Nick Saban & Kirby Smart Talk National Championship

Nick Saban & Kirby Smart Talk National Championship

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Nick Saban & Kirby Smart Talk National Championship

During Tuesday’s national championship teleconference, Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Georgia’s Kirby Smart were asked questions about the upcoming game and their relationship with each other.

Below is a full transcript of what Saban and Smart said on the teleconference.

First Saban…

SABAN: “Well, first of all, our team is really excited about having the opportunity to play in the National Championship game. It’s certainly a reward for all the hard work that the players and coaches have done all year long to give themselves this opportunity, and obviously playing against a really, really good fantastic Georgia team that has great balance and has played well on both sides of the ball all year. Kirby has done a fantastic job there.

“I do think, if you’re asking me to make a comment about this turnaround, it’s very difficult to come from a bowl game and just have seven days to prepare. I mean, they’re coming from the West Coast; we’re coming from New Orleans. Then we’ve got to be someplace else on Friday. I mean, this is — I think that some kind of way, somebody has got to think about the players a little bit when it comes to these games and not just what’s convenient for the media or TV or whatever.”

Q: I wanted to ask you about Kirby; what led you to hire him the first time you hired him? And what led you to continue hiring him for jobs?

SABAN: “Well, Kirby was young, and I think really what — I like hiring young guys and helping them develop in our system and teaching them what we do. He was a secondary guy, and we were looking for a secondary coach. Some of the other coaches on the staff knew him. Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley recommended him highly. I was very impressed with him from day one. He was very bright. He learned quickly. I would hire him anytime, anywhere, on any staff based on the body of work that he did over the nine or ten years that he was with us. He did a fabulous job.”

Q: Obviously a lot of things have changed on the recruiting landscape, but what’s the biggest thing you’ve maintained in your approach when you’re trying to deal with bringing out-of-state talent into Alabama?

SABAN: “Well, first of all, our philosophy really hasn’t changed. We want to do a great job of recruiting our state, and then we want to do a great job of recruiting a five-hour radius from Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama. But then we also want to recruit the best players in the country that have an interest in our program, and our program is all about creating value for players, whether it’s helping them be more successful in life through personal development, academic support, developing a career off the field or developing a career on the field as a football player. That philosophy really has not changed, and it’s really what we work at.”

Q: On Jalen Hurts, seems like sometimes it’s pretty hard to judge a quarterback based on stats because he didn’t have great stats last night but seemed in command, running the offense well and making good decisions. Is that your take on his performance last night?

SABAN: “Well, I think Jalen did a good job of controlling the tempo of the game, and I think that every player on our team would probably say that there were things that he could have done better in the game. You know, Clemson has got a really, really good defense. They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. I think all in all, he handled it pretty well.

“But there were some things that I think we need to do better offensively, and I think that’s a team thing, not just a quarterback thing.”

Q: How determined was he? What was his attitude kind of after the Auburn game when there probably were some other things he would have liked to have done better?

SABAN: “Well, I think the entire team was sort of trying to reestablish the identity and didn’t feel like we played like we wanted to play at Auburn, and I think everybody had to take ownership of that. I think our players did.

“I think that was more of a team thing than any one individual.”

Q: Is there any update on Anfernee Jennings, and if he’s not able to play, who will you play at that outside linebacker spot?

SABAN: “Well, we don’t have complete medical information on either one of those guys. They’re being evaluated today in Birmingham. You know, we’ll let you know when we find out that information probably tomorrow.

“But you know, we have Christian and Terrell Lewis and Jamey Mosley has played before and some of the guys that had to play when the other guys were out got some valuable experience, so that’s where we would go.”

Q: Obviously you’ve been in the league a long time, you’re the dean, and you’ve always known Kirby better than anybody. Are you surprised at the rate at which he’s gotten Georgia into this position, or is this kind of what you expected?

SABAN: “Well, Georgia had a pretty good nucleus of players there. I think they won 10 games the year he took over. Now, he has done a fantastic job of bringing those players along, getting those players to play with discipline, getting them to play together. They play hard. They’re very relentless, and I think this last game was sort of a reflection on the attitude that he’s been able to instill to overcome adversity and come back in a game like they did against Oklahoma. They’re playing extremely well, which is a reflection on his ability and his leadership to get everybody to buy in to doing things the way he wanted them done so that they could play at a very high level, and they certainly are. They have a lot of good players, and they’re all playing at a very high level, and I think that’s a compliment to the coach and the coaching staff.”

