Peruse the messageboards or dial up the talk radio shows revolving around a down-and-out or middle-of-the-pack SEC program and you’ll soon find that the local coach is a Grade A nitwit. Every move the guy makes gets questioned.
Why’d he switch to the spread?
Why’d he switch from the spread?
Why’d he call a draw on third-and-15?
Why’d he not go for it on fourth down?
Why’d he not take the ball to start the game?
On and on.
Coaches at mid-range or low-range programs get it from all sides. That’s because they lose games and lost games leave people with questions. They also leave folks with doubts about their head coach and/or his assistants.
But here’s the rub – All coaches make goofy decisions. And they do it all the time. But those with more talent usually win their games and, therefore, have to defend far fewer decisions.
Take LSU’s Les Miles as the world’s greatest example. When the Tigers are loaded with talent, his “What the Hell’s he doing?” gambles are viewed as genius. No wonder. His top 10 teams have had the ability to make dumb decisions work. Anyone remember this unfathomable decision from 2007:
Instead of kicking a 39-yard field goal with time expiring, Miles threw into the end zone. Now let’s say that pass had fallen incomplete. And that the clock operator let one more digit drop off the clock. LSU loses the game. But Miles had a BCS champion team on his hands. So that crazy ol’ Mad Hatter was doggone brilliant! That last-second heave helped keep the Tigers’ title hopes alive.
Why point all this out today? Because the greatest coach in the country — perhaps the greatest college football coach ever — just botched his team’s shot at a third-straight national title. After Saturday’s 34-28 loss to Auburn, Nick Saban talked about a lot of mistakes that his team had made on the field and on the game-deciding play. But the biggest mistakes were made over on the sideline in the space between Saban’s headphones.
First, he eschewed a short field goal late that could have given his team a two-score advantage. Then, incredibly, he used the one second that was put back on the clock at game’s end to attempt a 57-yard field goal with a backup kicker. Folks, there were three possibilities on that play — a blocked field goal, a Chris Davis return, or a game-winning kick — and two of them were bad. Also, the two bad ones were more likely than the lone good one.
Hey, so Saban’s human. And this wasn’t the first goofy decision he’d made this year. He just hadn’t gotten burned on the others.
Example: During Bama’s 41-10 win over Tennessee, Saban allowed quarterback AJ McCarron and several of his starters to play deep into the fourth quarter. If McCarron or another player had been injured in garbage time, Saban’s name would have been tied to Mike Shula’s name (who saw receiver Tyrone Prothro’s career ended in garbage time) forever.
This isn’t to say Saban is a bad coach. His track record says he’s still the best at his profession. At current count his last three teams are a combined 36-3. So anyone suggesting he or Alabama have been figured out — it only took 11 games, 59 minutes and 59 seconds to do so! — wouldn’t know a football if he sat on it.
What this does show, however, is that those fans and media members who consistently compare a losing coach’s decisions to Saban’s are a little off base. Saban has more talent. His mistakes won’t show as often as a result. But he makes just as many silly gameday decisions as the next guy.
Credit Saban for “the process” and for creating a juggernaut program via recruiting. But don’t think he never gets a call wrong. We saw on Saturday that he botched a couple.
And now he’ll have to see Auburn fans wear “Got A Second?” t-shirts for the rest of his life.