Alabama’s New Wrinkle in The Process

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The Process
BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 05: Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban during the Alabama Crimson Tide at LSU Tigers game on November 5, 2016, at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA. (Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Alabama’s New Wrinkle in The Process 

Attention to Detail

The second freshmen arrive on campus, Alabama coaches are harping on the incomparable value of attention to detail. In fact, focus on detail is probably the most imperative part of Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban’s winning formula — also known as The Process. No aspect of the game is too rudimentary for Saban’s teams to focus on. This lack of mental errors, penalties, turn-overs and self-imposed mistakes define Saban’s tenure at Alabama. In an interview with Sports Illustrated writer Lars Anderson, Saban defines The Process: “It’s the journey that’s important. You can’t worry about end results…It’s about what you control, every minute of every day. You always have to have a winning attitude and discipline, in practices, weight training, conditioning, in the classroom, in everything. It’s a process.”

“It’s the journey that’s important. You can’t worry about end results…It’s about what you control, every minute of every day. You always have to have a winning attitude and discipline, in practices, weight training, conditioning, in the classroom, in everything. It’s a process.”

The Origin of The Process

The origin of The Process came in a small West Virginia gas station owned by Saban’s father, known as “Big Nick.” Young Saban’s duties included everything from pumping gas to grease jobs and changing oil and air filters.

“The biggest thing I learned…at 11 years old was how important it was to do things correctly. There was a standard of excellence, a perfection. If we washed a car — and I hated the navy blue and black cars, because when you wipe them off, the streaks were hard to get out — and if there were any streaks when [my father] came, you had to do it over.”

Barrett Jones, an offensive lineman for Saban from 2008 to 2012 who is now with the St. Louis Rams, offers the following summary:

“[The Process] basically means just focusing on the little things and not getting wrapped up in the big picture. Coach Saban is very adamant about that. It means doing everything the right way. It’s essentially a way of life. Always thinking about winning. Always. It’s not for everybody, because it’s intense at Alabama. It’s 100 percent commitment and it never stops. But it all starts with coach Saban. He lives it. His energy is amazing. I mean, I don’t know if I ever saw the guy yawn.”

A Wrinkle in The Process

The Process means there is no rule or tactic too miniscule or obscure for Saban to use. Quite the telling example of this came in a particular tactic employed while preparing for Texas A&M and LSU.

Using a little-known rule, Saban has gotten graduates of the program to play the role of the opposition’s best players. Saban used former Alabama and European League quarterback Blake Sims to mimic Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight.  Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson (who last played in the 2013 NFL preseason with the Pittsburgh Steelers) played the part of LSU quarterback Danny Etling. The Tide defense prepared for the most talented player on the field in Leonard Fournette by taking on former Tide running back Trent Richardson (whose NFL career is likely not over).

Benefits of The Process

There is no question that Alabama benefited significantly by having the aforementioned former players participate in practice. Ultimately the use of said players is just another example of relentless attention to detail, just part of The Process.When asked about this rare tactic Coach Saban illustrated the importance of the entire coaching staff paying attention to detail. And in this case, attention to obscure rules that can be used to the team’s advantage.

“We try to stay on top of the rules,” Alabama coach Nick Saban during the Monday press conference of LSU week. “We have people in our administration who do a good job of letting us know what we can and can’t do and we would never do something like that unless we got it approved by the SEC office, which we did, and the NCAA.”

Some SEC coaches didn’t see things the same as Saban.

Once Part of The Process, Always Part of The Process: The Return of Blake Sims

Recognizing the challenge of Texas A&M’s dual-threat quarterback Trevor Knight, Saban summoned Blake Sims to play the role of Knight on the scout team. As Tide Safety Eddie Jackson noted, Knight is “able to extend plays with his feet and he has a nice arm and great receivers, so we really have to play our game, We have to keep those guys covered”. Jackson noted that in order to curb those extended plays the team spent a lot of time in practice against Blake Sims “working on scrambling drills [in practice this week], keeping guys covered while Blake was scrambling and not coming out of coverage and letting him extend plays.”

Interestingly, Blake Sims was also the scout team quarterback playing the part of Trevor Knight in preparation for the 2013 Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma (Knight eventually transferred to Texas A&M). Unfortunately Alabama had no answer for Knight during that game as he put up big numbers in their win over Alabama. The Crimson Tide contained Knight significantly better this year than in 2013.

Was it due to Sims helping out at practice? Maybe, maybe not. Was it because Alabama is better this year than in 2013, or that Knight is not quite as good now as then? Maybe, maybe not. As with almost everything else at Alabama, the answer lies somewhere within The Process.

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