ATLANTA — Although he didn’t get much sleep, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban and the game MVPs from the National Championship Game, Tua Tagovailoa and Da’Ron Payne, met with reporters on Tuesday morning and received some hardware before heading back to Tuscaloosa.
Heres what they said:
• Nick Saban: We won the game because of our resilience, and our true belief in each other. Tua gave us a spark on offense, which also helped the defense. This has been a wonderful experience, just the ending itself was. There were a lot of critical moments in the game. I’m really pleased with the way we responded.
• Tua Tagovailoa: Haven’t heard too much from people at home, with the 5-hour time difference. I haven’t checked my messages much either.
• Saban: When asked if this makes him feel older or more rejuvenated from the win, he opted for the latter.
• Saban: This is sort of like Sleepless in Atlanta. I haven’t thought about the big picture yet. Met with some players last night about the draft. I think I’m going to take time and reflect on this a little, though.
• Saban: The 24-hour rule applies. This is a lifelong legacy. Winning the championship is something you never forget, but in 24 hours you probably need to move on because there’s another challenge. You’ve created a bigger target that people want to try and beat you.
• Saban on the six titles: I don’t want to minimize what “we” accomplished. It’s everyone from the top on down and includes all the players, who bought in. They should be getting the credit. Bear Bryant is probably the best coach of all time due to his longevity and his ability to change. For his time, he impacted the game and probably had more success than anyone.
• Saban asked if he had confidence to go back to kicker Andy Pappanastos if necessary in overtime: Gets annoyed and says yes, then adds “I thought I was going to kick it,” and cracks the players up.
• Da’Ron Payne wants to meet with his family before making a decision.
• Saban gets the quarterback decision for next year: Don’t need to make a decision right now.
• He also gets the how much longer will he coach question, if it’s changed at all in his mind: He gives same answer as before, that he enjoys coaching and being a part of a team. “I know I can’t do it forever,” but there are things I’ve enjoyed and hope to continue to enjoy.
• Saban asked if he wears championship rings. Says he doesn’t, but he does respect the symbol the rings have significance to. “I’m certainly proud of them.”
• Payne: It’s a great feeling knowing all our hard work paid off. Don’t think I really got any sleep last night.
• Tagovailoa: I didn’t sleep last night. If I did I wouldn’t have been able to get up and come to this. It was a great win for us.
• Payne: Proud of recruiting class having won second national title, and contributing.
• Saban on Tua: The one thing I tell him is we’re both sneaky quick (laughs). He does have really good quickness, and is sometimes underestimated in his ability to make plays with his feet.
• Saban asked about linebacker Mekhi Brown losing his cool. He didn’t know about his swinging at anyone, just the penalty. Had said he asked him if the penalty was worth it. Chastised reporters for picking out a small negative thing after such a big night/win.
• Saban asked how he weighs his admiration for one quarterback and the potential of another. Saban said he told Jalen we wouldn’t be here without you, but the best chance to win may be a different way. As a team player, he was very supportive. Everyone who is a competitor wants to play. I think they respect each other because of that. Had something similar with LSU with Josh Booty and Rohan Davey in the Peach Bowl. Came back and beat Georgia Tech, 28-14. Sometimes a little change of style, spark, sort of ignites everyone and I think that happened last night. Tua did a lot, but it was also the way the players reacted to him.
New trophy, who dis pic.twitter.com/IsWiuAppe7
— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) January 9, 2018
NICK SABAN: First of all, I’d like to thank the College Football Playoff committee, Bill Hancock and his entire crew, the city of Atlanta for being a wonderful host for our team and our organization for this game.
This was a very difficult turnaround for our players, after being in the Sugar Bowl, just a week between games. But very proud of the way they handled and managed and the maturity that they showed and perseverance that they showed in being able to come back in the game and win the game last night.
Sometimes you win the game but you don’t necessarily beat the other team. I think that we won the game last night because of our resilience, because of our belief in the system, trust and respect for each other, and just really being sort of resilient to whatever happened in the game and being pretty relentless in terms of the competitive spirit that our players played with.
I think Tua certainly gave us a spark in the second half offensively, and I think that was something that helped us on defense as well as to put some points on the board to give us a chance to win the game.
