(transcript courtesy of SEC Media Relations)CHUCK DUNLAP: Congratulations on being back in Atlanta.
Can you talk about your season as a whole and your team as you head into the championship game versus Georgia.
COACH SABAN: The SEC Championship game is a great competitive venue. The winner has gone on to play in a national championship game. It’s a great atmosphere. The Georgia Dome, just a great competitive venue in my experiences in the past. We’re sort of honored and proud in our team in terms of what they were able to accomplish and win the West, play in the SEC Championship game against what is an excellent Georgia team, no doubt.
We’re just going to try to do the best we can to prepare our players to play the best they possibly can against a very good team.
CHUCK DUNLAP: We’ll start with questions for Coach Saban.
Q. Big picture question for you. Much has been made of the double edged sword of these conference championship games. The loser of this game would most likely not go to a BCS game, where Florida would. What do you think of how that plays out?
COACH SABAN: For either one of these teams it’s not really a great scenario. You play your way into the championship game, which means you’re the best team in your division, they’re the best team in their division. They played their way into the game by a total body of work for the whole season.
It doesn’t seem quite right. But it is what it is. I don’t really know what me commenting about it is going to do to change it. But I don’t feel good about it for our football team or their football team, either one.
But it is what it is.
Q. Do you feel good about the job Will has done, considering he came up under you?
COACH SABAN: Will did a fantastic job. They played great. Very physical. Play with a lot of toughness. Their defense played exceptionally well. I think the job that he did from last year to this year is probably as good as anybody in the country.
Q. Coach, would you assess the ability of Georgia nose guard Johnathan Jenkins?
COACH SABAN: He’s hard to block. Any time you play an odd defense, a 3 4 defense, can’t block the nose guard, makes it hard to run a lot of plays. He’s reminds me a lot of Cody when we had him here. He’s a hard guy to block.
Their entire defensive team plays extremely well, they play well together. They have a good scheme, lots of experience. It obviously starts with him playing and clogging up the middle. That always is a good starting point.
Q. (Question regarding Barrett Jones.)
COACH SABAN: I didn’t get the question.
Q. Coach Richt said Barrett Jones was an unusually large center. He has been able to handle the nose guards one on one.
COACH SABAN: Barrett has done a fantastic job for us this year. He’s an extremely smart player. This is his first year playing center, but he’s done a really good job for us.
His efficiency as a blocker, whoever he’s had to block, has been really good for us this year. I think center is a critical position. He’s certainly done a fantastic job for us.
Q. Coach, you were talking about Georgia’s defensive system. Todd is running the show over there now. He gives you a lot of credit. Can you comment about your relationship with Todd? When you flip on the film, do you see similarities?
COACH SABAN: Todd is an outstanding coach, coached on our staff way back at Michigan State. That seems like a long time ago. But had a lot of good experience in the NFL.
I’ve always been really close to Todd professionally and personally. I think he’s done a phenomenal job there.
There are some similarities in the system and scheme they use relative to what we use. But I just think he has done a really good job. Has his own ideas and methods about how he does it. I think their players play extremely well. I think that always has something to do with the coach, the system, how it’s taught. They do a really good job.
If you’re going to rank assistants, he’s one of the two or three best I’ve ever had on our staff. Did a phenomenal job for us. I certainly have a lot of respect for what he’s done at Georgia.
Q. Georgia’s two freshmen runningbacks, Gurley in particular, have gotten a lot of accolades. You have a pretty good one, too. What is your perception of Georgia’s runningback situation?
COACH SABAN: I think they run the ball extremely well. Their freshmen runningbacks, both of them, Todd obviously played the most, but both those guys are really good players. They have a good offensive line. That creates a tremendous amount of balance with them with a good quarterback who is able to complete a high percentage of his passes, a lot of rhythm type throws that certainly complement their running game.
I think that is an outstanding team because of the balance that is created by their ability to run the ball effectively with good runners, as well as having a good quarterback and good skill guys to make plays outside in the passing game.
Q. A day after Kenny Bell goes down for the year, a lot of injuries with the receivers, what does this do to the other receivers?
COACH SABAN: Kenny has done a fantastic job for us. He has great vertical speed, makes a lot of catches, certainly complements the other guys that we have. Chris Black is a guy that has been cleared medically to maybe come back and play. He has been practicing for two or three weeks. We may have to revisit whether we decide to redshirt him or go ahead and let him play.
But this is actually the third receiver that we’ve had go down, all guys in the two deep. That’s always a difficult circumstance. But we have other good players that have played consistently for us this year. We’re going to try to put them in the best position to utilize the skills they have and hopefully make some plays for us. A.J. has done a great job of getting the ball to the right guy and hopefully will continue to be able to do that.
Q. How much does it affect your preparation this week, the fact you haven’t played Georgia since 2008, if makes it a little bit more hard work for you going forward?
COACH SABAN: I think anytime you play somebody on a yearly basis, you develop a history for what they like to do. We did play them back at LSU several times. We have played them here a few times.
They have a very, very good team. They haven’t changed systemically in terms of what they do too dramatically. I think what they do do they do extremely well. They really win the game on execution, being able to make positive plays, getting in the right play. The quarterback does a really good job for them. They’re really well coached. I think Mark is one of the best coaches in our league. Their entire staff does a fantastic job of helping their players make a lot of plays, put them in a lot of good plays. The fact they go no huddle most of the time, they do a lot of check with me’s, that keeps them out of bad plays as well.
Q. Between the studying and looking at Georgia on film, do you see a lot of mirror images? Two quarterbacks are 1 and 2 in efficiency, two nice tailback tandems, receivers on both sides have battled injuries, do you see two very similar kind of programs going into this game?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think you pointed out all the similarities. There’s none left for me to point out (laughter).
Q. Do you see any noticeable differences then going into this game?
COACH SABAN: I think philosophically there’s a lot of similarities in how they try to win with balance, taking care of the ball, playing with a lot of physical toughness on both sides of the ball.
They try to put their players in the right position. There’s not a whole lot of tricks and gimmicks with us or them in terms of trying to win with execution. I think players like that. Probably play with more confidence, really understand what their role is, what they’re supposed to do. I think if you look at it from that standpoint, there’s a lot of similarities.
That’s just philosophically what we believe in. I think they must believe in the same things.
Q. After the Texas A&M game, you expressed some frustration with not coming out stronger in the third quarter. Have you noticed a change in that?
COACH SABAN: Well, we scored on our first drive in the third quarter this last game, then took our starters out. I was really pleased with the way we came out in this particular game and started the second half. I think that’s something we need to continue to emphasize. We do a good job of giving them a lot of information at halftime, but we have to be able to go out and execute when the other team makes some adjustments, as well.
Q. Your own quarterback has been efficient all year. What have you noticed about the kind of year Aaron Murray has had for the Bulldogs?
COACH SABAN: He’s played very well. He’s very accurate. He knows exactly what he wants to do with the ball. He’s smart. When you play quarterback, you have to process information quickly, get the ball out of your hand to the right guy. I think he’s done that very consistently all year long.
Everybody thinks when I say a guy is a good game manager, that’s a negative, but I think it’s a real positive. You have the ball in your hand every time when you’re a quarterback. Whether you’re handing it off or throwing to somebody, I think that’s extremely important. I think he’s done a phenomenal job of that for their team in terms of what they want to do, how they want to execute. That’s why they’ve been extremely successful on offense.
Q. Kirby Smart has been with you for quite a while, a lot of Georgia connections. He’s gotten a lot of accolades for being a top assistant coach. What makes him so effective at what he does?
COACH SABAN: Kirby first of all has a great personality, a great competitive character about him to affect the players. The players love him and respond to him extremely well. He’s a very hard worker, a bright guy. He’s really done a phenomenal job for us.
He’s as fine of an assistant as I’ve ever had. It’s great to work with him because I’m kind of a defensive guy, and he’s kind of grown up within our system, with us. When you got somebody like him that thinks a lot like you think, it really makes it a lot more efficient and effective in terms of the preparation and the execution, the implementation of that in the game.
