July 24, 2008
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Alabama head football coach Nick Saban spent Thursday morning in Birmingham at the annual Southeastern Conference Media Day. Here is a transcript of his session in front of the microphone.
COACH SABAN: Good morning. Hope everybody has had an outstanding summer, enjoyed themselves. We certainly did. But we're also very excited about the upcoming season, the challenges of the SEC, opening up practice on August the 1st.
It's a great time to be at the University of Alabama right now. I think we have a lot of positive energy. As an institution, we've made some tremendous strides. I think Dr. Witt has done a fantastic job of improving the university as a whole, and for us to be recognized by Forbes Magazine as the seventh best place to go to school; affordable, educational opportunity, career launching place in the world is really pretty significant to us. Certainly something that is a positive, you know, for our recruiting and what we're trying to accomplish there.
We feel really good about the positive energy our fans have demonstrated throughout the 18 months that we've been here. It's certainly contributed in a positive way to the excitement that our players have as well as our ability to recruit.
You know, our Mission Statement stays the same in terms of what we try to accomplish with the players. We want to create an atmosphere, an environment where our players have a chance to be successful as people, that their character, their attitude, the commitment, the work ethic, the pride in performance to be the best that they can be, the choices, decisions that they make are all things that are gonna help them be more successful in life for having been involved in the program.
We feel really good about the progress we made in that regard. We have a lot of players doing outstanding academically. They've made a significant improvement as football players, and they certainly have enhanced their chances of being successful in life by some of the habits that they've developed in the last 18 months.
We also want to create an atmosphere, an environment where the players can succeed academically. We feel the most important thing that any player's gonna do when he goes to college as a college football player is graduate and develop a career off the field. We feel good about the 80% graduation rate that we have, the success that our academic staff has had with our players.
We want our team to reach their full potential as football players. That's every individual becoming a complete player so that they can have confidence and feel great about what they're able to accomplish as a football player. We are making progress in that regard, as well. We want to use all the resources that we have as an institution to help them launch their career and get the best opportunities in life.
This is the reason that I love college football, so that you can impact and have some influence on things that happen on and off the field. That's something that we feel good about in terms of our program development.
Consistency in performance is probably the key to being successful. I think our team last year probably didn't play with a lot of consistency in performance. We didn't finish games. We didn't finish the season. We probably played one complete game, and that was the Tennessee game. We were inconsistent and up and down, played up to the good teams, down to the bad ones. We were inconsistent within games. Had big leads and weren't able to keep 'em.
I think those two things finishing and consistency in performance are probably the two things that were the biggest focal points for us in the off season to try to improve on.
I've seen a tremendous improvement in our team in those areas in this off season. We had a good off season. We had a good spring. We've had a great summer. And I think the team chemistry is certainly something that has improved, and I think it's because players understand what they're supposed to do, how they're supposed to do it, why it's important to do it that way, which makes them have a greater trust and respect for each other, and a confidence in what they're doing.
I think it also helps them be more responsible for their own self determination because they understand the expectation. The positive attitude, leadership that some of our older players have demonstrated has made a positive impact. We really feel good about the progress that we made.
But I think the key to our success in the future, we have nine seniors on the team, even though we have good leadership in that group, our improvement is going to depend on how our young players progress because we lack depth at several positions.
We're fortunate to have a very good recruiting year, but with a young team, we must identify or establish an identity, you know, as a team. These young players and how they respond to the challenges in the SEC is certainly going to go a long way to determine how much success this team can have and how much this team will actually improve. And we really won't know that until we get out there and play the games.
Our schedule is very challenging. I think one thing that the Clemson game will do for us early in the season, you hear all the things about exposure and national TV game. They're a great team. They're a top 10 team. They're picked to win their league. But I think what it's gonna help us do is enhance our development in terms of our identity as a team because it will certainly show us where we are in terms of how we compete against one of the best teams in the country, even though it's a first game and it's on the road. I also think that's gonna help us down the road in our competition in the league, which is several teams that will be in the top 10, top 15, and six or seven in the top 20.
I think the league is outstanding from top to bottom. I think it's going to be very challenging. It's probably better than it's ever been in terms of program and coaches. We certainly need to do everything that we can do to help our players develop and reach their full potential so that we can be competitive in our league.
THE MODERATOR: Hands up for questions, please.
Q. Can you comment on Tarence Farmer's departure, what happened there, and can you tell us where he might be headed next?
COACH SABAN: I really don't know. But we kind of mutually agreed that he wanted to play, and we thought that it might be better that he go someplace else. He sort of agreed with that. We wish him the best.
Q. You lose a lot of experience at wide receiver this year. What do you think the biggest challenge is for John Parker Wilson going into this season?
COACH SABAN: John Parker has had an outstanding off season. I think it was contributed largely to having a great Bowl game, kind of restored his confidence.
New offensive coordinator, a little more diversity, a little more quarterback friendly. I think he's a little more businesslike and mature in his approach to how he prepares in the decision making process that he goes through.
But I feel very good about the progress that he's made in this off season. I do think there is some opportunity for several people at the receiver position to sort of step up. Some of those players are young players. But we also have some players, Nikita Stover, Michael McCoy, who have some experience. But I think the development of that group is going to be really the key to our success offensively because we do have some returning players on the offensive line. We don't have a lot of depth.
We have a couple decent tight ends. We have some experience at runningback. That's the real area where we need to have some people step up and play great football for us. And I think that will help the quarterback.
Q. You talk about not being consistent last year, trying to get consistency. How much do you think the fact that you're there for a second year will help that? If that's not the thing that helps it, what do you have to do to get consistent?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think it really starts with who you are, you know. I'm talking about our players. We're trying to develop the best possible habits that we can in our players to be successful.
I think the expectation of them knowing what to do, how to do it, why it's important to do it that way, and having some consistency in system and confidence, all those things contribute to it.
I think there's a lot of things that contribute to trying to get players to play with more confidence. But having a better understanding of what they're supposed to do, how they're supposed to do it, and why it's important to do it that way probably contributes to it as much as anything.
And I think the longer they're in the same system, the better chance you have to develop that.
I think also the coaching staff, having some continuity in the coaching staff, also helps that. Even though we have a new offensive coordinator, we didn't completely change the offense or the terminology where it was totally different for the players.
Q. Your last two seasons weren't quite as good as the two or three before that. How do you deal personally with that kind of mediocrity there?
COACH SABAN: Well, I try to get better, I guess (smiling).
But, you know, I think some of them are the challenging situations that you are in, and trying to work hard to improve those situations. And that's certainly what we've done. We're very confident that the approach that we use, the system that we have, the program that we try to develop, the systemic approach that we use in evaluation and recruiting to attract a character quality player who has talent and ability, who can play winning football at this level, are all going to be things that contribute to us improving.
You know, eight years ago I started out not having a lot of success either, but you have to build. And that's what we're trying to do right now, is build on positive energy and a great opportunity so that we can have success in the future.
Q. Have any of the situations off the field changed sort of the way you view discipline or how to discipline the players?
COACH SABAN: No, not at all. Unfortunately for you all, we have about 25 or 30 guys that are doing extremely well in the program, have improved dramatically as students, have made a lot of personal choices that have enhanced their chances of being successful in the future, have improved as football players. And I think their chances of being successful in life have improved dramatically.
You know, philosophically, we are there to help players. You know, we're gonna take every player and try to get him to reach his full potential. And everybody has a responsibility and an obligation for their own self determination, but we're there to support and help those players to do that. That's our philosophy.
You know, I'm not gonna clean house and get rid of everybody just because they might be a problem. Now, when players don't do the right things and make poor judgments, then they cannot be a part of the program. But it's our philosophy to support players, to help them be successful. One of the reasons that I enjoy college coaching and want to be in college coaching and am here is to help players do that.
So that's what we've done. And I feel very good about who we are, what we've done, what we're gonna continue to try to do, so that we don't fail players and they make bad decisions and bad choices about what they do and how those consequences impact their ability to be successful in the future.
There's no change. We just need to do what we do better.
Q. You mentioned some of the freshmen who have an opportunity to come in and play right away. How do you manage the, I guess, expectations, recruiting services, et cetera, put on them? How do you keep them grounded mentally while they're trying to do that?
COACH SABAN: Well, what I think is important really to all of us is that we create our own expectations. I think it's important to Michael Johnson if he's running in the Olympics, I think it's important to any freshman that's going to any college, I think it's important to all of us, that we create our own expectations, that we know where we are, we have a goal, and we want to try to achieve that.
And I think one of the things as competitors that is always a challenge is that you're affected by external factors. And someone else's expectations of what you should accomplish, especially if it's defined in results, can create a tremendous amount of frustration which could affect how you improve and how you develop as a player because frustration is not something that's gonna help you. It's negative energy and it's not gonna help you improve.
So what we've tried to do is to get these guys to have expectations that they create for themselves, that they define and work for, and not be affected by things that happen outside. And that's not easy to do, and it's difficult.
But I would be more concerned about these guys focusing on being complete players and how they can contribute by being complete players rather than some goal of how many passes they catch or how many tackles they make or how many interceptions they make or something along those lines.
That's how we try to manage it. You know, we have the Pacific Institute in there this summer teaching 12 classes, which is a mental conditioning type character development class, that helps these kinds of self actualization, self confidence, self esteem issues that we all are challenged with every day to stay on task to focus on what we need to do, to do what we do well.
Q. Given the pending suspension you mentioned for Prince Hall, which of these freshmen do you expect to come in and compete for some of those linebacker positions?
COACH SABAN: I don't. I expect to take all the players that we have and work with them. The ones that develop the most quickly and give us the best opportunity to be successful, that have confidence and maturity to compete it may be a freshman, it may be a sophomore, it may be a junior we'll make the decision to play the best players when everybody goes through fall camp.
There is a lot of competition at the linebacker position, and we do have some young players who are talented and may be able to contribute in that area.
Q. Could you talk a little bit more about opening up against a top ranked team like Clemson? Talk about your expectations from your team and what you expect to see from Clemson as well.
COACH SABAN: You guys use that word "expectations" a lot. And I try to minimize it a lot because I think it's dangerous, because we're trying to focus on what we can do to make our team the best that it can be. So that process is taking it every day on what you can do, how you can work to improve character, attitude, physical ability, ability to execute, team chemistry, work ethic, you know, all these things that keep just continuing to help you improve so that you can become a good football team and play with consistency every week.
And I think the thing that this game with Clemson does, who has a returning veteran team, who has had success, and who will be a top 10 team, will be a challenge for our team relative to seeing where we are and how we compete and where we need to go to get better win or lose.
Q. From the outside looking in, you seem more relaxed and comfortable this year than last year, your first year coming back into the SEC. Would you agree with that? If so, is that because you're kind of back in your element, coaching in a college program for all the reasons that you described?
COACH SABAN: Well, it was a difficult situation for the Sabans. This has nothing to do with any particular place. But we love college coaching. We love college football, and I think the SEC is a fantastic league. I think we have great leadership in this league with our commissioner, and we have a tremendous group of schools that have great leadership and lots of good programs.
Sometimes you learn about yourself when you go places and do things. We took a tremendous amount of criticism for that. And as hard as we tried to stay focused and stay on the task at hand, it was difficult at times. But we certainly appreciate the warm embrace that we've had and the support that we've had from the people of the state of Alabama, especially the people who support the University of Alabama in terms of how they've supported the program and how they've made us feel welcome and at home in our situation here. And I think that's gone a long ways in making us feel comfortable.
But we have a lot of work to do. But I'm excited about the challenge of the work we need to do to become, you know, one of the dominant teams in this league, again, in terms of the recruiting we have to do and the development of the players that we have. But that's what we love.
Q. What does it say about the strength of this league that two coaches voluntarily left the NFL to come back to this league? Did the passion of this league have anything to do with drawing you back to college football?
COACH SABAN: Well, I certainly think that we certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for the SEC. The venues you play in, the places you go, the passion that the fans have just about every place that you go, I don't know how it could get any better. And sometimes you have to go someplace else to fully understand and realize that.
But I think that we came back, and feel very fortunate to be able to come back to a quality institution like the University of Alabama, in the best league, the SEC. To get an opportunity to do that after going to pro football and learning that, it really is all about college and a love of the game that we have for college football and college players that make us happy and makes our job special.
So that was, I guess, the number one thing. But we felt so fortunate to be able to come back to this league, and especially at a quality institution like the University of Alabama.
Q. Given what you were just saying about coming back to the SEC, could that help you easier relate to what Bobby Petrino went through, and can you give your thoughts about him being in the West there with you guys?
COACH SABAN: You know, Bobby's an outstanding coach. He has a great record as a college coach. I'm sure he would have done a great job in the NFL, as well.
You know, Arkansas has been a very competitive team. I know he'll do a great job there. It will be very challenging systematically. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Houston Nutt, who is still in the league. I thought he always did a great job there. We had some great games through the years.
But I think Bobby will do a fantastic job, as well.
Q. Talking about the freshman class you have coming in, at what point, when players are developing at freshman, at what point in fall or summer practice do you start to see them be being able to contribute on an average basis?
COACH SABAN: I don't know. I think every guy will be different. I think all these guys will develop at a different pace relative to their maturity, maybe their ability to learn and be confident in what they do.
But my disposition on it is we're going to play the best players, and if they're freshmen and the freshmen can go out there and play with consistency and performance and do their job better than someone else, we have no issue with those guys being the performers that will give us the best opportunity to be successful as a team.
But I do think how these guys develop will have something to say about the kind of success and how much our team improves this year.
Q. You mentioned the new offense being more quarterback friendly. What exactly do you mean by that?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that decision making and judgment and accuracy are probably critical factors in being a successful quarterback. I certainly feel if you can minimize the number of thought processes that you have to go through before you make that decision, it can be beneficial.
I think in our case it certainly is helpful to our quarterback. It's something that he did more of in high school. And I feel good about the way he's responded to that.
I think you can have a great system, but it also can be very complicated. And sometimes the complications slow down players' ability to make good judgments and decisions. That can affect their ability to perform with consistency.
Q. You talked a minute ago about your goal is to get Alabama back to being a dominant program. For the Alabama fans, what's a realistic timetable? What timetable can you give them that's realistic to bring Alabama back to a dominant at national prominent level?
COACH SABAN: We never, ever talk about it is what it is. We are where we are. We work every day to try to get it where we want it to be. We're going to make small, incremental improvements to getting there.
You know, obviously the quality of player that we can attract in recruiting, the way we can develop the players that we have, the attitude that we can develop within the organization, I mean, there's so many factors that contribute to that.
But I have never as a head coach put a timetable. And every situation is different. You know, sometimes you go into a situation, you have pretty good players in there in disarray. You straighten them out, they start playing pretty good, get confidence, all of a sudden you're pretty good.
You go in other situations where you may not have as many good players, it's going to take a little more time to recruit your way out of it.
It's always a combination of all those factors that determine, you know, how soon you can start to be successful.
But we're gonna do everything that we can to continue to build a program that our fans and supporters can be proud of. It's certainly our goal to be one of the teams that's recognized in the SEC as a top, top team again.
Q. What reaction do you have to Les Miles' line about Alabama having trouble beating teams from Louisiana?
COACH SABAN: Well, he told the truth. He told it like it was. So, you know, I don't you know, we need to earn it. You know, that's what the guy told Private Ryan, Private Ryan told Tom Hanks on the bridge after 12 guys got killed getting him out of there, Tom Hanks says, "Earn this."
We need to earn the respect. We need to earn it. So that's what he need to do. That's what we'll work to do. That's what we're trying to do.
Q. Coaches talk about team chemistry being one of the variables that will turn a good team into a great team. Is team chemistry one of those things that's hard to describe; you just know it when you have it? What can wreck it the quickest?
COACH SABAN: I think team chemistry is important to being successful because it means you have a bunch of players who have a respect for each other and trust in each other. I think that contributes to confidence. I think it contributes to consistency.
