While Butch Jones won't call 9-4 a 'disappointment,' Nick Saban calls 14-1 a 'failure'
HOOVER, Ala. — Do you want to know the real difference between Alabama and, say, Tennessee? Besides all the success, of course.
The Crimson Tide admit their failures and talk about them openly, despite the fact that they don’t have very many of them. The Volunteers, conversely, not only run from their failures, they won’t acknowledge that they even happened.
The Vols were most everyone’s pick to win the East last year at Media Days, as they had a senior quarterback in Joshua Dobbs and returning starters at just about every position. But UT finished 4-4 in conference play — including hard-to-explain upsets at the hands of South Carolina and Vanderbilt — and didn’t make the league title game.
Nevertheless, coach Butch Jones felt the need to hand out participation trophies. He’s becoming a laughingstock on Rocky Top.
“I don’t view it as a disappointment,” Jones (below) said Monday. “The way I view it is we didn’t accomplish everything we set ourselves out to. And, again, our goal every year is to win a championship and compete to win a championship. So, was it a disappointment? No. Did we not accomplish some of the things we set out to do? Absolutely. We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better.”
‘Bama, on the other hand, ripped right through the SEC with an 8-0 record, destroyed East champion Florida in the (dearly departed) Georgia Dome and then did the same to Washington in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff.
The Tide were one second away from securing Saban’s fifth national title in a decade, but the 99th play Clemson ran at Raymond James Stadium — no one had ever run more against Big Al in the history of the program — was a game-winning touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow.
Literally a tick of the clock from 15-0 and yet another ring, but nobody in Tuscaloosa is interested in collecting silver medals.
“We really try to do it the same way because whether you win or lose, we’re always trying to self-assess to see what we need to do to get better,” Saban said Wednesday. “I think when you lose, everybody’s much more — the mindset is much more, ‘I’m willing to change. I want to learn. I don’t want to waste a failure. What could we have done better?’ Because everybody’s hurt by the fact that they lost, especially the way we lost that particular game on the last play of the game, but it wasn’t the last play. It’s what led up to the last play, and I think our players realize that.”
You heard him right. According to Saban, last season was a “failure.” A third straight SEC title. A third consecutive invite to the Final Four. All-Americans and future first-round draft picks all over the depth chart.
This is the impossible standard Saban has set, though. It’s national championship or bust, plain and simple. Saban’s greatest talent — I don’t know how he does it in this day and age — is keeping his guys hungry for more no matter how much they accomplish. The thrill of victory is miniscule compared to the agony of defeat.
Seemingly all of Saban’s 85 scholarship players buy in hook, line and sinker. His representatives in Hoover were crystal clear on the mission at hand.
“There’s a lot of hard competitors on our team, and with Coach Saban, we focus on the process,” said center Bradley Bozeman. “We push every day, and we try to be 1-0 at the end of every week. We try to do things that other people don’t want to do or can’t do. We just push it, break down barriers and knock down walls.”
Keep in mind that Alabama won it all in 2015, so most of the players on last season’s roster had already tasted confetti. But if anything, they wanted it even more this past year. It’s an itch that can simply never be scratched to satisfation.
“When you lose a big game like that, you definitely come into the next season with a chip on your shoulder,” said receiver Calvin Ridley (below). “We’re very excited to get out there. All our guys that did play in that game are really hungry to get back out there and play and show the world that we are one of the top teams in the nation.”
Meanwhile, Jones spent time in Knoxville spoon-feeding answers to the three kids he chose to bring with him. They took turns celebrating back-to-back nine-win seasons and three bowl victories in a row. But Crimson Tide safety Minkah Fitzpatrick only talked about one contest at length, and it was the last one.
“You always learn from a loss, and if you don’t, then that’s on you,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re definitely using the motivation, and we’re not letting small things slide. That’s the reason we lost last year because we let little things slide towards the end of the season and the championship game. We lost because of small details.”
While ‘Bama has somehow raised the bar for 2017, Tennessee would prefer to lower expectations for self-esteem purposes.
“It takes a tremendous amount of accountability to be able to execute and sustain the execution for 60 minutes in the game,” Saban said. “And we played against a really, really good team, which I think when you get in the playoffs, that should be what you expect. And we weren’t able to finish the game like we needed to. And I think there’s a lot of lessons to learn, and hopefully we won’t waste a failure.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey unveiled the “it just means more” slogan a year ago. The Tide accepted the challenge. The Volunteers didn’t get the memo.