Destin, Fl. — SEC Spring meetings kicked off on Tuesday with a half-dozen coaches speaking to the media. They’ll spend the rest of the week addressing potential rule changes, issues facing the conference and more during their meetings.
Alabama football head coach Nick Saban fielded questions for 15 minutes on a variety of subjects. Saban spoke about graduate transfer rules inside and outside the conference, the new December signing period, run-pass option plays and the Crimson Tide’s opener against Florida State. Here’s what Saban had to say:
Saban: “We’re excited. This time of year sort of gets you excited about football season even though we still have summer and six weeks until SEC Media Days. But the fact that our freshman reported on Sunday and the varsity guys came back yesterday, start school today, it sort of puts you in the mind that this year is starting for what we want to do over the summer. So we’re really excited about that. I’m looking forward to… I think a lot of what happens during the summer has a lot to do with team chemistry that you develop. It’s the time of year when the coaches aren’t always around the players. The players work out with the strength and conditioning coaches for the most part in the summer. So I think leadership, togetherness, a lot of the intangible things that your team needs to develop internally has a better chance to actually occur over the summertime when the coach is not always there to make it happen for them. So we’re excited about that. But other than that, we’re looking forward to the meetings. There were obviously a lot of changes being talked about here and it’ll be interesting to see what everybody’s opinion and solutions are to some of the issues that are facing us in the community.”
Did the recent rules changes make the game better?
Saban: “Tell me how it betters anything. A lot of the things that happen in college football — this is no disrespect to anyone — is there’s a lot of paranoia that someone else has an advantage on someone else, whether it’s a conference, whether it’s one team versus another, whether it’s one conference versus another. So if we can sort of create some rules that sort of, some kind of way negate that advantage that somebody creates or pass a rule that creates some advantages for us… I think there’s some of that that goes on. But I also think there are some things that are really important, like player safety rules. Those are important things that can benefit the game and benefit the players. But I’m not sure about changing about the recruiting calendar around. I’m not really sure about this whole high school coach thing and employment in camps and things that sometimes we take a sledgehammer to kill a fly and it has some unintended consequence, which we may see here sometime in the future.”
Some of these rules changes are in response to something you and your staff have done. Is that flattering, or is it annoying?
Saban: “Well I don’t think we came up with anything that caused any of the changes that we’re doing right now. I think everybody is working hard to stay on the cutting edge, within the rules of course, to do the best things they can for their team, their organization so they have the best chance to be successful. I think that’s what everybody is really trying to do. I don’t know what we did to cause any of this.”
Not any of the recent rules, but some in previous years we’ve been here…
Saban: “I think that Urban Meyer and I probably got the head coaches taken off the road in the spring, because he and I went out all the time. I guess everybody else didn’t want to do that. It wasn’t against the rules to go out. So they all had a choice to do it. It’s a typical example of ‘OK, we’re not doing this so we don’t want anybody else to do it.'”
Does that drive you crazy?
“No. It just kind of is what it is.”
There’s discussion about modifying the graduate transfer rule. Where do you come down on that?
Specifically to change the rule that there’s a penalty if you have a graduate transfer and the transfer doesn’t meet certain academic benchmarks. They’re talking about changing that.
Saban: “Well, what is the intent of the rule to start with? I think the intent of the rule to start with was that somebody was changing schools for academic reasons. That was the intent of the rule from the way I understood it. That was why we allowed people to transfer to other places. So now that doesn’t matter. So that’s not the intent of the rule anymore. I’ve never been in favor of free agency in our league. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I wasn’t for it last year. I don’t think I’ll ever be for it. I mean, why should guys leave your team and go play for somebody else and you have to play against them? I don’t think that’s fair.
“Look, I think we would benefit. We would benefit as much as anybody in our league if you said you can transfer. Kentucky’s got a good player? We’ll go see if we can get him to come to Alabama. Why do we want that? Why do we need that? How does that help the integrity of what we’re trying to do as a conference or as a league? I’m not for having free agency in our conference. When it comes to transfers in other places, I like the fact that we have some kind of academic standard built into it. I think that’s a good thing, because that’s supposed to be why the guys are transferring. I don’t think we should penalize ourselves as a league and allow people to transfer other places, but they can’t transfer to our league. So if there’s some balance we can come up with on that, that’s more what I would be for.”
Would you be for a ban on intraconference transfers?
Saban: “We really always had that until last year. We always had that until last year. Until last year it was kind of understood. And we had rules that said we didn’t want to do that. But it got pushed and we gave.”
How frustrating was that for you?
Saban: “Look, I don’t get frustrated. I try to deal with things the best way we can, so why get frustrated? I’d rather use your best ability to go through the channels to try to enhance what your beliefs are, and if you can’t get that point across, that’s your fault. That’s my fault. And I don’t know what advantage was created by all that. I don’t know who won any more games or lost any more games because of that. I don’t know who benefited from it. If someone wants to do some research on that and let me know, I’d be happy to change my opinion about it, but tell me who benefited from that.”
You mentioned unintended consequences. What are some things you’re concerned about, or that you foresee?
