Alabama football 2010: Remember you are mortal

It wasn’t the play calling. It wasn’t the coaching.

The truth is Alabama’s offense sucked in 2010 because it could not run the ball.

It is simple.

However, it is puzzling. How could a team with such quality backs fail to move the ball on the ground? These same backs dominated the 2009 season.

The problem with the ground game was exacerbated by Alabama’s inability to throw the ball deep. That is just one element of the issue. People knew in 2009 that Alabama was going to run first.

Cecil Hurt calls for Alabama to return to its roots—to find the toughness it exhibited in 2009 ( This is a wise recommendation. It is necessary for Alabama to run the football to make its offense work. You don’t always need 10 yards or five yards. You run to keep teams honest. But the opposite of that is true too. You pass deep to keep the defense honest. If everything happens within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, it makes things easier on the defense.

Fans focus on playcalling and coaching.

It is NEVER play calling.

And just for those that missed it. It is never play calling.

It is always execution. Sure, you can help yourself schematically or with creative play selection, but what good is a creative play if you can’t execute it? If you can’t block the right guy or cover your man?

And this returns us to the key point. What is football at its most basic level? Blocking and tackling.

If you can’t block, you can’t run the football. If you can’t tackle, then you can’t stop the other team. It is a statement heard often; it is a cliché because it is true.

In some cases, the failure to block and tackle is a failure of coaching. If you remember Mike Shula’s teams at Alabama, the teams lacked the ability to execute short yardage plays because the team was not conditioned to make the yards in the fourth quarter. This was a titanic failure of coaching. Shula could not (or would not) hold the players accountable. You could also see this in his administrative responsibilities on his coaching staff—Shula would not hold himself or his subordinates accountable.

So, what about the 2010 coaching staff? Were Alabama Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban and his staff at fault? Someone somewhere will likely try to fault this staff. However, it would be a mistake. Why? The staff put this team into position to win games. The failures were always failures of execution.

In the world of business, I have a friend who worked in sales with a company and faced a price disadvantage. Did this stop the good worker? No. The hard worker devised a strategy and executed it to achieve the best results. The good worker overcomes the opposition even when the other guy knows your strategy. So it is in football. The other guy may know your play, but it up to you to do your job—to block the other guy or make the tackle. You can help with play calling, but the root is always execution.

Execution can be a coaching problem (see Shula or Dubose.) However, it is often a problem of focus, dedication and experience. Without the right focus, a team will not learn the sophisticated schemes. Without the right attitude, a team will not spend the required time on film study or conditioning or building skill. Without experience, the team will not ignore those who trumpet its praise.

This is the best diagnosis for 2010. It was not one thing, but many things. The defense was often confused by the complicated schemes the staff demanded. This is a product of youth and learning to play in the SEC. The team was not “tough” as identified by many fans and the impressive Cecil Hurt. This is a product of attitude and inexperience—if you believe you are great, why expend extra effort?

There were personnel issues too. What are the most prized defensive positions in the NFL? The answer is corner and rush defensive end. Where are Alabama’s corners from the 2009 season playing this year? They are playing on Sunday. But, personnel issues were not the determinative factor. It contributed, but of greater issue was the attitude in the program.

So what is the root problem? The team believed it was good without putting in the work required to be good. It is not that the team was lazy. The team worked hard; but sometimes you must work above what is asked. In business, the best performers are the ones who work without ceasing. These people pour every ounce of themselves into the problem. Can football be any different?

The Alabama coaching staff can only ask so much of a team. The players must possess the self-motivation to go further. The team leaders must demand a level of accountability. The 2008 and 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide teams possessed this type of leadership. It was missing in 2010.

This is not a coaching problem or a play calling problem. This is about achieving at the highest levels. If you do not go beyond the demands of your boss, you won’t achieve your desires. This team never looked beyond what the staff demanded. That doesn’t work in business. It won’t work in football.

At Alabama’s triumph following the successful 2009 campaign, the football team was celebrated in a ceremony at Bryant-Denny. Like in Rome, these men were cheered and honored. However, one thing was missing—the friend whispering in the ears of the 2010 team this warning: Remember you are mortal.

Mortals have to work harder. Maybe the 2011 team will heed the warning of the 2010 team.