Pinkel, Saban answer pregame questions

They each answered questions about their time playing together at Kent State.
Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban speaks at a news conference Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, at the Georgia Dome, in Atlanta. The Missouri Tigers will play the Alabama Crimson Tide tomorrow at 4:00pm EST.

ATLANTA -- Alabama coach Nick Saban and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel each met with members of the media at a news conference today in anticipation of Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game. The questions each coach received varied — from a possible planned dance move to what makes Alabama receiver Amari Cooper so good.

A journalist from London asked Saban what he thought of Alabama-Birmingham's decision to close its football program. Saban, upon hearing the man’s accent and asking him where he is from, said, “I’m glad to have a little diversity here.”

Here are some notable points from the news conference.

The two coaches respect each other — a lot.

Saban and Pinkel played together at Kent State, and later served as graduate assistants in the program together.

Pinkel said he remembers sitting in the library with Saban as a graduate assistant, talking about their possible coaching futures.

“Paid to coach football, are you kidding me?” Pinkel recalled. “...I vividly remember that discussion I had with him.

“I don’t know that anyone has done as good a job of coaching at 85 scholarships as Nick Saban has,” Pinkel said. “To win at the level that he’s won, you don’t see anyone do it at the level that he’s done with great consistency.”

Saban said similar things about Pinkel. The Alabama coach said he isn’t surprised by Missouri’s earlier success in its first three years in the SEC.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Gary, the great job he's done wherever he was a coach, coordinator at Washington, head coach at Toledo, now the 13 years he's been at Missouri,” Saban said. “I think their program has always been very, very good.

“Just to think because they went from one league to the other, there was going to be this huge transition, they're a very well-coached team.”

Both teams learned from their losses.

When asked about the Tigers’ loss to Indiana, Pinkel said Missouri’s play did not meet his early season expectations. After losing to Georgia, Pinkel said “sense of urgency became a whole new phrase for us.”

Alabama rebounded from its own loss — a 23-17 October defeat at Ole Miss. Saban said he never talked about this season being a rebuilding year for his players.

“We have never talked about it in any year whether we've had the opportunity to win one, get in one, play in the SEC Championship game,” Saban said. “I think our focus is really about taking our team from wherever it is and trying to improve them so that they can be the best team they can be. That was certainly the approach that we took with this year's team.”

Having been on this stage before is something both coaches have takeaways from.

Pinkel said that, having played in the SEC Championship Game last year, players are “not going to be enamored with it.”

“I think being here, you at least understand it a little bit,” Pinkel said.

Saban, who will be coaching Alabama in its fifth conference title game of his tenure, said players have to channel their energy correctly.

"How every team responds to that can be a little different, but I do think that's the most important thing that the players need to realize, the coaches need to realize,” Saban said. “Go play the game one play at a time and know you're going to have to play a tough game for 60 minutes.”

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