HOOVER-When Alabama Coach Nick Saban took the stage on Friday morning to kick off the final day of SEC Media Days, the eyes of college football all turned toward the leader of the defending national champions. And people seemed as much interested in Saban’s take on the state of college football as they did about his assessment of the Crimson Tide. Saban did talk about the challenges his team faces this year of becoming complacent after winning their second title in three seasons, but the coach also fielded questions that ranged from what the future of college football is and the treatment of UAB and UAH by the University of Alabama system to the scandal at Penn State. And like he usually does, Saban answered the questions he wanted and wasn’t shy about voicing his opinion on certain issues.
In his opening statement, it was clear that Saban’s emphasis to this year’s team has been to stay motivated and hungry. “Having success in a football program can have two effects,” he said. “You can demand more success or you can get a little complacent and be relaxed about what you have accomplished, really think more about what you did rather than what you’re going to do.”
Saban and the Alabama football team have been in this situation before. Coming off the 2009 national title, the Tide was an odds-on favorite to repeat the following year. But Alabama didn’t realize their full potential until their final game of the season in the bowl game against Michigan State and finished the season with a 10-3 record. That team was loaded with talent but had an inexperienced defense. This year’s edition is also a talented bunch but they are short on defensive experience. From Saban’s comments and from the players he brought to Media Days, it’s apparent this team won’t be like the 2010 version. “This team seems to be less affected by the previous year,” Saban said. “They’re not really the 2010 team, they’re not really the 2011 team. There’re a lot of players on this team that this is the opportunity for them and their season. This team seems to be very much committed to creating an identity for themselves.”
“Some of us older guys have experience with that because of what happened before,” said senior defensive end Damion Square. “We saw what can happen, the things that should’ve been stopped and the good things that happened because there were good things that we did that year. We just have to make sure that we do the good things and look out for everything else and that’s why we’re going to be better prepared this year.”
Senior center and Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones echoed those statements. “The message is the same,” he said. “I think the difference was the first time, Coach Saban said ‘No Complacency’ and we talked about it and said to each other but for some reason, we just didn’t buy into it. This year, it’s starting with the older guys talking to the younger guys. It’s not going to sneak up on us this year.”
Alabama can’t afford the complacently, they return just 10 starters, six on offense and four on defense, and face one of the toughest road schedules in the SEC, with games at LSU, Arkansas, Tennessee and SEC newcomer Missouri, along with the season opener against Michigan in Dallas.
“It’s really, really difficult in college football to carry momentum form one season to the next,” Saban said. “So you have to create your own identity by what you do. You have to create your own momentum by what you do. Everybody has a new role. We have new people who have new opportunities. This is their opportunity to make this their team.”
Saban offered a few glimpses into the off-season workings of the Crimson Tide. He noted that projected starting running back Eddie Lacy has done well over the summer recovering from foot surgery. “I think all our injured players are doing well and would be cleared for practice if we started today,” he added.
The coach praised the versatility and athleticism of Jones, who will make the move from tackle to center this season, comparing him to former Houston Oilers great Bruce Matthews. He also noted that an experienced defensive front that included Square and Jesse Williams would be extremely beneficial in helping the Tide’s new linebackers adjust to the game.
Quarterback AJ McCarron has had a good summer, according to Saban, who expressed a comfort level with having an experienced returning quarterback. Though he noted that a key for this year’s squad is to develop depth at the position. He pointed to a guy McCarron may target a lot this season in freshman Amari Cooper as a potential playmaker for the team in the wideout spot.
Saban gave some insight into the inner workings of the Alabama team to the media on Friday, but many seemed more interested in his take on a variety of subjects in college athletics. Saban fielded a wide array of questions as part of his media session, and though he obviously didn’t like the direction of many of the things asked, he did offer strong insight on many subjects.
•On what he has learned in the past five years as a coach: “We learn new things all the time, from new experiences, from other people, from being a good listener in terms of what has helped other people be successful, and how even technology has changed our game to some degree, how we adapt to the players, the team, the personalities, the strengths and weaknesses of what we have to work with. I think all those things probably change you a little bit each year as a coach.”
•On how former teammate and Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel will do in the SEC: “I think Gary is a great coach. Looking at his team at Missouri, he has a good team, and I think they’ll compete extremely well in our league.”
•On what college football will look like in 10 years: “Well, that’s one I haven’t though about. You know, we’re really kind of focusing on what we need to do to get ready for this season.”
•On the Penn State scandal: “I just think that more focus on outcome is always more beneficial that might create a situation in the future that would be beneficial to someone.”
•On the possibility of UAB having an on-campus football stadium and UAH upgrading their hockey program: “I don’t think it’s my place to make those kinds of judgments.”
•On the possibility of a nine-game SEC schedule: “Trying to look at this whole thing from a thousand feet rather than looking at it as how it just affects us, my opinion was the number one priority should be that every player at every school have the opportunity to play every SEC school in his career. That’s the number one priority. Everyone’s got a self-absorbed opinion about why we shouldn’t do it because maybe they won’t get bowl eligible.”
•On the perception that Alabama football, and Saban, are too big and have too much power: “Well, you know, it’s not true if that’s the perception.”
•On former assistant coaches seeking advice: “When they do call or they do ask or we discuss things that ay affect the future of college football, I’m always willing to be as helpful as I possibly can to helping them enhance their program. Look, I’m for everybody having a good program, and the idea that you have to dislike somebody to compete against them is not something I’ve never bought into.”
•On Tennessee Coach Derek Dooley’s job security: “I think Derek Dooley has done a really good job. I think he inherited a very difficult situation. A lot of things, a lot of lack of continuity probably created a difficult situation in terms of quality of personnel depth. I think Derek has done a lot of things to create a lot of program stability there.”
•On how important being a conference champion is with the new playoff system: “I think fans want to see the best four teams in the country in the four-team playoff. Just because we have a really, really strong conference, we may have two or three teams that may be in consideration as the top five or six teams in the country. So the possibility definitely exists that one of those teams aren’t going to be conference champions. I think, to be quite honest with you, whoever’s making the statement about conference champions is really making a statement against the SEC and against any league who has more than one good team who would qualify, trying to enhance the opportunity for somebody from their league to get in.”