The Christmas holiday is over, the players got a little break to spend time with family, and now it's all business for the Alabama Crimson Tide as the team gets ready for the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Eve.
It's been 22 days since Alabama took the field and upset Georgia 41-24 to win the SEC Championship and clinch the No. 1 seed in the CFP. Now, it is game week for the CFP semifinals.
The team landed in Dallas Sunday morning, and head coach Nick Saban spoke to the media shortly after. Stay tuned here for live updates throughout the press conference. A full transcript and video will be posted after.
- Saban opens by wishing everyone a happy holiday and merry Christmas.
- "Our players have worked hard all year for this opportunity. We had good practices before Christmas." Says now that it's game week, it's time for everyone to refocus and get ready to roll.
- "The legacy for any team is how you finish. That's how you'll be remembered."
- Saban says Doug Marrone and Bill O'Brien are doing virtual coaching, like he did before the Iron Bowl last season, until they get out of COVID protocols. Both are expected to arrive in Dallas in time for the game.
- He says that Joe Pendry will be coaching the offensive line on the field in the mean time.
- Saban says there are no new injury updates since he last spoke to the media.
- "This is one of those win or go home type situations."
- "You didn't come this far to get this far." The team isn't looking ahead to the national championship, but this isn't where they want this season to end in the Cotton Bowl.
- There are not any players out because of COVID protocols according to Saban. The only issues they know about are with O'Brien and Marrone.
- The team will gather at 1 p.m. as some players are flying in directly from spending time with family.
- The whole team is vaccinated and 92% of the players have the booster shot for COVID per Saban.
- Saban says Dallas is a special place for the team to play. "Playing in this atmosphere and environment here in the past has been a great experience for our players. So we're excited to be here."
- Saban says he is happy for Cincinnati RB Jerome Ford, who used to play at Alabama, that he has been able to find success with the Bearcats.
- The Alabama coaching staff has used the film from last year's Georgia/Cincinnati game in the Peach Bowl to prepare for this year's matchup with the Bearcats.
- Saban puts his mask on immediately after he is done speaking at the microphone as he gets up to leave.
Certainly, first of all, I would like to wish everyone a happy holiday. I hope you had a very Merry Christmas, and I hope that you all enjoyed it as much as we did. It's a great time for family. It's a great time to have gratitude for all that we should be thankful for, and we're excited about the opportunity that we have this week here in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. Rick Baker and the entire staff, for all that you do to create a very positive atmosphere for our team, it is certainly appreciated. You know, our players have worked hard, you know, all year for this opportunity. I think we had good practices before Christmas, but I think that it's time for everybody to realize that, you know, we're here in Dallas. You know, now is the time. It's game week. We need to get ready to roll and get re-centered for what we want to try to accomplish and what we want to try to do. I think the legacy of any team is how you finish, and that's how you'll be remembered. So, it's a great opportunity that our players have, and now it's time to focus on taking advantage of it.
Q. Just wondered if you had an update on Coach [Bill] O'Brien and Coach [Doug] Marrone. Were they able to travel with you guys?
COACH SABAN: No, we're using the same protocols that we used in the past, you know, for COVID situations, and they will do all their work and coaching virtually with players, very similarly to the way I did it when I tested positive before the Auburn game a year ago. They will join us, I think, the evening of the 29th or 30th, or whenever their time is up, before the game. So, they'll be here for the game, and, you know, I think that they're both doing well. No one is, you know, really that bad sick that they can't function and do things that they need to do with our players. In the meantime, you know, Joe Pendry will be on the field to work with the offensive line, who has been here for a long time and was a former offensive line coach for us. The two coaches that are gone will Zoom practice and Zoom the meetings and do all the things that they need to do.
Q. I just wondered if you can give an update on any injuries you guys have.
COACH SABAN: No, I mean, I think you guys know about all the injuries that we have. There's nothing of any significance that I can remember that's new or someone who's not going to be able to practice this afternoon that you don't already know about.
Q: When you look at the Cotton Bowl, and it's a great opportunity, can you just talk about this process, this game coming up. And, again, you can move forward to a National Championship, but it's all about the Cotton Bowl.
COACH SABAN: Yeah, when you're in the playoffs, it's all about what's happening now. It's what's in front of you right now. This is one of those, you know, you either win or go home type situations, and I think players need to understand that. This is a great opportunity for our team. They worked hard all year. I appreciate the effort, the adversity that they overcame, the things that they needed to do to get here, but you didn't, you know, come this far to get this far. So now is the time that you have to realize that, you know, we have to be the best we can be as coaches and every player needs to do the best they can to create the habits that will help them be the best player when the game comes. And they're playing against a very good team, a well-coached team, and a team that's undefeated and had a tremendous amount of success all season long. So, it's not going to be easy. It will be a real battle, and, you know, our players have to prepare themselves the right way for that.
