Alabama coach Nick Saban is notorious for using press conferences as a pulpit to impart messages to his team and fanbase, often taking his chance in front of the microphones and cameras to alter unfavorable narratives and motivate players. Instead of striking back at critics in the wake of the Crimson Tide's home loss to Texas in Week 2, however, Saban hit a tone of acceptance with regard to the heat his program is receiving.
"I think we didn't play great," Saban said Wednesday. "People get upset that we get criticized — but why wouldn't we get criticized if we don't play well? People call me and say, 'Man, this guy's a jerk for saying this about you.' No, he really isn't. It's right. We didn't play good. I'm responsible for that."
After the Texas loss, No. 10 Alabama fell outside the top five of the AP Top 25 during the month of September for the first time since 2015. The defeat came with 10 penalties, a lackluster passing game and a concerning inability to limit Texas' explosive plays. Naturally, critiques followed, and not just from the usual media types. Notable former Alabama players such as Marlon Humphreys, now with the Baltimore Ravens, and Reggie Ragland, a journeyman NFL veteran and Super Bowl champion, were among those within the Alabama family weighing in with subtle jabs on social media.
Saban's message to his team? Welcome to the real world.
"So in the real world, when you don't perform, you don't produce — you probably get criticized, sometimes get penalized," he said. "Some people lose their job when they don't perform well. That's maybe even worse than losing a game when you can't feed your family and your children and all that, or can't make your house payment. I guess that's worse."
Saban clarified that he's not been reading articles or listening to podcasts dissecting his team's performance. The 71-year-old, seven-time national champion certainly hasn't been browsing social media. He'd prefer his players to follow suit.
"I don't really know what the noise is," he said. "I haven't listened to one talk radio show, I haven't read one newspaper. I have been focusing 100% of my time on the next team that we play, the last game we played and what we need to do to fix that. And all the players would be better served — and everybody in the organization would be better served — if they all did that. Because what somebody else thinks doesn't matter. It's all about what you do and how you respond to what you need to do, so you have a chance to be successful in the future."
Alabama's performance against Texas left plenty of room to criticize the program's handling of its quarterback position. After the departure of former Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young following the 2022 season, the Crimson Tide flirted with various transfer options. In the end, a post-spring practice transfer from former Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner was the best they could do.
As a result, redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe began the 2023 season as the starter, and the early returns have been a mixed bag. His 14-of-27 passing performance against the Longhorns included two interceptions that led to 10 Texas points, and his discomfort in the pocket was evident throughout the game.
Saban seemed to leave the door wide open for Buchner or redshirt freshman Ty Simpson to continue challenging Milroe for reps as the Crimson Tide prepare for a rare road game against a non-power conference opponent (South Florida) before beginning SEC play against Ole Miss next week.
"Well, we evaluate every position every week," Saban said. "If guys want security in their position, they need to play well," Saban said. "Everybody on our team knows that. I think everybody has responded in a positive way to try to get better and to improve. We'll constantly evaluate that position as we do every other position."
Saturday's game against the Bulls should give the Crimson Tide room to experiment. Alabama is a 32-point favorite against its AAC foe, which is in Year 1 under coach Alex Golesh. South Florida is 1-1 after loss at Western Kentucky and a win over Florida A&M that remained close into the fourth quarter.