Countdown to Kickoff
Football Media Day Transcript



Aug. 5, 2012

Head Coach Nick Saban
Opening Statement:
“We are very excited to have the opportunity to try to get this team ready to perform as well as they possibly can, and hopefully reach their full potential. I know it is an exciting time for you as well. I think you kind of have to keep perspective on what’s going to make that happen. Our team is only going to do as well as the players can learn to develop an ability to execute on a consistent basis. This is especially challenging for young players who really want to do well and have high expectations coming in. Some of those expectations have been created by external factors. That also creates a risk aversive, an ‘I don’t want to mess up attitude.’ It makes it more difficult for them to be free and go compete and play hard and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes because they just don’t want to mess up. You go back to the old Nike commercial that says ‘Just Do It.’ In some cases, that’s what we are trying to get our players to do. Playing fast, playing hard and being aggressive; that kind of mental energy is really important to being a good player. When you get risk aversive and you don’t want to make mistakes, it actually can hinder your ability to learn and grow and perform like we would like you to. I think leadership is also really important to helping all the players on our team develop in terms of the support that they get. It really takes a passion, a commitment and a buy in on everybody’s part to get there. You’ve heard me talk about how everybody must buy in to the same values and principles and the standard that you have to do it. I think the standard is really critical. Sometimes leadership has to affect players so that we get more and more players to that standard. A good analogy is, do you want to be a thermometer which goes up and down with the circumstances around it, or do you want to be a thermostat that creates the same temperature all the time with consistency that you can count on, depend on, trust and believe in. That’s what we are trying to gain. Everybody is individually responsible for that. The coaches are responsible to try to get the individuals to be able to be responsible to that. We are working on trying to develop that consistency. Our focus right now is developing a synergy on our team. The goal of our team is to be relentless competitors. To be a team that nobody really wants to play by the effort, the toughness and the ability to be relentless and sustain for 60 minutes in a game. We need to play every play in a game like it has a life of its own. That’s what we have to condition and work to get our players to buy in, believe in and have passion for. That’s what our focus is right now and that’s what we are trying to do in camp.”

On what Doug Nussmeier has brought to the program so far:
“I think he is a bright guy and a guy that a lot of people on our staff know. He has called plays in circumstances here with us, whether it’s a scrimmage or an A-Day game. He’s got a lot of positive energy and a lot of good ideas that we’ve implemented into our offense. I think the players respond well to him. The players like him. I think the adjustments that we’ve made in the passing game are going to be beneficial to our offensive team being more explosive and creating more balance. I’m excited to have him. He’s a good recruiter. He really fits in well with the other coaches on the staff. There are a lot of positives there.”

On Jonathan Atchison and the other players at the Sam position:
“Atchison has been a program guy and has done a really good job. He’s worked hard and been very supportive of other players. He’s certainly competing at the Sam position as is Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson. I think what you have to be careful of is that we have two outside linebackers. We are going to play the two best outside linebackers at the end of the day. Not a Sam, not a Jack. Hubbard played Sam for a long time, he’s played Jack some. Dickson has played Jack. We have Dillon Lee playing Sam. We have a lot of young players that are competing at the position. All those guys are going to compete but at the end of the day when we play against regular people, we are going to play the best two outside linebackers.”

On the LSU-Alabama rivalry and how it has evolved with both programs being so strong:
“I think that’s probably the key to it. Rivalries sustain because of tradition, like Auburn and Tennessee. Some of those happen because of regional ties and some happen because of competitive things that happened in the past. I also think new rivalries are born because of the competitive synergy that surrounds the games that you have in this era. I think the reason our LSU-Alabama game has been so big is because they are two very good programs, two really good teams. That game has such significance now in the SEC and the west as well as on a national scale. It makes it a big game. I think that’s what has made it a rivalry game. Those are the kind of games that players come here to play and are exciting to be a part of.”