Q. I just wanted to ask about any players, if there's any sort of spread among the team stemming from the two coaches that tested positive, any other players that might be quarantined or isolated because of that?
COACH SABAN: No. I think, you know, everyone has to adapt and be able to manage circumstances that come up that are a little different on a day-to-day basis, whether it's a player missing practice because he has a stomach virus, or a coach testing positive for COVID. I think that everybody's ability to stay focused on the task and manage their business the right way and do everything that they can from a protocol standpoint to not put themselves at risk so that they can stay safe, but we don't have any other issues that we know about. We've got some guys traveling from different spots, you know, here today. And we're all going to gather up at 1 p.m. So, you know, if something comes up then, we'll let you know.
Q. Have there been any changes to the precautions and the protocols that you guys have followed or have they changed or advanced in the past week with the new variant involved?
COACH SABAN: No. I mean, we implemented the masks, the social distancing in meetings with players way back when we started. So, we're already doing all the protocols that we feel we possibly can. Our team's all been vaccinated. 92% of our players have also had boosters. But we have encouraged them to use the same practices that we had to use a year ago, whether it's wearing a mask in meetings, wearing a mask when you're not in the building, social distancing when we're in meetings. So, if there were some new protocols that would help us be safer, we would certainly implement them. But I think we tried to implement all that we know that has worked in the past.
Q. Second year in a row you get to play in Dallas and play at AT&T Stadium. Is there anything that stands out to you about that venue or maybe something special about playing in Dallas?
COACH SABAN: Oh, it's special to play here. It's a special stadium. It's a special city. It's a special place. There's a lot of special people here that do a great job of making this very accommodating for the players in a very positive way. I think, you know, playing in this atmosphere and environment here in the past has been, you know, a great experience for our players. So, we're excited to be here.
Q. What are your impressions of (Cincinnati) running back Jerome Ford, just from his time in the program and what you've seen from him this year?
COACH SABAN: We thought Jerome [Ford] was an outstanding player when he was with us. He had some success with us, and I think he's done a really, really good job of continuing to develop as a player. He's got great speed. He's physical. He makes people miss. He can run with power, and he's had a fantastic year. And I'm really happy that, you know, things have worked out well for him where he can create value for himself in terms of the goals and aspirations that he had. And he'll certainly be a challenge for us in terms of our defense being able to stop their offense. And he's certainly a key part of what they do in terms of their running game. And he's also a good receiver. So, he's a very good all-around player.
Q. When you watched the film of the quarterback for Cincinnati, [Desmond] Ridder, do you look at the entire year or do you go back to maybe the Georgia game or do you kind of concentrate on this year's production?
COACH SABAN: No, we watched him, you know, some in their last-year game. We certainly watched the Georgia game, which I think they did an outstanding job against a very good Georgia team, a very good Georgia defense. We've watched most of their games this year. When you have this sort of extended time period, you have a lot more time to sort of look at what teams have done, what their history has been. But, you know, their players do a great job of executing what they do. They've got a very good offensive scheme. I think it starts with the quarterback. He's really smart. He puts them in the right play a lot. He changes the protections. He recognizes what the defense is trying to do and, for the most part, does a really good job of taking advantage of it. And he's done nothing but play better and better and better as this year actually wore on and he continued to develop.
Q. What was your team's change in mindset, do you think, after the loss to (Texas) A&M?
COACH SABAN: I think that one of the most difficult things to do is probably deal with success. I think most of the time when you have a negative thunderbolt, you know, people are much more willing to respond and do the things that you've been trying to get them to do to the standard that you've been trying to get them to do it. And I think we won something like 19 games in a row. I think that happened one other time where we won that many games in a row, and had a very similar loss at South Carolina, where the other team really played well and we weren't up to the task, and I think there were a lot of lessons learned in that. I think, you know, sometimes when you win, you lose respect for winning. But really what you lose respect for is what it takes to win, what it takes to prepare to win, and to respect the challenges that the other team certainly brings so that you can go out and, you know, play well from start to finish, which is what you need to do on a consistent basis when you play against good teams, especially in difficult environments to play in. And that was certainly a difficult environment to play in. So, I think we matured some as a team. I think we gained a little respect for what it takes to be successful, and I think our players have done a little bit better job of trying to create the right habits so that they could play with consistency and performance, which, you know, sort of defines success, and they had to overcome a lot of adversity to be here. We surely didn't get it done that night, but I'm kind of proud of the way they responded and what they've been able to do to get here.
Q. Here in Mexico, in Latin America, football is a great passion. Alabama has a big fan base. Could you say some words to all the people in Latin America who follow the Crimson Tide?
COACH SABAN: Well, thank you. I appreciate it. You know, we certainly appreciate all the support that we get wherever it comes from internationally. And certainly, any Latin American folks that follow the Crimson Tide and have helped support us, you know, through the years, and especially this year, we appreciate more than you know. I hope you're having a great holiday season and continue to enjoy yourself and have a Happy New Year.