ORLANDO, FL - Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh and Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban spoke to the media on Tuesday at a joint press conference ahead of the Vrbo Citrus Bowl. Below is a full transcript of their comments, provided courtesy of Florida Citrus Sports
THE MODERATOR: We’ll begin with an opening statement from each coach. We’ll start with Coach Saban.
COACH SABAN: Well, we’ve certainly enjoyed our time here at the Vrbo Citrus Bowl. I’d like to thank all the bowl folks who worked so hard for the entire year to make this happen for us, especially Steve Hogan, who we’ve known for a long time and is a good friend, who does great things for the community with this bowl game, which we certainly appreciate. You know, the City of Orlando is a fantastic place that our players have really enjoyed, our staff has really enjoyed, and we appreciate your hospitality.
It’s a great opportunity for our team to play an iconic traditional program like the University of Michigan. You know, Coach Harbaugh and his staff have done an outstanding job with their team and had a great season and [it’s] certainly going to be a challenge for our team to be able to compete against them. We have a lot of respect for what they have been able to accomplish. They certainly played some of their best football toward the end of the season.
So, you know, our team has practiced and had a good attitude about the opportunity that we have here and I’ve been pleased with the way a lot of our young players have had the opportunity to improve. As you know, we have several players missing, but I think this has been a real blessing for a lot of our other players to be able to improve and grow for this really significant challenge that we have in this game tomorrow.
I’d like to also thank our fans and our coaches and all the staff that we have at the University of Alabama who work so hard year-round to create an opportunity for our players to have a better chance to be successful in life, whether it’s in personal development, academic support, or as football players. So, again, thank you for your hospitality and we appreciate the opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Harbaugh.
COACH HARBAUGH: Yeah. I echo many of the same sentiments as Coach Saban. This has been an outstanding week, tremendous opportunity for our football program [and] the City of Orlando. It’s a great place. Had a chance to spend a lot of time here in my younger days, even lived in Orlando for a few years. But just the amount of activities, the things that our players and our staff and our wives of our coaches, our kids. You know, many of our coaches have kids. Many of our staff have kids. You can’t ask for a better place to come than Orlando. So many things you just feel like you get to check off the old bucket list as it relates to our team and our families.
And then when this game was arranged, there’s just a lot of excitement to play an iconic program like Alabama. Coach Saban and his staff have really set the bar, lead the program. Great football team. And it’s a big challenge for us but a great opportunity for our season, for this 2019 season.
And I feel good now that the game’s getting close to kickoff. A lot of preparation has gone into this game. Our team’s been hard at it. Great facilities to practice here, over at West Orange High School. We’ve really appreciated that. We’ve appreciated Steve Hogan and what he’s done for this game. It’s a first-class game. We’re proud to be a part of it.
I want to thank our staff, our coaches, coaches’ wives, coaches’ families who put a lot of work into this season and to get our football team to where it’s at right now and also our strength staff. So many good things that they’ve taught our players, our academic support staff, our trainers, our PR, Dave Ablauf, equipment manager. Gary Hazlett’s gone an amazing job. Everything has flowed very well coming into this game. And everything that everybody has taught and learned our players, it’s been a fabulous experience to be here. And now we’re ready to play the game. We’re fired up to play. We’re ready to go and kickoff approaches and [it’s] tremendous opportunity for our team.
Q. For Coach Saban, Dylan Moses announced that he’s going to come back next year. What advice did you give to him during that decision-making process and what does that mean for your defense next year?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that we try to give the facts and the reality of every player situation relative to the decision that they can make for them and their family.
In Dylan’s case, it was because of his injury, you know, how is that going to affect his draft status. He didn’t play all year long this year. So, you know, he can create value by coming back and we certainly have to, as an institution and an organization, make him feel comfort relative to how we assure him in what he can do so that, hopefully, he’s not going to have these kind of problems in the future and he’ll be able to improve his draft status.
I think that the big thing with Dylan was he wanted to be a part of the team. You know, he wanted to be a leader of the team. He wanted to come back and play well for Alabama, and that was probably the deciding factor for him. And, obviously, he’s a great player. He’s a good person and a good leader and he can make a significant impact on making us better next year.
