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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Clemson was just better than Alabama, aight?

Nick Saban is very good at winning football games. He's not very good at losing them, which is understandable because he hasn't had much practice.

Until the evening of Jan. 7, 2019, until the shock and awe of Clemson 44, Alabama 16, Saban had no experience as the Crimson Tide CEO at losing a football game by four touchdowns. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

It wasn't hard to understand what happened that night. It wasn't luck or a fluke. Clemson was the better football team. On the field. On the sideline. In the booth.

Cut. Print. That's a wrap.

That cold, hard fact can't be easy for anyone in crimson to admit - especially since they've routinely demonstrated that level of superiority for a decade and change - but as Saban likes to say, it is what it is.

Six months later, he arrived at SEC Media Days with a new twist on what went wrong, and you have to give him points for creativity. He blamed it, at least in part, on … distractions.

On players focused more on starting their pro careers than finishing their college chapter? No. That excuse was so 2015 after the playoff semifinal loss to Ohio State. Darn that NFL Draft Advisory Committee.

This distraction, according to Saban, came from multiple assistant coaches torn between future career opportunities and the jobs they had. He tossed out that red meat in an interview with Paul Finebaum on the SEC Network.

After the LSU win, Saban said, "it just seemed like people's own agendas started to become more important." Asked specifically by Finebaum if he meant players or coaches, Saban said, "Coaching."

With all due respect to the man Will Muschamp later in the day called "the greatest football coach in college football history," please. You don't lose by four touchdowns, with the other team scoring the game's final 30 points, because unnamed assistant coaches are preoccupied with job-hopping. Truth is, Saban has established such a rock-solid foundation that the Crimson Tide has been incredibly successful in the postseason while key assistants served two masters.

Alabama won the 2011 national championship with offensive coordinator Jim McElwain pulling double-duty after being named Colorado State's head coach. Alabama took the 2012 title with Jeremy Pruitt coaching the secondary for the last time knowing he was leaving to coordinate the Florida State defense. Alabama earned the 2015 big ring with Kirby Smart calling the defense after being introduced as the Georgia head coach.

Oh, and Alabama ruled the world again in 2017 with Pruitt preparing to depart as defensive coordinator to become the Tennessee head coach. So four of Saban's five natties in T-town saw the victory parade double as a going-away party.

If there was a coaching dynamic that impacted Clemson 44, Alabama 16 in a significant way, it was the cohesion and continuity of Dabo Swinney's staff, which has to be considered the best in the nation at the moment. That, and the 2018 Alabama staff - without the likes of McElwain, Pruitt and Smart - skewed toward less accomplished men primarily skilled as recruiters.

This ongoing forensic examination of what happened that night in northern California, while interesting, is now so much water under the Golden Gate Bridge. Saban's 2019 staff, with seven new assistants, seems much stronger than it was a year ago. Per usual, there is no shortage of talent at its disposal. Whether Saban's lieutenants as a group are as capable and creative as Swinney's remains to be seen.

Probably during a Dec. 28th semifinal in Atlanta or Arizona or the Jan. 13th National Championship Game in New Orleans. There doesn't appear to be anything or anyone that could distract us from Alabama-Clemson Part V.

Alabama fans show up in force at SEC Media Days regardless of how the last game turned out. (KS photo)



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