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Alabama Football Media Day: Kevin Steele and Jim McElwain



Aug. 3, 2008


Alabama Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele:

Opening Comments: “First I’d like to take a moment to send our thoughts and prayers to Coach Stallings and his family. Anybody who has ever met John Mark, and I did one time, knew that he was definitely full of sunshine.

“To give you a brief synopsis real quick of kind of where we are at, we talk about process here a lot. We’re in the process. It’s kind of hard to answer a lot of specific questions or be very specific because we’re just basically two practices into it with a lot of youth running around out there and some returning experience that obviously we are very far ahead in terms of our installation and their application of that in the practices because they’ve been through it a lot now. It’s got a lot of little nuances in the defense. It takes a while to adjust. But the young guys have done a great job of being energetic and being focused, being mature about the process that they are in and not taken back in the shock of what’s happening. I think that’s a tribute to the young guys. They obviously did a good job in the summer of conditioning and getting acclimated to the way we go about things which is now translating into the football practice and the application of the x’s and o’s.

“We’ve got a lot of guys out there who are very athletic. We’ve got a lot of guys that have potential to fit into the pieces of the puzzle but we’ve got a lot of practicing to do and obviously some scrimmages when we get to that test. So anything above that will really be putting the cart before the horse.”

On effects of changes in staff titles between him and Kirby Smart: “The thing that’s good about it is that Kirby (Smart) and I had actually worked together before Coach Saban and Kirby were together. We were together at Florida State. He was a graduate assistant for us at Florida State so we’ve been friends for a long time. So in terms of just trying to make it happen and fitting everything together where people have a chance to be recognized for being a strong part of the staff which Coach Saban is very good about that, there has not been anything at all. We keep on keeping on. There’s enough work around here, I’ll promise you, that if you’ve got anybody who else wants to come along and get a title, we’ll give them a title and put them to work because there’s plenty to do.”

On Coach Saban’s references that Steele is ready, himself, to be a head coach: “That’s putting the cart before the horse, too. I’ve been there done that. If an opportunity arises, and you have to look at each and every situation differently, I’ll promise you this, if the opportunity occurs, then we’ll access the situation to see the commitment of the program, see if they want to win, and if it doesn’t we’ll keep doing what we’re doing and be happy along the way.”

On the linebacker position and whether he’s been in a similar situation with so much inexperience: “I assume you’re talking about the youth? The thing about it is, and just remember this, in the college cycle, you only have four years. And a lot of times if you really recruit the right guys nowadays with the early entry into the draft, you only have three years. So it’s a pretty short cycle anyway so you have to be prepared at all times to prepare the youth to play immediately. If you’re going to have to prepare to play immediately then the first criteria is to go get guys who have the ability to do that and then as a coach get it taught. There is no reason not to get it taught. If you do that, if you take that approach at some point in time it will all come together and you’ll have a pretty good group of talented young men that can play on Saturday. “

On advantage of having entire defensive staff returning: “I think just as you talk about players and them being in the second year of the process, the older guys, it makes it just more adaptable. You kind of know what the other is thinking before you get to the problem. You can anticipate problems and have them solved in advance, and I don’t think it’s any different for a staff. Anytime you get going and just kind of have a feel. I know my 20th year of marriage is a lot different than my first year of marriage was.”

On how Rolando McClain compares to other linebackers he’s coached: “Every one of them is different in their own way. The first thing about Rolando is that he plays very, very, very intelligent. I mean in an extreme way, both across campus in a classroom it’s reflected in how he goes about that and also on the football field. He just understands the game almost from a coach’s eyes. Then you put on top of that he has an unbelievable amount of ability and he’s big and strong. So that can be a lethal combination.”

On how difficult/how possible it will be for a new player to come in and learn the playbook and become a starter: “We’re only about 48 hours into it so there’s a lot that remains to be seen. But obviously we do have a comprehensive playbook, but it’s not hard in terms of there’s a lot of little components in it, but once you learn the concepts it all kind of fits together. So I think that process is still ongoing. I do know this: as a coach you always want to have something to do and you always want to have some way of trying to help somebody be better. I told one of the freshmen the other day, ‘Look, if you do it all in one (try) I’d be out of work. So right now I’ve still got a job.”