Q. This is a bit of a question for both of you guys, but we’ll start with Coach Harbaugh.
Coach, when you look at the film, obviously you had the week leading up and a little before to get prepared for the game. When you look at the film, what comes off the screen when you’re checking out the Alabama program?
COACH HARBAUGH: A lot of really good things. You know, offensively -- I’ll let Coach Saban talk about his own team, but he’s got a lot of great things to talk about schematically and players [and] an offense that is, you know, built for speed and attacks every part of the field in the passing game, in the running game. You know, [they’re] physical – a physical football team and defensively, you know, it’s really the same thing. It’s a very attacking, multiple coverages. The special teams is really dangerous, especially in the return game. The punt return, the kickoff return, in all facets. Everything is tight. Everything is battened down. There are no weaknesses.
Q. Coach Saban, same to you but for Michigan. What comes off the screen when you’re checking out the film?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think the first thing that comes off the screen to me is they’re a very well-coached team in every phase of the game. Their players play really, really hard. They play with tremendous toughness. They’ve got great intangibles in terms of their discipline, their accountability to do their job, how they play together as a group.
You know, on defense, they do a lot of movement. They’ve got a lot of quickness. They’re very aggressive. A lot of multiples in terms of what you see and how it challenges your offensive line and the coverage aspects of what the quarterback has to read and receivers have to adjust to.
And, you know, on offense, they have a lot of the multiples that a lot of college teams have now in terms of how they attack the entire field. They can run the ball effectively. The offensive line is really, really good. Quarterback plays well, can make all the throws, and they’ve got good, skilled guys that can make explosive plays. So they’ve got great balance on offense. And they’re very physical on special teams and do a really, really good job in that area of the game as well.
So I see a team that is very strong in every area, but I think the number one thing is they play with great intangibles and they’re really well coached.
Q. Coach Saban, where has Mac [Jones] grown the most since taking over and what does he have to do tomorrow for you to be successful?
COACH SABAN: I think the biggest thing with Mac is, you know, we try to get him to play within himself and just make the reads that you have to make. Don’t force the ball. Take what the defense gives you and sort of try to use an ABC approach with him and not make it too complicated. And he’s a very smart guy. He makes good choices and decisions when he plays within himself and I think that’s the number one thing that we’ve seen Mac grow in.
And, you know, I think you can’t really coach experience. You know, you have to kind of get that. And he’s got some good experience and a lot of it has been very good and he’s made a couple plays I’m sure he wishes that he could have back, but I think he’ll learn and grow from those things.
Q. Nick, you’re known as a defensive guy. Just wondering what you think of Don Brown from Michigan and the way they play defense. I imagine you have an appreciation for that.
COACH SABAN: Oh, yeah. They’re very, very good and very challenging with the scheme that they have. And I think the quickness and how aggressive they are and how they utilize their quickness on defense by stunting, gaming, changing up the coverage multiples is very, very challenging. So a little different than anybody we’ve seen, you know, this year but very, very effective.
Q. Coach Saban, you mentioned last night and today as well that some young players have caught your eye during bowl practices. Could you share with us a couple of those names, please?
COACH SABAN: Well, you know me. I don’t like to point people out and things like this, so I just think in general some of our players that have played and gained experience throughout the year, I think this practice has been good from them understanding concepts better. I think sometimes what young players do is they try to memorize what they’re supposed to do. They don’t really understand the big picture very well. And I think it’s very encouraging to their improvement when they do understand the big picture and the concepts, so they understand how their accountability to do their job is very significant in the success of offense, defense, or whatever position they’re playing. So this has been really good for a lot of our young players.
Q. Good morning, Coaches. Coach Harbaugh, how has Shea Patterson developed since he arrived in Ann Arbor? And, Coach Saban, what’s been the change since the last time you faced against him?
COACH HARBAUGH: Well, Shea has been tremendous. He’s a great player, a great competitor. And he’s been a tremendous teammate. He has just gotten better and better and better. And he came in really good. But I think once he got comfortable with his teammates, with the new system, I think he just -- you always saw the growth. You can always see the growth. He’s better today than he was yesterday, better tomorrow than he was today. He’s always had that mindset. The competitive edge, I always -- you know, that just keeps coming back to me when I talk about Shea or think about Shea.
