Huskies coach Chris Petersen and Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke at a joint press conference this morning to preview Saturday’s national semifinal at the Peach Bowl. It was their final media availability before Saturday’s 12 p.m. (PT) kickoff at the Georgia Dome. Here is the transcript of their remarks.
THE MODERATOR: At this time, we'll welcome to the podium Chris Petersen, head coach of the fourth-ranked Washington Huskies and Coach Nick Saban of the number one ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
As we open, gentlemen, Coach Petersen, for your opening statement, I'll ask you, obviously this is your first trip to the Peach Bowl. What will you remember most about this week, this experience, and what do you think was the most special about it for you and your team this week?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Well, probably a lot of that had to do with how the game goes. I mean, the week's been great. I mean, Gary and his staff do an unbelievable job and our kids have really enjoyed it. But I think everybody here is to play well and try to win a game. At the end of the day, that's the things you remember the most. But the week itself and the things that we've got to experience and see and talk to has been great.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.
Coach Saban, I know this is your third run through the playoffs. What stands out in your mind about this Bowl Week experience and how it compares to others that you've had?
NICK SABAN: I think that the hospitality that our team and our football family has received here has been phenomenal in terms of everybody being accommodating, whether it's the Peach Bowl folks, Chick-fil-A folks or the city of Atlanta. I think everybody in our organization certainly appreciates that.
But I think it goes with Coach Petersen, what Coach Petersen said in terms of the thing you're going to remember most about these games, any bowl game, actually, but most especially a playoff game is what happened in the game. You know, how did we play in the game. I think that's what people need to zero in on and try to focus on and that's what's going to be remembered most.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for that. We'll open it up for Q&A.
Q. Good morning, Coach Petersen and Coach Saban. Coach Petersen, some years ago, members of your Boise State staff visited Tuscaloosa. How has that impacted your program?
And Coach Saban, what did you learn from Boise State when they came down for the visit?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I wasn't on that trip. I think it was some of our defensive guys that went down there and, I think, watched them practice a little bit.
It's always those things that you're trying to get one or two things, learn from somebody that's performed at a high level. If you can take a couple things out of there and incorporate into how you do practice or your schemes.
I know our guys came away really impressed. Coach Saban and his staff treated them awesome. And, you know, thought it was time very well spent.
NICK SABAN: When we have people that come and visit us, we try to turn the tables on them a little bit and see what we can learn from them. And there were some similarities in things that we did defensively and I think we learned a lot about what we could do.
Hopefully, you know, this profession is unique in the fact that we all compete against each other. But the only way you really learn is to talk to other people in the profession.
I haven't really ever invented anything in this game, always just learned from really good people that had success and were well organized and had successful schemes.
And the flexibility of being able to learn from others and change what you do relative to how the game changes is very, very important. So when we have people like Boise State staff, who was very, very successful, come in and visit, it's very, very helpful to us.
Q. Starting with Coach Saban, starting in spring practice through preseason practice through the season, you both are searching for the identity of your football team. What would you say is the identity of the team that you bring into this College Football Playoff?
NICK SABAN: Well, I can only speak for our team, and I have an impression of our opponent, which is a very positive, high standard in terms of how they played. But I think the thing that our team has done as our players have played hard, they've shown a lot of competitive spirit relative to perseverance, overcoming adversity, continuing to be able to play the next play. And I think that's probably the thing that I would say has created an identity for this team is their perseverance and ability to overcome adversity, which I think if you're going to be successful in this game, it's very important because things are not always going to go the way you plan.
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, I think similar. These guys have been great to coach. I've said this a few times. I don't think it was just about this season. They were awesome last year when we didn't have a very good record, and they worked extremely hard. When things weren't going well, they never really backed off. They practiced hard. There were great meetings.
That continued into spring football and, you know, they've been really business-like since last year and they've been awesome to coach and to be around.
Q. Coach Petersen, since you're so far from home, is this kind of like a road game or does it still feel like a neutral site?
Coach Saban, it's vice versa for you since your last game was here also. What's the atmosphere like when the team takes the Georgia Dome more than once a year?
CHRIS PETERSEN: You know, we're quite a ways away from Seattle, for sure. I'm sure tomorrow's going to be probably a lot more red than purple in that stadium, and it is what it is. It's not quite a home game for anybody, but it's probably more of an away game for us.
It's going to be loud because it's inside and that will make it difficult to call some things. But it's not like we haven't played on the road in front of loud crowds and those type of things.
We're way more worried about Alabama, the team, than the crowd.
NICK SABAN: Well, I think that this is not a home game for us by any stretch of the imagination. I think when you play in your home stadium and you have your home crowd and the home spirit, especially in our conference, I think that's something that is significant for your team.
