CFB National championship diaries - Pt 2
By George Somerville
George chronicles the week building up to the biggest game in the college football calendar – the National Championship!
Meet the Coordinators!
Co-ordinators In The Limelight
Before the teams departed for Indianapolis, both sets of coordinators – defense and offense – got the rare opportunity to meet with the press. This is unusual as both head coaches, Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, typically take all media availability themselves with coaches left on the practice field or in the position rooms – doing what they do best.
So here was a glimpse into the world of Pete Golding, Bill O’Brien, Dan Lanning and Todd Monken. And it was fascinating stuff. Let’s see what they had to say.
Alabama Defensive Coordinator - Pete Golding
Criticism of Pete Golding is never far away. In fact ,Golding must be nervous turning any corner as I expect a critic is waiting for him every time. But yet Alabama is in the National Championship game as the SEC Champion, meaning something has worked out for Golding and his defensive coaches. So it would seem appropriate that the first question asked of Golding was if Nick Saban “dispensed fewer of the proverbial ass chewings this year”. It was hard to know if Golding has a dry sense of humour or whether he was shooting straight when he said,
“Absolutely not accurate. No. I think — obviously whatever you do here, Coach is going to make sure you do it to the best of your ability. You do it the way he sees fit, which I enjoy. I think as a player, as a coach, you always want to know what can I do better, how can I improve”..
A recurring theme across all of the press conferences were the issues caused by playing the same team again in quick succession. Golding was asked about shutting down Stetson Bennett in the SEC Championship game and what Alabama would need to change this time around in the rematch.
“I don’t think it’s tough having to play somebody twice. I mean I know everybody talks about that and all that. But if you look at the NFL, you’re playing everybody in your division twice”.
“I think the key is, in a pre-snap read, he thinks he’s getting this look and then the ball turns over now and it’s a different coverage or it’s a different pressure, it’s a different front. And now he’s got to think. I think there’s no difference in disguises to me on defense from the front, the coverage and like that, and on offense with motions and shifts and trades”.
Golding went on to spell out the crux of the issue he and the rest of the defensive coaches face in the Championship game. How will UGA use their weapons?
“Absolutely it’s playing the game, making him think. They got a lot of weapons at a lot of different spots that create some matchup issues. They’re going to move this tight end around and try to create the matchups they want with him. They’ve got really good backs that are an issue covering out of the backfield”.
If ever there was a game of cat and mouse, this is it. Who would want to be a defensive coordinator? Hands up. No? Didn’t think so.
Alabama Offensive Coordinator - Bill O'Brien
As we now know, Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will interview for the vacant Jacksonville Jaguars head coach job next week. But there wasn’t the merest whiff that O’Brien’s focus was anywhere other than what was about to unfold in Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday.
But of course, as you might expect, the questions asked of Bill O’Brien focused a lot on Bill’s previous experience as a Head Coach and how his time in Alabama compared. O’Brien said this,
“It’s been a great experience. It’s been awesome. We have a lot of great kids to coach. They’re hard working. They love football. They’re great teammates. The coaching staff here, led by Coach Saban, is one of the best coaching staffs I’ve ever been a part of. It says a lot because I’ve been part of a lot of coaching staffs. I’ve been fortunate that way. It’s just been fun”.
O’Brien went on,
“A lot of fun to coach a guy like Bryce and the rest of the guys on offense, work with the offensive staff. I can’t say enough about this program. And I’ve said it time and time again, how grateful I am to have this opportunity to be here and to try to do my part to help this team win”.
Interestingly, O’Brien was asked about coaching opportunities that come up and how he looks at them. O’Brien answered by saying,
“It’s one of those things that happens all the time. It’s part of the career, part of what you sign up for. My focus has always been on the task at hand and that’s just the way I operate.
I just think that this is a great opportunity for this program. And we’ve put so much work into this. And really if you’re here, if you’re able to follow us around for a week, your focus is completely on Georgia and your team and what you have to do to try to help do your part to help your team win. So that’s what the focus is”.
So whatever happens post Monday, the Alabama experience has been a good one for BOB.
