In the early part of this century, which seems like a century ago, Alabama Coach Dennis Francione had a theme for his team: Hold the rope. Although most Crimson Tide fans would now detest anything associated with Francione, who left Bama for Texas A&M, his thought was a good one, that every man had to do his part for his teammates in order to achieve success.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban has a constant message of players being responsible to one another to do their jobs.
As the team prepared for its third practice of fall camp with an open-to-the-public workout at Bryant-Denny Stadium Thursday, Saban addressed factors important to success.
“Our team is only going to do as well as the players can learn to develop an ability to execute on a consistent basis,” he said. “Everybody must buy into the same principles and values and meet the standard you have to do it. The standard is really critical and sometimes leadership has to continue to affect layers so we get more and more players to that standard.”
And the coach offered an analogy.
“Do you want to be a thermometer, which goes up and down with the circumstances around it, or do you want to be a thermostat, which creates the same temperature all the time, with consistency you can count on, depend on, trust in, believe in.
“That’s what we’re trying to gain. Everyone is individually responsible for that. The coaches are responsible to try to get the individuals to be responsible for that. We’re working on trying to develop a consistency.”
Much of the interest Sunday was on young players, and particularly newcomers. Saban said one of the issues with young players is that they are trying to hard to do things the right way that they get in their own way in being able to learn.
Saban spoke prior to Bama going to Bryant-Denny Stadium for a Sunday afternoon practice that was open to the public.
He said that newcomers are particularly challenged in the early days of fall camp. “A lot of young players really want to do well, have high expectations coming in. Some of those expectations have been created by external factors.
“But that also creates a risk-aversive ‘I don’t want to mess up’ attitude.
“It makes it more difficult for them to just be free and go compete and play hard and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
“You go back to that old NIKE commercial – ‘Just Do It!’ In some cases that’s what we’re trying to get our players to do – just do it. Playing fast, playing hard, being aggressive. That kind of mental energy is really important to being a good player. When you get risk-aversive and you don’t want to make mistakes or mess upo, it can actually hinder your ability to learn and grown and perform like we’d like for them to.”
That said, Saban continued, “There's a lot of learning that everybody's trying to go through. I think that it's a little bit of human nature for people not to want to mess up. I think that creates a lot of anxiety.”
Although some may consider Alabama the Cadillac of college football programs, particularly after two national championships in the past three years, Saban went a little closer to home for an analogy. A Mercedes-Benz plant is on the outskirts of the Tuscaloosa city limits in Vance.
Saban said when he made his first tour of the lant, “They had this clothesline working through the whole assembly line.”
Saban asked about the clothesline and was told it was part of the quality control. Any worker on the assembly line who has a problem is to pull on the clothesline, which stops the assembly line so that the problem can be fixed.
Saban said he thought that sounded great and asked what the biggest problem with it was.
He was told, “Getting people to pull the cord, because nobody wants to think that thieer part of it’s not working, that they’re doing it wrong, that they’re not doing it the right way.”
And that, said Saban, is the problem young players have in the early days of practice.
“You've got all these new players that don't know what they're doing, but they don't want anybody to think they don't know what they're doing, so they become very risk aversive and sort of don't go play fast and don't want to make a mistake. So they do everything very tentatively. What we're trying to get those players to understand is giving effort, playing fast, playing with good intangibles is the most important thing that you can do. You will learn from the mistakes that you make; allow yourself to make them. We'll teach you from that.”
Alabama is coming off a 12-1 season and the Crimson Tide’s 14th national championship, second under Saban. Bama has been ranked among the top teams in the nation in pre-season polls.
Saban isn’t interested in that.
“Our focus,” he said, “is developing a synergy on our team that is the goal of our team, to be relentless competitors, to be a team nobody really want to play, by the effort, the toughness, the ability to be relentless and sustain for 60 minutes in the game every play in the game like it has a history and a life of its own. That's why we have to condition and work, to get our players to buy in, believe in, have passion for, want to be, and all that. That's what our focus is right now. That's what we're trying to do in camp.”