It is the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, which means it is time for Nick Saban’s weekly “Hey Coach” radio show.
The usual Thursday night staple during football season is always moved up a day because of the holiday ahead of Saturday’s Iron Bowl.
Here were the highlights from Saban’s final weekly radio show of the season:
— “I’m a routine guy, so this is Wednesday, and it’s not Thursday,” Saban begins. He wishes fans a happy Thanksgiving and says it’s the time of the year to be grateful for what we have. “I know we spend a lot of time thinking about the things we don’t have,” he said.
— Saban noted again how Thursday’s practice will end earlier so players can return home locally for Thanksgiving dinner or visit a coach’s house. Saban said 19 players will come to his house. Saban said there is another turkey dinner on Friday. They try to make it like a holiday without compromising Saturday.
— Asked if it’s stuffing or dressing in Saban’s house, Saban said it’s “dressing and gravy” to him, earning applause from the crowd. “But it’s really not my call, to tell you the truth.” Saban said their Thanksgiving dinner is catered anyway. Saban said he started doing that with players “as long as I can remember.” It was previously different when fall break coincided with their bye week. But since COVID, there is no school the whole week of Thanksgiving. “Hopefully maybe one of these days we’ll get back to the old schedule. For football it was better,” he said.
— First caller PeeWee asked about Auburn having nothing to lose. Saban said when you prepare for any game, all you can control is what you can control. “We’ve got to do better,” Saban said, adding Auburn has gotten better. They can run the ball and have played “physical, downhill football” the last three games. “We’re going to have to match that intensity,” he said. Saban said every team Alabama plays wants to beat them. “We expect it to be a very physical, difficult game and our players have to be ready for it,” he said.
— Saban reiterated that NIL legislation has to happen on the federal level. He said the intention of NIL was not to have collectives and using those to get players to come to a school. Saban said there are already 1,500 players in the portal and players cannot get into the portal until Dec. 5 unless they are within a year of graduation. In the NFL, free agency is used for players to see what their value is, and Saban said college football is not supposed to be the same way with the portal. “It is the law,” Saban said. He reiterated his stance that NIL is good for players but it is not supposed to be an incentive to lure players to a school. Saban said he spent his “entire life” trying to get boosters out of recruiting.
— Saban tells players if they graduate, their whole family will go to college. He used the example of Muhsin Muhammad at Michigan State and how everyone there thought he should be kicked off the team. Saban suspended him but he later played a long career in the NFL. Saban went to Charlotte several years ago to receive an award and Muhammad was standing there and thanked Saban for not kicking him off the Spartans team, noting how his children went to college and law school.
— Saban was asked about players who seem anxious before Tennessee and how they will be ready to play Auburn. Saban responded that his players have a “lot of pride” and they understand their legacy will be determined in part by the Iron Bowl. Saban said his players also want to win 10 games, and even though their goals were winning the SEC West and going to the playoffs, they also want to continue their streak of 10-win seasons. He said players have pride in the culture of the organization and how they want to represent it.
— “This game is very big for them and they have been really good in practice this week in terms of their focus, attention to detail, energy level and all that type of stuff,” Saban said.
— Asked about the 2008 Iron Bowl, Saban said it is hard to explain the emotion that players have when they work hard to accomplish something. “Every failure has an opportunity,” he said. “I love it when I see our players really, really getting excited and really having fun in the locker room.” Saban explained that fans get happy and disappointed with results, but “multiply that by, maybe, 100 times” to get what players feel.
— Asked what he is thankful for, Saban said relationships. “That’s where most of the happy-sad comes from,” he said. “That’s probably the thing I pray the most for.”
— Bob Baumhower is in attendance at his restaurant tonight. “We appreciate him being a friend,” Saban said.
— A caller asked about injured players. Saban said “most of the players have practiced this week. [Jahmyr] Gibbs, [Tyler] Steen, [Eli] Ricks,” Saban said, noting he couldn’t remember every name. “We’ve got a few guys still on the shelf, but for the most part all the guys we just mentioned are back practicing and I think able to play,” he said.
— Asked about sports medicine director Jeff Allen, Saban said coaches never make medical decisions and they have a “great staff” for both physical and mental health of players. He reiterated that players must trust a medical staff and take care of players the right way. Saban told the story of flying to Birmingham to meet with Drs. James Andrews and Lyle Cain when he was making a decision about quarterbacks Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper with the Miami Dolphins.
— A young fan in the crowd asked about how Bryce Young will play. “I think Bryce has gotten better and better, especially from his injury,” Saban replied. “I think he’ll play really, really well.” Saban said Auburn has a good defense and it will be challenging. “You couldn’t ask for a more classy guy to represent your organization than what Bryce Young and his family have had at Alabama,” Saban said.
— Asked about Auburn’s Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter, and their different styles, Saban noted how Auburn uses “big people” of multiple tight ends. “They try to be physical,” he said. Hunter is more of a downhill, physical runner while Bigsby will make you miss, Saban said. “They have developed this mentality of running the ball in these last three games that has been very effective for them,” Saban said, noting quarterback Robby Ashford’s running ability, too. Saban said Auburn uses personnel groups that Alabama has not faced, and that has been a challenge in practice.
— Asked about sitting out the 2020 Iron Bowl because of COVID and if he is excited to return, Saban responded, “I was more there than people know, than I’m allowed to say.” Saban said he had the video from Alabama’s own cameras on one monitor and there was a delay before it appeared on his broadcast television monitor. “It was like instant replay,” he said.
— Saban said Alabama practices on Mondays in spider pads — small foam shoulder pads and helmets — for an hour and 20 minutes. That is followed by two hours of padded practices Tuesday and Thursday, then another 90 minutes Thursday in shells (shoulder pads and helmets). Friday’s walkthrough lasts 40 minutes. He ran through the team’s daily schedule but said Alabama never plays more than four games without giving players two days off. They will take Mondays off after having Sunday off, too. “It’s just a thing that I’ve learned through the years that your team can get worn down.”
— Alabama has scientific data from players’ GPS monitors and gives awards for the fastest players going downfield on kickoff returns in practice, Saban said. In the past, everything was the eye test, Saban said. Alabama has a baseline for strength and speed on each player, and they evaluate that every week to see if players are being overworked in practice.
— Saban said controlling the line of scrimmage is the biggest challenge this week.
— Saban explained Alabama only scored 34 points against Austin Peay because they turned the ball over three times. Alabama does an evaluation of each turnover and its value, and the average is 4.5 points. “There’s nothing more significant than turnovers,” he said.
— Asked for the strategy against Auburn, Saban said he wants players to execute and play as well as they are capable of playing. Controlling the line of scrimmage, turnovers and explosive plays are the three most critical parts of this game, Saban said.
— Saban explained Alabama’s turnover on Austin Peay punt last week, saying the punt returner (Kool-Aid McKinstry) needed to give a “Peter” call to have other players get away from the ball if he wasn’t going to catch it. “We didn’t catch the ball and we didn’t give the signal,” he said. “What happened? The ball hits the ground, hits one of our players (Kendrick Law) who had no idea that the guy is not going to catch the ball. That could be avoided with better fundamental execution of what you do.”
— Asked about Cadillac Williams, Saban said he has done a “phenomenal job.” He said the competitive character of a team is a reflection of how a coach impacts a team. Alabama has spent their time looking at their past three games more than the previous ones, and “their players are really playing hard, they’re playing good football, they have confidence, they believe in each other. … They’re playing really well right now and I think you’ve got to give Cadillac a lot of credit for that. That’s not an easy situation that he, sort of, inherited in terms of a changing of a guard in the middle of the season.”
— For his final word, Saban said he appreciates the fans’ support all season long. “This would be, like, icing on the cake,” he said of winning the Iron Bowl. He said fans would have an impact on the energy and enthusiasm of the players. He said competitive environments require sustained momentum.
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.