SEC Media Days
Coach Nick Saban
We're ready to continue with Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
How is everybody doing today? Good to be here. Great to be back in the SEC.
First of all, I'd like to thank each and every one of you for the job that you do, the time that you spend giving a lot of positive self gratification to a lot of people, a lot of players who participate in college football in the SEC. It's great for our league. It's great for college football. It's certainly great for our players. I know our fans certainly appreciate it.
I've been asked the question on several occasions already today, What is the difference in the league now than when you left? And my response to that is: it seems like it's even tougher now than ever before. The competition from top to bottom, the great coaches in the league, the great programs, more good teams, lots of great players. But I also think that's what makes this an outstanding, competitive venue.
I know you're going to ask me a lot of questions about our team. But let me say this: In some cases, you may know more about our team than we do. When you take over a team, you go through an off season program, you go through a spring practice, you try to teach your offense, your defense, your special teams, you try to learn a little about your players in the 15 days that you have spring practice.
We've been very pleased with the attitude, the buy in by the players, the effort that they've given. You have a summer conditioning program where you really can't work with your players. A lot of the questions that we have about our team are probably going to be answered in this fall camp and this two a days, this early part of the season.
What I mean by that is, you know, what kind of team chemistry do we have? Do we have the kind of trust and respect that we're going to go out there and play well together as a group and execute well together as a team, have the kind of togetherness you need to be as successful as we'd like to be?
That's something that's kind of a work in progress, and we're continuing to try to build and develop. I can't answer that question right now. I think a lot of those questions are going to get answered for us all in this fall camp and the early part of the football season.
How positive are we going to be as a team? What kind of positive energy are we going to have? I think we're the type of team that improvement is going to be a big part of our success in terms of we're learning new stuff so we're going to have an opportunity to improve more.
How our team improves, how they can stay positive, work through some of the ups and downs we'll go through, I think, is going to be imperative to our being successful as a team. That's something I'm not sure about until we get into more competitive situations.
How many players do we actually have on our team that are going to be responsible for their own self determination on a consistent basis to be able to go out there and execute with the kind of discipline you need to do their job so that we have a chance to be successful as a group? That's something that we're going to have to develop, again, in this two a day, because it certainly hasn't been developed in the short time we worked with our players in spring practice.
The last thing is, are we going to be able to improve our ability to sustain our performance for four quarters in a game and play for 60 minutes? We've been pleased with the progress that we made in our strength and conditioning program in the off season, but we're not going to know that till we start playing games. I think that's going to be important for us to be able to finish games so that we have a better opportunity to win close games.
So all those questions are things that, you know, we kind of are still trying to answer ourselves about our team. I know there's always going to be the questions about expectations. Let me just say this: We would not want to coach someplace where they didn't expect to win. So expectations are something that can be very, very positive.
At the same time, I think that you want to be realistic in the expectations that you have relative to who you are, where you are, and how you're going to get there.
It's great to be optimistic. It's probably not so good to be pessimistic. But it's best to be realistic, to stay focused on the process of things you need to do to continue to improve so that you can reach your full potential and have every individual player reach his full potential so that you can have the best possible team that you can.
That's where our focus is. That's what we're trying to do. That's what we're anxiously looking forward to doing in this fall camp and early in this season.
Questions for Coach Saban.
The type of reception you got today in the lobby, from the day you got off the plane in Alabama, have you gotten used to it yet?
Well, first of all, we certainly appreciate the passion and support that our fans have, the excitement they have about the program. It's certainly heartfelt by the Sabans to see 92,000 people at the spring game to support us and our players.
That's the kind of positive energy that I think is going to be important for us to sustain as a program and will be very beneficial to us become successful in the future.
But we do appreciate it. It's heartfelt. My family, our family, certainly appreciates it.
Last December you were pretty adamant you wouldn't be Alabama's coach. You're here today. Can you explain why or why not integrity should be an issue for maybe recruits and their families, considering what happened the two weeks before you took the job?
Well, I don't think, first of all I don't know that we need to go through all this. You know, when this job opened I said I wasn't interested in it. I said I wouldn't talk to anybody until the season was over. Somebody else got the job. It was pretty much over.
Basically for our players, our team at Miami, my focus was to help those players try to finish the season in a successful way, and this was not something we would entertain until the season was over.
When I made those statements they were true. I believed them. It was in the best interest of our team. We were going to protect our team and the players on our team every way we could from a loyalty standpoint.
When the season was over, as we sometimes do, my wife and I sat down and decided that maybe this is something that we should look into. We love college football. It had nothing to do with the Miami Dolphins or the NFL. We love college football. Something we had to learn about ourselves to go to the NFL.
When we learned about it, we felt like, 55 years old, where do you want to spend the rest of your time? We love college football because we like the spirit and enthusiasm of it. We feel like we can impact and affect young people in a more positive way in college football because of their age. The development process they're going through.
The idea that we can develop people that can be more successful in life for something been involved in our program by seeing them be successful as students, seeing them develop at football players, which is kind of a metaphor of life when you play sports. And to see them be successful in their career is all ways we felt like there was a lot of positive self gratification for us being a college coach.
That's certainly what we wanted to finish our career doing, and that's absolutely what we're going to do. That's my story and it always will be. Maybe we could have handled it a better way.
Could you please briefly explain the four tenets of your Mission Statement on the back of the media guide?
The four tenets of your Mission Statement.
Our Mission Statement has always been to create an atmosphere and environment for players to be successful first of all as people. Two things, to be successful in life and anything you choose to do, first of all, you have to know what you got to do. You got to make a commitment to it, be dedicated toward it, have some passion for it, work and invest your time in it, stick with it, have some perseverance relative to all of it, and have the kind of character and attitude, thoughts, habits and priorities on a day to day basis to make good choices about what you do and don't do so you can realize your dreams. That's the first thing we'd like to try to accomplish with our players and provide leadership for.
The second thing is we want them to get an education. That's the thing that's going to affect the quality of their life more than anything else, something that we want to provide support for relative to facilities and personnel and people who can affect them and help them reach their full potential academically.
We want them to be champions on the football field in terms of developing as players so that they can win a championship someday. And we'd like to use the resource that the institution has at the University of Alabama to help launch their career and get the best opportunities in life.
That's always been what we try to do as a college football coach, and that's what we'd like to do at the University of Alabama.
Could you elaborate on a couple of mental aspects that you want to bring back to the program to restore Alabama's winning attitude and tradition.
Well, I think, you know, a couple things that are important I've probably already mentioned before. I think team chemistry is important and I think that everybody on the team not just the players, I'm talking about our administration, I'm talking about our athletic administration, I'm talking about our fans and supporters all have a role in how we can project positive energy so we can build and have a successful program.
If everybody does their part in being supportive and being helpful and working toward that, I think we'll improve and accomplish something significant.
So being a team is really important and being positive is really important. I think being responsible is really important for our own self determination in terms of how we go about what we do and investing our time in making good choices and decisions about what we do and what we don't do and being able to recruit well and get the kind of character and attitude people who want to get an education, who want to be good football players, is going to help us in the future.
And I think those ingredients are probably really important to the future success and us building on that in the near future.
What were your thoughts when you began to see the reaction of LSU fans to your hiring?
You know, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people of the state of Louisiana, toward LSU. What was accomplished when we were at LSU is special to the Sabans. It's certainly special to me and all the people involved in it. There were a tremendous amount of people that supported, including the fans, the players who participated, our administration there. All those people contributed to that success.
That was special. Nothing that will ever happen in the future will ever change that from my perspective. We will continue to have a tremendous amount of respect for the people of the state of Louisiana and LSU and the coaching staff and the people who are there now. Les Miles has done a tremendous job there in the two years he's been there: Won a lot of football games. Won the Sugar Bowl last year. Arguably has the best team in the west coming back this year relative to what his staff has been able to do.
So we have a tremendous amount of respect for LSU and we have a lot of great relationships in Louisiana and want to continue to have those. We hope that people understand that it's our love and passion for college football that brought us back. It was us learning about ourselves going to professional football to find out that we really did belong in college football that took us away from LSU.
All unfortunate things, because we have a tremendous amount of respect for those people.
Two players that you have obviously appointed as leaders. Talk about them both as players and leaders off the field. Simeon Castille and John Parker Wilson.
Simeon Castille has been an outstanding player at the University of Alabama, certainly had a great spring for us. I think the biggest difference in what I see in him, he's accepted the role of leader and trying to affect a other people. I see him constantly trying to give instruction, set example for, helping other guys do their job. We certainly appreciate that. That's something that we need.
Antoine Caldwell is here with us, as well. He has been a great leader on the offensive line, done the same kind of job. He's got great character. He's a very good player. Certainly anchors the leadership on the offense.
Obviously the quarterback, John Parker, who has gained a lot of knowledge and experience last year relative to the starts that he's had, continues to improve, has done a fantastic job of setting good examples and being a good leader, continuing to prove his ability to execute and play winning football at his position.
So we're all very pleased with all three of those guys, their performance, how they've affected other people.
You talk about wanting guys who get a start on being successful in life. From all the places you've been, what college football does to help guys do that, what any institution can do to help that along.
You know, I think that sports is a metaphor of life. Kind of all the things that we talk about and I've already talked about them today whether it's commitment, dedication, hard work, perseverance, investing your team in something that you believe in and have passion for, whether it's pride in performance to try to be the best you can be at whatever it is you choose to do, whether it's character and discipline to do what you're supposed to do, when you're supposed to do it, when it's supposed to get done, probably all those things are important to everybody on the football team.
I don't care what business you're in, I think all those things are probably important to you being successful in that. So really the ingredients that it takes to be successful don't change from one thing to another. Being a competitor, to be able to be consistent in what you do, not get affected by the bad things that happen and get frustrated where it affects your performance, not being able to deal with success when things go well, let that affect your performance, are also lessons that you can learn as an athlete that also are important in life.
So there's so many things that are important. You know, golf is a metaphor of life. It's about the only thing I can play now because you don't have to run around and do anything, run and jump or do any of that stuff. You hit a good shot, you got to live with it and hit a good one the next time. With my short game, any time I'm inside of 60 yards I'm horrible. So I hit a lot of good drives that come to no fruition for me in terms of positive performance.
I'm a great scrambler, so when I hit a bad shot I usually recover better because I'm in a lot of bad shot zones. But, anyway, I think it's all a metaphor of life. I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned by young people through athletics and playing sports. I think that's why, you know, promoting high school football, young people playing in youth programs is very important, and a responsibility and obligation that we all have.
I was really disappointed when we voted as an SEC coaching group at our SEC meetings about the head coaches coming off the road and recruiting because we're all afraid somebody's talking to somebody or doing something somebody else isn't or whatever.
The number one reason I like to go out in the spring, it's the one time where you can go show the players and the coaches that what they do is important and you're interested enough to be there and watch 'em. I think that's a responsibility and an obligation we all have because it's promoting high school football. We need to do that. That's a part of our responsibility: To promote our game so that we continue to have people participating and learning how to be successful through our game.
What do you think the biggest misconception is about Nick Saban?
I don't know. That's one you should ask my wife (smiling). She says I have a huge blind spot. I'm sure you've heard that one, right? What you think you are compared to how you're perceived to be. She said mine's as wide as the Grand Canyon.
It would be hard for me to answer that question. I think she could answer it much better than I do.
I think probably the biggest misconception about me is I've never adapted very well to the position that I'm in. I'm a country boy who grew up in West Virginia and pumped gas from the time he was 10 years old until he graduated from high school. Made a dollar an hour providing service to other people, cleaning windows, checking oil, changing tires. All right?
To me I'm still that way, but maybe sometimes I don't realize that. Sometimes the things I say mean a lot more than what I would intend them to be. Sometimes, because I'm a little bit shy, maybe that's misinterpreted as not being very outgoing. But I try my best, and I'm getting better and I'm trying to improve every day. Anybody out there that can give me any help, I'd welcome it. Thank you (smiling).
I wanted to ask you about the media guide, recruiting media guide. You're on the cover and on the back. There's no players anywhere. I daresay that's the only media guide in the country with that. Is that a philosophical statement by you?
I didn't really make that decision. I would really rather have the players on there, to be honest with you. I can promise you after this first year, which I guess we're promoting the program that we bring, the positive energy that we try to bring to the program, that's something that is going to be the focus and emphasis in the future.
