Rebuilding: Saban, Spurrier and Petrino

Returning to the SEC, coaches face obstacles

Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino are grappling with similar problems at their respective schools. Both are improving the talent level, but both have found problems getting everyone on board, playing consistently, and had to address off-the-field issues on the recruiting trial.

Saban talked about the lack of consistency on his team numerous times last season. Saban wants players to play to their full ability each and every play. When you see mistakes, often they are the result of mental lapses.

Spurrier has seen a similar problem from the Gamecocks. Sometimes, players just aren’t playing hard.

“We’ve improved our talent level, but, again, the frustrating part for us is the effort level,” Spurrier said. “Our guys are not conscious of playing their assignment as perfectly as they can. I know everybody has that problem.”

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Certainly, Alabama had that problem last season.

Saban was frustrated last year by the erratic play of his team. Fans were also quick to point fingers at players running halfhearted routes—almost looking as if they were just going through the motions.

When the players aren’t focused, they aren’t making plays. And, the record suffers. Spurrier lost five straight, and Alabama’s slide to conclude its regular season resulted in a 7-6 record.

There can be serious fallout from mediocrity.

It tarnishes the coaching reputation. It leads to tough questions for Saban to answer.

“Q. Your last two seasons weren’t quite as good as the two or three before that. How do you deal personally with that kind of mediocrity there?”

Saban and mediocrity aren’t something often used in the same sentence. Saban talks about dominating opponents, being the best you can be. However, last year’s team was anything but dominate.

If anything, last year’s team excelled only in bad headlines. Headlines like 10 arrests.

Arrests aren’t only happening in Tuscaloosa. One of Spurrier’s best prospects can’t stay out of trouble with the law long enough to improve his position on the depth chart. Highly touted quarterback prospect Stephen Garcia (Rivals four-star, Top 100 ranked recruit), was arrested after joining the Gamecocks team. His future with the team is uncertain, but he could be back.

“Stephen could be back,” Spurrier said. “The university is handling his situation. He had a bunch of requirements to do this summer. From what I understand, he’s done just about all they’ve asked, or everything. I’m not exactly sure.”

An arrest played a role in sending Bobby Petrino back to college. If Michael Vick had not been convicted of charges related to dogfighting, does anyone doubt Petrino’s stay in Atlanta would’ve been better?

Even Petrino knows that to be the case. He said one of the reasons he went to Atlanta was the quaterback.

“They had a quarterback at that time that I thought could be real special,” Petrino said. “So that played a lot into it, too.”

All these things, records, arrests, national perception of coaches bolting from the NFL, play a role in the most critical element of college football—recruiting.

“Obviously when you lose your last four or five games, it does not help recruiting,” Spurrier said. “It doesn’t help at all.”

Petrino has grappled with the Atlanta situation while on the recruiting trail.

“It always came up in the home. There’s no question about that,” Petrino said. “But I think when you sat down and visited with parents and probably told parents more than I’ve told any of you guys that, you know, the recruiting went well and it became a non-issue.”

Alabama’s off-the-field arrests have been mentioned during recruiting, and will continue to be mentioned by the media and rival coaches.

Saban’s response to the negative recruiting has been to entrench himself even further. He defended his discipline and methods at SEC Media Days.

Saban is standing by his players. He promised not to clean house just for the sake of cleaning house. Is this a case of making lemonade from lemons? Turning a negative into a selling point?

Whatever the strategy, all three coaches have similar challenges. And their coaching legacies are on the line.

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Add Yours
  1. 1
    Ballplay Indian

    Again ..Yall should be glad that your first choice turned you down. This will be Spurriers 4th year at Carolina , right? He is a good coach. But Carolina has taken too many hits to recover. IMO… So I guess what Im saying is …Just because you hire a Marquis coach, someone who was a proven winner. That doesnt mean that it will auto
    maticly translate into wins for your program… Sound familiar?????????
    Im not saying that is going to happen to Bama. But it is something to think about…This will be his 4th year..Almost all the players are his.(besides redshirts)…If he has another ho-hum year ,,,what happens..2 or 3 more ho-hum years???? Do they can him? Think about the history of Spurrier and Saban…Had powerhouse SEC teams. Left for the pros,,,Blew it,,,Came back…Could The Saban follow in Spurriers footsteps? HHMMMMMMMMMM???

    Food for thought…

  2. 2

    The Spurrier/Saban comparisons are interesting, but they hardly are an exact comparison. You are right that both programs hired a marquee coach. The difference of course is Saban came back to a program with a rich tradition and top facilities. Obviously, Spurrier did not. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years at SC. If Spurrier cannot win at a moderately high level there, than no one can.

