“You have to be close with your quarterback if you’re going to allow him to put his hands where he does,” Jones said. “I wasn’t too sure how comfortable I was with that, but you grow to, I’m not going to say enjoy it, you grow to get used to it.”
Jones had no other choice, especially after McCarron led Alabama to the national championship a year ago and now has the Crimson Tide in the same spot with Alabama facing Notre Dame in Monday night’s BCS title game.
And although McCarron may be a metrosexual off the field, on it he is the alpha male.
“We bicker, (but) I usually win that battle,” McCarron said. “I tell him, ‘Listen, I’m the quarterback, you’re in my huddle, so let’s hush on this one.’ ’’
McCarron is one of those polarizing players, known either as a game manager whose success is a result of his team’s system or the consummate leader with an NFL-caliber arm who has thrown for 45 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his college career.
How else can the nation’s passing efficiency leader who is 24-2 as a starter and in position to become the first quarterback to lead his team to back-to-back national titles in the BCS era not even place in the top 10 of the Heisman trophy voting?
“For him not to be mentioned in the Heisman, it’s crazy,” Tide receiver Kevin Norwood said.
Forget living up to an Alabama lineage that includes Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler. McCarron couldn’t live up to Jordan Lynch, the Northern Illinois quarterback who was seventh in the Heisman voting and looked lost against Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
While McCarron may be overlooked nationally, Notre Dame will not make that mistake. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco praised Alabama for its offensive precision and said that starts with one person.
“He conducts the game just (as) if Nick Saban was taking the snap himself,” Diaco said. “He doesn’t put them in bad spots, he doesn’t make poor decisions.”
Alabama’s system, going back to the days of Bear Bryant and Gene Stallings, doesn’t unleash its quarterback. The perception that McCarron does nothing more than manage the game is something his immediate predecessors — Greg McElroy, John Parker Wilson and Brodie Croyle — also heard.
“That saying right there is kind of funny to me,” McCarron said. “A game manager can be so many different things. I think people try to label it as a guy that doesn’t really do much for his offense, takes care of the ball and tries to get everybody in their right position.”
McCarron wasn’t always destined to play for the Tide. He grew up in Mobile in a household full of Alabama fans, but he rooted for Miami, impressed by the Hurricanes’ winning tradition. “I love the U,” he said Thursday. Tony McCarron attempted to influence his son by reminding him how Alabama beat Miami in the 1992 Sugar Bowl to win the national championship. AJ was 2 years old at the time.
Miami had an early edge in recruiting before Oklahoma emerged. McCarron even told his parents 24 hours before signing day that he was going to Oklahoma.
When he awoke the next day, he thought of his parents and the short drive (three hours) to Tuscaloosa from their home.
“That was my thinking behind the whole decision,” he said.
McCarron rose through the ranks. He was redshirted and watched the Tide win the 2009 national championship. The next year, he beat out Star Jackson, the Lake Worth product who signed a year before McCarron, to win the backup job behind McElroy. Jackson wound up transferring. McCarron then won the starting job as a sophomore over Phillip Sims.
“Go back and look at his body of work, where he started at the beginning of last season and where he ended the season, you look at that growth,” first-year Tide offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said.
“You can be result-oriented or process-oriented, and he’s very process-oriented. He spends a great deal of time when people don’t know what he’s doing and he’s studying extra. To watch the continual progression, he deserves all the credit for that because of his hard work and effort.”