Prior to Sunday afternoon's practice at Bryant-Denny Stadium--an open practice in which fans could attend, then stay for post-practice autograph opportunities with Alabama players--Nick Saban refuted the contention that he has attempted to lower expectations for Bama fans for the 2007 season.
"I'm not trying to bring down expectations," Saban said in answser to a question. The reporter quickly amended the question to say Saban was trying to get fans to be realistic. That suited the coach better.
Saban said, "I want to coach places where you have high expectations for what you can accomplish. But expectations can create a negative attitude when they don't work out. We have a 6-7 team (the record of the 2006 Alabama team). We're trying to improve that team. We're very pleased with the attitude the team has in trying to do that.
"What I try to do is create positive energy in the organization and with our fans. When you think things are going to be difficult then you are more willing to overcome the adversities that are going to be necessary for us to overcome to build the kind of program that we expect to have here. When we don't get immediate self-gratification for that, we don't want people to be negative because their positive engery and their role in having a positive attitude in what we do and the Crimson Tide family is going to be really important. And I want that energy to stay positive; I want them to compete like we expect the players to compete.
"It has never been my intention to bring down the expectations of what we'd like to accomplish here. It's only to be realistic as to what we can accomplish now and stay positive to what we can build on for the future and let that be an asset to the organization."
The Sunday Fan Day event was part of the evidence of the high regard in which Saban says he holds fans in high regard.
"The fans are important," he said. "They are important to this organization. The people who support this organization are the most important things to this organization." Additionally, he said, "It's exciting for our players."
Moreover, Saban pointed out that "I'm extremely positive with our players. The players have to believe that if we execute and do things as a group we're going to have success. They need to be process-oriented and not result-oriented. This is typically what the whole world talks about in having success in whatever you choose to do. What's going to give us the best chance to win? Every player on the team playing to his potential. That's what everyone who wants to be successful does."
He said, "I'm pleased with the way players have tried to buy in to what we're trying to do. Some players do it more quickly than others, some players improve more quickly than others. Not everyone does it at the same pace. But it's important that the critical mass of players do that. And we have a significant number of players who have improved. We're pleased with the progres we've made. We're not where we need to be and we're continually working to try to get there."
It doesn't feel anything like football season in Tuscaloosa in early August. The heat index is well over 100. And there have been only three days of practice, none in pads (full gear work can begin Wednesday).
Saban acknowledged the difficulty of practicing in the heat and said he had been impressed with the attitude of the Tiders in enduring the heat. "The players are really committed to try to accomplish the objectives of camp," Saban said. "It is going to be a little difficult, but these circumstances give us a chance to overcome adversity and get better as a competitive team."
The camp objectives are noble ones.
Saban said, "The first is to establish the hard-core foundation of discipline--the attention to details, the discipline, the focus--so we can play with consistency. We have to continue to establish and build on that.
"Mental and physical toughness got a long way in allowing us to do that undr dificult circumstances. Hard work is part of that. You can't allow mental fatigue to precede physical fatigue. You are challenging people to play at a high standard and practice more with a little less recovery that would be done inthe season. It's done to establish mental toughness. Things have to be difficult. Players learn the price you pay has to be paid up front."
He said an emphasis of fall camp is on fundamentals. "What to do and how to do it, which is fundamentals, and then the concept of why it is important to do it that way. So it's understanding the system and improving the techniques." He pointed out that sometimes a player knows what to do, but doesn't do it, and sometimes a player doesn't know what to do. Either can result in a loss.
Another key is team chemistry. He said that players understanding the system and working hard on the fundamentals will have a better chance to execute as a team and to have the respect and trust for one another that is team chemistry. He said the goal of the team is to have all players playing as close as possible to potential and that good individual play within the group concept will produce good team chemistry. "You want pride and a winning attitude to what your team is trying to accomplish as a group," he said.
Saban addressed the question of how physical his team would be in pre-season work. "What we try to do is practice safe," he said. "We want the players to play hard and practice hard. The big thing is trying to stay off the ground. The players play fast and we want them to play fast. Initial quickness is important, particularly in the front seven and in the offensive line. All those things get done fast and it's important to finish plays properly, and that has to be done fast. And the contact is going to be explosive and physical. It has been our experience that you get guys hurt when you end up with a bunch of guys on the practice. And that's what you mean by players learning how to practice properly. They practice hard and fast and they practice their technique properly, but everyone stays up. Not getting themselves into position where they can get injured. I like the way we've been able to maintain intensity and try to keep the players safe. That's the way we practice all the time. Now, the closer you get to playing, you have a little more rest, a little more recovery time, and through the course of the work week when you get into the season to allow the player to maintain a high level of importance."
Saban confirmed the expected seriousness of a knee injury to freshman tailback Demetrius Goode, who was injured on the first day of practice Friday. Saban said an MRI examination had confirmed that Goode suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. Goode, who is from LaGrange, Ga., will undergo surgery Tuesday. Saban said the recovery could last from five to nine months. Saban said, "It's not something typically that can't be overcome and certainly we're going to do everything we can to help this young man overcome because we think he has a good future."