We played in a number of these neutral site games, I would call them, whether it's a playoff game, a bowl game or one of these kickoff classic type things, which I think is helpful to, you know, our players in terms of playing some place that's not really a home game for them.
The fact that we played here before this season, you know, I don't think is going to have any impact on what happens in this particular game. It's going to come down to how we play in the game and who plays the best and who goes out there and executes the fundamental things that they need to do to have success.
Q. This is a question for both coaches. When you got a chance to run your own program, what particular coach did you borrow ideas from and maybe what was the most important thing you learned from that particular coach?
CHRIS PETERSEN: For me, it's not any one. It's everybody that's been put in my path. And I always say this, I think so many of the assistants that I had worked with over the years influenced me as much as the head coaches.
But I will say this, I've been very blessed to have some tremendous people. There's no question. I would be not sitting here today if it wasn't for all the people that I've been able to work with throughout my career. Some tremendous, tremendous people. And I really mean that.
Like Coach Saban was saying, I haven't come up with an original idea, I think, ever in my entire life. So everything is just -- I saw somebody do it, it made sense to me, kind of felt like it was the right thing to incorporate into your program and I think it starts way back when, when you're assistant coaching a position and you just keep learning and growing. And I think that's what, you know, probably a lot of the successful coaches do is they never stop paying attention to what's going on right in front of them and what works and continue to evolve.
NICK SABAN: I feel like I've been very blessed to have some great mentors through the years, starting with Don James, who was my college coach, who really inspired me to want to be a coach, which is not something that I really had in mind.
But the way he ran the program, the way he impacted people, the way he influenced students, the importance of education and how he developed players, the recruiting system, all these things are things that impact what we do even still today.
George Perles at Michigan State was the first coach that gave me responsibility as far as being a coordinator. I learned a lot from that experience. Bill Belichick was probably the most organized coach that I've ever been involved with.
Just had some tremendous mentors through the years, but I think one thing that you learn from everybody that you're associated with is here's some good things that I'd really like to try to implement and do, but here's also some things that I don't think are real good things that I would make a part of what I do.
So you sort of develop a philosophy along the way by sort of evaluating the good, the bad and the ugly, I guess, and trying to formulate something that works for you and your personality and what you'd like to create as a standard for how you'd like to run your program in all the areas.
Q. For Nick, given the attention and the responsibility that comes with playing quarterback at Alabama, was it at all difficult for you to put Jalen in that spot back in the summertime? And what about him convinced you that he'd be able to handle that?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think that you don't make an evaluation based on difficulty. You make an evaluation based on who you feel gives your team the best opportunity to be successful relative to their skill set.
We had to change a few things philosophically in terms of how we went about our offense this year because of what Jalen could do and what his experience level was, and I think he responded well and made a lot of plays throughout the season and made a significant amount of progress in terms of how he improved. I don't think you ignore the fact that you have a young quarterback when you play with a freshman, and you try to do things that he can do and have success doing and grow and develop.
And I think our coaching staff, Lane and our entire offensive staff, did a really good job of that with him this year.
Q. As we look at the big picture in college football, could you comment on the thought by many that it might be good for college football to have a commissioner and, perhaps, if you have a couple names out there, who might make for a good commissioner? If you could both comment on that.
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yes, and I think Coach Saban would be a great one (laughter).
NICK SABAN: I don't know about that. I do think that there are a significant number of people out there that have been successful coaches and have been on the administrative side of it, whether it's a Barry Alvarez or somebody like that, that if we had a commissioner for football, and I know the Football Coaches Association tries to organize and represent us in our game in terms of some of the issues that, you know, we all face. We all face them.
But I think if we had some people, whether it's a committee of people or a commissioner, who could sort of drive the wheel a little bit in terms of what some of the problems facing our game are in the future, whether it's recruiting calendar, whether it's guys -- number of guys that go out for the draft, whether it's the number of people that transfer, I think there's a lot of things that would be very, very helpful if we had some people in a leadership position that had some experience relative to what our issues are as coaches.
Q. Coach Saban, obviously you face a Pac-12 opponent tomorrow and have two former Pac-12 coaches on your staff. In what regard do you hold the Pac-12 as a football conference?
NICK SABAN: I think it's an outstanding conference and I think there's a lot of outstanding teams in the conference. Washington obviously proved that they were the best team in that conference with their total body of work in terms of what they were able to accomplish this season.
But I think it's as fine a conference as any conference in the country, as all conferences, whether it's our conference or their conference. Some years you have maybe a few more good teams than in other years. But I think, all in all, it's one of the best Power Five conferences out there.
