2010 Tide Lost More Than Talent

About midway through this football season a relatively innocent remark--a remark taken by some to be a positive--set off alarm bells. An Alabama player listed a large number of teammates he considered to be leaders. There were too many. Like a team with two quarterbacks really not having one, Alabama didn't seem to have real leaders.

As Alabama frittered away a 24-point lead in losing a 28-27 game to Auburn to end the regular season Friday, there were questions about Crimson Tide toughness and Bama heart, as well as play selection and routine execution. As has been pointed out for about as long as games have been played, when a team loses by one point there are many, many dozens of plays on which the outcome could have turned.

Alabama has finished regular season play at 9-3, the Crimson Tide having failed by a great distance to repeat as national champion (not a realistic expectation, probably, considering the talent loss from last year). There remains a way to finish the season with a bit of good taste, a bowl victory that increases Alabama's record of 10-win seasons, bowl game appearances, and bowl game victories.

But on the whole, this will not be considered a good Alabama team. And remember back to the heady days of September when Bama was a unanimous number one in the nation.

Now Alabama will finish the season not in Glendale and the BCS National Championship Game, but in Dallas or Atlanta, Orlando or Tampa.

From the start of bowl preparation through the off-season program, spring football practice, summer workouts, and August camp, Alabama Coach Nick Saban can work the process of building his team back to championship contender. He's done it before.

And he'll do a better job of it if team leaders emerge. Among Alabama losses from the 14-0 team of 2009 were the likes of Mike Johnson, a left guard. Football teams may not win a lot of games because they have the nation's best left guard (and that's not to say that Johnson was or was not the nation's best). But football teams win with leaders like Mike Johnson. Last season one could feel his leadership and see it in action when Alabama needed those crucial yards.

This year the talk among players was that there were more leaders. But there wasn't a Mike Johnson.

On defense there wasn't a Rolando McClain. Not just McClain the Butkus Award winning linebacker and not just McClain the man who could call signals and get his team into position. McClain the leader.

The resolve of a Javier Arenas on defense and on special teams was leadership.

Players talk about leadership by example, and that is legitimate. Bama players certainly looked up to Julio Jones, who has played to record-breaking levels despite a broken hand and numerous other injuries.

The media doesn't get to talk to every Alabama football player (not for the same reasons Auburn doesn't allow Cam Newton to be questioned, though). Sportswriters are given a few minutes each week with a long list of players, including some of the finest young men who have ever gone through The University.

University President Dr. Robert Witt surrely appreciates one aspect of Alabama football. This is a cerebral lot, the players who meet the press each week.

They include very, very good players. Mark Ingram, Greg McElroy, Barrett Jones, Julio Jones, Preston Dial, Marcell Dareus, Robert Lester, and others. But none emanates the leadership of Mike Johnson, Rolando McClain, and Javier Arenas.

It is said that leaders are made. That needs to be a part of the process for 2011.

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