Q: Last evening after the win, you continually used the word ferocious to describe your defense’s effort. When have you been more impressed with a team’s preparation turned into an effort like that?

SABAN: “I think there’s only one that I remember, and that was when we played LSU in the championship game in New Orleans in I think it was 2011. I thought the defense played with sort of a ferocious, relentless sort of I-won’t-be-denied attitude in the way they competed in the game. But I’d say those two probably rank up there with the best, best of them.”

Q: Bradley Bozeman told me earlier this week that Jonah Williams is maybe one of the fastest learners he’s ever been around in terms of picking up stuff with the playbook. I was curious, is that something you saw in him when you were recruiting him?

SABAN: “Well, Jonah is a very intelligent young man, and I think he’s got all the right stuff when it comes to his disposition toward being successful, paying attention to detail, doing the little things right, and a combination of that and being a very intelligent guy, I think he’s very aware and plays with a lot of intelligence out there, and he’s a fast learner. I think that’s helped his development, and that’s probably why he was able to play so effectively for us last year as a freshman.”

Q: I wanted to ask about obviously not only did Kirby work for you for so long, but he obviously recruited a lot of the guys that you have. Do you feel like it gives him any kind of advantage because he sort of knows tendencies, and I know it’s been two years removed, but do you think that gives him any kind of advantage or helps him out in terms of preparing for you all because he knows you guys so well?

SABAN: “Well, I can’t answer that. You know, I think it always is helpful when you know the other team’s personnel. But systematically, especially on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t think we’re all that different in terms of what we do. So I really can’t answer that. I think you’re probably better off asking him.”

Q: When you look at the kind of game, talking about the guys up front, not only did they make the plays as far as the interception, but what would you say about the overall performance in being able to control that inside, the Clemson run game?

SABAN: “Well, I thought our front guys played as well as they have all year in that game. They were very aggressive. They struck blockers out of their hips and controlled the line of scrimmage, and that enabled us to play the way we wanted to play in the back end, to be able to cover some of their passes and disguise and hopefully make it a little more difficult for the quarterback, and I think because of that, we got pretty good pressure on the guy, as well, rushing four guys. So I thought our front played as well as they had all year.”

Q: You mentioned the quick turnaround for both teams; would you like to see two weeks between the semifinal games and the final?

SABAN: “No, not necessarily. I just think that it’s a little bit different when you’re playing in the season and you go to a game on Friday, you play on Saturday, you come home after the game. The players are kind of off on Sunday or some people do it differently and give them off on Monday and then you start the new week on Monday. But when you go to a bowl game and you’re there for a week, it’s really kind of hard to pack up and leave at 1:00 in the morning to get home.

“We spent the night and had to come back this morning, and this is like a regular Sunday preparation for us. I do think it’s a little quicker turnaround for the players, and obviously a pretty quick preparation for both teams, as well. I don’t think you need two weeks. I think just an extra day, just put a travel day in there.”

Q: About two SEC teams making the final, do you get a lot of satisfaction in that, the perception nationally that maybe the league was a little bit down this year?

SABAN: “Yeah, you know, I’m proud of the SEC, and I’m proud of the competition in our league, and I’m proud of the good teams that we have in our league. I certainly think that Georgia has an outstanding team, and I think that there were other very good teams in our league. You know, sometimes your team gets affected if you lose a quarterback like Mississippi State or something like that.

“You know, I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for the competition in our league, and I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that Georgia is maybe the best team in the country right now the way they’re playing. It’s going to be a real challenge for us to be able to stop them and be able to move the ball against them and play effectively.”

Q: How hard is it to maintain good relationships with former coworkers, former coaches that worked under you in this competitive coaching business when it can be kind of cutthroat in the recruiting business?

SABAN: “Well, you know, look, you don’t have to dislike somebody to compete against them. I have a lot of respect for all the guys that worked for me and the guys that did a great job for us when they worked on our staff. I’m happy to see them doing well wherever they go, and when we have to play against them, I’m sure they’re doing everything they can to beat us for their team and their players, and we’re going to do the same with our players.

“It’s not personal. It’s not personal. It’s just you don’t — Dabo and I are very good friends, and he never worked for me, but we — we certainly know each other really well. He played at Alabama, and there’s a lot of guys out there that we’ve had to play against in the past. It’s not personal. I mean, it’s just — I don’t dislike the guy that you play against. You compete against him and do the best you can and want to do the best you can for your players on your team.”

