Hoover, Ala.—Since Nick Saban became the head coach in 2007, University of Alabama has:
**--Won five of the last 11 national championships.
**--Gone 83-13 in SEC play.
**--Won 11 games or more in 10 of the past 11 seasons.
Despite all that success, Alabama arrived at SEC Media Days on Wednesday with a rather large chip on its shoulder. And Saban put it there.
You see, the last time the Crimson Tide played a football game they got embarrassed by Clemson, 44-16, for the national championship. Alabama was outplayed and outcoached that night which is something not often said about the Tide since Saban got there in 2007.
“I think we didn’t play with the discipline at the end of the season that we’d like as a team,” Saban said. “I don’t think our preparation was what it needed to be. That’s my responsibility.”
Yes, it was his responsibility. On Nov. 3 Alabama improved its record to 9-0 by beating LSU 29-0 at Baton Rouge. It was one of Alabama’s most complete performances of the season.
“But after that we just didn’t play all that well,” he said. “We were getting the outcomes (wins) but we just were not playing well.”
Alabama would get it to 14-0 with wins over Mississippi State, The Citadel, Auburn, Georgia (SEC Championship game) and Oklahoma (CFP semifinals).
But it all came unglued against Clemson as Alabama looked like an unfocused team that wasn’t prepared. Clemson looked sharp.
There are a lot of reasons for that score. Alabama’s defense got out-schemed, leaving Justyn Ross, Clemson’s freshman wide receiver (from Phenix City, Ala.), open to make big plays. There were costly turnovers. But the reality was that Clemson was the better team and played like it.
Alabama’s young coaching staff was originally put into place because Saban was concerned that the previous staff had lost a step in recruiting, particularly to Georgia, where Kirby Smart, his former assistant, was building a recruiting juggernaut.
It worked as Alabama again signed the nation’s No. 1 class in the most recent recruiting cycle. But in the game with Clemson, which has had a lot of stability on Dabo Swinney’s staff, Saban and his staff had no answers.
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports reported that on Paul Finebaum’s SEC Network show on Wednesday Saban said that after the LSU game “it seemed like people’s own agendas became more important.”
So Saban brought in seven new coaches with very strong resumes and now the question must be asked: Will all of this staff turnover ultimately have some sort of negative impact on the Alabama program?
Saban has had big staff turnover before and his teams have not missed a beat. He readily admits he can be a tough boss and makes no apologies for it.
Now some have used this most recent episode to suggest that cracks might start to show in the Alabama dynasty.
Hard to see it happening in the 2019 regular season with a schedule that includes non-conference games against Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Mississippi and Western Carolina. The two potentially scary SEC road games are at Texas A&M (Oct. 12) and Auburn (Nov. 30).
And the players have bought into the narrative that lessons were learned in the Clemson beat down that can be carried forward.
“We lost (but) it was a good experience for our team entirely because a lot of us have come back,” said quarterback Tua Tagovailova. “And it is something what we don’t take for granted now. Winning isn’t something you should take for granted.”
“Yeah, it was a really tough loss. Clemson was a great team,” said Jerry Jeudy, Alabama’s all-world wide receiver. “But Coach Saban always says ‘So what, now what? What are we going to do about it to improve our game this year to not finish off the season like we did last year?”
Alabama lost seven underclassmen to the NFL Draft and had 10 total players—more than any other school—selected. But when the Associated Press preseason poll is released on Aug. 19, expect Alabama to be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 (behind Clemson).
On Thursday the assembled SEC Media will overwhelmingly vote for Alabama to win the SEC West again and will likely pick the Crimson Tide to win another SEC championship.
The point is this: If all those personnel losses are going to negatively impact the Alabama program, we probably won’t see it until the SEC championship game, that will likely be with Georgia.
And the point is also this: Conor O’Gara of Saturday Down South reminds us that in his 17 years as a head coach in the SEC (Five at LSU, 12 at Alabama), Saban has ended a season with a post-season loss five times. In four of those seasons, Saban’s next team won the national championship.
Just keep it in mind.