Georgia Defensive Coordinator - Dan Lanning
It was unsurprising during Georgia football press conferences that there should be a focus on Alabama’s dominance over the UGA football program in recent years. But Lanning wasn’t entertaining the idea that Georgia had any kind of mental block when playing Alabama. here’s what Lanning had to say,
” None of that is hanging over our head”
“At the end of the day, we want to go perform to the best of our ability. We want to execute at a really high level. But ultimately it’s not about them. It’s about us. We want to go play our best game. If we play our best game, we feel confident that we can win that game”.
Lanning went on,
” we expect a good game. We expect a tough challenge, but there’s no more pressure outside the room than the pressure we put on ourselves to perform at a high level. I know that. I know how much our players care, how much our coaches care. We have a great plan, and we need to go out and execute, and I think we can do that”.
Lanning was also asked about his impending move to Oregon, and what he would miss about coaching in Athens.
“Ultimately, for me, coaching is about relationships. And I love these players like I love my family. They’ve just been so good to me. I wouldn’t be near the coach I’ve been or had the success I’ve had in this profession if it wasn’t for these players. So I’ll miss that a lot. I’m going to miss the coaching staff. There’s a great bond on our staff”.
Said an emotional Lanning,
“I really enjoy the guys I get to work with every day. I don’t feel like I go to work; I feel like I’m going to do something I love each day, which is a pleasure. But to me the people, ultimately I’ll miss the people.
Certainly excited about new adventures and really excited about the group of men and caliber of men that we have on our staff and the players”.
There’s a lot going on in Dan Lanning’s world right now but he certainly gives the impression he is a man with everything under control.
Alabama Offensive Coordinator - Todd Monken
Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken hails from the midwest, so it seemed appropriate that Monken was asked about his return North.
“I don’t miss the cold. That part doesn’t excite me. Thank God the game is indoors, so that doesn’t factor in it”.
Said Monken, before continuing
“Sure, it’s always nice to see family come and see us play, but we obviously don’t control that”.
Said Monken when asked about the opportunity for family and friends to watch the game, before quickly focusing back on the task at hand.
“But I’m excited for the game. I’m excited for our players. This is about our players and the opportunity that they have in front of them that they’ve earned. And they’ve earned this by the hard work they’ve put in starting at the end of last year. This is a year-long process. And our guys have been through it to get to this point and to have this opportunity.
And it’s everything that we do it for, everybody has this initial goal going into it. And our guys have worked incredibly hard to get to this point and have trusted in the message that we’ve sent and they’ve carried that out for the most part throughout the year. So I’m excited to see them play.
This doesn’t come around very often, this opportunity to win a championship. So I think our guys are excited. We’ve started off the week the right way and we’ll see”.
Stetson Bennett has been the centre of so much discussion and debate – not just this game but for the whole season – and it would have been surprising if Monken hadn’t been asked about his quarterback.
Monken was steadfast in his view that Bennett will lead the Bulldogs to their first National Championship in 40 years. Particularly when he was challenged about Bennett’s record against Alabama. Here is what Monken had to say about Bennett,
“Well, I mean, I don’t see it as those two games are going to predict the future. I don’t see it that way. I see it as he’s played, I don’t know how many games at starting quarterback, and like any player they’ve had their moments where they haven’t played up to what they believe their standard to be or we believe that standard to be. It just so happens to have come in the second half against the team we’re about to play”.
Monken went on to defend his young quarterback,
“But we just need to understand that the first two halves of each of those games was outstanding, and I’ve said that before. He has everything we need to be successful offensively. And our issues with turnovers aren’t his issue, particularly. That’s everybody in this country — if you turn the ball over you’re not going to win, no matter how you do it.
The first turnover a year ago was a batted ball that was out of his control. The second interception was a tipped pass on an end cut that went directly to them. The third one was a poor decision.
So the bottom line is I can do better as a coordinator to put him in better position to be successful. He understands that. Our team understands that. So I expect him to play well just like I did last week”.
It certainly makes for fascinating viewing on Monday.
College football writer
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.