The message from Nick Saban changes each week in the hopes that the result remains constant.
A few weeks ago, Vanderbilt defensive lineman Nifae Lealeo proclaimed “Alabama, you’re next,” after beating Kansas State. His words found their way inside the Crimson Tide weight room. Then Saban said publicly that the “ultimate disrespect sometimes is when someone quietly thinks they’ve got your number” before the Ole Miss game.
After Saturday’s 27-19 win over Texas A&M, the message was that too much credit can be a bad thing.
“All that stuff you write about how good we are and all that stuff they hear on ESPN, it’s like poison, you know what I mean?” Saban said in College Station. “It’s like taking poison. Like rat poison. So I’m asking them, are you going to listen to me, or are you going to listen to these guys about how good you are?”
The message gets through, according to players.
“Everybody takes it serious,” senior wide receiver Cam Sims said. “Whatever he says, pay attention to it because he knows something you don’t.”
Saban saw things that he liked against the Aggies but was disappointed when Alabama didn’t put the game away in the second half as it had against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. It provided the powder, wadding and shot for this week’s message.
He may deliver the message in the locker room or in team meetings, but he also says it publicly. When the words make their way into print and onto broadcasts, Saban can make sure that players who are listening to the outside world are still hearing from him. Players can try to block outside perceptions, but it’s not always so easy.
“Even if you pull up Facebook, it’s right there,” guard Ross Pierschbacher said. “Everyone’s sharing it or whatnot. So you see the headlines. And a lot of times during the season, I don’t try to look at that stuff, stay off Twitter and whatnot. But you still see it and you still just kind of think about it. A lot of guys, it affects them differently. So I can just speak for myself.”
Saban might not need to think of weekly motivation in a perfect world. A roster full of self-motivated players intent on playing their own best game week-in and week-out might make things easier. But even for players with that kind of mental makeup, a regular reminder from the coach can help.
“I think the whole team is like that, but sometimes you have to reiterate that to a lot of guys,” linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “Coach Saban does a good job of just making sure that we’re level-headed and that we don’t get the big head. That’s probably the No. 1 thing, just because we’re winning doesn’t mean anything. You can lose at anytime against any team.”
Defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne said that Saban was “happy” the Texas A&M game happened the way it did so the team could improve on its performance.
The “rat poison” message might not seem like a happy one on the outside of the program. But the message wasn’t meant for those on the outside, even if that’s where it was delivered.
“The way we receive it is it’s more of an animated message,” Evans said. “From what he’s told us, we can’t get relaxed. We can’t look to exterior things for us to see whether we’re doing good or not. Our stats and numbers will show us if we’re doing those things. We have goals that we set up throughout the season that we want to achieve. If we don’t meet those goals, none of the other stuff matters.”