If we thought Nick Saban’s occasional tirades were legitimate evidence of the rage within him, we’d put his life expectancy at about 100 days, meaning until right after the College Football Playoff national championship game. Not just this year. Every year. Somewhere there is probably an actuary wringing his hands over the situation.
In truth, though, we don’t think Saban even needs anger management therapy.
It has been said that Nick Saban has a reason for everything he says. That may or may not be true, but it’s certainly true sometimes.
On Monday at his regular press briefing, things were going along about as expected before the 15 or so sportswriters who cover Bama on a daily basis and a couple of local television guys. Alabama was coming off an impressive 38-10 win over Georgia in Athens and this week hosts Arkansas in Bryant-Denny Stadium in a 6 p.m. Southeastern Conference game.
The questions and answers were about the Crimson Tide players who had done well and Saban delivered his message on how Bama had played well because of good preparation and that how it would take more of the same this week.
There was a fairly innocuous question that might have extracted a very interesting answer. Following Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss a couple of weeks before the Georgia game, Alabama was fair game on the sports network shows. The Alabama dynasty was over, or, at least, would be after the Bulldogs had finished with them. Saban had been great, but his best days were behind him as college football moves to the spread formation offense. Moreover, Alabama was the underdog in the game at Athens.
The question, then, was what was the message Saban had for his team in light of all the doomsaying?
Saban took the opportunity to blast those reporters in the room, none of whom could be found guilty of a transgression against the team or the coach.
"Well, I'll say the same thing as when you all buried us last week,” Saban said. “It really doesn't matter what you think. It really doesn't matter what you say. And I'm hoping that nobody on our team is playing for you. I hope they're playing for each other and their team and what they want to accomplish and not what you think.”
He continued, “I'm coaching and working for our players and our team to be as good as it can be. And if that's not pleasing to someone else, it's not pleasing to somebody else.
“I said before, I believe in our team. I do believe in our team, and we're going to work hard to make our team better and I hope the players respond the right way.
“And it's not going to be for you. The fans, yes. Because if it was up to you, we were six foot under already. We're dead and buried and gone. Gone.
"So if that was the case, we'd have to get some respirators out or something there to put the life back in people."
This week’s Alabama-Arkansas game will be televised on ESPN if Saban wants to deliver his message personally to those who had raised the issues instead of counting on those who attend his press briefings every week.
Otherwise, Monday, Saban was in a positive mood. His team is now 4-1, including a 1-1 SEC mark, has has moved back into the top ten in both national polls.
He said, “Our players did a really good job in some tough circumstances, tough situation, relative to playing on the road in the weather. I’m certainly proud of sort of the statement that they made in the game. They beat a good team. Obviously there are a lot of things that we can do better and clean up, and that's certainly something we need to be committed to.”
His general message centered on what he thought had resulted in the romp over a previously undefeated and top ten ranked Georgia team on a rainy afternoon/evening in Athens.
“I think we did that because we prepared well and practiced well all week,” Saban said. “We had really good focus in the game on execution and people doing their jobs. And the effort and the toughness is what we need to have success in our league.
“We are what we are as an identity only if it happens on a continuum. You always have the next challenge. You always have the next game. You can look at teams all over the country who have big wins and then two weeks later they're not so happy again. This is something that we need to build on, something that we need to improve on. It's something our players need to learn so that we can continue to improve as a team because we have many tough challenges, including the game that we have this week.
Arkansas is 2-2 overall and 1-1 in SEC games and coming off a 24-20 road win over Tennessee.
Saban said that last year’s Bama escape from Fayetteville with a 14-13 win was “a physical game, and they have 16 starters back. They have a couple of receivers that are injured but four of the offensive linemen a really good running back in Alex Collins. Quarterback Brandon Allen has been starting now for three years and is a very, very good player. Their defense is one of the tops against the run in the SEC and overall they have played better and better each week.”
He credited Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema with “creating a lot of toughness and a physical team that you really have to have your jaws set to play well against.
Saban doesn’t plan to change the recipe for success. He said, “The focus for us is on good preparation, good focus, when the game comes on execution, getting the kind of effort and toughness and discipline that we need to have success.”
He said a few players had minor injuries, but that all are expected to be able to practice by Tuesday.
Saban has mentioned the need for consistency and was asked the “nature or nurture?” question. Is the trait inherent in players or can it be coached?
“I think both,” Saban said. “Consistency is a human behavior that we all struggle with every day. Things don't go right, everybody gets all fired up about trying to get it right. Things go really well, and everybody wants to relax and, 'I deserve a day off. I did a good job.' That's my relief syndrome here.
I think that consistency is an element of human nature that the individual has to challenge himself as well as we have to coach and make our players aware of the things they need to do well, they need to build on. That's what creates a continuum, and the continuum is what creates consistency. That's where our focus is going to be.”
A surprising pre-game development in Athens came when Alabama exited its lockerroom for the Sanford Stadium field for warmups. Georgia players charged the Bama sideline, where Tide players were walking, and it took the officials to move the Bulldogs back. Alabama players, though, responded to the taunts, and that was enough to irritate Saban. He addressed it following the game and again Monday.
“I’m for players being focused,” he said. “One of the reasons we played well in the game is that we were focused on the game. I think people have to be focused on doing their jobs. Doing other things, whether it's dancing on the field or talking to the opposition, we don't do that. Because if you're doing that, you're not really focused on doing your job.
“I can't talk trash and focus on what I'm supposed to do. Maybe I'm just not a trash talker. I don't know. But that's just the way I think and that's the way we've been.
“I'm not upset with our team or anything like that. I just thought that was a good opportunity for me to give them the message that 'Hey, we need to be focused on what we need to do in the game and then focus on the game.' I think that misplaced emotion is something that we had earlier in the year and we didn't execute in the game and we didn't play very well because of it. So let's make sure we're channeling our energy in the right direction so that we have a chance to be focused on the things we need to do to play well."