At approximately the time on Saturday that Nick Saban would, in a normal year, have been giving an update on his expectations for the Alabama football season ahead, the Crimson Tide head coach was at home where he was — giving an update on his expectations for the Alabama football season ahead.
There were differences, of course. There were no visuals from a just-concluded A-Day Game, none of the rare glimpses at the players in live action: certainly rare for the fans and relatively rare for the media. There was no postgame ceremony in which Saban handed out the coveted “Jerry Duncan I Like To Practice” Award.
And, in all seriousness, there was no certainty about when the 2020 season would begin.
What there was, though, as Saban and other UA coaches participated on a radio show with Alabama play-by-play man Eli Gold, designed to time-fill in the A-Day gap, was some actual optimism.
“We were disappointed in some of the outcomes that we had last year, but we also had a lot of adversity to overcome,” Saban told Gold. “I think those are probably good lessons for a lot of people … in our organization to grow and develop from.
“We had a lot of good young players that we were looking forward to seeing develop in spring practice. I will say that this team was on track to do things really, really well. The offseason program went really well, academics went really well. (That) points to an accountability and discipline factor off the field where people do the right things (and) that usually carries over on the field. So, we were excited about that.”
One could easily categorize that as “coach-speak” but Saban rarely converses in that dialect. Usually, if he is concerned about things, he says so, either directly or in terms that are hard to misinterpret. If he detects the enemy — “entitlement” — he is stern about it.
As with so many things in the Spring of COVID-19, Saban’s words have an unintended sting, or will have if the season doesn’t come to pass in some familiar form. Alabama fans understand why things are the way they are right now. Saban reminded them again on Saturday to stay the course. But the yearning for a 2020 season is strong and hearing a good word from Saban only makes it stronger.
Saban also had high praise for another part of the Crimson Tide’s long-range future: a new approach to strength and conditioning under recent hires David Ballou and Dr. Matt Rhea.
“We researched these guys and they’d done a phenomenal job at Notre Dame of eliminating injuries by something like 50 percent and even better at Indiana,” Saban said.
If that “50 percent reduction” didn’t catch Alabama fans’ attention, and it probably did, Saban continued.
“When they came in and we interviewed them, there was no question that from a sports science standpoint and from a conditioning standpoint they were light-years in advance of what a lot of people have done in their programs for a long, long time, which we’ve done the same thing for a long, long time, too.”
“Instead of these guys actually running drills, like when we were doing our offseason program, they actually observe drills and they make notes on what players need to do to improve their performance. This is a completely different level of how you go about training high-performance players, and I think it’s something that we needed and we certainly welcome.”
For someone who only recently got E-mail, Saban seems more than able to send a message.
That’s just one more reason why the day when it’s safe to play football (safety first) cannot get here soon enough.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt