One loss has created plenty of drama at Alabama, and some of it is coming from a highly decorated former Crimson Tide quarterback.
AJ McCarron—he of three national titles and two as a starting quarterback—told Ryan Fowler of Tide 99.1 in Tuscaloosa that this particular Crimson Tide team lacks the leadership that previous teams had, including in McCarron's final season in 2013. (The first and second segments of the interview are available online.):
"I think one of the things that this team is lacking that hurts them the most is not having the true leaders like we had last year and guys that, when things go bad, 'hey, let's calm everybody down and pick it back up and go back to work and get back on the right track," McCarron told Fowler (12:00 mark of Part I).
Not to be outdone, McCarron also commented on Saban—a defensive-minded head coach—having his hands being in the offensive cookie jar and forcing a more conservative game plan.
"I don't know if that's Lane doing that or if coach Saban has kind of put the handcuffs on Lane like I've known Coach to do in the past on his offensive coordinator," McCarron said at the 8:30 mark of Part I.
Head coach Nick Saban had the chance to fire back at his former quarterback during Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference.
"I don't think we played real well last week for whatever reasons," Saban said. "I don't know that's all leadership. I'm sort of responsible for all of that, as we all are as coaches and players, to make sure we're ready to play our best against good teams in tough environments on the road. I don't know how AJ would really know, but I don't necessarily see that as the case."
McCarron tried to put a bandage on the situation on Wednesday night on 99.1, saying that he mis-spoke according to AL.com's Michael Casagrande.
"I mis-worded it last night and I'll admit that," he said. "What I meant, because I gave an example right after I said that, which was the 'vocal leader.' So that's what I should have said was vocal leader and I mentioned last night, they have plenty of leaders on the team."
Whether he mis-worded it or not, Saban is right, in more ways than one.
First of all, Alabama's offense may have been less than stellar in the 23-17 loss to Ole Miss, but it's still the second-best offense in the SEC at 554.6 yards per game, which is 100.5 yards per game more than the most prolific Alabama offense under McCarron (2013). That includes last weekend's game against the Rebels, in which Alabama gained just 323 yards.
Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin brought senior quarterback Blake Sims along first as a game-manager and then as a difference-maker in the fourth game of the year against Florida, but scaled it back against the stifling Ole Miss defense—not the worst decision to make against the SEC's best defense on the road.
|Alabama Offenses 2011-Present|
Is that number skewed a little bit? Perhaps. Alabama's 7.17 yards per play this year are slightly better than last year's squad that averaged 7.15 yards per play. Either way, though, it's not indicative of a problem.
McCarron also commented specifically commented on Blake Sims' leadership in the first interview.
"They gotta find that leader on offense," McCarron said in Part II. "I don't know if that's Austin Shepherd, or with [center] Ryan [Kelly] being out, somebody needs establish that. Quarterback Blake [Sims] needs to step up and do it. It's going to be a tough road."
Does McCarron have relationships with players in the program and have some insight into its internal workings this year, despite spending most of his time focusing on his NFL career?
To comment on Sims' leadership in the first place, though, seems incredibly misguided based on things people within the Alabama program and outside of it have said during and before the hubbub.
"I actually think Blake does a pretty good job," Saban said. "[He's] very well-liked by his teammates. He's a very positive, high-energy guy who has shown leadership."
Saban even commented on Sims' leadership last week to Charlie Potter of 247Sports.com, as Sims was working through a shoulder injury and preparing for Ole Miss.
"Blake’s been around these guys for a long time," he said. "They know him well. He’s performed well. I think their confidence in him has gone up, and I think when your leaders on your team are good people and they play effectively, I think it enhances their ability and capacity to effect other people, which is what leadership is all about."
Not only does Sims' coach recognize it, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema—Alabama's opponent this weekend—also sees it.
"The thing that jumps out to you is that, when you watch him and watch the players around him, you can tell that the players like him," Bielema said. "When you have a quarterback who your players can rally around, that's a tremendous thing."
If McCarron were a true leader, he'd recognize that this type of criticism from somebody so recognizable and familiar with this roster is the last thing this team needs.
Alabama is behind the eight-ball after absorbing its first loss of the season with nearly two months of games still left on the schedule.
There isn't a leadership problem in Tuscaloosa, but even if there was, McCarron isn't going to be the guy who fills his perceived leadership void left on this team. Those guys in the locker room every day are the ones that need to develop that naturally.
Instead of rallying his former team, McCarron stirred the pot in what seems more like sour grapes than constructive criticism.
Luckily for the Tide, Saban and Bielema are here to straighten this mess out.
Barrett Sallee is the Lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.