Q. This question is for Nick. Your offensive coordinators made some headlines here in the last 24, 48 hours. Did you have any thoughts on Lane Kiffin basically saying that he hasn't had a ton of fun at Alabama, that the last three years have kind of dragged on? Do you think it will be a distraction at all for your team and, also, have you addressed any of these comments with Lane?
NICK SABAN: No. I think Lane has done a really, really good job for us. I think the players respect him. I think he's put them in positions to have success, and I think they appreciate that. I know I appreciate that.
I think that when someone has been a head coach before, it's very difficult to go back and be an assistant. I was a head coach once at the University of Toledo for one year and Bill Belichick, who is arguably one of the best coaches there are in our profession, hired me as a defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns.
And after running your own sort of program for one year and then having to go back and do it the way somebody else wants to do it is very difficult. I mean, it's difficult.
And I have no problem with the way Lane has managed it and, you know, what he's tried to do and the contribution that he's made. I'm happy for him that he got an opportunity to be a head coach again, and we'll help him every way that we can.
Q. I just got in last night, but it's obvious that there's a lot of adrenaline in this town from both fan bases. I'm wondering what's tonight going to be like for you guys? Do you toss and turn? Do you pace around the hotel room? Can you get some sleep tonight? What's the night before a big game like this like for both of you guys?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, I mean, we try to make it the same as all the games that got us here. The process is the same for the players. It's a normal Friday. We'll go do our walk-through and have your meeting tonight and just try to keep it as normal as you can. Keep it in perspective for them.
NICK SABAN: And I think that, you know, there are two things. There's internal factors that we deal with on our team, which is what we want to stay focused on in terms of helping them play to a standard and play the way that you'd like for them to play, and that's all about preparation and guys that have good preparation usually can go play fast and play with confidence, which is what we're hopeful that our team will be able to do relative to what we've done to this point.
And you really don't want them to be affected by the external factors of what's happening outside. So they can stay focused on the things that they need to do on the field.
Q. Coach Petersen, this season, you talked about the adversity a little bit earlier, a couple of injuries, big injuries in the defense. Can you talk about the way your team kind of just responded from the Azeem Victor injury and the Joe Mathis one?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I think everybody tries to play as many guys as you can for a couple of different reasons. One, because you know you're going to have injuries. You've got to develop depth. You know, you have a really good player and it's hard to take them off the field when you have maybe a not as experienced player, but it's really important that you get those guys significant reps when something happens.
And, also, I think it's just for the morale of the team. It's hard to go to practice all the time and not get into games. So the more guys that we can play, I think there's a lot of benefits and we've tried to do that.
And, you know, when Azeem went down, some of those line backers had already played some pretty significant snaps, and they get more significant snaps when you get an injury. That's just part of the game. Guys are going to get dinged and the next guy's got to be ready to roll.
We wore them out. They're questioned out. I didn't think this would happen.
THE MODERATOR: I think Media Day may have something to do with it, Coach.
Q. A question for both coaches. As you both take pride in helping develop the identities of your players as men off the field, could you each give an example of a conversation you had with a player or a group of players this season that you found thought provoking or particularly impactful on them?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think that the question that you ask is something that probably happens more on a daily basis than it does once or twice in a season because I think that as we coach and try to develop players to have a better chance to be successful off the field as people, that's very similar to being a parent.
And every opportunity that you have that can be a teaching moment for your players is something that I look forward to trying to help them gain a better understanding of how they can respond and react to something that would be beneficial to them. And I think it's all around them.
I think our visit to the Martin Luther King church, very thought provoking for a lot of our players in understanding what a lot of people did relative to civil rights.
So this is like happening every day. So to ask a specific question or give a specific example of -- we have speakers that are always trying to impact players, whether it's how they brand themselves, the choices and decisions that they make, versus the goals that they have, these are all things that we're constantly trying to teach and develop the right sort of character, attitude that is going to help players make the kind of choices and decisions that they can take advantage of their gifts personally, academically and athletically.
CHRIS PETERSEN: I think that's one of the fun parts of our jobs. I talk to our guys all the time about all these things, whether it's Brexit, Black Lives Matter, the pipeline going through South Carolina, as many things as we can think about, the election. I mean, these are things that some of our guys are remotely aware of, some of them are really aware of it. And the more that we can have them talking about like these important things that are happening outside the bubble of football, I think, is awesome.
I think that's what college is all about. Not just about book learning, but about real life learning. And I think the more that we challenge our guys to think about these things and talk about them, I think can be game changing for these guys.
Q. Both of you have a common opponent in USC. For those of us who don't make a living breaking down opponents' film, is there any advantage in the fact that you both have a common opponent? Coach Pete, I'll start with you.