  3. 3

    One of the things I wasn’t able to include in the things I’ve written about Media Days so far was Spurrier’s comments on moving around, and recharging. I should’ve included something on rest in the piece about him being tired…but oh well…

    I think another big difference between Spurrier and Saban is that Spurrier is more like Tuberville in needing/wanting some time off.

    However, Spurrier is nothing like Saban or Tuberville in that he is a genius. Spurrier ran his offense without a play sheet for years—he is a virtuoso.

    Saban and Tuberville are good coaches, but they have different talents. I don’t think anyone would call them a genius when it comes to X’s and O’s.

    The facilities situation is also something Spurrier mentioned. He said they finally have some decent facilities there.

  4. 4

    The ‘running the half-hearted’ routes struck me. I will agree with that point but carry it a little further. The receivers lost confidence in the QB to do good reads and get them the ball. Anyone who has coached kids has seen this behavior first hand. I’m not excusing it, the coaches have to fix it when the perceive it. I’m not blaming it on the QB either. JP is a tough brave kid who will tuck the rock and run with it. Anyone who remebers his freshman year should agree. The coaching staff was determined to mold him into a pro-set QB instead of using the skill-set he was best at (roll-out, option, etc). He lost confidence and the receivers got tired of putting out when he couldn’t read the situations and dumped the ball a lot. That’s just the way it was. I hope Coach Mac can be more flexible and call plays to the player’s strengths instead of the ‘by-the-book’ approach Shula used which was so predicatble. One of the situations where the staff was forced to do things differently was the Tennessee game and we all know that result.

  5. 5


    Great insight on Spurrier. It is interesting how people have seemingly forgot how great he was at UF. In my mind he is easily the greatest coach to have coached in the SEC over the last 25 years. He dominated the league, and transform how offense was viewed in the SEC.

  6. 6

    i too think alot of spurrier. spurrier had talent at uf when he got there. spurrier also was finally in a bigtime college football atmosphere and able to recruit blue chip talent consistently to gainesville.

    until something drastic changes in columbia, no one will field a consistent championship caliber gamecock team.

    no one.

  7. 7
    Ballplay Indian

    As bad as I hate to admit it….I agree with Corso. I dont see spurrier winning an SEC or national title at S. Carolina.. He could prove us wrong though. As good as he was, he only won 1 Nat . championship at Fl. Thats still great, but he only won it when he had his best defense.

  8. 9
    Bama Fan in NYC

    Spurrier’s time has come and passed. It was a lot easier for any coach to win at Florida, rather than at South Carolina.

    Of course, he’s turned them into a competitive team, but for some odd reason or another, he can’t get skillful talent in at those key positions.

    I still think he would’ve been a success at UA, regardless, and truthfully if he had taken over in place of Shula, to guide us through NCAA sanctions, our program would be much better off today than it is.

  9. 10

    give saban two more years and all the dysfunctional barnie family will never be heard from again. he’ll reverse the streak and send them back to the sec cellar where they belong. this is not south carolina, this is alabama.

    Count this as my signature:

  10. 12
    ATL Tider

    Like Nick Saban or not he’s one helluva a coach and recruiter. It will not be as easy to do in Tuscaloosa what he did in BR simply because there’s competition in the state that doesn’t exist in LA. However, don’t be fooled or misguided. Saban will bring Alabama back to competing for SEC titles and more than likely national titles. The recruits being brought in to T-Town in the last two years are head and shoulders above what has been brought in within the last five years and that by itself will make Bama better. But that won’t be where it stops. Nick Saban has proven he can develop talent and when this talent begins developing you will see bama turn into an elite team once again. The evidence is already there. He’s taking recruits in certain regions that normally do not go to bama and have gotten them to sign. He’s now dipping into Georgia and getting several of their top athletes and has done the same in Tennessee by getting three of the top five players in the state. That is very different compared to the five or so years before Saban. The teams that will pay from a recruiting standpoint that odds are will translate on the field are: Georgia, Auburn & Tennessee. Auburn’s recruiting has taken the brunt of hit so far. But as Saban continues to branch out he’s taking more recruits from Georgia and Tennessee.

    Just as Auburn did us, soon we’ll quickly replace Auburn as the team that battles it out with LSU for the title in the west.

  11. 13

    What does Saban have to do to win the SEC west?
    At the moment he is doing his heaviest recruiting in-state and in Louisiana. That makes very good sense considering that to win the west he has to beat these guys on the field and the best way to do that is to take away the talent they want. If you take away another teams best prospects eventually you will have a better team than they do.