Q: You mentioned about helping to develop young coaches in your system. I’m wondering about Glenn Schumann, kind of a behind-the-scenes guy with you over there, what you remember about his contribution to your program?

SABAN: “Oh, he did a great job. Schu is a really bright guy, learned very quickly and made a great contribution in terms of his input, his knowledge, his work ethic. And I know even though he wasn’t allowed to coach players, they all had a tremendous amount of respect for him, as well.”

Q: What do you make about your success against former assistants when you’ve gone up against them?

SABAN: “Well, I don’t think the game is about the coaches. I think it’s about the players. And I think in most of those games if the other guy had the players that we had, they might have beat us. So it’s not about the coaches. I mean, I didn’t catch any passes. I didn’t make any tackles last night. I didn’t do any of that. I mean, the players did it all. You prepare the players the best you can, but we’ve had pretty good teams around here, and most of the guys were going to rebuild programs, so maybe we’re a little bit ahead of them, and if they had had our team, they’d have probably beat us.”

Q: You recruited Jake; I think he was committed to you at one time. What do you remember about him as a high school quarterback? What did y’all see in him, and what do you look forward to seeing from him in this game?

SABAN: “Well, we thought he was a fantastic player, very instinctive, very smart, makes great choices and decisions, doesn’t — always puts his team in the best play that they can be in. I think he does a lot of check-with-me’s, which for a freshman quarterback probably demonstrates his knowledge of the game and preparation and intelligence. He’s always been a — was a fantastic passer and remains that way. We thought he was a great player. We had him in camp, and we were excited to have him be a part of our program, but we also understood when Kirby went to Georgia and Kirby was recruiting him that there was a chance of that happening.”

Q: There’s talk about kind of you changing things up in practice this week, kind of reducing some of the workload on some of the players. Can you just talk about the mindset going into it, why you made that little change this week compared to maybe in previous years?

SABAN: “Well, we had a little different schedule. The game was one day later. It has been on New Year’s Eve. So we really only had four practices after Christmas, which was a normal week. So we didn’t do any less work. We just spread it out over five days, I think. And sort of front-end loaded it a little bit so the players had a little less to do later in the week. We had practiced — I think we practiced 12 total practices for that game. I think the players get a little tired of practicing sometimes and just wanted to change it up a little bit for them.”

Q: Your personal relationship with Tony Brown, obviously given his situation with his father, your own situation, what’s it like seeing him succeed and the game he had this last game, and as a senior just step up the way he has?

SABAN: “Well, you know, Tony has done a really good job for us, and when he has the right mindset, which we work really hard with him to try to keep him in the right place, he’s done a really, really good job for us on special teams as well as a defensive back, and he did a nice job last night in the game in both those areas.

“We’re proud of the progress that he’s made, and hopefully he’ll be able to continue and play with that consistency.”

Smart is up…

SMART: “I would like to open with compliments to the Tournament of Roses committee. They did a tremendous job hosting us. It was a great event. This is my second time being involved in the Rose Bowl. They do just an impeccable job of treatment of our team and hosting us.

“Our transition has occurred kind of through the night. We were able to fly back last night after the game and took some time getting out of LAX and got back into Atlanta and got the buses back over to Athens and got a little nap in and then back to work today, beginning on what I know and respect is a really good football team in Alabama, and looking forward to an opportunity to play for a National Championship in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I think it says a lot about our conference and the competitive nature of it for two teams to come together and to play that are from the same conference and have put themselves in a situation to do something really special.

“Our team is really excited. A very emotional game last night, which concerns me, and talked to the players immediately afterwards about not burning any more energy or emotion on that game and moving on. You know, Alabama had a little more sound victory, so they probably didn’t burn quite as much emotion, although I know it was emotional to beat a team that beat them last year.

“The focus moving forward will be on preparing for Alabama and what’s a great program Coach Saban has got.”

Q: I wondered about what you might be recall from when you first went to work for Nick Saban and got that job all those years ago? Do you remember what was going through your mind at the time and how badly you wanted that job?

SMART: “I really don’t remember much about that. That’s a long time ago. I don’t even know, whatever year it was I went to LSU, ’04 maybe. I’m not really sure. I just remember the interview in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, and Coach Muschamp, a good friend of mine, Will, connected us, and we met in the airport and visited. I had a lot of respect for the program that Nick had put together at LSU. I remember wanting the job, but I wanted the job because I was a GA, I didn’t want the job because it was Nick Saban. I wanted the job because I didn’t have a job, and it was my first career SEC job, so it was a great opportunity for me.”

Q: Is there something about working on a staff under Coach Saban that is different than other coaching jobs in college football?

SMART: “I don’t know that there is. I haven’t been on many more staffs. I’ve been on a couple other staffs. I’ve been on an FSU staff, a UGA staff, an Ohio State staff, and I think all staffs got great continuity, at least the ones that won, you like each other. Winning makes you happier. I’ve been on some really pleasant staffs because I’ve been very fortunate to coach at places that have a chance to win. But I wouldn’t say it was like any different than those staffs I’ve been on.”

Q: You obviously had a lot of success in state with this recruiting cycle, but I was wondering what’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed after this season with some of those recruits from out of state that are interested in Georgia?

SMART: “Well, I think any time you get to play on the national stage and get national exposure, it certainly helps. We’ve got a great brand. We’ve got Atlanta, Georgia, which is 70 miles from our campus, and there’s a lot of access to the Atlanta airport. When you start talking about kids that want to play in the SEC, they want to play on the big stage, and they want to be able to get to and from home very easily, there’s nowhere better to play than Georgia. So you’re able to go to Philly and get a Mark Webb or D’Andre Swift or you’re able to go get a Jacob Eason or whoever it might be because they want to play on the big stage and they’ve got great transportation avenues. It’s a great education, too, so we’re able to attract some really good students.”

Q: Last night you talked about the defense didn’t play well in the first half and then you go into the second half with the two overtimes. Did you change anything schematically, get more pressure on Mayfield, or just the guys themselves turning up their own intensity to have that good second half and overtime period?

SMART: “I think it was a combination of what you just mentioned. You know, we got more pressure. We called the game a little more aggressively. I thought the kids tackled a little better. We still didn’t tackle real good in the second half, but it was better than we did in the first half. I really just think they settled down. It’s hard to put a finger on why they weren’t settled early. I know you could say, well, it was the Rose Bowl; well, it was Baker Mayfield. Yeah, we knew all that. And our team has got to play big in big moments and can’t play what we call rat-trap and have mental errors, and I thought in the first half, man, we had a lot of mental errors and just really not indicative of who we are defensively, and I thought they did a much better job of staying in our style of defense, and it was not a lot of schematic changes as much as it was getting more comfortable with what Oklahoma was doing.”

Q: In the kind of cutthroat world of college football, is it difficult to maintain friendships with coaches you used to work with like Nick Saban or anyone else?

SMART: “No, I don’t think — in the coaching profession, I think that me personally, the way I was raised and been around coaching is we take care of each other. We take care of each other’s kids. We hire them. Coach Saban has hired probably 15 to 20 different coaches’ kids that have either worked for him or he knew, and I’m the same way now that I get my opportunity. I mean, if anything, we take care of our own. We take care of each other. When a coach is out of a job, you try to help him get a job. When he’s no longer working for you, you help him out every way you can.

“The cutthroat part is more for media attention. Maybe you feel that way in recruiting or you feel that way to beat somebody. Yeah, you want to win the game for your players and your program, but I mean, it’s not personal for me and their staff. I have a lot of friends on their staff. I respect their staff. It’s not really cutthroat to me.

“The competitive nature is to go win, but outside of that, they’re good people.”

Q: You mentioned something there at the top about how concerned you are about the emotions of that game, not letting it bleed into this game. What does, I guess, make you feel that your team will be able to respond with the right emotions going into Monday’s game?

SMART: “Well, I mean, the best way to know is to look at the history of this group. I mean, they’ve overcome a lot of obstacles. They’ve had coaching change during their career; they’ve overcome that. They’ve embraced what we wanted to do. They’ve been through a lot of adversity last year, and a lot of this team that is playing this year played last year.

“And then you look at this year, they’ve overcome losing a quarterback, they’ve overcome a lot of adversity, overcome a big loss on the road, and that’s kind of who they are. I know they’ll handle it the right way. I just think the management of that is really critical. We’re playing a road game in LA, and to turn around the next week within seven days, I mean, you think about that — everybody talks about last year, but last year Clemson had nine days, but this is a seven-day, really a six-day turnaround to play a National Championship game coming off a game in LA. I think when you have one that emotional and you play an extra, whatever it was, two periods of overtime, you’ve got to be smart about your team and where they are.”

Q: How do you manage that in that regard with these six days now?

SMART: “Well, you emphasize rest, recovery. You emphasize what we talk about all the time is getting your sleep, getting your dark hours, getting off your phone. A lot of our kids are on social media. Get in recovery, go to treatment, getting extra time to watch tape and spend it — we’re starting school this week, too, so that’s another deal on top of our kids that they get to deal with. When you start dealing with a lot of outside influences on your kids’ time, you’ve got to be smart as a coach and understand you’ve got to get the most out of them, but we’ve got to be smart with our practice time and our recovery time.”

Q: I’d like to have you talk a little bit about D’Andre Swift from St. Joe’s Prep who has been able to get on the field and do some things for you this year.

SMART: “Yeah, what an unbelievable kid, first of all. He is from a wonderful family. Their family is unbelievable, great two parents that have really raised him the right way. He’s a very humble kid. He’s come in and embraced the role of being on special teams, of being a utility back, has done a lot of different things. He’s really bright. He’s probably got the best hands on the team. You combine that with a really great low center of gravity, and you’ve got yourself a good ball player. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in my opinion in the SEC for a long time because he’s such a competitive kid and he’s done really well in school, as well. So we’re proud of him and think that coming from where he came from that school system did a great job, one of the most prestigious schools there is in the country.”

Q: You mentioned Mark Webb. Talk a little bit about him because he was a great player coming out of Archbishop Wood here in Philly.

SMART: “Yeah, Mark was probably one of the most talented guys we signed in this class early on. He was making some plays at wide-out early in camp. We lost two corners to injury, and we really had to move him over to corner, and he’s done a great job there. He hasn’t gotten to play as much as I know he would like to, but he’s going to be a really good football player. We are excited about him. He’s playing on special teams. He’s tough. He’s competitive, good tackler. We’re excited about where he’s at.”

Q: Just wondering with your guys having to spend a whole week out on West Coast time, what do you do as a coach to get them adjusted and re-acclimated to being three hours ahead on the time scale?

SMART: “Well, there’s no real good way to do it. We encouraged them while they were out there to kind of try to stay around central time if they could because you go to bed a little bit earlier, get up a little bit earlier so the transition coming back wouldn’t be real bad, and of course a lot of our guys were getting tired early in the night, so they wanted to go to bed earlier, and their bodies were naturally getting up earlier. So if you just let that flow happen and you remain a little bit neutral, it’s not as big a transition when you get back.

“So we’re hoping today they get some rest and recovery. A lot of emotion spent last night, and you have a lot of adrenaline after a game like that, so it’s not easy to go straight to bed. Just not easy to say, hey, sleep it off on the plane. We’re trying to get them plenty of rest today and allow us to do some game planning, then get them back and we’ll go back to work tomorrow to get ready for a big game.”

Q: What’s Charlie Warner’s status with the leg injury, and can you confirm Dan Lanning hired as an outside linebackers coach after the playoffs is over?

SMART: “Yeah, on Charlie Warner, still not sure of the verdict on it yet. It is lower leg, but we don’t know the extent of anything more than that right now.

“And then, yeah, I can confirm the hiring of Dan Lanning. He’ll be replacing Kevin Sherrer, one of our assistant coaches, after the bowl game, or the National Championship game.”

Q: I wondered if you’d address the perception the SEC was down this year; do you agree with that, or maybe it was just a very top-heavy conference?

SMART: “Yeah, you know, I don’t like getting into that subject. I think it’s a matter of opinion. I’m not the expert of that because I don’t watch all the other conferences. You know, I had the fortune of watching the Big 12 Conference because I had to go through all the Oklahoma film and prepare for that. But how can I be an expert on conferences that I don’t watch play?

“I will speak on the behalf of the SEC, that I think that it’s extremely difficult week in, week out, because you’ve got really good teams, and everybody points to the fact that they beat up on each other and there’s more parity — outside of what Alabama has been able to do, there’s been more parity in our conference in recent years. I’d put our conference up against anybody’s, and I’m not doing that braggingly, I just believe in that. I believe that there’s good coaches in this league. There’s really good programs in this league. It’s not to knock another league. I just think top to bottom it’s one of the toughest conferences to live and survive in week in and week out. But that’s just a matter of opinion.”

