By Terry Pellman
Folding late in the game: a statement that accurately describes the Shula era.
When Coach Nick Saban was hired, there were two things that Bama fans were concerned with—the physical conditioning, or lack thereof, of the Alabama squad, followed closely by the seemingly complacency of a team “living off of a tradition.”
The latter was aptly spoken of in the latest special of SportsSouth when “Under the Lights” covered the Bama football program.
When it came to the aspect of the physical conditioning, the mere thought that a defensive back was the strongest person on the team would come as a shock to most fans, not to mention a head coaching staff. That remedy was soon found when the “Fourth Quarter Program” was installed in January of 2007.
The first season saw Alabama’s conditioning improve and players still “having wind” in the fourth quarter. But there was still something lacking.
While Coach Bryant referred to football as “eyes, movement and contact,” there was one thing that he missed in that quote. It was something he wasn't concerned with because it was inbred in the character of his players.
But it was something aborted under the Shula regime: mental toughness with the need to finish.
As seen on the latest broadcast of SportsSouth's “Under the Lights,” the mental toughness is being addressed. Last season demonstrated on more than one occasion the lack of the mentality needed for a team to win, and win consistently.
As a motivational tool, the Alabama staff has placed posters on every player's locker reminding them how they didn’t finish last season, two games in particular—the ULM loss along with the loss to Mississippi State.
A telling quote is also on this poster: “If you continue to do what you have been doing you will continue to have the same results.”
While that serves to reinforce the point this staff has been pointing to during their 16-plus months at Alabama, Coach Nick Saban has taken his process to the next level.
In a move he made at other stops in his coaching career, he’s announced he is bringing in one of his personal mentors to spend time with the team this summer. In a few weeks Kevin Elko will be arriving in Tuscaloosa with the hopes that he can accomplish the same thing he did when he worked with Saban at LSU in 2003.
Saban has said he is a big fan of Elko and his approach to winning. It’s evidenced by a quote from Saban on the back cover of Elko’s book, The Pep Talk: A Football Story About the Business of Winning.
Saban remarks, “”I’ve been there when Elko has given one of his famous talks and he really fires everyone up. I’ll never let anyone else speak to my team.”
Elko focuses on many things, but perhaps the most important of these is eliminating mental garbage. “What I do is put in a step-by-step process for winning."
A perfect example is John Parker Wilson’s play last season—when things began to go downhill, they snowballed.
“A lot of people think in winning you have to add something on,” Elko said. “What I tell people is get rid of all things in your life that aren’t winning and winning will find you. Mental clutter. Get rid of the garbage, the gossip. Get rid of everything on your mind that won’t get you what you want.”
In another one of his books, Nerves of Steel, Elko discusses the strategy necessary to develop Nerves of Steel. He points out the importance of intrinsic motivation and how to keep those motivators in front of you at all times.
Dr. Elko also discusses how to focus using specific self-talk and how to identify your internal Voice of Judgment (V.O.J.) and how to internally respond to it. One’s ability to focus through adversity, be creative, and maintain motivation—all factors that are referred to as having “Nerves of Steel”—has been known to have a significant influence on one’s success and satisfaction.
Javier Arenas may have summed it up best when he said that upon learning that Saban had been hired to coach the Crimson Tide, he thought, “Saban would bring aggression to the team. It seemed like the program’s results indicated they were living off of the tradition.”
One thing Alabama fans can relax in is the knowledge that things are continually changing in Tuscaloosa. As Saban’s process continues, the hopes of this team being considered a challenger for the SEC title—and the National Title—are growing exponentially.