Nick Saban a victim of his own unprecedented success at Alabama
HOOVER, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban is an unsympathetic victim because he only has himself to blame.
Coming off his fourth national championship in seven seasons — fifth overall, having gotten one at LSU in 2003 — the Crimson Tide are sure to be No. 1 in the country again in the majority of the preseason polls.
A lot of traditional powers have expectations. Florida State in the ACC. Ohio State in the Big Ten. Texas in the Big 12. USC in the Pac-12. But college football is more important in the SEC than anywhere else in the nation. Therefore, expectations at ‘Bama at this stage of the Saban era are nothing short of crushing.
He has reached the point where anything other than a national title is a big disappointment for Tide fans.
“I think that we all sort of stand up here and talk about our team,” Saban said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. “And if the truth really be known, anything that I’m going to say about our team, because you all have seen spring practice. You know who’s coming back. You know who graduated. You already have what the issues are relative to the challenges that we have to solve for our team.”
There are surely a lot of coaches that would trade places with Saban in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t want his access to blue-chip recruits, first-class facilities, deep-pocketed alumni — everything necessary to dominate annually?
But be careful what you wish for, gentlemen. Miguel Cabrera isn’t expected to win the Triple Crown every season. LeBron James isn’t expected to record a triple-double every game. Alex Ovechkin isn’t expected to be given the Hart Trophy every year. When perfection is the standard, anything else is considered failure.
If Saban were a golfer, he couldn’t just win one major. He’d have to win the Grand Slam on a yearly basis.
“I’m going to sit up here and very seriously talk about our team,” he said. “And everything I’m going to say about our team, you’ve already written about. You’ve already written a story about. Somebody in this room has already written a story about what I’m going to talk about. But you’re going to be serious, and I’m going to be serious about talking about it again. That’s the way we do things.”
While Alabama is replacing a lot of talent off last year’s team — and in need of yet another quarterback — the cupboard is far from empty. The train of four- and five-star recruits runs non-stop to Tuscaloosa.
On the offensive side of the football, a handful of passers are still in the mix. The inexperienced duo of Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris takes over for Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the backfield. Four defenders were selected in the NFL Draft, while three more inked with franchises as undrafted free agents.
But there are no rebuilding years at ‘Bama. Not even if all 22 starters from 2015 were first-round picks.
“Our team has had a very good offseason,” Saban said. “I’ve been very pleased with the progress that we made. We obviously lost some really, really good players from last year’s championship team. Good leadership, good people, great team chemistry — all things that are intangibles that are difficult to build. And our challenge is to recognize as they develop, because those things just don’t happen overnight. It’s a work in progress, and it’s certainly been the case with our team this year.”
The Crimson Tide are coming off a 14-1 campaign that resulted in another ring. And yet still, in various pockets of the Yellowhammer State, two straight losses to Ole Miss — first time ever — is unforgivable.
As is his reputation in press conference settings, Saban shed very little new light on his 2016 squad when answering questions. He’s still waiting for the QB issue to resolve itself. Inexperience at running back is a concern. Turnover on his coaching staff has been addressed. There is no breaking news to report here.
“A year ago, I didn’t know that we were going to have that kind of team chemistry when I stood up here and talked to you,” he said. “I didn’t know we would have that kind of commitment. I didn’t know we would respond to adversity the way we did. And even though we’re trying to work on creating those things with the personality of this team, we don’t know that for sure either. But I’ve been pleased with the progress that we’ve made in the offseason, the spring practice that we had, the summer conditioning program.”
Saban deals with more pressure on a daily basis than any coach in America. And he handles it awfully well.