Alabama: Saban talks football, assistants, SEC

Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban spoke with the media prior to Fan Day. The Alabama coach talked about his assistants, why the SEC has dominated in recent years and the status of football operations at Alabama.

Saban praised the entire staff and singled explained his coordinators Kirby Smart and Jim McElwain function well in their leadership roles on the staff.

Saban said the SEC has succeeded in recent years because of “great schools that have great traditions, and in recent years that there have been a lot of outstanding coaches who have done a really good job of developing strong programs.”

Saban said he is pleased with football operations at Alabama. He praised the coaching staff, the support staff, the medical staff and the university administration.

You can read everything Nick Saban had to say in this official transcript.

Alabama Football Media Day Transcript via UA Media Relations
Head Coach Nick Saban Opening Comments:

“It’s nice at the beginning of Fall Camp with the program that we have right now to go two days in just shorts and helmets then put shoulder pads on for a couple of days. I really think, especially in our circumstance here, this is the best way to do it in terms of player safety and what is in the best interest of the players.

“We had a good practice yesterday (Saturday) for the first time that the players had shoulder pads on. Obviously you can do a little more fundamental teaching when the players do have pads on, relative to block protection, blocking techniques, even to form tackle or to teach those types of things. It helps our teaching that we have the shoulder pads on, but I think it’s really helpful to the players not to have to go out there sort of cold turkey and just try to deal with the circumstances in full pads. I was really pleased with the way our players handled that. They worked through it yesterday in some difficult circumstances, and I think we improved and made some progress.

“We’ve tried to have a program here that I would say is of substance. It’s about making good choices and decisions about what you do and what you don’t do. Every choice that you make has a consequence. That consequence can be positive or it could be negative if you make poor choices. I think we made progress in the program because our players have made better choices and have done things, not only on the field but off the field, to help themselves be more successful and give themselves a chance to be more successful. I think that all comes from how you think because how you think affects what you do and it has a tremendous affect and impact on the result that you get. There are endless temptations there for everyone everyday to get in a bad situation. It takes a lot of self discipline on the players’ part to continue to make good choices and decisions so that we can improve as a team and they can improve on their personal chances to be successful as people. You have to challenge yourself every day. I think especially in times like these that each player has to challenge themselves to win each day. When I say win each day I’m talking about handling the circumstances, having enough mental toughness whether it’s to deal with the heat, having the focus necessary to pay attention to detail, to go out and get something out of every repetition every opportunity that they have.

“It’s so easy at this time when you’re practicing every day when you get into camp to endure the practice and not really focus on what you need to do to improve every time you get an opportunity but just try to get through it. Let me get my four reps and get a drink of water and sort of endure the practice. That’s what we want to challenge our players to do, to win every day. Winning every day right now is everybody making personal improvement, everybody making individual improvement that’s going to help us continue to get better as a team. We’ve got a very young team. We probably don’t have more than 10 or 12 guys that have been here more than three years out of high school on our entire team. That doesn’t mean that they’re not capable of doing it, but it does challenge their maturing to be able to make the right decisions and do the right things in circumstances like these. I think this is a good time for them to sort of mature into what they have to do to be the kind of relentless competitors they’re going to need to be with the competition in our league.

“We only have really one issue. Kendall Kelly is probably going to be out for several days. Actually in our first practice at night he had some sort of heat issues, a little dizziness. Until we make sure we can identify what the issue is we’re probably not going to let him practice again for a while. That’s one that you don’t need to be asking me about on a daily basis. He’s here. He’s allowed to get medical attention, but he just can’t go to practice and meetings. He’s not in the hospital or anything; we just want to monitor him for right now.”

On how continuity in the coaching staff contributes to the program:
“There is really two sides of this. I think continuity is really important in terms of having a good program. It helps the players, and I think the players feel a comfort zone when they’re with the same people. They know what to expect. But also when you have new people come into the program you get new energy, enthusiasm and ideas. Jeremy Pruitt is the one addition to our staff. He’s done a very good job in the player development area for several years. I like to be able to promote people within the organization because they kind of understand what the program is all about, what we’re trying to get done here and how we’re trying to do it. Sometimes when you bring people in from the outside they’re a little slow to buy in when they have a different way of doing things. This has worked out extremely well for us and we feel really good about the staff we have and the continuity that we have. We’re excited about trying to help. The coaches are here to help the players. We want to coach the players for the next play so that they have an opportunity to improve. I think our coaching staff does a very good job of that, and we’re glad to have all but one back from last year. That particular person who left (James Willis) had an opportunity, professionally, to better himself. I think it was a really good opportunity for him, and I think he’s ready for it. We hope and wish him well.”

