Every week I watch college football I am amazed at the inconsistencies of programs that should be national title contenders. This past week Georgia and Stanford went down to teams that were not as talented. Seven of the top 25 lost and several teams had their national title hopes dashed. This is week in and week out in college football which is what makes it the greatest regular season in sports. Who would guess an undefeated Michigan team would lose to a Penn State team that was just throttled by Indiana? For those that may not know, Indiana is terrible in football. The ups and downs of college football are amazing but one team remains consistent – the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Nick Saban Changed the Alabama Culture
Prior to Nick Saban arriving in Tuscaloosa, Alabama the Crimson Tide were about as inconsistent as most teams are today. Saban won a national championship at LSU in the early 2000s and he tried out the NFL. His time with the Miami Dolphins was short as he wanted to get back into the college game. The Crimson Tide were willing to pay him and his assistants which lured this defensive genius back to the college ranks. In his first year at Alabama he had some growing pains. Some people will remember that loss to Louisiana Monroe in Bryant Denny Stadium. His first full season at Alabama was not extremely successful. They went 7-6 and won the Independence Bowl. Since then, Alabama has been the best team in football. There is no argument to be made.
Since that difficult first year the Alabama Crimson Tide have never finished the season outside the top 10. They have won three of the last four national championships and they are sitting at the top of the polls right now. Most would agree that Nick Saban is the best coach in college football. Some could argue that he is the best modern day coach. If he wins another national championship this year I would argue he is in the conversation as one of the best college football coaches in history. With recruiting and the NFL changing college football as we know it, it is nearly impossible to consistently keep a team in the top 10. To win four of five national championships is unheard of. No one, I repeat, no one would have been able to do this other than Nick Saban at Alabama.
How Does Alabama Remain Consistent?
Alabama owns the line of scrimmage. They recruit stud offensive and defensive linemen every year. When their quarterback is having a bad game they can simply hand off to a five star running back and let him carry the load. Even if the offense cannot move the ball they can resort on the defense finding a way to win the game. Minus the Texas A&M game this year the Alabama Crimson Tide have given up 26 points. Yes, 26 points in five games. This either says that Texas A&M has an amazing offense or Nick Saban is a genius for adjusting his game plan to win that game in College Station. Maybe there is a little bit of truth in both.
There are very few teams in the country that can run the ball and stop the run year in and year out. Nick Saban’s recruiting efforts have lead him to multiple national championships. It is important to note that recruiting at Alabama is much easier than recruiting at Memphis or Kentucky. That said, coaches before Nick Saban did not dominate the SEC the way he is doing it. It is a combination of Saban being a stellar coach and winning big games early in his career. If Saban had gone 7-6 the first three seasons he was at Alabama things might have been a little bit different. That was not the case and now he is talked about as one of the best coaches in history.
Something else that Nick Saban does is instill culture. He knows what type of product he wants to put on the field. He does not deviate in any way. Even when his team is losing a game he does not change his game plan. Earlier this year the Texas A&M Aggies were up 14-0 on Alabama and most coaches would have completely ditched the playbook. Nick Saban did not. He had confidence in his senior quarterback AJ McCarron and he remain patient even though his team was down by two touchdowns and Kyle Field was rocking. As soon as the Alabama offense walked on the field being down 0-14 you could feel the confidence of the team. This was not a team that was going to let the Texas A&M Aggies run all over them. They methodically worked down the field and scored a touchdown. Five drives later and the Alabama Crimson Tide were up 28-14. They never looked back.
Nick Saban is a defensive minded coach but he knows all aspects of the game. This is something that some coaches struggle with. A few defensive minded coaches are not good with clock management or special teams. That is not true with Mr. Saban. He realizes that all facets of the game are going to come into play at one point or another in a championship season. His teams do not have to be #1 in the country in all facets of the game but they have to be above average and consistent. Just watch the Alabama punt team or the kicking team the next time you watch a game and you will see a team that is very well coached.
Why Are Some Teams Not Well Coached?
This a question that has been asked millions of times by fans over the last several decades. Some teams have the talent but they are just not well coached. Some fans may not even understand what being well coached means. Before I explain why some teams are not well coached let’s look at what it means to be well coached. Great coaches make each player aware of the situation. If it is 3rd and 22 in the third quarter there is absolutely no reason the offense should call a timeout. This is a timeout wasted because the odds of converting a 3rd and 22 are slim to none. Instead of wasting a timeout that will be needed later in the game it is better to take a five yard penalty. There isn’t much difference in a 3rd and 22 and a 3rd and 27.
Understanding the situation at all times is imperative for a good team. There are some times it is smart to take a penalty and sometimes it is a terrible decision. When the opposition has the ball and they are in a 3rd and 4 situation all defensive linemen should realize the quarterback is going to use a hard count to get them to jump offsides. This is common sense and everyone knows it. That said, each and every Saturday there will be a defensive lineman that jumps offsides on a 3rd and 4 to give the opposition a first down. Something else that is important is to understand is where you are on the field. If you are on offense and you are deep inside your own territory, ball protection is key. It is absolutely essential. A turnover is handing the other team points. With this being the case there is no reason to take risks throwing the ball or trying something silly. A good coach will make his team aware of that during fall practice drills.
Practice makes almost perfect. I think some of the better coaches in the United States practice the way their team should play. They explain time and situation throughout the entire practice period. Nick Saban has obviously practiced offense with his team being down more than 10 points. He has also practiced key third down situations. Even when he was at LSU his defenses were known for being one of the best third down defenses in the country. If a defense can get off the field on third down there is a very good chance the team will be above average. If a defense is committing penalties it is going to be quite difficult to get off the field during third down situations.
One of the reasons I feel that teams are not well coached is the coaches are not smart across the board. They may be smart when it comes to their area of expertise but they are not smart with the entire game of football. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched a game when the head coach did not know how many timeouts they had left. I have also seen games where the head coach did not know that the clock stopped with every first down. This is common knowledge that every college football fan knows. Why would a coach use a valuable timeout when they just got a first down? This happens time and again. Alabama knows the rules of the game and they have a coach that is great during practice. This is the reason they are just that good.