It's not philosophical on my part. I didn't even make that decision. The first time I saw the media guide was yesterday. They can certainly find some better looking people than what they put on there, I can tell you that. It doesn't do our program justice.
What kind of philosophy do you have in scheduling non conference games? Are you going to have input in this?
Well, we're going to have input. Our schedule's set for at least 95% of what happens in the next five or six years, I guess. Philosophically, and I know there's a debate and a dilemma on this all the time, but we have a very difficult league. It's tough from top to bottom. If you're going to have success in the league, it's difficult to play a tough out of conference schedule.
But maybe it's from being at Michigan State for 10 years. We always played Notre Dame. We always played somebody out of the league in one of our three non conference games that gave us a national recognition, prominence, whatever you want to call it. I still philosophically believe that's important.
I am hopeful that we can try to find one opponent each year that we can do that. The thing with Florida State this year, even though they have a great program, all that, I think is healthy for the SEC. I think it's healthy for our program at the University of Alabama.
We're trying to work something possibly for next year, then '08 and '09. We do have Georgia Tech in the future, Penn State in the future in some of those years. Philosophically that's what we're trying to do.
One of the things I think would be more beneficial to our league in doing that and, again, this is kind of coming from the Big 10 we didn't start the Big 10 season until like September 20th, the fourth week of the season.
We played our three non conference games right off the bat, all right, which I think is an advantage because if you play a good opponent and you don't have success, your team can continue to improve and you can prove in those three games before you come into league play.
Like this year we play one game, and then we play Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Georgia. Later on in the season, when the players are geared into the SEC, we have non conference games we have to try to play. I think if we change that as a league it would be much more beneficial to all the teams and would benefit us all a little bit and would help scheduling. I think people would be more in tune to playing an opponent early on that was a quality opponent.
But philosophically that's what we're trying to do. I think it's important to kind of get the national exposure. People who have done that give themselves a better opportunity to win and be recognized nationally. With our current system, I think that's important. Now, you got to win those games.
But that's what we're going that's philosophically what we're going to try to accomplish.
I don't know if you've noticed, but pretty much everything you've done this off season has been in the news. Are you looking forward to when the focus will be on players, team, program, that kind of stuff?
Absolutely. I think that's what it's all about. It's about the entire program, the people. I think that's what needs to be the focus in the future. We want to try to provide the leadership to help all those people be successful, and we'll certainly do that.
I think as the venue changes to them and their competition, I think that will be the natural thing that will happen relative to our players getting a lot more attention and positive self gratification for what they're trying to accomplish.
Had the Alabama job never opened, would you be somewhere else coaching college football, or would you still be with the Dolphins, and did you bring your dog this time?
No, Lizzy is home. This is a different deal. We used to fly over here. Terry and Lizzie came. I don't know how many people were here when I was in one of these rooms and Lizzie followed the maid out, go the in the elevator, came down to this floor, ran up and jumped in my lap.
She still has a pretty prominent position at our house maybe a little more prominent than even mine. But she's not here, and Terry is not here, but doing fine. I appreciate you mentioning it.
Now I forget what your question was (smiling).
Had the Alabama job never opened, would you still be at Miami or would you be coaching college football somewhere else?
Well, I never tried to leave Miami, so I wouldn't have tried to leave Miami. I would be at Miami right now. I have never tried to leave anywhere. I never tried to leave LSU.
Sometimes when people are interested and you have opportunities, which I'm sure all of you would look at your profession in a similar fashion, you have to decide whether it's something that you listen to or you don't.
We felt this is one of the better jobs in the country and was an opportunity. When we assessed it after the season, we thought we'd love to get back into college football. That's why we're here.
I don't think there were any other opportunities that would have created any interest on our part.
When Coach Spurrier came back, he said he was a humbled person, kind of appreciated college football a little more. Do you have any of the same feelings at all?
Well, you know, I appreciate pro ball, too. It was great competition in that league. There's a lot of great players, a lot of great coaches. Everything's about football. You have an opportunity to learn a lot.
I've always had a tremendous respect for college football, the players who play it, how we can impact them as coaches to help them be successful.
I certainly feel that way, but I think I certainly have a lot of respect for coaches in the NFL who have made a tremendous accomplishment in that league because it's very difficult relative to the parity, the system you have to compete in there, as well.
