If you're like me you don't pay much attention to SEC Media Days since no one is going to really say anything particularly insightful or controversial (including Spurrier, who's routine is tired and predictable at this point) in front of the cameras, be they player or coach, and as Alabama fans we all know the company line by heart; process, this year's team isn't last year's, we've got some players that can contribute but need to be more consistent, [important player ] is as fine a player/individual as I've ever been around, we're focused on doing what it takes relative to achieving our goals, and etc. For the most part that held true again this year while talking about Alabama, but for the first time I can remember Nick Saban fielded just as many non-Alabama specific questions as he did questions concerning his own program, prompting the lads over at the Crimson and White to go so far as to dub him "the voice and face of college football." That may be going a little far, but I'm at least inclined to agree with their reasoning; whether you love him or hate him, people want to know what Nick Saban thinks about everything, from the Penn State scandal to UAB's desire for an on campus stadium. The full video is available in the YouTube above, while TideSports has video of Saban and all three players here. Give them all a listen (or simply read the transcript of Saban's remark).
If the most detailed, meticulous, successful coach in all of sports offers up a solution or thoughts on healing, shouldn’t we at least hear him out? "I think you can take any problem and say, ‘What do we want the outcome to be?’ and maybe come up with a better solution," Saban said. So he threw out his tax idea. This isn’t some throwaway thought; this is something Saban analyzed and eventually expressed. Just like his thoughts on the SEC moving to a nine-game schedule (when every other coach wants to stick to eight), or his philosophy on playing a marquee game against a major opponent to begin the season (when most SEC teams buy gimme putts), or his thoughts on paying players for their part in building the game (many are against it). We’re not building up a coach, or making him larger than life, or treading in dangerous territory that last time became fuel for a horrific, senseless tragedy. We’re simply listening to a man who knows what he speaks of.
Saban is good at building. Look at his teams. More importantly, look at the community. Some of his greatest accomplishments at Alabama have been keeping the locals from rioting. His word could sway masses in these parts. Harvey Updyke and Cam Newton have to know that. Saban refused to engage on those divisive subjects in a confrontational manner. Updyke didn't represent Alabama fans and Newton did represent the Heisman. End of story. When tornados bore down and tore out the soul of the region, the coach was a guiding force -- with class and honor. In those types of cases, $5 million a year isn't enough. You may have noticed class and honor are rarities these days. So are solutions in the national discussion. Saban furthered it on Thursday.
It will be about four months before it's clear how effectively the University of Alabama football team put its national championship of a year ago behind it. But from whatever early indication the offseason might provide, UA coach Nick Saban likes what he sees. "We have had a really good offseason with our team. This team seems to be less affected by the previous year, what has happened in the previous year," Saban said Thursday at SEC Media Days. "They're not really the 2010 team, they're not really the 2011 team. There's a lot of players on this team that this is the opportunity for them and their season." Later, the sixth-year UA coach indicated the Crimson Tide had turned the offseason page better "than any championship team I've been around." The follow-up teams to Saban's previous national champions, at LSU in 2004 and at Alabama in 2010 each lost three games. The challenge for the Crimson Tide in 2012 will be to provide a better sequel. Senior tight end Michael Williams made it emphatically clear that he expects nothing less of his final season. "Losing three games is an embarrassment," Williams said. "We don't live that way, and I don't think we'll ever live that way again."
Williams, Jones and Square comprise three of the four players remaining from Saban's oft-heralded 2008 recruiting class. (Safety Robert Lester is the other) Unlike a good portion of Saban's 2009 national championship team, this corps of upperclassmen only knows what annual national title expectations feel like. If Alabama wins 12 games this year, they'll end their careers with 60 victories. Obviously, it took more than 10 wins per year to set that kind of pace. It provided all the more reason for them to reflect on the biggest bump in the road they've faced to date with a sense of disgust and a reason for redemption. "It's been totally different now," Williams said. "In 2010, there was no pressure put on players to work extra hard, no pressure put on players to watch extra film. Now, we got guys taking a group of guys to watch extra film. You see someone struggling to run, now you see someone grabbing them and pushing them along."
