Nick Saban started with a simple observation about Alabama’s second scrimmage of the spring. The Crimson Tide’s experienced players — an abundance on offense, a smattering on defense — do well, make less mistakes and give the sort of concentrated effort Alabama has seen so often over the past 10 years. The younger players are talented, but require more coaching as they seek to straighten out the learning curve.
That’s been a natural part of college football for decades. But the question that’s become more relevant over the past few years is whether the increased number of early departures for the NFL draft has reduced the number of experienced older players and increased the amount of time necessary for fundamental coaching.
There is no divining rod that can predict when a question will prompt a standard reply from Saban and when, randomly, you will strike a flowing fountain of information, a master’s thesis on some football topic delivered extemporaneously at a podium.
Saturday was one of those days.
Aside from the classic Jerry Jeudy-esquire Saban reverse pivot move — “I don’t really look at it,” immediately followed by a detailed, data-filled 5-minute answer — the Alabama coach addressed the issue, drifted off into a solo, then came back and closed with a specific answer.
He was calm and collected, although it’s clearly an issue that matters to him. He didn’t reply with the “poor me’s,” to use his expression for self-pity, noting that it affects all teams in college football. (There are probably statistics that show teams at the top have disproportionate turnover, but that’s sort of a luxury tax on talent.)
“I think in the last five years, not counting this year, there’s been 380 or thereabouts go out early for the draft, and 25 percent of those guys didn’t even get drafted. And another 25 percent weren’t on the team in three years. So, that means 50 percent of the guys that went out early for the draft had failed grades. But if you look at the number of guys that were first- and second-round draft picks, there were very few guys that had failed careers. Now, we have guys that have no draft grades, seventh-round grades, free-agent grades, fifth-round grades that are going out of the draft. And the person that loses in that is the player.
“If you’re a third-round draft pick, and we had one here last year — I’m not going to say any names — goes and starts for his team, so he’s making third-round money, which is not that great. He’d be the first guy taken at his position this year, probably, and make $15-18 million more. So, the agent makes out, the club makes out, and now they’ve got a guy that’s going to play for that kind of money for three more years, a’ight?
“Everybody out there is saying, ‘Well, get to your next contract.’ Well, there’s obviously 50 percent of these guys that never get to a next contract. And that doesn’t mean all the rest of them got to one, either.
“I’ve actually changed how I talk to recruits now, Saban said. “I tell every recruit that … the reason that you’re going to college is to prepare yourself for the day you can’t play football. I think we have a lot of people way back in high school that look at college as a conduit to get to the NFL.
“I am 100-percent NFL. But people have to be smart about the business decisions they make relative to the NFL because it is all business. When people make emotional decisions, they’re going to have to suffer some really difficult consequences for themselves in the future because you don’t have to go out for the draft early. You can come back and play. We’ve had six or seven guys here that had second- or third-round grades that became top-15 first-round draft picks and made a significant amount of money doing that. (But) I’m all for every one of our guys that went out for the draft. I’m going to do everything I can do to try to get them drafted as high as they can get drafted, a’ight, because once they say they’re leaving, what benefits our program is that they do great, and I want them all to do great.”
From that segment, Saban returned to the more specific answer to the original question.
“Yeah, it affects our team, but our team turns over more quickly. We just have to have more better young guys that can go out there and learn how to play and provide depth for the team. And it’s not going to be an excuse for what kind of quality we put on the field. We’ve just got to do a better job of coaching because you’ve got to do a better job of developing young players because they’re going to have to play more quickly.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.