When former Bama quarterback, National Championship winner and Heisman finalist Jay Barker speaks, the Alabama Nation listens. Whether from his perch as host of the WJOX "Opening Drive" radio program in the Birmingham market, or as an expert on the pressures and rewards of playing the quarterback position at a legendary football program like the one fielded by the University of Alabama, Barker is a respected voice in the state of Alabama when it comes to college football, as he offers an insider's look at what it takes to be a champion.
(Fans of the Crimson Tide will get a chance to visit with Barker in Tuscaloosa this weekend, while taking a shot at one of five pairs of tickets to the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA on January 2, 2014. Barker will be visiting Tuscaloosa as part of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Tailgate Tour, which will make a stop at Wilhagan's Grille and Tap Room in Tuscaloosa (2209 4th Street) between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 14. Participants can register to win a pair of tickets beginning at 4 p.m., with winners drawn by Barker himself every 45 minutes, beginning at 4:45 p.m. Fans must be present to win.)
Barker recently took the time to speak with RBR's Ole Whistlebritches (OWB) about Crimson Tide teams past and present, and the legacies left by those who have made their mark on the legendary program. Here's what he had to say...
OWB: Given last night's announcement that Bama quarterback AJ McCarron was named the winner of the Maxwell Award for the nation's most outstanding player, I'd like to start off talking about his legacy. As a National Championship winning quarterback at the University of Alabama, I'd like to hear a little about your thoughts on the legacy he will leave behind at Alabama. Also, how do you think his particular skill set will translate to the next level?
JB: Well, you look at his resume, and what he's accomplished, and there's just nobody who has done what he's done in his time at Alabama. Back-to-back championships, Johnny Unitas Award winner, Alabama's first Maxwell Award winner, Heisman finalist...he now holds just about every major passing record at the University of Alabama...he's just been amazing. It's not just what he accomplished either, but the way he accomplished it, as a true leader of this football team. I think he'll be remembered as one of the greats to play the game at Alabama, certainly. It was really amazing to watch his development as a player, his progression from a young gunslinger-style quarterback to the player he is today, how he has taken the coaching and heeded those instructions to become a great quarterback. He will be remembered as one of the greats to play the game there at Alabama, no doubt.
In the past, when asked about how he will project at the next level, I've always compared AJ to my favorite NFL quarterback, Tom Brady. AJ has similar size and stature, he's a very smart quarterback. He's probably a little bit better from a movement standpoint than Brady, but he's the same kind of player. He's not just a game manager, though he does have the ability to step up and get players in position. That is always a factor at the pro level. You also have to look at his record, he knows how to win. All of those factors make me think he will have a chance at success in the NFL.
OWB: As a leader on the '92 National Championship team, as well as other great teams under another "statue coach" Coach Gene Stallings, how do the Tide teams of your era compare with the Tide teams in this current era of dynasty?
JB: Coach Stallings really did a great job of taking the talent he had and getting the most out of it, while Nick Saban appears to be a little bit more about mindset and having the right mentality. He brings in Dr. Kevin Elko to make sure he his players stay focused and have the right mindset to compete at a high level. In my time, the mentality was, "You wear that crimson jersey, realize what and who you represent." Coach Stallings would make us go to the museum on campus and learn about the teams of the past, so that when we took the field, we didn't just think we were going to win, we expected to win. From an X's and O's standpoint, offensively, Coach Saban and his staff do a little more with the passing game, but it's still a pro-style offense. The fundamentals are the same, though: run the ball well, play defense and special teams, control time of possession...all of those fundamentals are the same. One difference is that while Coach Stallings did well with recruits, there is simply not a more relentless guy at recruiting than Nick Saban. He recruits the best talent, and when those players get there, he develops them not just as good potential NFL players, but as good men. A lot of his players who never play pro football go on to success in other things, like business. He isn't the most extroverted guy, and he has that reputation partially because of his interactions with the media, but he's very involved with the guys and develops great relationships with them. Those relationships are the reason he is able to sell guys on coming to Alabama, and then getting them to excel during their time there.
