National CHampionship Diaries: The 'Tuscaloosa Times'
By George Somerville
With the College Football season coming to a thriling conclusion, George Somerville brings you all the news from the Alabama camp in the run up to Monday’s National Championship Game:
It didn’t take long for the Crimson Tide to divert their attention away from the Rose Bowl win over the Fighting Irish and towards the National Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Not that Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban would allow his team to dwell on the semi final win anyway. But the win was quickly overshadowed by the news that Offensive Co-ordinator Steve Sarkisian was being lured away to take up the Head Coaching job in Austin; a position which had become available as a result of the firing of Texas Head Coach Tom Herman on the day after Alabama had defeated Notre Dame.
MONDAY: SARK MOVES TO TEXAS
By Monday the news was out that Coach Sark was indeed the chosen one at Texas and that he had accepted the job. Coach Saban, who by now is well versed in his coaching team being lured away by other schools, did not seem – outwardly anyway – derailed by his OC taking up one of the biggest coaching jobs in the US.
At Monday’s press conference, Nick Saban was asked what set Steve Sarkisian apart from other OC’s and given that Alabama is scheduled to play Texas in 2022, could Sarkisian defeat Saban – something no other former Saban disciple has been able to do thus far. Coach Saban responded,
“Well, I think that’s probably only a matter of time. We’ve had a lot of great coaches here and they’ve done a great job for us, and we’re always happy to see them get opportunities. That’s what I think they work hard for, whether you’re an assistant, whether you’re an assistant to become a coordinator or a coordinator to become a head coach”.
Saban went on,
“Sark has done a marvellous job here. He’s very well organised. He works very well with all the people in the organisation, players and coaches alike. He’s a good play caller on game day. He does a really good job of preparing the players game plan wise for each and every game, and he’s just done a great job.
“He’s been a real asset to our organisation, and I think he’ll be very successful as a head coach. And he’s taken over a good program, so it’s going to be challenging for anybody that plays them in the future, I think.”
Coach Sark was asked about how his time has been dominated by the move to Austin during the Media day. Steve Sarkisian had this to say,
“Quite honestly, my week for me would be a normal game week if I hadn’t taken the Texas job so my focus is on the game, so I’m prepping for the ball game. Any of the spare time that I do have that’s getting my attention for my job at Texas . Whether that’s staffing, recruiting or things of that nature. But I would say that my week has been as normal as it could be and has been of game planning and preparation for the ball game”.
TUESDAY: SMITH WINS THE HEISMAN
By Tuesday, the Alabama football machine had moved on to New York – well, virtually at least – and was focused on either Mac Jones or Devonta Smith winning the Heisman Award.
As it turned out, DeVonta Smith became the first wide receiver to win the award since 1991 when Michigan’s Desmond Howard took home the famous trophy. The voters were clear in their choice that Smith was the best player in the game this year, winning by a margin of 700 points, beating out Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones and Kyle Trask.
Smith – a man of few words – had this to say when receiving the award:
“I thank my teammates. With team success comes individual success, so without y’all, I wouldn’t be where I am today, winning this award.
And just to all the young kids out there that’s not the biggest, not the strongest, just keep pushing because I’m not the biggest. I’ve been doubted a lot just because of my size, and really it just comes down to you put your mind to it, you can do it. No job is too big. If you put your mind to it, you can do it, and just keep believing in God, and you’ll get where you want to be.”
And what did Smith do after the awards? Did he celebrate? As we know a quiet man, with little to say. Smith did this…
“I went home and went straight to sleep”.
Smith was also asked about his teammate Jaylen Waddle being back in practice:
“It’s amazing just to see him recover. I’m glad that he’s recovering well and that everything is going as planned.
I think he’s getting back into it. Of course it’s going to take some time to get back to being comfortable with it. But he looks good to me”
When pressed as to whether Smith though Waddle had a chance of playing, he responded,
THURSDAY: ALABAMA MEDIA DAY
“Waddle has a chance”
Thursday saw the Alabama media day but only one headline dominated over everything else. Alabama football has come a long way since Waddle was injured on the first play of the first game of the season after which ESPN analyst, David Pollack decried that Alabama’s season is over.
But nonetheless, even though Devonta Smith, John Metchie III, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson have been a force not rivalled this year in the College game, any news that Jaylen Waddle could make a return for the National Championship was big. So, the media chatter that Waddle was back in practice was huge. And it dominated media day. Nick Saban decided to tackle this subject in his opening statement and said this about Waddle returning to practice,
“I know there will probably be questions about Waddle. He has been able to practice some. His status for the game is still relatively up in the air and it will probably be a game-day decision.”
Unsurprisingly, the topic of Ohio State’s ability to field a team cropped up during Nick Saban’s time on the podium. Saban was sympathetic to the predicament that Head Coach Day finds himself in and was able to elaborate on the challenges that a move of date would provide.
“Well, look, I think everybody respects the disruptions that we’ve had to endure throughout the season. We have total respect for the safety of players. If there were, and I think there were, some issues relative to COVID, there were discussions as to whether it was fair to continue to move the game back and all that.
I think there would have been some, probably I don’t know, difficult management issues if we would’ve moved the game back. Our school’s starting next week. We would’ve had 35,000 students coming back here.
We played 12 games this year, so we have a lot of guys that have ground through a season, a lot of guys that are nicked up a little bit. Another week of practice would’ve been much more difficult for those guys, probably. Jan. 18 is the date people got to decide whether they’re going to go out for the draft or not.
So just the whole timing of the whole thing would have been a tough management, but I would have put player safety on either team as the most important factor in this decision.”
"Don't Act Fake Now Ron"
I wanted to finish this section off with a comment about Najee Harris who for me hasn’t just been the best running back in College (winner of the Doak Walker Award) but for me has also been the best player this year. I am happy that Devonta Smith won the Heisman but at the same time I am disappointed that Najee Harris didn’t feature higher in the Heisman voting (Shame on you Heisman voters).
However, he isn’t just a great running back but also a great person as the below clip shows. At a press conference Najee recognised a reporters voice, who transpired to be a reported from California who covered Najee in High School. Najee’s response was classic….
“Don’t act fake now Ron”
#JusticeForNajee #DontActFakeNowRon #ShameOnYouHeismanVoters
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.