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 arenâ€™t playing hard.
â€œWe’ve improved our talent level, but, again, the frustrating part for us is the effort level,â€ Spurrier said. â€œOur guys are not conscious of playing their assignment as perfectly as they can. I know everybody has that problem.â€
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 routesâ€”almost looking as if they were just going through the motions.
When the players arenâ€™t focused, they arenâ€™t making plays. And, the record suffers. Spurrier lost five straight, and Alabamaâ€™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.
â€œQ. 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?â€
Saban and mediocrity arenâ€™t something often used in the same sentence. Saban talks about dominating opponents, being the best you can be. However, last yearâ€™s team was anything but dominate.
If anything, last yearâ€™s team excelled only in bad headlines. Headlines like 10 arrests.
Arrests arenâ€™t only happening in Tuscaloosa. One of Spurrierâ€™s best prospects canâ€™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.
â€œStephen could be back,â€ Spurrier said. â€œThe 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.â€
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 Petrinoâ€™s stay in Atlanta wouldâ€™ve been better?
Even Petrino knows that to be the case. He said one of the reasons he went to Atlanta was the quaterback.
â€œThey had a quarterback at that time that I thought could be real special,â€ Petrino said. â€œSo that played a lot into it, too.â€
All these things, records, arrests, national perception of coaches bolting from the NFL, play a role in the most critical element of college footballâ€”recruiting.
â€œObviously when you lose your last four or five games, it does not help recruiting,â€ Spurrier said. â€œIt doesn’t help at all.â€
Petrino has grappled with the Atlanta situation while on the recruiting trail.
â€œIt always came up in the home. There’s no question about that,â€ Petrino said. â€œBut 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.â€
Alabamaâ€™s off-the-field arrests have been mentioned during recruiting, and will continue to be mentioned by the media and rival coaches.
Sabanâ€™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.