In August of 2008, at the start of Fall practice with the much-ballyhooed 2008 recruiting class having spent only days on campus, then Alabama defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was as blunt as possible about the brevity of the college cycle:
Remember this: In the college cycle, you only have four years. And really if you recruit the right guys -- nowadays with the early entry in the Draft -- you only have three years, so it is a pretty short cycle anyway, and so you have to be prepared at all times to prepare the youth to play immediately.
And if you are going to have to prepare them to play immediately, the first criteria is to go get guys who have the ability to do that. Then, as a coach, get it taught. There is no reason not to get it taught. Get it taught. If you do that, at some point and time it will all come together, and you will have a good group of talented young men who can play on Saturday.
And that really sums it up in a nutshell. The college cycle is short, and if you recruit the right guys it is even shorter because the NFL will inevitably come calling if you recruit said right guys. As a result, you have to identify these players, be able to successfully recruit them to your campus, and then find a way to make an impact very early in their careers because they will not last long.
With that in mind, admittedly it is somewhat sad and disappointing to see the likes of Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, and Marcell Dareus depart early, but in all honesty it's the nature of the beast. If you recruit the right guys in the first place they simply aren't going to stick around four or five years, barring serious and / or untimely injuries.
And to be brutally honest, we all knew this day was coming for some time now. You know when I became absolutely convinced that Julio Jones would be a three-year player? The whole Mr. Everything recruit, recruited by every school in the country gave a pretty strong hint, obviously, but it became concrete for me when, after a week on campus as an 18-year true freshman, he did this to two upperclassmen on our starting defense:
Again, the truth of the matter is that this should have been expected all along. And, honestly, this is how it should be at a program like Alabama. We should be a program that attracts high-end talent consistently and in bunches, players who could effectively be described as NFL-in-waiting the day they first set foot on campus. We're not Wake Forest, or Texas Tech, and when you see an Alabama football team with 19 fifth-year seniors like we have had at times in the past decade plus, that's just a sign that we're not doing it right. Add that to the laundry list of things that Nick Saban has rectified in his four years in Tuscaloosa.