The attitudes of the Crimson Tide fanbase have shifted dramatically since he arrived at Alabama. Three BCS National Championships after fans were starved of any kind of glory for almost a decade mean a title is now the norm. Blowouts are expected every week, and anything less is cause for concern. Wins are met with more of a sigh of relief while losses are completely unacceptable.
This played out to extraordinary lengths this season, leading to public criticism of fans by Saban and his family. But, flirting with the idea of Saban possibly leaving Tuscaloosa should go along way in curing the fan apathy built up by the recent run of success.
The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen reported on this before the year even started, citing ESPN’s Paul Finebaum, the Alabama governor and myself (I’m also the sports editor at Alabama’s student paper, The Crimson White), in reporting on the “boredom” that had set in among the fanbase.
It continued into the season—fans would leave blowout games early—and there were many of those. The students were the main culprit, but other fans were certainly not immune to it either.
This led Saban to go so far as to publicly criticize the fans. He said ahead of Alabama’s game with Tennessee:
There’s a lot of people that would like to see Alabama games. I talk about the players playing for 60 minutes in a game and competing for 60 minutes in a game, and I think that in some kind of way, everyone that chooses to go to the game should stay there and support the team for the game.
And maybe if you’re not interested in [staying for the whole game], you should let somebody else go who really would like to go. Because I know lots of people who want to go.
That wasn’t the only time that a Saban would call out Alabama fans publicly either. Before the Iron Bowl, Nick’s wife, Terry, told The Wall Street Journal that Tide fans weren’t as appreciative as they should be.
“You come to a crossroads and the expectations get so great, people get spoiled by success and there gets to be a lack of appreciation," she said. "We're kind of there now."
And when Alabama finally lost, the fans went crazy. Kicker Cade Foster was sent death threats. Many of his teammates took to Twitter to defend Foster and send a message to those fans, most notably, senior linebacker C.J. Mosley:
The events of the last week or so have been like a bucket of cold water splashed on the collective heads of the Alabama fanbase.
While it’s easy to sit back and think that this run will last forever, it won’t. And, fans were reminded of this when the possibility of Saban leaving Alabama became very real.
Al.com’s Andrew Gribble noted the fan reaction on Twitter last night.
Alabama golfer Cory Whitsett, and national champion himself, shared his enthusiasm about the Sugar Bowl, which had been seen before as little more than a consolation prize.
The University of Alabama showed Saban how much it appreciated him with the contract extension, which TideSports.com reports is somewhere in the $7-7.5 million range.
Now, Tide fans are finally doing the same.
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.