Given the NCAA rules that keep restricting the amount of time that coaches can spend with kids and spend recruiting kids, the amount of face to face time, does something need to be done with that because you guys are held accountable if your players go off and do something, yet the NCAA keeps restricting the rules that limit your contact and your ability to impact your players?
Well, I do think there's a balance somewhere in that. I do think that, A, you need an opportunity to be able to get to know a recruit well enough and talk to enough people about him to make a good our evaluation is about size and speed, athletic ability to play your position, character, intelligence, and attitude.
Well, the character, intelligence, and attitude part of it is more subjective, and you have to be able to do a lot of research relative to people who have associations and time you spend with that particular player getting a feel for what he's like.
When you don't have that, and we don't have it now because the way this whole recruiting calendar has gone, you know, we offer guys when they're juniors. And unless they come and visit our campus, we never have an opportunity to meet them or talk to them or meet their parents or talk to them, to learn what their principles and values are.
You are right, if we ever take someone who embarrasses themselves, their family, and our program, we're responsible for that.
I also feel like we've made a lot of progress, even though we're not allowed to spend a lot of time with the players once we get them on campus. I think a lot of progress has been made through the years relative to programs you can have that can enhance the development of players, whether it's a peer intervention type program where you address behavior issues, whether it's drugs, alcohol, agents, gambling, spiritual development, how you treat the opposite sex, macho man type stuff, that you educate and try to get players to try to respond to and react to a little better and with a little more maturity so you can minimize the issues.
You don't have to do that personally as a coach. You can affect life skills programs, things like that, that can be effective in those areas. So I do feel like we made a tremendous amount of progress in those areas, because just a few years back we didn't have a lot of that kind of stuff.
The spring practice in Tuscaloosa that I saw looked very familiar to me after covering you for five years. Is there a significant area in your process or system that has been tweaked in the last couple of years? If so, can you elaborate on how that evolved?
You know, I think probably technically, from a football standpoint, there's probably been more changes in the philosophical part of how we conduct practice. There's only so many ways to do that. We did learn some things in pro ball. But in pro ball, you know, you practice a little less, you spend a little less time on the field, the season's a lot longer.
If there's anything taken from that it's probably how to keep your players fresh, the importance of that relative to how they can sustain the season.
You talked about realistic expectations before. Since you've been hired, Alabama fans are talking national championship. Is it realistic for them to expect you to bring one to Alabama?
Well, I think if you just assess, we had a 6 and 7 team last year. You know who's coming back. You know what starters. We're going to win with people and our ability to develop those people to their full potential.
Our success has always been relative to the team of people that we've assembled around us, not necessarily what we've done. I think that's important. I'm talking about players, coaches and everybody who contributes to the success of the program. That's something that we're going to work to build.
What's always been my philosophy is where are we today and what do we need to do today to improve and get better, and our focus is always on improving. The quality of people, the quality of talent, the coaching methodology that we use to try to develop that talent, the togetherness, the people who can help develop that kind of team chemistry that's going to help you be successful.
There's no waving a wand and making all that happen. But we work hard and go from where we are right now to try to get to where we want to be. There's no real formula for what the timetable to do that is.
But we're going to try to stay focused on the process and not get hung up on the frustration that when you have high expectations and it doesn't happen immediately, how that can affect your performance.
You know, I'm just going to say this to everybody. I talk about it all the time. But, you know, in 1986, a priest gave me a book called The Road Less Traveled. It's a spiritual development. Great book. You ought to read it. Spiritual development, positive attitude book. Priest gives it to me at a banquet. I take it home, I open it up, and the first line in the book says, Life is difficult.
I'm thinking I got a crazy priest here that gave me this book. Give me a positive attitude, spiritual development book, and the first line is a negative statement. But when you read the whole book, it was about if you have if you think things are going to be difficult, if you're willing to work and invest your time in something, you think it's going to be hard, then when you do have bumps in the road, all right, you're going to have a more positive attitude about overcoming those things.
If you think everything is going to be easy, then every time something goes wrong you're going to have a tremendous amount of frustration and you're not going to respond to it properly and you're probably not going to be able to continue to improve.
That book, probably as much as anything, developed my philosophy about how to manage and handle expectations. All right? I'm talking about relative to getting the results that you want.
