Alert: Alabama's Nick Saban Willing To Adapt

Football is not rocket science, but the men who have been most successful as football coaches have been brilliant men who likely would have risen to the top in whatever field they had chosen. In the military they would have been generals, in business CEOs.

Alabama has been fortunate to have had more than its share of these greats, and they have the national championship pedigree to prove it. Wallace Wade was the first great Alabama coach. Frank Thomas succeeded him and equaled Wade’s success. Paul Bryant is considered by many the greatest of all time. Gene Stallings took over and put Bama back at the top of the heap after a decade of (by Crimson Tide standards) mediocrity.

And now Nick Saban is generally considered the best coach in college football.

All of these men were capable recruiters and surrounded themselves with excellent coaches.

As one who has covered Alabama from the last half of the extraordinary quarter of a century under Bryant through the first eight years of the exceptional Saban era, a regular question has been in recent years whether Saban has surpassed Bryant as the greatest coach in storied Crimson Tide history.

The answer has been the same. Both were the best of their eras.

That truly is a compliment to Saban, because Bryant continues as the benchmark – not only at Alabama, but in the history of college football.

For as long as the game has been played, the very best teams are those who win the war in the trenches. Blocking and tackling get the job done.

But the game changes, and not just in changing from leather helmets to modern headgear with facemasks. The best coaches still teach blocking and tackling, but they adapt to changes in the game. There is a back-and-forth, predicated primarily on offensive innovations.

One could see that in Bryant, who had played under Thomas at Alabama as an end in the Notre Dame box formation. As a coach he used the tight T, split T, I-formation, pro-set, and finished his career with a 12-year run in the wishbone, winning three national championships and nine Southeastern Conference titles in that period alone. He had won three national championships at Bama before switching to the wishbone.

He also used a variety of defenses. When head coach at Kentucky he devised the so-called Oklahoma defense, and used it to defeat the powerful Sooners in the Sugar Bowl. At Alabama he was mostly a proponent of the odd-man front, but also used the four-man at times.

One of the big items of discussion in college football this year is the news that Nick Saban plans to change his defense because of the proliferation of spread offenses. “Change” may be a bit of an exaggeration. Saban plans to adapt.

Saban likely would like to keep things the way they were. After all, in his eight seasons at Alabama he has won three national championships and has done it in great part by having defensive teams that smothered the opposition. Change, though, has come.

Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart’s revelation that in 2011, when Alabama won the national championship in the Sugar Bowl with a 21-0 win over LSU, the Tide defense had to be concerned with only five run-pass option plays, and that Bama had to face over 120 such plays last year, tells the story; or, at least, part of it.

Everyone hasn’t gone spread. Some (Alabama is one) continue to play a pro-style offense, and to recruit players who want to perform in that offense with the hope of having a further career in the NFL.

And so Saban is in the process of developing a defense that will have what he calls “quick twitch” guys who can play against the spread, but will also have men who can play the rough and tumble real men game against the physical teams.

Saban has repeated several times the goals of having a defense that doesn’t depend on his pro-style philosophy of being able to match up against offensive schemes with “specialty players” in special situations. The no-huddle offenses don’t allow the substitution necessary to do that.

The end game is that Alabama must be better in takeaways (the Tide last year was minus 2 in takeway-turnover ratio), better against explosive plays, and better on third down plays.

Saban said there were no common problems last year, when Alabama was below Tide standards in those areas.

“We gave up explosive runs, which is a team defense thing,” he said. “We gave up explosive passes, which sometimes we made mistakes in the secondary and didn’t have enough respect for the deep part of the field. Sometimes we made mental errors.

“We gave up eight explosive plays last year when the quarterback scrambled, which has a lot do do with the front being able to handle the quarterback with the rush.

“I don’t think it’s any particular thing. I think you just have to execute better relative to the situation.”

Saban has always had defensive goals, and he said those haven’t changed because opposing offenses are more creative and more explosive and scoring at a higher rate.

“We leave [the goals] as they are because they’re still our goals and our benchmark,” he said.

In 2011, Alabama led the nation in defensive scoring, allowing 8.2 points per game. Last year, he said, Ole Miss led the nation in defensive scoring allowing 16 points per game. Bama last year allowed 18.4 points per game and was sixth in the nation in scoring defense.

“We still want to give up 13 points or less every game, and we feel like we can do that regardless of what the other team does if we execute,” Saban said.

But there has to be adaptation many weeks when the Tide can’t play the defense it would like.

Saban said, “We have to get more players that can do the job every down, and I think we’ve done a better job of doing that, and I think our players are more equipped to do that right now.”

Alabama will have its first fall camp scrimmage Saturday as the Crimson Tide continues preparations for the opening game Sept. 5 against Wisconsin.


BamaMag Top Stories

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\r\nAlabama has been fortunate to have had more than its share of these greats, and they have the national championship pedigree to prove it. Wallace Wade was the first great Alabama coach. Frank Thomas succeeded him and equaled Wade’s success. Paul Bryant is considered by many the greatest of all time. Gene Stallings took over and put Bama back at the top of the heap after a decade of (by Crimson Tide standards) mediocrity.\r\n

\r\nAnd now Nick Saban is generally considered the best coach in college football.\r\n

\r\nAll of these men were capable recruiters and surrounded themselves with excellent coaches.\r\n

\r\nAs one who has covered Alabama from the last half of the extraordinary quarter of a century under Bryant through the first eight years of the exceptional Saban era, a regular question has been in recent years whether Saban has surpassed Bryant as the greatest coach in storied Crimson Tide history.\r\n

\r\nThe answer has been the same. Both were the best of their eras.\r\n

\r\nThat truly is a compliment to Saban, because Bryant continues as the benchmark – not only at Alabama, but in the history of college football.\r\n

\r\nFor as long as the game has been played, the very best teams are those who win the war in the trenches. Blocking and tackling get the job done.\r\n

\r\nBut the game changes, and not just in changing from leather helmets to modern headgear with facemasks. The best coaches still teach blocking and tackling, but they adapt to changes in the game. There is a back-and-forth, predicated primarily on offensive innovations.\r\n

\r\nOne could see that in Bryant, who had played under Thomas at Alabama as an end in the Notre Dame box formation. As a coach he used the tight T, split T, I-formation, pro-set, and finished his career with a 12-year run in the wishbone, winning three national championships and nine Southeastern Conference titles in that period alone. He had won three national championships at Bama before switching to the wishbone.\r\n

\r\nHe also used a variety of defenses. When head coach at Kentucky he devised the so-called Oklahoma defense, and used it to defeat the powerful Sooners in the Sugar Bowl. At Alabama he was mostly a proponent of the odd-man front, but also used the four-man at times.\r\n

\r\nOne of the big items of discussion in college football this year is the news that Nick Saban plans to change his defense because of the proliferation of spread offenses. “Change” may be a bit of an exaggeration. Saban plans to adapt.\r\n

\r\nSaban likely would like to keep things the way they were. After all, in his eight seasons at Alabama he has won three national championships and has done it in great part by having defensive teams that smothered the opposition. Change, though, has come.\r\n

\r\nDefensive Coordinator Kirby Smart’s revelation that in 2011, when Alabama won the national championship in the Sugar Bowl with a 21-0 win over LSU, the Tide defense had to be concerned with only five run-pass option plays, and that Bama had to face over 120 such plays last year, tells the story; or, at least, part of it.\r\n

\r\nEveryone hasn’t gone spread. Some (Alabama is one) continue to play a pro-style offense, and to recruit players who want to perform in that offense with the hope of having a further career in the NFL.\r\n

\r\nAnd so Saban is in the process of developing a defense that will have what he calls “quick twitch” guys who can play against the spread, but will also have men who can play the rough and tumble real men game against the physical teams.\r\n

\r\nSaban has repeated several times the goals of having a defense that doesn’t depend on his pro-style philosophy of being able to match up against offensive schemes with “specialty players” in special situations. The no-huddle offenses don’t allow the substitution necessary to do that.\r\n

\r\nThe end game is that Alabama must be better in takeaways (the Tide last year was minus 2 in takeway-turnover ratio), better against explosive plays, and better on third down plays.\r\n

\r\nSaban said there were no common problems last year, when Alabama was below Tide standards in those areas.\r\n

\r\n“We gave up explosive runs, which is a team defense thing,” he said. “We gave up explosive passes, which sometimes we made mistakes in the secondary and didn’t have enough respect for the deep part of the field. Sometimes we made mental errors.\r\n

\r\n“We gave up eight explosive plays last year when the quarterback scrambled, which has a lot do do with the front being able to handle the quarterback with the rush.\r\n

\r\n“I don’t think it’s any particular thing. I think you just have to execute better relative to the situation.”\r\n

\r\nSaban has always had defensive goals, and he said those haven’t changed because opposing offenses are more creative and more explosive and scoring at a higher rate.\r\n

\r\n“We leave [the goals] as they are because they’re still our goals and our benchmark,” he said.\r\n

\r\nIn 2011, Alabama led the nation in defensive scoring, allowing 8.2 points per game. Last year, he said, Ole Miss led the nation in defensive scoring allowing 16 points per game. Bama last year allowed 18.4 points per game and was sixth in the nation in scoring defense.\r\n

\r\n“We still want to give up 13 points or less every game, and we feel like we can do that regardless of what the other team does if we execute,” Saban said.\r\n

\r\nBut there has to be adaptation many weeks when the Tide can’t play the defense it would like.\r\n

\r\nSaban said, “We have to get more players that can do the job every down, and I think we’ve done a better job of doing that, and I think our players are more equipped to do that right now.”\r\n

\r\nAlabama will have its first fall camp scrimmage Saturday as the Crimson Tide continues preparations for the opening game Sept. 5 against Wisconsin.","mobileBody":"

Alabama has been fortunate to have had more than its share of these greats, and they have the national championship pedigree to prove it. Wallace Wade was the first great Alabama coach. Frank Thomas succeeded him and equaled Wade’s success. Paul Bryant is considered by many the greatest of all time. Gene Stallings took over and put Bama back at the top of the heap after a decade of (by Crimson Tide standards) mediocrity.

