A caregiver? It is perplexing and sometimes unusual to see this as being the role of a head coach. One is expected to know how to call plays, how to manage a game, and most importantly, how to win consistently. Regardless of a title, 85 scholarship athletes want more of the person. To them, a coach is a father, mother, role model and friend.
Parents expect the maximum effort from their children at home, but on the field, it becomes a coach’s opportunity to push buttons. For every good game, there is a smile, a handshake, or encouraging words. Every rough outing is usually followed by tough love and motivation.
Nick Saban will enter his ninth season as head coach for Alabama this fall. He’s had players that constantly needed motivation, and others that were on fire after just a few words.
The quarterback position at Alabama comes with a territory. An individual will either become a legend or be the signal-caller that fans drink away from memory. Saban has molded four quarterbacks since landing in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2007. Each received a different message.
John Parker Wilson (2005-08): Adjust. This was the message for John Parker Wilson in two seasons under coach Saban (2007-08). He enrolled at Alabama in 2005, as “the man” from Hoover (Ala.) High School. Wilson was a three-year starter that accounted for 8,170 yards and 78 touchdowns in his career. He navigated Hoover to two state titles in 2002 and 2003.
Wilson was under a “player’s coach” in Mike Shula for two years, until the disciplined disciple arrived. He was one of few Shula recruits that didn’t quit when Saban came.
Wilson adjusted, took coaching, and went on to hold numerous passing records. He became a part of the “BuiltByBama” moniker in 2008, when Alabama finished the season at 12-2.
Greg McElroy (2006-10): Game Manager. A solid grade point average produces a job, however, that mixed with great decision making in football opens the door to a career.
McElroy was another Shula recruit that didn’t jump ship upon Saban’s arrival, yet the conversation during McElroy’s recruitment process was either him or Tim Tebow.
Many Crimson Tide fans wanted Tebow. Shula wanted Tebow. Fate in the form of head coach Urban Meyer led him to Florida. The process of elimination brought McElroy to Alabama.
Saban’s philosophy on offense is protecting the football. He likes for every playmaker to be involved, but at the end of the day, Saban wants physicality and ball control.
McElroy took note of it, as it he accounted for only 10 interceptions throughout his career.
In 2009, McElroy guided Alabama back to prominence. He outplayed Tebow in the Southeastern Conference title game and led the Crimson Tide to a national title.
AJ McCarron (2009-13): Work for it. It’s no secret seeing the love that legendary head coach Paul Bryant had for former quarterbacks Pat Trammell, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler.
Coach Saban and McCarron shared the same father-son relationship in Alabama’s championship runs in 2009, 2011 and 2012. McCarron, like John Parker Wilson, was high school phenom, prior to enrolling at Alabama.
He was a three-year starter at Saint Paul’s Espicopal High School in Mobile, Ala. McCarron recorded 6,066 career passing yards, 66 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He guided the team to a 5A State Championship as a junior in 2007.
In 2010, McCarron stormed into Saban’s office as a redshirt freshman. He wanted to lead the first-team offense, but Saban knew he didn’t have the patience to train with the scout team.
Saban’s message for McCarron was “Work for it…Earn it.”
McCarron did just that in 2011, guiding Alabama to a rematch against Louisiana State University in the 2012 national title game. The Crimson Tide shutout LSU 21-0, securing its second national championship under Saban.
McCarron earned three things in 2011, respect from coach Saban, respect from his teammates, and a efficient prospective of himself. He went on an aerial assault in 2012, totaling 2,933 passing yards with 30 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Alabama defeated Georgia 32-28 in the 2012 SEC Championship Game, and captured its 15th national title against Notre Dame by a score of 42-14.
Saban’s message resonated with McCarron. He went from storming into Saban’s office as a freshman, to leaving Alabama as a three-time national champion and a two-time conference champion. McCarron tossed for 9,019 career passing yards with 77 touchdowns.
Blake Sims (2010-14): Be A Man. Sims was one of the guys. He was immersed in the culture of winning, pride and professionalism. A “suck it” hand gesture to LSU fans after Alabama’s 21-17 victory in 2012 wasn’t his best moment, but it was the only moment of him, until last season.
“Blake that’s not the way a man acts. That’s not the way a professional quarterback acts.”
This quote came from Blake Sims in a letter that he addressed to the University of Alabama thanking coach Saban and the fans for always supporting him and delivering tough love.
Sims was a stellar athlete at Gainesville (Ga.) High School, juggling both track and football.
Lane Kiffin recruited him to Tennessee in 2009, but fate had other ideas. He enrolled at Alabama in 2010, and was a part of two national championship teams, yet Sims didn’t have a solidified role. He was used at running back, wide receiver, defensive back, scout team quarterback and backup quarterback. Sims’ chance at the starting job came in 2014.
Sims edged out Jake Coker, and put together a momentous season for Alabama.
He was written off by multiple sports writers and fans, but Sims became the program’s single season passing holder. Sims threw for 3,487 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
His return to Tiger Stadium last season eradicated all memories of 2012.
Sims tossed two touchdown passes against LSU, including a 6-yard strike to DeAndrew White in overtime. He led a 9-play, 55-yard drive in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 13, prior to the overtime touchdown. Alabama emerged victorious from Tiger Stadium by a score of 20-13.
He even kept his poise, despite throwing three interceptions against Auburn. Sims returned with a second half performance for the ages. He totaled four touchdowns, including two touchdown passes to Amari Cooper. Alabama defeated Auburn in a shootout 55-44.
A flawless performance in the 2014 SEC Championship Game earned Sims three words from his daughter Kyla, “Daddy did good!” She said this in front of CBS Sports’ sideline reporter Allie LaForce, after the Crimson Tide defeated Missouri 42-13 inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
All four quarterbacks took Saban’s message and bettered themselves as athletes and people.
A new season starts in September for Alabama, but a new quarterback competition will heat up on August 5, as fall camp sets up. Two 6-foot-5 trigger pullers stand before Saban in Jake Coker and David Cornwell. The former wants to prove that he’s not a wasted transfer, while the latter looks to upstage him. Saban said the team will decide who will be under center.