Within moments of his appearance before reporters at Wednesday’s Southeastern Conference Media Days event in Hoover, more than one reporter heard Saban’s explanations as “excuses.”
One of his explanations was something of a carryover from his earlier complaints of the hurry-up, no-huddle, spread type offenses that don’t give the defense time to make personnel adjustments. But he wasn’t complaining about other teams doing that. In fact, he pointed out that Alabama had become something of a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” type of team, often playing no huddle.
As a result, he said, the defense played about 170 more plays than the previous year, the equivalent of two to three games more.
“We have to manage the season better,” Saban said. “We’re going to have to do a better job of keeping our team where they need to be so that we can finish strong.”
That may have sounded like an excuse to some. It sounded more like someone realizing he needs to learn from what went wrong.
Regarding the fast-paced game, Saban said it has affected the game “tremendously.
He said, “Being an old NFL guy, the way you play defense in the NFL is you play a lot of specialty defense because everything is based on situations.
“What pace of play has done to the college game does not allow to you do that. So you have to basically play the same players in every situation because, if you do play situation defense and you're allowed to sub in that particular situation, you can't get the players out of the game.
“So it affects how you recruit. You can't recruit as many specialty players. And you have to be able to match up in all circumstances and situations with teams that actually play that way, which is more difficult. I don't think there's any question about the fact that it's more difficult to play defense, and I think that's why you see more points being scored, and I don't think that trend's going to change any time soon.”
Again, simply stating the facts, and saying that he is making adjustments.
The other perceived excuse is something that has affected Alabama to a much greater degree than almost all other schools because Alabama has so many players – and particularly players with eligibility remaining – declaring for the NFL draft.
In answer to a question regarding underclassmen receiving “grades” as to where they might be drafted and those grades arriving just before the first of the year when major bowl games are played, Saban said he thought it would be beneficial to teams in that situation if the NFL could wait until after all competition has been completed before sending those out. Players with eligibility remaining must apply for that grade by Dec. 15 and it usually comes back about 10 days later.
Saban said he felt that Alabama was not the same team in the SEC Championship Game as it was when it lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. “It was affected by something,” he said. “I think it’s my obligation as a coach to inform that young man when I get that information because it’s his information; it’s not my information.
“And we’re talking about a young person who has to deal with a lot now. We had six guys in this situation this past year and 11 the year before.
“So we’re trying to get ready for a game and all of a sudden a guy finds out he’s a first round draft pick, or a guy that thought he was a first round draft pick finds out that he’s not.”
Saban’s point – and he’s made it before, prior to last year’s CFP game – is that he thinks the colleges in that situation would benefit by delaying the draft information for men with eligibility remaining until after that season’s competition.
“We’ve moved the draft back,” he said. “We have not moved the date that a player has to declare back.”
One question has been whether it would affect recruiting if it came closer to the signing date, the first Wednesday in February. Saban has previously said that he has a good idea of which players will be electing to leave for the NFL early before they get the grades, so he could predict that an Amari Cooper would be leaving Bama after his junior year and Saban could manage the recruiting numbers.