TUSCALOOSA — Alabama head coach Nick Saban has had several memorable moments in his 10 seasons with the Crimson Tide. His favorite might come as a surprise to many.
During his weekly radio show Thursday night, Saban was asked what memory he holds most dear during his time with Alabama. It turns out it was one of his first.
“Probably my most favorite moment that I will never ever forget was the first A-Day game we had here,” Saban said. “There were like 95,000 people there, and when we walked out to the game everybody cheered. I kind of new right then we’d be able to accomplish a lot of special things.”
The moment was particularly special for Saban given the grief he was getting after departing from the Miami Dolphins to take the job.
“We were getting beat up quite a bit for leaving Miami when we did, the way we did and all that,” Saban said. “So it was really, really nice to know that somebody cared about you enough to come out and cheer for you. ... That probably did as much to catapult the program forward as anything has happened here since.”
Speaking of coaching changes, Saban was asked about how he deals with the rumors that swirl around when one of his assistants is considered for a job at another university. The bowl season is a popular time for coaching changes and can oftentimes be a distraction if it is not handled the right way.
“I think that it’s kind of a management issue relative to the calendar,” Saban said. “Our calendar is, we’re coming into the most critical time in the season in terms of finishing the season. ... I want to have our players in the best position to play well in this particular game, and I think all of our coaches are very much committed to that.”
Recently, there has been speculation that third-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin could leave the program after this season. Kiffin is in the last year of a three-year contract with the Tide and is thought to be a lead candidate for the offensive coordinator position at LSU. Newly hired LSU head coach Ed Orgeron has worked under Kiffin at both Tennessee (2009) and Southern California (2010-13) and still holds a good friendship with the Alabama offensive coordinator.
When asked Sunday about the rumors surrounding Kiffin’s departure, Saban said he knew nothing about it and that Kiffin had not approach him on the matter. Thursday, Saban continued to state that he has no knowledge of the matter.
With No. 1 Alabama heading into the SEC Championship Game against No. 15 Florida on Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Saban said his team and coaching staff is focused completely on winning the SEC title.
“Every one of our coaches put our players first,” Saban said. “We want to win the game for our players. We want to win it for the fans, everybody’s prideful about being able to win a championship, but you really want to do it for the players, and you want to do a good job for the players. I don’t see any coach on our staff that’s not totally committed to doing a great job for that.”
With Saturday’s game being held in the Georgia Dome, it’s no surprise Alabama spent the week practicing inside its indoor practice facility. However, Saban said even when the team plays a game indoors, he likes to have at least one practice outside.
That practice is usually on Monday, as the team spends a lot of time on special teams, working on punt returns and kick returns. The outdoor preparation is crucial because kickoffs and punts typically hit the net and ceiling when the Tide practices indoors.
Due to windy weather in Tuscaloosa on Monday, Saban said was forced to alter his plans. Instead, the Tide spent the final period of its practice Tuesday outdoors working on special teams returns.
While practicing outdoors has its advantages in certain situations, Saban said there are plenty of times when it’s helpful to practice inside. In preparation for this weekend’s game, Saban said he matched the temperature inside the practice facility to match the exact temperature inside the Georgia Dome. Practicing indoors also allows the Tide to prepare for crowd noise.
Typically, Alabama will prepare its offense for crowd noise on road games, while the defense works on it for home games. With Saturday’s game being a split crowd, Saban joked that he wasn’t sure how to approach the situation in practice.
“The one thing we could not make a good decision on today was we always have noise on Thursday. So because it’s a split crowd, we didn’t know if we should have noise for the defense or for the offense,” Saban said before turning to host Eli Gold with a smile. “We used it for everybody.”
Saban used his final word to reveal a message he gave to his team leading up to the game. A noted Rolling Stones fan, he advised his players not to look past the matchup while delivering a speech that sounded familiar to one of the band’s signature songs.
“One of the things I told the players is you don’t always get what you want, but usually always get what you deserve,” Saban said. “This team has worked very hard all year long to create an opportunity for themselves and be able to have a chance to win a championship. This is something that can create a legacy for a team.”
Alabama enters Saturday’s game as a 24-point favorite over Florida, according to Vegasinsiders.com.
“I don’t care anything about that, it’s all about us,” Saban said. “It’s about our team. It’s about guys having the right mindset. We’re trying to dominate every play of the game, whether it’s offense, defense special teams. ... Hopefully, as a coach we are going to get them in position to do that the best we can.”