Dec 31, 2019

Saban, Harbaugh share laughs, praise in final appearance before teams take field

By Joseph Salvador, Florida Citrus Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. — Only one of the most iconic and respected coaches in college football history could say “no disrespect” after chiding a reporter and have the rest of the media in attendance chuckle in response.

In a setting that mixed one part comedy with one part drama, with a sprinkling of history, Tuesday’s Vrbo Citrus Bowl head coach press conference with Alabama’s Nick Saban and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh was everything you’d expect.

It started off with the usual niceties, right after a formal pose with the winners’ trophy that had photographers rushing to get the perfect shot.

Both coaches thanked the Vrbo Citrus Bowl and the city of Orlando for their hospitality. Both went on to call the other’s football program “iconic” in their opening statements.

Then Saban got a question about the NFL Draft.

Specifically, Saban was asked if he was surprised that only one of his players received a top-15 grade from evaluators and whether he expected some juniors to return in 2020 to “finish the deal.”

“Everybody’s got to make a decision about what’s best for their future, and we feel like our job is to make sure that we give them the correct information because there’s a lot of misinformation out there, whether it’s mock drafts or who is the evaluator,” Saban replied. “And what we try to do is make sure we get the information from the actual people who draft.”

He wasn’t done.

“Do you have a pick when the draft comes?” Saban followed up, allowing the question to linger.

“We try to get the information from the people who will actually pick the players, which is sometimes not congruent with what you all think, no disrespect to your ability to evaluate.”

Laughter cascaded from the back of Salons 5-7 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel following Saban’s response. He then smiled at Harbaugh, who sat to his right and seemed to echo his sentiment.

On that, the two coaches could certainly bond.

The presser’s next highlight came when the coaches were asked what they’d ask one another if given the chance to discuss their philosophies or careers in football.

A brief silence ensued as Saban looked to Harbaugh with a smirk while Harbaugh’s mouth remained agape before he slowly turned to Saban as a proverbial game of chicken commenced. Then Harbaugh took the floor.

“That would be a real treat,” Harbaugh said. “There’s really nobody better. Tremendous respect for coach Saban.”

Saban then shared his admiration for Harbaugh’s football family before ending on an answer.

“I would certainly cherish and have tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to be able to sit down with Jim and talk to him about how he does things and how that can improve our organization,” Saban said.

The pair put on a great show and said all the right things during the press conference, but come New Year’s Day, the formalities will be over. Such is the nature of bigtime college football.

Wednesday’s Vrbo Citrus Bowl will be the first time these two coaches face off against one another on the gridiron and the first time their storied franchises have met in a bowl game since the 2000 Orange Bowl  — when Tom Brady and the Wolverines won in dramatic fashion, 35-34.

It remains to be seen how this meeting will pan out, but in a press conference or on the field, one thing is for sure: It will be entertaining.


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