HOOVER, Ala. – Alabama head coach Nick Saban faced plenty of questions at SEC Media Days.
There were questions about the Crimson Tide offensive line, which lost three starters in Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones this offseason. There were questions about the defense’s ability to handle the up-tempo spread offenses that have become so popular in the SEC.
But the one question Saban couldn’t fully answer at the Wynfrey Hotel on Thursday was perhaps the one most indicative of his almost unprecedented success: can we compare him to Bear Bryant?
“I don’t think I have any reason that anybody should do that,” he said. “I don’t think that it would be fair that anyone really be compared to what he was able to accomplish, the way he did it, and how he impacted other people.”
Considering his immense success at the helm of Alabama’s football program, highlighted by three championships in the past four years, the comparison is not out of the question. But Saban’s focus fell not on how many titles he has won as an SEC head coach, but how many more he could win.
And so naturally, Saban’s status as the only coach to vote for a nine-game SEC schedule came under the spotlight. It was a topic on which he was certainly unafraid to voice his opinion, and it stood in opposition to that of Les Miles, who earlier had pointed out the discrepancies between Alabama’s permanent cross-division rival (Tennessee) and the Tigers’ (Florida).
“There can never be an equal path to the championship. Unless everybody plays everybody, that’s the only equal path to championship,” Saban said. “The only way to do that is play nine games. So if somebody else doesn’t have that… I understand where Les Miles is coming from. I coached at LSU. We played Florida every year, too. So if anybody understands it, I understand it.”
Saban’s dominance of the college football landscape has created an environment where talented players flock.
And those Crimson Tide players aren’t just averse to failure: they are afraid of it.
“I’m scared to death of [Saban]. I don’t want the offense to mess up. I know when we’re doing a team run, I definitely don’t want to mess up then. I don’t want to disappoint my coach, disappoint my teammates,” offensive lineman Anthony Steen said.
In fact, the standard of excellence in Tuscaloosa has reached such lofty heights under Saban that star players are referring to the team’s two losses in the past two season as being “complacent.”
“We kind of got complacent, kind of lost touch with the little things and lost the game,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said of the losses to Texas A&M last season and LSU in 2011. “For us to know what it takes to try to go undefeated, we got to make sure we combine it to the system and beat it into the players’ heads.”
Alabama senior quarterback A.J. McCarron took a similar stance on the Crimson Tide’s nearly unparalleled success. He emphasized that the team’s leaders have made it clear to the younger players that their senior class will not be the ones fall short of a championship.
“I think that’s one thing that myself and C.J. have preached is purpose,” McCarron said. “Everyone goes through their era in college football. Miami was good for years, then Florida State, then Nebraska. Everyone has their time and then it falls out after two or three years. Our thing, is why does it have to leave?”
For McCarron, that also includes keeping the team’s touted new recruits grounded and in-check when they arrive on Alabama’s campus.
“As much as recruiting is blown up to be what it is, it’s a circus nowadays, so kids come into college being told they’re the best thing since sliced bread, and then reality check and they don’t want to be coached,” he said.
Alabama will continue its offseason workouts until the official start of fall practices, and the team will keep emphasizing that its main focus is the season opener against Virginia Tech.
But if there’s one game everybody knows will be circled on the team’s calendar, it is the one against Texas A&M in College Station, so much so that the team has been playing highlight clips of the Aggies in its facilities.
“It was a big game last year, it’s going to be a big game this year,” Mosley said. “It’s kind of like a motivation thing that we’re playing [highlights clips] right now through the summer.”
Check out Alec’s coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs on The Red & Black: