasn’t anything they even knew because he had never played all year. So it ended up being an advantage for us because we had enough flexibility in our system to feature two different types of quarterbacks and style. Now let me say this, both of those guys were very good. In the style that they had, they were really good. So that doesn’t mean that you could just do that with anybody. But that’s an example of having flexibility in a system and how it worked out as an advantage.”
How much of a complete picture would you like to see by the end of the spring? Would you like to have all your starters solidified or do you care if positions are up in the air?
“It’s got to be an evaluation right? It’s got to be. Some kind of way. Look, this is an on-going process. It’s a work in progress. We’re going to have changes in starters from the first game to the second game, from the fifth game to the seventh game. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of improving to make. Hopefully we’ll continue to build and improve on our team between the 11th and 12th game next year. We’ll add young players to it that are freshman that may contribute in some way in some area some kind of way. So we’re going to continue to build and it’s going to be everybody’s responsibility to do their part in terms of being responsible to keep their job. And just because somebody had a job here in the past doesn’t mean they have a job here in the future because they have responsibilities relative to behavior, academics, execution on the fielda lot of different areas. A lot of different areas. And everybody’s got to prove that they are responsible and they are dependable and if you can’t do some of the things that we’re talking about doing on and off the field, are you proving your dependability? So, therefore, we can put them out there knowing they might not be there next year because they’re telling us everyday, I’m not dependable.’ We had a guy who never finished one off-season workout. He made a few pizzas but he never ever finished a workout. You know what a pizza is? No, I didn’t think you would. I’m not even going to tell you. Alright.”
Not the things you eat?
“Made one. How could you eat one while you’re going through workouts. You make one. What do you think that would be? I shouldn’t even have gone there. Anyway, the guy didn’t even make it through one workout. He made a few pizzas. So what’s a guy telling me everyday? Can we depend on this guy? I don’t care what you say. What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say. But you want me to say that’s guy’s going to play?”
No, I liked your answer. I’ve got a staff question, too. I know your staff hasn’t been on the field yet but what is your reaction of the kind of guys you put together and how do you think they’re going to be?
“Another prediction? Evaluation prediction? What have I seen? I’ve seen a bunch of guys work hard to try to establish a lot of things in a lot of areas relative to relationships with the players that we have on the team here, what we’re trying to do with them to help them be successful as people, students and football players. I’ve seen them work hard at recruiting in terms of trying to put together a class for last year’s recruiting class and get started on what we’re trying to do for next year’s recruiting. I like that coaches that we have. We haven’t been on the field yet so I know you’re asking for a prediction, but that’s impossible to predict. I think the chemistry is good. I like the people that we have. I think we’ve got a nice blend of people and I feel good about the staff in terms of what we want to try to do in terms of building a program for the future.”
As the players went through the winter conditioning program, were there any players who stood out that did things that particularly pleased you that you were happy to see? This is another evaluation question, I know. It wasn’t intended that way.
“One thing about it is, you guys are starting to get it because before you get done asking them, you know you did it. It won’t be long where I won’t even have to say it.”
I could tell by the look on your face.
“Was that it? You know I’m not going to mention specific names. I can only say this. Every player that we have worked extremely hard in the program. I can’t tell you one player that did not make a significant improvement in some area relative to the off-season program. Some guys lost weight. Some guys got stronger. Some guys got more endurance relative to their ability to sustain their performance relative to their conditioning. And I think this is an area of our team where we have a lot of room for improvement, but I think that we made a significant amount of improvement in the five week period that we were able to do this. And I think it’s something that we need to continue to work on after spring practice, through the summer and try to maintain it through the fall and continue to build on it in the future because this is important for durability. It’s important for injury prevention. It’s important for sustainability. That’s important. It’s important to being able to win games in the fourth quarter, to be a well-conditioned football team, and that’s something that we always strive for because the intangible things that I talked about relative to effort, toughness, being responsible to do your job, all eventually go backthere’s one prerequisiteI’ve got to be a well-conditioned athlete to do that because when I get tired, it’s not the same.’ You make mistakes. You loaf. You aren’t able to execute as well. And those things become very costly in critical times in the game.”