On the importance of Kirby Smart having been at Alabama for a while now:
“Kirby does a fabulous job with our players. Continuity in the coordinator position really creates a tremendous comfort zone with the players because they trust and believe in the system and they trust and believe in the people who teach the system and work with them on a daily basis. Kirby also does a fantastic job of implementing the system when the game comes. That knowledge and experience is invaluable. It really is helpful to the success that we’ve been able to have on defense. We have a lot of challenges on defense too. Kirby has always demonstrated that whatever the quality of player, whatever the level of experience that we have on our team, we’ve gotten to where we can get those players to play to their full potential. I think that’s a challenge that we have this year. Kirby will do a great job of helping us get there.”

On Mike Williams and the tight end position:
“Mike has done a really good job for us. He’s a really good blocker. He’s a big, physical guy. He does have good hands in the passing game and can be a factor in the passing game. I think he’s probably a bit of an unsung hero for us in terms of the number of starts he’s had and the quality of his performance. I think it goes a little unnoticed because of the nature of his role. It’s a workmanship-type role. It’s very critical to the success of our team. To be able to run the ball on the edges, you’ve got to be able to have good edge blockers and Mike does a good job of that. I think he’s very capable of adding some things in the passing game as well. He’s done it as consistently as anybody in our program.”

On how the new group looks:
“The new group looks like what I tried to explain the new group looks like. There’s a lot of learning that everybody is trying to go through. It’s human nature for people to not want to mess up. That creates a lot of anxiety. When I went over to visit the Mercedes plant for the first time, they gave me a tour. They have this clothes line running through the whole assembly line. I asked what it was for and they said they don’t have very many cars that need work done when they are finished here because their quality control is if whatever you are doing at your station, if it’s not working exactly right, you pull the cord, stop the assembly line and re-engineer that circumstance and fix it so that things aren’t done incorrectly. I said that’s great and sounds wonderful. I asked what the biggest problem was and they said getting people to pull the cord. Nobody wants to think that their part of it isn’t working, that they are doing it wrong. You’ve got all these new players that don’t know what they are doing but they don’t want anybody to think they don’t know what they are doing. They become very risk aversive and don’t go play fast. They don’t want to make a mistake. They do everything very tentatively. What we are trying to get those players to understand is giving effort, playing fast and playing with good intangibles is the most important thing you can do. You will learn from the mistakes you make, allow yourself to make them. We will teach you from that.”

On developing depth at quarterback and on the offensive line:
“First of all, quarterback is critical, but the two guys that we have, Phillip Ely and Alec Morris, both have done fairly well. They’ve showed good carry over and have made strides on their own in being able to manage and execute and do things a little better. That’s been an encouraging part of the first practices that we’ve had. We just have to keep putting them in situations and keep getting them the knowledge and experience that’s going to help them make the decisions and the judgments that they need to make to play winning football at the position. We want to continue to help them improve fundamentally so they can execute it. That’s been encouraging. It’s the same thing in the offensive line. We have some good young players that need to continue to develop a confidence and consistency. That’s going to be a real key to developing the kind of depth that we need at that position as well. You are always fortunate when you have some older good players who can actually help the players. At least you have someone that’s setting an example for how we can and should do it. You can see it and try to learn from what you see. We take our guys through about seven steps of a learning process. We teach it to them in a classroom. In that, we always show them some kind of video of what we are trying to get them to do, individually and collectively as a group. We take them on the field and walk through it. We put them in a group situation where they can learn it, a team situation where they can execute it, and then we bring them back and evaluate what they did on video. There are six or seven steps and stages that are going on every day as we install. It gets to be critical that players don’t get in a state of ‘I don’t want to mess up’. You have to mess up, especially if you are a young player. That’s how you learn. That’s what we are continuing to work on.”

Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier
Opening Statement:
“I just want to say how fortunate I feel to be here, to be a part of the Alabama history and tradition. This is a special place. When I had the opportunity to come here, when we sat down and talked about it as a family, it really was a great, great opportunity. An opportunity to get back down to the south where my wife is from, and we spent quite a bit of time in New Orleans, so to get back and see family and friends, it’s been great. And to get the opportunity to work with this coaching staff, especially with Coach Saban and this offensive staff, it’s been a really great opportunity and really looking forward to the season. After two days in, our guys are working extremely hard. Obviously we’ve got a long way to go, but their attitude, their willingness to work and the way they’ve come and the energy they’ve brought the first two days has been really, really good. Now we’ve got to continue to get better, but I’m very excited about where we started.”

On the pistol formation that Coach (Jim) McElwain used and if it will be seen this season:
“Obviously we want to be balanced on offense, and the goal is to put our playmakers in the best positions to make plays. We’ll use a variety of things, whether it be shifts, motions, formations, whatever it is to create advantages for us hopefully.”

On the demands that Coach Saban puts on his coaches:
“Really when you look at coaching I think any expectation that you have you put on yourself. I know this, for me personally, I’m going to be my harshest critic. I know at times there are days where this is a great profession and something that you get up in the morning and you really look forward to going to work, and there are days you get up and you got punched in the gut and you’ve got to get yourself back up and go to work again. I think that is all the expectation you put on yourself. Obviously, Coach Saban, the expectation he has for his team and everybody within this organization is very high, and that’s why this program here has achieved at the level it has, so for me it’s a great opportunity to be a part of that.”

On philosophy on his relationship with his quarterback:
“You know we talk a lot about that. I think it is a unique thing to playing the position and coaching the position. When you talk about trust and you talk about communication, those are two things we talk a lot about. One of the things I tell our quarterbacks is, ‘I can’t help you if you’re not honest with me.’ Having the background of playing the position gives me a little perspective there from what they’re seeing. The biggest thing is when there’s a mistake made, in order to correct it we have to have the proper feedback, so we can go through and decipher was it a poor read or was it just a throw that got away, all those things. That comes with time, and I think our guys, the quarterbacks that we have here, have done a great job as far as that goes to date. “

On the quarterbacks here especially AJ McCarron:
“I’ve been fortunate in my career to be around some really, really good quarterbacks. My first college coaching job I had the opportunity to be with Jeff Smoker, Drew Stanton, all NFL guys. Then at Fresno with Tom Brandstater, at Washington with (Jake) Locker and (Keith) Price, and be around (Ryan) Fitzpatrick and those guys in St. Louis. I’ve gotten the opportunity to know some really good players. AJ’s attitude, his willingness to work, like I’ve said before, when you look at his body of work from where he started the beginning of last season and where he ended and then where he started spring ball and where he finished it and where he started fall camp, I think he continues to get better and better every day. He works extremely hard. He’s very conscientious, and I’m really excited about what the future holds for him. I think he has a very, very high ceiling. The two young guys, obviously, with Phillip Ely and Alec Morris, for those guys the learning curve is a little steeper. They’re working extremely hard. It’s good to have two young players that can create competition for one another. We’ll look forward to seeing them grow as we go through camp.”

On what he learned from Steve Sarkisian:
“I have a lot of respect for Steve and what he’s done there at the University of Washington. It was a great working relationship for the three years I was there. I think he’s done an outstanding job of changing the culture there from a program that, when he got there was 0-12, and now I believe is on the cusp of doing some great things. I have a lot of respect for Steve. He’s a good friend of mine.”

On Phillip Sims transferring and if that changes the mindset of young quarterbacks that may be one play away from being on the field:
“I would hope it wouldn’t. I would hope that all our players, every day, come with the attitude that they’re going to play. I talk to our guys all the time about don’t worry about the depth chart, don’t worry about who we’re recruiting, worry about yourself and getting better each and every day. I think that’s very, very important at the quarterback position because you don’t know. When you look at teams and when you look at how teams go through a season at that position with injuries or whatever they may deal with. Obviously, it’s probably the most scrutinized position in all of sports. The mindset for a quarterback, I believe, has to be, focus on yourself, you get better and you improve every single day.”

On AJ’s (McCarron) confidence and poise and as a quarterback:
“AJ’s confidence level, I think that holds true for any position. You see in any sport, when players believe and they have confidence and they have swagger, it usually leads to success. The biggest thing I think is when you look throughout a season at playing the position of quarterback. You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low because there are going to be days that it doesn’t go exactly the way you want it to and those are the days you can’t get too low and when you do have a great game you can’t get too high cause you can come back to reality really fast. To try and keep an even keel is another thing we spend a lot of time talking about in the room.”

On the offensive line:
“The offensive line, this is a very, very talented group of guys. It is as good of an offensive line as I’ve ever been around in college football, and we’ve got an opportunity to do some really good things with those guys. I’m really, really excited about that group.”

On competing with the defensive staff:
“I think it’s outstanding from an offensive prospective to practice every day against our defense. You see so many different looks. It exposes you really from a mindset that you have to really look at every play you’re running and you learn really fast some strengths and some weaknesses you have in place, which is really, really good. If you practice against some defenses where you’re seeing the same front and the same pressure over and over again, you know what works, what you want to do, what you don’t want to do. When you practice against that group, it’s very challenging every day. It really is. It’s exciting. It’s competition. I think anything you do with competition you get better.”

On the moment you realized you were in a special place (University of Alabama):
“Like I said when I started, this is a special place and I feel very, very fortunate and blessed to be a part of this program here and The University of Alabama, everything it represents. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, even that far out of the region in the Northwest you still know about Alabama football. Even as a young child I remember Alabama football and it speaks for itself. That part of it, I think that’s the first thing you recognize when you get here. This place is different, and it is special. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place, so I feel very fortunate from that standpoint.”

On the combination of the system in place and your system when coming into a new program:
“Meshing the systems, that is challenging. It always is. Obviously, the things that we’ve done offensively here have been very, very successful. You try and look at everything we’ve done. Be objective about what really is good, what maybe can we grow and get better at, and what background do I bring that maybe is something a little new that we can add to help the system be better as a whole. I think it’s like anything else, when you merge things you try and look at what the strengths of each are, what the weaknesses are and you try to build off both strengths. Obviously, when you talk about offensive football, the terminology becomes a major issue and how you call things and not what you call it today, but you have to look at the big picture and when you know you’re running this play and you want to call this and how does it fit within the system. When you want to grow and build off that play, how are those terms going to fit to make sense for the players because everything you do has to be a teaching progression for the players.”

Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart
Opening Statement:
“We’ve got a lot going on defensively that we’re really looking forward to. We appreciate all you guys do for us in the media and the coverage we get. Alabama is a special place, especially to me. I’m going on my sixth year here and this is my eighth season with Coach Saban, and I was very fortunate to come to Alabama with him from Miami. It’s been a great place for my family to live. We now have three children, so we’ve been here a while and we’re really excited about it. Coach Saban has built something very special here, I feel like, and I’m very fortunate to be a part of it from the perspective of recruiting, from the perspective of growing as a coach, from the perspective of being able to live in the same place for a while, which is hard to do in our profession. In my first eight years coaching, I lived in six places. My last six years coaching, I’ve been in one place. To see guys like Mark Barron and Courtney Upshaw, who we’ve recruited, go on and be successful, gives you pleasure as a coach. It’s what you do it for. Now you see guys like Nico Johnson, who you went to their high school basketball games, and Dee Milliner, who my father coached his dad in high school and now I’m getting to coach him that gives you a little self-gratification as a coach. This year’s defense is totally different than last year’s defense, as you all know and I’m sure you’ll talk about. That defense is gone, and we’re not holding these guys to them or making any comparisons to that defense. These guys are being compared to the goals that we have every game. Our goal is to win the game, so that’s what we’re comparing these guys to. Did we win the game? Did we stop the run? Did we stop the pass? Every goal we had last year, we still have the same goal. They’re still being held to the same Alabama defensive standard, not the 2011 defensive standard. I’ll open it up to questions now.”

On his thoughts of all the new faces at the cornerback position:
“Anytime you come into camp after basically losing two corners who were both drafted, as well as Phelon Jones, who was a great player for us, that’s three guys that we’ve lost there. We’ve got to find three more guys. We’ve got great wide outs, good wide outs that can go out there and challenge those guys every day. We want Deion Belue to improve, Jabriel (Washington) to continue on their progression. Geno Smith, one of our new guys, is going to be able to help us. Travell Dixon has done a really good job. We have the bodies there, we have the body types that we want, and we just have to get them some experience. Thank goodness for the way we practice in this camp we have, because they’ll be able to get plenty of opportunities to play the ball and do the things that we have to do.”

On his relationship with Coach Saban and how they seem to be on the same page:
“Certainly. When I left FSU (Florida State), I had been the defensive coordinator at Valdosta State and then to FSU, where both places we didn’t do as much as we do here. That was more of me being a young coach and being fearful of what you don’t know and then going with someone like (former FSU defensive coordinator) Mickey Andrews, who wanted everyone to play hard and keep things really simple. Moving from there to someone like Coach Saban and realizing that there were more things that could be done, like some things like what we did with the Indianapolis Colts in my brief stint as a player, under the Vic Fangio scheme. So I had been involved in three or four schemes and only one had been really complex. So, I’d say the year I spent at LSU and then the two years I spent with the Miami Dolphins, where you get your ‘Master’s’ in coaching, because you spend all of your time there working in the offseason studying your opponents, that was really when it hit me. Working with Coach Saban, it was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot of stuff to do’. He entrusted me to do the coverage stuff, the third down stuff at Miami, and then when we came here it slowly but surely came about. So I’d say over the course of about three years, when he knew I knew about the coverages because they were taught in his meeting rooms with me teaching them while he was sitting in the room. He got to see it first hand, and to be honest, it makes you a lot better of a coach when your boss is in every meeting. You’re a lot more driven every day.”

On this defense’s personality:
“That’s a tough question. There are a lot of good individuals on it. We’re an athletic defense. We have a lot of depth on the D-line. There’s not a lot of great players, say like a Marcell Dareus, but we’ve got a lot of good players. We’ve got a lot of competition going on at every position. There is more competition going on this year than I can ever remember before, because there are so many even players. The ‘two’ is as good as the ‘one’. Sometimes, the ‘three’ is as good as the ‘two’. To me, I think that depth is a key. Also, creating a pass rush on the edges is key. We lost our two best edge rushers in Dont’a (Hightower) and Courtney (Upshaw). They were ‘the guys’ on the edges for the past two or three seasons. Now, who will those guys (edge rushers) be? We really don’t know that yet. We haven’t even had pads on yet. We’ll find out a little more out today when we do some third down stuff, to give us a chance to find out who those rushers are outside.”

On if he expected, when recruiting these defensive players, to still be here coaching them?:
“I knew when I came here that it was a great place to be, so I knew that longevity was a possibility. They give you every possible opportunity here to be successful, whether it’s the President, whether it’s the athletic director, whether it’s Coach Saban, so I certainly expected to be here a while. That’s what you want in a coach. There’s nothing worse than recruiting a player and then leaving a player. Here, you get the opportunity to see them through. That’s my greatest self-gratification seeing those guys all the way through and seeing them have success. To be able to text Dont’a (Hightower) and see how camp is going. ‘It’s going great, man’. You have a better relationship when you can coach a guy longer.”

On players who can replace the departed pass rushers:
“Adrian Hubbard is going to fit in that role. He got to play a little bit last year during the Arkansas game. He kind of got thrown in the fire last year during the game when C.J. Mosley went down. We had to put Hightower in C.J.’s position, and we had to put Hubbard at Hightower’s position. So Hubbard has been in the fire. We had packages the past couple of years that we never actually used, and he was a very integral part of those packages. We think he is a very talented pass rusher, and we certainly hope he can help us. As far as the rest of them, Xzavier Dickson has got to come on and rush for us. Anthony Orr has got to be a good pass rusher for us. We’ve got a couple of freshmen that we’re going to find out a little bit about today, to see if they can be good pass rushers. D.J. Pettway is doing a good job in pass rush. So those are some names. We’ve got to keep developing those guys, but they have to change the game on third down. We have to have a changeup, where we don’t try to hit you in the mouth, but we say ‘we’re going to run around you’”

On the evolution of the LSU-Alabama rivalry and how it’s grown since he coached at LSU:
“It’s definitely grown. I think the key part of that rivalry is Coach Saban being here, having been there. Whereas when I was there, he obviously hadn’t been here, so we didn’t see it as big a rivalry when we were there. At the time, Auburn was really good then. We lost to them the year I was there, the year they went undefeated. So, obviously that was a big rivalry. Alabama has always been a big game because of the tradition, but it’s grown because of Coach Saban being here.”

On competing with Doug Nussmeier’s offense in practice and has it helped:
“I think he does a great job offensively. I really enjoy it. They give us a couple more personnel groupings, more than (former offensive coordinator) Coach McElwain used. He does a really good job with the kids. He’s a really high energy guy, kind of like Coach McElwain. He’s a lot like Coach McElwain. He and Jim McElwain come from similar backgrounds, so there’s a lot of carryover there. They both do a good job in the passing game and are both very innovative. They’ve got an answer for everything that you do. So, it’s always a chess match when you can go out there and do that.”

On Nico Johnson’s growth since he was recruited to Alabama:
“What a great kid and a great family. He’s a south Alabama kid, from Andalusia. The kid has grown up and he’s been a great leader for us, for what seems like forever now, because of the fact that he was involved in the first national championship. I always kid with him and tell him, ‘Hey, you got to be a part of that because of an injury’. So, for everybody else, they have to know that they have to be ready and prepare like Nico did, so that they’re ready when they get their opportunity. He was kind of thrown into the fire, but he has matured so much and he is one of the key leaders of this team. He’s a great kid. It doesn’t matter what you tell him to do, you know he’s going to go do it and do it with a great attitude.”

On the adjustments new coordinators have to make when they switch schools, especially to one like Alabama:
“I think there are always adjustments coming in, because you don’t know your players. You don’t have the familiarity. What can this guy do? What can’t this guy do? So the first thing is getting used to and watching all the tape from the year before. There are also program adjustments. We may not do things the way someone else does it. Anytime you’ve got to deal with that, the unknown, it makes it tough. You’ve got to adjust to it, get it on the run, but you’ve got a good group to do it with, with a returning quarterback and then the offensive line experience there. It gives you a good foundation.”

On the competition at the safety position, especially between Vinnie Sunseri and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix:
“Anytime that you’ve got the back end of your defense, those are the areas that the rest of the world sees. You don’t see a guy mess up at front, you won’t see a linebacker mess up sometimes. When that guy on the back end messes up, and I know as I’ve played back there before, everyone knows your number, everyone knows your name. Those are usually the mistakes that cost you games. As far as those two positions, what you’re telling the corner to do, what you’re telling the linebacker to check to, they are very critical to our defense, and I couldn’t be happier with the two kids we’ve got. In terms of their intelligence level, ability, and Vinnie has done a great job adjusting to that role. He’s not Mark Barron and he’s not trying to be Mark Barron. He’s trying to be Vinnie, and he does that well. He calls us and makes some plays. Robert (Lester) is a very solid player for us and gets us lined up and understands this defense, through playing three or four years in this system, and he can help our defense.”