It's a long way removed from a year ago, when Alabama came to media days wondering whether McCarron or Phillip Sims would win the job. Sims lost the job and will play for the Virginia Cavaliers this fall. "Any time you have an experienced quarterback, there's a comfort level there, because there's so many intangibles," Saban said. "… The experience you have at that position makes you feel a little bit better. "AJ had a really good spring. Hopefully he's poised to continue to improve." Added tight end Michael Williams: "[Last year] he was a new quarterback. Now he's in a leadership role and getting the right plays called for the right situations. "His accuracy is better, his arm strength has always been there and he's just worked this offseason on developing that leadership." Jones will be part of handling the offense in his first year at center. While he wouldn't go into specifics, Jones said Alabama fans should expect something different in 2012. "The transition was about as seamless as it could be," Jones said of adjusting to Nussmeier. "There will be new wrinkles, new formations."
Asked when he was sold that Saban was something special, Jones talked about sitting in Saban's office during a recruiting visit. "He walks you through the whole process about how you're going to win the national championship. Pretty much every coach does this ... but when Nick Saban tells you that, for some reason you believe it. You just know it's going to happen. He doesn't just tell you you're going to do it. He shows you exactly how he's going to do it. It's really amazing. I wish all you guys could be recruits and see how it works. He's a hard guy to turn down."
"I think I've put up the caution flag because as we move ahead with the committee and strength of schedule, we're going to have to make sure we balance nonconference scheduling with conference scheduling," Slive said. "I think everybody in the league will be sensitive to make sure we do everything to position us so we can achieve what we want to achieve. I also view it as a fan attendance matter as well." Saban said he wants less scheduling emphasis on divisions so every player faces every SEC school during his career. That won't happen with the new 6-1-1 scheduling format of six divisional games, one permanent partner and one rotating team. Said Saban: "Everybody's got a self-absorbed opinion about why we shouldn't do it because maybe they won't get bowl eligible. ... We're all playing somebody that is a quality opponent outside the league right now. I don't think the difficulty of the schedule would be any greater. I think if you're one of the best teams, playing another team in our league would just be an opportunity to prove that you are a quality team."
It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly why the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel wasn’t jam packed with Crimson Tide fans when University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban arrived for his 2012 Media Days appearance. Perhaps it was the early arrival time. Saban was scheduled to start the third and final day of the conference’s annual preview of the upcoming football season at 8:30 a.m. Or maybe it’s a side-effect of the economy, with fewer now able to abandon an entire day’s work to try and catch a glimpse of the coach who just led the Crimson Tide to its 14th national championship. But there could be another reason, one that is in direct violation of "The Process" that Saban has espoused since his arrival and maintained Thursday before a banquet room full of reporters. Could Alabama fans, once desperate for their team to again be regarded as a perennial national championship contender, grown comfortable with success?
At SEC media days Saban didn't do much to sidestep the controversy that's burned through the offseason and into the start of Alabama's 2012 campaign. Never mind that the Crimson Tide wiped the Superdome floor with the Tigers, the question remains if they should even have been there. "To me, it should prove the value of a good football team who loses a game, loses a chance to win their conference championship in overtime to a very, very good team, LSU, that goes on to win the rest of their games," Saban said. "I don't know why they should be eliminated." Saban brought evidence to the table, too. "Kentucky and North Carolina play a basketball game, one of them lost, but everybody wants to see Kentucky and North Carolina playing in the championship game," Saban said, reaching deeper for another example. "In the NFL you lose. You might not even win your division. You might be a wild-card team. You still get in the playoffs. You still have a chance to win the Super Bowl. You still have to play your way in." But Saban wasn't pointing his fingers at anyone in Hoover. The blame, to him, lies with the conference's detractors. "To be honest with you, whoever is making the statements about conference champions is really making a statement against the SEC and against any league who has more than one good team who would qualify, trying to enhance the opportunity for somebody from their league to get in," he said.
The city of Birmingham and officials with the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex want to steal SEC Media Days back from Hoover and The Wynfrey Hotel. At a BJCC board meeting on Wednesday board member Clyde Echols said the event is a natural for the BJCC because the SEC headquarters is located there, and a $50 million Westin Hotel that is expected to open in January would be the perfect home. "It's important to bring that event back to our campus," said Echols. Birmingham Mayor William Bell said he also wants the event to return to Birmingham, but said it's too soon for him to discuss it. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive told The Birmingham News' Jon Solomon that this is the first he has heard of Birmingham's interest in Media Days. Slive said the SEC does not award events until a facility is operational, and the SEC has one year remaining on a three-year contract with the Wynfrey.
The Tigers received 129 first-place votes - 58 percent - with defending BCS champion Alabama next with 65. Proving that writers don't always take the vote seriously, Ole Miss got one of the first-place votes.