This has been a wonderful experience for us. This will be a game that I’ll never forget. Just the ending itself. I think you forget that we scored on fourth down, missed a field goal to win, and then got sacked before we made a big play to win the game. There were a lot of things that happened that were critical moments in the game, but really, really pleased with the way our players responded each and every time they had a circumstance it seemed like it might be very difficult to overcome.
Tua, could you get any idea for the reaction in the islands? I know the time difference probably made it in primetime there. Who did you talk to? What did they say? How are things back home?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: I haven’t really got to talk to anyone back home aside from my family. I hear they’re very proud of me. The time difference back home, I think it’s a five-hour time difference. I don’t hear too much from a lot of people back home, but at the same time, I haven’t checked a lot of my messages, too. Other than that, I don’t think anything of it.
NICK SABAN: He’s Sweet Home Alabama now. (Laughter).
Nick, does a win like last night and does a season that you’ve just gone through, having to overcome all the injuries and all the adversity and everything, does it make you sit back and go, wow, I’m getting too old for this? Or does it rejuvenate you?
NICK SABAN: I think probably more it rejuvenates you. I mean, you’re constantly, I’m constantly trying to stimulate, motivate, whatever you want to call it, the players, the team to get people to rally around and step up when they need to. But I think the payback for me is to see the players respond and do the things they have to do. It’s very — provides a lot of self-gratification in a positive way to see them respond the way they do.
Along those same lines, are you able at any point today or last night to step back and look at your career and sort of where you go next with all you’ve accomplished?
NICK SABAN: No, I really haven’t. I think this — isn’t there Sleepless in Seattle? Isn’t that it? This is kind of Sleepless in Atlanta. I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest with you. I did some thinking about next year’s team, talked to players after the game, seven of them, that may consider going out for the draft. Probably have several that should and probably have several that shouldn’t, from a business perspective.
Thinking about we’ve got a Thursday meeting as a team to get guys back in school and get them back on the right track to do what they have to do and lay out a little calendar for what they need to do the next couple months. But really haven’t thought too much about that.
But I think I’m going to. I really do. I think I’m going to. I don’t watch TV much. I don’t watch ESPN. Maybe if I do, maybe I’ll think about it some. It’s really been a bit of a whirlwind since the game.
I know you enforce the 24-hour rule after a win. Does that apply here? If not, how long do you let these guys celebrate it?
NICK SABAN: I think it applies. I think that this is a legacy, a lifelong legacy that everybody lives with. I think when a team wins a championship, I think you’ve heard me comment on it before, we won the state championship in 1968 in Monongah, West Virginia, and nobody really knows where that is, and it’s not a place you need to go visit, and there’s still a sign up that says we won the championship. In fact, somebody sent me a license that said 1968 state champs the other day. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t even know who sent it, but they found it someplace and sent it to me.
And that still means a lot. And that team and those teammates and the feeling of accomplishment really means a lot. So each one of these championships, every one of these guys that come back — and there were a ton of them back last night on the sidelines — feel a special sense of accomplishment when you are a champion, you win a championship, you do it together. Everybody realizes the sacrifices and the adversity that you had to overcome to do it and the hard work you put in to do it. And I think it’s something that you never forget. It becomes a part of the legacy of that team.
But I also think that, if you’re a competitor and you’re a player, whether you’re a coach or a player or any part of the organization, in 24 hours you probably need to move on because there’s another challenge and basically you created a target for yourself in the future in terms of people who want to beat you.
Coach, you’re now tied with Bryant for national championships. Given that you’re in Alabama, what does that mean to you? Is it special to you?
NICK SABAN: Well, I don’t want to minimize the significance of what we have been able to accomplish at Alabama. I think the key word there is we. I think when you look back on these championships, the first thing that comes to mind for me is all the people who contributed to them, and that starts with coaches, it starts with administrators, it starts with athletic directors, Mal Moore, Bill Battle, Greg Byrne, our guy right now, Dr. Witt, our president, who had the vision of having this kind of program, the university community who supports us, and most importantly, all the players. We won all these things because we had really, really good players who all bought in to the principles and values of the organization, the hard work and the perseverance that it takes to do this. They’re the people who should be getting the credit for winning the championships. This is not something that is just about me, and I think Coach Bryant is probably the best coach of all time because of the longevity of his tenure as a coach and the way he changed.
