UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA HEAD FOOTBALL COACH NICK SABAN
LSU Game Week Press Conference Transcript
October 29, 2007
“Obviously, this is a great opportunity for the players, the players on both teams. We’re excited about having the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country. It’s the kind of game that you probably come to the University of Alabama or a place like this in the SEC to have the opportunity to play a nationally televised game, a game that has a lot of attention for all of the players. And a lot of the focus on the game should be about the players, not about anything else. A lot of guys have worked hard to make their teams be successful and have the opportunity to play in a game like this, and I think that’s where the focus should be.
“We still work to try to develop an identity as a team that can compete at a high level on a consistent basis, and when you’re playing against a great football team like LSU who is, arguably, probably one of the best or the best teams in the country, it’s a great opportunity to give yourself a chance to compete against some of the best competition that you’re ever going to have the opportunity to play against.
“Our practice during the open week was very productive. We focused on improvement as I talked about. We focused on rest and we got a couple of guys healthy. I think Zeke Knight and Jonathan Lowe both will be able to practice today and get started again in what they do. And our full attention shifts to our opponent today.
“I don’t have any new information on the suspended players from the Tennessee game. We’ll be glad to share that with you when we get it. It’s not going to do you much good to ask me about it because I don’t really know anything different about it.
“It’s easy to see why LSU is regarded as one of top teams in the country. Les Miles is an outstanding coach. He’s done a fantastic job there. They’ve had some great wins this year over South Carolina, Florida, Auburn. This is an outstanding football team. Virginia Tech was a big win for them. They are excellent on defense. They’re ranked second nationally on defense. They’ve got some outstanding players: (Ali) Highsmith, (Glenn) Dorsey; those guys are great football players. But there really is not any weak links on their defensive team. I think they have a great defensive team. I think all the personnel is outstanding. They’re good in the secondary. They’re good against the run. They’re athletic. They’re fast. They can rush the passer. I think that’s why they’re one of the best defensive teams in the country. Craig Steltz is a very productive guy in the secondary for them.
“Offensively they present some difficult challenges relative to the balance that they have. They run the ball extremely well - for over 200 yards a game. And they pass it for over 200 yards a game. They have some exceptionally good skill guys. Matt Flynn is a very good quarterback. (Ryan) Perrilloux does a great job when he comes in running the option which gives you additional multiples to try to work on and prepare for. That minimizes some of the things that you can do against the other things that they do. So this is an outstanding team all the way around.
“Special teams, they’ve got great skill guys. Great kicker. Great punter. The punter’s first in the league, Pat Fisher. Colt David’s a very good field goal kicker. Trindon Holliday is a return guy that if you ever give him a chance to get the ball, he can break it at any time and he’s been very productive from that standpoint. They win the turnover battle in most cases. They play sound winning football in every way, shape and form relative to the quality of offense, defense and special teams players that they have. So, again, it’s a great opportunity for our team to compete against an outstanding football team, one of the best teams in the country. I’m sure it will be an outstanding atmosphere here. Nationally televised game, so this is a great opportunity for our team. And I think the challenge for our team is, Can you sustain the kind of complete game performance play in play out that it would take to be a worthy competitor against an outstanding football team like LSU?”
Is there any advantage to be gained from coaching against guys you used to coach? And have you given any thought to what it’s going to be like seeing those guys you used to coach on the field?
“First of all, knowing some of the players, it’s not a tremendous advantage or disadvantage one way or the other. I think you can see what they do. It’s fairly obvious what the strengths and weaknesses of players are when you watch tape. Unfortunately, there aren’t many weaknesses when you watch this group. I do think there’s sort of a, I’m going to call it a respect, personally when you know someone and you know their family. We have a tremendous amount of respect for these players, their family, the kind of people they are. The kind of success they’re having now and what they’ve developed into. And I think the coaching staff at LSU deserves all the credit for what they’ve developed into. Their coaching staff, Les Miles, has done a fantastic job of developing these players and recruited some outstanding players to go with those players. We had a tremendous experience at LSU. Probably the greatest thrill of my coaching career came in having the opportunity to play in a national championship in the Sugar Bowl and winning a national championship there. And the support and the togetherness that everyone from an administration, from the fans, everyone had in helping build that is something special that I’ll never forget. No one will ever take that away no matter what they do. So there’s a great mutual respect and admiration, but at the same time, I’m the coach of this team. I’m most interested in developing and helping our players do the best job that they can in competing and creating ways to have success against a very good football team.”
