HOOVER, Ala. — New hip. New coaching staff. Same expectations.
The details might be a little different, but for Alabama coach Nick Saban it was business as usual at SEC media days on Wednesday. He went through the usual routine in terms of interviews and making the rounds around the Wynfrey Hotel, yet the message never wavered.
“The key to us, the key to our success, is can we internally re-establish the standard of what we need to do to be the best team that we can be,” he said. “And that's got to be something that's done on a consistent basis, and it has to be able to sustain the season.
“That’s a challenge for all of us.”
Returning to the “Alabama standard” has been the theme of the entire offseason for the Crimson Tide coming off the 44-16 loss to Clemson in the National Championship Game. The defeat is still a bitter pill to swallow, but history tells us that Saban teams are most dangerous when not ranked No. 1.
Consequently, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that he came across as all business here.
“I can't really pinpoint anything,” he said when asked about the secret of his success. “I know it comes from having really good people in your organization, whether it's your administration, your athletic director and athletic department, the coaching staff that you have, the kind of players that you're able to attract, and the people who can support and influence the players in a positive direction.
“Beyond that, there's a lot of hard work and trying to do things the right way. And I'm sort of a perfectionist by nature. I know you can't be perfect, but we're always working to try to close the gap on perfect if we can and get everybody in the organization to try to do the same.”
The pursuit has led to a busy, albeit quiet, offseason in Tuscaloosa, which is just the way the coach prefers. So there was almost no talk about arrests, suspensions or offseason drama during the league’s kickoff event.
Instead, maybe the toughest question the coach fielded was regarding his coaching staff turnover, which included seven hires this offseason, and if he was difficult to work for:
“I don't know,” he responded. “You have to ask some of the people that work for me. Always interesting that, you know, they may say that, but then when they get a job and they go do it, they do it exactly like we did it.”
Not quite as telling was Saban talking about being 16-0 against his former assistant coaches.
“I think that's not a very fair stat,” Saban said. “All of the former assistants that we have, they get jobs. They don't take a program over that has the established, you know, talent, culture, and all that that we have at Alabama. So when they get the opportunity to establish those things in their program, they're going to be able to beat Alabama and compete with Alabama.
“So that's something that — most of the time when you get a job, it's because the guy that was before you didn't do a very good job, so you have lots of work to do to bring that team to that level. And obviously, you know, I think a lot of those guys are going to be able to do that extremely well. Some have done it already. So, I think it's a matter of time until those challenges get greater and greater for us.”
Specific to football, Saban disclosed that wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs III are among those who will get a look at kick returns.
At interior linebacker Joshua McMillon has the experience he’s looking for next to Dylan Moses —“He is a thumper. He's very physical”— but the senior might not be an every-down defender.
Instead, there could potentially be a committee of players filling a variety of roles depending on the situation (nickel formation, dime, etc.)
Otherwise, Saban disclosed his hip is back to full strength following replacement surgery, although half-joked he didn’t want that out yet as there are few more chances to play golf before training camp (opponents have been mistakenly giving him some extra strokes).
When doctors limited Saban to using nothing longer than a 5-iron earlier this summer they might have been doing him a favor. While not trying to muscle the ball he posted a 77.
He’s since been clear to swing away. The rest of college football kind of knows what that feels like as he’s been teeing off on everyone else for years.