So I’m reading this New York Times article about what Saban wants out of his quarterbacks…
The Saban philosophy of quarterbacking can be summarized as: Don’t screw up. For Saban, who was an N.F.L. defensive coordinator under Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and coached the Miami Dolphins for two seasons, the quarterback’s main goals are to get the ball to talented backs and receivers, avoid big errors and let his typically top-ranked defenses do the rest.
“Jalen has always been a guy that, because of his athleticism and his ability to run the ball, has made a lot of plays with his feet,” Saban said. “But I also think that we’ve been able to help him develop as a quarterback in terms of his decision-making in the pocket.”
That emphasis is not new for Saban. The starting quarterback on the first of his five national championship teams (including one with Louisiana State) has, in his football afterlife, taken on the profession that perhaps best suits the prototypical Saban quarterback: dentist.
As the head signal-caller on the 2003 L.S.U. team, Matt Mauck averaged just 16 completions and barely 200 yards per game. He was called on not to be a superhero, but to be efficient.
“If it’s 3rd-and-5,” said Mauck who now works as a dentist near Denver, “just focus on getting 6 yards.”
In a Saban offense, the quarterback is never the team’s most talented player. (This year, that distinction likely belongs either to running back Bo Scarbrough or wide receiver Calvin Ridley.) For the quarterbacks who played alongside the Heisman Trophy winners Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, the best play was frequently a dump-off.
“So many guys want to drive it down the field, make a tight window,” McElroy said, “but if you have the running back 3 yards away from you, that’s the best ball-carrier on the field.”
Saban could not — as has been remarked of offensive gurus like the former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh — take any guy off the street, anoint him quarterback and win the national title.
“It doesn’t bother me — well, it does a little bit — when people say anyone can play quarterback at Alabama,” McElroy said. “But it’s not true.”
That is because Saban asks his quarterbacks to do different things than most college coaches request, but not necessarily fewer things. The derogatory “game manager” appellation is unfair to them. Mauck was one of the game’s most efficient quarterbacks; McCarron and Coker had among the highest completion percentages.
“The first thing we talk about in any game we play is, ‘The ball, the ball, the ball,’” Saban said earlier this season.
… and I’m thinking “hmm, this sure sounds familiar to a Georgia fan”, when I get down to this:
If there is any team whose quarterback represents the old Saban paradigm, it is probably Georgia. Coached by the former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Georgia relies on a stifling defense and a run-first offense whose quarterback, the freshman Jake Fromm, stands out for his extreme calm, his 63.7 percent completion rate and his 23-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In fact, Alabama had eagerly recruited Fromm.
“We thought he was a fantastic player,” Saban said recently, adding the highest praise one can imagine Saban giving a quarterback. “Always puts his team in the best play that they can be in.”
Is it Monday night yet?