How do you keep the focus on the players in this game?
“It’s not difficult at all. We spend all of our time here with our players. We’re most interested in our players being successful as people, as students, as football players, in their development and character and attitude, helping them being more successful in life for having been involved in this program. So that’s a full-time job. We don’t have time to think about other things, and that’s what we’re most interested in. I’m a competitor. I’m on this side of the fence now. That means I respect the other guys but we want to help our guys compete the best that they can to play winning football against a very good team. There’s nothing hard about that. It is what it is.”
You’d talked last week about sustaining what you’d said was the team’s best performance (vs. Tennessee) through the open week. Will that be something you can tell over the next couple of days, if that momentum has been sustained?
“I was pleased with the way we practiced during the open week, but I don’t think you can carry things over. I’m going to use bowl games as an example. My first five years as a coach at Michigan State we never won a bowl game because we always tried to carry the momentum of the end of the season into the bowl game. So we had six weeks of practice. We had six weeks of off-and-on conditioning. And by the time the game came everybody was sick and tired of practicing and getting ready for the game and they were not ready to play psychologically. So we changed that format at LSU (and) had a little bit more success in bowl games when you just said, Guys, you’ve got down time. Start 14 days before a game and we’ll go to work for the bowl game when it comes.’ And not try to sustain that and carry it forward. I think when you have a bye week you try to practice and emphasize things and you really don’t know until this week in terms of the psychological disposition of your players and how they’re approaching things as to whether you have been able to sustain it or not. But the greatest lesson our players can learn is they’ve played a little higher standard with a little more consistency in the game and that’s something that they have to know is important in having an opportunity to beat or compete against really good football teams.”
Does having recruited and knowing Matt Flynn’s tendencies and whether that gives you an advantage on the defensive side?
“What they do offensively, the multiples that they use on offense, Matt is sometimes a runner. He’s an athletic guy that moves well enough to be a runner. They do run some zone options and different options that you have to be concerned about defending to have your numbers right. They have some outstanding skill guys. Great speed at the wide out position. So I think you really have to defend their offense more than try to defend the guy. And we have a tremendous amount of respect for Matt as an athlete, as a quarterback, as a game manager and as a passer. And that’s why they have such great balance in their offense. I think that’s what you’re trying to prepare for. It’s not just the quarterback but really all the multiples and issues they present relative to the other players that they have. (Jacob) Hester’s a great player. Early Doucet’s a great player. Really, three or four of the running backs they have all have great speed and game-breaking type ability. They utilize their players extremely well. They’ve got a good tight end. The offensive line has developed nicely. This is a team where you have a host of issues relative to what you need to stop and it’s not just a quarterback-oriented offense where you could say, Okay, if we do these things to the quarterback, we’re going to have a great chance.’ I think the multiples are great and that’s why they’re a good offensive team, because of the balance. And I think Matt does a great job of managing that.”
Because you have talked about the great relationships made during your time at LSU, how does your wife approach this game?
“When I talked to her today she said I haven’t been on the phone yet getting tickets, hotel rooms, enough food for those people and our great friends that we have here in Alabama. Now we had a house full of Tennessee people after the last game. We feed them if we win; they’re on their own if we lose. Not to say we’re sore losers or anything like that. The Tennessee people got well fed.”
A two-part question: could you assess your offensive line and how it lines up with LSU’s defensive line, and is there a part of you that will be glad when this week is over?
“No. This is a great game for our players. It’s a great challenge for us as coaches. When you have an opportunity to play great teams, these are the kind of games that you remember. There’s always a tremendous amount of adversity when you play in the toughest competitive situations that you can ever be challenged with but I think these are opportunities that you cherish and really look forward to playing. And it tells you a lot about where you are. It tells you about who you are. And I think our players need to understand that who we are and what we do is the thing that we want to focus on relative to trying to be successful. And that’s what we’ll do. Their defensive front is very good. Their two inside players have exceptional initial quickness and explosive power and they’re difficult for anybody to block. It will certainly be a challenge for our offensive line. They also have good ends on the edges. I think this defensive team with their speed and combination of size up front, athleticism at linebacker and in the secondary creates a tremendous challenge for any offensive team. But certainly it will be a challenge for our offensive line against their outstanding defensive front.”
Since you recruited several of LSU’s players, do you look on their success with a sense of pride?