And now Nick Saban is generally considered the best coach in college football.

All of these men were capable recruiters and surrounded themselves with excellent coaches.

As one who has covered Alabama from the last half of the extraordinary quarter of a century under Bryant through the first eight years of the exceptional Saban era, a regular question has been in recent years whether Saban has surpassed Bryant as the greatest coach in storied Crimson Tide history.

The answer has been the same. Both were the best of their eras.

That truly is a compliment to Saban, because Bryant continues as the benchmark – not only at Alabama, but in the history of college football.

For as long as the game has been played, the very best teams are those who win the war in the trenches. Blocking and tackling get the job done.

But the game changes, and not just in changing from leather helmets to modern headgear with facemasks. The best coaches still teach blocking and tackling, but they adapt to changes in the game. There is a back-and-forth, predicated primarily on offensive innovations.

One could see that in Bryant, who had played under Thomas at Alabama as an end in the Notre Dame box formation. As a coach he used the tight T, split T, I-formation, pro-set, and finished his career with a 12-year run in the wishbone, winning three national championships and nine Southeastern Conference titles in that period alone. He had won three national championships at Bama before switching to the wishbone.

He also used a variety of defenses. When head coach at Kentucky he devised the so-called Oklahoma defense, and used it to defeat the powerful Sooners in the Sugar Bowl. At Alabama he was mostly a proponent of the odd-man front, but also used the four-man at times.

One of the big items of discussion in college football this year is the news that Nick Saban plans to change his defense because of the proliferation of spread offenses. “Change” may be a bit of an exaggeration. Saban plans to adapt.

Saban likely would like to keep things the way they were. After all, in his eight seasons at Alabama he has won three national championships and has done it in great part by having defensive teams that smothered the opposition. Change, though, has come.

Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart’s revelation that in 2011, when Alabama won the national championship in the Sugar Bowl with a 21-0 win over LSU, the Tide defense had to be concerned with only five run-pass option plays, and that Bama had to face over 120 such plays last year, tells the story; or, at least, part of it.

Everyone hasn’t gone spread. Some (Alabama is one) continue to play a pro-style offense, and to recruit players who want to perform in that offense with the hope of having a further career in the NFL.

And so Saban is in the process of developing a defense that will have what he calls “quick twitch” guys who can play against the spread, but will also have men who can play the rough and tumble real men game against the physical teams.

Saban has repeated several times the goals of having a defense that doesn’t depend on his pro-style philosophy of being able to match up against offensive schemes with “specialty players” in special situations. The no-huddle offenses don’t allow the substitution necessary to do that.

The end game is that Alabama must be better in takeaways (the Tide last year was minus 2 in takeway-turnover ratio), better against explosive plays, and better on third down plays.

Saban said there were no common problems last year, when Alabama was below Tide standards in those areas.

“We gave up explosive runs, which is a team defense thing,” he said. “We gave up explosive passes, which sometimes we made mistakes in the secondary and didn’t have enough respect for the deep part of the field. Sometimes we made mental errors.

“We gave up eight explosive plays last year when the quarterback scrambled, which has a lot do do with the front being able to handle the quarterback with the rush.

“I don’t think it’s any particular thing. I think you just have to execute better relative to the situation.”

Saban has always had defensive goals, and he said those haven’t changed because opposing offenses are more creative and more explosive and scoring at a higher rate.

“We leave [the goals] as they are because they’re still our goals and our benchmark,” he said.

In 2011, Alabama led the nation in defensive scoring, allowing 8.2 points per game. Last year, he said, Ole Miss led the nation in defensive scoring allowing 16 points per game. Bama last year allowed 18.4 points per game and was sixth in the nation in scoring defense.

“We still want to give up 13 points or less every game, and we feel like we can do that regardless of what the other team does if we execute,” Saban said.

But there has to be adaptation many weeks when the Tide can’t play the defense it would like.

Saban said, “We have to get more players that can do the job every down, and I think we’ve done a better job of doing that, and I think our players are more equipped to do that right now.”

Alabama will have its first fall camp scrimmage Saturday as the Crimson Tide continues preparations for the opening game Sept. 5 against Wisconsin.","skipOnMobile":true,"skipOnMobileReason":"Unsupported Markup","unsupportedMarkup":"script","media":[],"dateOverride":"2015-08-14T05:41:00","authorOverride":"Kirk McNair","role":"","isPremium":false,"isHotNews":false,"isRumor":false,"syndicationFlag":true,"isClassified":true,"hotNamesLinked":true,"storyImage":"[MEDIA:1564847]","mainImage":{"url":"[MEDIA:1564847]"},"thumbnailImage":"[THUMBNAIL:1564847]","heroImage":{},"authorImage":"[MEDIA:1306037]","tags":[{"id":"9946","name":"Kent State - Football"},{"id":"499","name":"Kent State"},{"id":"589","name":"Alabama"},{"id":"10020","name":"Alabama - 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