On the role McClain will have in leading freshmen even though he himself is fairly young: “Rolando is a very confident young man, and like I said he’s very intelligent. He understands the defense. He understands all the little nuances. And he’s kind of a positive upbeat guy who is kind of outgoing and likes to help people. He just doesn’t go about his daily work quietly. He’s always got something going on, and he’s kind of applied that to help those younger guys. It’s just his personality. He’s got the personality to do that. I’ve been around some who were just as smart and just as talented but personality wise they just were not very outgoing, so they didn’t become coaches on the field. Rolando is certainly a coach on the field.”

On Courtney Upshaw and Don’ta Hightower: “I’ve been around some really talented players and they fit the mold with those guys in terms of just putting the numbers on and what you’re looking for - they have that. They look the part. They act the part. And they have shown on film in high school that they can play the part. And so far in 48 hours we haven’t been disappointed.”

Alabama Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain:

Opening Comments: “First of all, and I haven’t had a chance to meet very many of you, but I want to express my gratitude to the people of Tuscaloosa and the people of the Alabama football family and the community around for making our first time here and the things we’ve done as a family feel welcome into the Deep South. It’s my first venture into the Deep South for myself and our family being from the northwest and the great state of Montana. It’s kind of interesting. I was able to get back for the three days of vacation that we took this summer to Montana. The Alabama name and what it does and the history and the tradition, it’s amazing how far that stretches. I know they’re crazy about it here but we were in a little store up in Polson (Montana) and I’ll be darned if one of the checkers—one of my kids was wearing their Alabama stuff—one of the checkers stopped production and said, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable. We have somebody with the University of Alabama at our store.’ It was a fantastic thing. And I do appreciate the history and the tradition and what this job entails.

“That being said, I know there are a ton of questions. I’d like to start out with a few things right now (that) I’ll go ahead and tell you. There’s a pretty good chance John Parker Wilson will be our quarterback, alright? I want to tell you this. He’s been fantastic to work with. I know some of the past, and any questions about the past I guess I could answer you about Fresno State and the Oakland Raiders, some places like that. But what I try to do is, (as) we’ve come in here is rip off the rear view mirror. I can’t answer any questions about what was. I can answer questions about what I expect to happen, and in JP’s development, I have been very happy with the time he spent and the things he’s done in the offseason to better himself as a player. I think some of the things he’s maybe gone through are part of the position. I don’t think they are all deserving. This is a great kid. Somebody who cares about the State of Alabama. Somebody who really cares about Alabama football and a guy who is doing everything he can to help us win games this year. And that’s one thing I can say I’m very proud of him, and I look forward to working with him as our relationship grows. “

In his case, I’m his third voice. I’ve been in this situation before. That is a hard thing for the quarterback because even though changes aren’t big, nuances are. And in this offense we’ve been very fortunate in the past to put up some decent numbers and do some decent things. But at the end of the day it’s all about wins and losses and we can’t lose sight of that fact. If we have five yards of offense and win the game 3-0, it’s the greatest game in the history of football because we won. And that’s what the bottom line is, trying to win the football game. I’m not caught up in a lot of the stats. I’m not a stats guy; never will be a stats guy. Stats will fall where they do. The key is to figure out a way offensively to combine your defense, your special teams and your offense into one unit to win the ball game. That’s what the bottom line is. We have a luxury here of obviously having a great defensive staff. To say was I tested this spring by those guys? This guy’s advanced over there on defense, I’m telling you. There are some really good things that those guys do, and that only helps you as a ball squad. Those are things that I wanted to get out there on the table as far as JP. And the development of the other quarterbacks that we have, I feel we’re going to be able to have a little bit of depth there. Too early to tell. Was I happy with the 15 days of spring practice? Absolutely not, plain and simple. Although there have been games, and you could probably ask the people in the past that we’ve been very successful with and scored some points and ran a team out of the building, and I wasn’t happy with that either. So I guess where my mind set is that it is our responsibility to make sure that we are efficient in what we do; get the ball out of our hands; get rid of any turnovers and we put the ball in the end zone and the Red Zone. Is that going to happen? Time will tell. I’m not necessarily looking forward to the Clemson game or whatever game right now. We’re actually looking forward to today’s practice; looking forward to trying to win every play every drill we do and then we’ll work on that as we go. We can’t look down the pipe right now. We’ve got too much work to do in every individual drill.”

