BAMA - CLEMSON II
Kiffin Out - Sarkisian In
Coach Paul Bryant had many “sayings” as he called them. One of them was “the harder you work, the luckier you get.” So, using this little bit of wisdom from The Coach, it is my belief that Alabama and Clemson playing in a rematch of the national championship game last year is not even remotely a result of luck. Coach Nick Saban learned the basics to coaching football from Coach Don James at Kent State. Saban played for James and later coached for James at Kent State. Don James, who was an assistant to Coach Bryant at Kentucky and Texas A&M, learned how to work from the “Master.” He later turned that knowledge into a national championship at the University of Washington. Saban was probably a type “A” self starter anyway. But, it didn’t hurt to be exposed to the work ethic of the great Don James. James kept the Washington Huskies in perennial contention for the Rose Bowl.
Coach Dabo Swinney of Clemson was a walk-on wide receiver for Coach Gene Stallings. Of course Stallings learned his work ethic from Coach Bryant as a player at Texas A&M and later as an assistant coach for Bryant at Alabama. Stallings also had the advantage of working for Coach Tom Landry at the Dallas Cowboys. Landry had the same reputation in professional football as Bryant had in college football. To be a walk-on non scholarship player anywhere in the country shows a desire to achieve. Making the team, playing on Saturdays and lettering also shows a desire to excel. Most walk-ons can’t take the punishment and the difficulty of playing football in college. Most just drift off into oblivion without many people even knowing it. Not Dabo Swinney. He is a fighter. His Clemson teams have not always been good but they were fighters. His 2015 and his 2016 teams are documented as being known as fighters. The problem for Alabama has been that the Clemson players are not only fighters, but excellent players as well. That is a bad combination to deal with, especially in the national championship game. Only two teams out of 128 make it this far. The teams in this game didn’t get here because they were not good. They didn’t get here because they didn’t know how to fight their guts out to win.
It is interesting in how both coaches have been influenced in some way by the teachings of Paul “Bear” Bryant. His shadow continues to lengthen!
The good news for Alabama is that they know how to fight their guts out also. And, they are really good, maybe a little better than Clemson. The smartest coaches will not win this game. The team that has the best plan, offensively and defensively, and the team that fights the hardest will win this game. Last year I thought Alabama was two touchdowns better than Clemson. What I did not know was how hard the players on that Clemson team would fight. They don’t think they lost the game. They are adamantly convinced that they simply ran out of time. I do know this, Coach Nick Saban was extremely relieved to see 00.0 on the scoreboard along with 45 points for Alabama and 40 points for Clemson.
The 2016 national championship game will probably be very similar. Alabama is better in many areas except for quarterback and running back. Last year senior quarterback Jacob Coker never got the credit that he is due for his play in that game and in every game during the 2015 season. Of course Derrick Henry, the Heisman winning running back from last year, made every defense change their normal plan. That situation does not exist this year. A true freshman replaces Coker. Coker had been knocked around at Florida State and Alabama before he was named the starter. His mettle was established “and” he delivered. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is a true freshman who gave up his high school senior prom in order to enroll early at Alabama. He is bright. He is tough. He is big (6-2, 215). He is an excellent runner. He is an average passer. He is 18. Bo Scarborough has emerged at the end of the season as Alabama’s best running back. He is tough. He is fast. He is big (6-2, 230). He is good. He is not Derrick Henry.
Alabama’s defense must play better this year in order to give Jalen Hurts and Bo Scarborough opportunities to make first downs, keep the ball away from Clemson and its All-American quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Watson was and is by far the best football player in the country. Unfortunately the Heisman Committee has become unfazed by their own ignorance. In fact the Heisman Trophy has become a joke. I refer you to Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson and a few other preposterous decisions in between. Clemson’s Wayne Gallman is as good or better than Alabama’s Bo Scarborough. To me this means Clemson is better than Alabama at the quarterback position and at the running back position. Clemson’s offensive line is excellent, not great. Clemson’s defense will be the toughest, the fastest and the hungriest that Alabama will have faced this year. As good as Alabama’s receivers are, Clemson can match them. It’s ArDarius Stewart, Calvin Ridley, O. J. Howard, Gehrig Dieter compared to Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, Artavis Scott and Hunter Renfrow.
Clemson is good enough to beat Alabama without any distractions. Had Nick Saban given Lane Kiffin a two year contract every one would be happy. Kiffin did a good job of coaching three quarterbacks. Blake Sims (2014) was not a quarterback. He was a small halfback trying to play quarterback. Kiffin got as much out of Sims at the position than was even possible. All Sims had to show for it was all of the Alabama passing records. He struggled in four games two of which were losses, including the national championship fiasco with Ohio State. It was always my opinion that Jake Coker as a junior would have been the better choice. He was definitely a quarterback with a lot of upside. He proved that in 2015.
Too many people gave Kiffin credit for Alabama’s championship last year. I must point out that Paul Bryant won six, Nick Saban has won four, Wallace Wade won some, as did Coach Frank Thomas. All of these national championships were won without Lane Kiffin except for last year. He has always been an impetuous, un-reliable, sneaky, untrustworthy jerk. Through the influence of his father Monte Kiffin, who is a well respected, well mannered, outstanding defensive coach in the National Football League, Lane has had three head coaching jobs. I’m sure that Monte loves Lane, but has been bitterly disappointed with the shenanigans of his wayward son. Lane Kiffin has now been fired by the Oakland Raiders, quit on Tennessee, fired by Southern Cal and for all practical purposes fired at Alabama. Florida Atlantic is his next victim. Even Florida Atlantic deserves better...good riddance Alabama!
Kiffin’s departure after the semi-final round of the playoffs does create a vacuum. Steve Sarkisian had already been named offensive coordinator for the season of 2017. Steve is another fired Southern Cal coach. But, he is not a jerk. He has had personal problems to deal with in regards to his drinking habits. His admission to being an alcoholic is the first step in his recovery. He has been to rehabilitation and has been successful in handling this problem for over a year. There are some signs that he will continue to grow and mature through this experience. I can name you several outstanding coaches that had this same problem. Coach Saban has the utmost confidence in his football acumen. This is obviously true as Saban could have kept Kiffin for one more week. However, the distractions that Lane Kiffin brought to this football team were inexcusable, unprecedented and severely damaging to Alabama’s chances of playing well enough to win the championship game on Monday, January 9.
Steve Sarkisian has been on Saban’s staff as an analyst for over a year. His understanding of the offense is without question. The only problem will be the fact that “Sark” will not have been on the field much during this period. The young quarterback, Jalen Hurts, had become accustom to being advised and directed by Lane Kiffin for almost one year. It is my belief that Coach Nick Saban made the decision to go with “Sark” because he believed that this change was more beneficial for the Alabama football team. To not make this change would have resulted in a sure win for Clemson. Any distractions to the focus of your football team must be dealt with swiftly and permanently.
Steve Sarkisian was an excellent quarterback at Southern Cal, an assistant at Southern Cal, a head coach at the University of Washington and the head coach at Southern Cal. He is 44 years old. He is smart. He has been exposed to many years of good coaching. He will do his very best to help Jalen Hurts. This was the only route Coach Nick Saban had.
The championship game boils down to simple strategies. It’s Dabo vs, Saban. It’s a fighting Clemson Tiger football team intent on dethroning Alabama. They have lived for this moment for 365 days. They have the coaching. They have the talent. They have the motivation, they have the opportunity.
Alabama has the experience. They have the coaching. They have the motivation. They have the talent. They have the opportunity.
Don’t get near the field in Tampa, Florida on Monday night, January 9. You could get hurt!