TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke to reporters on Tuesday during the national championship teleconference to preview the matchup vs. Clemson.
The Crimson Tide and Tigers will meet in a rematch of last year’s national championship on Jan. 9. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was on the call earlier on Tuesday. Here’s what Swinney said about Alabama.
Here are the highlights from Saban’s time on the teleconference:
- This is certainly an honor for our team. Something they worked very hard for. They’ve created an opportunity for themselves against a fantastic team in Clemson. This is something we all look forward to as competitors. This is a fantastic venue to be involved in.
- On thinking behind letting Lane Kiffin go, how it changes offense: Right. Well, we made a statement about this yesterday, and really don’t have much else to say about it. It’s difficult sometimes when you’re in a situation when you have a new opportunity and a new job, and we mutually agreed that in the best interest of everyone that this would be the best thing for us to do relative to the experience that we had in preparation for Washington and playing in the game. You know, I don’t think there’s a whole lot more to say about that. Our coaches are working hard to try to put the best game plan we can together to play against a very good Clemson defense, and we’re in the planning stages right now. I don’t know why you all keep asking me what changes we’re going to make. Dabo is a good friend of mine; maybe I’ll just call him up and tell him what we’re going to do.
- On what continues to motivate him, if things ever got stale: Well, that really hasn’t happened, so I have not had to get over that yet. But I think that my motivation comes from the fact that this team, these players have worked really hard to create an opportunity for themselves, and as a coach, you want to do a great job for your players and your team. They’re working hard. Everybody is working together to try to put them in the best position to have a chance to be successful as people, as students, and as players. That’s our challenge, and that’s what motivates us. When you play an outstanding opponent, that’s something that in and of itself as a competitor is motivation. And that’s certainly the case in this game, and it’s certainly the case with this team in terms of what I would like to do as a coach to put them in the best position to have a chance to be successful in this game.
- On what’s different between Clemson and Alabama this time around: Well, I think there are some subtle differences. We’re the same coaching staff. They’re the same coaching staff. I don’t think anything is significantly changed philosophically. I think some of the key players on both teams are still out there competing, especially for Clemson with their quarterback. Their skill players on offense are outstanding, some of whom didn’t play last year in this game who have had fantastic years this year, whether it’s No. 7 or No. 8, and so there’s somewhat of a difference from that standpoint. But defensively they’ve got some — a lot of new faces out there, and we’ve got a few new ones. We have a freshman quarterback, which makes us different. There are some of the obvious subtle differences, but philosophically, I think you have success because you do what you believe in and you try to do it well. I think that’s what Clemson does extremely well, and that’s what we try to do as a coaching staff relative to what we believe in.
- On Deshaun Watson and his improvement this year: Well, I thought he played fantastic against us last year, and we thought he was an outstanding player last year when we played against him. Any comment that I make now is certainly not a disrespect to how we felt about him a year ago. He may be arguably the best player in college football. The guy is very athletic. He’s got a great understanding of their offense. He does a really good job of executing for his team. He can extend plays. He can run. He can run quarterback runs. And he’s a terrific passer. I mean, he is the complete package of everything that you could ever want or look for in a guy at quarterback, and he’s been playing for a long time, so he has a tremendous amount of experience. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. You know, I think that that’s why they’re a very, very dynamic offense.
- On Lane Kiffin being with the team for national championship game: No, it’s really not even possible from a legal standpoint for him to do those things. That’s not something that we’re interested in pursuing.
- On how involved Steve Sarkisian was an analyst: Well, if you understand the rules, you know, he’s not allowed to be involved with the team. They’re involved in the planning. They’re involved in the organization. That’s where they make their contribution, in the coaching meetings. They’re not really allowed to be involved with the team.
- On not moving on from Kiffin as soon as Sarkisian was hired: Well, I try to make the decisions based on what’s best for helping our players be successful, and at the time there was no anticipation that — or thought that there would be any kind of problem relative to managing having two jobs at once, and when we sort of saw that that was — and agreed that that was a little bit of a tough thing, then we decided to move in a different direction.
- On making the change at offensive coordinator with one week left in the season: I don’t have anything else to say about this. You know, we’re moving forward. We’re looking forward to the Clemson game. We did what we did for the reasons that I’ve stated many, many times before, and there’s really nothing else to talk about. So there’s no why, there’s no if, there’s no but. It just is what it is. The statement says what it is. We’re moving forward, so let’s talk about the game. I mean, it’s only fair to the players who have worked hard on both teams to have an opportunity to play in a great, competitive venue, and that’s what we’d like to talk about.
- On Reuben Foster’s development: Well, Reuben was a very good player for us a year ago and probably played in the shadows a little bit of Reggie Ragland, who was a senior and a captain, and now Reuben is a senior and a captain, and he’s showing great leadership in terms of the example that he sets and how he impacts everyone else and how he tries to help everybody else play better on our defensive squad. I think he’s done a really good job from that standpoint and had an outstanding season as an individual player in terms of his production and his performance. He’s been all that you could ask for as a coach in terms of what he’s been able to accomplish and do to impact his team and to be a productive performer.
- On educating players on social media: You know, we’re constantly trying to educate our players on creating a good brand for themselves based on what they post or what they tweet or anything that they do on social media, that it’s a reflection on them. You know, so it’s an educational process for us in terms of trying to get them to do the right things. Every now and then when we see or hear that that’s not being done properly, we try to educate them further in how this can affect their future in terms of some of the things that they’re trying to be successful at. This is sort of something that we’re constantly trying to address with players so that they can brand themselves in a positive way.
- On evaluating defensive lineman in recruiting: Right. Well, I think defensive line is a really important position in terms of having a good defense. To be able to especially play in this day and age, it takes even a different sort of guy that’s more versatile, more athletic, because of the pace of play as well as the style of play that has kind of taken over in college football relative to whatever you want to call the spread offense. So there’s a lot more perimeter plays. There’s a lot more passes. To find guys that are athletic enough to play that position but still strong enough and stout enough to be able to play gaps and play blocks and control the line of scrimmage is even more challenging than it’s ever been before, and we’ve been pretty fortunate here to have some pretty good ones. I know Clemson has some really good ones, as well, and that’s probably why they’ve been pretty successful, and it’s probably a big reason that we’ve been pretty successful.
- On Jonathan Allen returning for his senior season and improving draft stock: Well, he was a very good player for us a year ago, and this year his production, his consistency in performance, his maturity as a player, his ability to sustain and just play a lot more plays this year are all things that I think has made him a better player in terms of — like I tell players all the time, you can move up if you stay here, but you’re only going to do that if you work hard and do things the right way, and Jonathan certainly did that in every aspect of how he could improve and get better, whether it was strength, conditioning, knowledge of the game, execution. So I think all these things have benefitted him tremendously.
- On if an NFL team can build around Jonathan Allen: I don’t think there’s any question about the fact — especially his diversity as a player, being able to play in or out, and good pass rushers inside are hard to find, especially guys that can still play the point and hold the point. And he does both those things very well.
- On Clemson’s defense, what they did against Ohio State: They played really, really well against Ohio State. They created a lot of pressure, a lot of negative plays, really affected the quarterback, and this is a complete unit. They have — I’ve already mentioned the fact that they have really good guys up front. Their linebackers are athletic and very instinctive and can run, and they play really well in the back end. You know, this is a very, very good defensive team from top to bottom, and I thought they played just, you know, really, really outstanding against Ohio State in terms of well-prepared, knowing exactly what they had to take away, and played well together to get it done.