Hey, we want to win. We want our expectations to be to win. All right? But we want to do the things that we need to do to give our players the best opportunity to do that every day as we make progress toward that.
Do you feel better about your defensive front seven after the spring, a position that's generally regarded as thin? You had some player arrests earlier this month. What is the latest there? I don't think you've spoken publicly about that.
I've been speaking about it all day today. I'm surprised it took y'all this long to ask about it (looking at his watch).
First of all, we did make some progress and improvement in the front seven. We don't have a lot of depth at that position. We don't have a lot of size. You know, we're going to have to adapt the way we do things probably to be able to persevere this year.
But I think the most important thing is we continue to make progress and improve, get our players a little bit more comfortable with their ability to execute on a consistent basis. It's a new system for them as well and we made quite a few mistakes trying to learn that system throughout the spring, and that's a part of process.
From a player standpoint, you know, discipline to me is not punishment. Discipline is what can I do to change someone's behavior to make them better. It's the same approach that I would use at home with my two children. You know, we can punish them, have no effect on what they do, how they change their behavior. Or if we take something significant away from them that is meaningful, educate them on how to do it correctly, we probably have a chance to get better results.
We will handle all discipline internally with our team. It will not be a public deal. All right? These players have been given things they need to do, and they are doing them. If they do them properly, learn from their mistakes, improve as people, then they won't face any suspensions or anything that will affect their ability to perform on the field.
However, if they don't do those things, then the consequences could affect their ability to represent the University of Alabama on the football field.
How aware are you of the backlash that was created in Louisiana when you took the job, and has anything filtered back to you, anything you thought was funny or interesting from the people of Louisiana, anything that was said?
You know, I'm very aware of all the things that happened. One of our ladies, administrative assistants, who worked for us at LSU who went to a wedding in Baton Rouge got her tires slashed at the wedding. So I think we're very aware of the backlash; live it every day.
I absolutely hate to see people on my staff who we care about, love, and want to see have success have to be penalized, you know, for that.
But at the same time, I can't answer that question any differently than what I've already answered it. We have respect and admiration for the people in the state of Louisiana. What was accomplished there at LSU was special to us. We have respect for the institution and the people who are there now, the players that have represented the program there that we have had involvement with in the past, and would do anything to help any of them be successful.
We have no ill feelings towards anybody. It was not our intention to create any of this by leaving there. It was not a personal thing to us. It was strictly a professional decision. When we left LSU it wasn't personal. We thought it was professional. We learned about ourselves, made a mistake in terms of what we did, in terms of what we want to do, where we feel we should be, and you can't go back.
I mean, there was no opportunity for me to go back to LSU. This was a great opportunity that we had at the University of Alabama. We chose it. It wasn't personal. It wasn't meant to hurt or harm anyone at LSU.
Now, I can't say that any better, any more, whatever. I'd like for somebody to record it and we just push the button and go from there. How's that? I'm just kidding (smiling).
Is it fair or unfair that every time you see a story on intercollegiate athletics your salary comes up, like the poster child for excess. There's the national image that Alabama was willing to do anything to buy a national championship, so they paid a guy $4 million a year. How do you look at that?
Well, I actually took a pay cut. Do you put that part in there?
You know, I don't think what I do is about money, to be honest with you. It really isn't. You know, I started coaching as a GA and didn't make anything. Loaded trucks at Roadway Express at night. My wife worked in a registrar's office so she could go to school part time and graduate. I worked at Coca Cola, drove a Coke truck in the summertime so she could go to school in full time in the summertime so I could be a GA so I could coach.
I burned up a clutch in that truck every summer. The mechanic said, This is not a footrest. I had those experiences. I worked for $8,000 a year for a long time. Went about coaching and recruiting the same way I do now. I love teaching. I love being with the players.
It's not about money for me. All right? I really enjoy it. We've tried to give back to the community through our Nick's Kids Foundation. We made a significant contribution through the University of Alabama. We will continue to do that.
I don't feel like I'm totally responsible for where this whole salary thing has gone, and I think that it will continue to go there in the future relative to what happens in the NFL and how the trickle effect comes down into college football.
Thanks, Coach Saban.
Thank you. We look forward to seeing you throughout the season this year. We certainly appreciate your time. Thank you very much.