Nick Saban: Alabama lacked ownership in CFP, new recruiting rules make him 'crazy'

Augusta National can be humbling.

"Not very well," Nick Saban said when asked about a recent round of golf he played with boosters and friends at the home of the Masters. "You gotta be good to play over there. You hit a bad shot, you pay the consequences for it."

Saban's consequences resulted in a score of "88 or something."

We should all be so humbled.

Maybe it's the relaxing nature of the offseason. Maybe it's Nick continuing to rail against NCAA legislation. But Alabama's coach was extraordinarily frank in a recent interview with CBS Sports.

"I know I'm crazy," he said after a rant against that legislation last month. "You can tell everybody I'm crazy."

If you need to be reminded, last season was nothing of which to be ashamed. Alabama basically fell one second short of winning consecutive national championships. Jalen Hurts became the SEC Player of the Year as a true freshman.

But it wasn't good enough at a place that counts success as championships. Saban said there were those whose "ownership and togetherness" wasn't 100 percent after the SEC Championship Game last December.

Remember, this was a team that had won 26 in a row including a third consecutive SEC title. Saban's comments may or may not have been reference the upheaval caused by Lane Kiffin's departure before the College Football Playoff National Championship.

In what remains one of the best story leads ever, only Kiffin could get fired from a job he already quit.

But the beat goes on at Alabama. The Crimson Tide will most likely start the season No. 1 -- in the SEC and in the nation. Hurts has a new offensive coordinator who will be asked to get back to more pro-style passing concepts.

In the middle of the offseason, Saban took time to speak with me recently about a number of issues of the day.

CBS Sports: First thing's first. How did you do at Augusta?

Nick Saban: "I actually made two birdies, but I also made probably made six double bogeys … I go over there once a year."

CBS: There is never bad day at Augusta.

Saban: "I don't think so."

CBS Sports: How do you balance progress with losing the national championship game by four points with a second to go? You didn't do too badly.

Saban: "We won however many games we won [14]. We got to the finals. Our teams that win always have tremendous ownership, tremendous togetherness … But sort of the litmus test is what happens from the SEC Championship Game until you play in the playoff games. Last year, we didn't seem to have everybody in the organization who had that ownership and togetherness like we'd had all season long.

"It was enough to get us to come up short. We didn't play great. Clemson played great. I'm not taking anything away from them …  People want to make a lot of excuses for what happened in the game. The fact of the matter is we didn't stop them when we needed to. We had a lead. I felt like we had a lot of good players on defense. From my standpoint, we didn't do enough to help them."

CBS: Clemson ran 99 plays. Is it too much to suggest y'all just got tired?

Saban: "I think that's part of it. But that's our fault, too. Sometimes you don't get off the field on third down on defense and they extend drives on you. Sometimes you don't keep the ball enough on offense. I think there was a stretch of four series in the second half we went four plays, three plays, three plays, four plays."

Editor's note: Alabama actually held the ball more than four plays on only one second-half possession. That possession lasted six plays. It held the ball less than 10:30 in the entire second half.

"That was the time in the game that was more stressful on the defensive players. Whether they scored or not during those times there was wear and tear going on. You're talking about 99 plays. They probably ran six inside plays the whole game. It was either a perimeter run, a screen, a pass or something where it's more stressful on the defense."

CBS: What did you see in new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in 1998-99 at Michigan State? (Daboll was a graduate assistant under Saban with the Spartans.)

Saban: "We had four pretty good GAs back then -- Josh McDaniels, Brian Daboll, Mel Tucker and Adam Gase. I like Brian. He's a hard worker. He kind of came up the hard way in the profession. I think he's a good coach. I think the players respond well to him.

"I thought every year the last three years we always had a pro-style element to what we did. Each year we got a little further away from that when it came to passing the ball. We weren't very effective passing the ball in the championship game.

"I think we had people open because they played us to say, beat us passing. I wanted to make sure we got somebody in here to make us stronger in that part of the game."

CBS: Is it a quarterback battle going through August?

Saban: "I've never said anything about it being a quarterback battle. I'm not going to say anything about it being a quarterback battle now.

"We have a quarterback who played really well and was SEC Player of the Year last year. I'm not saying he can't be beat out. I'm not saying the players here have an opportunity to beat him out. But that's the case at every position."

Editor's note: Tua Tagovailoa, a five-star early enrollee, competed with Hurts throughout the spring.

CBS: I've seen your comments on the legislative package that got passed in April. Is early signing going to work?  I get the impression from people that oversee this is they're not going to stop with a December signing period. There may be an earlier one.

Saban: "I'm at a loss with the direction that we're moving in relative to the rules that we're making. I hate to speak in a negative way about colleagues or people that are responsible for passing some of this stuff.

"I don't see how it helps anything or anybody. Football is a developmental game. To keep trying to push a recruiting calendar, it's for the benefit of teams in the North because they want guys to visit in the summertime and all that …

"If character and intelligence and things we're responsible for … how do we evaluate that stuff if we're offering guys when they're sophomores, so they can visit in their junior year, so they can decide before their senior year?"

"That means a high school coach is going to be in the same position we are now with [Leonard] Fournette and [Christian] McCaffrey. They don't play in their bowl games. What's to say some high school kid says, 'We're out of the playoffs, I'm not going to play anymore this year. I'm going to Alabama.'

"To me, it's bad to the high heaven for everybody. Who's self interest it's serving, I don't know … To me, all this grows out of paranoia in recruiting to think that somebody's doing something that somebody else is not doing.

"They make this rule that has all these unintended consequences for the game. I don't get it …

"We even have a little kids camp, 7-11 years old, 1,200 kids. That's winning games for Alabama? That's 1,200 kids that are growing up loving up Alabama. It's a legacy investment.

"I know I'm crazy. You can tell everybody I'm crazy."

CBS: Ten years in, is it any easier to recruit at Alabama?

Saban: "I don't think it's any easier to recruit. I think the expectations are greater. It's like climbing a mountain. Very few people get to the top. Those who get to the top don't stay at the top very long. So what's the reality of all that? Keep climbing."

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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