Saban on Don James: "He meant so much to me and I had so much respect for him."

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ATLANTA — Among the topics discussed with Alabama coach Nick Saban at Peach Bowl Media Day on Thursday was one of his mentors, legendary Washington coach Don James, and his decision to promote ex-UW coach Steve Sarkisian as Alabama’s offensive coordinator:

Q. I know a lot has been asked about trick plays. How difficult is it to prepare for that?

NICK SABAN: I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that they have been — they don’t just use trick plays, they’re very effective at executing those plays as a part of their offense. And they have a significant number of them, so it really is difficult to prepare for all of them because you don’t know which ones you’re going to get.

I’m sure that the way they approach it is they have their three or four that they’re going to do in that particular game, and that’s what they get ready to play. And those probably change, you know, in every game as the season goes on. So when you look at the whole sort of catalog of all those trick plays, it’s pretty significant amount of work that you need to do to try to defend those things.

Q. Outside of the secondary, what do you thing the biggest challenge with Washington will be?

NICK SABAN: Well, are you talking about their defense or are you talking about their entire team?

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Q. Just the entire team.

NICK SABAN: Well, I think that this is, by far, the best all-around team that we’ve played all year long. They score 44 and a half points a game on offense. They’ve got a really good quarterback. They’ve got really good skill players on offense at the receiver and running back positions. They’ve got lots of speed. They make a lot of explosive plays, very well-designed concepts offensively in terms of what they do and how they execute it extremely well.

When you go on the other side of the ball, they’re one of the top, you know, defensive teams in the country in terms of points allowed, number one in takeaway ratio, turnover ratio for the whole season. They play smart. They’re very physical. They don’t make a lot of mistakes on defense. And they’re a good tackling team. So all these things contribute to the success that they have.

Their two inside players are really physical guys that, you know, create some issues for you inside. So this is a really, really good all-around team. When you get to special teams, because they have good skill players on offense, they have good returners and they have good specialists and they do a good job in all phases of the game. So you don’t have to watch much to see how challenging a team this is to prepare for and to play against and to have success against.

Q. On Don James’ influence on your coaching career.

NICK SABAN: Well, I think early on, I made the statement before, other than my parents, probably my high school coach had as great an impact as anyone. And then the next thing comes is your college coach, who had an even greater impact because of the kind of person that he was, the organization that we had in the program, the class that he did it with, the lessons that he taught not only in football but in life.

I would never be a coach, never be sitting here as a coach if it wasn’t for, you know, Don James. I had no intentions of being a coach. He called me in after my senior year and said, I want you to be a GA. I said, I don’t want to go to graduate school. I was married and Miss Terry had another year of college. He said, Well, you can’t move away. You can’t do anything else. I think he meant so much to me and I had so much respect for him, I think he made this decision for me. I did not make it for myself. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

And I’ve tried to take a lot of the philosophical things that he does when it comes to creating value for players not only how you develop them on the field, but how you develop them as people, the importance and value of people in your program, graduating from school and developing a career off the field and having the kind of character that is going to help you make the choices and decisions that will allow you to take advantage of your gifts and be successful in life.

And that’s one thing that we’ve really tried to do with our players, and all those things came from Coach James and what he did with us when I was a player and early on as a coach for him.

Q. Have you ever let your mind wander as to what you might be doing if you weren’t coaching?

NICK SABAN: I can only tell you that, you know, my dad had a service station in West Virginia so from the time I was 11 years old, I worked at the service station. It’s different than self-serve. You work on cars, you change tires, you grease cars, you wash cars and you pump gas. So I was always around cars and probably would have gone to some place to learn how to be in the car business, some kind of way.

And I think that when my mind does drift, I oftentimes thank Coach James for this, because every car dealer that I’ve ever had or known all wants to be a coach. So I think he headed me in the right direction.

Q. As many guys as you’ve had to leave early for the NFL, you’ve probably as many who came back for another year to try to increase their value. How much does that impact your program?

NICK SABAN: Well, I think the biggest thing we try to do with our players is we try to get them to make a quality business decision. You know, going to the next level is a business decision. And a lot of it, from a business standpoint, where you enter the NFL is where you’re going to be for three or four, five years.

So to make a good business decision about — you can’t improve your value once you get in the draft. It is what it is. And what a lot of people don’t realize is everybody wants you to come out for the draft. But as soon as you say you’re in the draft, every team looks for reasons not to draft you because everybody’s looking for a quality person, a good teammate, and a good player.

So they’re making a significant investment, and they want to make sure that they’re getting quality for what they want to invest in.

So if guys can improve that, as college players, that’s certainly something that we would like for them to do and we’ve had a significant number of guys that have done that and come back and improved their draft value, and we’ve had guys that have gone out because it was the right thing for them to do and they have done extremely well.

And I think every case is different, and I think our players, because they’ve seen both sides of this, sort of understand the business side of all this. You don’t make emotional decisions to go out for the draft. Everybody wants to play in the NFL, but it’s not going to go anywhere. So to make the best choice and decision for you, based on the value you have and the future you have as a football player is important, and, you know, getting an education is also an important element of all that as well because even if you had a great NFL career and you played for eight years, your football playing days would be over at 30. So you have 50 years to do something else.

And I think what you do and the choices you make when you’re in college can have a significant impact on those years as well.

Q. What are your thoughts on Media Day?

NICK SABAN: What are my thoughts on Media Day? I love seeing you all. I think you do a significant amount of positive things for our players in terms of providing interest for fans, as well as a lot of positive self-gratification for the things that they do. And we certainly appreciate that. No doubt. So I love all of you.