If Anyone Can Turn the Spring Shutdown into an Advantage, it's Nick Saban
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It seems rather obvious, but is something that's being overlooked, sort of like how Nick Saban almost never seems to win a coach of the year award any more.
Of all the coaches, in all of the sports currently shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, can you think of anyone who would be better at handling how a team comes out of a long break like we're experiencing?
You'd be crazy to put your money on someone else — although there's there's a lot of that going around right now, along with short-term memories.
Thursday morning, Saban broke his recent silence with local reporters and did a teleconference to discuss what life's been like for the Crimson Tide of late. Had spring football gone on at planned, Alabama would have been in the middle of preparing for its first spring scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
Instead, he was going over how the coaches have been allowed to do two-hour video sessions with players once a week. Otherwise, most of their mornings are dedicated to working on opponents, and the afternoons on recruiting.
Outside of the vacations his wife Terry makes him take, this is about as close to idle as Saban gets. He called Alabama's approach so far slow and steady, because no one knows if the 2020 season will be played, or under what conditions.
Even so, Saban's idea of slow is nothing like how most people define the word.
Consider previous quotes from the coach over the years:
• "Make his ass quit."
• "Mediocre people don't like high achievers and high achievers don't like mediocre people."
• "There are two pains in life. There is the pain of discipline and the pain of disappointment. If you can handle the pain of discipline, then you’ll never have to deal with the pain of disappointment."
• "We have an opponent in this state that we work every day, 365 days a year, to dominate. What happened yesterday is history."
You think Saban is sitting around feeling sorry for himself? He might be shooting PSAs, which have played a part in people in this state taking the coronavirus pandemic more seriously, but he's also preparing for what'll happen once things start returning to normal.
Like usual, he has his eye on the prize.
"Try to do the things correctly today so we have the best chance to get the outcome that we want in the future," he said. "I think that's everybody's responsibility."
Call it the process extended as students aren't currently allowed to be on campus or use University of Alabama facilities.
Meanwhile, other things have been juggled, like the coaches working on opponents. When the NCAA adopted the the early-signing period, making recruiting more year-round, the film study was something that largely got pushed back until after A-Day.
It's just another thing that could be very bad for opponents.
Two things about Saban at Alabama have been painfully obvious over the years.
The first is that given the opportunity he'll outwork every other coach out there, and expects his staff to do likewise.
You could ask almost any former Crimson Tide player from the past decade about what's been the biggest key to the program's success and they'll tell you its hard work. Since it's his birthday today, we'll go with a quote from former All-American offensive lineman Mike Johnson after winning the 2009 title:
"It just shows that when you put in so much hard work and effort that things really do pay off for you. I really honestly feel like we worked harder than any other team this year and that's why we came out on top."
The other significant thing we've leaned about Saban is that if there's any legal way for him to give his players and team an advantage, he's going to explore and/or use it.
The examples are plentiful, from all the facility changes and upgrades to having a top-notch nutritionist on hand.
With that in mind, Alabama has in some ways been very fortunate in terms of timing. Granted the Crimson Tide didn't get any spring practices in, but for the first time in years Saban has both coordinators back from the previous season, and nearly all of the assistant coaches.
Even the one major change that did happen got wrapped up before everything came to a halt, with Alabama already having hired strength and conditioning coach David Ballou, along with Dr. Matt Rhea as the program's Director of Performance Science to head up the new sports science center.
Had their additions lingered, things might be much more chaotic over at the Mal Moore Complex.
"These guys, Dr. Rhea has actually got a PhD," Saban said. "His knowledge and experience in a lot of technical type testing and stuff that you can do with players and the new training programs we’re doing, the players have really liked. Hopefully this will help us with some injury prevention and help us be able to perform better when the time comes.
"They were very instrumental in setting up this whole program of what we’re doing with the players in terms of Apple watches for their workouts, apps on their phones for weight training programs. We had an issue with some players not having a place to work out because high schools are closed. We put them on band workout programs. They’ve done a really, really good job of managing this to this point and the players have done a really good job responding to it."
Does that put Alabama ahead of other programs? It's impossible to tell right now. Everyone's in the same boat and players are working out on their own.
But how many of them have Apple watches?
It's a far cry from when Saban spent his summers running "the railroad tracks back in West Virginia."
Meanwhile, athletic director Greg Byrne is on the record saying that Alabama's proceeding as if the 2020 season will be played in some shape or form.
It could be delayed, or have an abbreviated schedule. There's no reason to speculate yet as we're barley into April.
Maybe by May we'll have a better picture of things, and an idea of when everyone might be comfortable being around a couple hundred people again, never mind thousands, and the return of students to campus appears imminent.
That'll lead to some sort of fall camp or special training session and Alabama is already figuring out ways to do so.
"Obviously, you just can’t go out and play games without any practice and development time beforehand," Byrne said.
When that happens, though, expect Alabama to be where it normally is under Saban, at the forefront of college football.
After all, he knows a few things about dealing with adversity.
He took over program fresh off NCAA penalties, yet won a national title in year three.
When Tuscaloosa had a tornado, Saban won the next two national championships.
When college football changed in an effort to level the playing field, he still won two more titles.
If you could pick one coach to lead a team out of a shutdown like this, who would it be?
See? It is obvious.