“You know, I don’t really look at it this way. I don’t take ownership for this at all. I think the players go to LSU because it’s LSU. I just happened to be the coach there who was involved in recruiting, working, whatever you want to say, to try and work and develop a program that was good for the players in the state to be able to come to and be proud of. I’ve said this before, when we played against guys whether they played for you at Michigan State or whether they played for you at LSU and the pros, there’s always a good feeling when you see somebody that you were involved with that is doing extremely well. And I always used to get a good feeling about that in the NFL. Wherever those players came from, you’re always happy to see them doing well because that’s part of what I feel like, which I’ve already mentioned, you’re trying to do as a coach. You’re trying to help people develop the kind of character and attitude that’s going to help them be more successful in life through what they do academically and athletically which provides some opportunities for those challenges in the development of them as people. So anytime you see guys being successful it makes you feel good if you had anything to do with it. Now I don’t at all take responsibility for the success that they’ve had. Their coaching staff that’s there now has done a fantastic job of coaching these guys, developing these guys and having the success that they’ve had, and I think they have the ownership for that.”
What do you attribute John Parker Wilson’s stronger performances of late to?
“I think that his confidence level has gotten better. I think he feels better about the offense. I think he feels better about what’s expected of him. I think we’ve grown also on our side of it as coaches to trust in him. And I think that the timing between the receivers and the passing game and the protection has all developed nicely throughout the year and in the last couple of games our passing game has been very productive for us. I think the fact that he makes quick decisions, gets the ball out of his hands quickly and also been very accurate and made good decisions are all things that have contributed to that success. But it’s not just because of him. I think the entire offensive team, the receivers have done a nice job, the line has done a nice job, and everyone has elevated their level of confidence in our ability to throw the football with consistency.”
Has the learning curve for your defense here been the same as it was at LSU? Was the Tennessee game the benchmark in demonstrating the team here has caught on to it?
“People say that (that his defenses are hard to learn), but I guess it must be true to some degree, but the players here have done a good job of picking up on it and learning. I think it takes a while. I think the multiples on defense are greater. You create the action on offense. You initiate it so nobody is reacting to it. When you’re a defensive player you have to react to all these multiples and you almost have to go through a full season of all the different things that you see. Just like we’re going to be presented with something that we have not seen much zone-read option type stuff throughout this year. So this is the first time we’ve really played much against that. We’ve practiced against it some, so the players don’t really have any knowledge or experience relative to this. So it’s a little bit new. So as you go through that, they kind of develop a resource of information that helps them be able to adapt and adjust to the varying things that you see. Which is a lot of different things in college football right now, from full wideouts to empty to two back runs, you name it, there’s a lot of multiples.”
On that area in Tennessee game:
“I think that we played well in the Tennessee game in the second half. Tennessee has a very good offensive team and a good quarterback and the fact that we got ahead in the game, I think, probably helped us a little bit. But I was pleased with the way that we played in the second half. But we need to fundamentally do things better. It’s not about making mental errors. It’s about missed tackles and that type of thing. I think gap control, being in the right place, those are the kind of things that we want to continue to progress and improve on. It’s not schematic at this point.”
Have players ever come up to you and said they want to win a game for you? If so, how do you handle that?
“Well, they’ve never done that. And I would not want them to do that. I think it’s a lot bigger than in terms of the game is about the players and I want the players to play the game because of the way the game is meant to be played, the way they should compete in the game, the standard of excellence they’ve set for themselves in terms of who they are and what they do and how we can help them do that best. That’s what we would like to do. This is obviously a great opportunity against a great team but the good feeling that I would have would be for the players. Just like the last game is for the players to see them feel a sense of accomplishment in beating a good team. That really makes you feel good as a coach. So they don’t need to do anything for me. They need to do it for this university, the tradition here, our team, all the players on it and the togetherness that we have and what we try to accomplish.”
Did you ever hear from your former LSU players during the Miami years?
“I talk to players on occasion who have played for me in the past from varying schools and varying places. It doesn’t make a difference where a guy went to school. I have guys that call me from last year’s team. You always have your ear to the ground to hear how those guys are doing. I certainly like to see those guys do well. Things like a guy like Ronny Brown getting hurt and being out for the year, I hate to see that. But we’re interested, and I think the guys know this, we’re interested in helping guys however we can. I’ve helped guys get opportunities from other schools that I’ve been at that I knew or whatever, whether it’s to get in pro camp or to help them establish a pro career and we certainly continue to do that for our players or any other players that we’ve had an opportunity to build a relationship with. I think the players understand that.”
Are any of the schemes you put in at LSU still in place at LSU?
