Nick Saban has been called many things over the course of his long coaching career.
“Zoomer” has never been one of those things — until now.
Saban has never embraced certain aspects of communications technology. He’s a well-known non-texter, for instance, and he’s never had to apologize for a dumb Tweet, unlike some people writing this column, because he has neve been on Twitter. When technology furthers his cause, though, he’s willing to learn it and embrace it, whether it’s watching endless laptop video from games and practices or videoconference visiting with recruits around the country.
“The technology that we have now with Zooming and things like that, video conferences with the staff and players can help us monitor their well-being, No. 1 and their health and safety,” Saban said on the Thursday (Zoom) teleconference with the media “No. 2, their schoolwork and the academic portion of it, which is being done online. We’re allowed to have two hours a week of some kind of football-related type stuff. We’re doing small increments of teaching segments with our players.
"A lot of uncertainty in the world right now and a lot to deal with. A lot of new realities at work and at home.”
Saban went on to discuss those realities, even as he avoided hypotheticals, deadlines, what-ifs and most of the other speculation that’s been an inevitable part of the impact that the coronavirus has had on intercollegiate athletics and will ultimately have on college football. He didn’t feud with Kirk Herbstreit because the ESPN analyst speculated that there might not be a season. As of this point, many options are on the table. Some will have to wait on future events and future data before they can be adopted or rejected. Saban is ready for them, but has to wait, too.
While he is waiting, he is planning. He is thinking of every resource needed for every eventuality. He’s flexible, prepared to adjust if necessary, and to do it quickly. There’s a word for that: leadership.
Returning to the topic at hand, here is an example: he’s not rigidly fixed on having an old-style 14-practices-and-a-scrimmage “spring practice” before the season begins.
“Fifteen (practices) is not gonna happen,” he said. “If there was a way we could have 14 days of teaching with our players sometime before fall camp happens, I think that probably would be beneficial. Historically we’re not allowed to work with our players in the summertime. This would be hypothetical that at some point in time in the summer, we would have the players back here and we would be able to work with them. I’m not talking about having pads on, but just be able to teach system, teach scheme. We’ll have to evaluate the players based on fall camp. I think the players who benefit the most from spring practice and having these (meetings) are really the young players on the team.”
Would that be an innovation for 2020 only, or a blueprint for a new model in a concussion-wary sport? Would possible schedule changes involving more conference games push the 8-game leagues (ACC and SEC) to another model? Will financial realities push the Power Five teams further away from the Group of Five, whose budgets will feel a tighter pinch?
Those were the “hypotheticals” Saban didn’t discuss. They have certainly crossed his mind, but not as the current first order of business. But you can tell he knows history will be made in the upcoming months, and he wants to be ready for it, not waiting around to react to it after it has passed Alabama by.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt