The Value of “The Process”

The Process.  It’s become as synonymous with Nick Saban as crystal footballs are.  When most people think of or talk about “the Process”, they are typically referring to the process Saban uses to turn young men into NFL ready football beasts.  Or, they may associate “the Process” with the building of the actual football program itself – turning a 6-7 team into a perennial national championship contender. 

I believe that “the Process” encompasses the building of players as well as the building of the entire program but I would also submit to you that there’s one other aspect of “the Process” which is rarely talked about – the building of coaches.  Kids flock to the Bama football program because Nick has shown an incredible ability to put his kids into the professional ranks.  Over the last four years, Alabama has had 11 first round draft picks and 24 players selected in the NFL draft overall so it’s no wonder there are a ton of kids who want to be a part of that kind of success.  Similarly, coach Saban has seen his Alabama assistant coaches and analysts move on to bigger and better career opportunities so it’s no wonder that coaches desperately want to come to Alabama to put “working with Nick Saban” on their resumes.  The resulting “process” is that top caliber athletes enter the program to work with the best and the brightest coaches in the game, producing the wrecking ball known as Alabama football.

Promotions

As Kevin Scarbinsky pointed out in one of his columns, Jeremy Pruitt’s departure from the Bama staff will make the 11th assistant coach to leave Saban’s staff in the six years he’s been at the helm at Alabama.  The only coaches on the current staff who have been at Alabama the entire time that Saban has are Burton Burns and Kirby Smart.  That’s it.  Yet, somehow Saban’s coaches have continued to recruit and coach at the highest levels possible without suffering any degradation in success.  Each time an assistant coach has moved on, Saban has seemingly been able to replace him with an even better and more accomplished coach because coaches are flocking to the Capstone to learn under the best and brightest mind in college football.

If I’m an assistant coach, then I’m looking at Jeremy Pruitt’s astounding ascent from being the defensive coordinator at Hoover high school (he was the DC during MTV’s broadcast of “Two a Days”) to becoming Florida State’s defensive coordinator.  What an amazing rise to prominence coach Pruitt has had.  You have to know that any coach worth his salt would want to work on a Nick Saban staff simply because you can see that Saban’s coaches are quickly able to land big time jobs.  I mean Pruitt was just promoted from being the Alabama secondary coach to FSU’s defensive coordinator – Pruitt hasn’t even coordinated a defense since Ross Wilson was quarterbacking Hoover! That’s the kind of clout that you have when you’ve coached for Nick Saban.  But don’t take my word for it, take a look at this list of promotions and tell me if this would appeal to you if you were an assistant coach looking to move up the ladder:

  • Sal Sunseri – Became the defensive coordinator for Tennessee after serving as Saban’s LB coach.  Sal had never coordinated a defense before but still got the job based on his experience with Nick.
  • Derek Dooley – Became the head coach at La Tech after being a special teams coordinator for Nick Saban’s LSU team.
  • Curt Cignetti – He was the Bama WR coach before he became the head coach at DII Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  They just went 12-2 and finished #7 in the country.
  • Jimbo Fisher – Became the coach in waiting at FSU after serving as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU.
  • Derrick Ansley – He was Alabama’s defensive GA for the last two seasons and accepted a full-time assistant coach position coaching the cornerbacks at Tennessee.
  • Billy Napier – He was a former offensive coordinator at Clemson before he came to Alabama to serve as one of three offensive analysts last season.  Napier left Jim McElwain to become the QB coach at Colorado State.

This list doesn’t even include Kirby Smart’s certain ascension to a head coaching position in the near future or Will Muschamp’s eventual hiring at Florida.  It’s obvious that if you spend time on a Nick Saban coaching staff then doors will certainly open up for you.  As it stands right now, there are dozens of high-profile coaches who are sending their resumes in to become the next defensive back coach at Alabama.

Birds of a Feather

It says something when top-notch head coaches and all Americans send their sons to work for Nick Saban.  Chris Carter recognized what the structure and the discipline could do for his son Duron and he sent him to Alabama to get straightened out.  Former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio had his son spurn multiple Division I scholarships (Oregon State and Oklahoma State just to name two) to instead accept a walk-on offer from Alabama.  It’s simply amazing to me that a kid would ignore scholarship offers just to get tutored by Nick Saban and his staff.  That inspired me to research and list out all of the former head coaches or NFL stars who have come to Alabama or send their sons to Alabama to be affiliated with Saban’s program.  The list is staggering:

  • Former NFL head coach and Virginia head coach Al Groh sent his son, Mike, to work for Nick Saban as a Graduate Assistant.  Mike Groh was quickly promoted from a G.A. position to the Tide’s wide receivers coach.  By the way, before Mike Groh came to Alabama to be a lowly grad assistant he was the offensive coordinator for the Virginia Cavaliers and instead of looking to land another coordinator job he instead opted to become a GA for Nick Saban.  Wow. 
  • During a speaking engagement last year, Rex Ryan told the crowd that he would be sending his son down to walk on at Alabama so that he can learn from the best.  You can’t give someone a higher compliment than to send your son to play for them.
  • Former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio just sent his three-star and Elite 11 son to walk on as a QB at Alabama, spurning multiple Division I scholarship offers including Oregon State and Oklahoma State. 
  • Alabama All-American, Outland Trophy winner and NFL Pro Bowler Chris Samuels is a current assistant coach for the Bama offensive line after taking a GA position to start his coaching career. 
  • Former Alabama All-American Jeremiah Castille just sent his son, Tim, to be a GA for the Tide this year.
  • Eric Schumann, a former Bama player and long time college coach (recently the defensive coordinator at UAB, Tulane and SMU), sent his son Glenn to become a GA this year.
  • Kelvin Sigler, a former Tide player and former High School coach at Blount High School is an “analyst” now for the Tide.
  • Former Bama OL coach and former UAB coach Neil Calloway’s son Russ is a defensive analyst this year.
  • Wes Neighbors, who needs familial introduction, is a defensive analyst.
  • Tom O’Brien’s (former NC State and Boston College head coach) son Tom was an Alabama defensive analyst in 2008, then served as a GA and is now an assistant coach at Elon.

Top Coaching Brings Top Talent

If you’ve absorbed the first two sections of this article, then you likely realize it’s very profitable for both players and coaches alike to be a part of the Nick Saban process.  In the last four years, Alabama has had 11 first round draft picks and 24 players selected in the NFL draft overall so it obviously behooves high schoolers to commit to Alabama to eventually earn NFL paychecks.  One of the reasons these players are able to become NFL draft picks is the outstanding coaching they receive while they are being “processed” at the Capstone.  What other college team can boast of having a former offensive coordinator as a grad assistant and another former offensive coordinator as an offensive “analyst?”    

Of course, as Alabama reels in top ranked recruiting classes year after year, the talent the Bama coaches get to work with is pretty outstanding.  Put it this way, did Gus Malzahn look like a better coach with Cam Newton or without him?  The coaches at Alabama get to work with some of the most talented players in the college game and that usually makes it look like the coaches are doing a phenomenal job.  There’s a reason Jim McElwain is at Colorado State – he looked pretty smart handing the ball to Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson or throwing it downfield to Julio Jones.  Sal Sunseri looked like a tremendous coach when he was working with Rolondo McClain, Courtney Upshaw and Donte Hightower and helped shape one of the top defenses in college football history.  Anytime a coach has the opportunity to coach greatness, it’s going to be a pretty outstanding reflection on his ability to coach.  So, it’s no wonder that top players want to spurn scholarships to walk-on and top coaches will take grad assistant and analyst positions.  Both the players and the coaches have the opportunity to learn from and benefit from “the Process” in a way that’s stimulating to their souls…and to their careers!

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Alabama vs Mississippi All Star Game Review

The Alabama Mississippi all-star game intrigues me each and every year because, athletically, these two teams typically match up dozens of DI prospects equally against one another.  And, as a fan of the Alabama high school coaches and teams, I think it’s pretty awesome that every single year Alabama’s players are better coached and better fundamentally than their Mississippi foes and that always seems to win the day.  Save for a late Mississippi fourth quarter rally, this year was no exception. 

The Alabama all-stars won for the fifth consecutive time and are now 19-7 against the Mississippi All Stars after winning the game 21-16.  The ‘Bama all stars led the game 21-0 in the fourth quarter but eventually had to hang on to get the win.  For your reading pleasure, I watched the game a couple of times and I took a few notes on some key players that I wanted to see.  I’ve segmented the prospects into four categories:  Alabama Commits, Alabama Recruits (meaning they haven’t signed with Alabama but we are recruiting them hard), Auburn Commits and Others of Note.  If you don’t want to read anything positive about the Auburn commits then I’d encourage you to stop reading after you get thru the Alabama Recruits section b/c a couple of the AU guys looked very good.  Anyway, enjoy!

Alabama Commits 

Darius Paige (6’3, 295 DT from Foley, AL)– Whoa Nelly – was I ever impressed with Paige.  Paige is one very large mammal and he played to his size throughout the contest.  In fact, he burst thru the line during an extra point and penetrated so quickly that he nearly had the ball hit him in the midsection.  Unfortunately (or fortunately for him) the ball was a little to the side and it missed him completely.  At any rate, Paige showed up on the tape a ton and seemed to bring a pretty good motor with his outstanding size.  He was voted as the strongest player from either team so that means that he’s plenty big and he plays even bigger.  Outstanding prospect…he has yet to take his ACT, though.

Johnathan Cook (6’0, 185 CB from Spanish Fort, AL) – Cook came into the week hoping and praying for an Alabama scholarship offer and he more than earned it with his practice and his play.  Cook entered the week as a Nebraska commitment but after showing the scouts that he was the best cornerback on the field BY FAR, Kirby smart ran up to Cook after the game and had Nick Saban on the phone offering him a scholarship.  During the game, Cook showed a willingness to come up in run support and showed outstanding instincts when the ball was in flight.  He looked really, really good each and every time he was challenged.  With corner being the one glaring need on the Bama team, Cook looks to be an excellent prospect for the positon.

Ardarius Stewart (6’1, 190 WR/S from Fultondale, AL) – During the week, Stewart impressed the coaches with his athleticism and ability to play on either side of the ball.  Instead of playing his preferred WR position, Stewart was moved to safety for the week and the game.  Stewart did appear to be a pretty solidly built young man and made a few plays during the game.  But, by and large, he was playing out of position so it was a bit difficult to get a true read on him.  Again, the coaches raved about him during the week so he looks to be a pretty good get for Bama.

Alabama Recruits 

Dee Liner (6’2, 274 DE from Muscle Shoals, AL) – By all accounts, Liner had a very solid week of practice showing scouts why he’s so well thought of.  However, during the game Liner appeared smaller than his listed 274 and seemed to play smaller, as well.  I honestly didn’t think that Liner seemed to have much, if any, impact on the game itself.  The one time I did notice him, he was getting into some extra curriculars with an offensive lineman after the play.  Frankly, I was disappointed that I didn’t see a lot more out of him.  He did appear to move well laterally, so that was good to see, but I didn’t see him overwhelm blockers like Chris Jones (listed below) did all day long.  Incidentally, Liner didn’t grant any interviews during the week but the strong belief is that he’ll be joining the Tide’s list of commits.

Reuben Foster (6’2, 228 LB from Auburn, AL) – I wanted to be disappointed in Foster.  I wanted to believe he wasn’t nearly as good as advertised.  Well folks, he’s pretty damn good.  Foster flashed numerous times with big hits and a sideline to sideline viciousness.  Foster seemed to be playing at full speed while everyone else was going ¾ speed.  I have to say that Foster was very impressive and showed why he’s a 5 star stud – this explains why the Bama staff is still holding onto one final rose for Mr Foster.

Marquez White (6’1, 190 CB from Dothan, AL) – At 6’1, 190 White has the typical requirements for a Nick Saban corner and Alabama has stayed in contact with White in the hopes of turning him away from his FSU commitment.  However, those talks ended after watching Johnathan Cook and reeling in his commitment immediately after the game.  White was a huge disappointment during the week of practices and during the game as he gave up two long TD passes, getting beaten badly on each one.  Adios Marquez – you’ve been Tomahawk Chopped (and Cook’ed).

Austin Golson (6’6, 284 OL from Prattville, AL) – Well, if the player of the game was Mississippi DL Chris Jones (see below) then it must mean that the entire Alabama offensive line was pretty woeful.  While Jones definitely beat Golson repeatedly with an inside swim move, when Golson did manage to get his mitts on Jones he was the only lineman who at least managed a stalemate.  Golson’s run blocking was solid and he was very passionate about getting after his blocks.  But, as with 90% of the young high school tackles, he’s going to need a redshirt year to build up his size and hone in his pass blocking.  Prattville has historically been very good to Alabama and they continue to pursue Golson to try and sway him from his FSU commitment.  The fact that Bama is pursuing Golson so hard may be telling about how they feel about landing five-star OL Laremy Tunsil…

Auburn Commits 

Jeremy Johnson (6’6, 215 QB from Montgomery, AL) – Johnson is an AU commit so I was very interested in seeing what the Tigers had coming in at the QB position.  Color me unimpressed – I’m guessing there’s a reason the Bama staff never offered him.  While the 6’6 Johnson looks very impressive off the hoof, his game needs a LOT of refinement.  He has a very strong-arm but at this point he makes poor decisions on when to throw it and on the shorter passes he seems unable to take a little steam off the pass.  He also seemed to be unwilling to take advantage of his running abilities during this game but, to be fair, it was just an all-star game.  While physically Johnson looks the part, in my opinion he has a loooong way to go before he’s going to contribute anything as a top flight SEC QB.

Jason Smith (6’1, 187 WR from Mobile, AL) – This former high school QB absolutely blew up as a WR during the practices as well as the game, garnering the MVP trophy.  My goodness, this kid can play.  He made several outstanding catches and showed an innate ability to separate from his defender on every route he ran.  So, he was always wide open and showed the kind of hands that would make scouts drool.  Smith is an AU commitment and they got themselves an outstanding WR.  He will need to thicken up a bit but he looks to be a great get for AU.

Kamryn Melton (5’10, 165 CB from Dothan, AL) – All game long the kid who kept flashing on the screen was Kamryn Melton.  I’d never heard of this kid but he made plays in run support and pass defense throughout the game.  Melton is a bit of an undersized corner but it certainly appears that Auburn has a good one in Melton.  Saturday this three-star intercepted a pass, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and made a tackle for a loss.  Wow.  He’d never fit the profile for a Nick Saban corner but I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Melton over the next four years.

Others of Note

Chris Jones (6’6, 250 DE from Houston, MS) – Goodnight nurse, this kid is a beast.  Somehow at 6’6 250 he’s a defensive end that’s only rated as a three-star prospect but Jones (a Mississippi State commit) appeared to be the best player on either team Saturday.  While his size is imposing, his quickness and ability to use his hands to dislodge would be blockers was crazy good.  Jones was a beast and was BY FAR the best player on the field.  His 8 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a hurry were just a little sampling of what Jones can do.  Stud.

Nick Mullens (6’1, 185 QB from Spain Park, AL) – While AU commitment Jeremy Johnson came in with the top billing at the QB position, Nick Mullens was by far the more impressive QB.  Mullens is only 6’1 but he throws an excellent ball, showing arm strength and accuracy.  I came away from the game really impressed by Mullens.  If he was 6’2 or 6’3, he’d be a stud.  He completed 8 of 12 for 156 yards – pretty amazing for having only a few days of practice with his WRs and the constant harassment of Jones.

Johnathan Ford (5’11, 190 RB from New Hope, AL) – Ford is a kid who Bama has kept in touch with but doesn’t have room for so Ford is packing his bags and headed to Vandy.  Ford looked very good during the practices and showed good speed and vision during the game.  While he’s not the biggest (hence the lack of a Bama offer and his three-star rating) he’s extremely quick and, if he’s able to bulk up, should make the two deep at Vandy after his redshirt year.

W2W4 Report Card – The SEC Championship Game

Well, it wasn’t exactly our best work this week but there were several predictions we were pretty pleased with – calling Amari Cooper’s bomb and a late Bama score being two of them.  Here’s how we did in the biggest game of the year…

 Predictions We Got Right 

Alabama is more than twice as effective at stopping the run and gives up 104 yards less per game than UGA!  That is a substantial difference!  We attempted to call out the fact that UGA ranked 11th against the run and, comparatively, Bama held a huge advantage here.
Look for a HEAVY dose of No Huddle against UGA. As predicted, the game began just as we thought it would with the Tide featuring the No Huddle offense.
The interior defenders for the Dawgs are massive but they have no stamina. This was a great call as they clearly wilted as the game progressed.
Look for Alabama to employ a ton of zone blocking stretch plays that are designed to generate a flow one way and then use cut blocks on the backside to open up cutback lanes on the backside of the run. They employed the zone scheme which allowed several cutbacks into the middle of the field.  This was gorgeous!
So, with Jarvis Jones being hell bent on getting to the QB (and only he and the other LB Jenkins are true pass rushers as evidenced by the fact they only rank 10th in the SEC in generating sacks), a draw and/or screen is available on his side of the line.  Early in the game, Bama ran two screens right at Jarvis Jenkins.  After that, they used delayed handoffs to his side of the line of scrimmage time and time again.
We’ll screen and draw with our backs at least 5 times during this game, IMO Two screens and numerous delayed handoffs  made this one a winning prediction.
Look for a combination of chip blocks from the backs and TE help to assist in successfully neutralizing the Georgia ends. Lacy and Williams consistently stayed in to chip and help out on the Georgia ends.
Look for Jarvis Jones to collect at least one sack and Georgia as a team to get at least two. Georgia got three sacks, two of them by Jones (but all of them were due to AJ holding the ball too long, in our opinion).
This will be a defensive struggle until a late score by Bama. Ok, this one is listed as both a right prediction and a wrong prediction.  In this case, we got the late score right!
Alabama will use the hurry up, no huddle attack for the first several drives but then they’ll likely settle into their normal routine.  Ding!  Couldn’t have been more right about this one.
Amari Cooper will get deep once again and it will be on a play action pass. Or, he’ll get deep twice!
This should allow one on one coverage for Cooper and he should haul in a pass over 25 yards. Or he’ll haul in two passes over 25 yards!
Alabama’s corners must match up with King and Mitchell, as they are the two playmakers in the Georgia passing game. Did you notice that Milliner checked Mitchell and Belue manned up against King all night long?  This was a change in philosophy that worked beautifully.
In particular, Arthur Lynch has three catches in each of his last three games so look for Lynch to receive a lot of targets in this game. Lynch was a huge part of the game in the latter stages of the game catching a total of 3 passes for 50 yards.  He was targeted three other times.
A staple of the UGA passing game is the screen game but, as I’ve told you guys for two years, no one plays screens better than Alabama.  The fact that Bama should be able to eliminate the screen game from the Dawgs’ playbook is a huge advantage. Alabama shut down the UGA screen game to their backs.  Georgia completed one of these for a loss of yardage and never came back to it.
Gurley is built like Hill so I suspect the UGA running game will be better than you want it to be. Gurley rushed for 122 yards which was a lot more than we wanted.
We look for Murray to complete less than 60% of his passes. Murray completed 55% of his throws Saturday.
We look for Murray to have at least two batted and battered balls. Alabama deflected three passes, none bigger than CJ Mosley’s game winner.
Gurley will be the one constant in the Georgia offense and will rush for over 80 yards Waaaay over 80 yards.
Bama’s secondary woes will not be exposed as they were against LSU or Texas A&M and Georgia. Until the last drive, I felt the secondary played much, much better.  Geno Smith was a huge upgrade in the secondary.
Look for Cody Mandell to have another big game as he continues to be a valuable weapon for Saban’s very special teams Mandell put three punts inside the 20 and had a 41.8 yard punting average.
Big time games are won by big time big boys on the offensive and defensive lines and that is where Alabama holds a distinct advantage on both sides of the ball. I think we can safely say this was a correct prediction.  The Bama front four recorded three sacks and the Bama OL had a record breaking performance.
Second, Alabama’s offensive line is experienced, athletic and physical and, as big as Georgia’s defenders are, they are not they type of defenders who typically pose real problems for Bama’s line. Cue up Scott Cochran’s “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeaaaah!!!”
The size of UGA’s tackles shouldn’t be as big of an issue as some are saying in my opinion Oh yeah, we nailed this one!
Saban owns moments like this one.  Richt has nightmares about his history of big losses in big games.  Expect another nightmare on Peachtree Street for the Dawgs Think Richt is having nightmares about not spiking the ball?  Think Saban is still patting himself on the back for that 2 point conversion?  Yeah, us, too.

 Predictions We Got Wrong 

Look for Alabama’s backs and slot receivers to use option routes in the middle of the field to isolate and expose the LBs in coverage.  Ok, this never, ever, ever happened.  Not once.  Lacy WAS open on the check downs but the ball was never thrown.
UGA blew a coverage against a tight end deep and I think we’ll try the same route with a slot WR or Michael Williams. Again, this didn’t happen a single solitary time.
The fullback, H-back or running back will run right by Jarvis Jones and be wide open.  Yeah, so, again – never happened.
Black wears jersey #5 so be on the lookout for him! Or, don’t be on the lookout for Chris Black.  While Alabama was wearing their white jerseys, looks like Black will be keeping his redshirt.
Look for Alabama to rush for under 135 yards. Ha!  What were we thinking?
Look for Bama to pass for around 250 yards. AJ had one of his worst performances in this game (that is until his final pass).
This will be a defensive struggle until a late score by Bama. Defensive struggle?  Not so much.
This is the key difference between these two championship game combatants and should make for an Uga-ly performance from Murray. The Georgia OL didn’t play great, giving up 3 sacks and allowing Murray to only complete 55% of his passes.  But, 265 yards?  Never saw that coming.
Look for Mosley to lead the team is pass breakups and I think he’ll pick Murray off at least once No picks for Mosley.  No real pass breakups, either.
Also, look for big Jesse Williams to have his name called for being in the UGA backfield a few times. No tackles for loss by Jesse.  Sigh.
Finally, the kicking game should prove to be a huge advantage for Alabama This is absolutely the worst prediction the Lighthouse made this year.
Look for Christion Jones to pop off a big return that ignites the Bama sidelines early in the first half Jones didn’t have one single big return – his longest was 8 yards but it was a key return that set up the final scoring drive.
We look for Murray to suffer four sacks (2 by Hubbard). Alabama only recorded three sacks (but flushed him numerous times) and only one by Hubbard.
Final Score:  Alabama 24               Georgia 13 Alabama didn’t cover and it was certainly a higher scoring game than we suspected.

 Correct Predictions – 26 

Incorrect Predictions – 14