Sunday, January 7, 2018

National Championship Sunday Press Conference

Kirby Smart: 

First I'd like to thank all the NCAA CFP staff, the SEC office for what a tremendous job they've done in supporting our program and helping us get to this point. The last event we were at we thought was a first-class event, and it's been the same way since our arrival here. Our kids are certainly excited. I think what you've seen over the course of the last few weeks is what college football is all about. You've got a great group of student athletes for four teams who have been given an opportunity to do special things, and our kids are really excited.

I think it's really great for our fan base to be right here in Atlanta, Georgia, a special place for us, also the home of SEC football and championships, and we've got two SEC teams in it. I'm certainly honored and privileged to be competing against a great university that's kind of been the landmark of college football over the last 10 to 12 seasons, and I know my experiences there working with the late Mal Moore, Bill Battle, Coach Saban himself have helped me tremendously in my career, but we're honored and privileged to compete against what's a great program, and they've done a tremendous job, and I think it's kind of lost in the shuffle of how well they have been able to compete at a high level for a long time and almost take it for granted at times.

But we're expecting an exciting football game Monday night. Our players are just enthused, excited to be in this opportunity, and we're going to make the most of it, and really want to appreciate the coverage that you guys give us. Thanks.

Nick Saban: 

I'd also like to thank the College Football Playoff and Executive Director Bill Hancock. This has certainly been a first-class event for our team and our organization and the people in our organization. We're certainly excited and happy to have the opportunity as an organization to play in the College Football Playoff, the Championship Game, in Atlanta, Georgia, which has been a place where we've had several opportunities to play, and I think our players always look forward to the challenges of playing here.

I've been really, really pleased with what this team has been able to accomplish this year. We had to overcome a lot of adversity, and each and every time guys have stepped up and continued to compete at a high level, something that we have a tremendous amount of appreciation for, our staff and all the players on our team for what they've done and the opportunity they've created for themselves to play in the Championship Game.

I think we're playing against an outstanding team. I think Kirby and his staff have done a fabulous job at Georgia in terms of the high level that their players compete at, the quality of players that they have, how well they play together as a team, and certainly they deserve a lot of congratulations for what they've been able to accomplish this year, and I think it's two great teams, will be a great, competitive game, and our players are certainly looking forward to the challenges and the opportunity of playing in the Championship Game.

A lot has been made about the relationship the two of you had coaching with one another. Coach Smart, if there's one single biggest thing that you learned from Coach Saban, what was it?  

Kirby Smart:

Well, this is not the first time I've answered this question this week, so I'll be happy to answer it again. But probably the single greatest thing is just the level of commitment to the organization, holding everybody in the organization to a standard that he kind of embraced himself. He never asked anybody in the organization to work any harder than he did. He held every person on the staff -- and I'm not talking about just the coaching staff, I'm talking about the entire organization, to be at their best.

And I think that's sometimes a lost art in some organizations. You see successful business organizations run that way, but you don't always see athletic programs run that way, and I think he does a tremendous job of that, and if there's anything I took, it's being in that seat and having to be in command, make decisions, and make sure that everybody understands the message that's coming from the top down and the standard that you want people to work to. I've got a lot of respect.

I don't think people appreciate what he's been able to do in the most competitive college football league for a long time, and when you start talking about what he's been able to do, I think it's pretty incredible.

Nick, you talk a lot about the challenges of guarding against complacency and human nature that comes when you have success, to try to be successful again, that's hard. Your goal is to try to manage that in others and your team. What motivates you to not be complacent? 

Nick Saban: 

Well, I think that I'm always looking for the next challenge. I don't know if it's the way I was raised or whatever, that you're kind of only as good as your last play, as your last game. I think everyone has heard me talk a lot about the fact that success is not a continuum, it's momentary, and it's human nature to get satisfied and get a little complacent when you have success.

But in a competitive business like we're in where there's always a next challenge, there's always a next game, there's always a better team to play, if you have that mindset, you're not going to be able to play with any consistency, and if you can't play with consistency in performance, you're not going to really have a lot of success long-term. I hate to lose, and I've been around Kirby long enough and he's been on my basketball team long enough that I know he hates to lose, too, and I think that has something to do with it. You're always ready for the next challenge, and you always understand that people are going to be a little bit satisfied, and you have to make sure that everyone is ready for the next challenge.

For both coaches, Kirby, with your team flying back from Los Angeles, and Coach Saban, yours coming back from New Orleans, were you able to approximate practice during the week, kind of get it close to a normal week as you could? How satisfied were you the way they adapted to that situation? 

Kirby Smart:

You know, I think it was a challenge. I think everybody forgets last year there was nine days between these games, and I certainly think it's a fast turnaround. I think a big deal has been made about it. But we all know that both teams really had the same time. Our travel was different, but they played a much later game. So they had to play much later at night and get finished much later at night, so it's tough in both parts.

I think I saw early in the week the trouble with it, but as the weeks passed, these guys have been practicing for 15 games, and also they've had practice for bowls really 15 practices. You start looking at some of the cumulative effect, and you've got to be smart with your team. You've got to know what you're doing. In a perfect world I'd like to have a little more time between the championship games, but that's the way it fell this year, and that's the way it is. So much time to prepare for one game, and then a really quick turnaround that creates a lot of pressure on these kids for the short turnaround.

Nick Saban: 

Basically as coaches, we had probably about a normal amount of time that we would have for a normal game during the season. I think the circumstances are a little bit different because of the travel, bowl games, staying in a place, trying to get back, those types of things. But it was a little tougher turnaround for the players. I don't know if it's physically, emotionally, psychologically, however you want to put it, early in the week, to refocus on another big game. But I think as the game, as the week went on, you saw them recover, and I think they're all excited about playing in the game.

