Nick Saban is no quote machine.
Oh, he talks to reporters like a machine. A robot, to be exact. And yet, he’s not entirely bereft of memorable missives. Six years ago the Alabama coach uttered words that were partly a call to action, partly a plea for help.
“Is this what we want football to be?” he asked.
He was lamenting the hurry-up, no-huddle offenses taking over college football. He was questioning the fairness of such systems. He was even challenging whether they were a threat to the safety of defensive players.
He isn’t doing any of that anymore.
Not after he went out and got a no-huddle, hurry-up offense of his own.
On the eve of the national semifinal, Saban and Alabama are preparing to face one of the most high-flying, death-defying offenses that college football has ever seen. But they’ll counter the Sooner circus with an offensive show of their own.
Oklahoma leads the country at 49.5 points a game.
Second on the list: Alabama at 47.9.
Gone are the days of ball control in Tuscaloosa. No more 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Goodbye, student body left, student body right.
Mind you, the Crimson Tide still plays physical football, but it has gone the way of so many other teams, making Saban’s lament about the changing face of college football seem long ago and far away.
“I remember that,” OU interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said of Saban’s comments. “But I’m not surprised (at the change). Flexibility and adaptation is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
Saban has always been progressive in many ways at Alabama. He was one of the first head coaches, for example, to buy into the potential of analysts. The staff position is largely unregulated by the NCAA, but if filled by former coaches, it can provide a wealth of expertise in breaking down film and devising game plans.
Despite moves such as that, Saban seemed dead set against spread offenses. Even as several teams in the run-first, pass-only-if-there’s-a-gun-pointed-at-you SEC went that way, Saban held out.
When he went on his mini-rant after facing Ole Miss and its Hugh Freeze-led offense in 2012, Saban sounded a bit like a get-off-my-lawn fuddy-duddy.
“I think that the way people are going no-huddle right now that at some point in time, we should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety,” he said.
Then Saban spouted some nonsense about how defenders can’t get lined up and ready and that leads to a much greater chance of injury. But then he revealed his real concern — offenses scoring so much that great defense isn’t always going to be enough to win championships.
“I just think there’s got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, ‘Is this what we want football to be?'” he said.
Want it or not, it’s what football is.
Eventually, Saban came to grips with that. He didn’t have to like it, didn’t have to like it one bit, but even though his teams had won three of the past six national titles, he decided after the 2013 season that Alabama needed to join the circus.
Saban hired Lane Kiffin to install a spread offense, and while offensive coaches have changed a bunch since then, the Crimson Tide now throws it with the best of them.
OU has the country’s most efficient passing offense.
Alabama has the second best.
This isn’t a case of if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Alabama was doing just fine before Saban made the switch, though it has won national titles two of the three years since. But he regularly references Tiger Woods adapting his swing at the height of his success. The golfer knew it would be better for his long-term success.
So it was with Saban’s offensive shift.
He has said several times he still doesn’t necessarily like the change. He has laughed at what he might’ve thought a decade ago if someone had shown him video of his team now. Four receivers. No huddle. Shotgun snaps.
Is this what we want football to be?
Nick Saban might not, but he has adapted — and Alabama has conquered.