“I don’t necessarily think so. I think they do what they do and they do it extremely well and they’ve got a really good coaching staff. I think they’ve done an outstanding job. Everybody’s got to play their style. And what they do, what they know, how they know to adjust it, they’ve done a great job of that. Bo Pelini is a really good coach. I recruited him when he was in high school. He went to Ohio State. I was at Michigan State at the time as an assistant but had a great relationship with him and have known him through the years and the guy’s done a fantastic job.”
How challenging for you are the emotions of this week and is it difficult to enjoy the competitive part of the week because of that?
“Not at all. It’s not difficult for me. I’m not affected by external things. I’m looking at what I look at and doing what I do to try to help our team and I’m not interested in what anybody’s saying or putting on the internet or any of that stuff. It doesn’t affect what I’m doing. It doesn’t affect my commitment to our team. The emotion for me is to help our team do well against an outstanding team. And that’s basically it. It’s about the players. It’s not about the coaches. It’s not about me. It’s about the players that are going to play in the game. That’s what we try to stay focused on. It’s not been difficult to this point. I don’t really listen to the radio. I don’t get on the internet. I don’t know what people are saying. I don’t watch TV that much. We don’t have one in my room where I work. So I don’t know what’s going on out there. I know you guys are busy creating it, but I’m unfortunately not really interested in being a part of it. And I respect you for the job that you have to do to try to create it.”
Last week you told me you really didn’t have a problem with the play call at the end of the win over Auburn. What I didn’t ask you is if you were in that same situation would you have called the same play?
“I’ve got enough issues and problems without answering hypothetical situations. Everybody always looks at clock management and says, Alright, we’ve got this much time to run a play, it takes this much time to run a play.’ And if we have this much time to run a play, and we have one to three seconds left to kick a field goal, then that’s not something that somebody should be criticized for. And if you look at the numbers on the clock they had time to run the play. In a situation like that, it’s not a bad thing to take a shot at the end zone. You minimize the negatives. You could run the ball up the middle and fumble it. In a situation like this the quarterback’s got a shot at it. Take the pressure off the field goal kicker so I’m not saying what I’d do in that situation. I’m not making any comparisons or getting into any hypothetical situations but I did not see that as a mismanagement like a lot of people did.”
Would you like the opportunity to speak to some of your former LSU players on the field after the game?
“I have a respect for those players and care about them being successful and hope they all have great careers and are successful and have opportunities to play in the NFL, graduate from school and also have success in life because of that. And I think those players know that if there’s anything that I could ever do to help them, I’d be glad to help them. But I have no expectations for anybody doing anything to, or for, or whatever. I have a tremendous amount of respect, and I’ll show that respect to all the people that I know.”
Can we expect to see some more “trick plays” like in the opening play of the Tennessee game?
“If we were going to, I wouldn’t tell you. But I don’t blame you for asking. I could call them up and say, Hey, we’re going to do this. Make sure you’re ready for it.’”
You’ve said the media has made this Nick Saban vs. Les Miles: what is your relationship with him?
“I don’t really know Les that well. I never knew him that well prior to him coming to LSU. I tried to be helpful to him in his transition. I’ve talked to him on occasion. Some other coaches I’ve had a lot more experiences with and know a lot better, especially a lot of the guys that were in the league when I was in the league before.”
The winner of this game has a big advantage in the SEC West race...
“The winner of this game has nothing but another game next week. And, if the winner of this game loses the next game, that means that this game doesn’t mean anything. So you do have to play them one game at a time. And I know y’all would like to create this as all or nothing so, if we don’t win the game, we shouldn’t even play the rest of the season or, if we win the game, that means we’re going to win it all. We’ve got tough games to play past this game, and I’m sure LSU feels the same way. You’ve got to play them one game at a time, do the best you can and keep trying to get your team to play the best football that they can possibly play. And when things don’t go your way, you have to be able to bounce back and improve and show a competitive spirit that’s going to be an asset to that improvement in the future. So that’s how I feel about it. That’s how we approach it. And that’s how we’re going to continue to approach it. Now, I know that’s not very newsworthy but that’s not my job.”
Just out of curiosity, have you talked to any of your former players, former LSU guys that are in the pros now or are working or whatever and have called you?
“Didn’t I already answer that? I thought so. I answered that question already. Nobody is going to accuse anybody in this room of having attention deficit or anything like that or ability to pay attention...But I do talk to guys on occasion. I didn’t talk to anybody today. Does that answer it better?”