The team practiced for two hours under the Southern California sun in preparations for its BCS National Championship Game against the Texas Longhorns.
No. 1 Alabama (13-0, 8-0 SEC) and No. 2 Texas (13-0, 8-0 Big 12) will meet in the BCS National Championship Game on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The game will be nationally televised by ABC Sports. In Austria you can see the Game on ESPN America.
Head Coach Nick Saban
‚I think the biggest thing is the players need to focus on the right things,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. ‚I think the clutter is all about how important the game is, what it means, the consequences of the game, positively or negatively. Those are all the things you don’t want to think about. What you want to think about is what do I have to do to play my best game? What do I have to do to play my best football? What do we have to do as a team?
There are a lot of little things that are going on while this is all happening. You have to stay focused on the right things. I am proud of what our players have accomplished thus far this year and no one can take away what they have done to get here.”
The Crimson Tide practiced all last week in Tuscaloosa but took the day off Friday due to travel. Alabama arrived in Southern California in the early afternoon on New Year’s Day.
Senior Tight End Colin Peek
On the first practice in California:
‚It was harder than normal today. The weather was gorgeous, you couldn’t expect anything better. I am from the Sunshine State but it was pretty sunny out here today. Everyone is focused and we are ready to get after it. There was a lot of intensity on the practice field today.”
On the focus of the team now being in California:
‚Once we got here yesterday everyone was ready to get back to work. We are all looking forward to the task at hand. Being here in California has really turned this process into a reality.”
Junior Defensive Back Kareem Jackson
On being back at practice:
‚It was a little different but I thought we had a good practice today being our first time out here. We have another day of work tomorrow. We just have to come out and continue to practice hard. We have been practicing hard the last few weeks but we can all tell it’s a reality now.”
On the intensity of practice:
‚The intensity out there was good obviously we have things to work on. We just have to go out there and keep getting better. We just need to watch some film and do the little things that will prepare us for success in the game.”
Head Coach Press Conference January 2ndTexas Head Coach Mack Brown
Jesse Palmer, ESPN, Moderator: I’d like to thank everybody again for joining us here at Disneyland Resort to talk some more football about the BCS National Championship game. Coach Mack Brown is certainly no stranger to the Rose Bowl. It was only four years ago that he led his Longhorns to a huge win over USC in the Rose Bowl. They would win the National Championship in one of the most memorable games in college football history.
Coach Brown has had an outstanding season. He’s led his Longhorns to a 13-0 record including the Big-12 Championship. Interesting streak with Mack Brown, he’s the only active head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision to have at least nine wins in 14 consecutive seasons. It’s an unbelievable streak. He’s won his last five bowl games and is going to try to make it six in a row as we get ready for the National Championship Game.
Coach, thank you so much for being with us, and congratulations on an outstanding season. You look at the college football landscape and there’s a lot of great programs, but everybody at some point has to dip. You look at USC this year, a little bit down; Oklahoma, a little bit down this year; but you guys have been able to stay at this pinnacle of college football for 14 consecutive seasons with you at the helm. What’s been the key?
Brown: I would think first it’s the high school football in the state of Texas. We have 20 million people. We’ve got great high school coaches. We get home-grown athletes each year, and we’ve been there now for 12 years and we’ve had a good run, so young guys want to come to Texas. It’s kind of the place to be.
And I would think that also, other than the high school coaches, it’s the continuity of our staff. Most of our guys have been there at least eight years, so they know the recruits. This is a game about recruiting. It’s a game about good players, and then you’ve got to be able to manage them and they’ve got to be able to fit your school.
No. 1, great high school football that can drive to our place; and No. 2, continuity with great assistant coaches.
Palmer: Your success has been absolutely remarkable. Again, you were just in this game four years ago. You understand better than anybody the distractions that can lead up in the biggest game of the season. What sort of things did you learn from that experience that you can impart upon your players to get ready to play in the biggest game of the year?
Brown: We felt like the No. 1 thing we learned is you can’t continue to talk about the game. You’ve got to talk about the process, because you’ve got to do whatever you’ve done to this point to get here all week and all month because it’s a month and two days since we played Nebraska until we’ll play on Thursday night. But we feel like that you have to do a great job in preparation, then you have to be able to relax and play, understanding there’s so much at stake, but if you think about what’s at stake and don’t prepare properly, it’ll jump up and bite you.
