There's More To Flip Than It Seems
Almost no one thinks much about the coin toss. After all, most of the time one team is going to receive the first half kickoff and the other team the second half kickoff and both teams are going to defend one end for two quarters.
Once upon a time, coaches had to worry about the condition of the field in rainy weather. Today's football surfaces have been designed so that wet is not a great factor. Moreover, teams practice with a wet football.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "Every game is a little bit different.
"The first thing is weather conditions, weather conditions being mostly the wind." He said that it is rare that rain would be so hobbible that a team couldn't handle the ball. Plus, he said, "Sometimes it's as hard to play defense on a bad field, pass defense espeically, as it is to play offense. At least when you're on offense you know where you're going."
Wind, though, "can have a tremendous impact on the game," Saban said. "There's a certain way to make the call if you want to have the wind in the fourth quarter, if you think that's important."
When the coin is tossed, the visiting team makes the call, heads or tails. The winner of the call gets a choice: choose to receive, choose to defend a certain goal, or defer its choice to the second half. After that, the other team selects.
If the coin toss winning team does not defer and chooses to receive, the opponent chooses the end of the field it wants to defend. That is almost always based on wind. (In overtime situations, sometimes, it is based on where fans of a team are seated for reasons of noise. In a place like the Georgia Dome, who knows?)
To start the second half the team that did not have first choice of receive/field has the choice.
Saban said, "Some coches would rather always have the wind in the first quarter and get the other team in the hole. I used to be that way until we lost the championship when I was the head coach at Toledo (1990). We had about a 25-yard field goal to win and we couldn't have made it if we had had the best kicker in the history of ball. The ball just stopped at the goalpost, died, and fell straight down. We lost, 15-13."
Saban likes to have the wind in the fourth quarter, and said, "We've won a couple of games because we had the wind in the fourth quarter."
He also remembers being in Jacksonville in 2007 for a game against Florida State. "It was windy," Saban said. "They took the wind in the first quarter and we were in a hole. We were inside our 10-yard line almost the entire first quarter of the game. We couldn't get out. They had a good defense, but we couldn't throw against the wind."
Wind is not the only factor in deciding what to do at the coin toss.
Saban said, "The second factor is how you feel about how your team matches up against the other team – your offense vs. their defense or your defense vs. their offense, and how you would like to start the game and how you would like to start the second half."
Before the captains go out for the toss, Saban said, "I tell them all the things that can happen. A. We win the toss, and we defer or we take the ball. B., They win the toss and either take the ball or defer. If they defer, we want either to take the ball or defend a goal. And this is how we want to start the game. This is based on the conditions and based on how we've got the game mapped out. And all this gets discussed before we get there."
Junior linebacker Rolando McClain has been a captain most weeks. And, he said, he's the one who does the talking.
"Coach Saban tells us what we're going to do before we go out there," McClain said. "Every game is different. I don't know how he decides sometimes, but I listen and go with it. We decide among the captains who is going to talk.
"I try to win the coin toss, and I think I've won every one."
And in answer to the obvious question: "Tails. I always call tails."
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