Saban Earns An A-Plus In Practice

Once upon a time a college football team ended the season with a solid victory over its rival. Assistant coaches knew they had a couple of days off and two of them were having a post-game celebration. After a few celebratory drinks one suggested they go to the office and grade the film. The other said, "I've already graded it. A-plus."

Alabama Coach Nick Saban indicated Wednesday that Crimson Tide football practices this week have been good. But the only A-plus grade was reserved for the head coach.

The theme around the football program following Alabama's 41-34 loss to LSU last week was that the team could not afford to "have a hangover" from that setback as preparation got under way for this week's game against Mississippi State.

Following practice Wednesday, Saban was asked about the hangover effect. He said, "You won't know until Saturday afternoon. It doesn't seem to be an issue. The players seem to be doing what they need to do.

"I think it's important that the coaches are positive about what we're doing and we have good energy about what we're doing, so the players get into it that way, too

"They're getting their money's worth out of me., that's all I can say. I threw a couple of A-plus fits out there this week that had some impact.

"I love it."

A reporter wondered if his A-plus fit involved throwing things. "I don't throw things," he said. "I growl at them."

(It can't help but be noted that given Saban's $4 million a year salary, that "getting their money's worth" of his fits probably does make them A-plus.)

The coach said practice Wednesday had been good and that it had been "progressively better" during the week.

Saban said that offensive tackle Andre Smith, who turned an ankle against LSU, and center Evan Cardwell, who suffered back spasms in that game, were both practicing, although they had "limited snaps." He said he expected both to play.

Alabama, 6-3 on the season and 4-2 in Southeastern Conference games, will play at Mississippi State Saturday. The Bulldogs are 5-4 overall and 2-3 in league contests. Kickoff will be shortly after 11:30 a.m. Saturday with limited television coverage (Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) on the Lincoln Financial network.

Although Saban has said that when there is something to report on the five suspended players (center-guard Antoine Caldwell, guard Marlon Davis, tailback Glen Coffee, defensive back Chris Rogers, and defensive back Marquis Johnson) that it will be announced, he nevertheless gets a question about them at each opportunity.

"It's not up to me," he said when asked about their status. He said the compliance office of the athletics department and The University are handling the situation, which involves "improper receipt of textbooks." He said a report will be made to the NCAA which will make a decision on the status of the players. "It takes time," he said, adding that the men won't play until there is a ruling from the NCAA.

Saban indicated one Alabama player won't be seeing action again. Asked about offensive lineman Cody Davis, Saban said Davis has not been medically cleared to play. The coach said that after surgery and long rehabilitation and strength work on his injured shoulder, Davis returned to practice and lasted less than an hour before his shoulder went out. He said there was no official decision being made, but that it appeared he would not be able to return to football.

Saban also indicated that barring the unforeseen freshmen offensive linemen William Vlachos and Patrick Crump would not play this year and save a year of eligibility.

A feature of football games at Mississippi State is the attempt of Bulldogs fans to disrupt the communications of the visiting team by the use of cowbells, even though it is a violation of SEC rules. Some teams practice with artificial noise in preparation for road games.

Saban said that before Alabama went to Ole Miss earlier this year he considered using artificial noise in the Tide's Thursday practice, which is conducted in the indoor facility. He said he elected not to do that.

He pointed out the trade-off in practice. If artificial noise is piped in, the players can't hear the instructions of the coaches. "We practice silent (using hand signals) anyway," he said.

Saban also noted that "I'm not sure we could simulate cowbells, but it's all just noise." He added, "lI don't remember the cowbells (when he took his LSU teams to Starkville). They had them, but they didn't make a lasting impression."

Saban said he wasn't aware he was a nominee for the Bryant Award as the national coach of the year. He said a lot of coaches had done a good job this year. "It's a privilege and an honor," he said. "The thing we're most concerned about is how we finish." He said that the finish of every play, every practice, every half, every game is emphasized at Alabama.

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