If you listen to Nick Saban talk about his experiences with national championship games, you’d think the entire point was just to get the game over with so he can move on to his true goal: preparing for the next season.
Who can forget this passage from Saban’s 2013 GQ profile?
The story is this: A few days after Alabama beat LSU to win the 2012 national championship, Rumsey and Saban were on the phone together. Most of their conversations take place precisely between 7:12 A.M. and 7:17 A.M., when Saban calls as he drives to work. But this call happened to be in the afternoon. The two men almost never discuss football—Rumsey is the rare Tuscaloosan who doesn’t know or care much about the game, which, he suspects, has something to do with why he and Saban have become friends. But given that his golf buddy had just won the national championship, Rumsey figured he ought to say a few words of congratulations. So he did, telling Saban his team had pulled off an impressive win.
“That damn game cost me a week of recruiting,” Saban grumbled into the phone.
Rumsey at first thought he’d misheard. He asked for clarification. Saban repeated himself. He just knew that while he was preparing for the title game, enduring all the banquets and media bullshit that came with it, some other coach was in the living room of one of his recruits, trying to flip the kid. The thought was making him crazy.
Rumsey pointed out that Saban and his team had just been on national television before millions of people—including, most likely, every high school recruit in the country—and reminded Saban that they had won the national championship.
“I said, ’I’m not sure, but I think that helped you,’” Rumsey recalled. “And he said, ’I just don’t know. Maybe. Maybe that was good.’”
The close of the 2016 season called for Saban to miss another week of recruiting and Alabama lost — a double disaster. One Alabama player actually said at SEC Media Days Wednesday that the Tide’s coming one play short of a second straight national championship was “rock bottom.”
Saban was asked Wednesday if his all-important self-assessment is different after a successful season (a national championship) or a failed one (anything less).
“Well, we really try to do it the same way because whether you win or lose, we’re always trying to self-assess to see what we need to do to get better,” he said. “I think when you lose, everybody’s much more — the mindset is much more I’m willing to change. I want to learn. I don’t want to waste a failure. What could we have done better? Because everybody’s hurt by the fact that they lost, especially the way we lost that particular game on the last play of the game, but it wasn’t the last play. It’s what led up to the last play. And I think our players realize that.
“It takes a tremendous amount of accountability to be able to execute and sustain the execution for 60 minutes in the game. And we played against a really, really good team, which I think when you get in the playoffs, that should be what you expect. And we weren’t able to finish the game like we needed to. And I think there’s a lot of lessons to learn, and hopefully we won’t waste a failure.”