  12. 14
    A-K-A APIman

    Can any bamma in here tell me WHAT MAKES SABAN SO GREAT,Do any of you know him for from a past life? HELL NO! the only thing you know is what you read and i have read nothing that indicates he is a GREAT COACH? and i miss AUGirl she sure was a smart breath of fresh air that some disrespectful ass bama fans ran out of here becuase she made ALL OF YOU BAMMAS Feel infurior


  13. 15

    Yeah Kenny this comment :”The difference of course is Saban came back to a program with a rich tradition and top facilities.”
    Do you even know anything about South Carolina? Apparently not. You call it tradition but what tradition are you talking about? Winning? You are not winning so there is no tradition there. You can’t call something tradition unless you are doing it.
    South Carolina fans are EXTREMELY loyal and they have NICE facilities. I have been in Tuscalooser and I have been in Columbia.. Believe me Columbia is much better. The South Carolina position was not open when Saban came back to college football or he would have taken it over bammer.
    Saban did not come back just to coach bammer. He was leaving the NFL and if anyone gave him the opportunity to return to the SEC he would have taken it. that is fact.

  14. 16
    Ballplay Indian

    Tmc1…I thought that was his strategy in Alabama ? So by your logic, If The Saban gets ALL the good players in the country , he will win a national championship. O.K. ,,,I get it….(rolling eyes).

  15. 17

    Redneck, that statement is either false or biased. Columbia is more rundown and uncivilized than Aubarn is.

    UA’s facilities are top of the line, and some of the finest in the nation. Columbia doesn’t come close, and Aubarn doesn’t deserve the glory of being invited into the argument.

    See Sports Illustrated’s top 20 most beautiful college campuses in the nation. You’ll find UA is the largest university in the top 20, and the only SEC university in the top 20 as well.

    To find Alabama Tech, I’m sure they’re listed somewhere under the nation’s most ugliest campuses. So go check it out!

  16. 18
    Ballplay Indian

    george w…..Could your glasses be more crimson stained? The “our campus is nicer than yours” arguement is getting rather lame. If you want to go by the cities that the campuses are located in, you wont have a leg to stand on. Auburn is in the college town of Auburn. The campus and the city are one. And they are rather nice in my opinion. Alabama on the other hand is a nice campus located in a dump of a city (Tuscaloosa)…While UA is a little more big city (ahem).. The charm of Auburn lies in its rural setting. Both have their pros and cons. Auburn has more of a family feel to it IMO. Bama , well they would like to think the were in metro New York… As far as all of these magazine rankings on best campus, nicest campus, prettiest campus, etc , go…Ive seen pretty much all of the SEC schools in one of these listings or another. Again , let it go…..

  17. 19

    wow… George W… have you been to down town Tuscalooser lately? Holy crap is that place a dump. Columbia is actually a metropolitian city and the capital of South Carolina. Didn’t expect you to know that obviously but anyway.. it is very nice.. obviously you have never been there .. probably never stepped foot out of the state you live in. So what if bammer was voted this or that so was Auburn.. check out college footballs article on the best SEC tailgating sites.. humm… bammer wasn’t even ranked… also check out the article on facilities etc.. where Auburn AND South Carolina rank head and heels above bammer who wasn’t even MENTIONED.. Get over your delusions please. It makes you look like an idoit.

  18. 20
    Bama Fan in NYC

    Ballplay, have we been to the same Aubarn? Where your downtown area is a vandalized crap hole, and the surrounding area is nothing but a ghettofied dump? The only thing nice in Aubarn is the art museum and Stanford Hall. Everything else is outdated and rundown. What about the street that intersects with Toomer’s corner? Have you ever been down that street before? Where all the abandoned buildings are and it’s just plain NASTY! And don’t forget all of the little shotgun houses on Pepperal Parkway, and all of the rundown restaurants and such. And Wire Road?????????

    And your neighborly city, Opelika, has got to be the nastiest “city” in the state of Alabama, and it’s full of thugs and trash.

    I don’t know what part of Tuscaloosa you’ve visited, but perhaps you should get around a little more. It’s a more civilized and cleaner city than Aubarn/Opelika is and that’s a fact!

  19. 21

    Auburn University’s campus isn’t an ugly campus, it just has an unattractive feel to it. Tuscaloosa isn’t that bad of a city either. It’s really no different than any other city of its kind. I live in Winter Park, FL. and it came in 33rd on the top 50 places to live in America list. Tuscaloosa coincidentally happens to be no different than Winter Park, only larger demographically. I’m not familiar with the name’s of any streets in Tuscaloosa, but I’ve seen more beauty than ugly, and several of the apartment complexes in the area are some of the nicest I’ve ever seen. But it is a growing city, therefore more apartments are being built left and right. I know when you enter the city of Tuscaloosa from 84 West (coming from Montgomery), that area is always heavily congested, but the area my friends live in is very nice and pleasant. Like I said though, it’s really no different than any other city in the state of Alabama.

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