On his experience in the offseason following the 2003 National Championship at LSU:
“I can’t really remember the offseason after that. My mind does not work that way. I can’t remember what happened five years ago. I have a tough time. In this business you’re kind of in a routine of what you do on a yearly basis as well as a daily basis. There’s a time that you recruit. There’s a time that you can just make phone calls. There’s a time when you coach and teach. There’s a time when you’re not allowed to be around your players. There’s a time when you really try to motivate, counsel and influence people to do the right things. So there are all these things going on on a yearly basis, and that routine probably helps me stay focused on what we need to do to continue to be successful. That’s kind of what I think about. I think I was probably a little bit more guarded this year relative to things that I allowed myself to do. I remember after the 2003 season I was totally almost burnt out in the offseason by all the things that I did, whether it was speaking or whatever it was, because of the demands and the requests. This year, even though the demands and requests were there, I sort of said, ‘Look, I’m standing pat. This is the hand. This is how many times I speak. This is how many Crimson Caravans I do, and that’s not changing. We’re not going beyond that. We’re going to do what we need to do to stay focused on what happens the next time.’ I do remember that. I feel that this offseason was not any different relative to how this team is being approached for the next season as any other season.”

On how things have change since his arrival from a football operations standpoint:
“I think we have really good people here. That’s in no way to discredit anyone who was here before that and is no longer here. I feel like we have a really good coaching staff. I feel like we have a really good support staff. We have really good strength and conditioning coaches. We have a great medical staff. I think that every opportunity we’ve had to try and hire a quality person in any of those areas has been through everyone’s input because a lot of the people that are recommended to me now I don’t really know. They get recommended by other people who have relationships and you trust and believe in those people. It has worked out extremely well in terms of us building a quality group of people. I think the athletic department is the same way. Dr. Witt has done the same thing institutionally here. I think all those things help you be successful. I really feel good about the team of people we have in place to help our players be successful as people, as students and as football players. We continually work to organize legal ways that we can help our players launch their careers when they leave here so they get great opportunities in life. John Dever does a great job academically and he has a great group of people there. The quality of people helps determine the standard of excellence our program tries to achieve. It’s not just winning the football games. I understand how important that is, but there are a lot of other facets of having a good college football program that go with that. We have a lot of good people here who contribute to that in a very positive way.”

On offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart:
“I think we have a really good coaching staff and a really good chain of command. That starts with leadership, and there are varying levels of leadership throughout the organization where people are in charge of something. Obviously when you have really good people that are in charge of something and they go carry out the principles and values of the organization in a really positive way it doesn’t create any conflicts in the organization, and everybody is on the same page with the same goal in mind and everybody is working through the same challenges. Kirby (Smart) and Jim McElwain both have done a fantastic job, but part of that fantastic job is getting the people they work with to contribute in a positive way so that they are most effective and efficient in what they do. Getting good information from the offensive line coach, Joe Pendry, about how we’re going to run it, the best protections or whatever, everybody contributes in a positive way. It’s the same thing on defense – how we’re going to cover certain things. All of that input in is helpful. Those two guys (Smart and McElwain) have a done a great job in their leadership role, but I think all the people working with them have done a fantastic job providing them input to help them be successful as well. They both have done an extraordinarily good job of carrying out the principles and values of the organization that we try to put forward, and everybody works together as a team. I think that’s really important that everybody buys in to that.”

On what has separated the SEC in recent years from other conferences:
“I think that you could write a book about that. There are probably a lot of things that contribute to it, but probably the most important thing is that there are great schools that have great traditions, and in recent years that there have been a lot of outstanding coaches who have done a really good job of developing strong programs. I think that all sort of contributes to the parity and the quality that we have from top to bottom in the league, which in turn comes from the kind of football players that you can recruit and the athletes overall in the SEC. It comes from the great leadership that we have at the SEC, who has had the foresight to do things to progress and develop the league so the success kind of gets manifested in a positive way throughout the United States. I think all those things contribute to it. I think right now we probably have more good programs, more good coaches, lots of good schools that a lot of people are very interested in becoming a part of. That helps the overall success. The exposure created by the league with the TV contract and media exposure is probably something that sort of inspires some of that interest on a national level.”