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, it's hard to know. You play -- I think everybody evolves as the season goes on, and we played a -- a lot of respect for USC in terms of how they continually got better as the season went on. When they came up, we played a really good team that came into our place and played a better game than us.
I know one thing was it was a really good team and our guys didn't play well enough, so I think there are some things we learned about that.
It's hard to know, you know, common opponent in terms of that. Maybe Coach Saban could add more.
NICK SABAN: Well, I think that we both played USC. I'm not sure we both played a common opponent, because their team evolved through the course of the year. New coach, new quarterback as the year went on.
I think their team, after the first three or four games, really sort of started to gel and made significant improvement and was a completely different team than we played in the beginning of the season.
So we played the same team, but I'm not sure we played a common opponent.
Q. Coach Petersen, can you talk about your OKG philosophy and how impactful that's been in the turnaround?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Well, that term OKG we've used for a long time, meaning the kids that we want to recruit are our kind of guys and really it just has to do with fit.
We feel real strongly about the guy that we're looking for that we think fits our culture, our style of football. It's something, just language we've used with our coaches for a long time. And I think maybe that's one of the things that our coaches have done well is kind of stick to the script.
I think there's a lot of good players out there, and some of those guys don't fit what we're all about. And it's, I think, sometimes hard to be disciplined in the recruiting process of what you need, what you're looking for, and I think that's one of the things that I really appreciate about the guys on our staff is, you know, they're all about a certain type of guy, and they stay pretty disciplined to that process. But we're always trying to get better at that recruiting process, and it's hard.
It's easy to throw these words out. You can look at tape and that just kind of gets you started. There's a lot of other work that has to go into it to figure out -- and these kids are changing and they're young and they're evolving. When you start to recruit them, some of these guys are really young in high school. By the time you get them, they're a different guy. By the time they leave you, they're a completely different guy. So it's a lot more complicated than it seems, obviously.
Q. This question is for both coaches. What's the final message you want to give your team going into this game?
NICK SABAN: I think that the message is you want the team to play best. You know, can we play our best as a team. Can we play to our standard. What kind of mindset do we need to have to do that.
We've had good preparation. We had lots of practice, more than we have for most teams. And, you know, you just want your team to go out there and play best. And we want them to focus on the things that they need to do to be able to do that against a very good opponent.
CHRIS PETERSEN: I think at this point, there's not a ton of talking. We've talked to these guys for a long time and now it's just they know the plan and got to go play.
Q. Coach Petersen, Seattle is a city where the Seahawks have really made a name for themselves. Are your players aware that they're the team that everyone watches? And could a game like this, in a season like this, kind of start to help to change the perception that Washington can be like the Seahawks?
CHRIS PETERSEN: You know, Seattle's -- one thing I really appreciate is I do think it's a pretty passionate football place. They just like good football. And so the Seahawks have been playing good football for quite a long time, and so a lot of us are big Seahawk fans.
If we can continue to play good football, there will be more and more Washington fans. But I think, in general, one of the attractions, I think, for kids coming to Seattle is they really like football there.
I know it's certainly the same in Tuscaloosa and I think coaches and players really appreciate when people really like football and are passionate about what you do.
Q. This was sort of asked a moment ago, but I'll phrase it this way. You both have a chance to do something really special here, obviously. So how and how much have you stressed the finality of a win-or-go-home game to your teams?
NICK SABAN: We don't approach the game that way. We try to approach the game in a very positive. You created an opportunity for yourself. Now is the time to be your best as a player and try to look at the things from a process standpoint that's going to help you be successful in the game, rather than focusing on a positive or negative result.
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, we haven't mentioned it one time. I mean, they get that. They understand it's a playoff. We didn't have to tell them that. So same thing. It's just try to prepare the best you can and go play the best you can and let's see what happens.
Q. Question for Coach Saban. The media likes to make a big deal out of Coach Pete's trick plays. How much time have you spent looking at those? Anything interesting we might see you use in the future?
NICK SABAN: A lot of times. One of the comments I wanted to make when he got asked about his mentors is where did you learn all this stuff? It couldn't have been from one guy.
CHRIS PETERSEN: Well, you guys have ruined half our game plan talking about trick plays so much that now that's a thing, so those are out.
NICK SABAN: But I think the thing that people sort of misinterpret about this is they're well conceived. They fit their offense. They utilize the players in their offense that are capable of making these kind of plays, and they do a really good job with executing those plays. And I think that's why they've been very effective for them through the years.
And I think rather than -- the way I look at it is rather than thinking that they're trick plays, they're little unusual plays that create a tremendous amount of attention to detail and discipline for defensive players.