The SEC saved their best for last in this year’s edition of the conference’s famed Media Days. With a full slate on the day, including coaches Hugh Freeze and Mark Richt, fans filled the lobby of the Hyatt-Regency in anticipation of the week’s most sought after speaker: Crimson Tide Head Coach, Nick Saban.
Saban, along with Tide players Christian Jones, Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon, and Landon Collins, arrived to a sea of crimson and white, there for a chance to meet their coach. After a preliminary round of interviews, Coach Saban stepped to the main stage to address the media.
As per those to come before him, Saban started the press conference with what was billed as a short statement. However, Coach apparently felt more talkative than in conferences past. A lighthearted opening statement began with big news from the Saban family. “We had a lot of excitement in our family with a new grand baby, [and] my daughter getting engaged”, Coach stated. “With the addition of these folks in our family, I just seem to continue right on down the totem pole.”
The crowd got quite a kick out of the coach’s embellished plights at home before, as is always the case, finding themselves hanging on his every word as he gave his address.
Coach started by saying that the team’s situation is more different than it has been in the past few years, coming off back to back losses. “The challenges were so different in terms of trying to deal with success and complacency.”
Coach said the key to reestablishing the team’s identity is for everyone, player and coach, to “check your ego at the door”. “You know, really trust and believe in the things that have helped us be successful”.
Coach briefly touched on the highly debated quarterback battle in camp, saying “I think every quarterback has to go through sort of a process of development because three things that are critical factors to me at quarterback is decision making, processing information quickly, [and] making quick, good decisions.”
Coach also addressed the recent addition of former USC Head Coach Lane Kiffin to his staff, saying that though the transition from head coach to coordinator is difficult, Lane has handled it “very, very well”.
Saban then moved to speak on the topic of discipline, facing speculation on the recent arrests and suspensions of tailback Kenyan Drake and linebacker Jarron Reed. Coach compared the discipline handed down to the players to the same disciplines a parent would set forth to a child that disappointed them. “When you have a family and you have someone in your family who disappoints you, we certainly can’t kick them out of our family.” Coach stated, “I think we have to try to support them, teach them, get them to do the right things because we love them, we care about them.” Reed was arrested on DUI charges in early July, while Drake faced allegations of trespassing on a crime scene; both are suspended indefinitely.
“We all have a program that tries to help these guys develop the kind of thoughts, habits and priorities that are going to help them be successful in their life.”
Coach highlighted the success of his staff’s process in discipline, pointing out that 89 of the players that have competed at Alabama in the last six years already had a degree a degree, and graduated early in some cases. “We had 28 lasted year in the Sugar Bowl. Two of then had Masters degrees…which is the ultimate of what we want to try to accomplish with these players.”
Coach closed his opening statements with his final thoughts on discipline in college football, starting “With the players in our family, on our team, we’re going to do things that are going to help them change their behavior so that they have a better chance to be successful.”
Coach also stated that in his time at a head coach, there has never been a player or coach that he has “kicked off” his teams that has amounted to much “playing or academically”. Coach stated “That’s not always the answer. Discipline is not punishment. Punishment is only effective when it can help change somebody’s behavior”.
After concluding his opening statement, Coach Saban took questions from the media, including giving his thoughts on the impact the new playoff system would have on student athletes. ” I think if we continue to expand, whether it’s a playoff system or whatever it is, I think we’re sort of getting to the situation point when it comes to how many games can a college football player play without sort of overdoing it relative to the responsibilities that he has academically and the other things that are going on in their life besides just playing football games…”
The question of players leaving early for the draft was also brought up, prompting Coach to answer that his own philosophy in the matter is “when they make the decision to go do what they’re going to go do, we’re 100% supportive of then and we want to see them do well.”
Coach closed out the press conference in the only way he could: having a little fun with media.
At the beginning of the day, the preseason All-SEC teams and Conference predictions were released. Alabama not only put half their team on the All-Conference squad, but also was chosen to win the SEC title. “I know you all pick a winner in the conference every year. I’m not saying who you picked this year. But last year you’d actually been wrong, you know, 17 out of 21 times.” Coach stated, also pointing out the that media had predicted the conference champion wrong the last five years. “Every year that we’ve been fortunate enough to win the championship, you picked someone else to win it. So just to let you know that we’re evaluating you”.