Alabama coach Nick Saban took his turn at the podium in the main room at SEC Media Days on Wednesday afternoon. The head coach was asked about retirement, his new staff members, the coming quarterback battle and much more. Here’s what he had to say in its entirety.
NICK SABAN: Happy to be here. I hope everybody’s saying that. Glad to be here. That’s what we should all say.
But I hope everyone here had a great summer. This is my 17th SEC Media Day, 12th at Alabama. Always something that I look forward to, and it always signals the start, to me, of the college football season, which is always very exciting.
You know, it means that practice is right around the corner. August 2nd reporting date for us, August 3rd starts practice. And the home opener is not far away, and this year, our home opener is to play Louisville in the Camping World Kickoff classic in Orlando.
We’ve had a very productive offseason as a team. We continue to try to create value for our players, not only on the football field, but in personal development, to help players make better choices and decisions so they have a better chance to be successful in life, in our Academic Support Program, which has a history of success in terms of being one of the nationally ranked graduation rate APR also in the SEC, and also trying to develop careers for our players on and off the field, which on the field we’ve been very successful. Off the field we’ve been very successful.
But to have 12 players drafted this year, 77 players drafted in the last ten years, 26 first round draft picks I think is something that we’re very proud of in terms of the quality of player that we’re able to attract in recruiting, the value that we create for them there in terms of their development, and the success that they have when they leave.
I think you all know that we’ve had a tremendous amount of staff change this year. We’ve had a lot of great coaches who have gone on and done a very good job with the opportunities that they’ve created by helping us have success at Alabama. I’m very proud of what they’re all doing in the programs that they have.
And with six new coaches this year, a new offensive coordinator, new defensive coordinator, new special teams coordinator, I am really pleased with the transition, how the players have sort of responded from relationship standpoint with all of those coaches, how those coaches have done a very good job of buying into the things that we want to do and how we want to do them. The new energy and enthusiasm and ideas that they brought to the organization I think are going to be a long-term positive.
I think this is also one of the better recruiting staffs that we’ve had, and I think that’s going to be beneficial for us in the future as well.
This year’s team, we lost a lot of really good football players, especially on defense. We had ten guys sign NFL contracts. So there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for a lot of young players at every position. We’ve got a few guys coming back up front, we’ve got a few linebackers coming back, but we still have a lot of opportunity for a lot of young players, especially in the secondary, where we lost the most players.
So a lot of the questions that you’re going to ask me about these young players and how they develop, they are all things that are yet to be determined. They’re still going to be determined in the future in terms of how they develop over the rest of the summer, how they do in fall camp, and when they develop the maturity to go out and play winning football for us.
Offense, we have more experience returning, more experienced players returning, four, five starters in the offensive line, both tight ends. We lost some receivers. Calvin Ridley was one of our great receivers in the history of our program. But we have some very talented guys at that position. We’ve got a nice group of running backs.
And I think the number one thing that you will want to talk about is the quarterback controversy that you’d love to create, that you’ve already created, that you will continue to create, and I will tell you the same thing exists there. It’s still to be determined as to who is going to play quarterback for Alabama. So you can ask all of the questions about it, but it’s still to be determined.
Tua basically missed spring practice due to an injury. Jalen had a good spring. Both guys had great summers, and we’ll just have to see who wins the team in fall camp. So, we’ll see.
So, some of your questions, when you ask me about that, I’m going to say: We’ll see. So don’t get mad at me.
All right. On special teams, we’re going have a new punter, a new kicker, a new coach. So, we have a lot of guys that are very capable of being good special teams players, but this will be a work in progress and we’ll see how all of that develops as well.
So the personality of our team. The players are going to be committed to creating the kind of identity we need for this team. Forget about what happened last year. There’s no looking back at that. It’s what we’re going to do moving forward. Are we going to have the leadership that we need to have a very good team, and are we going to have the personnel developed to fill some of the holes that were created by players moving to the next level, players’ graduation, and a lot of these things have not taken shape yet. So it’s a work in progress. It’s not been determined how that’s all going to work out for us.
So we have a lot of young players who have the opportunity to step up. Some of them very talented. But how well we do that, how the older players on the team assume their new role of leadership, all of these things will determine how fast we get to where we need to be and where we can be as a team.
So you can describe our team as we have a uniform in Alabama, it doesn’t change much, it doesn’t reveal anything, and it’s kind of who we are. So that’s a lot about where our team is right now. And we’re going to work hard as coaches to help develop that so that we may be able to have the kind of team that I think we might be capable of if we can get people to buy into the roles that they have and develop as we need them to.
So we have some very talented players here today who have had very productive careers for us. Ross Pierschbacher, a fifth-year senior, is actually going to have a master’s degree in December, has been a four- and five-year starter for us. This will be the fifth year he starts in the offensive line — or fourth year he starts in the offensive line.
