Usually when Nick Saban paints his post-practice picture of the football team progress at the University of Alabama, he is a classical realist. A chair is a chair, an apple is an apple and a missed assignment is a missed assignment.
Occasionally, Saban works in a more abstract mode, as he did on Wednesday. He didn’t come out and say that it was a grueling hot day and the Crimson Tide practice might not have been all that he expected. That seems to have been the case and, if so, it’s not surprising. These are the most difficult days for any team. The mid-August heat (from which the Crimson Tide was spared for a couple of unseasonably mild weeks) has arrived. The practice routine offers no respite, only the promise of more practice. When game week arrives, then motivating yourself for practice takes on a new monument for a player. Until then, the players is largely on his own — with the occasional nudge from the player.
Saban didn’t come in talking about a specific temperature — but if you looked closely at what he said, you could get the message that the heat had an effect, and the fatigue did as well.
“If you can’t give effort, if you can’t get focused…how can you ever get the trust and respect of your teammates?,” Saban asked rhetorically. “We can’t get any of this done in the conditions we have here if we don’t have mental toughness. I’ve complained on many occasions about people who make predictions that there is no basis at all for, no basis at all. This team has a lot to prove and until you do prove it, you haven’t done much of anything.
“We’re going to play games in weather like today, probably three or four. How many of you were at Ole Miss (for Alabama’s mid-September game) last year? One hundred degrees and we played 100 snaps. You better be a grown man if you are going to do that. Are we there yet? Probably not.
“How much are you giving the other team by making mental errors, not being able to focus on technique. Most of you all, including Miss Terry, my mom and Aunt Fran all want to call the plays, but most of the time when the play called doesn’t work, it’s execution.”
There was much more in the same vein, although Saban did let Aunt Fran off the hook for the rest of the press conference. Saban fights an unending war against two opponents — complacency and inconsistency — and Wednesday was yet another skirmish. There was no explosion although the coach did cross the family-language line in an answer about defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was named a preseason All-American by Sports Illustrated on Monday. Saban had no ire for Fitzpatrick — who he called “phenomenal.” He didn’t praise Fitzpatrick for his interceptions, or any game-day exploits. Then, he used him as a counterpoint for guys who coast at practice and say they are “saving it” for game day.
“I’ve coached those guys,” Saban said. “And not any of those guys are worth a (expletive).”
At this point, the picture should be clear. Saban has no patience with any topic other than practice. The local media, blessed with the self-preservation instincts that have been honed over time, didn’t ask anything about Florida State. There is plenty of time for that later, and Saban was in no mood for it. Besides, his point — and his focus — was abundantly clear.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.