It’s the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, which means it’s time for Nick Saban’s weekly radio show, Hey Coach.
The usual Thursday evening during the football season is always moved up one day because of the holiday before the Iron Bowl on Saturday.
Here were the highlights from Saban’s final weekly radio show of the season:
— “I’m a routine person, so today is Wednesday and not Thursday,” begins Saban. He wishes fans a Happy Thanksgiving and says it’s the time of year to be thankful for what we have. “I know we spend a lot of time thinking about the things we don’t have,” he said.
– Saban reiterated that Thursday’s practice will end earlier so players can return home for an on-site Thanksgiving dinner or visit a coach’s home. Saban said 19 players will come to his house. Saban said there will be another turkey dinner on Friday. They try to make it like a holiday without jeopardizing Saturday.
— When asked if Saban’s house is about stuffing or dressing, Saban said it was “serving and gravy,” to a round of applause from the crowd. “But it’s really not my calling to tell you the truth.” Saban said their Thanksgiving dinner was taken care of anyway. Saban said he started doing it with players “as long as I can remember.” Things used to be different when fall break coincided with their bye week. But since COVID, there’s no school all Thanksgiving week. “Hopefully maybe one day we’ll go back to the old schedule. It was better for football,” he said.
— First caller PeeWee asked if Auburn had nothing to lose. Saban said when you’re preparing for a game, you can only control what you can control. “We just have to do better,” Saban said, adding that Auburn has gotten better. They can run the ball and have played physical downhill football for the last three games. “We’re going to have to reach that intensity,” he said. Saban said that every team that plays Alabama wants to beat them. “We expect it to be a very physical, difficult game and our players have to be prepared for that,” he said.
— Saban reiterated that NIL legislation must be done at the federal level. He said NIL’s intention is not to have collectives and use them to get players to get into a school. Saban said that there are already 1,500 players in the portal and players will not be able to enter the portal until December 5 unless they stand within a year of the completion. In the NFL, free agency is used for players to see what their worth is, and Saban said college football shouldn’t be like that with the portal. “That is law,” said Saban. He reiterated his stance that NIL is good for players but should not be an incentive to attract players to a school. Saban said he’s spent his “whole life” trying to get boosters out of recruiting.
— Saban tells players that when they graduate, their entire family will go to college. He cited 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 to accept an award a few years ago and Muhammad stood there thanking Saban for not kicking him off the Spartans team and noting how his kids were going to college and law school.
– Saban was asked about players who seem concerned ahead of Tennessee and how they will be ready to play against Auburn. Saban responded that his players have “a lot of pride” and understand that their legacy is defined in part by the Iron Bowl. Saban said his players also want to win 10 games, and while their goals were to win the SEC West and make the playoffs, they also want to continue their 10-10-win streak. He said the players are proud of the organization’s culture and how they intend to represent it.
— “This game is very important to them and they’ve been really good in training this week in terms of their focus, attention to detail, energy levels and all those things,” said Saban.
— Asked about the 2008 Iron Bowl, Saban said it’s hard to explain how players feel when they’re working hard to achieve something. “Every mistake has a chance,” he said. “I love it when I see our players in the dressing room really excited and having a great time.” Saban explained that fans are happy and disappointed with the results but “maybe multiply that 100 times” um to get what the players feel.
— When asked what he’s grateful for, Saban said relationships. “That’s where most of the happy-sad comes from,” he said. “That’s probably what I pray for the most.”
— Bob Baumhower is present at his restaurant tonight. “We appreciate that he’s a friend,” Saban said.
— A caller asked about injured players. Saban said: “Most of the players trained this week. [Jahmyr] Gibbs, [Tyler] stone, [Eli] Ricks,” Saban said, realizing he couldn’t remember everyone’s name. “We still have a few guys on the shelf but for the most part all the guys we just mentioned are back in training and I think they can play,” he said.
– When asked about sports medicine doctor Jeff Allen, Saban said coaches never make medical decisions and they have a “great staff” on players’ physical and mental health. He reiterated that players must trust a medical staff and take proper care of the players. Saban shared the story of his flight to Birmingham to meet with Dr. James Andrews and Lyle Cain as he made a decision over quarterbacks Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper with the Miami Dolphins.
— A young fan in the crowd asked how Bryce Young was going to play. “I think Bryce has been getting better and better, especially with his injury,” Saban replied. “I think he’s going to play really, really well.” Saban said Auburn has good defense and it’s going to be a challenge. “You couldn’t ask for a more stylish representative of your organization than Bryce Young and his family in Alabama,” said Saban.
— When asked about Auburn’s tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter and their different styles, Saban noted how Auburn uses “big people” with multiple tight ends. “You’re trying to be physical,” he said. Hunter is more of a physical downhill runner, while Bigsby misses you, Saban said. “They’ve developed this run-the-ball mentality over the past three games, which has been very effective for them,” Saban said, also noting quarterback Robby Ashford’s run ability. Saban said Auburn uses staffing groups that Alabama didn’t face, and that has been a challenge in practice.
— When asked if he’s suspending the 2020 Iron Bowl due to COVID and if he’s looking forward to returning, Saban replied, “I’ve been there more than people know than I’m allowed to say.” Saban said he has Video from Alabama’s own cameras on a monitor and there was a delay before it appeared on his television monitor. “It was like an instant replay,” he said.
– Saban said Alabama practices in spider pads — small foam shoulder pads and helmets — for an hour and 20 minutes on Mondays. This is followed by two hours of padded training on Tuesday and Thursday, then another 90 minutes in shells (shoulder pads and helmets) on Thursday. The walkthrough on Friday lasts 40 minutes. He went 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 also having Sundays off. “It’s just one thing I’ve learned over the years that your team can get tired.”
– Alabama has scientific data from players’ GPS monitors and gives out awards for the fastest players to field kickoff returns in practice, Saban said. In the past, everything was the eye test, Saban said. Alabama has a baseline for strength and speed for each player, and they evaluate that every week to see if players are being reworked in practice.
— Saban said controlling the line of scrimmage was the biggest challenge this week.
– Saban explained that Alabama only scored 34 points against Austin Peay because they turned the ball over three times. Alabama scores each sale and its value, and the average score is 4.5. “There’s nothing more important than turnover,” he said.
– When asked about the strategy against Auburn, Saban said he wants players to play and execute as well as they can play. 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’s punt last week, saying the punt returner (Kool-Aid McKinstry) had to give a “Peter” call to get other players off the ball if he didn’t catch it. “We didn’t catch the ball and we didn’t give the signal,” he said. “What happened? The ball lands on the ground, hits one of our players (Kendrick Law) who had no idea the guy wasn’t going to catch the ball. That could be avoided with a better basic execution of what you’re doing .”
– When asked about Cadillac Williams, Saban said he did a “phenomenal job.” He said the competitive nature of a team reflects how a coach impacts a team. Alabama has spent more time watching the last three games than the previous ones and “their players are playing really hard, they’re playing good football, they have confidence, they believe in each other. … They’re playing really well at the moment and I think Cadillac has to give that credit. It’s not an easy situation that he sort of inherited in terms of a mid-season guard change.”
— As a final word, Saban said he appreciates the support of the fans throughout the season. “That would be like icing on the cake,” he said of winning the Iron Bowl. He said the fans affect the energy and enthusiasm of the players. He said competitive environments require sustained momentum.
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @micerodak.