It was interesting recently to hear a sports reporter ask Alabama Coach Nick Saban “to give a few examples of The Process.” The Process is well-known by name, if not in depth, by almost all who follow the Crimson Tide. It is not, however, a Chinese restaurant menu – one from column A, one from column B, etc.
Those old enough to have followed Alabama under legendary Coach Paul Bryant and still around to enjoy this similar – superior, even -- Bama dynasty under Coach Nick Saban are aware that the two are different in many ways, but alike in a most important characteristic, the one under Saban known as The Process. Bryant referred to a team “having one heartbeat.”
This is the parallel of these two all-time greats of Alabama football leadership:
Both Bryant and Saban had a belief in what it takes to be successful, held to it without doubt, and (perhaps most important) convinced everyone around him – players, coaches, et al – that it was the right way. Buying in, Saban says.
That unshakeable faith in a winning formula – and not the same one – is the reason so many national championship football trophies are displayed in Tuscaloosa.
Because of Saban and his Process and the selling of that Process to all of those involved in the Crimson Tide football program, Bama is once again in position to bring a national championship to The University. Alabama will meet Clemson Monday night in Glendale, Ariz., for the College Football Playoff crown.
Saban is on record for his pride in the 2015 Crimson Tide, a team that lost its first Southeastern Conference game in the third game of the season, and then proceeded to roll off 11 straight wins, including the Southeastern Conference and Cotton Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal championships to reach Glendale.
Wednesday afternoon, Saban discussed his pleasure with this team.
“First of all,” he said, “when you talk about a team that buys in to doing things the way that you like to do it, you define principles and values of the organization that you think are important to helping the organization be successful. That’s the easy part. Getting everybody to follow the process and having the discipline to execute that on a day-to-day basis, on a game-to-game basis all season long and get everybody to buy into those things, that’s the difficult part and that’s what this team has done a really good job of.
“I think some of the older players have provided a good example and good leadership that has certainly affected that in a positive way and that’s why I really like this team.
“They’re fun to coach. You’re not harping on people to try to get them to do the intangible things that should be a given. You’re just teaching them what you’d like them to do in that particular game because they sort of buy into doing those things and understand that it takes what it takes. That’s been a good thing. That’s why this team has improved. When I say ‘It’s a long season, they chose to be here by doing the right things,’ that’s exactly what I mean.”
The Tide was back on the practice field Wednesday in what was essentially the first day of putting in the game plan for Monday’s game. Bama will work in Tuscaloosa through Friday morning before flying to Phoenix. They will practice there on Saturday and have a walk-through Sunday before Monday’s game.
“I’ve been really pleased, especially today, with the way our players approached practice,” Saban said. “They sort of understand that it's been a long season. We've played a lot of games. We did all the things to choose to be here, so we did things the right way. Now you've got to continue to do them the right way so you can finish the way you'd like. You really have to decide that you're here and do things in practice that give you the kind of confidence that you need in the games when you play against a team like this. It's a great opportunity for our team to play in the College Football National Championship game. Attention to detail is really, really important in being able to do that.
“This is a little different circumstance. Players have got to understand: This is not a bowl game. We don't go out there and practice for a week. We're in game week. We've got to get ready to play the game here. We've got to travel. We can practice out there once and kind of go from there.
“I think that as you go through the season you know that there's a combination of workload versus players being tired. I really didn't think we played tired in the last game. Gave the players a couple of days off. We had a couple of days a practice, we gave them another day off and now we're going to go to a regular work week. I'm hopeful that that'll be the right combination. But we do sort of back off as we go through the season on a pretty regular basis. We've done that this year and I think it's been beneficial. I think it's helped us finish a little better and hopefully it will be the right combination for this game.
“This is going to be a totally different kind of game, too, because these guys (Clemson) average 80-something plays a game. Michigan State (the team Alabama defeated, 38-0, to reach the CFP finals) didn't average that many. They weren't a fastball team. The game's going to be long and the players are going to play more plays. It’s going to be a game where conditioning's going to be at a premium.”
Alabama teams under Saban won three national championships in the BCS era. The Tide defeated Texas in the Rose Bowl for the 2009 title, LSU in the Sugar Bowl for the 2011 championship, and Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl for the 2012 crown.
“We've never been in this situation,” Saban said. “We always in the other championship games that we've been in, it was a one-game season really. So you went from Dec. 6 or whenever the last game was right to the game. So we did some research on what people did a year ago that were in this position, how they prepared their team, and used some of those ideas to see if we could get the right balance and the right formula. But you never know until they go out there.
“I've seen teams play in bowl games that looked slow and out of shape. I've seen teams that look really fast. I'd rather look really fast, but I hope we're not out of shape because it's going to be a 60-minute game and there's going to be more plays and the pace of play is going to be faster, and we're going to have to adapt and adjust to it.”
Alabama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin said Alabama’s current success – the Tide is 97-13 since 2008 – said, “It speaks volumes to Coach Saban and his process. You can’t compete all the time like this without a system, without a process. Here we’re in the middle of a dynasty because of the process with different players and different coaches. It goes back to Coach Saban and his philosophy, and the players buy into it.”
Even the players recognize it. Senior center Ryan Kelly said, “It’s been the entire team buying into the process the entire time. Every guy on the team has done a great job of it so far.”
Senior quarterback Jacob Coker said, “Ever since I got here, I’ve had a good idea of what he wanted and what he needed out of this team, especially from the quarterback position. So really ever since the beginning, I’ve been trying to do my best to do whatever he says.”