The situation is the same for both teams, and I don't think it'll have any effect on the outcome based on the circumstances. It'll just be about the players who go out there and how they compete in the game.

Coach Saban, in 2015 right before Kirby was hired at Georgia, you said the guys you coached with for a long time start to feel like part of your family. A lot has been made of the Xs and Os of playing with former assistants, but what is it like to see someone go through the highs and lows of being a head coach and ultimately end up here? 

Nick Saban: 

Well, I'm extremely proud of anyone on our staff who goes on and does a good job. One thing that I've said is I always tell guys, and I told Kirby this when he left, be your own man, be yourself, do it the way you think it ought to be done. Don't try to be somebody else. I think he's done a fantastic job of that.

What you all don't understand is this guy was on our staff for, I don't know, 10 years. Terry was there when his babies are born. I mean, you become a part of a family. That's what you do when you're together for a long time. I think there's a special appreciation for those people in your family, the contribution they made to the success that you had, and you always want to see them do well when they leave because that's what they worked hard for, and you're glad that they got the opportunity.

And it isn't personal when we have to compete against each other. I'm sure he wants a win for his players, and we certainly want to win for our players, and it's not a personal thing.

For both coaches, what would you say is the single biggest concern entering tomorrow's game? 

Kirby Smart:

For us, it's probably simple. They've got an extremely physical offensive and defensive lines. They are as big and as physical as we've faced, and we know we like to run the ball and we like to stop the run, but when you look at the unit that he's comprised and got, it's a dominant, physical team. We've got to match the physicality.

They do a tremendous job in all phases. There's no weakness when you look across the board. They play their best players on special teams. We've taken a lot of pride in special teams this year at University of Georgia, and we know what we're up against in these guys because they've got tremendous athletes, tremendous speed, and they've had some injuries to deal with, they've overcome those and created some depth with a lot of the injuries they've had getting some guys back.

But the biggest concern for us will be the size of the offensive and defensive lines and the physicality of those guys.

Nick Saban: 

I would say that my biggest concern is how do we execute in terms of things that are important in having success in a game. Some of them Kirby mentioned; because they're two physical teams, can you control the line of scrimmage; are you going to make the kind of errors in a game that are going to be critical factors in the outcome of the game, and turnovers would be a big part of that.

Tackling, I always worry about in bowl games and games where you haven't played for a long time. We missed some tackles in last week's game, and the quality of running backs that they have and the skill players that they have, I think those factors are going to be huge in a game in terms of doing a good job in those areas.

When you're playing against a really good team, and probably two teams that are fairly evenly matched and two teams that philosophically are not a whole lot dissimilar in terms of the things they want to do to win. Run the ball, don't turn the ball over, play good field position, be good on special teams, so it's going to be the errors and execution that have a critical effect on the outcome of the game.

With the hay kind of in the barn, I wonder what each of you are doing today specifically and how long you'll do it. 

Kirby Smart:

I'm just doing whatever he did, so not a whole lot of difference. I mean, we're trying to go watch a movie tonight, and they're trying to go watch the movie at the same place, so we're having to offset 10 minutes.

But I think every program I've ever been a part of there's some similarities in what they do the day before the game, and I think every coach has his -- I don't know if you'd call it superstitions or routine might be a better word that they use to get themselves ready, get their staff ready and get their players ready. I think the next 24 hours can be critical.

I've talked a long time about this Playoff being perspective, with what perspective do you take this game. And I think that's the one spot that Alabama had a competitive advantage because they've got a huge chip on their shoulder thanks to you guys and some of you guys saying they shouldn't have been included, so they've got something to prove.

And I think every team that gets in the Playoff has got something to prove. But how you approach things in the last 24 hours and what you do mentally are really important to your team's success.

Nick Saban: 

I think the hay in the barn analogy that you used is probably not something that I ever really think of it that way. I think that from yesterday's practice, which is about 48 hours from the game, give or take, I think the mental practice that a player has, whether it's making calls, watching film, whether you have meetings, whether you have walk-throughs, whether you have chair drills, I think those mental reps that they get, I think physically the hay is in the barn.

You're not out there blocking and tackling people, and we've always tried to focus in those -- from Thursday's practice until the game, having several opportunities for guys to get the kind of mental practice that may be able to eliminate some mental errors in a game that could affect the outcome of the game.

Kirby, which movie are you going to see? 

Kirby Smart:

To be honest with you, I'm not sure of the name of it. I'm excited about it, but I've been told it has a lot of purpose. We've got a special release. I think Alabama was able to watch it last week. I think it's 12 Strong.

Nick Saban: 

Yeah, it's a good movie. I don't know what we're watching. Don't ask.

Nick, as long as you were with Kirby, watching your game from afar, you seemed to yell at Kirby a lot less on the sideline than some assistants. I wonder is he the assistant you've been most aligned with in terms of philosophy and game day adjustments as you've ever been with? And do you have to change all your signals before Monday's game? 

Nick Saban: 

You know, I don't know -- I don't yell at my assistants very much at all, I don't think, but there are occasions where you get upset with, whether it's a circumstance in the game or a situation in the game, or maybe you did something that's sort of out of the plan, and you get a little upset about it. I don't really ever recall getting really upset at Kirby. I'm sure that he can remember a few times that I got on him unjustifiably, and maybe a couple times where maybe it was justified, I don't know.

But look, it's always about trying to make somebody better and make them understand, and I think we play a very emotional game sometimes, so I never want to get angry, and I never want to be mad, and I never want to show disappointment in a player or a coach.

But Kirby did as good a job as anybody ever did for us in the time that he was with us and whatever his role was and especially when he was in a position of responsibility

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