I mean, that’s -- it’s humility with a competitive edge. And as Coach Saban said, Shea can make all the throws. And his accuracy has just gotten better and better. His understanding is at a very high level. And then he can run. He can -- he can get out of the pocket. He can create plays. He can create space. And he’s effective both as a runner and a thrower.
COACH SABAN: We’ve known Shea since he was a freshman in high school, I think. He’s one of those guys that came up with a great reputation and was very effective in high school in Louisiana, in Shreveport, and, you know, I thought he played well when he played at Ole Miss and I think he’s got nothing but better as he’s played at Michigan. But I think he can make all the throws. He’s very athletic. He can pull the ball and make you respect him on all the zone reads. But he can also extend plays and has made a lot of plays this year by extending plays, scrambling, because he is athletic and a good player and I just see a growth in the guy from a maturity and experience standpoint and, you know, I think he’s playing in the system now where he’s very well coached and he’s done a really good job for his team.
Q. Nick, you said last night on your radio show that the NFL teams you spoke to, only one of your players had a top 15 grade. Were you surprised by that? Do you feel there’s a concerted effort among the juniors to maybe come back and finish the deal?
COACH SABAN: Look, we have, I think, nine guys that are juniors that got evaluated by the junior committee. And our job is to give them the correct information so that they can make good decisions based on the reality of their status. And, you know, we gave them that information. Some guys have first round grades. I’m not going to tell you they don’t. Everybody’s got to make a decision about what’s best for their future, and we feel like our job is to make sure that we give them the correct information because there’s a lot of misinformation out there, whether it’s mock drafts or who is the evaluator. And what we try to do is make sure we get the information from the actual people who draft.
Some very vintage Nick Saban at the end of this video RE: the draft process pic.twitter.com/1ha6Lkzjiq— Maize n Brew (@MaizenBrew) December 31, 2019
I know there’s a lot of media guys out there and, even you, but I’m not sure you draft anybody. Do you have a pick when the draft comes? So we try to get the information from the people who will actually pick the players, which is sometimes not congruent with what you all think, no disrespect to your ability to evaluate.
Q. To both coaches, how would you evaluate the play and the improvement of your offensive lines throughout this season? And what will it take in this game? What are the keys for them going against the opposing defensive front?
COACH HARBAUGH: Our offense line has been a real shining light for our team. Ed Warinner’s done a tremendous job coaching the line. It’s a veteran line – John Runyan, Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz, Michael Onwenu have played a lot of football. And Jalen Mayfield, a redshirt freshman, has stepped in right tackle and done a fabulous job. Our tight ends are also very much involved in the running game and the pass game.
But the protection’s been good and it’s going to really need to be this week, as you pointed out. I mean, a defensive line that stunts, moves physically, can set the edge and physical linebacker play. And our guys are excited about that. It’s a challenge to them. It’s an opportunity to show that they’re good at football too.
But that’s two opposing wills colliding. And, you know, I’ve told our guys, have at it. This is a big challenge, big staff. We definitely have tremendous respect for our opponent in this game, but take your best shot.
Q. For both coaches, you both have been around the game in a long time and I’m sure have followed each other’s careers to some degree. If you had an opportunity to sit down for an hour and talk football, I’m curious if there’s something you would ask the other coach or some aspect of the other coach’s philosophy or career that you find interesting.
COACH HARBAUGH: That would be a real treat. There’s really nobody better. Tremendous respect for Coach Saban.
Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban asked about what they like about each other pic.twitter.com/GTNw9IuIWn— Anthony Broome (@anthonytbroome) December 31, 2019
COACH SABAN: Well, you know, I’ve had the good fortune of having a lot of good mentors through the years, whether it was my college coach Don James or, you know, George Perles at Michigan State and the time that I spent there with him, or Bill Belichick.
But I’ve always had a tremendous respect for Jim and his family as coaches. You know, his dad Jack kind of came up with me. I was a little younger. He was one of the most respected secondary coaches. That’s what I coached. I used to try to visit with him as much as I could and had a tremendous amount of respect for him. Tom Crean, who is Jim’s brother-in-law – his sister is married to Tom Crean, was an assistant basketball coach at Michigan State for Tom Izzo. So we’ve kind of had a tremendous amount of respect for the whole family as coaches and Jim has obviously had a fabulous career in the NFL as well as college.
