College coaches are notorious control freaks. This always makes you think twice when something bad happens within a program and the boss disavows any knowledge of it. The good ones always have their finger on the pulse.
The thing that separates Alabama head coach Nick Saban from the rest of the crowd is that he also goes to great lengths to control the good. Consider what happened on Saturday when the No. 1 Crimson Tide defeated Texas A&M 47-28 in College Station.
It was just the latest in a series of great SEC days for this national powerhouse. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa became the Crimson Tide’s all-time career touchdown pass leader. He tossed another four to bring his total to 81. Tagovailoa had been tied with A.J. McCarron. This likely surprises those who might have thought it might have been Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler or Richard Todd.
With his 293 passing yards, Tagovailoa now has 6,613 in just 30 games. He ranks third all-time at the school behind McCarron and John Parker Wilson.
But instead of feeling comfortable to revel in his accomplishment, Tagovailoa seemed blasé after the game when asked about it.
“I mean, it’s a great achievement, but we’re not done yet,” said Tagovailoa. “As a team, we still gotta continue to grow, we still gotta get each other better offensively and defensively and see what we can do better, and we’ll move on to next week.”
Tagovailoa has been well-trained. Most coaches try to shield their teams from bad news by advising not reading newspapers or staying off social media. On the other hand, Saban gets antsy when someone says something nice about his team.
A couple of years ago after defeating Texas A&M, Saban referred to all his great press clippings as “rat poison.”
You might recall this: “I’m trying to get our players to listen to me, instead of listening to you guys,” said Saban that day. “You know, all that stuff you write about how good we are? All that stuff they hear on ESPN? It’s like poison, you know what I mean? It’s like rat poison, all right? So I’m asking them, ‘Are you going to listen to me, or are you going to listen to these guys about how good you are?'”
It’s Saban’s opinion teams can easily become over-infatuated by good news and let their guard down. In other words, take their foot off the gas pedal and get lazy, which would make them more susceptible to upset.
So Saban wants his to be the only voice his team hears. He wants to control the message.
“I mean, this is where (Texas A&M) – this very seat is where ‘rat poison’ was born,” said Saban on Saturday. “So I remember that two years ago, all right? And when I hear things in the media about whether guys are first-round draft picks or they’re setting great records and all that type of thing, that’s not really what I like for players to be focusing on right now.
“You’ve got to focus on what are you doing right now, not what’s going to happen in the future, not really what happened in the past, but, ‘What can I learn from what’s happened in the past? How can I affect what’s going on right now?’ Because that’s what’s going to affect the future in a positive way. So, that’s how we want our players to think regardless of how difficult y’all make it for us sometimes with some of our players.”
Saban deals with this every season. His players are always among the most decorated and coveted in the nation. You can understand why he might want to keep everyone’s ego in check for fear it can get to their heads.
He’s working double-time this season. Saban can sense Tagovailoa is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. And depending on which team lands the top pick in the 2020 NFL draft, he might follow the path paved by Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray and become the first overall pick.
Tagovailoa has had a dominating season. He leads the FBS with 27 touchdown passes and until there were two minutes left in the first half he had not thrown an interception. He has outplayed Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts in the Heisman race. And most likely leading the Tide to what currently appears to be another trip to the college football Final Four.
It’s been another great season for the Crimson Tide. But make sure you keep that opinion to yourself. Saban’s not interested in hearing it.