When Alabama football coach Nick Saban warns of a reckoning, as he did after Mercer game, listen up | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

When Alabama football coach Nick Saban starts taking about his years growing up in the hard backbone country of West Virginia, his father intent on teaching him lessons that might mean a college education and not a life in the coal mines, pay attention. 

When he slams a podium the way his father would pound a dining room table if chores had been shirked or the job that young Nick had done at the Saban filling station where he worked had fallen short of standards, something is about to happen. It may not be something good. 

“When I was growing up, I worked for my dad,” he said, among much else, after a 48-14 win over Mercer on Saturday. “So every day at dinner, he would …”

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban has words for Mercer linebacker Jordan Williams (40) as he leaves the field Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

At that point, Saban slammed the podium with such force that many in the press corps were startled.

Then he continued. 

“There was a reckoning — a reckoning — for everything you were supposed to do that day,” Saban said. “Maybe we need some of that.”

When Saban was in college, that might mean something like leading up the busses, staying in uniform and practicing that night, or at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. The NCAA has imposed time restrictions that make such drastic measures impossible, even though you’d think there would be a one-day waiver for Bear Bryant’s birthday.

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What it does mean is that the Alabama players will face a hostile coach all week, and not because he is mean or sadistic or doesn’t love them. But he will be driving home a point that has stayed with him, probably from his first national title season at LSU and certainly from his experiences in 2010, coming off an undefeated season at Alabama. 

Talent wasn’t the issue on that 2010 team, with a returning quarterback, a returning Heisman Trophy winner at running back and a returning phenom at wide receiver in Julio Jones. Watch what happened to Michigan State in the bowl game when that team was mentally engaged.

But there is a reason why Saban mentioned a loss at South Carolina from 11 years ago in his radio show Thursday. His great enemy isn’t a lack of players. It’s having players who are either inexperienced or, worse, complacent. And he senses that the enemy is moving. 

“It’s like he (Saban) tells us,” tackle Chris Owens said. “When you play like we played today, it may not be today and it may not be tomorrow, but somewhere down the road, it’s going to get you."

Saban shared the same sentiment more colorfully when asked about the offense in the first half. 

“I mean, if it stinks it stinks,” he said. “It smelled bad for everybody. Did it smell bad to you? What do you want me to do, make excuses for them?”  

Saban has a memory. Not just memories of those hardscrabble days in West Virginia but also of last season, when Florida was the toughest opponent Alabama faced en route to an undefeated season. This is a different Florida team, but it’s a different Alabama team, and the game will be at the same old Swamp from before the pandemic: the loud, hot, hostile stadium where Alabama has had some success and, occasionally, some bad beatdowns in its infrequent visits, like 1991. 

So he speaks of a reckoning. The hope for Saban and Alabama is that reckoning will come on the practice field or in the meeting room. But if it doesn’t happen there, that doesn’t mean that the reckoning is not coming, efficacious and brief. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports,com or via Twitter @cecilhurt 

Cecil Hurt