Here are the biggest takeaways from Saban’s SEC Media Days appearance
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Sam Thornton
NASHVILLE-With the digital backdrop scripted in crimson and white, the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt hotel in downtown Nashville echoed with “Yea Alabama” as the most prominent figure in college football hit the stage.
Alabama head football coach Nick Saban strutted to the center podium and faced the crowd with a sense of freedom. There wasn’t an agenda in mind to deliver for media members in attendance. Instead, we heard him rave about a summer trip to Italy, academics among players and an all encompassing analogy of cake.
The 30 minute adventure from Saban might’ve been mild on a surface level, but there’s still much to takeaway from his first media appearance of the 2023 season.
Expectations and an ‘evolving’ Alabama team
Heading into 2023, Alabama returns 46% of total team experience. That number leaves them as the 12th least experienced team in the FBS, establishing a sense of revamped urgency.
Addressing the topic of inexperience from a metrics standpoint, Saban quickly stamped this year’s team as one that’s “evolving”. With new coordinators on both sides of the ball under Saban’s watch, his tone was pleasant while discussing changed staff and the culture established within it throughout the offseason.
As a sure sense of security, Saban labeled new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees as someone who can enhance this evolution.
“He’s one of the best young coaches I’ve seen in a long time,” Saban said.
There’s plenty of talent for both Rees and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to work with despite a youthful outlook. For Saban, talent isn’t worth coaching effort unless a proper mindset is established.
His transition from their desired winning mindset floated to humility and gratitude within a journey each season. Saban says eliminating the focus on the outcome of a season is what’s important for this year’s Alabama team. While gazing into the sea of reporters, he dove into what that means.
Remaining “process oriented” and focused in the moment will eliminate disappointment when lofty expectations are imminent. It’s clear that Saban believes in this team, and that he likes the currently constructed roster.
With that point, he wanted to address that there’s no expectations present but their very own.
He believes that every season is like taking a new job. In 2023, it could be the most exciting one yet. Like a new young professional, it could feel like 2008 again for Saban with his tone studied.
Quarterback battle is alive and well
Before anyone could ask, Saban addressed it himself during his opening comments. Yes, there’s a quarterback battle present in Tuscaloosa and it will be a good one. However, there’s no rush to name a starter.
Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson and Tyler Buchner are the cake batter in a grand metaphor that Saban described. Honoring his grandmother, Saban told a story of when he used to ask when a cake she was baking would be ready to eat.
“If you take it out of the oven too soon it’s going to turn to mush,” Saban said with concentrated eyes.
The most important element a cake needs is consistency, and that’s the same for quarterbacks. That piece is currently missing in all of the potential starters, making it a battle based more on proving it than earning it.
To this point, Saban said that there’s currently no separation between the three potential starters and that making a decision at this time would distribute the same mess as an unfinished cake in the oven.
So, the oven will remain on full blast until the season draws closer. Until one of the play callers adds the salient ingredient of “winning football”, the cake won’t be ready to digest by Alabama fans and more importantly the critics who will surely question their potential.
Transfer portal vs. ‘free agency’
Flying under the radar, Saban was asked what the NCAA Transfer Portal has done for Alabama and how it establishes increased comfort for departures in their roster each season.
Pondering the question for a brief moment, he inhaled a breath, then compared the portal to “free agency” in professional sports. While using the portal is useful for filling needed holes, like former Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs did last season in Tuscaloosa, Saban wants to continue dominance within the recruiting scheme.
Building Alabama’s roster on premier high school talent, Saban says, is their first priority although the portal has been “very beneficial” in recent years for the Tide. Alabama will bring in five players from the transfer portal this season, following through on Saban’s outlook for needed depth while not harping on it.
Heavily involved in the current state of name, image and likeness (NIL) earnings, this is an intriguing stance based on Alabama’s revenue and how it will develop into the future for recruits hoping to join the Tide.
Saban has been vocal about landing the right players who “fit” their pedigree within the portal. Alabama can land whoever they want with money, but that’s not the attraction when it comes to winning national titles.