Q: As far as coaching with Nick Saban for as many years as you did, you have to know his tendencies and strategies probably as well as anybody that goes up against him; where would that maybe be an advantage for you either in preparation or during the game on Monday?

SMART: “Yeah, I don’t know that it’s an advantage. You know, his tendencies and his strengths are recruiting really good players that are really big and really fast, and then you have to block them, okay, or you have to be able to run the ball against them or you have to be able to defend the wide-outs and the corner — it comes down to a lot more than his tendencies because his tendencies are very similar to a lot of good coaches: Smart, good decisions, protect the ball, play great defense, kick your butt on special teams. There’s not a lot of tendencies that he has that are just going to be ground-breaking to allow us a benefit. The bottom line is our players got to go out and we’ve got to play a really good football game to stay with these guys.”

Q: And the last question, Nick told us earlier this afternoon that he wouldn’t necessarily want two weeks between semifinals and finals, but given the travel, especially in y’all’s terms, maybe an extra day might be in order. How do you see that going forward? Is six or seven days just too little?

SMART: “Yeah, you know, it’s probably a moot point now, but I do think that you deal with the hand you’re dealt, and I do think in the future it would be advantageous or at least be smart to look into. But I think last year is more realistic, the nine days I was told they had between games. That makes sense. You’re dealing with travel from all over; it’s a little different. I don’t know the reasons for why it ended up like it did this year, but we’ve known that all along, so it hurts as much the preparation for Oklahoma as it did this game because we had to be prepared for the turnaround. We were planning things out for this week even last week, which is tough, really tough mentally on a coach because you never want to look past anybody, but we had no choice but to do that.

“It makes it really tough, and I know it’s probably a little easier on the other two being in New Orleans, but it’s tough on anybody. It’s tough on these players when you add in the fact that we start school earlier than anybody in the country this week, and a lot of those other schools are not going back to school, so they won’t have classes, they’ll be able to have the kids over there all day, and we’ve got kids taking classes.”

Q: Just wondering if you can speak to kind of the dynamic you have with Kevin Sherrer, still on your staff, and Jeremy Pruitt still on their staff. Obviously those two guys know each other and they’re trying to kind of manage, I guess, two jobs to some extent, or are they not trying to do anything with that other job? You obviously went through that yourself. Can you talk about how that dynamic figures in this game?

SMART: “I’m not following you. Are you asking are they working for Tennessee right now, or how are they doing what they’re doing? I don’t understand what you’re –”

Q: Yeah, how do they handle that, and obviously I guess those guys have a good relationship, too. You probably can speak to that, as well.

SMART: “Yeah, I’ve got a good relationship with Jeremy. I’ve got a good relationship with Kevin. They’ve got a good relationship with each other. Kevin has got a good relationship with Nick. There’s a lot of relationships across the board. I mean, I don’t — I really don’t know what you’re hinting at. I know that Kevin wants to win this game for the University of Georgia, and Kevin wants to finish something he was a part of. I think it speaks to his brand the rest of his career if he’s able to win a National Championship here, and I certainly think Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy, all the kids he’s coached for the last four years I guess it’s been, and he wants to do well for those guys, and I’m sure Jeremy is the same way for the players that he recruited to Alabama.

“I mean, I think both parties are working independent of each other knowing that on the recruiting side of things they’re working together, and there’s not a whole lot of recruiting going on right now with the dead period, but I mean, I went through that. I think you’ve got to separate what you’re doing. When you’re working for the game, you’re working for the game. You’re working for recruiting, you’re working for Tennessee, and if you’re professional about your job, that’s not really a problem.”

Q: You spoke of the emotional drain for your players, and I’m just wondering, there’s been a season’s worth of bucket list items this year from Notre Dame to Rose Bowl, winning the SEC Championship. How is your emotional tank these days?

SMART: “Oh, I’m good. I was ready to get out of there as soon as the game was over. I was running across the field as fast as I could to shake his hand so I could leave. I was ready to get back. Emotionally I’m excited about the opportunity. You can coach a long time and not get opportunities like this, and I’ve been blessed to be part of games of this magnitude and nature before. Obviously never as a head coach, but I know that every minute and every second counts, and that’s what’s important to me, and I want to make sure these players understand that, because a lot of them don’t. They don’t understand that 20 minutes with the media, 45 minutes waiting on a bus or two hours waiting in traffic, those all add up when you start adding them, and that’s what’s important to me is to lead these young men the right direction so they have the best opportunity at success as they can have.”

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