Saban: “Look, I’m old-fashioned, so things like not being able to hire a high school coach to speak at a clinic or work a camp… There’s a lot of guys that are good college coaches now that started out as high school coaches and that’s how they got into college coaching. I certainly believe from a professional standpoint that we have a responsibility and an obligation as college coaches to help develop people in our profession. Several of the coaches that we’ve hired, not as full-time coaches that have become full-time coaches that are very successful coaches in our league now. Well that’s not going to happen now. I believe in that. Contrary to what everybody thinks, a lot of the reason that we have the staff that we have promote professional growth and to help people have an opportunity to be coaches. If somebody didn’t give me an opportunity to be a graduate assistant when I started out, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s a very difficult profession to get started in. I’m always for that. I think we may have some consequences relative to that down the road.”
People have talked about the consequences for coaches and programs with the early signing period. What consequences do you see for the kids?
Saban: “I think the issue is going to be when we change and have an early signing period in December, which to me, is way better than having one before their senior year. So if we’re going to have an early signing date, this is the best one that we can have. But the fear is that this will become the signing date. Now everything revolves around December 20th, 22nd, whenever it is. Then everybody will want to take an official visit during the season, which is not the best time to take official visits. Or now we have to change the recruiting calendar and have April, May and June, which we’re considering now to have official visits. Which if that benefits the players, maybe we can have a smaller window. Maybe April. How about May? How about when we have finals and things like that happening? How about May when we don’t even have anybody on our campus, because nobody goes to school. None of our players are there. So I don’t think some of these things have been really thought out well.
“We typically, and to be honest with you, as hard as you think I work, I like the fact that from June 17 until July 15, our guys are on vacation. So they’re not going to be on vacation, because we’re going to have people visiting and we’re going to be recruiting all during the summer. So I just don’t think these things have been really well thought-out. I don’t think it creates a real advantage for anybody. There are some people that say that the student-athlete wants the chance to take these visits earlier on. I don’t know.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. When I first started doing it, nobody even got offered a scholarship until after their senior year. So the downside of moving all this forward, is what happens to the guy that’s a late bloomer and a late developer and has a great senior year but he doesn’t get any opportunities to go anyplace because everybody has already signed everybody or has commitments from everybody? And football is a developmental game, so it’s very possible that guys play a lot better in their senior year than maybe they did in their junior year. So we’re going to be forced to evaluate guys in their junior year and sophomore year. Which, there’s a tremendous difference in our players from the time when they’re 18 years old to 22 or 23 years old in our program, and I’m sure that same thing exists from the time they’re 15 years old until they’re 18 years old in high school. Probably even more so. So we made it more difficult on ourselves to evaluate the players, which in turn is not really fair to the players. We like to have a role for every player that we recruit. So if we don’t have an opportunity to evaluate that, then we get a player in our program that maybe doesn’t fit a role, so he’s not going to be happy. Sometimes, less is more. It’s not always ‘move it up, do it faster, be the first one.’ That’s where we’re getting to. I don’t see that there’s a whole lot wrong with the calendar we have now. It’s worked really, really well for college football for a long, long time. But it may go back to one of those things where I talked about somebody having an agenda that benefits them.”
With the explosion of RPO, what’s the next step defensively? How much time in the offseason do you spend figuring that out?
Saban: “I don’t think there’s any answer to RPOs. You can run a running play, and the offensive line blocks a running play, which the defensive player keys a run and pass, but it’s a running play, and the quarterback sits there and does this and then throws the ball, because the safety doesn’t come down or the safety does come down or whatever, there is no solution to that. Other than that you can’t go downfield three-and-a-half yards to block, which is the rule in the NFL and some other places. So if they’re not willing to change that… (shrugs). But on the other hand, it’s exciting. We score like 40 more points a game than what we used to. Our 2011 team gave up eight points a game. The best defense in the country gives up twice that now and it’s going to continue to go that way. Very difficult to play defensive football when you can’t key the difference between runs and passes.”
Would you like to see it addressed in the rules?
Saban: “No. Whatever the rule is, we’ll do it too. So what makes the difference? We’ll run running plays where we throw passes, just like everybody else.”
Jimbo Fisher mentioned at the ACC meetings that they’re working on the game plan for Alabama. How soon will you do something similar? How good is it for college football to kick off the season with an FSU-Alabama kind of matchup?
Saban: “We’ve always tried to play one of these games early in the season. I think it’s good for our team, it’s good for their development. Florida State has a great team and will probably be No. 1 in the country. It’s exciting for our players throughout the offseason, the spring and the summer, to get ready for a game like that. I don’t think that because of who we’re playing that anything really changes in terms of how you get ready for a game. We do research before spring practice on our new opponents so that we can address some of the things that they do in spring practice. We do another scouting report, research over the summer so that we can do some things in the fall. Especially for the first three opponents, we have kind of a semi-game plan ready before we ever start fall camp. It doesn’t change relative to who you’re playing. I can’t remember when the first game that we played was not important. So if it’s important, why wouldn’t we do a good job of trying to get our players ready to play that game, because it is important, just like this game against Florida State is important.”