Anfernee Jennings has been an outstanding outside linebacker, good pass rusher, really good play maker for us, actually got injured at the end of the Clemson game and missed the National Championship game last year.
Damien Harris, who we’re excited about having back, who returns after two back-to-back thousand-yard seasons and probably could have gone out for the draft, but I think sort of sent a message that: I’m a guy that wants to graduate. I like college. The NFL is not going to go anyplace, and I’m going to try to have another great year and see what happens.
So, you know, basically we’re excited to have those players back. Their leadership has been instrumental in our success, and we’re very pleased with the new coaches that we have. But there’s a lot of things to be determined between now and the first game and now into the season progressing as to where this team can go.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody in the media who I think does a great job of creating a lot of positive self-gratification by the attention you give, a lot of our student-athletes as well as our program, and I think that interest that you create with fans is essential, you know, to the continued success of college football. So thank you very much.
Q. Steve Spurrier is the only coach in SEC history to coach at age 70. Do you think you might become the next one, or do you ever think about the length of your career? Is that something you leave up to Ms. Terry and let her think about it?
NICK SABAN: I’m sorry, I heard the Steve Spurrier part —
Q. Steve Spurrier is the only coach who coached in the SEC at age 70. Do you think you can be the next one? Is that something you ever think about, or is that something you leave up to your wife, Ms. Terry?
NICK SABAN: Well, let me say this: Mrs. Terry does not want me at home. I can tell you that. She doesn’t care if I’m 60, 70, or 80. So she’s looking for something for me to do.
Now, I really enjoy what I’m doing right now, and as long as I’m healthy and I can do it, I’m going to continue to do it and not worry about any numbers or what my age is or anything like that. But I would not want to be in the position where I ever rode the program down because I wasn’t capable of making a contribution that would be positive to the success of the program.
So I’m going to continue to do this for as long as I feel like I can make a positive contribution and as long as I feel healthy enough to do it. And, you know, our Noontime basketball team was undefeated again this year, so that’s always an indicator to me that I can make it through another season.
Q. Coach, what do you think of the new NCAA redshirt rule, and how do you plan to utilize it?
NICK SABAN: I think it’s a great rule. I think this is a rule that really benefits players and player development. It was very difficult for us as coaches to make decisions as to whether we should play a player, and when you decided to play a player, you had to make sure he was going to play enough that that would enhance his development so that you wouldn’t really waste a year of his eligibility. All right. So now you’re going to be able to play the player and enhance his development and he won’t lose that year maybe because he didn’t get to play enough to enhance his development.
So I think this is a very, very good rule. I don’t really think that — other than the fact that we’ll get to play more young players, I don’t think this is something that we’re going to try to strategically implement to players to try to get players to stay longer, because, in our case, I don’t know how much it would benefit us. We have very few fifth-year players in this day in age of football.
You know, we’ve had 126 players in the last five years play their last game in Alabama with a degree, which means we’ve had a significant number of guys graduate in three and a half years. That’s over 25 guys a year playing — we had 25 guys this year playing in the National Championship game that had their degree.
So it’s going to be more and more difficult to just redshirt people for strategic reasons because they’re going to want to either go launch their career or go try to have an opportunity to play in the NFL.
So I don’t see a strategic advantage. I just think it’s a really good advantage for young players to be able to play some and not be able to lose their year, which will enhance their development.
Q. We obviously noticed the omission on the roster this week of Keith Holcombe. Can you talk about his decision to concentrate on baseball and what led to that?
NICK SABAN: Well, obviously Keith Holcombe has done an outstanding job for us. He’s been a great contributor in the program, not only on the field but a great human being, outstanding student, been a really, really good leader for us, and I would love to have him come back and be a part of our team.
But I understand that he wanted to play baseball. He’s always wanted to play baseball. He’s had an opportunity to play baseball, and we decided to give him the opportunity to go full time in baseball this year and then him make a decision about whether he wanted to continue that year of eligibility in football and baseball or just do it in baseball.
And he has made that decision and — to play baseball and not be a part of the team. I think he would add a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge, and diversity to our defense because he’s very smart, if he decided to come back, but that doesn’t seem to be the case right now.
Q. Nick, could you talk about the things you look for when hiring assistant coaches?
NICK SABAN: Well, first of all, I want people who are knowledgeable and good teachers, but I also think they have to be really good fit on your staff. And I think those are probably the critical factors.
I think it’s one of the reasons that I think a lot of people misjudge my reason for having staff size and having lots of interns, is I like to help develop those coaches so when they go someplace else and coach, I can hire them back someday. Because I’d rather hire somebody that I know as a person in terms of who they are, kind of character they have, kind of leadership they demonstrate, the kind of teacher they can be, rather than having to go on somebody else’s recommendation.
So those are the things that we try to do. We also have somebody in our organization who is always on top of who is the best people developing at every position out there regardless of what level they are coaching at in terms of their ability to coach players, teach players, have success in leadership roles, whether it’s offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, whatever it might be, and who are the best recruiters.
So there’s quite a bit that goes into it. I do think that it hampers us a little as head coaches. I don’t know if the other guys would agree, that when we got taken off the road four, five years ago when we couldn’t go out in the spring, that’s when I kept track of assistant coaches. That’s when you see assistant coaches. It was an evaluation period. You went to practice. There would be five, six guys there. You talk to them all. You have relationships with other people. I think that has really minimized the relationship that you have with a lot of assistant coaches. When you’re a head coach for a long time, you kind of lose track of who the best guys are. So you have to depend on some other forms of resources to help you know who they are.
Q. Nick, I think it’s 47 days until the opener, kind of late in the offseason. Do you expect Jalen to be on the roster on opening day or with the team?
NICK SABAN: I don’t know if — can you repeat that question?
THE MODERATOR: He’s asking 47 days to the opening game. Do you expect Jalen to be on the roster?
NICK SABAN: Well, I have no idea. I expect him to be there. I think it’s our job to give both players a very fair opportunity to have a chance to win the team at their position. I think that one of the two guys — obviously, both are capable. We’ll create a role for one or both of those guys on our team, and they’ll all have to make a decision based on what that outcome is as to what their future is, you know, at Alabama.
We certainly would love for every player on our team to stay at the University of Alabama and graduate. Jalen has a great opportunity to do that in December. So, we are hopeful that he will stay there and be a graduate regardless of what his circumstance is as a player.
But that’s not to minimize his chances of being a starter and making a great contribution to our team in some way, even if he isn’t a starter.
Q. You mentioned the offensive and defensive coordinator, Michael Locksley and Tosh Lupoi. Can you speak to what have you seen in them growth-wise? When you talk about leadership, mentorship, their ability to be hands on with players, what growth have you seen from those two?
NICK SABAN: Well, I think Michael Locksley has a wealth of experience. He’s been a coordinator for a long time. He’s been in our system. He’s made great contribution in our program recruiting as well as how he impacts players, and he has experience being a head coach and a coordinator at other places where he’s had a tremendous amount of success.
So, we’re very, very confident that he will do a great job, and the players have responded extremely well to Mike. And I have a lot of confidence in Mike.
Tosh, because he has not done it, he has not called defenses before, we have tried to be very helpful to him in his development as a player, but we do have Pete Golding who has been a coordinator and called defenses as a co-coordinator.
So the two of them working together I feel, as well as me looking over their shoulder, might be something that we can grow and develop into something that’s not going to affect our chances to be successful on that side of the ball.
Q. Earlier today, Jeremy Pruitt was asked whether or not you imparted any advice to him for being a head coach, and he jokingly said: Do you think Coach Saban is going to give me any advice? I do wonder, there’s a growing number of your proteges out there in the league, what do you say to those guys, and do they seek advice from you about head coaching?
NICK SABAN: Well, there’s been many occasions where the guys that are coaching other places, even in our league, call on occasion and ask questions about things that may be a management problem for them, whether it’s their quarterback situation, whether it’s what I think of a certain rule or something that’s going to happen in the future. Sometimes I call them and ask for their advice and their opinion on things.
So — and what I tell every guy that when they leave, whether it was Jim McElwain or Kirby or whoever, I said the most important thing for you, when you go to be your own head coach, is you have to be who you are. You have to be yourself. You guys have been that way here, and you made a tremendous impact on the group that you were in control over.
So to think you have to be any different just because you’re in charge of the whole team instead of one side of the ball is not something you need to overthink. And I think Jeremy’s very capable. He’s one of the best coaches we’ve had on our staff, and I think he’ll do extremely well.
Q. Jimbo Fisher told us you all went at it pretty good in those offensive and defensive battles at LSU. What are your memories on those and your thoughts on his addition to the SEC West?
THE MODERATOR: Jimbo Fisher and previous matchups with him, what do you remember about that?
NICK SABAN: You talking about matchups in practice or you talking about matchups in games?
Q. At LSU.
NICK SABAN: There was no matchup. We were on the same team. We were both trying to win. He was a great offensive coordinator. Great play caller. But also a guy that always bought into exactly how we had to do things to help development our team, whether it was personnel decisions that we had to make to move guys from one side of the ball to the other or how we had to install things so that one side could catch up to the other.
Had a great working relationship with Jimbo. Have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I think he did a fantastic job at Florida State, won a National Championship there. And I think he’ll do a really good job, you know, at Texas A&M. So Jimbo’s a really good quarterback coach and he’s a really good play caller.
Q. I’m just curious as to what the impact of the addition of Josh Gattis has been on the recruiting trail and in the locker room and player development?