I mean, he won championships running the wishbone. He run them with Joe Namath dropping back throwing when people never, ever did it. I just think that, for his time, he impacted the game and had more success than anybody ever could.
Coach, just wondering how confident were you in Andy if you needed him in overtime for a field goal?
NICK SABAN: I’m sorry. Could you repeat the question?
How confident were you going back to Andy if needing a field goal in overtime?
NICK SABAN: You know what, we had enough issues and questions to solve in the game without now starting to ask hypothetical questions about what would you have done if, so I’m not even going to answer that. Yes, because he’s our best field goal kicker on our team, I think that’s probably what we would have done. I really thought I was going to go out and kick it. That’s what I thought we’d do. What do you think?
TUA TAGOVAILOA: I don’t know. (Laughter).
Nick, on the field last night you mentioned you thought this was one of the happiest moments of your life. Can you provide some context to it now that you’ve had — why is this the happiest moment of your life or it was last night? How special was this?
NICK SABAN: I guess why not? What do we work for all year? Why do we put in all this time? These players run 110s, they go through summer conditioning. They come to work every day of the season, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. They put a lot into this. They have goals and aspirations and things that they want to accomplish. Basically, I was happy for the players. I was happy for the people in our organization. I was happy for the fans. I was really happy.
When you come back and win in a game like we did, if you’re a competitor and you respect people who are great competitors, you have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the people out there who did it. I think that’s probably why I was so pleased with the effort and the comeback because I’m sure that at halftime there were very few people who really thought that we had any chance at all to win.
And my last comment to the team before we went out for the second half was we’ve been behind 24-3 and came back and scored 45 straight points on a team and won a game. So if we’ll just focus on execution and having the discipline to do your job and do it with great effort, toughness, and being more physical than the other team, we just need to execute and play our game. If we do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win, and the players did.
This is for Da’Ron. I’m sure you have friends on the team who will go through the process of deciding whether to go to the NFL. You probably have friends who have already gone through it who are now in the NFL from Alabama. How much does that help you make your decision, having so many people around you who have sort of been through that decision before?
DA’RON PAYNE: I think I really just want to take it slow and just talk to my family first and just go from there. Right now I’m just celebrating with my team and just happy for the success we had last night. Just want to take it day by day.
Nick, what is the quarterback situation going forward now, going into next season between Jalen and Tua?
NICK SABAN: Look, we have two good quarterbacks on our team, no doubt. Both of them made a great contribution to the success of the team this year. I think that we haven’t really made a decision about that. I don’t think it’s imperative that we make one right now. We’ve got two fine young men who really respect each other and have worked hard to help each other all year long. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do that in the future.
As a follow-up, you kind of touched on it earlier, but in your mind — you’re not going to tell us. Do you see a finite end to this, to your career, or is it just as open-ended as it was when you guys kicked off last night, that you’re just going to consider things down the line?
NICK SABAN: I think that, as long as I feel like I can do a good job for the players and the team — from an energy level, from a focus level, from a concentration level, from providing a good staff of people around them to help them have success — I’ve said this all along for many, many years now when I get asked this question. I’ve been part of a team since I was 9 years old. Hard for me to imagine what it would be like not being a part of a team. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy the players. I enjoy the relationships that you have on a team. There’s a lot of positive self-gratification for me to see these guys have success, not just on the field, but as people, as students, as players, to see them go on and be successful with their careers.
So these are things that I know that I cannot do forever, but they’re certainly things that I have enjoyed and hope I can continue to enjoy in the future.
Nick, I’m curious if you ever wear your national championship rings, and if you do, how the hell do you ever pick which one to wear?
NICK SABAN: Well, I don’t, so — I do respect the symbol that those things have significance to, you know, what they mean. When we started talking about building monuments, about winning championships at Alabama, there was only one thing that I demanded that they do, and that’s put every player’s name on the plaque that was on the team so that they could come back and it was a part of their personal legacy of their accomplishment as well as the significance of them being a part of a group and a part of a team.
So 25 years from now, they can bring their grandson or their son and say, see, I was a part of that. I think that’s what those rings do. So as long as you have them, I don’t see any reason to wear them, but I’m certainly proud of them.
