Saban Must Repair Alabama Football

We have to hope the fix is in. No, not a Black Sox scandal of nearly a century ago, or even the Auburn basketball point shaving (How was that ever noticed?) crime of recent years.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban has to repair what is wrong with Crimson Tide football. He's done it before -- when he first arrived at Alabama prior to the 2007 season, and again following the disappointments of the 2008 (12-2) and 2010 (10-3) seasons. Interspersed among those years and the recently completed 11-2 season of 2013 are three national championship season.

"We have a formula that we try to follow here, and I think it's important that the players know that it's a formula that will help us be successful," Saban said following Bama's 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

The Process.

He added, "Some of the things we did tonight did not allow us to be successful."

Anyone who has examined the careers of two of Alabama's greatest coaches, Paul Bryant and Nick Saban, will likely come to the conclusion that among the reasons for their exraordinary success is them having a system; both a system they believed in and a system they were able to convince everyone in the program – players and coaches – that it is a system that will win.

A system is not an offensive or defensive scheme. Bryant won three national championships and more games than any team in the nation with a pro-style offense in the 1960s, then switched to the dramatically different wishbone offense in the 1970s and won three more national championships and more games than any other team in the decade.

We hear Saban talk about players "buying in." That is to the process, not to the particular schemes. Those schemes can change, and probably will have to change to match the opposition.

The belief in the systems were not the only reasons for the success of Bryant and Saban. There is intelligence. There is the willingness to work harder than anyone else in the program. And dozens of other attributes. And these attributes are also in many other coaches, including many against whom the Tide is competing.

Bryant and Saban have also had to deal with complacency. Bryant handled it with a renewed effort in recruiting. No one could say that Saban has not recruited well. He said things worth repeating in his post-Sugar Bowl remarks.

Saban said, "I think when you have the kind of success that we have had here in the past, it doesn't happen by accident. I think it takes a lot of hard work, and I think a lot of people have to buy in to doing things at a very high standard, which these seniors and a lot of former players have set. And we certainly didn't play maybe up to that standard tonight.

"We recognize that the result we got tonight was not really what we wanted it to be, but there's certainly some lessons to be learned and things that we can build on for the future.

"Even though we outgained them in the game, we probably gained enough yards, but we had four turnovers that led to 28 points, and one turnover in the red zone and one missed field goal in the first half, and those things probably were, you know, a big difference in the game.

"But we're all responsible for that, and as a coach and as a coaching staff, we need to do a much better job of getting our players prepared to be able to go out and play."

One thing is not going to change. A team that can beat the Crimson Tide has had monumental success. Saban has called it "the target on our back." In his compliment to Oklahoma, Saban made note of that. "You have to give Oklahoma's team a lot of credit," he said. "They were fired up and ready to play, like most teams we play. Everybody's got something to prove when they play against Alabama, and Oklahoma certainly did a good job in terms of how they performed tonight."

Saban was likely caught off guard by Alabama's performance in the game. There have been comparisons to, notably, the Sugar Bowl game at the end of the 2008 season, when Alabama seemed not to be motivated against Utah. That did not seem to be the case against Oklahoma. The problem was not the effort, but rather the execution.

"We practiced well," Saban said. "I can't blame it on that. I thought our team late in the season from the LSU game on maybe didn't have the focus we needed to have. We didn't pay attention to detail, didn't do little things right, didn't practice well. I think that eventually caught up with us in the Auburn game.

"But I actually thought that the players responded in practice pretty well for this game. And we put over 500 yards of offense up. Somebody had to do something right.

"I don't think that we played as well on defense as we're capable of or should have." He did point out that Alabama had a year of injury problems in the secondary, an area where the Tide could ill afford to lose depth.

The bottom line, though, Saban said, was "We didn't play well enough to win, and Oklahoma really outplayed us. And I really can't blame it on the lack of focus. I just don't think that our players realized sometimes that they won so much that they realize sometimes what it really takes to win every game and that you can never take anything for granted, and that everyone that plays us has something to prove. And they have to change the way they think, and that's difficult to do.

"And they've got to stick with the process with what they have to do to do it, and it's tough."

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