I think the whole idea that together everybody can accomplish more is something that we talk about, but the individuals that contribute to that really make the team what it is. Their intensity, their intelligence, how smart they play, the sense of urgency that they have in that particular moment to do what they're supposed to do and respect and trust that everybody will do it is something that contributes to team chemistry.
It takes a lot of positive energy. But I also think when you have a group of guys that have been together and have kind of grown up together, you enhance the chances of having that.
But in our circumstance, I think how the young players and the team chemistry sort of forms around the older, and the younger is gonna go a long ways in how successful we can be.
Q. The conference commissioners approved to maintain the status quo with the BCS system for the next several years. Do you like it the way it is now or would you like to see a plus one playoff?
COACH SABAN: I've always supported the plus one playoff. I really have supported the commissioner and think he's done a fantastic job of taking that to the forefront. I don't think there's any circumstance that you can think of in the last 10 or 15 years where if we had four teams playing in the championship. Our year at LSU in 2003, you know, Southern Cal was left out. They thought they should be one of the teams in there. If we would have had four teams playing, there wouldn't have been any doubt about that.
I think the year Auburn got left out, that would have also solved that problem. There was a year where Michigan and Nebraska shared a title. It wouldn't extend the season. If you use one of the Bowl games that we have right now and then a week later play another game, it wouldn't cause any problems academically.
My only caveat to all that, when I suggested this back in 1997, was that all the money that they make in the National Championship game would give back to every student athlete in terms of improving their quality of life by giving them $200 a month or whatever as a part of their scholarship.
I'm not just talking about football players. I'm talking about women's basketball players, volleyball players, softball players, and everybody that's on scholarship. 'Cause I think we should support the student athlete in every way that we can so that they improve their quality of life.
Q. You talked earlier about the work of the Pacific Institute. Have you used anything similar to that at any of your other coaching stops? How has that work helped this year's team?
COACH SABAN: Well, we've always done things like that. We have about three or four different people that we've used for years. We have someone from IMG, their mental conditioning, who is with us. We had several people at LSU. We had several people at Michigan State. We have a sports psychiatrist from Michigan who periodically visits and affects our players on an individual basis and has had a significant impact on, you know, helping guys be successful, resonating on things that would help them develop a direction that could help them be successful.
So, you know, I putzed around when I was in graduate school by having a concentration in sports psychology. It was very interesting to me. So this part of the mental part of the game has always been something that I didn't know enough about, probably knew just enough about to get in trouble, but have always tried to surround our organization or program with some of these people who can impact and have knowledge and experience in that area. And I've seen it over the years have a tremendous impact on performance with a lot of players.
Q. Some coaches are open about injuries. Other guys try to not talk about 'em. The ACC sort of half heartedly adopted an NFL style mandatory injury report. How would you feel about that? Is that something you think would be good?
COACH SABAN: I would have no problem with it if everybody had to do it the same way. In the NFL we had to do it the same way. Some coaches tried to take advantage of it. One of my buddies, in fact, used to have about 20 guys every week that were probable, including Tom Brady (smiling).
You know, you can do a lot of things to any system. But I would not be opposed to that, if that was something that everyone had to do. Because eventually everyone finds out anyway.
Q. John Parker Wilson has worked with several different offensive coordinators over the last few years. How do you think he's adjusted to that? Does that help him or hurt him?
COACH SABAN: I think it probably didn't help him much when he had to do it. Now that he's done it, I think it's helped him tremendously. His capacity to learn and make adjustments has probably been enhanced by all that stuff. He's adapted extremely well, you know, to our current coordinator. Him and Mack have a good relationship. I think Mack's helped him. I think he can have an outstanding year if he can just stay on task here.
Q. You said you putzed around with psychology and sports psychology. When you read stuff, do you read Freud, Norman Vincent Peel?
COACH SABAN: I'm from West Virginia, man. We don't even know who Freud is up there (smiling).
No, I just like I read Michael Johnson's book, Slaying the Dragon. I always read Rick Pitino, Pat Riley.
