The No. 1 topic at ACC Media Days on Wednesday was apparently what Nick Saban and the Alabama players were saying at SEC Media Days.
That sentence speaks so loudly that there really doesn’t need to be anything else said about the two leagues. But in the interest of being thorough, let’s examine the latest chapter between Alabama and Clemson before laying it to rest (fat chance) in time for the 2019 season to play out.
As one might expect, Saban was asked questions — not making a speech, but responding to questions — about the Alabama-Clemson championship game. It was the last college football game anyone has seen, after all. The result was, to many observers, surprising. The hype for a possible Alabama-Clemson Part V began back in January, in Santa Clara, where Saban gave full credit to Clemson for its impressive win. So people are going to ask.
Yet, some people still don’t seem satisfied with Saban discussing the issues which were possible factors in his own team’s performance. If you follow (or cover) Alabama, his mindset about that game is crucial information in understanding things that have happened since (like wholesale staff changes) and what his approach will be in 2019.
Saban is fairly rare among coaches in that he will respond without resorting to coach-speak and gobbledygook. If he talks about Alabama issues, it is because he thinks about Alabama issues. Talking about how great Clemson was may be fine and it may be true, but after 48 hours or so, that’s not his job.
On Wednesday he talked about Alabama. His comments to Paul Finebaum weren’t entirely new, but may have been more emphatic about one problem area from the latter part of 2018 — coaching.
“We had a lot of guys who wanted to be head coaches at different places,” Saban said. “It takes a special person to stay focused on what they have to do when they have a job somewhere else that’s awaiting them and they have a responsibility on staff.
“I’m not being critical of those people. It’s just very challenging. And we had a lot of that on our staff last year.”
Dylan Moses, the Alabama linebacker, had his own take.
“It was more so just preparation,” Moses said. “I wouldn’t say they were a better team because we both have great athletes on both sides of the ball. But it was like we didn’t prepare as much for Clemson and they obviously prepared for us. They game-planned better than us.”
(Rule of thumb at SEC Media Days — Moses is speaking his own opinion, but you can be 98 percent sure that the basis of those comments was a Saban talking point this spring.)
This, of course, is the very oxygen Clemson breathes. Dabo Swinney actually low-keyed it, saying “we were the better team on that day,” which is true. Tigers guard John Simpson responded with what must be the opening words of the Clemson alma mater — “Nobody wants to give us our credit. Nobody ever gives us our credit when it’s due” — and then moved on to say Notre Dame was the best team Clemson faced last year. Partisans on either side of the issue were affronted if not downright indignant, and both Media Days, at least for a day, were entertaining.
Now, it’s time to move on. What Clemson will do, I couldn’t guess but Dabo has pressed a lot of right buttons so far, and if “poor little Clemson” works for him, he should keep pressing it. Saban will do what he thinks is best for his team and not particularly care if he is “motivating” Clemson or not. (Does the defending national champion need someone else’s validation?)
If they play again, things will all be settled on the field. If they don’t, then it doesn’t really matter who said what. But to put it all on the table, a pair of conclusions.
Clemson was great last season.
Nick Saban has other fish to fry.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.