How does a coach motivate a team to come back just as hungry after winning a national championship? Alabama coach Nick Saban said on College GameDay that he faced that challenge, and that Georgia coach Kirby Smart fared well in his own efforts.
“Some guys buy into it and some guys don’t,” Saban said of “psychological warfare” with motivating players after winning a national championship. “And just like our team last year, after we won in ’20 — in ’21, I was so frustrated with our team because we weren’t practicing, we weren’t preparing, we weren’t doing the things we needed to do and we got play at Texas A&M … and get behind 24-7, come back and get ahead 35-31 with five minutes to go in the game. I look at the scoreboard and say, ‘What am I going to say to this team if we win?’ Because we played so poorly.
And the worst thing you can do, to me, in any sport is play poorly and win — ’cause nobody wants to respond the right way to correct the things that you need to correct. So it’s a really, really difficult task. I think Kirby’s done a really good job, aight, with this team — because they haven’t skipped a beat. They played well all year long.”
Saban’s Crimson Tide missed the College Football Playoff for the first time since the 2019 season. Alabama suffered two close losses in the regular season, at Tennessee and at LSU, which left Alabama just shy of the top four teams in the selection committee’s eyes. But Alabama responded in major fashion, heading to the Sugar Bowl and trouncing Big 12 champion Kansas State 45-20.
“There’s a lot of guys on this team, including these two guys (Young and Will Anderson Jr.) that are sitting next to me that have given a lot to this program,” Saban said after that game, “and I think the way the team performed out there together as a group with something to prove.
I think we had a little bit of a taste in our mouth that if we had a dominant performance, it would show people that we probably did deserve to do a little better than we did in terms of the playoff picture.