Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Take Two: Spurrier sizes up Saban
By Alex Scarborough and Edward Aschoff
It's Tuesday, which means it's as good a time as any for a Take Two.
In scouring the hot-button topics of the SEC this week, we landed on an interesting article from Josh Kendall of The State newspaper in South Carolina. In the piece, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier spoke of his work ethic and compared it to that of Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban's, going so far as to question Saban's results at Alabama.
So was the Head Ball Coach right? Let's have two of the SEC Blog's writers debate.
Take 1: Alex Scarborough
Spurrier is half right. He doesn't need to work incredibly long hours to have success. He just has the -- dare I say -- courage to be honest about it, rather than play martyr to the profession.
It made me think of his reaction last month to being asked if he was ready to turn his attention to Texas A&M. Whereas other coaches might claim their eagerness to lock themselves in a film room, Spurrier said, "No, I'm ready to turn my focus to golf tomorrow."
That's Spurrier in a nutshell. But it's not everyone.
Spurrier said he told Saban once, "Nick, you don't have to stay here until midnight and your teams would be just as good." His response, according to Spurrier, was, "If I could do it the way you do it, I would, but I don't feel comfortable unless I cover every base."
This should surprise no one. Spurrier appears to be right-brain oriented. He trusts his instincts and doesn't overthink situations. Saban, on the other hand, appears to work primarily with the left side of his brain. He's analytical. He gathers information and analyzes -- over and over and over.
Both coaches work smart because they know what they need to achieve success
Where Spurrier loses me, however, is when he argues that Saban hasn't "maxed out potentially as well as he could." Give me a break. Three national championships in five seasons is maximum potential in today's age of parity. To argue that because he recruits so well he should have won even more is a hollow argument to me. Why? Because it discounts his coaching ability.
When Saban won his first title at Alabama in 2009, he had a three-star quarterback under center in Greg McElroy. His Heisman Trophy-winning running back, Mark Ingram, was talented, but he wasn't a top 10 player at his position coming out of high school. Marcell Dareus wasn't born a first-round NFL draft pick. He was a no-name, No. 39-ranked defensive tackle in the Class of 2008 when he got to Tuscaloosa.
Saban and his staff molded them as they have others. They grinded to get the team where it is today.
If in the next five years Alabama doesn't turn a bevy of blue-chip prospects into another national title, then Spurrier might have an argument. But for now, it seems flawed.
Take 2: Edward Aschoff
No one is going to sit here and question Saban's resume, but Spurrier brings up an interesting point.
Last year, Alabama was the overwhelming favorite to win the final BCS national title. It was supposed to be three straight titles for the Crimson Tide. No one else had a chance. But when we got to the end of the season, Alabama was huffing and buffing down on Bourbon Street in a loss to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. A month earlier, Auburn essentially dethroned Alabama thanks to a last-second miracle play that really never should have happened.
It was basically like "Game of Thrones" because we thought we knew exactly what was going to happen, only to be sitting in shock.
To our standards -- and Saban's -- Alabama underachieved last year. Quarterback AJ McCarron made it clear after the season that there was complacency and some players -- young ones in particular -- didn't buy in. If you go back and dissect the season, there were clues that this team wasn't the same as the ones that won back-to-back titles. The toughness and sense of urgency that made them so good lacked as the 2014 season wore down.
How does the coach who analyzes everything not keep complacency out of the locker room? How does he let guys slip? Clearly, it isn't all on Saban, but as the head coach you own responsibility, and for that I think Spurrier's right when he says that full potential isn't always there.
Look at the 2010 team or the 2008 team. Florida pushed that almost invincible -- and unbeaten -- Alabama team around in its fourth-quarter comeback win in the SEC championship. A month later, Utah embarrassed a less-than-enthused Bama team. With key pieces returning from the 2009 national title team, the 2010 group still managed to lose three games, as complacency poisoned it.
Saban has done a fantastic job, but I think even he'd agree that he could have gotten more out of a couple of teams -- especially last year's.