Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Jury is out on if Saban has lost a step
Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Wednesday, July 19, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — He’s still the greatest of all time, but the growing opinion seems to be that Alabama’s Nick Saban is either slipping, or at least being outrun by Georgia’s Kirby Smart and maybe LSU’s Brian Kelly.
Those privy to Saban’s private news conference last Wednesday morning said he was upset and talked off the record, although when he left the room he was laughing with an SEC Network producer.
In his news conference in the “main” room — which basically is everyone but radio and TV, although they sneak in — he was subdued.
If one didn’t know better one might think he was being slightly humble, if that exists in his psyche.
Maybe Saban had heard that SEC Network show host Paul Finebaum said Smart had passed him as the top coach in the SEC, which it would appear that way since the Bulldogs have won consecutive national championships.
Alabama didn’t make the College Football Playoffs for only the second time since they began in 2015. There was no chance for an eighth national championship because the Crimson Tide didn’t even make the SEC Championship Game.
Georgia beat LSU, who won the tie-breaker in the Western Division with its win over Alabama, on its way to the top of the college football heap.
It was rare air for Saban, who had 10 players drafted by the NFL, including three in the first round and quarterback Bryce Young at the No. 1 pick.
Since Saban became the head coach at Alabama no team in the country has had more players taken in NFL Draft.
Yet, the last time he played Georgia was for the 2021 national championship, a 33-19 loss for the Crimson Tide.
Saban doesn’t appear to have lost any of his energy or enthusiasm, but there was a strong indication the aging process works on the GOAT the same way it does everyone else.
After his introductory talk Saban opened it for questions and Dennis Dodd from CBSsports.com was first.
Dodd, always clear and precise, asked about the lack of returning starters, and everyone in the room heard it but Saban, who asked him to repeat the question and when he did Saban stared at Dodd’s face, apparently reading his lips.
It has been told and retold he has a hearing aid but it is so tiny it is almost invisible and those types, according to an audiologist, don’t work as well.
No doubt he has the darkest colored hair of any 71-year-old in the world, but looking young and being with it benefits recruiting, although it appears NIL has balanced the recruiting scales.
Saban always starts a conversation about NIL by stating he’s glad the players are getting paid but that it is unsustainable at the rate it is going. In other words players, who are still human, are going to the highest bidder instead of who can coach you up to the next level.
If there is pressure on Saban it comes from within, for now. Not including his first season as Alabama’s head coach, his Crimson Tide overall record is 187-21 and his SEC record is 108-14.
Saban changed coordinators after last season bringing in Kevin Steele to run the defense and Tommy Rees on offense. A couple of stats that were mind-boggling for a Saban team were the Tide ranked 123rd in penalties, giving up 68.7 yards per game, and tied for 104th in takeaways with just 14.
Early in his talk he said, “We are focused on the process, not the expectations.”
This seems like a clear message to the fans who have come to expect a parade every year.
The best thing anyone affiliated with Alabama can do is get out of the way and let the man prove he is still the SEC’s King of Swing. Or not.
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