Alabama Crimson Tide: 3-point stance

1. Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo coached as young assistants at Michigan State in the 1980s. They both became head coaches there in 1995. They remain good friends. Saban this week on Izzo: "He believes in all the same stuff that a football coach believes in: toughness, discipline, relentless competitor, the intangible things that we pride ourselves (on having) as football players and football coaches, because it's a tough game. That's how he coaches basketball. I think it reflects how his team plays."

2. Texas coach Charlie Strong said Tuesday that assistants Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline will be able to work together "because those two guys have been around too long for the egos." I expect Strong is right. But the whole business of job titles in coaching is nothing if not a reflection of ego. Watson is assistant head coach of the offense, which is different, somehow, from Wickline's position as offensive coordinator. Is that really necessary?

3. Coaches love spring practice because they get to teach without having to prepare the team for Saturday. Players don't feel the love. Younger ones endure the drudgery until they figure out it's the time to learn and sharpen skills. By then, they are upperclassmen who know not to look ahead. "If you sit here and think the spring game is on Apr. 19, it will kill you," Auburn senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "You just go into it , 'O.K., 13 more (practices). Let's see what I can get better on.' And there is so much we can get better on."

3-point stance: Texas two-step

March, 11, 2014
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1. Duane Akina became the seventh assistant from Mack Brown’s staff at Texas to get another job when Stanford hired him as secondary coach. Co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Darrell Wyatt, the two highest-paid assistants, remain on the market. One interesting note: Most coaching contracts see to it that a fired coach gets the agreed-upon amount. If he is hired elsewhere for less than that amount, the first school makes up the difference. Not Texas. If you take another job, Texas is done.

2. Dr. Joab Thomas, the former president of the University of Alabama and Penn State University, died last week at age 81. While at Alabama, Thomas endured the controversy of hiring Ray Perkins and Bill Curry to replace the legendary Paul Bryant. In 1990, Thomas went to State College, Pa., where the equally legendary Joe Paterno turned 65 the following year. When someone asked him about Paterno retiring, Thomas said, “You can't ask one man to replace both Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno.”

3. Jake Trotter’s post Monday described the desire of West Virginia players to turn the program around after a 4-8 record last season. Injuries contributed a great deal to the Mountaineers’ troubles. But the physical and mental burden of traveling to the Big 12 footprint will be an annual drag on West Virginia football. The good news is that in this season’s nine-game conference schedule, the 5/4 split tips to Milan Puskar Stadium. The bad news is that the season opens with a neutral-site game against Alabama in Atlanta.
1. The NCAA Football Rules Committee tabled the 10-second rule, and Alabama coach Nick Saban says the pace of play needs a closer look, which means we are in the exact same place as we were before the committee ready-fire-aimed its way toward passing the 10-second rule three weeks ago. That is, save for everyone on both sides being a lot more riled up. Until the data shows this is a player-safety issue, it’s a style-of-play issue. Those rules are tougher to pass, if only because trends in the game develop slowly.

2. In a discussion on the ESPNU Football Podcast on Wednesday, my colleague Matt Fortuna made an interesting point in favor of the idea that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has established himself as a success in South Bend despite having had only one BCS-bowl season. Three of Kelly’s coordinators have been hired as head coaches: Charley Molnar (UMass), Chuck Martin (Miami of Ohio) and Bob Diaco (UConn). Here’s another point in Kelly’s favor: he is in year five in South Bend without questions surrounding his job security. Since Dan Devine retired in 1980, only Lou Holtz has passed the five-year threshold.

3. Has it occurred to anyone else that this is the golden age of college football in the state of South Carolina? The Gamecocks have finished 11-2 and in the top 10 in the last three seasons; Clemson has done both in the last two seasons. This from the flagship programs of a state best known in recent years for exporting its talent to national powers such as Florida State and Penn State. What Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney have achieved gets lost because they have one conference title between them in their present jobs. But the state of South Carolina stands behind only Alabama in recent success.
1. Back to football on Michael Sam for a moment. Even as SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Missouri defensive end is projected as a middle-round pick because he hasn’t shown the flexibility or the lateral movement that NFL scouts want at that position. From what I am told of his work at the Senior Bowl, he had trouble changing direction. Sam’s strengths: good hands, which are critical to his demonstrated ability to get off blocks.

2. What a year the California Golden Bears have had: a new coach and a new coaching staff, a 1-11 record, with the victory coming against an FCS team, an average losing margin of 28 points in the Pac-12, a revamped coaching staff, massive debt, dwindling crowds, and all of that pales in comparison to the death of defensive end Ted Agu after he collapsed during conditioning on Friday. It simply has to start getting better.

3. The graduate-and-transfer rule that Jacob Coker (Florida State to Alabama) and Max Wittek (USC to …?) are using is eight years old, and it seems to me that football coaches are finally accepting it. I like what North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren said when graduate quarterback Pete Thomas decided to transfer. “I have really enjoyed coaching him and want him to be successful as a player and in life. Going forward I will do anything I can to help him through his transition as a transfer.” Here’s hoping Thomas has as much success as the last Wolfpack quarterback to use the rule: Russell Wilson.
1. Local recruits might be a program’s bread and butter, but it sure seems as if more schools are looking outside their geographic comfort zone. UCLA signed five players east of the Rockies. National champion Florida State reached beyond the local bounty to sign players from 11 other states. Alabama signed recruits from 14 states, not to mention linebacker Rashaan Evans from enemy country (Auburn [Ala.] High). Evans narrowed it down to Alabama, Auburn … and UCLA.

2. Here’s another way of making the same point: Jake Trotter, our Big 12 reporter, said on Paul Finebaum’s radio show Wednesday that the best players in the conference states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa signed with SEC schools. Texas A&M’s move into the SEC opened the doors of the state to the conference. Ten SEC schools, including every Western Division program, signed at least one Texas recruit.

3. It’s great to see Ralph Friedgen return to coaching. The 66-year-old Fridge, after three years of golf and hanging around, will help Rutgers move into the Big Ten as the offensive coordinator for head coach Kyle Flood. Friedgen, who went 75-50 in 10 seasons at Maryland, returned for the same reason that Dennis Erickson and Tom O’Brien are now assistants: to coach young men. That’s why these guys got in the business. After all the years and the money and the fame, that’s why they’re still here.

3-point stance: Notre Dame luxuries

January, 31, 2014
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1. It took Notre Dame 67 years to perform its first facelift on Notre Dame Stadium in 1996. It took 17 years for the university to announce plans for a new iteration of The House That Rockne Built. The new construction will give Notre Dame the club seating and the suites that every other major stadium has. My favorite part of the news release: Father John I. Jenkins, the university president, said that he didn’t think raising $400 million to fund the construction would be an issue. With that fan base, he’s dead right.

2. The good and bad of Twitter: the travel nightmare endured by Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman in Atlanta, when he spent 19 hours stuck on an icy interstate, is only a slight exaggeration of the road-warrior sagas that FBS recruiters go through every January. Herman used Twitter as lifeline and diary during his overnight stay. Then there’s Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, who, unaware of how serious conditions were, tweeted that Atlantans were “softnosed.” Shafer meant it as a chain-jerk, but it was a classic ready-fire-aim use of the medium. We’ve all been there.

3. Alabama has a commitment from kicker J.K. Scott of Denver Mullen High, which rings a bell for anyone who remembers Wide Right I and II. After Florida State lost to Miami in consecutive seasons, knocking itself out of the race for No. 1, Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden had enough. In Feb. 1993, he signed the best high school kicker in the nation, Scott Bentley, also from the Denver area. Less than a year later, Bentley kicked the field goal that gave Bowden the 1993 national championship.

3-point stance: Tide adjusts at QB

January, 27, 2014
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1. With the signing of Florida State transfer quarterback Jacob Coker, Alabama head coach Nick Saban papered over a recruiting misstep. Without Coker, the Crimson Tide had no experienced quarterback to follow AJ McCarron. Phillip Sims, who had been the next in line, left Tuscaloosa nearly two years ago for Virginia. As Coker signed, 2015 recruit Ricky Town switched his commitment from Alabama to USC. But clearly that’s only a coincidence. Coker’s eligibility expires after 2015.

2. Once the NCAA put a black mark on Louisville assistant Clint Hurtt dating to his days at Miami and the Nevin Shapiro case, it was a matter of time before Hurtt shifted his career to the pro game. My colleague Brett McMurphy reported that Hurtt is going to the Chicago Bears. It was clear that Texas wasn’t going to welcome his arrival with Charlie Strong. History has shown that NFL teams don’t care about NCAA sanctions. The pro game has a lot fewer recruiting rules.

3. Adam Rittenberg’s analysis of the Big Ten’s issues at quarterback in 2014 reminded me of the lack of experience at quarterback in the Big 12 last season. David Ash of Texas began the season with 18 starts, the most of any quarterback in the league. It didn’t take long to see the Big 12’s offensive problems. But by the end of the season, the young talent began to grow up. If you saw Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb, you know what I mean.
1. The American Football Coaches Association named David Cutcliffe of Duke its FBS coach of the year, and I hope a little part of him is seething. Yes, the Blue Devils had never won 10 games before this year. But Duke went to a bowl game in 2012. It’s not as if this season came entirely came out of the blue. Coaching awards are mostly about expectations. The AFCA voted that Duke winning 10 games is more outlandish than Gus Malzahn taking Auburn from 3-9, 0-8 in the SEC, to within nine seconds of being No. 1. That makes no sense.

2. The run of assistant coach hirings over the last few days serves as a reminder that coaches change jobs but relationships endure. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly hired Brian VanGorder as his defensive coordinator. VanGorder, the Jets’ linebacker coach, worked for Kelly at Division II Grand Valley State in the ‘90s. Bo Davis, who is returning to Alabama as defensive line coach, is the fourth of the Crimson Tide’s nine assistants whom Nick Saban has rehired. He might be hard to work for, but they keep coming back.

3. Longtime Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker died Monday, at age 72, only three seasons after retiring because of complications from diabetes. Parker was a coach’s coach. He didn’t look for the spotlight. He just delighted in coaching his players, teaching them the fundamentals of the basic, solid defense that has been a hallmark of Kirk Ferentz’s teams in his 14 seasons in Iowa City.
1. I am willing to give Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich a pass on Bobby Petrino. Jurich hired Petrino at Louisville 11 years ago, the first head coaching position Petrino had at any level. Jurich knows the man and Jurich knows what he is getting into. I don’t think it’s a gamble at all. But here’s the unusual part of the story: how many bosses give a guy his first chance at the big time and, no disrespect to Western Kentucky, his second chance at the big time?

2. Michigan hired away Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and here’s betting both Nussmeier and Tide head coach Nick Saban were ready to move on. There was talk in Newport Beach over the weekend that former USC coach Lane Kiffin may end up running the Crimson Tide offense. It may be an ideal job for Kiffin -- Saban doesn’t allow his assistants to speak to the media. Whoever it is better know how to convert a fourth down in the red zone. Alabama’s last two losses in the SEC (Texas A&M in ’12, Auburn in ’13) hinged on the failure to do so.

3. Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Penn State must be interested in each other. The university interviewed him Monday even as San Francisco began its preparation for the NFC semifinal Sunday at Carolina. Roman has no connection to Penn State, other than being a Jersey guy, which means he may be able to recruit the neighborhood. Bill O’Brien didn’t have a connection, either, and that worked out well.


1. Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight came of age Thursday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which is more than anyone can say about anyone in Alabama’s secondary. A young group of defensive backs, riddled with injuries, cost the Crimson Tide on a big stage. Knight threw for four touchdowns in the No. 11 Sooners’ stunning 45-31 upset. Oklahoma got seven sacks against an Alabama offensive line that allowed only 10 all season. You can’t blame all of those on the absence of injured right guard Anthony Steen.

2. Anyone still think Bob Stoops has lost a step? Oklahoma finished the season with consecutive wins over top-six teams, one on the road against an in-state rival (No. 6 Oklahoma State) and this one on a neutral field against a two-time defending national champion (No. 3 Alabama). And Oklahoma did it by scoring the most points a Nick Saban team has allowed in seven seasons at Alabama. Saban is 4-0 in BCS Championship Games at LSU and Alabama, and 1-2 in BCS bowls that don’t involve a crystal football.

3. Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt called Auburn senior fullback Jay Prosch “the guy that makes them go.” Pretty impressive for a guy with no carries and five catches all season. Prosch, a Mobile native, went unrecruited by SEC schools. When a family illness two years ago compelled him to try to transfer near home, Auburn offered a scholarship. “It was a huge opportunity for me, and an honor,” Prosch said. “Now that I’ve played in this conference and had a year of success, I really feel great about it.”

3-point stance: AJ wins the other award

December, 13, 2013
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1. AJ McCarron of Alabama expressed amazement Thursday night when he won the 2013 Maxwell Award, but perhaps he wasn't aware of the award's recent history. Heisman winners don't win the Maxwell. Since Drew Brees of Purdue won the Maxwell in 2000 instead of Chris Weinke of Florida State, only two players have won both awards: Tim Tebow of Florida in 2007 and Cam Newton of Auburn in 2010.

2. Bob Diaco will be a good salesman for UConn. He is a good-looking, well-spoken, energetic coach. He has the football chops as well, having served a long apprentice for Brian Kelly. UConn athletic director Warde Manuel hired a sparkling candidate. Now Diaco must face the reality of UConn football: Will UConn provide Diaco with the budget to hire a good staff? Can Diaco do what Randy Edsall did at UConn, supplant the state's meager homegrown talent with players from the northeast and Florida? Is there room for national success in the American? Diaco bit off a lot. We'll see how well he can chew it.

3. Alabama didn't finish No. 1 in the BCS ratings, but the Crimson Tide finished No. 1 in the TV ratings, playing in the season's three most-watched games. LSU at Alabama, played in prime time, drew a 6.9 rating. The Iron Bowl pulled an 8.2. The most-watched game of the season, played way back in Week 3, had been promoted for nine months: Alabama and Texas A&M did an 8.5. Ohio State at Michigan came in a distant fourth at 5.8. The most-watched Pac-12 game, Oregon at Stanford, drew a 3.6 on a Thursday night.

3-point stance: Heisman secrecy

December, 12, 2013
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1. The Heisman Trust dictated that when we voted this year, we pledge not to reveal it to the media or our spouses or our bartenders. To which I say, control freak who? All right, have it your way. I read the police report regarding Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, and I didn’t like what I read about him. But I sighed, held my nose and cast my vote, and the guy I voted for is going to win. Whoever that might be.

2. The secrecy pledge is a study in chutzpah, asking media members that do nothing but beat the drum for the Heisman 12 months a year not to talk about their individual vote. The Heisman people also just shoved the pledge under the voter’s nose as he/she cast the electronic ballot: sign this or else, pal. That’s what bullies do. Oh yeah, my second-place vote went to a tattooed quarterback who didn’t win a third national championship this year. And if you led the FBS in rushing, I might have voted you third.

3. I have tried very hard not to get sucked into the Nick-Saban-to-Texas vortex, because I think it’s a case of Texas people saying what they want to hear, combined with Saban’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, roiling the waters on behalf of his client. And did Texas really say that they want to hire a head coach who has won a Super Bowl or a BCS title? If nothing else, that shows a lack of imagination. How many coaches who have won either had done so before that team/school hired them? One: Saban.

3-point stance: Bama's bowl outlook

December, 2, 2013
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1. No. 4 Alabama becomes the prettiest debutante at the BCS at-large ball, which could include No. 9 Baylor, No. 14 Northern Illinois and either No. 12 Oregon or No. 13 Clemson. But who takes the Crimson Tide? Would the Orange Bowl risk asking Alabama fans who had their hopes set on the BCS title game to come to Miami for a second straight year? Would the Rose Bowl, picking second, take the Crimson Tide over an 11-2 Michigan State team that’s eligible (top 14) for Pasadena? Probably not. But if the Spartans aren’t eligible, Alabama may play in its first Rose Bowl since 1946.

2. Michigan coach Brady Hoke and Alabama coach Nick Saban both made end-game decisions Saturday that blew up on them. Hoke risked the game on a two-point play, and it’s good to keep in mind the saying that the longer the game, the greater the advantage to the better team. Saban had much greater percentages in his favor. Being struck by lightning, no matter how great the odds, hurts just as much.

3. Syracuse’s last-second victory over Boston College made the Orange (6-6) the 11th ACC team to qualify for a bowl game, which makes the week to come very interesting. One of those 11 teams is Maryland (7-5), which is leaving for the Big Ten next summer. If a team is going to be left out, human nature points to the Terrapins. But ACC associate commissioner Mike Finn says it won’t happen that way. “They are ours until July 1. We are trying to take care of them,” Finn said. “It wouldn’t be fair to their student-athletes.”

3-point stance: Three biggest Iron Bowls

November, 27, 2013
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1. 1949 -- When Alabama and Auburn decided to renew their rivalry in 1948 after a 41-year break, the Crimson Tide, which had won a few national championships and been to five Rose Bowls, throttled the Tigers, 55-0. In 1949, Alabama, with a 6-2-1 record, expected to do the same to 1-4-3 Auburn. Instead, the Tigers stunned the Tide, 14-13, and talk that the rivalry was a waste of Alabama’s time subsided forever.

2. 1971 -- The only time that Alabama and Auburn entered the game undefeated, the only time before this week that both entered the game in the top five, and the only time that a victory assured the winner a place in a national championship game. No. 5 Auburn had Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan at quarterback. No. 3 Alabama, in its new Wishbone offense, had All-American tailback Johnny Musso. The Tide shut down Sullivan and the Tigers, 31-7, earning the right to be overrun by Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

3. 1989 -- Before this game, Alabama and Auburn played every Iron Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham, a “neutral” site in name only, since Alabama played several games there annually. Once Pat Dye took over as head coach and athletic director at Auburn in 1981, he vowed to get Auburn’s home game played in Auburn. Alabama finally agreed to do so in 1989. On that December Saturday, grown men wept during the pregame Tiger Walk to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Unbeaten, No. 2-ranked Alabama never had a chance. Auburn won 30-20.

3-point stance: Oregon's trap game?

November, 18, 2013
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1. In the 11th game of last season, Oregon lost to Stanford, 17-14, in overtime. In the 11th game in 2011, Oregon lost to USC, 38-35. In the 11th game in 2009, Oregon held on to win at Arizona, 44-41, in three overtimes. I’m not smart enough to figure that out. Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost told me that in April. The coaches didn’t have a reason, other than fatigue or overconfidence. But they are aware of it. If Oregon looks flat at Arizona this week, it won’t be from falling into the same trap.

2. Alabama and Florida State are guaranteed nothing in the BCS. But the gulf between the No. 2 Seminoles and No. 3 Buckeyes indicates that there won’t be any drama about who goes to Pasadena as long as the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles win out. Given that Alabama still must play No. 6 Auburn, and then, with a win, either No. 8 Missouri or No. 11 South Carolina, we may yet witness a huge public debate about the Buckeyes and No. 4 Baylor. As of now, that debate is for entertainment purposes only.

3. Here’s one thing the BCS standings might have gotten right: as Coaches By the Numbers tweeted Sunday, only three teams are 5-0 this season against teams with winning records. They are No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State. You can argue that their opponents don’t play anyone, hence their records. But if it were that easy to beat that many teams with records over .500, more than three teams would have done so.

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