NICK SABAN: Josh is an outstanding recruiter. He does a great job of developing relationships with players. He’s got great leadership qualities. I think he sets a great example for his players that he coaches. They respond extremely well to him. He’s very knowledgeable. And I think the players have a tremendous amount of respect for that.
And, you know, one thing he does is he really treats the players very fairly. He’s fair and honest with them. Treats them as men.
I really like Josh. I think he’s got a bright future. He’s a very bright guy. We’re certainly pleased to have him on our staff.
Q. Two-part question. One, considering Jalen and Tua have both proven themselves, how much will their past play play into the competition? And two, Tua obviously was hurt in spring ball. What did you feel like he gained from that despite being injured?
NICK SABAN: I think it all will be determined. Everything you just asked me will be determined by what the players do, the rest of the summer, how they win the team, what they do in fall camp. And I’m not making any predetermined decisions about that. So, they need to continue to compete, like every other person at every other position on our team is competing.
And I love both guys. They’re both really good competitors. They are really good people. They are good leaders. They both make great contribution to our team. They are very well liked.
So somebody’s got to win the team, and however these guys can help the team, I hope they are both committed to staying and doing that.
Q. You touched on the redshirt rule earlier, but do you think that could affect the quarterback position, and do you see that role having an effect on how you handle the quarterback position?
NICK SABAN: No. No, I don’t. I think I should handle the quarterback situation not based on a rule but based on what’s best for our team. I think I owe that to the other 125 guys on our team. Would you agree or disagree? I think that’s my responsibility and obligation to the players on our team, to help provide them the best opportunity to be successful and every player to do that.
So if the redshirt rule is a part of all of that, then we’ll certainly consider it in any decision that we make. But otherwise we’re going to make it based on the people on our team and how we can help them be successful.
Q. You mentioned earlier that you were going to bring Ross Pierschbacher with you today. What are your expectations for him coming into this season as a senior leader and the anchor for offensive line?
NICK SABAN: Ross has been an outstanding leader for us in the past. We moved him to center. I think he’s made really good progress at that position. I think the nature of the position itself is something that requires leadership, making a lot of calls. It helps other players on the offensive line play better.
And Ross has done a really good job of developing the ability to do that and still play comfortably and competitively.
So we’re going to try to put the best five guys on the field on the offensive line in whatever positions, and having guys like Ross, who have diversity to play guard or center, I think is something that really helps you be able to do that.
Q. Two Orlando questions. First one, opening the season in Orlando, what do you like about the neutral-site kickoff classic games? Second one, do you ever feel for a school like UCF that can run the table and not get a snip of the National Playoff, and what do you think it would take for a Group of Five team to get into the National Playoff?
NICK SABAN: Well, first of all, we’re excited about playing the game in Orlando. Neutral-site games really launched our program in Alabama when we first came there years ago. But I think philosophically we’re sort of changing our thoughts on that and our future scheduling and trying to get more home and homes, which leads me to talk about what we need to do scheduling-wise. I know nobody really asked this, but I’ve always been an advocate of playing all Power Five schools. I think we need to get — have more really, really good games on TV for the players. We can’t have fans who pay a lot of money for tickets and boxes and loges who support our programs to pay for games that no one is interested in watching.
So that’s — now, I’ve heard Greg talk about the fact that we don’t want to play nine SEC games, but I’ve always been an advocate of playing nine or ten SEC games and a couple other games against some other good opponents that everybody would be happy to watch.
I think it would help us determine, to your next question, who should be in the playoffs. And you might not have to go undefeated to get into the playoffs, because there would be more games against high-quality opponents, which would help determine who the best teams are.
And, look, I have tremendous amount of compassion for UCF and what they accomplished this year and going undefeated. We’ve only had one team that’s gone undefeated and won the National Championship, and that was in 2009, and that is very, very, very difficult to do, for anyone. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for the players.
I’m not responsible for the system that determines who gets in the playoffs. But I think they did a good job of determining who got in the playoffs, and we can have another discussion about the future of the playoffs and how many teams should get in the playoffs, but you’re going to minimize the effect of bowl games, which I stood up here ten years ago and said, as soon as we do this, it’s going to diminish bowl games, the importance of bowl games. Everybody would just be interested in the playoffs.
Well, that’s where we are right now. I mean, we have players choosing not to play in bowl games because it’s not important because they’re going to save themselves for the draft. All of these things are not good for college football.
So there’s a lot of philosophical questions that everybody needs to sort of take into consideration as what the best way to do this whole thing is, and I don’t think I have the answer to that. That’s not what I get paid to do.
So — but — and I can’t tell you how or why or if they should have gotten in the playoffs relative to UCF.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, Coach Saban, for your time.
NICK SABAN: Is that it? Thank you, all. Appreciate it. It was easy today.