Nick Saban didn’t explode at his Wednesday press conference, perhaps choosing to save the warheads for a bigger stage in Tampa.
There were quarterback questions and Sarkisian questions although the actual name “Lane Kiffin” was circumvented in the way Harry Potter characters never actually said “Voldemort.” Saban handled the questions calmly enough, in the same sort of head-down straight-ahead mode that Bo Scarbrough takes to undersized linebackers. But the message was clear: old business is old business and all that matters is the business at hand.
The answers about Steve Sarkisian, Jalen Hurts and The Transition were positive. Saban suffered through four related queries until the “that’s-all-I’m-going-to-say” light started flashing. If you just have to have something related to Kiffin, I thought an answer to a sly question about the offensive performance against Washington was veiled about as thinly as Mariah Carey’s cleavage on New Year’s Eve.
“We had 25 negative plays on offense on the tape, so what do you think I saw?,” Saban said. A more relevant question is probably what Saban attributed those 25 negative plays to, a question that may have been answered on Monday morning.
There were also some revealing answers to questions that had nothing to do with He Who Shall Not Be Named. One, especially, revealed what may be Saban’s deepest core value, coming in response to a question about making postseason practices less physical.
“If you watch bowl games, you probably see some of the most horrendous, horrific tackling you’ve ever seen in your life,” he said. “That’s what I’ve seen when I watch the games. We missed quite a few in the (Washington) game as well. Not too many. Guys hustled onto the ball. When we did miss, there was always another guy there.
“Those are the type of things players have to force themselves to practice. We don’t want to beat them up, but we don’t want to put them out there on the field where they’re not ready to play.”
By a conservative estimate, I’ve covered 500 Nick Saban press conferences in the past decade and not once as he ever referred to something as “horrendous” and “horrific” at the same time. So it’s safe to say that he loathes missed tackles to the full extent of his being – beyond satellite camps, beyond speed-ball offenses, beyond hypothetical questions. He knows that against a Mike Williams or a Deshaun Watson, they can mean the difference in 15-0 (which would be the first time any Alabama coach has had that many wins in an undefeated season, something rarely mentioned) and 14-1.
There was also a question about his 10-year anniversary at Alabama. If you expected nostalgia, or maybe a sentimental anecdote, you’d have had better luck chartering a fishing boat in Tampa and asking one of the local sharks, concerned only with moving forward and severing a limb or two along the way.
“This is not a time to be falling in love with what you did yesterday, last year, 10 years ago or 10 years from now,” Saban said. “It’s hard to get nostalgic when our players still have something important to play for. This is how these guys will be remembered.”
In other words, it’s Game Week and nothing, no matter how often people ask, is going to cause Saban to look in any direction other than straight ahead.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.