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October 13, 2009

One-on-one with Alabama coach Nick Saban

Alabama coach Nick Saban is in the midst of his third season leading the Crimson Tide. After debuting with a 7-6 record in 2007, Saban sparked the Tide to a 12-0 start and No. 1 ranking last fall before they finished 12-2. This season, Alabama is 6-0 after a win at Ole Miss on Saturday.

Alabama begins a three-game homestand with a visit from Steve Spurrier and South Carolina this Saturday. Tennessee and LSU come to Tuscaloosa next.

Rivals.com visited with Saban about a range of topics as the Tide rolls toward a probable SEC title game rematch with Florida.

Are you surprised by how well your offense has played?

"The offense [averaging 444.7 yards per game, 37 points] has come along well with the quarterback being a first-time starter. Some of our guys who played a year ago have turned out to be pretty good players for us. I would say the way the offense has jelled [is surprising]."

What has made first-year starting quarterback Greg McElroy so good?

"I think just having been in the system has helped him. He has great football instincts, makes good decisions with the ball. He has no ego at all and just takes what the defense gives him. I think that is why we haven't turned the ball over much. Hopefully, we will be able to continue to do that. His efficiency and effectiveness [nine TDs, one interception] have been good. I always say that quarterbacks always get a lot of credit and always get a lot of blame."

Can you compare this year's team to last year's team?

"Last year's team sort of had something to prove, a burning desire, a burning passion to prove to the world that they could be a pretty good team. That was a motivating factor. … [This year], there isn't an external factor out there that's making you want to be good. The challenge is being as good as you can be, playing as well as you can play. You can improve. Don't be satisfied with where you are. That's a much more difficult challenge. If you are going to have a chance to be special or have a special season, that's something you have to strive for."

Do you think you are ahead of schedule in rebuilding the program?

"I don't really look at it that way. Every day, we coach every player, try to get everyone better, get the best players on the field and get them to play together and have a good team chemistry and a trust and respect for each other. … I think the thing we've done here is we recruited some good players, but we also have a lot of players who were here that have improved dramatically. That's a tribute to our coaching staff and support staff. That's always important. We try to keep positive energy around these guys. They want to get better, they want to be good. That's how we approach it. We really don't say, 'This is how many games we think we should win this year.' You don't know how long it's going to take."

Some people feel the SEC West is better than the SEC East. Do you?

"There are a lot of good teams on both sides. Florida is good. I think the parity in this league is what makes it so strong. I think there are good teams on both sides. There are a lot of good teams this particular year on our side, but there are a lot of good coaches in our league, a lot of good programs in our league and a lot of good players. And I think that is a compliment to the league. The exposure of this league from a TV package standpoint and all those things are great opportunities. There are a lot of great academic institutions. Great venues to play in, great stadiums, lots of passion, lots of excitement, a lot of positive things about a player wanting to come and play in the SEC."

Playoff or no playoff?

"I always have been kind of a plus-one guy. The current bowl system is important to college football. Players get a lot of positive self-gratification by being able to go to a bowl game. But I don't think it's good right now because the only thing everyone talks about in college football is who might be able to get into the BCS and national championship game.

"I think if we had a plus-one system where we used the current bowl system to pick the top four teams -- maybe eight, but let's just say four -- it would eliminate some of the controversy. Auburn got left out [in 2004]; USC got left out when we won the national championship at LSU [in 2003]. Somebody always gets left out. But four teams, you would get it right. Use two of the BCS bowls each year to play two of the games and a week or 10 days later have a national championship. I think that would keep a lot more people in the mix right down toward the end of the season. There could be 10 or 12 teams that might be able to get into the top four, depending on what may happen. It would create a lot of interest and a lot of excitement.

"I also think that all of the money they make on a national championship, they should give student-athletes $200 a month so that they have a good quality of life. And I am talking about every student-athlete, the volleyball player as well as the baseball players. But I probably won't get much support on that one."

Do you think an unbeaten non-Big Six school would deserve to play in the BCS title game over a one-loss team from the SEC?

"It is hard to say. When you play in a league like we play in, you can get beat by any team that we play. That's just absolutely a fact. And it happens. When you play in a league like we do, it's probably a little more of a determining factor of how good of a team you have because of the consistency you have to play with against very good competition each week. No disrespect to Boise State, I think they have a great program and a great team and a lot of good players and they beat a quality team in Oregon. But I can't really say. It's hard to say."

The excessive celebration penalty has been in the news lately. What do you think of that rule?

"I think if the rule is implemented correctly, it's a good rule. Basically, it's there for sportsmanship, not to have players be self-indulgent. If they are bringing attention to themselves, then that's probably something that's not good from a sportsmanship standpoint. If you are happy, excited and just celebrating with your teammates, then I don't think that's something that should be viewed as excessive celebration. That's a team thing. The excitement of college football is something players should be able to express."

Another hot topic is Twitter. I know you don't personally Tweet, but have you banned your players from using Twitter?

"I haven't really talked to the players about it. We kind of have a rule that what's inside the organization should stay inside the family. It's not really anyone else's business. We don't want to put stuff out that can hurt us and help our opponents. We want to focus on what we need to do and don't want to get involved in all of that. And I don't want our players to be affected by external factors of what other players are saying about them. We don't want everything that's happening inside our organization to be a public issue."

What's the most difficult aspect about being the Alabama coach?

"I just think we have to keep it in perspective. Who you are is more important than what you do - the kind of person you are, the kind of character you have, the kind of attitude you have. We try to help our players be more successful in life with the personal-development programs that help them be successful people. We have a good academic support program to help our guys get a quality education. And we have a football program where they have a chance to compete for a championship. As long as we win, it's great. But as soon as you lose, you're not so good. So you have to keep that in perspective."

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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