Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke earlier this morning at Peach Bowl media day here in Atlanta. He spoke at length about the impact Don James had on his career, addressed the hiring of Steve Sarkisian as Alabama’s next offensive coordinator and also said other things. Here is a partial transcript:
NICK SABAN: Obviously, this has been a great experience for our player, the opportunity to play in a playoff game here in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The people here have provided great hospitality, as the Peach Bowl always does.
The city of Atlanta has always been very accommodating to college football, relative to the College Football Hall of Fame, how they treat people when we visit here. This is a quality experience, a great opportunity to play in a big game. The biggest game we've played all year, no doubt, as a playoff game.
So I think our players are looking forward to it, and we're certainly looking forward to the challenges that the University of Washington brings and this game brings for our players.
Q. When you talk about player development, how far has Reuben come?
NICK SABAN: Reuben has obviously been a very, very productive player for us. The guy plays as well as any linebacker in the country. He's got great intensity. He's very instinctive. He's developed into a player that can run the defense, make the calls, understands exactly what we need to do. He does a great job in preparation and probably plays as hard as anyone could ever ask a player to play.
I think his production and performance has reflected upon that. And as a young player, some of those things you can see the ability, but maybe the maturity to be able to go out and execute was not exactly what you needed it to be. But for the last two years, he's been probably our most productive player at that position for sure.
Q. Did you have to reteach him how to tackle?
NICK SABAN: Yeah, we sure did. Had a lot of problems early on. He was one of those guys that liked to put his head down, had some shoulder, neck issues because of that. We tried to teach him how to tackle near shoulder with his face up and not use his head, which is how we teach all of our players. And very athletic, so it wasn't hard to change the technique to develop a right habit. Took a little time. But I think it's benefitted him, it's benefitted his safety as a player as well.
Q. Talk about Jalen's development.
NICK SABAN: Well, I think Jalen has grown in probably all areas as a player. Certainly, his leadership, his command and understanding of the offense. We're a little more diverse now than we were early on when he played. We had to focus a lot on quarterback runs and only certain types of passes.
So as the season has gone on, we have tried to develop him as a passer in terms of reading, being more comfortable in the pocket. And I think he's made significant progress in those areas. And it will be certainly important in this game because of their ball hawking type secondary and the way they break on the ball and that he does a really good job with his eyes as well as understanding where to go with the ball.
Q. I know a lot has been asked about trick plays. How difficult is it to prepare for that?
NICK SABAN: I don't think there's any question about the fact that they have been -- they don't just use trick plays, they're very effective at executing those plays as a part of their offense. And they have a significant number of them, so it really is difficult to prepare for all of them because you don't know which ones you're going to get.
I'm sure that the way they approach it is they have their three or four that they're going to do in that particular game, and that's what they get ready to play. And those probably change, you know, in every game as the season goes on.
So when you look at the whole sort of catalog of all those trick plays, it's pretty significant amount of work that you need to do to try to defend those things.
Q. Outside of the secondary, what do you thing the biggest challenge with Washington will be?
NICK SABAN: Well, are you talking about their defense or are you talking about their entire team?
Q. Just the entire team.
NICK SABAN: Well, I think that this is, by far, the best all-around team that we've played all year long. They score 44 and a half points a game on offense. They've got a really good quarterback. They've got really good skill players on offense at the receiver and running back positions.
They've got lots of speed. They make a lot of explosive plays, very well-designed concepts offensively in terms of what they do and how they execute it extremely well.
When you go on the other side of the ball, they're one of the top, you know, defensive teams in the country in terms of points allowed, number one in takeaway ratio, turnover ratio for the whole season.
They play smart. They're very physical. They don't make a lot of mistakes on defense. And they're a good tackling team. So all these things contribute to the success that they have.
Their two inside players are really physical guys that, you know, create some issues for you inside.
