Alabama won’t ‘fall asleep at the switch’ with Saban still building

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is soaked in a sports drink after their win against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff championship game, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Alabama won 52-24. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is soaked in a sports drink after their win against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff championship game, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Alabama won 52-24. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Credit: Lynne Sladky

Credit: Lynne Sladky

About nine hours had passed since Alabama won its latest championship, which was enough time for coach Nick Saban to put in another shift at work.

“The to-do list started after the game (Monday) night,” Saban said the morning after the Crimson Tide beat Ohio State in the College Football Playoff Championship game. “Meetings with players ... whether it’s draft status or one of the other unusual things. The seniors can even come back if they want to come back next year. We got juniors that have to make decisions about the draft.

“Those things are pretty immediate, and we started on them last night right after the game.”

Alabama’s coaches could have started the process sooner than that. The Buckeyes never closed their deficit to less than two touchdowns after Alabama scored four touchdowns in the second quarter. The Crimson Tide’s 52-24 victory wasn’t yet complete before the mind wandered to contemplating whether they can do it again next season.

We know the drill for Alabama. Good players will leave and coaches will leave. Other good players and coaches will take over their roles. The Tide’s rivals hope the subtractions are more than the additions. The chances of that happening are low so long as Saban is CEO.

He’s won seven national titles, a record for the modern era. And yet Alabama has repeated as national champion just once during Saban’s run of six titles. I say “just” once because the Tide have themselves as the standard. Only Clemson has won more than one title since Saban started collecting them.

The Tigers and the Tide were 3-1 co-favorites in the opening odds to win the next national championship. Georgia (8-1), Florida (20-1) and Texas A&M (30-1) will challenge Alabama in the SEC. Ohio State (5-1) and Oklahoma (8-1) will take their shots.

Those are the programs that can realistically hope to challenge the Tide’s reign at the top. None of them experience turnover like Alabama, which helps to explain why Saban was looking to next season immediately after finishing this one.

“It’s an ongoing process, building a team,” Saban said. “I don’t think you can fall asleep at the switch for a minute if you want to try to do it the right way for your players and your program.”

Some Alabama players with eligibility remaining will decide to declare for the NFL draft. Quarterback Mac Jones may be one of them. College football’s best player, DeVonta Smith, finished his fourth season. College football’s best running back, Najee Harris, also is done at Bama.

After last season, Saban’s streak of seeing at least one coordinator leave for a head coaching job ended at four years. Another could be starting. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian took the Texas gig before masterfully calling plays in the title game. More Alabama assistants are sure to get job offers.

“I can’t make any predictions about our staff,” Saban said. “I think we have a wonderful staff. I like the chemistry on our staff. We’re happy for ‘Sark.’ I don’t know what other opportunities will be out there for our coaches. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Saban never has trouble finding good staff replacements. Coaches jump at the chance to help Saban guide the best player talent in FBS. The expectation is that the players coming will be as good as those going.

Jones once was an afterthought among Alabama’s quarterbacks. Then Tua Tagovailoa got hurt last November and Jones was good in relief. Jones was even better this season while winning the Davey O’Brien Award.

Said Saban: “When we were getting the championship trophy, (Jones) said, ‘Can you believe this, from a scout team quarterback to winning a national championship?’ ”

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood hold the trophy after their win against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff championship game, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Alabama won 52-24. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Alabama head coach Nick Saban and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood hold the trophy after their win against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff championship game, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Alabama won 52-24. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Credit: Lynne Sladky

Credit: Lynne Sladky

If Jones leaves, then his replacement probably is Bryce Young, the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the 2020 recruiting class. Maybe there will be a drop-off, especially since Sarkisian is leaving. Or maybe the pipeline that produced Jalen Hurts, Tagovailoa and Jones continues to flow.

Alabama wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs went pro after the 2019 season, and Jaylen Waddle had ankle surgery in October. No problem: Smith set records and won the Heisman Trophy.

If Waddle decides he’s done with not being paid and joins Smith in the NFL next season, then the top Bama wide receiver probably is John Metchie. He had 916 receiving yards and six TDs as a sophomore. If not him then maybe it’s Slade Bolden, who scored a touchdown Monday. If not them then maybe it’s Jacorey Brooks, a five-star recruit in the 2021 class.

The Tide won a championship this season with a defense that was very good but not up to Saban’s usual standard. Only one senior started on defense for Alabama in 2020. Any NFL departures should be mitigated by the multiple first- and second-year players high on the depth chart. The Tide probably won’t field an all-time great offense again, but that may not be necessary to repeat.

It’s easy to forget after Alabama’s dominant run that Clemson, not the Tide, were the preseason favorites to win it all. That made sense considering Clemson made it to the CFP Championship game for 2019 while Alabama wasn’t in the playoff for the first time in six years. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is the only coach to beat Saban twice in the CFP.

But, as usual, Alabama answered every question. The Tide beat all 11 SEC opponents they faced, and only Florida in the title game by less than 15 points. Alabama had CFP games vs. Notre Dame and Ohio State in hand by halftime.

“I think we’re the best team to ever play,” Jones said. “There’s no team that will ever play an SEC schedule like that again. At the same time, we’re just so happy to have won this game and kind of put the icing on the cake.

“There was not a lot of pressure. We just wanted to go out there and play the game we’ve been playing since we were all five years old. We did that really well.”

Next year Young might be saying something similar after another Bama championship. Then Saban will immediately start building for another. The Tide will keep rolling so long as he’s in Tuscaloosa.

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