This is for the players. Building on what Coach Saban just talked about, I guess, first of all, how does it feel to be a part of Crimson Tide history forever and ever and ever? And I was curious as to how much sleep you guys got last night.
DA’RON PAYNE: It’s definitely a great feeling knowing that all our hard work in the off-season and the summertime, it all came to fruition.
And on the sleep, I think I just laid there last night. I didn’t really get too much sleep.
TUA TAGOVAILOA: To piggyback off of what Payne just said, same goes for me. It’s just a great opportunity to be here. It’s a blessing as well. I got no sleep at all last night. I couldn’t sleep because, if I slept, I would have never woke up to come to this thing.
Aside from that, it was a good team win. I still can’t believe that this is what happened. It just feels like another game.
First question is for Da’Ron. When you guys in the recruiting class came in, I remember Rodney Harrison saying, we’re going to win a national championship. You guys have won two. What does it mean to be part of this class that’s been able to accomplish that in three years?
DA’RON PAYNE: It’s a lot of fun just knowing that we came in and accomplished a lot of good things. Our class just as a whole have been — I think we played a big role in the championship that we won. I’m just glad to be a part of the team and all the good memories.
Secondly, Coach, Tua’s made a lot of throws, obviously, but his run on third-and-7 to pick up the first down kept that drive going. Just speak to that play and how that got the ball rolling for him later throughout the game.
NICK SABAN: I always kind of tell Tua that the one thing we have in common is we’re both sneaky quick and sneaky athletic. I’m right-handed. He’s left.
But I think that the one thing that people probably underestimate a little bit, from his perspective and from his standpoint as a player, is he does have really good quickness. He is, I think, sometimes underestimated in terms of his ability to make plays with his feet, and he made a fabulous play on that third down.
Could you talk about what happened with Mekhi Brown in the third quarter and whether you considered putting him back in the game after that?
NICK SABAN: What are you talking about? The penalty that he got?
It looked like he had a confrontation with a staffer on the sideline.
NICK SABAN: I really don’t know what you’re talking about. The only thing that I have said to Mekhi Brown was you got a penalty. It was after the whistle. For pushing and shoving, which was an emotional decision, which is selfish on his part that penalized the team, gave them the ball on the 40-yard line instead of the 25-yard line. I just asked him if it was worth it.
He went back in the game, though, and played and actually made a tackle inside the 20 on the kickoff. So in a time where we have a lot of things to be happy about, it’s kind of amazing to me that you would pick out one little negative thing and even ask about it. It’s so insignificant to what happened in the game.
Coach, I was speaking last night with Rashaan Evans after the game — I’m not sure he’s taken that uniform off yet, about what you said to them at halftime. He said part of your brilliance is the ability to make difficult decisions immediately and not waiver. So I wonder, as it pertains specifically to the quarterback decision, how do you balance or weigh your respect and appreciation and admiration for what one player has achieved for the team versus the potential for what another player can provide the team? How do you balance that?
NICK SABAN: Well, I don’t know that you can balance. I think you do show your appreciation for it. I mean, one of the first things that I said to Jalen was we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. You put us in a position by the plays that you made and the way you played all year long, but it just seems to me like, if we’re going to have the best chance to win this game, that we may need to do it in a different way. I think he understood that. Sure, he didn’t — any competitor would not accept that willingly, but as a team player, he was very supportive of Tua in the second half. I think he helped him in every way. I think Tua’s done that for him all year long.
Look, every player that’s a competitor wants to play, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for competitors. When boys used to come to the door and ring the doorbell to take Kristen out, I used to run to the door and open the door and ask them, what do you play? She really used to get pissed, but I just — you know, that’s me. I have respect for that. And I certainly have respect for the way these guys competed for us all year long. I think they respect each other because of that, and I think their teammates respect them for that.
This happened once before at LSU, I think in our first year. Josh Booty was our quarterback. We got behind Georgia Tech like 14-0 or something, here in Atlanta playing in the Peach Bowl. I just went in at halftime and said Rohan Davey you need to go play, because we need a spark on offense and we need something to change. We ended up winning the game 28-14.
Sometimes just a little change of style, a little spark sort of ignites everyone, and I think that happened in the game last night. Tua gets a lot of credit for that, but I think his teammates’ response to him was equally important.