On if he’s had any “eye-opening” experiences in the move from Montana to Tuscaloosa: “There have been some eye-opening experiences. This thing they call humidity? It’s something that’s awful new. You kind of enjoy yourself so when you do get some time to be able to go out and sit on your back patio, and sometimes you can’t because you’re dripping with sweat. But I tell you what, the great part, I will say this, and this is not by any ways to say anything about anywhere else, but, this deal they call Southern Hospitality? I’m speaking for my family; I’m speaking for myself: it is a term that is used in other parts of the country, but until you experience it? It is a great thing. The people are fantastic. When we talk about Southern Hospitality, I can’t say anything better.”

On whether “Quarterback Friendly” or “Playmaker Offense” are accurate terms for his offense: “From a background standpoint, there are a couple of things that means. Number one, like in the game of basketball, you’ve got a shooter. You’ve got to figure out ways for that guy to touch it and get open shots. Anybody that’s seen anything that we’ve done before, we’ll do some disguised formations, some motions, some shifts to uncover a guy that needs to touch the ball. It’s pretty simple when it all boils down. If you’ve got a playmaker or a couple of playmakers, and in some cases you are really fortunate to have multiple playmakers, (your goal is) how to figure out what they do best and then put them in situations to be successful. When we talk about the quarterback position, I think sometimes as coaches we force them in to systems. What’s a system? It’s our responsibility as coaches to find out what these players do best and put them in situations to their advantage as far as how they feel comfortable. So part of building a system is around the players you have. And so I don’t know where the “Quarterback Friendly” term came from, but he better throw completions.”

On whether he was surprised to hear from UA head coach Nick Saban about the coordinator’s job: “The first time Coach Saban called, I had no idea that there was anything happening here. Believe it or not, out in California the Tuscaloosa News doesn’t arrive on the front porch so I wasn’t quite aware of what was going on. When Coach Saban first called, I hung up because I thought it was one of my buddies messing with me. But did it didn’t come as a total surprise? Absolutely. I think he and Coach (Hill) had maybe talked but he, Coach Hill, hadn’t mentioned anything. At first that’s how it went. How he dug up this name, I don’t know. But you know what? I’m glad he did.”

On whether he has an offensive philosophy he may “preach” to his players: “Yes. I think one of the things is part of the background of where we’ve grown up and the systems we’ve been in, but, number one is to be physical and make sure that the team that you’re playing knows that they better bring their lunch because we’re going to come after you on every play. So I guess (also) an idea of developing that, ‘Look, when we hit the field, we’re here and you’re in for a long day.’ That’s number one. Number two is, guys, in a game of football and a game of life there are ebbs and flows. What we try to do is preach the fact that we’ve got to stay on a level surface. We can’t get down. We can’t get up. What we have to do is do this. And we try to preach a ‘win this play’ philosophy. And what I mean by that is in the game of football, if you’re lucky you get 65-70 offensive plays, that’s 70 individual events that occur in the game. The key is to win the majority of hose individual events. Now you have a chance to be successful and win the ball game. So the idea of ripping off the rear view mirror (of) what happened on the last play and not letting it affect your play because you’ve got to go out and win the next play, those are the things that I try to preach.”

On whether UA has enough playmakers in its offense: “There are guys who have individual skills that some do some things better than others. It is still in progress. Those 15 days—it’s amazing in the pro game you’ve got all these (open days), you’re with these guys all the time. So you are able to kind of develop a little more personality of who these guys are and what they can do. So this is really an important training camp because it’s an evolution of the 15 days we had. And, have those guys all come out? I’m not going to put a name on anybody because it’s still a discovery stage. The thing we’ve got to do right now is make sure conceptually everybody understands their role - everybody understands what we’re trying to accomplish. And at that time it’s amazing how playmakers kind of emerge.”