Saturday, April 20, 2013
A-Day flubs, flaws dismay Saban
By Alex Scarborough
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There is something unsettling about seeing Alabama coach Nick Saban wear a suit onto the football field. He's no Paul "Bear" Bryant. He doesn't roam the sidelines in a coat and tie. He wears a hat only when it rains. He's a coach who puts on the same short-sleeve shirt as the rest of his staff, pulls a headset over his ears and goes about his work.
But Saturday, Saban was set in the unfamiliar position of CEO, overseeing the product rather than molding it with his hands. The 61-year-old coach wore a yellow plaid jacket, a checkered tie and slacks, and watched the A-Day scrimmage from behind the quarterback miked up for television.
Nick Saban said one reason for playing nine SEC games per year is to enhance fan interest.
What he saw there, and what he relayed to those watching with a series of disappointed gestures and noticeable tirades, was a team not yet ready for the championship stage. Nine turnovers and eight penalties soured the coach's perspective on what had been an otherwise satisfying spring.
"We have a lot of the components to develop as a team," he said. "I don't think we are where we need to be."
The White team beat the Crimson team, 17-14, in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but the score was barely a footnote on the day. After handing out a series of offseason awards, Saban walked into the media room fuming, ready to send a message to a team eager for rest.
"Too many people too comfortable with their position," he explained. "That, to me, does not lend itself to great competition or being a great competitor."
Last season, Alabama walked the tightrope to the national championship, beating LSU and Georgia by the skin of its teeth. A heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M wasn't the death knell many thought it would be. By the time Notre Dame came around, the Crimson Tide had been forged into a juggernaut, a team that had walked through fire and hit the sandy beaches of Miami with purpose. It won the school's 15th national championship before it ever took the field.
But this year's team is not like the last. As Saban said, "Forget about all that other stuff because it's history." What he witnessed at A-Day was a team with flaws, a team that is a work in progress.
"There's always five or six plays during the season that are going to define how that season comes out, and you never know when those plays are going to come up," he said. "Your preparation, your ability to play with consistency, your ability to pay attention to detail, do the little things right. You don't inherit that. That's something you've got to earn."
Saban didn't mince words.
"We're trying to do this with a bunch of guys that have all relied on their physical ability," he said. "In other words, their skill. And they have been better than everybody else when they don't need to pay attention to detail.
"To get that done is easier said than done. Still, it's going to come down to our ability to make progress in that area, to become a disciplined team that has the mental and physical toughness to dominate the competition every play in the game for 60 minutes."
Nick Perry, who was arguably the biggest star of the scrimmage with two interceptions, said it's the same with Saban every year. No matter how well the team plays, he's not satisfied.
"He just wants to put the best team on the field," he said. "Even if we would’ve come out here and the offense would’ve put up 55 points, he would have found something wrong with the offensive line not making their block or AJ [McCarron] not making the right read. And the same goes for the defense. I think today, on defense, both teams combined gave up seven points. I think we all played good but he’s still going to critique us on Monday on film."
Demanding perfection is what has put Alabama atop the college football world, winning three of the past four BCS titles, and it's going to be the same burning desire that keeps it successful into the future.
Before the scrimmage, Saban said he visited with a number of alumni groups on campus and they all wanted to know the same thing: How does this year's team stack up with those in the past?
After every scrimmage Saban had seen in the past seven years at Alabama, he'd wondered whether the players he had assembled were good enough, whether they had the championship mettle. And more often than not, he came away disappointed.
But most of the time it worked out by season's end.
"I wasn't happy with any of those teams at this point," he said. "If I was happy with them, we wouldn't have summer conditioning, we would not have fall camp, we wouldn't have 30 practices to get ready for our first game against Virginia Tech. We'd just pack it in and say, 'All right, let's go to Atlanta and play the game.' We're not there yet."