TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Phil Savage summarizes his upcoming book with the opening line of the 11th chapter about film study of opponents: “4th and Goal Every Day is my textbook on Nick Saban’s way of doing business at Alabama.”
That’s exactly what it is.
Along with veteran sportswriter Ray Glier, Savage provides a unique perspective about the coach that serious Crimson Tide fans will enjoy. Savage — the analyst for Alabama radio broadcasts — also is the director of the Senior Bowl. He previously served as an NFL assistant coach, scouting director and general manager.
The book is full of stories and anecdotes, including of how Savage and Saban met and worked together with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, and others that will turn some heads. Among them:
- Jake Coker confronted Saban before the 2015 Ole Miss game about having not named a starting quarterback yet. Savage also revealed that Coker had knee issues following two surgeries in 2014 and was dinged up down the stretch of the 2015 season after separating his right shoulder in the second quarter against LSU.
“He was never 1,000 percent healthy, but center Ryan Kelly said Coker was the toughest player on the 2015 team,” the authors wrote.
- What led to Saban’s “ass-chewing” line about Lane Kiffin after the 2016 Western Kentucky game was a comment made by the offensive coordinator late in the game. When the reserves didn’t run an elaborate play correctly while Saban thought they should be killing the clock, Kiffin apparently said over the headsets, “Dumb players make dumb plays.” Saban snapped back, “No, dumb offensive coordinators call dumb plays.”
- When he was with the Browns, Saban was known for throwing a good Kentucky Derby party every year.
But those kinds of items aren’t the essence of the book. This isn’t a tell-all.
While the impact of Saban’s first 10 years at Alabama will be felt for years, 4th and Goal Every Day explains how Saban and “the process” developed and evolved over the years, how the Crimson Tide have been so successful in so many big games, and how the program’s everyday approach is what turned Alabama into a dynasty.
“One of the points of the book is to show how difficult it is to win,” Savage told SEC Country. “You don’t just win on Saturday. You win year-round, and no one has done that better than Nick Saban and Alabama in terms of their approach on an everyday basis.
“There’s a palpable sense of responsibility from the top all the way through to the radio booth in terms of everyone [who] represents some facet of the program.”
Savage walks the reader through the Crimson Tide program from recruiting to game days. Although it would have been interesting to see more on how Saban goes about hiring assistant coaches, he provides a sense of what happens behind closed doors at the Alabama football complex without giving away details an opponent could use to its advantage.
The core of Alabama’s recruiting process is the equivalent to an NFL personnel department, setting minimum physical requirements for each position, such as height, weight and speed. The system is based on that of the Dallas Cowboys under coach Tom Landry, owner Tex Schramm and personnel guru Gil Brandt. When Jerry Jones cleaned house as owner, the system wound up moving on to the Cleveland Browns under coach Bill Belichick. Saban was an assistant coach with Cleveland.
The system has been modified over the years to fit needs and address how the game has changed, but Savage takes a good stab at guessing what the requirement are now at Alabama.
As for the attention to detail they had with the Browns, Belichick had Savage once run tryouts of the ball boys because he didn’t want to waste any practice time having anyone chase down balls if they couldn’t catch it. Those who didn’t pass the tryout were put on the chain gang.
A story about Saban and a ball boy that’s been told around the Crimson Tide explains the coach’s attention to detail. During one of his first years at Alabama, a ball boy messed up so badly that Saban kicked him off the field and told him never to return. The ball boy was distraught, but his supervisor told him to change his appearance and come back a few days later, and they’d sneak him back on the practice field, figuring the coach would never notice. Saban didn’t let on for months that he knew. One thing was certain: the student never made that kind of mistake again.
Savage provides numerous examples of how the intense, detail-oriented approach has led to results on the field.
Among them, he notes how the heels of a defensive lineman in a three-point stance likely will indicate how explosive he can be off the snap. The higher his heels are off the ground, the less of a burst.
The stance also can tip off the opposition to a play call. Last year, for example, Texas A&M tackles adjusted their stance depending on whether the play was a run or pass. Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and others were constantly yelling out the play before the snap.
Savage reveals what Alabama was looking for when it executed an onside kick against Clemson in the 2016 national championship game. He also offers insight into how the formation the Crimson Tide used came from Ohio State, which Alabama met the season before.
He also sets the record straight on why Auburn’s late touchdown in the Kick Six game in 2013 shouldn’t have counted. It’s not because an offensive lineman was illegally downfield, as many Crimson Tide fans believe. Instead, fullback Jay Prosch was making contact with a defender — C.J. Mosely —downfield when the ball was in the air, which is a penalty.
When he was hired by Alabama to follow Kenny Stabler in the radio broadcast booth, Savage wrote a detailed game plan as if he were a scout and sent a copy to Saban as a courtesy. The coaching staff liked it so much he’s done one for every game since.
Savage includes some of the plans in the book, which casual fans might not care about. But the diehard faithful will devour.
What both will learn is that 4th and Goal Every Day isn’t more than a book title. It’s a mindset for both Saban and his players.
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 4th and Goal Every Day is scheduled to be released in August, before the season-opener Sept. 2 against Florida State.