Palmer: I’d like to open it now to the general media.
You’ve had a coach in waiting in Will Muschamp. At some places that’s created friction and hasn’t worked out that well. How do you make that work, and how long does he have to wait? I can answer the first question. I can’t answer the second one. No. 1, our administration was for it. Everybody was involved in the process. So Bill Powers, our president, our regents, DeLoss Dodd, myself and Will all agreed that Will was young, he was a tremendous football coach, he loves what he’s doing on defense right now, so we could make him the highest paid defensive coordinator in the country. And I’ve got some good years left, so Will is going to continue to do what he does. I’m going to try to help him grow through this process, and then when it’s time for me to step away, which I really don’t know when that will be, he’ll be ready to take over, and hopefully Texas will continue. You see so many drops with change, and you’re never sure what the right mix is. We all thought Will was the right guy with our staff to continue and build at Texas.
Coach Saban was in here just a couple hours ago talking about how he doesn’t like this part of the job. He calls it clutter. You’ve always seemed to be one who embraces the journey. Was there ever a point early on in your coaching career where this was tough for you, and did you have to sort of readjust, or has this always been enjoy the journey, what’s it’s about for you? I’ve always enjoyed the journey. I didn’t enjoy the losing. And if you’re losing, then sitting here isn’t much fun. I’ve done it both ways, so that’s why we work so hard to try to win.
What we feel is this is a wonderful opportunity for the University of Texas fans to be proud of their football program. What a great thing for our faculty and our administration, our parents. The Texas fans are so proud this week along with the Alabama fans, and we want our players to enjoy it.
So we got up early, we had strong meetings this morning. We had a very physical and tough practice. We went back and watched film. We want them to enjoy Disneyland. It’s one of the most wonderful places in the world for entertainment, and this is one of the rewards they get for winning, to be in the last game of the year.
Coach Saban was asked if he was having fun. I think they were asking him about today particularly. Are you having fun today and just overall? It seems like you’re just really relaxed and enjoying things: I’m having fun being here. In 2005, we were No. 2 in the country in preseason. We stepped into No. 1 one week of the season. We really didn’t deserve it because USC deserved it at that time, and it took care of itself the next week. And we felt like that our team embraced it. They really enjoyed the ride and played well when they got out here.
Same thing with this team, except it was harder to get here. This team felt so much pressure during the season that the goal was to win the Big 12 Championship, the dream was to go to the National Championship and win, and now the dream becomes a goal. So our guys are understanding that a lot of people don’t think that we’ll win the game on Thursday night.
We understand that. We didn’t have great momentum coming out of the season, and Alabama did, so give them credit. What a great game they played against Florida, who’s a tremendous team, and showed that last night.
So our guys understand we’re up against a great opponent on Thursday night, but we also understand it’s for the National Championship, and what a window of opportunity for most teams. You know, it’s too hard to get here not to enjoy it, so we’re going to enjoy the week, enjoy being here and try to play our best game. We still haven’t played our best game yet.
What separated you all a lot this year was your special teams play and returns. I forgot to ask you last night about D.J. Monroe, have you figured where he might play in the game? Well, we’re looking at D.J. to see if he’s missed too much work on kickoff return. Right now he’s very involved along with Marquise Goodwin, and one of them or both of them will return kicks on Thursday night.
Talking about Will Muschamp, what do you feel like you’ve tried to help him with specifically to get ready to be a head coach? I really haven’t tried to help Will unless he’s asked. Will is very bright. He was raised in a coaching family, and I feel like what Will sees that he likes that I do, he will adapt. And then he has to have his own personality and be who he needs to be. There will be things that as we go through the process over the next number of years that I can say, here’s something you’re probably not aware of that you have to do, and you need to figure out how you’re going to do it. And we’ve had some of those discussions.
But very honestly people have asked me how long I’m going to coach, and that’s a discussion we haven’t had. I haven’t talked to Sally about it, haven’t talked to DeLoss, haven’t talked to Bill Powers, and I sure haven’t talked to Will. And to Will’s credit, and to answer the other question about why it works, Will says that he wants me to coach as long as I’m happy and as long as it’s working for us, and he’ll be fine. So every time a job comes open, because he’s really good at what he does, everybody says, well, Will Muschamp is up for the job. He runs down the hall to tell me ‘I’m really not. I hope you know that.‘ I said, ‘yeah, Will, I’ve got it; you don’t have to tell me.‘ It’s working great for us and we’re glad to have Will at Texas.
Coming from Birmingham, Alabama, I just wondered how two coaches raised under the same roof could have such different career paths, and I know that Watson would never be jealous of your success, but at times did you feel a little bit sorry for his career path? Watson is my brother for you that don’t know, and he’s a year and a half older. He coached at Vanderbilt, he coached at Rice, he coached at Cincinnati, he coached at Austin Peay, and he coached at University of Alabama Birmingham, really took the leap from I- AA to Division I.
I am not. The reason I’ve had a different career than Watson is because I’ve had better jobs. I’ve always thought he’s a better football coach than I am and he does a tremendous job with very little, and he’s done it throughout his career. And if you ask whether I’ve had a better career or Watson, I would really think Watson has had a wonderful career. How many people can be a head football coach in college for 20-something years and touch that many lives?
I haven’t felt sorry for him because very few people get to be a head coach. Those that become head coaches usually don’t get to stay after three years. So he’s had wonderful moments, and he had a winning season at Tennessee Tech this year, the first one that they’ve had in a long time. Watson was as proud of winning the state championship in Tennessee and winning their sixth game and having a winning season at Tennessee Tech as we would be if we won this ballgame.
You just mentioned yourself about not having a lot of momentum coming into this game. Your kids have heard this now for the better part of four weeks. It’s almost like they didn’t win the Big 12. How advantageous is that for you, and can you feel that festering with them? I don’t know if people telling you every day that you’re not good enough is advantageous. What I’ve got to do is have a balance of saying here’s the reason people are saying it: Alabama played in its last game better than you played in your last two as a whole. They played a great football game. And that should not be any different in motivating us than playing for a National Championship.
The fact people will talk about Will Muschamp and Major Applewhite and their involvement with Coach Saban, who’s done a tremendous job at Alabama, they’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of that, they’ll talk about the advantages of us not playing as well the last two games as we wanted to as compared to them. Really and truly, on Thursday night when it’s kicked off, all of that is thrown out the window. It will not be about the best program. It will not be about the best team. It will be about the team that plays the best for three and a half hours. And when you get to that point, as Coach Royal always said, they start that scoreboard 0-0 for a reason.
Last night Colt McCoy was telling us that you had kind of told the players in terms of motivation, find something to get the motor running for this game, no matter what it is. Find that one little thing. Can you just talk about kind of your approach to motivating guys that way as opposed to maybe just latching onto something and hammering it and letting them find their own individual motivation? Yes. These guys are 18 to 22 years old, and you’ve got 122 of them. Seventy will play in the game most likely, 60 to 70. To think you can sit and motivate each one with the same speech or the same poster would be a little naïve on our part. They’re all so different, even offense and defense. I’ve always said — Jesse was in that room where they wanted to be quiet and they wanted to think and watch them. That other bunch is bouncing off the walls in there on defense. It’s just different. And then you’ve got the kicking game, and those kickers, they don’t fit in either room. It gets really crazy when you ask those guys.
I just saw a kick missed by East Carolina walking in that made me flinch. They had 15 seconds left and they missed the kick. What we’ve tried to do is figure out the team that creates the best edge against two really good units in a game with two really good football teams is the one that usually wins. Last year we were very disappointed that we didn’t get to play in the conference championship or the National Championship. It was very difficult to create an edge. We were lucky we were playing against a really good Ohio State team that we had respect for in the Fiesta Bowl. Still didn’t play great, but we at least turned it enough that we didn’t go out there and lay an egg.
In this game you’ve got to be able to create the edge. The National Championship should be enough, but we’ve all seen teams that have everything laying out there, and they don’t play hard. They don’t play with confidence. So we do not take motivation for granted. We feel like we have to sit down with each young man and figure out how to create the edge for each one, and then try to pull it all together by Thursday as a team.
Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban
Jesse Palmer, ESPN, Moderator: I’d like to thank everybody for joining us here at Disneyland Resort to talk a little football as we get ready for the BCS National Championship game. The gentleman sitting on my right certainly needs no introduction. He led Alabama this year to a perfect 13-0 record, including a very impressive win in the SEC title game in only his third year at Alabama.
Now he’s led Alabama back to this championship. It’s an opportunity for its first National Championship since 1992. Everywhere Nick Saban has been throughout the collegiate ranks he’s had success. He’s been named SEC Coach of the Year three different times. In 2003 he won the National Championship with LSU. Nick Saban and Bear Bryant are the only two coaches to win an SEC Championship at two different schools.
This upcoming Thursday night, Coach Saban has the opportunity to become the first head coach since 1936 in the AP poll era to win a National Championship at two different schools. Coach, thanks so much for being with us, and congratulations on an outstanding year.
Saban: Thank you. It’s great to be here, and I certainly do appreciate the people at Disneyland and ESPN for welcoming our players here and showing great hospitality to them.
Palmer: Coach, in the modern era of college football, it is so difficult to run the table and go undefeated through a regular season and to win a conference championship game. The amount of focus your football team needs to have is really remarkable. Can you talk a little bit about the different characteristics that your football team has this season to accomplish those feats?
Saban: I think the most important thing that your team has to have is consistency in performance, and I think that’s the thing that makes it so difficult is that people get easily satisfied when they have a great win or play a really good game, and all of a sudden you don’t have the same intensity or sense of urgency about preparing for your next opponent. And I think there’s a lot of parity in college football, so I think it’s very important that your team realizes that and does their best to be their best all the time. And there’s a lot of media attention out there, too, that sometimes can affect them in a way that gets their head where it shouldn’t be in terms of what they need to do to prepare and play. It’s all a matter of focus but focusing on the right things.
Palmer: Speaking about that focus, you’ve been in a lot of big games throughout college football. We mentioned the National Championship in 2003. What sort of lessons have you learned from those big games to help best prepare your team for this environment and the media frenzy and the circus that we’re going to see this week to keep their focus to get ready on the biggest game of their lives?
Saban: I think the biggest thing is the players have to realize that they have to focus on the right things. I think – I call it the clutter, is all about how important the game is; what winning or losing the game means; the consequences of the game, positively or negatively. And as a competitor, those are really all the things that you really don’t want to think about.
What you want to think about is what do I have to do to play my best game, what do I have to do to play my best football of the season, what do we have to do as a team.
There’s a lot of little games going on while this is all happening; what’s your preparation, are you eating right, are you resting right, are you able to keep a balance between practicing well and doing what you need to do to play well, as opposed to all the other things that are happening around you. And I think those distractions can affect people, and that’s what we really try to emphasize to our players. We’ve got to stay focused on the right things.
Palmer: Your running back Mark Ingram became the first player in school history to win a Heisman Trophy. What has he meant to your football team this season, and what has he meant to the Alabama community?
Saban: I think, first of all, Mark is an outstanding person, and I think he has been a marvelous member of our team. If he won a Heisman Trophy as the best college football player, I would give him a trophy for being one of the best guys on our team in terms of the kind of team guy he is, the kind of practice player he is, the kind of character he has as a person. His family is first to him, and he’s been a marvelous, marvelous ambassador for the University of Alabama and our football program and our football team.
From a character standpoint, I think he has great leadership in the example that he sets, but he’s also a very talented guy. You know, as a coach, when you have some of the best players on your team are those kind of people, those are the easiest teams to coach because they affect other people, and that’s what makes it a lot of fun.
Palmer: 1,542 rushing yards, the single season record at Alabama. I’d like to now open it up to the general media.
Can you talk about your relationship with Will Muschamp and what you see in Texas’s defense that reflects what you do on your defense? Well, I think, first of all, any time somebody works for you for, I think in Will’s case five years, was a coordinator and in a position of leadership for three our four of those years, and I think the way Will came up, he came to LSU from Valdosta State and he was a young coach and was very bright and had great work ethic, was a good person, good recruiter. So he sort of got raised up in the program from being a position coach to a coordinator to getting to the NFL and has done a fantastic job every place he’s been.
But I think his personality is reflected in how their defense plays in terms of his passion, the character that – competitive character that he has that they have, and I think that’s one similarity that we would like our defense to have. They do play some 3-4, which is something that we do, and they do a lot of similar type philosophical pressures in situations.
But I think Will has made his own mark in this profession in terms of what he’s done and what he’s accomplished, and we’re proud of him, and we’re happy for him. And I know he’s going to be a great head coach when he gets that opportunity someday, as well.
Can you just give us an update on Marquis Johnson and where he is as far as catching the ball with a cast on his hand? Well, he practiced today, and he’s using his hand again. He didn’t practice with a black shirt on, which means he was able to have contact. Now, whether he can catch the ball with a cast on his hand or not, he has caught some, but it could affect his ability to catch.
When did you first realize that Greg McElroy had what it took to be the starting quarterback at Alabama, and also, do you have one memory that sticks out of Greg that he’s had this season? Well, I think one of our big concerns going into this season was how Greg would sort of develop into the kind of quarterback that he has. I saw a lot of positive characteristics even last year as a backup, and certainly this spring, because of his intelligence and his decision making and his judgment and his leadership, which – and he’s pretty accurate with the ball. And I think those are some of the key ingredients to being a really good quarterback. He’s done a fantastic job for our team. He hit a little dip in the middle of the season, but other than that, he’s done an outstanding job. And probably my biggest memory to be honest with you is when he had the dip, having a conversation with him about focusing on the right things, be who you are. I think he got to where he started to try to please everyone else, and he really wasn’t doing what he needed to do as a player. And to see him realize that and sort of come back and improve and finish the season strong, that’s probably my most – maybe not best memory but most significant one, at least for our team and for Greg.
First of all, two quick questions if I may. I think the conventional wisdom in a lot of places outside Alabama was that Florida and Texas were going to be in the championship game and everyone was talking about that. I wonder if you could talk about your perspective on that now that you guys are No. 1 and here. And secondly, you’ve mentioned focus a number of times. With this bowl game there’s a lot of people, you’re at Disneyland. How do you allow the kids to enjoy the things that they’ve earned, these extracurricular things, but keep them focused on the game? Well, the answer to your first question is I think Florida has an outstanding football team, outstanding football players, and we probably played as well as we could play as a team to win that game. And I’m proud of the way our players played in the game. I mean, they had an I-won’t-be-denied sort of attitude.
But sometimes it works that you lost the game the year before, so the players were really up for the game this year. But I think Florida has a fantastic team. We earned our way to be here. I think Texas has a fantastic team. So I’m proud of what our players have accomplished to get here, and nobody can take anything away from what they’ve done to get here. We didn’t get voted in; we kind of earned our way. So I’m proud of that fact.
I trust our players when it comes to making good choices and decisions about what they do and what they don’t do. We’ve spent a lot of time and we have a lot of people who work in our organization in peer intervention, community outreach, character development, how to be successful, and I think our players understand that the choices and decisions they make are very important to their future success. And we want them to make all the right choices and we want to provide them with the leadership to do that.
And I don’t think that they need to think about playing this game every minute of every day. I think there’s a balance in everyone’s life that they should have relative to other things that they do and being able to focus when the time is right for them to focus on meetings, practice, the game, what they need to do in the game, and bring it to sort of a crescendo when the game comes. And I think that’s what we’re all hoping to do as an organization to help our players.
I was wondering if you could go into a little bit more detail about clutter. At this time of year we hear about players not being academically eligible, coaches leaving, agents getting in the way, media obligations. Can you detail what you mean by clutter? All of the above. You named them all. You could name some more if you want to keep going. You know them just like I know them.
What’s most alarming to you about it? There’s nothing alarming about it. We’re in the entertainment business. In some of these – there are other elements that are out there that can affect people’s ability to perform. I mean, even guys that get national awards or make All-American, is that the finish line or is that the starting point of what they can accomplish in their future?
I told our players a story the other day about the U.S. Hockey team. Probably one of the greatest victories of this century by any team was when they beat the Soviets in ’80 or whenever it was, the Miracle on Ice. Do you know what people don’t remember? That didn’t win the gold medal; they had to win the next game against Finland to win the gold medal. So what did they learn when they beat the Soviets? They learned when they made a commitment and everybody had a single-minded purpose and I-won’t-be-denied kind of attitude and everybody went out there and played their best what they could accomplish. And then they had to go play another game. And hopefully they learned that and built on that. I think they all built on that because there was a lot of people on that team that had a lot of success and they did win the game, so they did learn something from it.
Hopefully our players will learn some of the same things from what they did in the SEC Championship game and be able to stay focused on those things, because if we don’t then you let in all the outside influences.
The first thing I did when we came back from the SEC Championship game in the first meeting is I drew a line on the grease board all the way across the room, the team meeting room, and I said it’s 32 days until we play the game; here’s the SEC Championship, here’s the National Championship. How you manage those 32 days is going to determine how you play in the game. And I can’t control that for everybody in this room; you have to make those choices and decisions for yourself. And I mentioned all the things, how you condition yourself; what your weight, discipline is; choices and decisions you make off the field; how you’re going to manage agents, media. Guys are going to get recognized and get accolades for accomplishments. Is that going to affect your ability? Is that going to be the final destination for you, or is that just a starting point for what you can accomplish in the future by being recognized for what you accomplished in the past? So all those things are factors in how we play in a game. And that’s what I call clutter, because when you’re thinking about that you you’re not thinking about what you need to do to prepare to play your best in the game. I know everybody thinks I’m crazy, but that’s the way it is.
You’ve talked a lot in the three years about all the things you have at your beck and call at Alabama to help you be a success. You’ve been more successful here in the last two years than at any point in your career. What’s happened to you personally as a coach that you feel like you’re achieving everything, you’re being as successful as you’ve been? I think it’s not about me at all. I think it’s about the fact that as a staff, as an organization, as a team, and our team includes everyone from the fans to our administration; our president, Dr. Witt; Mal Moore; all the people involved; our coaching staff and all the auxiliary people that we have in our organization that affect the players, strength and training people, medical staff, whomever. I mean, all those people have an impact on the development of the players that we have. And that program and all those people on that team make people want to come to be a part of the program, and that’s called recruiting.
So we’ve been able to develop the players that we had fairly well, and we’ve also been able to recruit fairly well, and the players themselves have embraced the new people in the program so that it meshed together as a pretty good team.
I’m not sure that I did anything that contributed to that significantly, other than gaining more knowledge and experience in the process of what it takes to be successful through every experience, good and bad, that we’ve had through the years.
Are you having fun? Is this fun? Is this fun? (Laughter.) You know, what’s fun for me is practice. I really enjoy practice. I really enjoy being around the players. I really enjoy the teaching part of it. You know, some of the other things, it’s an entertainment business, and I really do appreciate what you all do to make our sport, college football, and what our players do important and interesting, and you create a lot of interest for a lot of other people, and I do appreciate that. And it’s important to the game.
So I’m having fun out of respect for what you all do. (Laughter.) That’s about as diplomatic as I can be.
In your opinion why has this program been able to bounce back a lot since Bear Bryant’s death? I know that’s a big question, but every coach that’s been at Alabama has won 10 at least once since he’s been there. It’s been through multiple probations. Why has this program gotten to this point and been able to sustain itself? Well, I think continuity is always important in terms of being able to sustain, and I think that’s – I wasn’t there, so I really shouldn’t probably be answering this question, but from the outside looking in, I think there was a pretty consistent amount of success when Coach Stallings was there, for the seven years that he was there. But that’s probably the longest anybody was there.
I can’t answer why that is, but I think continuity is really important because every time you make a change, you sort of backslide or change philosophies of the kind of players you want or whatever, and it causes some issues and problems. But I think if you have continuity at Alabama, you can attract good players to come. It’s a good school. It’s a nice place to go to school.
It’s a good program. We have great facilities. We have good people. And we’ve had a lot of success in the areas of helping guys be successful as people, students and as players. So hopefully we’ll be able to continue to have success in the future. Now, can you get in this game every year? That’s a hard one. But I think when you have the right stuff, the right experience, the right quarterback, you know, the right group of guys that you can have these kind of years.