PHOENIX -- To hear Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney tell it, Alabama and Clemson are physically and mentally ready for their 15th game, Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Both coaches addressed the media en masse for the final time before the game on Sunday morning.
“I think we're in as good a shape as you can be,” Swinney said. “I think the schedule has set up well for us. We finished the season playing 10 in a row, and the last stretch of that was a challenge because this is obviously a physical game, and it's mentally taxing, and the balance of school and all those things, you know, mount up. But our guys did as good a job as they could handling that.”
“Our guys have done a really good job of sort of using the rest time that they have,” Saban said of the Crimson Tide. “When we are practicing and preparing, their focus has been good.”
“We expect him to play,” Swinney said. “Hopefully he'll be able to perform and play to the level that we all know he can, but you know, if not, I don't think Coach Saban is going to cancel the game over there. We're going to have to keep playing, so we'll put the next guy in there. ... But we expect him to play, and he looked good [Saturday in practice]. But again, until you get out there and you're playing in a game of this magnitude with the intensity and physicality, you never know. But he's done everything that he needs to do to play the game.”
For Saban, it will be his last hurrah with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who after the game will shift to his new duties as Georgia’s head coach.
“Well, Kirby has been with me a long time, all the way back to LSU days, Miami days and the entire time we've been at Alabama, nine years,” Saban said. “You know, it's sort of like you have a son and he's moving away, and you want to see him do really, really well because we all go through stations of life where things change, so now someone else will have ... an opportunity. Kirby will have an opportunity. Somebody will have an opportunity to do what he does, and hopefully we can provide a little leadership and guidance that will help him along the way have a chance to be successful.”
The Crimson Tide are seeking their fourth national championship in seven years, so this is familiar territory for Saban & Co. For Swinney and the Tigers, it’s new ground to cover as Clemson’s first title-game trip under its current head coach. Clemson's last national championship as a program came in 1981.
That’s not lost on Swinney, who said he had the members of his coaching staff who have won a title address his team.
“I've got 11 guys on my staff in different capacities that have won national championships, and I've kind of talked to them and got them all up in front of the team,” Swinney said. “You take a guy like [defensive tackles coach] Dan Brooks, for example. Dan Brooks has been coaching 42 years and he's coached at Florida and Tennessee and North Carolina and Clemson. This guy has been at some great programs and he's got one national championship. It's really hard to do. ... Hopefully this won't be our first time. Hopefully we can be back. I don't know if we can make it four out of the next seven years, but it won't be for a lack of effort.”
The coaches discussed myriad topics unrelated to the game, including the deadline for underclassmen to declare for early entry into the NFL draft (Jan. 15) and how it affects their teams at this time of year.
“The NFL moved the draft back. I wish they'd move the declare date back,” Saban said. “I wish they'd make a rule that says you can't even give a player what his draft status is from the NFL [draft advisory] committee until they've finished their competition as a college player, so that you don't put them and their family in this situation where there's a big timing issue relative to competition.”
Said Swinney: “There's no doubt, it's a distraction that all of us have to deal with. ... You get the grades and some guys, they didn't get the grade that they want, so they're pouting a little bit and got to pick themselves up. Then you get the guy that gets the grade he wants, so it's just -- I echo that 100 percent. It really should be when the season is over, whenever that is, and they should hold those things.”