Stuart McNair

Is Nick Saban adjusting to modern times or ahead of the game in college football recruiting?

Alabama and Nick Saban have been atop the college football world and it has translated to recruiting, so why is it changing?

“He will never be on Twitter, ever.”

This is commonly the response when an Alabama fan asks me when they will see an actual Nick Saban account on the most popular social medium in sports. 

Few, if any, disagree. 

But on Friday, while on The Paul Finebaum Show, the champion head coach admitted that he’d be open to it should it help. With something. Maybe anything. 

“If someone can prove to me there’s an advantage in it, I’ll certainly do it,” he said.

That comes back to coaching. It comes back to recruiting. While surprising, it shows a glimpse of “the process” that often isn’t documented as much as other elements -- evolving. Saban has tweaked his approach in the past and continues to be willing to both on and off the field. 

We’ve seen it with the hire and continued flexibility with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who is recruiting and landing dual-threat quarterbacks to lead the offense while aiming to throw a bit more than the common perception of a Crimson Tide offense. We’ve seen it with his seemingly annual campaign with top recruits to prove he is not the stoic, robotic leader 100 percent of the time by cracking jokes, participating in popular dances and party games. We’ve seen it on his beloved defense, somewhat straying away from the bulk he has long coveted for fit-for-today defenders who can play in space and rush the passer despite not being traditional defensive end or linebacker size. 

The list goes on and on. 

In tracking any Saban trend, or message, or reaction, history has taught us that it often comes back to recruiting. Upon winning most of these four national titles over the last seven years he has often been quoted as his focus shifts from the glow of getting to the top of the mountain to the next and seemingly ongoing task of bringing in the next crop of talent. In multiple classes, simultaneously. 

That is Nick Saban. 

He will adjust, he will bend, he will (begin to) change when it comes to being at the curve or even ahead of it on the recruiting trail. But does he have to? 

Earlier Friday, on the same network on which he went live, a show compared Saban going into the proverbial living room to recruit a prospect. It was said that with the status of the program he leads, the prospect himself should instead begin producing a pitch as to why he should be the next member of the Crimson Tide instead of the other way around. Maybe he could. Maybe he should. But he doesn’t and he won’t. 

Instead, he’s working on three separate recruiting classes at the same time, so ahead of the rest of us that he has accepted a pair of verbal commitments from high school freshmen in the last month. The first, Trey Sanders, had only some basic information and a picture on his profile. Yes, he had additional scholarship offers our network was aware of, but it was so early not much time was relegated to delving deep into why. We weren’t alone as it was the case on most of the major outlets who cover the sport on the ground level. 

Again, like with Twitter, I’m often asked why. Why would the champion coach accept a commitment from a kid who is closer to the beginning of puberty than signing a National Letter of Intent three Februarys from now? Because he continues to adjust. If the staff feels Prospect X is good enough or potentially good enough to field a verbal scholarship offer, why not allow him to be an early part of the class? Those same BamaMag members took it with a grain of salt with so much time in between now and when the class becomes official. 

It happened again Friday evening, as another class of 2019 prospects accepted a Crimson Tide scholarship offer. This time it was Evan Neal, a massive Florida offensive lineman who had learned of the scholarship offer just one day prior. Like with Sanders, he had other top offers though our network wasn’t necessarily fully up to speed with everything there is to know of the sophomore-to-be. Again, we weren’t alone. Again, it illustrates the point Saban has continued to make and most importantly show -- he’s adjusting to the times. He may be slightly ahead of them.

Saban, however, isn’t perfect on the field or on the trail but he continues to show less and less of the stern, my-way-or-the-highway approach to it all. It creates somewhat of a hypocrisy. Take some of the clear top talents early, but what about a few years from now? 

Take the rising-senior prospect class, which has been more of a meticulous approach. There are just nine verbal commitments amid the busy Spring evaluation period though there are plenty of scholarship offers out and clear targets defined both in-state and out. Several prospects, including five-star Cam Akers and current Georgia Bulldog commitments Jake Fromm and Netori Johnson, were once early verbal pledges to the program. Just one of the current pledges, No. 1 overall 2017 recruit Najee Harris, has been on board for more than a calendar year. The 2018 class, which holds just one Alabama verbal at this time (Malcolm Epps), has already suffered a decommitment from Louisiana two-way lineman Dare Rosenthal, who was in the fold for about a year.

So is Saban and Alabama landing elites before most others are or is it just bringing the rest of the recruiting world to the theoretical doorstep of an offer explosion for a kid a bit ahead of his time? 

Perhaps he has a plan. Perhaps it’s the newest part of the process. Perhaps it’s none of the above, but either way it will continue to set the precedent for other programs looking to ascend. 

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