So this is a really, really good all-around team. When you get to special teams, because they have good skill players on offense, they have good returners and they have good specialists and they do a good job in all phases of the game.
So you don't have to watch much to see how challenging a team this is to prepare for and to play against and to have success against.
Q. (No microphone.)
NICK SABAN: Well, I think early on, I made the statement before, other than my parents, probably my high school coach had as great an impact as anyone. And then the next thing comes is your college coach, who had an even greater impact because of the kind of person that he was, the organization that we had in the program, the class that he did it with, the lessons that he taught not only in football but in life.
I would never be a coach, never be sitting here as a coach if it wasn't for, you know, Don James. I had no intentions of being a coach. He called me in after my senior year and said, I want you to be a GA.
I said, I don't want to go to graduate school. I was married and Miss Terry had another year of college.
He said, Well, you can't move away. You can't do anything else. I think he meant so much to me and I had so much respect for him, I think he made this decision for me. I did not make it for myself. And I've been doing it ever since.
And I've tried to take a lot of the philosophical things that he does when it comes to creating value for players not only how you develop them on the field, but how you develop them as people, the importance and value of people in your program, graduating from school and developing a career off the field and having the kind of character that is going to help you make the choices and decisions that will allow you to take advantage of your gifts and be successful in life.
And that's one thing that we've really tried to do with our players, and all those things came from Coach James and what he did with us when I was a player and early on as a coach for him.
Q. (No microphone.)
NICK SABAN: I can only tell you that, you know, my dad had a service station in West Virginia so from the time I was 11 years old, I worked at the service station. It's different than self-serve. You work on cars, you change tires, you grease cars, you wash cars and you pump gas. So I was always around cars and probably would have gone to some place to learn how to be in the car business, some kind of way.
And I think that when my mind does drift, I oftentimes thank Coach James for this, because every car dealer that I've ever had or known all wants to be a coach. So I think he headed me in the right direction.
Q. As many guys as you've had to leave early for the NFL, you've probably as many who came back for another year to try to increase their value. How much does that impact your program?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think the biggest thing we try to do with our players is we try to get them to make a quality business decision. You know, going to the next level is a business decision. And a lot of it, from a business standpoint, where you enter the NFL is where you're going to be for three or four, five years.
So to make a good business decision about -- you can't improve your value once you get in the draft. It is what it is. And what a lot of people don't realize is everybody wants you to come out for the draft. But as soon as you say you're in the draft, every team looks for reasons not to draft you because everybody's looking for a quality person, a good teammate, and a good player.
So they're making a significant investment, and they want to make sure that they're getting quality for what they want to invest in.
So if guys can improve that, as college players, that's certainly something that we would like for them to do and we've had a significant number of guys that have done that and come back and improved their draft value, and we've had guys that have gone out because it was the right thing for them to do and they have done extremely well.
And I think every case is different, and I think our players, because they've seen both sides of this, sort of understand the business side of all this. You don't make emotional decisions to go out for the draft. Everybody wants to play in the NFL, but it's not going to go anywhere. So to make the best choice and decision for you, based on the value you have and the future you have as a football player is important, and, you know, getting an education is also an important element of all that as well because even if you had a great NFL career and you played for eight years, your football playing days would be over at 30. So you have 50 years to do something else.
And I think what you do and the choices you make when you're in college can have a significant impact on those years as well.
Q. What are your thoughts on Media Day?
NICK SABAN: What are my thoughts on Media Day? I love seeing you all. I think you do a significant amount of positive things for our players in terms of providing interest for fans, as well as a lot of positive self-gratification for the things that they do. And we certainly appreciate that. No doubt. So I love all of you.
(On hire of Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator) “… he is managing and battling the issues that he’s had in the past, and I think there’s a lot of folks out there that have made mistakes in their life before, and when they work hard to try to take advantage of any future opportunities, I think that should be recognized, and certainly he’s made a positive contribution for us and I think has really got a significant background of being very successful at what he does as a coach.”