But I spend a lot of time discussing how to manage people with these people who are involved in our program. And I think that it helps you think out of the box a little bit and it gets you out of as a coach, you really like the cookie cutter type of everybody fits the same mold. But I think through the year players have changed dramatically and there's a lot of different personalities that play now. I think your ability to motivate, reach, affect, however you want to say it, these different personalities, but not let their personalities be divisive to the team chemistry, is a key to being successful.
And I can say that a lot of these people that we've had relationships with and work with have certainly helped us expand our thinking and our awareness so that it's helped us do that.
Q. Coaches talk about treating players differently to help them overcome their mistakes. Seems likes Urban Meyer is doing that. Can you elaborate on how things have changed in that regard?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think we're all aware that they have changed. If you have children of your own, I think you can probably attest to anyone who has gone through adolescence with someone now knows that they're different.
My kids just flat out tell me. I mean I didn't have the guts to tell my dad. You know, when I sit and look at my kids and I say, When I was your age, I worked for everything I had. And they just look at me and say, Well, I don't know anybody that does that anymore, Dad. Like you came from outer space.
So it is different. I mean, people grow up different. It's an instant coffee, instant tea, instant self gratification. Everything is on the Internet. Everything is a picture. Everything is fast. Everything is quick. There's not the same long term commitment to something and sticking with it and learning from your mistakes. Very few of the things that our young people do now, do they get consequences for? You know, we played checkers when we were growing up. And when you moved the wrong guy, you lost your guy, you got immediate positive or negative self gratification for it and you learn from that.
You know, my kids push the restart button. They don't even know if they got blowed up. I mean so it's different. It's all different.
I'm not saying that that style wouldn't work now. I think with certain people it probably would work. But I think with a lot of players right now, you have to use a little different approach.
But I think that at the end of the day they all want to be good. They all want to reach their full potential. And they all have a willingness that if you can help 'em do that, they have a respect for you, and they'll give you everything they got to do it. That's been my experience.
But I think you have to be a little more flexible sometimes and you have to think outside of the box. That doesn't mean you have to compromise your principles and values in terms of what's important because they respect that more than anything else.
Q. Having been through a spring where head coaches could not go out and evaluate and contact recruits, I wondered what your revised opinion of the Saban Rule was.
COACH SABAN: Well, you know, when you look at it now, as a head coach you can recruit in December, which is two or three weeks, and January, which is two or three weeks, and that's it. So when do we develop relationships with high school coaches? It's the NFL in me that you looked at a player on college tape, you went out and you went to the combine and saw the guy work out, and then you went and worked him out, and then maybe you looked at him again and you made a final evaluation on what kind of player that guy was.
My ability to go out and my willingness to go out all those days and see all those practices and we did evaluate. We did not recruit. I don't care what anybody says or anybody thinks, because all they do is think; they don't know. We evaluated the players.
I was the common denominator that saw all the best players and could say this guy in Mississippi was better than that guy in Georgia, was not as good as this guy in Alabama. All right. And that's gone. All right. So more mistakes are going to be made in recruiting and you're not going to be able to spend the time with people to make relationships to get as good as information. And your assistants are going to have to do that. And we have great assistants to recruit. But I enjoy recruiting, I like doing it, and I wish we could do it again.
I respect the rules. I respect the NCAA. But I missed it. I like it. I think it promotes our game, that any coach in the SEC walks in a high school and watches a practice. Every kid on the team is uplifted that what he's doing is important. It promotes our game. It does so much.
So, you know, that rule, I don't care what anybody thinks, was made out of paranoia, all right, that somebody else was doing something that they weren't doing, whatever. But assistants do it. They do the same thing.
But I respect the rule and we'll do it however we want. I don't think it's as good for evaluation. It's a disadvantage to us, to some degree. But we will overcome it.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Saban, thank you.
COACH SABAN: Thank you. I would like to say this. I would like to thank everybody here. I mean, y'all do a great job for our players, for our programs, for our institutions, for the SEC, for our league, of taking the information to the fans and promoting our game. Your professionalism is certainly appreciated. We thank you for the interest and the help. Thanks.