December 28, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with our second session. We're going to welcome now Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and running back Damien Harris.
Coach, start us off with an opening statement and just tell us how Bowl Week has been going for you and preparations leading into the game.
LANE KIFFIN: It's been an exciting week. I think, as Coach Saban has talked about, it helps us a lot that we've been here before. All of our players, obviously, but the freshmen. So familiar with surroundings too, having been here for the three SEC Championships, as well. So I think that helps our guys.
Our guys have worked really hard. We've still got a lot of preparation to go, but it's been a good week and we look forward to playing a really, really good team.
THE MODERATOR: Damien, for you, talk about what's been your favorite experience of Bowl Week so far and what are you going to remember coming out of here?
DAMIEN HARRIS: I mean, just getting to share a special event like this with my teammates. We worked really hard to get to this point, and we know we're facing a great Washington team. But just being able to come together and playing a game like this, work together, practice, all the stuff, I think that's something that we'll all cherish for a really long time, getting to do something special like this.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go into Q&A.
Q. Coach Kiffin, their offensive players say that their defense has really prepared them for a game like this, because they have such a tough defense to go up against in practice every day. For you as a game planner, what do you see on tape about their defense that stands out, Coach?
LANE KIFFIN: Well, I think that they don't give out many big plays. I think that it's very hard to score against them. You see the most points they've given up all year is 27, 28 points in a game. So they play really well.
They're coached extremely well and they don't make many mistakes. They're not a -- they don't take a lot of chances, kind of a bend don't break. I think there's a lot of comparison there. I know they spend a lot of time with Pete Carroll and that staff at Seattle. You can see a lot of comparisons in the style of defense they play. They don't do a million things. What they do, they do really, really well.
Q. Lane, when it comes to you double-dipping, so to speak, having two jobs at once, how has that process gone for you, finishing up recruiting, junior college signing day, building up a staff? How important was it for you to show your current employer, your future employer, potential employers down the road that you can handle that kind of responsibility?
LANE KIFFIN: I think the first part of it, there are time issues of managing both jobs. Luckily, we are in a dead period, and when I was hired there, it was at the end of the live period. So I think it would have been more difficult had we taken the job maybe a week before, you know, to try to balance both because you're on the road recruiting. Where, now, obviously, in the dead period, we can't be.
It was important to get a few guys, especially to hire a defensive coordinator as soon as I could to get someone in place there. Chris Kiffin has been there, been able to evaluate all of our players, recruits, start recruiting over the phone and then help interview defensive coaches. So that helped me a lot time-wise.
And then we've been kind of working on offensive coaches in our spare time over the last week.
Q. Along those lines, Lane, do you just do the FAU work at night? Is it pretty much the same day, or are your days pretty much structured like that all the time?
LANE KIFFIN: Yeah, they are, Tony. I've communicated with Coach. We went over the schedule to kind of find some time where maybe there were some Bowl events that he didn't need me at so I could spend that time, whether it was on the phone or flying coaches in here to interview coaches while we're here. And usually that time's at night.
Q. Damien, last year, Derrick was the guy at your position, obviously. But how much did the experience of being in the playoff, as Coach Kiffin mentioned, how much just having been through it, how much does that help you this year in preparation?
DAMIEN HARRIS: What was the question?
Q. You kind of last year, although Derrick got most of the work at running back, you were a part of the process, were able to be at the games and so forth. How much does the experience help you?
DAMIEN HARRIS: I mean, learning from a guy like Derrick, I don't know if I can put into words how much that helped me, watching him work day in and day out.
I mean, he won the Best Player in College Football last year. Getting to see somebody like that, seeing the worth ethic he brought to practice every day and seeing how it translated into the game. Coaches use him as a prime example of how your work in practice helps you improve as a player in the game.
So just watching him grow, become the player that he was last year, things like that really helped me this year, I think. Helped me develop a little bit better work ethic and just seeing how practice kind of translated everything into the game and how that would help you in the game.
