Capstone Saturdays: Fire When Ready, Aight?

Editorial Cartoon: Fire When Ready, Aight?

I continue to be utterly amazed by the job Nick Saban has done and continues to do at Alabama. When you stop and think about what he’s accomplished in just three short years, it is staggering.

First, there was the change of perception. Momentum and buzz stepped off the plane with him that cold January day in 2007, and has never left. Even a ho-hum 2007 season suggested a strong foundation was being laid for the future. Few programs get beyond the “buzz” of a new hire to actual on-the-field success.

Then there was his first full recruiting class in 2008, a consensus #1, which to this point has gone unmatched in this state by anyone but himself the following year.

Then there was the 12-2 season in 2008, which included an undefeated regular season, an appearance in the SEC Championship game, and prolonged national recognition that Alabama was again a contender.

His second “mythical” national championship in recruiting soon followed in 2009, ridiculed by our rivals as being much ado about nothing. After all, rankings and stars don’t matter (remember that line?).

Then, of course, arguably the most decorated season in Alabama history…the state, not just the university.  No other program in the yellowhammer state, Crimson or other, has ever gone 14-0, won the west, won the conference, won the Heisman and won the BCS National Championship in the same year. Crystal, baby.

Time to rest, right? After all, we currently sit atop the college football world. Alabama has replaced the USC’s, Texas’s and Florida’s of the world as the most dominate program in the country. Truly a force to be reckoned with. A team you’ll need more than luck to stay in the game with, let alone defeat.

And Saban made that happen after only two full recruiting classes on the job. But then, he does it again.

The 2010 class again ranked in the top five, coming in at #3 or #4 twice, depending on which major recruiting service you’re paying attention to (ESPN, Scout and Rivals, respectively). Coupled with our back-to-back  #1 classes, 2010’s class appears larger than normal. We’re not adding talent to a good team. We’re adding a layer of gold to a foundation of platinum.

It’s amazing that just four years ago…four years…if we could just land talent that would get us mentioned in or near the top ten programs in the country, it was a bright day. There was hope. The Tide was turning. But now, if Alabama doesn’t finish first in recruiting, the Alabama media…especially in Birmingham…paints it as an epic fail. If you listen to talk radio or read the garbage otherwise known as the Birmingham News, you’d think we didn’t even bother this year.

I love it. We are back.

I echo our BCS National Championship coach who indicated that he doesn’t give a Chizik what anybody thinks. We are the enemy, we are the target, and baby, we got the artillery to do whatever we want to whomever we face.

Take Abarn.  Abarn is the consummate example of the fat kid down the street who’s never done or been anything, but one day experiences some good fortune.  It’s a feel good story.  Everybody looks at one another with a goofy smile and utters “awww”.  The fat little guy you usually feel sorry for had something go his way.

Abarn had a great class this year, there’s no doubt. But all but one recruiting service still has them looking at our backs, and yet the spin afforded from the Scarbinsky’s, Goldbergs, Marshalls, and Matthews of the world leaves you dizzy and a little nauseous.

In contrast, with his usual dose of reality, I like the way Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News put it on the Finebaum Show Wednesday afternoon:

“Auburn didn’t gain ground on Alabama, and Alabama didn’t lose ground to Auburn. Auburn simply didn’t lose ground to the Alabama’s and Florida’s of the world this year.”

And as he said on another occasion on the same show, “Auburn is chasing a target (Alabama) that itself isn’t standing still.”

Cecil’s take on Florida may be partially incorrect, as Florida’s class in 2010 can only be described as unprecedented.  But consider that 2009’s haul for the Gators was ranked in the vicinity of eleventh by most services, and that after winning a National Championship.

There is such a thing in recruiting as “championship hangover”, as essentially you lose two weeks of being able to focus on recruiting, thanks to the championship games you’re preparing for. And most hurtful, the “big one” comes one week after every else’s bowl game, roughly a month before signing day. Saban lightly mentioned this in his presser on Wednesday.

But that Alabama is seven or eight places better than where the Gators were a year ago, just a few weeks after stashing our hardware from ’09, I’d say we’ve shed the hangover to reload and get ready for battle. The early indications of what’s coming for 2011 suggest a similar recruiting tsunami, as National Championships usually pay higher dividends on high school juniors than they do seniors.

A few recruiting stories of note…

  • I’m so glad that the days are gone where we used to have to cater to a prima donna recruit and take a family member too in order to land him. Take a hike bro. Homey don’t play that. Oh, and enjoy watching us play for the Crystal while you’re back home after your Outback Bowl.
  • We didn’t get an offensive lineman that we courted only eight days, and that after realizing we weren’t getting a more desired target. Though the press has tried to inflate this story…after all, it’s fodder for another Scarbinsky article, I’m sure…this was really the lone disappointment. But disappointment likened to realizing that there are only six layers in what you thought was a seven layer chocolate cake. In a year where the OL wasn’t particularly a high priority, we missed out on a plan B after courting him about a week.
  • I thought Saban’s barbs on the negative recruiting used by our rivals was particularly amusing. Does anyone else get the idea that he regards them as complete bullChizik?
  • Again, I’ve already alluded to it, but this class stacked on top of our previous two classes makes it that much more devastating for our opponents. It’s like putting a Rottweiler on the backs of two Pit Bulls, whereas by itself it’s an ill-tempered German Shepherd. Alone it’d still have bite, but coupled with the others, it’ll kill you.
  • What is more difficult…convincing top talent to come to your program where they’ll see the field next fall, or convincing like or better talent to come to your program where they likely won’t play till their sophomore or junior seasons? Yep, I agree.

In short, Bama fan, what you are witnessing now is simply amazing, unlike anything you’ve ever seen in your lifetime, or at least since the 70’s. Pick a year from our illustrious history and chances are none of the players from that team could displace any of the starters on our current team.

And my only advice both to friends and foe is this: Get used to it. In his own words a few weeks ago, Saban said himself “This is only the beginning.” It tickles me when the delusional rival mutters “Saban will be gone after (insert year or scenario here).” This is the way it’s going to be for a long, long time. Top five classes are the norm, not the out-of-the-shoes-swing it is at some programs. Revisiting this topic a year from now will be interesting.

We have reloaded. We’ve filled our needs. We’re still hungry. And we’re getting ready for battle again. Fire when ready, aight?