What comes next for Alabama?

The old man and the Tide: What comes next?

By Hunter Ford

A few weeks ago Nick Saban said he was “too damn old” to start over as a head coach at a new school. That’s a good thing, because he will have his hands full rebooting the Alabama Crimson Tide after a disappointing two-game losing streak.

I’m confident there are many great games ahead for Saban and Alabama as we enter a new era of college football playoffs. Alabama will lose many of the key players that helped it win back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012. But there will be plenty of talent for Saban to mold into another championship team.

Losing to Auburn in the last second, and being embarrassed by a fired-up Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl may be a blessing in disguise for Alabama. Saban’s pre-Sugar Bowl comments seem prophetic now.

“When you have a disappointment, sometimes you are more ready to respond,” he said.

Saban said players must “buy-in” to the standards of the program and to the goals set for it. And if some players don’t do that, they shouldn’t be playing. “We got away from that, and it caught up to us. If some players don’t buy-in, we need to play the players that do.” The Tide didn’t measure up in New Orleans, but Saban will continue doing what he does best.

Saban is a great coach. He’s a tireless worker on the recruiting trail and in game preparation. If he has a real weakness as a coach, it may be that he is not a great tactician on game day. In most cases, if one of his teams falls behind early to another talented team, they can’t recover. Saban seems to be all about dominance and consistency. As much as he preaches that, realistically, it is impossible to sustain. There has to be some failure mixed in somewhere along the way. As great as the thrill of victory is, the agony of defeat is sometimes required to put everything in perspective.

Saban’s legacy as a great coach began at Michigan State when his Spartans upset number one Ohio State and a highly ranked Notre Dame in 1998. However, the Spartans lost three close games to end the season at 6-6 and miss a bowl game. Those losses were mired by “turnovers, defensive lapses, and special teams misplays. ” Sound familiar?

Saban bolted for LSU following a more successful 9-2 campaign in 1999. He had never won more than nine games in a season as a head coach until 2001 when he led the Tigers to a 10-3 record and SEC Championship. His LSU record, which also included the 2003 national championship, was still an up-and-down affair, with two 8-5 marks and a 9-3 tally his final year in Baton Rouge.

It was only when Saban and his relentless pursuit of perfection joined with the Alabama Crimson Tide program that his “process” truly came to fruition. I believe his philosophy of “doing the little things right” and being “consistent” have finally taken full root in a program that was founded on those principles from Bryant and further back by Thomas and Wade.

Take away the 7-6 transition year of 2007, and Saban has won an average of 12 games per year for six years. That includes two SEC titles and three BCS championships. I believe Saban has finally found his true home in college football.

As for the season ending disappointments this year? I went to bed on the night of the Sugar Bowl, watching a biography of Ernest Hemingway. I was reminded about his story The Old Man and the Sea, where the old fisherman battles a huge marlin to his boat only to have sharks eat it before he can haul it to shore. This Alabama football season felt like that. We had the big prize lashed to the boat. We just couldn’t keep away from the sharks at the end. But:

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
—Ernest Hemingway- The Old Man and the Sea

“Is everybody going to go dig deep and get back to being the kind of players they’re capable of being in terms of being able to execute for every play of the game for sixty minutes? Until we go play, nobody really knows. That’s why we play.”
—Nick Saban- The Alabama Crimson Tide

Happy New Year, 2014. ROLL TIDE!