Kirby has done a phenomenal job here. He’s been Assistant Coach of the Year again and again. Very well deserved. He just does an exceptionally good job in all areas, recruiting, getting along with other people on the staff. You name it, he does it extremely well.
Q. Nick, you guys obviously have a lot of guys from Georgia. There have been a lot of recruiting battles between you and Georgia. I know everyone recruits the state of Georgia. When you came in, what did you do in terms of placing an emphasis on this state?
COACH SABAN: What we try to do in our recruiting is do a really good job in a five hour radius of our Tuscaloosa area. We obviously want to do a great job in our own state. It just happens that a large part of Georgia where there’s a lot of population, a lot of good football players and programs, fall into that sort of circumference.
We do have some very good players from Georgia. They have a lot of good players from Georgia, too. I think it speaks well of the great high school football they have in Georgia, the good programs they have, how players are developed, how important football is in that state.
It’s an important part of our recruiting, that entire five hour radius, for us.
Q. As you’ve gone deeper into your coaching career, have you enjoyed your successes or other achievements more, or is it always on to the next season?
COACH SABAN: This is a process, you know, what we do. There’s no continuum in success. It’s an ongoing process. You have to look at the next play, the next game, the next season, the next recruiting class. If you’re going to continue to be successful, you’re going to continue to have success, that process is ongoing.
When I came to Alabama, they put it on all the books and everything, The process begins. Well, it’s still beginning every day, every game. Regardless of what you’ve accomplished in the past, this is the most important game we’re going to play this entire year for our team. As a coach, you want to do the best job you can to have your team have the best chance to be successful relative to the hard work they’ve done.
I’m always looking forward to the next challenge. When I can’t do that, I probably shouldn’t do this anymore.
Q. Both you and Mark Richt have been in this league together for a good while. What do you make of what he’s done and what do you admire about what he’s done?
COACH SABAN: I’ve always held their program in very high esteem in terms of the consistency they’ve had. They’ve won on a very consistent basis the entire time Mark has been there. He’s developed a lot of good players, a lot of good quarterbacks. He has a very good offensive system and scheme. I know he’s an offensive coach that has probably contributed to that through the years in a very significant manner.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mark. He’s a great person. He cares about college football, college football players. I think his record pretty much speaks for itself in terms of consistency and performance, which is really what defines success.
Q. If each season and each team is its own separate entity, you were public about saying it wasn’t this year’s group that won a national title, it was last year’s title. Do you think this group understands what that meant?
COACH SABAN: I think they understood right from the start. There’s quite a few guys on this team that were on the 2010 team that probably didn’t live up to expectations after having success in 2009. I think at least to have some leadership and some experience in the group that saw the difference between the 2010 and 2011 team in terms of just the whole approach, the whole sort of competitive character, attitude, being hungry, whatever you want to call it, I think they realized that the legacy of this team would be defined by what they did and what last year’s team did wouldn’t have anything to do with that.
I’ve been pretty pleased with the way this team has tried to respond to it. They’ve put themselves in a position to have a chance to play in the SEC Championship game, which is a very positive step.
Q. Can you also express maybe the respect student athletes, these guys have had bullseye on them for some time, the respect you want to give players being the bullseye for everybody?
COACH SABAN: We usually don’t talk much about that to our players. We try to get our players to be all they can be, play the best that they can play, prepare to play at a high level and a standard that we try to define for them, to help them be all they can be, be the best they can be.
We feel like everybody we play, you got to sort of go out there and compete one play at a time, try to change the way that guy thinks, because everybody thinks starting out the game they’re going to have an opportunity to beat you. I don’t care who you are, that’s just part of being a great competitor. That competitive spirit is something that I think is very important for the players to understand.
It really makes their focus a little bit more about what’s happening now, this play, this time, being physical, having the right intensity, playing with the right discipline so that they have the best chance to execute.
That’s what we try to do with our players. We don’t really talk a lot about the other team. Technically we do, what they do, but not the rest of it.
CHUCK DUNLAP: Thank you for your time. We’ll see you on Friday.
COACH SABAN: Thank you.