OWB: You led a team that won Bama's lone National Championship in the decade of the ‘90s, and it came in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Obviously, the Sugar Bowl was the game to watch for fans of Southern college football and carried a lot of prestige. Does the game still carry the same clout today that it did in your time? With the playoff system moving forward in 2014, do you think the game will continue to carry clout for future generations? Also, what do you think about this year's Sugar Bowl match-up?
JB: I definitely think the Sugar Bowl will continue to carry clout moving forward, though it probably won't be exactly the same. When we were growing up, the Sugar Bowl was the bowl game to watch because of the conference affiliation, the SEC Champion always played in the Sugar Bowl. What's happened recently is that the Sugar Bowl hasn't gotten the SEC Champion, because, for the last several years, the SEC Champion has gone on to play for a National Championship, so things are a little different now. I do believe that all of these bowl games will remain relevant with the coming playoff system, and in fact, they may even become more relevant. I am really interested to see how things play out this year, because right now, no one really knows what to expect. It will really interesting to watch that dynamic next year.
OWB: Bama's two most recent Sugar Bowls ('08, '11) have had dramatically different results. Which outcome is more likely for Bama in this year's Sugar Bowl match-up?
JB: Oh, I definitely think it will be more like 2011 than 2008. This class has been together for four or five years, and they're mostly Saban-recruited guys who've played a lot of games together. Back in '08, there was still a mixture of Shula and Saban players, so the senior leadership wasn't maybe as vocal as the senior leadership there now has been. This team knows how to win the big games because they've been there before together, they know what it takes. I don't think you'll see apathy out of this team, and after what happened in the Auburn game, I think you will see a team and a senior class that wants to finish strong and go out on a positive. They are competitors and will want to go out with a win. That's important because it will give the next team something to build on, I just don't see this group of seniors not wanting to go out with a win.
OWB: I'm sure you've had a chance to see Oklahoma a little this year, if only a little. From your perspective, what are the premier match-ups that will be featured in this game?
JB: Well I'm just in the preliminary stages of looking at Oklahoma, and I'll be able to offer a more in-depth breakdown pretty soon. But I've seen them, watched them last week some. But at this point, as always, I think that this game will come down to which team has the most success in the trenches. Whoever can win those battles along the line of scrimmage consistently will have the upper hand. (Coach Bob) Stoops will have his defense give Alabama a lot of different looks, they'll try to put pressure on AJ and force him into some uncharacteristic mistakes. That will be a telling match-up. The other one would be Bama's defensive backs against the Oklahoma wide receivers. They're a talented bunch, and their offense is pretty good. Their quarterback is a big guy, can run well, throws the ball well. But Bama matches up really well with them, and Oklahoma is a team that is respected by Alabama players, so they'll want to give it their best effort.
OWB: In closing, the Alabama football community lost a great with the passing of former athletic director, coach and player Mal Moore. I know your time at the Capstone overlapped the era in which he coached at Alabama, in particular, on the '92 championship team. What are your recollections and memories of Coach Moore, and how do you think his contributions to the university will be viewed by future generations of Bama fans?
JB: Well, first off, his contributions are amazing, not just to football but across the board. He had National Championships during his tenure, not just in football, but in golf, softball, gymnastics...the facilities he built are amazing. He was just really a phenomenal man, not just a coach but a mentor and a friend. I really found it hard to go to Tuscaloosa this year because I was so used to seeing him every time I went, standing on the sideline or in the athletic director's box. I'd always poke my head in and joke around with him, he was just that kind of person, always enjoyed being around him. He was also one of the best X's and O's coaches I've ever had the pleasure of being around. He was great at devising schemes to stop opposing offenses, particularly against the run. He had a great heart and really cared about his players, I always made an opportunity to stop by and visit with him whenever I was in Tuscaloosa. The man was a great storyteller, he would just tell these stories that were absolutely captivating, it was a little like being with your father and just listening to him talk and tell tales. Like I said, it was really difficult to go to Tuscaloosa this year, knowing that he wouldn't be there and that I wouldn't be able to talk with him. I honestly miss him every single day, he was one of the greats.