Even the players are coached. Alabama may have hit a new standard when tailback Trent Richardson was prevented by one of the “media relations” members of the Bama staff from answering a question about the level of tailbacks in the SEC. Richardson is a grown man. He has two children. He has played for Nick Saban for two years. He can probably answer a question or make his own decision not to.
Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban has always been one of the best at providing information. True, it sometimes comes at a price if the coach thinks the question is without merit, and particularly if it asks for predictions or comparisons or hypotheticals. Saban actually goes a little easier on the media in an event where he is being questioned by those not familiar with his criteria.
Generally speaking, the coaches do not get into specifics about their teams until the question and answer period.
In his opening statement, Saban made two excellent points. The first is that Alabama has high standards. The second is that the standards make for challenges.
Although the standards in football have been long established, it is noteworthy that many of the players on the 2011 Alabama football team have been a part of the three previous teams, who have accounted for 36 victories and a national championship in three years.
The Alabama standard, though, goes beyond football victories.
“We're excited about the challenges of the season,” Saban said. “We're excited about the standard...at The University of Alabama. Not only in the winning football games side of it, but we've had some very compelling statistics from a personal development standpoint in terms of mental conditioning for success, peer intervention for leadership, behavioral issues, spiritual development--lots of very positive things that our players have engaged in.
“I feel like our players and our program are our greatest asset. I’m very pleased with the progress that they're making.
“We've also had some very good success academically in terms of graduation rate, APR, freshmen making SEC honor roll, those type of things that make us feel very, very good about the academic success that we're having with our players in our program, which is the goal: develop a career outside of athletics. That's why you come to college.”
Nevertheless, Saban and his coaches get the big bucks for the football success, and he has proved to be capable of helping his teams meet those challenges.
He said, “From a football standpoint, we've had a very good off-season. We have a little bit more maturity, a little better leadership on this team, a little more experience in a lot of ways. I've seen that in the way we've approached the off-season, spring practices, summer conditioning program, both on and off the field in how we've managed our business and conducted ourselves and the improvement that we've made.
“So, you know, I know there's always a high standard at The University of Alabama. We sort of relish that kind of challenging circumstance. I know there are high expectations.”
Therein lies the challenge. This will be a different team with some key elements from the past few seasons missing.
Saban said there are “question marks.”
He said, “I think the fact that we lost four guys that were first-round (NFL) draft picks at critical positions, two explosive players on offense in Mark Ingram and Julio Jones, a great defensive lineman who affected and dominated the game from his position in Marcell Dareus, and left tackle obviously, James Carpenter, one of the most critical positions in the offensive line.”
And, oh yeah, one other thing. Greg McElroy was the quarterback the past two years. He’ll be replaced by either A.J. McCarron or Phillip Sims, neither of whom has meaningful experience but both of who are talented.
The job now, Saban said, is “How we respond, how we address these question marks on our team will determine the consistency that our team can play with throughout the season.
“We have difficult games, like everybody in our league does. How we address the challenges of our team and play with consistency are going to determine the kind of success that we can have. It's all going to have to be done on the field.
“Just like I told the players in the beginning of the off-season program, ‘What investment are you willing to make to get a better result down the road?’
“That's a part of commitment, and that all determines the kind of consistency and performance you're going to have. Based on the investment you made in preparation, that's going to determine the kind of success that you can have. Knowing that everybody else is making the same kind of commitment for them to be successful, and that's what makes great competition.”
With quarterback and other positions, it seems that Alabama has capable players, even star level players based on the Tide having nine pre-season first team All-SEC players.
Saban said the challenge is taking those ingredients to form “the right kind of team chemistry, your team have the right stuff. I feel like this team has the ingredients for that, but that's always the challenge, because the consistency and performance is what helps you have successful seasons, especially in a league that's as challenging as ours.
“There was one point last year where five out of six teams in the SEC West were ranked in the top 20.
“Consistency and performance, how you play day in, day out, play in, play out, week in, week out, certainly determines the success that you have. The two goals we had in the off-season were to play better fundamentally and to eliminate mental errors, because when we did a quality control assessment on last season, those two things were major factors in whether we were successful or unsuccessful in our games.
That sounds really simple, but even though it's simple it's kind of the fact of the matter. So that has been our emphasis in this off-season, in spring practice, throughout the summer in terms of our team playing with a little bit more discipline as a team.”
In the question-answer session, Saban was asked about the challenge of winning the national championship, as Saban has done both at LSU and Alabama. The SEC has won five BCS championships in a row. As most successful managers, Saban is focused on the process, not the goal.
Saban said, “I think it speaks to the quality of our league, to the great job that we've done through the years in marketing our league on a national basis, not just a regional basis. And I think that's probably one of the keys with the SEC, is I kind of feel like we're the national league of college football.”
He cited things like television coverage and media exposure, but also got to the heard of it, the quality of the coaches and players.
He said that four different SEC schools winning the five championships was evidence of both the quality in the league and the parity.
“So I just think it's a very challenging league to play in. I think it's very difficult to have that kind of standard of excellence. But with the quality of players, coaches and programs that we have, it would not surprise me if we can continue to at least have someone in a position to have an opportunity to be in the championship game again.”
Now, we've had a bit of a challenging off-season with some of the things that have happened in our community, the tragedy of the tornado. I would definitely like to thank so many people who have made a positive contribution to helping rebuild our community, clean up our community. Kenny Chesney made a tremendous donation, Taylor Swift to Nick's Kids in an effort to clean up and rebuild communities.
But I think the people of the state of Alabama have been stellar in how they reacted to help each other sort of rebuild our communities.