TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban looked a little weary Friday evening, but it wasn’t because the University of Alabama football team had just held its first postseason practice in preparation for the College Football Playoff.
You think your schedule is a little chaotic now?
In addition to starting to get his team ready for the rematch with the opponent it faced in the last two national title games, he is dealing with coaching issues, new players already arriving and, of course, the new early signing period.
Alabama had scores of prospects at practice Friday, and it is a huge weekend in terms of recruiting.
“There’s only so much we can do,” Saban said when asked to evaluate some of what went wrong during the Crimson Tide’s last game, the Iron Bowl. “We’ve been really focused on recruiting for the last three weeks.”
Plus, the winter graduation ceremony is Saturday and Christmas is around the corner.
It all makes you think the coach could use a good hug.
Nick Saban demonstrating the only appropriate way to hug JK Scott pic.twitter.com/a9YMNz7sZQ
— Ashley Shires (@ashleyshires) December 15, 2017
First, some housekeeping. In addition to updating everyone’s injury status during his news conference, Saban revealed that Texas-San Antonio defensive coordinator Pete Golding had been hired as a defensive assistant. He can’t be activated as a coach on the field until after the national championship as the new 10th assistant coach (or defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt officially leaves).
Pruitt, already named Tennessee’s new head coach, is focusing on recruiting for the Volunteers until Sunday, which works out because Alabama won’t begin to install a game plan until Tuesday.
Figuring out his replacement will have to wait for now.
“There’s just not enough time in the day,” said the man who built a dynasty on outworking everyone.
As for the new players, linebacker Jarez Parks, who sat the whole fall just to have a chance to play at Alabama, and junior college transfer Saivion Smith, a cornerback who first played at LSU, already have reported. They will be able to practice Saturday, when the university’s winter break begins and the fall semester is officially over.
But then Saban was asked about the real source of his angst, the early signing period. He was against it before it was enacted, and he left no room for doubt that he hates it now, especially with all the things he has to juggle when he’d rather be zeroed in on the most important games of the season.
“I don’t see how it benefits anybody,” Saban said. “I think it’s really stressful for everyone. We’re all trying to get ready for bowl games and playoff games, and we have a signing day right in the middle of when we’re going to be practicing for a playoff game.
“It was very stressful for a lot of coaches to get out and see as many guys as they could in December and accelerate everything. You don’t have very much time to do that. If you’re playing in a championship game, you have even less time to do it.”
Early signing period "disastrous for high school coaches, the game & the development of players"
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) May 30, 2017
Some of those high school players are dealing with their own seasons as well. For example, Georgia’s state championships are this weekend, and the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game will be played on Saturday at Southern Miss. Others are rushing through their official visits.
“If you’re very unsure, I’d say wait all the way until the end,” senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said earlier on what advice he’d give recruits considering signing early. “I think once you do that, I think you’ll have a good idea of who is the right place for you.”
The early signing period starts Wednesday and runs through Friday. National Signing Day in February is still intact, but there’s obviously a big push for coaches and teams to land as many players as possible now.
“I see more players getting pressured by some schools to sign early so that they don’t get an opportunity from maybe a bigger school later, which I don’t think is in the player’s best interest — because a guy may have an opportunity to go to a place that he’s always wanted to go to, or an SEC school, and he’s getting pressured by somebody else to sign early,” Saban said.
Adding to the uncertainty has been the coaching carousel spinning crazily with all the hirings and firings since the end of the regular season. It will pick back up after the early signing period, especially for assistants, so recruits are being asked to sign on without knowing all the pertinent details.
“Then other guys are trying to make a decision about signing early or not signing early, and they’ve got all these new coaches and coaching staffs that are sort of bum rushing them to not do that so they get a chance to recruit them,” Saban said. “Then you have guys who are waiting until February, so you don’t have much control over who signs early and who doesn’t, so how do you manage that number of guys that you might get?
“Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this.”
But then he gave the soundbite that is going to be heard all around college football over the next week, giving critics a chance to take aim without having to try to understand where he’s coming from:
“I have not talked to a coach that’s happy with it,” Saban said.
“We’re dealing with it. It is what it is, and we’re managing it the best we can.”
Saban then cut short the news conference because he was late for a recruiting event, having barely talked about playing in the Sugar Bowl semifinal against Clemson on Jan. 1 (8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN).