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A Tale of Two Coaches

The Birmingham News had two interesting articles this morning, one on Nick Saban's offseason "Fourth Quarter Program," and one on Mark Gottfried's acceptance of blame for the embarassing implosion of his basketball team.

To start, after an entire season of listening to Shula blaming everyone but himself, it's nice to hear Gottfried taking the heat for a disastrous finish to the regular season:

"I have failed in getting this particular team to compete consistently from a toughness standpoint," said Gottfried, whose team (20-10, 7-9 SEC) has lost on the road by at least 20 points four times. "That's my responsibility. We have to find a way to change that."

He goes on to (correctly) call out his players for their lack of effort and toughness, and seems to genuinely want to change this team and program for the better, going so far as to express concern about the players he recruits.  Perhaps my reports of Alabama Basketball's demise were greatly exagerated.

But this quote from Richard Hendrix stood out most to me:

"If we can find this attitude of `we' instead of `me,' I believe we can win this tournament."

I was talking with my old roommate (a diehard UAB basketball fan) a while back about the problems Alabama has, and Hendrix echoed our sentiments, that the Tide just doesn't play together and that Gottfried might be a good coach but for whatever reason he can't seem to get his players to be a "team."  Last year's squad was forced to come together.  If memory serves, we were down to a seven man bench at the end.  If that doesn't foster a sense of "us against the world" I don't know what would.  But this year's team seems to have bought into it's own hype.  They haven't played like they need to win.  They've played like they were supposed to win and just showing up was enough.  How many times have you cursed in frustration when a lazy pass was picked off and taken for a score?  How many times have we seen boneheaded shots being taken from guys who had no business taking them (I'm looking at you, Jermareo)?  How many times have you turned your TV off well before the end of the game because you just couldn't stomach watching another hail of wide open threes because we can't seem to be bothered with getting back on defense?  Exactly.  

Gottfried is right to point the finger at himself for all of this.  When it comes down to it, the head coach might not be the one missing the open shots or turning the ball over, but it's his job to show these players how to play the game to the best of their ability and then motivate them to do so.  But the team should also take a long hard look at themselves and realize Gottfired can only coach them, it's up to them to deliver on the court, and that's this team's biggest problem.  Either they are trying to do too much because the rest of the team won't step up (a la Hendrix) or they're playing lazy and careless because, well, they just don't seem to care (a la Gee).  Gottfried has gone to the bench more as a way to motivate the starters, and it's worked some, but I say screw the starters.  I don't care who they are, bench whoever isn't going to play for the team and put guys out there who want to work together and win.

I mention the Saban article because there seems to be a lesson that Gottfried could learn from Saban's boot camp:

"It's about busting your tail, and putting effort and commitment into your program," said Carl "Buck" Nystrom, a former Michigan State offensive line coach. "Everybody does it, from the quarterback to the last guy on the bench. The idea is, `Hey, we're going to war together and (heck), we're just going to die together.' It's a little bit of a Marine thing."

The problems that are plaguing the basketball team are extra infuriating for all of us because they're the same problems we got tired of seeing from the football team.  All last season there wasn't a sense of "team" evident in the football games.  JP was having to do everything himself, Bino was too busy running his mouth to actually cover anyone, players were openly questioning their coaches during the games and talking out of turn to the media, and etc.  It was a sharp contrast from the close knit nature of the team before.  Of course, that team had plenty to draw them together.  They had suffered through coaching turnover and probation, and they played for each other.  The new guys had nothing to bring them together and the coaches apparently had no solutions.  Enter Saban.

Nothing draws people together like a common enemy.  According to former FB Tim Castille:

Coach Shula was a more of a sit-back-and-watch kind of guy," said former UA fullback Tim Castille, a senior in 2006. "From what I understand, Coach Saban is more critical, in your face. Our workouts weren't a cakewalk by any means. But right now, they work out a little more than we did."

I'm not saying that players should hate their coaches and look at them as the enemy, but I like this approach and I think Gottfried could take a cue from it.  Neither the football or the basketball team has anything to bond them right now, save the color of the jersey.  Last year's football team could point to the coaches and at other players for the poor performance of the team, just like this year's basketball team can.  Instead of allowing that to happen, Saban is taking an approach that ensures every player must be in the best possible shape physically and mentally, and when they don't perform on the field it's their own damn fault.  The players will have to do their job and trust that the next man is doing his.  They can't point to the coaches or a specific unit anymore, instead they will have to shoulder the blame and say "I'm the one that let this team down."

Coach Gottfried, you've done a great job so far, but this is Alabama, and we expect our teams to win.  As ungrateful as it seems, the "what have you done for me lately?" criticism is always apt for a team wearing Crimson and White.  Do something to pull this team together, be it give them all hell in practice like Coach Saban is doing, or bench anyone that won't play no matter who they are in favor of someone who will and get a team on the floor that wants to win.  But whatever it takes, get this team together, and you'd be amazed at what they could do.