Losing to Clemson in last season’s College Football Playoff championship game was painful, Nick Saban acknowledges.
Losing to Auburn a little over a month ago hurt, too. Saban doesn’t deny that.
But when Saban spent a portion of his media day press conference in New Orleans on Saturday reflecting on those games, he didn’t use the terms most of the media mob have spoken about and rendered into quickly recognized hashtags. There was no mention of “revenge”or “redemption.” Saban lives in a world where neither is possible, each game being a separate entity.
What is possible is regeneration, the emergence of something new that results from learning the lessons of defeat. That was the underlying meaning at his answer when asked how many times he had watched the film of last year’s Clemson loss.
“I can’t answer that,” he said, then adding a revealing estimate: “more than I care to.”
In other words, Saban, famously repulsed by losing, submitted himself to a nails-screeching-across-a-blackboard experience repeatedly because something, some insight, might emerge. There was no guarantee that Alabama would face Clemson again. Saban watched anyway.
“If you go back to when we lost last year in the playoffs, we made the statement to the players that you don’t want to waste a failing, that you want to learn from the mistakes that you made… I think our players did that throughout the course of the season. We didn’t finish the season like we wanted to, which sort of put our fate in someone else’s hands. We didn’t control our own destiny to some degree.
“But I think it’s human nature that, when you don’t have success, people respond in a positive way to do the things that you want them to do. I think there’s some things that are really important when you get to this point in the season, which includes our last game that we played. What do you want to accomplish, and what are you willing to do to (accomplish) it?”
Having asked the rhetorical question, a rolling Saban answered it himself.
“There’s probably three critical factors in all that,” Saban said. “You’ve got to be able to finish. I mean, you’ve got to be able to finish plays, finish quarters, finish games.
“You got to be able to overcome ‘hard,’ because every game that you play in situations like this, (is) going to be a real dog fight.
“And everybody’s got to take ownership for what their role is. What do they need to do to make an effective contribution to the team? And sometimes you have guys that take ownership and just change the whole dynamic of the whole team because of the way they play.”
He then expanded on the idea, using a comparison that may spark more than the usual amount of interest from a segment of Alabama fans.
“I think the 49ers’ quarterback (Jimmy Garopollo) is probably the most recent example of that. I mean, the guy goes and wins four or five games in a row. Not only is he a better quarterback, they’re playing better defense, they’re playing better on special teams because of what he’s done to sort of impact everyone else to play at a little different level.”
Saban has been looking for lessons. Monday night won’t change the results of last year’s Clemson game or this year’s Auburn frustration. Things will have to change from Alabama’s last outing, or the Crimson Tide will not advance. The questions now are what did Saban see — and what will he impart to his team on Monday night.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.