Q. Just initially, for both of you, on tape, do you see anything similar in the Washington defense to some of the SEC defenses you've faced this season?
DAMIEN HARRIS: One thing that we noticed about Washington on tape is, like Coach Kiffin said, they just don't make a lot of mistakes. They don't do a lot of different things, but they're very fundamentally sound. They execute. They're where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there. I think that's the biggest thing about their defense. We don't want to compare them to anybody, but they play their assignments very well and they do what they're coached to do.
LANE KIFFIN: I would say on that, probably Florida. Florida's got so much speed on their defense, especially when they were healthy and had everybody. I would say Washington would most compare to Florida as far as SEC.
Q. Good morning, gentlemen. Coach, how do you feel you've grown the most during your time at Alabama? And we always want to know from the players, what's been the biggest impact of the Saban process on them, what's been the biggest impact on you?
LANE KIFFIN: I think, Marty, I would say when you talk about the process, it really is about how Coach never changes. Every day is the same. And I think as a young head coach, looking back, and I've talked to Sark about this before, I think as a young coach, you had so many highs and lows, you know.
So you win a big game, team plays really well. Maybe you don't come back on that Sunday and push the staff the same way. Maybe on that Monday's practice, you don't push the players the same way because you start to say, Wait a second. We got this made. We're 5-0. And maybe we don't need to practice quite as hard because what if we get somebody hurt.
I think probably the number one thing, Marty, would be the process never changes. It's the same. 7:30 staff meeting this morning, you know, Coach goes over the practice today and says each five minutes what we're doing in practice. You don't have to write it down because it's the exact same as every Wednesday's practice for three years.
So I say that kind of jokingly, but that really is the process no matter what. No matter whether you had -- it was the first game of the year, where you have all your players healthy or it's a game like this where you've already missed some guys, guys are out for the season. It never changes and he's the same way whether that's recruiting, whether it's dealing with the coaches. There's no highs and lows.
He said to me before, Lane, I can take good news, I can take bad news, but don't give me surprises. So I think that really explains a lot of the process.
Q. Lane, just how important was it for you to become a head coach again?
LANE KIFFIN: It wasn't. This was, I know -- you know, when I was down at the press conference, a lot of the questions were about that. It seemed like, okay, he just took a head job because he wanted to be a head coach or it wasn't working at Alabama.
I answered that question earlier, too. I don't know where that comes from, out there that the Alabama thing was over and the Saban/Kiffin marriage kind of ran its course. It was three years.
Coach has been great to me. He's never said anything but excited about coming back next year prior to this job. And we did have a great three years. Three straight SEC Championships and potential of two national championships and a Heisman trophy winner. So it was really great. And it really was about the job. It was about that specific job.
When I went in there and I met with the president, the athletic director and the three main decision makers, I went into the interview saying, okay, you know, you always want to go through the interview process with different places because you learn and you never know. Those people may be somewhere else five years from now, so you may impress them in the interview, even if it's a job you're not going to take.
I came into that room not really knowing and I came out of that room saying, okay, I really want that job. They're committed to doing things different than they've done before and they really want to win championships and do everything that it takes to do that.
Q. Coach, I was wondering how kind of, especially with the offense, which is not maybe his most natural thing, how hands-on Coach Saban is with the offense during games. And kind of as a follow-up to that, I think there are some notorious instances where it appeared that maybe he wasn't totally happy with how things ran on offense. So I want to ask what's the happiest you recall Coach Saban being during a game with the offense or with a play call or something like that?
LANE KIFFIN: The happiest. Let's go back to the beginning there before we get to the happy part.
I don't know that I would describe there was a happy moment. And I say this about Coach again, so this morning, after the 7:30 staff meeting, before this, we watched the offensive film of practice yesterday. And I'd never done that with a coach. I'd never watched the offensive, you know, scout team with the head coach when the head coach is a defensive guy, like Coach Carroll.
So when I got here, that was new. And I was thinking, okay, this is just Coach. He doesn't know me so he wants to understand the game plan, how practice is going, he wants to see the players. And then if we start doing well on offense, he'll back off and he just doesn't -- you know, he just doesn't come in for that meeting and he stays more on defense.
But today is no different than the first day. Even after all the success we've had. Again, there's the process. He never changes. So that's another lesson as a head coach. Hey, maybe your defense is playing really well that year. You still go in there and you still have the same schedule of watching that and watching the players and hearing the coaches so that you know the game plan versus I know myself as a head coach, I just kind of let the defensive coordinator do what he was doing. Now, he happened to be my dad too, so it was kind of strange.
But now I see why Coach does it. At first I thought it was he just wanted to check up on what we were doing on offense to make sure we were doing what he wanted. It really wasn't. It's just part of the process.
So I don't recall a happy moment. I just recall the ass chewings. I won't take that part of the process with me, though.
Q. Damien, this question is for you. Can you touch on going to the church that Martin Luther King once spoke at and as a young African-American man how humbling was that experience for you?
DAMIEN HARRIS: It was definitely a humbling experience, just seeing what people went through, the sacrifices they made, the hardships, the trials that people went through in order for us to have the freedoms we have today. It was just really humbling and touching to see those people that sat where Martin Luther King sat, people that were there with him when he passed. Just seeing that part of history, it was almost like that history was brought to us. It was like somebody kind of put it in a person and brought it to us and gave us that experience.
We all enjoyed it and we had a great time. Like I said, it's just really humbling to be able to see those people that paved the way for young African-Americans like myself to have the freedoms that we do today.
Q. Lane, can you give us your honest evaluation of where Jalen is from where he didn't start the first game to where he is now, and did that surprise you at all, that he's come to the point that he is right now?
LANE KIFFIN: Well, I wouldn't say surprised. I think that it's extremely abnormal, what he's doing.
And so, again, going back to Coach Saban, I recall earlier in the year, Jalen not playing great, like the LSU game. My mindset was, okay, we're in Baton Rouge. It's a night game. And, really, that place has eaten up a lot of quarterbacks, senior quarterbacks haven't played well.
I think we went down there with Blake Sims and I can't remember exactly whether he was 16 of 36 or something like that, his numbers. So that place, especially when it's Alabama/LSU, is really, really hard for any quarterback to play, especially a true freshman.
I remember after the game the next day kind of evaluating the game saying Jalen really did a good job because of the surroundings, because of that environment, because of the true freshman, a lot of times can't get the snap in that type of environment, let alone win the game.
And I remember Coach not thinking that way. Coach was more thinking he didn't play very well and the kid should have played better and should have done better. And I remember that interaction the next day with Coach, and I came away from it going, okay, that's just Coach's high standard. That's part of the process. He's not going to say, hey, the kid played really well. He's going to say here's the plays the kid should have made.
And I think that that's another valuable lesson, that he just keeps pushing them and takes them somewhere they can't take themselves.
I think he's had an unbelievable year, again, for a true freshman. He has some great players around him that help and the defense and special teams have made a lot of plays.
But down the stretch, and not turn the ball over last week at all was huge. That's the type of game that you turn the ball over when you're a freshman a lot in a championship game like that normally.
So it's been good. I went and worked him out -- went and watched him work out in the spring before he came, before he announced, and I came away from watching that practice workout and I came back and said, Coach, I think this guy's a first round draft pick. Now, he's got to make the plays in the games. But off of the workout, you know, my evaluation was he can be a first round draft pick.
And I think what we've done now with changing the offense to where we were, say, at USC or maybe when we first got here at Alabama or the way they were at Alabama before, I don't think he could have played right away because true freshmen can't, normally, because the pro style system is so much more complicated.
What we do now, in the limited terminology and the speed we go at, we don't huddle so that takes a lot off the quarterback and I think it's why, over time, in these offenses, you've seen quarterbacks play without much experience, even if they're older, three straight first-year starters for us.
I remember when Oregon had kind of their run when we were at USC, a quarterback would be gone and the next guy would come in. Or they lost a quarterback that one summer that they had to go to a new guy and it seemed like it didn't matter. Now I kind of understand why, because the offense is a lot easier to learn and you can play faster in it.
Q. Lane, with Steve Sarkisian taking over as offensive coordinator, can you talk about some of the qualities that he brings to the table, how similar with you guys having worked together so much, how similar some of the qualities will be in the Bama offense that we've seen under you?
LANE KIFFIN: I think Steve's always done a great job. We were together for six years. He left for one of the years in between to go to the NFL and came back. So five of the six years we were together.
Really kind of did everything together, and I kind of think we almost grew up in coaching together so our minds kind of think the same way with plays and stuff. That's why it's been valuable to have him here this year. He's helped us a lot. He and Mike Locksley being off the field guys and doing preparation the week before has helped us a ton.
I think it's going to be a really easy transition. Part of in my head was the process of talking to him in the summer into taking the job was I may not be here the next year, you know.
And so I thought it was important he could help me for a year, and then if there was something where I wasn't here, be an easy transition for Coach to have somebody versus hiring Sark, not really knowing him and him not being around the system. That would have been a harder transition. I think it's been valuable.
He'll do a great job with Coach. Coach talked to me about it, and I think in some ways, he'll do a much better job than I do with Coach.
Q. Lane, a lot of people thought that everyone at Baylor was radioactive. Why were you willing to hire Kendal Briles and do you anticipate that Art will be around the program at all helping him? He's obviously played a big role in teaching Kendal.
LANE KIFFIN: Hiring Kendal was a long process that we went through. We checked out a lot of things through our university and communicating with people there, so we feel very comfortable with Kendal's situation. Had a good game last night. He'll be flying here today to help interview guys.
So as far as the other stuff, that's not really what this is about today with Art, but we have a plan with that, and we'll discuss that when we get down there. Thank you.
Q. Coach, surely you know about your Twitter fame. How much thought goes into your tweets before you hit the tweet button, and does that change now that you're a head coach at FAU?
LANE KIFFIN: That's a good question. I haven't thought about that yet. A lot of on my Twitter, what happens is you have people that help you with your Twitter when you're a coach.
So I don't have that nailed yet, when I get down there. I do think that it was important what some of the stuff that was done at Alabama to help recruiting and with the rules changing about contact and what you can retweet and what you can post. And the way kids are nowadays, kids don't want to answer phones, talk on the phone.
So a lot of that stuff is aimed at two things. Aimed at recruits and aimed at the fan base of where you're at. So if you kind of follow the stuff in general, what happened? Well, the Alabama fans really like it. Recruits read it, current players like it and then fans of every other team don't like it. So there's good and bad.
And I kind of always looked at it as, okay, my job is to help Alabama. My job is to coach these players, to recruit players to Alabama, to be part of Coach Saban's process, to be invested in the fans of Alabama and not worry what other people think.
Is that the best thing to do? Would I tell young coaches that's the best thing to do? No, I wouldn't. But I've always thought of that. I've always valued more where I work for and the fans and the current players than what the national perception is of me.
Q. Coach, this question is for you. What are the differences between developing Coker through a national championship run and now developing a young freshman?
LANE KIFFIN: Very different players, obviously. Again, I think what we always do is we always game plan to our players, so our offense has looked different all three years and it's always been about what do our players do best.
I think you've seen -- where I think a lot of people would say year one and year three were similar because the quarterbacks both moved around, Jalen being a true freshman and Jalen being a stronger runner than Blake is why you've really seen this year be even different than the first year.
And you had Amari the first year. So, again, that's what we do is we feature our players. So we had Amari Cooper, so he caught 124 passes. Then Derrick had the most rushes in the history of the SEC. And now we're kind of in the middle with a bunch of good players and so just kind of spreading around more equal. And then when your quarterback runs the ball, that takes away plays from other guys, so the numbers aren't the same for those guys.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen. We'll end it there.
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