Nick Saban is so smart about the game of football -- readers, in unison, How smart is he?? -- that he can give you a history lesson on the evolution of the least-talked-about, most important position on the team: the holder.
Saban sat down with McElroy & Cubelic during Alabama's run through SEC media days and, as the interview entered its jokey wind-down portion, the topic turned to what position former Tide quarterback McElroy could play for his alma mater right now. Saban initially suggested punt/kick returner and tell McElroy, not exactly fleet of foot even in his prime, to just fair catch each kick before it was agreed upon McElroy could be a holder.
That led to this treatise on how punters became the default holder.
"When I played quarterback, that was just what you did. Everybody did it. And now we have to have a tryout on our team to find people who can hold. It's sort of a lost art, in a way.
"It's a little (below) their pay grade, I guess," Saban said
"It started in the NFL because it's always a practice issue to get the quarterback to work with the kicker enough. You've got the punter over there and they're working together because they have their own individual thing, so the punter can be the holder. That started the trend in the NFL which pushed the quarterback out, for good reason.
"But when you're in a critical game and you're kicking a field goal to win the championship and the punter trots out there to hold the ball, it's not comforting to me."
As it happens, Alabama has an opening for its holder after Mac Jones' graduation.
Jones shared the holding job with another current NFL quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa. Saban explained why in 2019:
“Well it just happens to be that Tua’s really, really good at this,” Saban said. “You know AJ (McCarron) did it when he was here, too. Now, it does enhance your chances of being able to fake the ball because you (have) someone athletic enough to run and you also have someone with the arm talent to throw a pass, if you want to do that.”
Playing a quarterback at holder allowed Alabama to execute this beautiful fake field goal in 2011.
And, of course, any time you have the opportunity to run a future New England Patriots quarterback off tackle with a kicker as his lead blocker in a national title game, you have to do it.
(Sorry, Nick. Had to do it.)