- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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DESTIN, Fla. -- Nick Saban and AJ McCarron won a lot of games together at Alabama. Two of those wins happened to be BCS national titles.
They were a great team in Tuscaloosa and were supposed to win three straight national championships until a fateful night in Auburn helped ruin everything. Since then, we've heard more about how the signs were there all along about last year's team not having the drive it needed.
McCarron went a step further this spring when he publicly put some of the blame on Alabama's youngsters, talking about how some didn't fully buy in.
Saban probably saw the complacency gnaw at his team, but he wasn't pleased with McCarron throwing youngsters under the bus:
“I think a senior player -- and I love AJ -- but I think a senior player has a responsibility as a leader on the team to understand that when younger players come into the program, they are not going to necessarily have all the right stuff or understand the right stuff to be a part of the team. There has to be a tolerance and a commitment on the older players to sort of embrace the younger players to try to get them to where they need to play, even if they don’t play. It should not be something that upsets an older player. It should not be an issue with an older player because I can take some of these same older players and tell you about them when they were freshmen and they needed older players to help them get where they needed to be and they had to learn lessons along the way to help them develop into what they became.”
Basically, Saban delivered a major Shhhhhhhh! to his former star quarterback. You could hear the agitation in Saban's voice with every word he pounded out of his mouth. Saban didn't mince words. He was unhappy.
To McCarron's credit, younger players are more entitled than ever. Thanks to the hype and attention they receive due to the dramatic rise in recruiting popularity, some feel entitled when they get on campus. It's a process that requires breaking down those narcissistic walls, which isn't always easy.
But football is a team sport, and for a captain/quarterback/leader to hurl an insult to those youngsters like that takes some of the blame away from himself, and Saban didn't appreciate that -- not one bit.
Saban isn't naive. He understands that there were internal issues that led to a shocking finish to last season for the Crimson Tide.
Well before the season started, it was a foregone conclusion that Alabama would be playing in its third straight BCS title game. Then came Auburn and Chris Davis' last-second, country-shaking kick-six that shattered the Tide's dreams. More than a month later, Oklahoma trumped Alabama by 14 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. It was far from the dream ending a veteran-laden team envisioned.
“We obviously didn’t have the right stuff to finish the season the way we needed to finish it," Saban said. "I think we knew when we were going to play the last game of the season that if we were successful in that, we’d play in the SEC championship game. If we were successful in that, we’d play in the national championship game. We in effect were in a playoff.
"Just like in the NCAA basketball tournament, you know you’re in a playoff, you better win the games or you don’t win the next game. Our players understood that and I don’t think that we finished the way that we would have liked to and I don’t think that we always quite did the things late in the season that we needed to do to be able to finish the way we wanted to, for whatever reasons."
Very strong and very honest words from Saban. Despite the talent and veteran leadership sprinkled throughout last year's roster, Alabama just didn't have the killer instinct that made the two championship teams so good and so dominant.
Now, Alabama is without its veteran quarterback and a slew of other older players heading into the 2014 season, but it is still seen as the SEC's top team and a legitimate contender to make -- and win -- the College Football Playoff.
This time around, you better believe Saban will make it a point to eradicate any sort of complacency that might creep in.
“There are some real lessons to be learned for our future teams and certainly this year’s team that we may be able to do it better in the future," he said.
512dSam Khan Jr.