And I never, ever stop trying to learn. And I would certainly cherish and have tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to be able to sit down with Jim and talk to him about how he does things and how that can improve our organization.
Q. Coach Saban, I’m curious what you a thought of Evan Neal’s development over the course of the season, how you saw him improve?
COACH SABAN: Evan Neal has done a really good job for us at left guard. True freshman. I think that the fact that we have two tackles that are experienced guys and pretty good players probably helped him. Landon Dickerson also is a very experienced player playing center, so that’s probably helped him. And I think he’s going to get really, really challenged in this game because complexity, multiple stunts, and that their front they’re going to throw at us is going to challenge our entire offensive line. But I think the guys that have the least experience will be challenged the most and Evan has done a great job for us all year long. We’re really pleased with his progress and I think he has a very bright future.
Q. This question is for both coaches. You’ve had a couple weeks, a few weeks off now. What is your preparation to keep the guys ready for a game of this magnitude with all the time that you have off?
COACH HARBAUGH: Yeah. It’s three weeks of practices, you know, really right around that time. I think for us, the first week and a half, two weeks was really studying, as much as we could, the Alabama team, in all phases and individual matchups. And that work was good. Our guys worked hard, prepared hard, as we were putting in the game plan as well.
And then the last week, week and a half, it was really trying to polish what we were trying to do. You know, make ourselves understand the game plan and our players to really have it honed and practiced, really made it more about us the last week, week and a half. And I feel like our guys have really been hard at it.
And, you know, they’re moving around good. The ability to come down here and practice outside again, that was good. And now, you know, never really say that hay’s in the barn. We’re still working and polishing, but, you know, feel like it’s time to play a football game. You have that feeling now that it’s time and have at it.
COACH SABAN: From our standpoint, we kind of look at any bowl game -- whether we’re in a playoff or whatever it is -- that when we have a significant amount of time off, we try to not tie the end of the season to the actual bowl game and sort of approach it like it’s a one-game season. So our players had a couple of weeks off and we practiced for a week at home, took three days off for Christmas, and came down here and practiced for a week.
So, you know, I think a lot of it has to do with mindset. I think our team is a little disappointed in the way we finished the season and maybe didn’t reach some of the goals that we had initially in terms of what we wanted to accomplish and what we wanted to do as a team. So this game against a very, very good team that has great tradition is certainly an opportunity for our players to sort of go out and play well against a good team. And maybe you can diminish some of the disappointments of the season. That’s kind of been the approach with the players, and we’ve had good work.
Q. The Citrus Bowl obviously means a lot to this area and this is one of the more high-profile matchups that this area has had in some time. And with the emergence of schools like UCF, college football has grown a lot in this area. So starting with Coach Harbaugh here, given your experience in Orlando, what is your impression of how this sport has grown in the Orlando area and what do you think this matchup can provide for those fans?
COACH HARBAUGH: I think it’s a huge matchup. I think our players, you know, had a tremendous time with the youngsters in the area yesterday. That was adorable. It’s great to see our guys and the kids interacting and, you know, other people that you just run into, whether it’s been over at Disney World and things like that, there seems to be a tremendous amount of excitement for the game here in town and it’s gotten a lot of national exposure. I think it’ll be a well-watched game. I would predict that. And so I think it’s really good. To us, the way we look at it, this is a first-class bowl game against a great opponent and that’s pretty darn good. So we’re going to go out and play our best.
COACH SABAN: I guess I have a unique perspective on this because I played in 1972 Tangerine Bowl here.
COACH HARBAUGH: Is that right?
COACH SABAN: Kent State versus Freddie Solomon and the University of Tampa.
So based on what this game has become, relative to where it was then, I think this community has done a great job of supporting the game. And obviously the organization of this bowl game has grown to be something special, and I think one of the great venues in college football, to have an opportunity to be a part of. I think Orlando itself has grown with the bowl game, and the Citrus Bowl folks have certainly taken advantage of that.
So I know that we were excited about having the opportunity to come here and play because we were here in, I think, 2010 and had a great experience. And I’ve actually experienced and seen growth even since then in terms of what this game does. And I think what they do for the community is really significant for the community as well.